|Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
July 6, 2003
Recipe for Success
Once we understand what "success" is in the eyes of God, were able to begin moving in His direction. Joshua received the ingredients very clearly:
The book of Joshua serves as a bridge in scripture between the law of Moses, the first five books, and all the history that follows. The book of Joshua is about passing the baton. As the kingdom of God marches on, Joshua leads the children of Israel into the Promised Land.
Consider success, and think of someone you may know. I have a couple individuals in mind. One of them grew up in the Great Depression, got a job out of necessity at an early age, worked hard, kept his nose clean, went to school, and took advantage of opportunities as they arose. Through honesty, integrity and hard work, he eventually rose to be an extremely wealthy individual with a net worth in the millions. With the wealth, of course, goes prestige, a life of ease -- an individual who would be first to say, "Money doesnt make you happy, but it sure makes you comfortable." By most points in society, he would be considered successful.
I can think of another individual who grew up during the golden era, when things were a little easier economically. Brilliant, gifted, talented, yet gripped by the spirit of God, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and answered Gods call on his heart to the mission field. Though he came from a family of wealth, he landed in a remote tribal area, living in a jungle hut, having essentially no worldly possessions. He would be utterly out of place at a country club, and yet with all the hard work and the deprivation in which he lives day to day, has been known to say, "Sometimes I think Im in heaven."
So which is a success? "He wasted his life Threw it away in some far flung place where nobody really cares." I would suggest that if we know Jesus Christ, we begin to rethink our notion of what is success. Im going to suggest a definition of what the Bible indicates is success, and that is this, I believe from a scriptural standpoint that success is living joyfully in the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God quickly and easily defined as Gods people in Gods place under Gods rule. Success is living joyfully in the kingdom of God. I thought of another contrast in scripture. In Mark 10, a fellow who went down in Biblical history as the rich young ruler confronted Jesus. This fellow came up to Jesus and said, "What must I do to live forever? How do I get to heaven?"
Jesus, of course, could read hearts and said, "You really need to behave yourself," and He listed a bunch of commandments. The young man said, "Ive done all that." Well, he missed a couple fairly big ones, the one that says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Those he missed, but he felt pretty good about the ones Jesus listed.
This young man was a success, wasnt he? He had wealth and he was a good, moral guy. To look at him, the disciples at least thought, "This guy is successful. He must be successful in the eyes of God." But Jesus said, "No, its going to be real tough for him to get into the kingdom of God." As a matter of fact, he said it would be impossible. Hes not successful in Gods economy at this point.
In Joshua chapter 1, Joshua is standing on the brink of an undertaking of astronomical proportions. He is the one with the job of leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land, and not just getting them across the river. Hes got to get the land divided up among them and somehow hes got to get them to take possession of it. Its a huge undertaking, yet God doesnt hesitate to say, "Joshua, theres a way to have success." To get Gods people in Gods place under Gods rule.
In these first nine verses, we have something of a recipe, something of a formula, and a list of ingredients. Ill share those as we go.
Gods command (1:1-2)
We must begin where the book begins, and that is with God, not with people. It is Gods command. Moses is dead. Hes buried someplace in an unmarked grave on Mount Nebo. Its not about Moses and Moses was the prophet par excellent of all Biblical history. Hes gone. Youre not going into the Promised Land for Moses. Youre not going into the Promised Land for the people either. How deserving are the people of Israel of the Promised Land and possessing it? These are the ones who built the golden calf as soon as they had opportunity, who murmured and complained and rebelled, The ones twenty years and older had already fallen and buried in the wilderness. The people dont deserve the land.
Its not about Moses. Its not about the people. Its about God. I heard a missionary once give a testimony how excited he was to be called into the interior of darkest Africa, where he was determined to take the good news of Jesus to these savages who lived in perfect heathendom and how excited he was to share with them the light and to see them embrace the faith with joy. He was excited, but as time went by, as years went by, it occurred to him that nobody was interested. Here he was living with the tribe, learning their language, interacting with them, and nobody cared about the gospel.
He said not only did they not care about the gospel; they were in love with their sin. He said they remained, in his words "monsters of iniquity." In frustration he threw himself on the ground before God and said, "Lord, Im here for these people and they dont care." And he said as though God spoke directly to his ears, the words came to him, "I did not send you there for them. I sent you there for Me. I paid their way to heaven. My words, My glory are to be declared. Youre there for Me, not for those people. Inasmuch as they respond to the gospel, good for them. But thats not your fundamental role."
If we begin with a persons measure of success, whether its ours or our parents or anyone elses, we can quickly get disillusioned. God in His Word defines success according to His standard. Wherever there is, were there for Him, not for anyone else. We must begin there. God has a command; He expresses His will. His will is this -- "establish My kingdom. Bring these people into this place under My rule." Thats Gods will and Im delighted that God speaks in terms people can understand. He expresses His will. Hes a person. He doesnt say in some nebulous sense, "Go sit on a mountaintop and meditate and be a better person." God says, "This is what I want" and He uses words that communicate clearly what His will is. "Establish My kingdom." He bases it on His promise. "I promised this land. Its mine. I promised to move you people in. OK. Lets go."
