Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sermon from 06/26/2011 @ Mt. Salem BC

Title: Possessing God's Promises
Series: Conquering Conquests
Joshua 1:1-9

Recently I came across an article that described the Cherokee Indian youth's rite of passage from boyhood to manhood? In this seemingly cruel and dogmatic ritual the father leaves his son alone in a forest blindfolded. He is told to sit on a tree stump the whole night and to not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun come shining through. He is forbidden to cower, cry out or seek help from anyone. In the ritual it is said that once he survives the night, he is a man. Because each boy must come into manhood on his own, he cannot tell the other boys of this experience. The boy is naturally terrified. Can you imagine the anxiety, tension and fear that lurks from without and within. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blows the grass and shakes the trees, but the boy is to sit stoically, never removing the blindfold. Finally, after a horrific night, the sun appears and the boy removes his blindfold. But much to his surprise and delight he discovers his father sitting on the stump next to him. Interestingly, the proud father has been there the entire night, watching over and protecting his son from harm.

When I first read that story I thought about the fact that there is a thin divine line between spiritual infancy and spiritual maturity. So often we will become fearful and frightened by the hounding winds of helplessness and the haunting howls of hopelessness, despair and discouragement. But God, Who is our sovereign, resourceful, omniscient, all-wise heavenly Father sees us and knows where we are. Even when He cannot be viewed by us, we are still in His view and foresight. The problems we face in time are eternally in His view. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

This is the message that God rings clear to young Joshua. The opening words of the book of Joshua describe a period of transition. It marks not only a change in leadership but a change in purpose. The people would change from Moses to Joshua and also from wanderers to warriors. This change would not only be difficult for the fledging nation, but also for Joshua. Verse 1 informs us that Moses is dead. The death of Moses was a heavy blow to the Israelites. He was the one who had led them out of the oppressive Egyptian bondage.
When the people were discouraged and wanted to go back to Egypt, God uses Moses to calm and rally the people to ‘Fear not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord’.

When the Israelites were thirsty, God used Moses to cause water to flow from a stone. When the Israelites were hungry, God answered Moses' prayers and sent quail and bread from heaven. For almost 40 years, Moses had served as the Israelite's leader and legislator. He alone spoke face-to-face with God on their behalf. But now he was dead! 
Here Israel is still encamped on the plains of Moab, directly east of the Jordan River, at the very edge of the Land of Promise. For 30 days they mourned Moses, their beloved leader, but now it was time to inherit the land God had promised to Abraham and their forefathers hundreds of years earlier. Joshua, God’s newly anointed and appointed leader of the Israelites, according to Numbers 27:22 and 23, had been commissioned by Moses before his death, and he was now being ordained by God. So let’s walk through these opening verses of the call of Joshua and consider the practical implications of possessing God’s promises.

I. We are Called to Follow God’s Plan

Question: Can you follow God’s goal and plan for your life even when your faith is shaken, the facts are precarious and your feelings aren’t on board?

What are the plans for Joshua and, moreover, the believer? This account of Joshua on the edge of possessing God’s promise in following God’s plan is threefold:

a. It Is a Plan for Freedom (Verse 2a)
He says ‘arise’ from this place and go ‘over the Jordan’ to the place ‘I am giving to them’. There are two pivotal moments for the people of Israel, between the Book of Exodus and Joshua. One of them had already taken place through the leadership of Moses; that is to get them out of Egypt. The other was to take place under the leadership of Joshua; and that is to get Egypt out of them! The picture of the people of Israel to the land of Pharaoh in Egypt is symbolic of you and I, the believer’s, encounter with the world in which we live. Those of us, you and I, who have been saved have been set free from the enemy (Pharaoh, Satan) and from the land of Egypt, the world, but the other end of the fight is to get the world out of you.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, all things are made new.’
Romans 8:9 says, ‘…you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.’

