Faith Over Fear 5: Choose Whom You Will Serve

A couple of years ago, Susan and I were in Chicago for the professional development training through PLI that all of you sent us on, and we called an Uber to get a ride from our hotel to the church where the conference was being held. After we did that, we went downstairs and waited outside our hotel for our Uber driver to pick us up. One of the safety features on the Uber app is that you see the make, model and color of the car that your Uber driver is driving so that you don’t jump into the wrong car. Our driver was taking a while to show up, so I looked at the app to see what kind of a car we should be watching for. Then I look up and because our hotel is on the edge of a large undeveloped area, I could actually see our Uber driver about a block away, and he was trying to figure out how to get to our hotel. First, he drove in one direction. Then he stopped, turned around and headed in the other direction. And he never did figure out how to get to our hotel. He was so close that I could see him, and yet he missed coming to us. We ended up getting a different driver to take us to the conference.

You, I and every other human being are very much like that Uber driver in this way. We are all trying to find the way to living a rich, full, abundant life, and many of us keep missing it. There is no shortage of roads for us to go down in life, and all of them promise us good things. But will the road you are presently on lead to the best thing? And the way that you can know where you will end up is by looking at who is leading you on the path you are on. So the question that I am asking you to think about today is: In your quest for an abundant life, who are you following? Are you following yourself? Are you following an online influencer? Are you following the author of the last best book you read? Or is there Someone else who is offering you a life that is far beyond anything you could ask or imagine and you are very close to that life, but you don’t want to miss it. 

To help us as we reflect on those questions, we are going to conclude our Faith Over Fear series with what I think is the climactic passage in the book of Joshua: Joshua 24:1-5, 14-18. If you have a Bible or a Bible app, I invite you to turn there now. 

As you do that, here is a bit of a refresher to help us remember how we got to this point in the series. We started out in Joshua, chapter 1, and we realized that, like Joshua, we can be strong and courageous because the Lord our God is with us. Then we moved into chapter 2 and met Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho who played a pivotal role in the Israelite conquest of that town. The surprise was when we saw that Rahab is an ancestor of Jesus and we learned that God can work through anyone, including us, to accomplish great things that will last forever. After that, we were in chapter 3 where we saw the importance of letting God speak knowledge and vision into our lives so that we can be prepared to “cross the Jordan River” and make life-changing decisions. Last week, as we dug into chapter 4, we discovered the importance of making memory markers of God’s saving action in our lives because those memory markers guide us as we follow Jesus forever and share the Good News of what he has done with others.

Today we are skipping ahead twenty chapters to chapter 24. During the time in between chapters four and twenty-four, Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land and conquered the cities of the Canaanites who already lived there. Under God’s direction, Joshua led the process of dividing up that conquered territory among the twelves tribes of Israel. Years later, when Joshua was very old and nearing the end of his life, he called all the Israelites together one last time. This was Joshua’s farewell address to God’s people and he chose his words wisely so that the Israelites would be encouraged to continue following God after he was gone. You could say that this was Joshua’s last will and testament.

And the greatest gift that Joshua could bequeath to God’s people was to lead them in renewing their covenant with Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A covenant is a sacred kinship bond between two parties which is sealed by an oath. In our time today, we do not tend to think or talk much about covenants. Instead, we tend to use the word “contract” to describe formal agreements. So what is the difference between a covenant and a contract? In a contract, the focus is on the transaction, on the deal that happens. If I give you an agreed upon amount of money and you give me a house, that’s a contract, and after the terms are complete, we both go our separate ways. In a covenant, the focus is on the relationship, and each party promises to do things that support that relationship on an ongoing basis. 

For example, a marriage is a covenant between two people who commit to an exclusive relationship with each other and promise to love and support each other within that relationship. An employment agreement is more like a covenant than a contract because the focus is on the relationship between the employer and the employee. When Elias Pettersson recently agreed to terms with the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, Elias and the Canucks agreed to having a relationship together for the next three years. Elias will support that relationship by playing professional-level hockey that will help the Canucks accomplish their goal of winning a Stanley Cup, and the Canucks will support that relationship by giving Elias what he needs to be successful plus $7.35 million US dollars each year.

In ancient and medieval times, nearly all of human life was governed by covenants. A lord or tribal leader would commit their loyalty and some men at arms to a king, who would then protect and support the lord as they governed their local territory. A lord would grant land to a farmer or trading rights to a merchant in exchange for a portion of what was traded or produced. A farmer or merchant would provide room and board to a worker and teach them a skill or a trade in exchange for their labour to produce crops, livestock or goods. 

