Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wholehearted Study

Read Joshua 24:1-27 completely through.

This is Joshua’s last address to the Israelites, and what you might call a “last ditch effort.” He had already given his final address to them, but the Lord allowed him to live a few more days, and he was serving God up until his final breath.
He gathered together a rebellious people at a place called Shechem. This is where Abraham first made a covenant with the Lord after he had settled in Canaan (Gen. 12), and where they had renewed a covenant with Him in Joshua chapter 8. It is assumed that the Ark of the Covenant would have been present, and the presence of God would have been heavy among them. In verses 2-7, the Lord leads them in a time of remembering. He wants them to remember where they have come from; their spiritual family background. He rescued Abraham from the worship of false gods, and brought him into his new home, the land of Canaan. There he gave him many descendants, and enlarged their territory. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt in the most miraculous fashion. He says “With your very own eyes you saw what I did.” He rescued them from the pit of their sin. They would all be lost if God had not chosen to rescue Abraham and bless his descendants. He wanted them to remember from where they came.
Each of us have a different story to tell when it comes to our spiritual family background. For me, it seems only natural that I should know and serve the Lord because I come from a family full of ministers. I can count 10 off the top of my head. But for my father and maternal grandparents, they did not have the legacy I had. The sin cycle had to stop with them. They chose God, despite the reality of alcoholism, abuse, and abandonment they experienced in their own families. My Grandfather became a minister at a very young age, eventually serving the Lord as a full-time pastor for over 50 years. My father, raised by his grandparents and greatly influenced by his Godly grandmother, starting serving in the ministry right out of high school. Ministry has become a way of life for our family, but someone had to stop the generational sin that we pass from generation to generation, cursing our children as we are cursed. God was so gracious as to rescue someone in my family from the pit of sin, and they chose to follow God, passing down a legacy of obedience and devotion to God. I marvel at how God has blessed their obedience! But it is good for us to take a moment to stop and remember where we come from… to acknowledge that we are not here on our own merit or efforts. We can only stand before a holy God, as the Israelites stood that day in his presence, because He has reached down into the pit and saved us by His grace and mercy. The credit only belongs to God, and he deserves our gratitude. I think we lose the joy of our salvation because we have forgotten. It is so good to remember where we come from and where we might be without Him today.
In verses 8-13, He reminds them how He has given them victory. He gives a long list of armies that came against them, and the Lord gave them victory again and again. He says in verse 12, “It was not your swords or your bows that brought you victory.” It was all God. If you are a believer today, then you and I could both tell stories of how God has given us victory in our lives. When he delivers you from the Enemy, you feel grateful! But after a while, the poisonous sin of pride creeps in, and you actually start to feel proud of yourself for the victories in your life! How absurd this is! God sets you free from the sin of alcoholism, or from the deadly stronghold of an eating disorder, from the habit of constant criticism and gossip, or from the downward spiral of sexual sin… whatever he has given you victory in, and after a while, we start to take the credit. Maybe only silently, but we no longer feel the gratitude in our hearts that keeps our whole hearts devoted to Him. We take our eyes off for a moment, and become distracted by the idols that entice us. Why? Because we have FORGOTTEN. We have such amazing short-term memories. We are a little like Dori on “Finding Nemo”, who can’t remember anything 5 minutes after it’s happened. We are truly like that with God! He does something amazing in our lives, and not too long afterwards, the emotion has worn off, so then does our devotion. Take some time to remember, as the Israelites did. He says in verse 13, “I gave you land you had not worked for, and I gave you cities you did not build-the cities in which you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.” Think of God’s overflowing provision for your needs, and even some of your desires. We did not work for them, and we do not deserve them. Are you grateful to Him, or do you even acknowledge what He has given you? Remember today, and allow your heart to overflow with gratitude to the Lord.
Here’s where Joshua gets serious. This is what it all comes down to… what all of the remembering is for. Verse 14-15 says “So honor the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
Oh, this is awesome! Joshua was not messing around. The Lord spoke so boldly through him to a people whose hearts had wandered away. He tells them, no more idol worship. Choose TODAY. Don’t waste another day in your sin and dishonor of the Lord. Serve the Lord alone. Would you prefer the gods of your ancestors, or the gods of this culture? We should be asking ourselves the same question. What is an idol? Anything that takes the #1 place in our lives over God. We are bowing down and worshiping other people and things in the place of our God and Father and He wants it to end today. As verse 19 says, He is a holy and jealous God, and He won’t share your affections or first place with anyone or thing in your life. Will you continue in the generational sin that has been passed to you, and allow it to usurp God? Or will you choose the idol worship of the culture; the things of this world. The things that are contrary to God’s Word, but we think they will make us feel accepted, approved of, even loved. How deceived we are! Will you continue to allow a person or even the idea of a person to capture your heart the way God wants to capture your heart? If only we got it. Only when we have given God our whole hearts, our complete attention, our total allegiance, will we actually feel loved, accepted, approved of, and fulfilled. When we are pleasing God, we don’t care who else is pleased with us.
Joshua asked the Israelites to make a decision. God doesn’t want to twist your arm. He doesn’t want your reluctant, hesitant, half-heart. He wants it all. He wants it today. Make a choice, and then be held accountable for that choice. Verse 22 says “You are accountable for this decision.” Joshua said. “You have chosen to serve the Lord.” “Yes,” they replied, “we are accountable.”
“All right then,” Joshua said, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.”
Once they had made a decision to serve the Lord alone, Joshua immediately told them to destroy the idols among them and turn their hearts to the Lord. He didn’t tell them to keep their idols around to look at, or test their willpower by putting them away in a closet. He didn’t even tell them to bury them. He said to destroy them. Whatever our idols are, I wish they were material things that we could set on fire and watch them burn. But we have to make deliberate choices to destroy the things in our lives that keep us from the Father. We need to turn our hearts completely back to the Lord, without distraction.
Joshua then made a covenant with the people that day that he called a permanent and binding contract. He recorded all of these things in the Book of the Law of God, and took a huge stone, marking what had taken place there. What needs to take place in our lives as a marker of what God has done? How can we record how God has moved and spoken? What giant, super-glue sticky note can you create as a reminder of your commitment to Him? I think to do so is to honor God with our permanent and binding covenant with Him. He has our whole hearts, and wholehearted service.
Study Questions:
Isaiah 29:13 says “And so the Lord says, these people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away.” In what way do we honor Him with our lips? Claiming to be a Christian, wearing a fish on our car, singing praise songs to Him at church, even when we are allowing idols to take the rightful place of God?

Read Revelation 2:4-5. What is his complaint against these people?

Read Revelation 3:15-16. How does God feel about us being “lukewarm”? Put it into your own words.

Revelation 3:19 says “I am the one who corrects and disciplines everyone I love. Be diligent and turn from your indifference.” How do we view our indifference? Do we even call it sin? When we are indifferent about the lost, our choices, our time with God, and our sin, how does God view it?

Read Revelation 3:19, and Hebrew 12:5-6. Whom does God discipline? In Hebrews 12:10-13, what does it say the result of God’s discipline is?

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