John chapter 11:1-11 records the story of Lazarus, the relative of Mary and Martha. Scripture records Christ receiving the report that says Lazarus has died. Christ calls for him to come forth. Lazarus did come forth in a miracle of resurrected life. But yet, while the resurrection was, in fact, effective, the work was yet incomplete. Lazarus still had on the grave clothes. And Jesus tells His disciples to loose him and let him go! In a real sense, Jesus was showing, now that you are out of the grave, my work is not complete until I get the grave off of you. God wanted the Israelite people free. He wanted them to be free of Pharaoh and of Egypt, but He wanted them to also be free of an Egyptian mindset and wilderness mentality. In the same way, the Christian life for the believer can be a difficult life unless you are liberated from legalism, laziness and lethargy. You must be filled with God's Spirit and know that there is more to being a Christian than just being saved.

b. It is a Plan for Fullness (Verse 2b) ‘I am giving; inheritance’.
When we read the word "am," which in Hebrew is `asah and means "accomplish, bestow, perform, or fulfill," we see what God is doing. This verb describes something that is happening in the present tense and the active voice. The promise for this land was given to Abraham hundreds of years before, and now Israel are at the actual moment of possessing the land which God promised to them. They are standing on the banks of the Jordan River and can look across at the Promised Land.

c. It is a plan that requires faith (Verse 6a, 7a, 9b)

Consider Joshua was like some of us, for a moment. Joshua must have been anxious and fearful because of Israel’s past failure to enter the Promised Land and because of the death of Moses. In verse 6a, God’s message to Joshua is “be strong and courageous.” The message was so important that God repeats it three times.

II. We are Commanded to Treasure God’s Precepts (Verses 7 and 8)
Some years ago a passenger train was rushing into New York as another train was emerging. There was a head-on collision. And some fifty lives were lost. An engineer was pinned under his engine, frightfully injured, and tears were running down his cheeks. In his dying agony he held a piece of yellow paper crushed in his hand, and said: “Take this. This will show you that someone gave me the wrong orders.”

Verses 8 and 9 give in detail the special relationship Joshua was to have for the written law of Moses. According to the very first paragraphs of the book of Joshua, Joshua—this new leader—has the law of Moses. Moreover, the law of Moses already had the exalted status of a revelation from God. Important as it was to possess the Word of God in written form, as we also possess it, that was not enough to assure Joshua’s success as Israel’s new commander. He was not only to possess the Bible in a technical or theoretical sense; God says to Joshua, in verse 7 and 8 that it must be personal. This is the heart of his instruction by God.

There are four parts to Joshua’s instruction to treasuring God’s precepts.

a. God’s Word must be Known.

Psalm 119:11 says, ‘Thy Word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.’

Psalm 37:31 says, ‘The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.’

b. God’s Precepts must be Spoken.
The text says, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth” (Josh. 1:8). Joshua was to talk about the Bible in his normal day-by-day contacts with family, soldiers, friends, and others who were part of the nation. Tragically, most of us would rather talk to God about people then to talk to people about God’s Word.

c. God’s Precepts must be Digested.

d. God’s Precepts must be Lived.
The last element in this list of requirements is the most important. Not only was Joshua to know, speak about, and meditate on the law of Moses, he was also and chiefly to obey it. God said, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left.… Be careful to do everything written in it” (Josh. 1:7–8).

Someone has said that, ‘Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them.

III. We are Commissioned to Trust the Promise of God’s Provision

The Lord commanded Joshua to prepare himself and the people to cross the Jordan and take possession of the land. He makes three promises to His new leader: (1) A promise of land, "'Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you'" (Joshua 1:3, NLT); (2) A promise of victory, "No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live" (from 1:5, NLT); and (3) A promise of presence, "For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you" (1:5b, NLT).

a. God will Equip us
Here is a promise of land: "'Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you'" (Joshua 1:3, NLT). Joshua was going to experience the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham and repeated to his sons Isaac and Jacob. He would lead the people into the land that had been promised to Moses. The Israelites would occupy the land from the great river to the great sea. The area described is roughly the same area God promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-20).