But the most significant covenants that were made were the spiritual ones. What was the deity that you were going to fear, love and trust in above all else? For all of us, there is a gap between what we know and what will be. Who or what are we going to trust in to cover all of those gaps for us? Will it be our money or our financial portfolio? Will it be our business or job? Will it be our good looks, grace and charm? Is there a person, maybe a good friend or spouse, that we are trusting in to take care of all the things that we can’t do? Here’s the thing: whatever you fear, love and trust in above all else is your god. And though you may not have thought about it in this way, you have made a covenant with your god. First, by giving your love and loyalty to your god, you have given yourself to it. Second, you have made a promise to yourself and your god that you are going to do certain things. For example, if your god is looking good before others, you may have promised yourself that you are going to cut back on what you eat and exercise more so that your god gives you what you want. Third, you are expecting your god to give you something you think that you need. It could be good looks, or good grades, or a good job. Whatever it is, you believe that you absolutely must have what your heart desires and you are willing to sell your soul to whomever or whatever will offer to give you what you want. 

A false god will always demand more than you wanted to give and deliver less than what was promised to you.

But here is the thing. A false god will always demand more than you wanted to give and deliver less what was promised to you. Even when you accomplish your goals, a false god will never give you what you want. You finally lose the weight you were trying to lose and nobody loves you anymore than they did before. You pour your heart, soul and most of your life into your business and you lose everything when the economy turns upside down. You do everything you can to win the heart of a special person and they reject and betray you when you need them most. 

But there is one, true God who stands alone above all the false gods that our heart creates. Within the pages of the Bible is described for us a God who created us and all things and loves us. This God, from the beginning of time, has been inviting human beings into a covenant relationship with him. This God is different from all the false gods in that he is infinite in his goodness and greatness for us. Being the source of all things, God is above all things. There is no problem too big for him to solve. No problem so small that it escapes his view. But what makes the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob so amazing is that he is not only infinite in his power, he is also infinite in his love. “God is love” the Bible tells us. Because he loves us and all humanity, when our first parents strayed into sin and corrupted all creation, this God gave a promise of a Messiah who would come to set all things right once again. When a nomadic pastoralist was left without the security of a father, land or a son, this God promised to bless Abram, give him land and make him into a great nation. When Abraham’s descendants became trapped in slavery in Egypt, this God rescued them and brought them into the land which he had promised to them. It’s God’s love that tells us that he is for us.

The God of the Bible gives first.

And this God of love operates in a totally different way from the false gods that are all around us. The God of the Bible gives first. Instead of demanding a sacrifice from us, this God shows his commitment to us by giving a sacrifice for us. If we read carefully in Genesis, chapter three, we see that the first blood to be shed in human history came from animals God slaughtered to give protective clothing to Adam and Eve. In the covenant ceremony described in Genesis 15, it was God that agreed to suffer the consequences if Abraham or his descendants broke the covenant made between them and God. In Genesis 22, it was God that supplied a ram to die in the place of Abraham’s one and only son, whom he loved. In Exodus 12, it was God who supplied the Passover lambs that would shed their blood and die so that God’s people could be safe and set free. 

After God gives, he invites people into a relationship of receiving from him. Adam named his wife, Eve, the mother of all the living because he knew that they would receive life from God, instead of the death that they deserved. Abraham allowed his nephew Lot to take the fertile plain of Jordan because Abraham knew that he would receive providential care, not deadly neglect, from God. Moses continued to faithfully lead the Israelites through the wilderness in spite of their soul-crushing stubbornness and heart-braking rebellion because he knew that he would receive comfort and encouragement from God who promised to be with him and not abandon him. So Adam, Abraham and Moses, gave their lives, their hopes and dreams for the future, and all their expectations, to the God who gives and followed him wherever he led them.

As they lived in the Promised Land, the Israelites were surrounded by false gods who enticed people into sacrificing their lives for false promises. To set them on the right path with the right God, Joshua painted a picture for the people of what that God was like. So he described to the Israelites all the wonderful things that God had given to them and their ancestors down through the centuries. It is a beautiful retelling of God’s story of saving and giving to his people time and time again. Whether it was saving Abraham from paganism when he lived beyond the Euphrates and then giving him many descendants, or saving the Israelites from the Egyptian army and giving them safe passage through the Red Sea, or saving the Israelites from the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, and giving them a land on which they did not toil and cities which they did not build, so they could live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves which they did not plant. Again and again, Joshua reminds the Israelites that the one, true God is a God who saves and gives, and then invites people into a relationship where they receive.