b. God will Encourage us
Here is a promise of victory: "No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live" (1:5a, NLT). God promised Joshua victory over anybody and everybody who came against him. This promise was not limited to the taking of the Promised Land, but was extended for as long as Joshua lived. However, this promise came with a warning. The people who lived in the land were protected by powerful armies and fortified cities. The battles would be hard fought. As it was in Canaan, the Christian life is a life of conflict with enemies who must be confronted and overcome. Although the outcome of our battle is assured, we must be prepared for conflict if we are to claim the kingdom's earthly promise of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17, NLT).

I love how God, in His Word, always keep ever before us that we don't have what it tales to accomplish the task or reach the goal; but He always seems to point out...but you got it in you! * seems like a contradiction in terms

c. God will Enable us

Hear this: where God guides, He provides..

What is there in your life you need to conquer?

He will enable you!

Isaiah 40:29-31:
He giveth power to the faint
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who bwait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What's Been Going on in my World, Part One

It goes without saying that I've been in a period of transition. In November of 2010, I stood in the pulpit and shared with the congregation I founded in 2005, that I felt I had taken our church as far as I could. Our congregation, like many churches, had weathered through many challenges and tests. Some, through the years, were added, while others went on to other places as seasons would change, as they do. But I sensed, for some time, that this was not my church. Yes...I know it is not mine by ownership; but a release from it perhaps no longer being mine by stewardship. This was a total shock for me, and a blow to everything, little or much, I had spent more than 6 years...invested in. I saw the vision. I felt the vision. I had a fire emblazoned within for that vision. Nothing and no one could or would deter me....until, I saw my reality completely disconnected from the vision God had given me. Quite natually, this process seems normal. We all have seasons where we don't see what we envisioned. And I did, for years, liken the many red flags to "spiritual warfare". Several years ago, for the 2nd time in my ministry life, and first as a pastor, I entertained the prospect of going to pastor a nearby congregation, who had been searching for a pastor. I was a little hesitant, knowing that congregation had voted out their pastor. While being a more prominent church in Houston, it didn't help that the church was less than 15 miles from where our congregation worshipped. I was one of two candidates presented to this church for consideration of the pastorate. My internal plan was to possibly merge my congregation there, which would have worked well when considering music and ministry styles, etc. All seemed well, interview went GREAT, the committee seemed to love me, and I was more confident than usual, though prayerful, not overly confident. But something happened that, I believe, bruised me personally and also made me somewhat resentful to myself more than others. As I walked out into the sanctuary...I saw many people present from the congregation I pastored. Apparently, someone close to me had spread to others in our church where I would be preaching, and why. That, with also the visibility of this church, naturally drew my curious parishioners. As I saw that, in that very spirit sank. It was as if i had no further drive to pursue this vineyard, especially staring into the faces of some of the people i had pastored for, at that time, 4 years, including the person i knew shared where i would be. I should've just preached my heart out. While I did preach the Word, I look now at that DVD, and am certain it was not even close to my best. I'm still realizing the scars that experience left me with. But what I do know, in hindsight, is that was where my credibility was called into question. Things, for me, were never the same again. Until this day, I still don't understand the logic of the person who even shared that trusted information. But that, along with many experiences, taught me many invaluable lessons regarding life, people, and our people. After that, the other congregations voted to call the other candidate. That was September 2008. Things were not the same for myself or the congregation, after that. I made a decision, at that point, I would remain faithful where God had planted me; not pursue anything that God did not tell me to and, third, to go home and give my very best.