Having done all that, Joshua calls for the people to make a covenantal commitment. He said, Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14) This is the spot where the rubber hits the road for us human beings. It’s an either/or decision point. You can’t pledge martial fidelity to two people at the same time. You can’t play professional hockey for two different teams at the same time. You can’t sell your home to two different people at the same time. The biggest and best things in life require an exclusive commitment because it is only when our heart and head is focused in one direction that God can accomplish great things through us. 

But if you want to settle for second best, then you can keep your options open. So Joshua continues, But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. (Joshua 24:15) In other words, if you don’t want to exclusively commit to the God who has chosen and saved you, then pick whoever you want to be your gods. You can choose the false gods that Abraham’s family worshipped back in Ur of the Chaldeans, or you could choose the false gods of your neighbors here in the Promised Land. It makes no difference because they are all false gods and they will all lead you to your destruction.

Then Joshua concludes with what could be considered thought of as the key statement in the entire book of Joshua. Joshua’s legacy to the Israelites and to us are these words: But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

So what does all this mean for us? The salvation story of God continually acting to save his people is our story and that story of salvation is still being written through the lives of every person who looks to God with faith. Just as God has been given to human beings from the beginning of time, so also he has been giving to us. Not only does God give us the food, clothing and shelter that we need for everyday life. He has saved us from sin, death and everlasting destruction by sending his Son, Jesus, into the world. Jesus is the Messiah who came to set all things right once again. Jesus is God the Son who bears the consequences for all the times we and the rest of God’s people have broken the covenant that we have with him. Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb who shed his blood on the cross to rescue us from our slavery to sin, save us from the death we deserve, and bring us into the Promised Land of life with him that lasts forever. 

God gives. And then he invites us to commit to an exclusive relationship with him in which we simply receive.

God gives. And then he invites us to commit to an exclusive relationship with him in which we simply receive. It can be a scary thing to make this kind of a commitment, because such a commitment means that we are giving up control. And now we have identified the ultimate false god that needs to be dethroned, and that is ourselves, the “I” that lives on the throne of our own heart. The “I” inside of us is afraid to give up control because they have been hurt many times before and they want to protect themselves. But you or I can never do as good a job of ruling over our own lives as the all-powerful, all-knowing, good and gracious Creator and Savior of the universe. So let’s resign the position that we were never meant to hold, “Lord over our life”, and let’s give that power and authority to the One to whom it actually belongs: the God-human Jesus. 

Part of what makes it hard for us to commit to an exclusive covenant relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is that our vision for our lives is too small. Maybe, like me, you would like to live a comfortable life in a comfortable home with a comfortable network of family and friends. But that’s like having a SpaceX rocket ship and planning to use it to travel to Mission BC instead of the planet Mars. When we develop our own mission for life, we often aim far too low. But the life that Jesus is inviting us into is far greater and grander than anything we could ever imagine for ourselves. Jesus is inviting us to join him in his mission of redeeming and restoring all things. Our life may not be comfortable, but will be significant. For the everyday things that we do now with Jesus in our ordinary lives can be used by him to draw someone else into life with him forever. 

If people reject the invitations that we give to join us in following Jesus, we cannot do anything about that. When they reject the one true God, they can choose which false god they want to follow, whether it is money, sex or power. 

But you can do something about who you live your life for. You can be intentional about living in the covenant relationship that God has already made with you. In the waters of Holy Baptism, God has already chosen you to be his beloved, forgiven child, God has already saved you from sin, death and everlasting condemnation, Jesus is already preparing a place for you in the new heaven and earth to come. 

So step into the life of receiving that God wants to give to you, and be prepared to be part of something that is far greater and grander than you ever thought possible. That is what life is like when you commit to the God who gives.

Today’s Challenge: Commit yourself to an exclusive intimate relationship with Jesus.

So the challenge that I am setting before you today is to Commit yourself to an exclusive intimate relationship with Jesus. Identify the false gods that you tend to worship and toss them out of your heart and mind. Then step down off the throne in your heart and invite Jesus to come and be your Lord. There are lots of other options out there for you to choose. And if Jesus isn’t good enough for you, then pick whichever false god you want. But only Jesus will give you the abundant life you seek. Amen.

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