For the next two years, that is exactly what I did. I gave my all, implemented a few changes, and began to evaluate where we were in moving forward, including a better facility, with classroom space and technologically savvy, along with more freedom for facility use. Personally, I accelerated my educational pursuits, obtaining my MDiv from Southwestern in May of 2009. I felt if I had to start all over again, I would be bi-vocational, which led me to Chaplain Residency, which began in September 2009. Little did I know, or anticipate, the toll this would take, nor the growth and maturity this would require of my already fledgling congregation. I began to see that, as I moved over, many were not stepping up. Those that were stepping up, the ones who weren't stepping up resented those that were. Immediately, I began to hone in on my gift of Christian Education to try and grow our people to all were as teams, and to all work in the area of evangelism and outreach. I expected some to step up more, but they didn't, and I was busy trying to jeep up at the hospital. Eventually, a few left as a result of my growing commitment to the hospital. It would be impossible for any member I pastor to call and I not be there. That was guaranteed. But....I think they may have sensed my busy-ness, ESPECiALLY the young adults. That is, in fact, the only demographic I've discovered, who must have that connection with their pastor. Don't know if this is because I'm a young adult and they see more in me; but from my readings and research, I gather it has much to do with a generational things my generation needs to have with their leader. All in all....I sometimes winder if I should have just 'sucked it up' after a long day, and met a different person, each day, at Starbucks. But if I did that I'd drive myself crazy. I would later discover that I'm actually a very good pastor who loves people. Something I suppose I knew all along. After all, I've only been under great pastors, so I got something by osmosis!

At every stage and phase, I saw a different dynamic at work. I have gone through my own changes, and so had the congregation. Somewhere along, I sensed a change taking place between us.

Back to November 2010....I preached the first Sunday of that month entitled 'When God says No', referring to God's informing to David that he would not build the temple. I simply said, without saying I heard an audible voice from God (I'm afraid to do that), I had taken the church as far as I could. I had it all figured out...even had in mind who would succeed me. Little did I life and ministry would become more difficult than ever.

In just one Sunday....
I was viewed (not by all people, don't get me wrong) a quitter opportunistic discouraged by the numbers disappointed in our people

I felt that I had searched and personally settled all of these issues, deducting them as not me...even before mounting the pulpit that Sunday morning. What happened next, is when things probably became a little more complicated.

Stay tuned for part two of 'Whats been going on in my world"...

Monday, June 20, 2011

God is Faithful

I am currently in the process of reading Ray Pritchard's 'The God you can Trust.' In it Pritchard seeks to unmask the theological query many of us tend to grapple with as it relates to the reliance and providence of the very things that devastate our heart and leave us looking for answers - what can we trust? More specifically, we are lead to explore Whom we trust!? When an expectant mother rushes to the ER and gives birth unexpectedly to a stillborn; when a healthy Christian seeking to devote her life to missions goes for her annual checkup only to be informed that cancer is riveting her physical anatomy and she can expect to live, at most, the next three months alive. Or...when a devoted husband of two is delivered divorce papers, and later told by his wife of 20 years that she has fallen in love with his best friend. Inevitably...we are called to examine the extreme elements of our trust.

Of course, Pritchard's theme and thesis points to conclude the inevitable reality that the answer to life's queries are in God and God alone. I am convinced that God, in and through His Word, is teaching me the importance of ministering efficiently and effectively to beleivers who are struggling to 'hold on to their faith in the midst of confusing circumstances, unexplainable tragedy, and their own foolish mistakes'. Charles Haddon Spurgeon is noted to have said in his lecture series to his students that our preaching should strive to minister to those that are hurting. He says that if they minister to them that hurt they will always have captive audience.

Obviously the same is true today! People are hurting. People are struggling. And unfortunately, many false leaders have gone to the extreme and have begun to incorrectly minister to the struggling masses by feeding them placebo (candy) and spiritual lolipops that will only appease them temporarily and superficially. This concerns me; but it also strengthens my faith, in knowing that God's Word is faithful and true. We are seeing a true manifestation of a generation that 'will not endure sound doctrine' and those who have 'itching ears'.

My prayer for those who are my comrades in faith and ministry is that they (you), whether leading 50 or 5000, will remain faithful to the One Who remains so faithful to us. I concur with Pritchard, He is a God we can verily and surely trust!