His command is realistic in that Hes honoring a deal that He struck hundreds of years before. The time is right, the people are assembled, and judgment has fallen on those who were disobedient in the wilderness. The fear of God has, as we will see, preceded them and the folks in Jericho are trembling in their boots.
Moses has mentored Joshua for decades. Everything is coming together and Gods plan is now at a point of reaching fruition. His plan is always a realistic one; its always one that lines up with the preparations He has made. Its time. Lets go.
Now thinking on these lines, Gods plan is always realistic and may I suggest that Gods plan is also always difficult at the same time. We have these hoards of Israelites with bad hearts. They are patently self-centered; theyve demonstrated that at every opportunity. For a song, it seems, they would return to Egypt. They express no gratitude, they have even, over time, as we shall see later in the book of Joshua, neglected the covenant sign of circumcism identifying themselves as Gods people.
Theyre adrift in many ways, morally and spiritually. Theres a difficulty here, Joshua that youre going to face. Its going to involve these people. Not only so, but if youll notice the Jordan River is at flood stage. God stood the Red Sea up and got them across. Will He stand the Jordan up and get them across as well? The Nephalim and the sons of Anak and all those monsters in the land of giants -- they havent gone away, they will have to be dealt with. Dozens of cities with their standing militia armies will have to be taken care of.
It is Gods plan that these people of Israel exercise Gods judgment. Rather than a flood of water, it will now be a flood of people and they will deal with the residents of the land of Canaan. The difficulties are there, the enemies await. But its like that with us too. Gods command to us, His will for us is always at the same time realistic and difficult, realistic in that it follows pretty clear channels. God establishes institutions like families, churches, nations, and within those institutions God establishes a way to get things done. He basically has ordained that the church should impact the family and that the family should impact society. Thats how Gods will is played out in a fairly realistic, predictable fashion in accordance with whatever our station is life might be, whatever capabilities He might have given us.
God works through conventional avenues, which He has established, but at the same time difficulty. The world is there, the flesh is there, and by the way, Joshua will deal with his own heart in the course of this success venture. Of course, the devil, the enemy of our souls, is always present, applauding and plotting at our destruction, at our problems.
Remember the old Isaac Watts hymn, "Am I A Soldier of the Cross"? One particular line says, "Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?"
The understood answer is "No." As the old gospel singer, Duane Friend, used to say, "Its a battlefield, brother, not a recreation room." We prefer the rec room. The difficulties, however, are there, theyre there at every turn and theyll be there as long as were in this fallen world, until He delivers us according to His will -- which He guarantees to do. Gods command -- always begin with Him. Whatever venture were standing on the brink of, whether its parenting or marriage or employment, or whatever issue we may be facing, always remember to bring it back to who God is and what God wants in light of His kingdom. Its all about Him, and thats where its going. Heaven is all about God too, and we need to orient our thinking that way. Then well see the success that He brings.
Gods goal leads to success
It is Gods command and secondly, it is Gods goal. In verses 3 and 4, the Bible gets very graphic.
Standing, facing west, looking south, looking north, as far as the Mediterranean Sea to the west, behind to the great river Euphrates. "Thats yours," God said, "I promised it." Now how can God give away such a large chunk of real estate? Its His! He owns it. Matter of fact, that has a lot to do with the notion of judgment once they get in the land. This is Gods land, His place, He owns it, and it has been defiled. And so Gods people are to go in, and in their possession of it, act as His cleansing agent. And they will move in to do that.
Success is readily measured in terms of goals that are reached. He gives them, geographic boundaries, identifiable, from exactly where they stand. Someone wise has said, "If you dont know where youre going, youll probably end up somewhere else." Another classic is, "If you aim at nothing, youll be sure to hit it."
Look at the contrast with what God is doing. The boundaries that He establishes are specific. The Bible says that God is always a God of order. We may not always understand the mysteries as God lays them out, but we do understand Him to be a God of order. We can read the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers and see how God has outlined His will, His moral will, His will for their civil lives, the ceremonial system, all the details that He attaches to the priestly garments, to the tabernacle. All these things as God lays them out are anything but chaotic, always orderly. Orderly is what God is all about.
The people then would know when they had succeeded. Since the goals are clear, the goals are measurable. Folks would know when theyve arrived, when they finish, when they succeeded. This had been a Gods geographic goal for many years. South to the wilderness, north to Lebanon, which would include Mount Hermon, west to the Mediterranean, and east to the Euphrates River. Theres a little bit of debate there, because the children of Israel in the book of Joshua didnt occupy it all real well. And never, ever have the Israelites occupied as far as the Euphrates. That would entail the occupation of Jordan, most of Syria, and half of Iraq, or more. It hasnt happened yet.
There are two ways to look at this. One is this -- under David and Solomon, another 500 years later, the boundaries of the land would be stretched to the limit as far as they would ever go, much further than they are today in Israel. And as far east as the Euphrates, the nations paid tribute to David and Solomon. Many say thats how you understand that. Sure they go from the wilderness to Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea but the business to the east means they controlled it, they received tribute from it, but never really occupied it. That has some merit.
Another way of look at it would be -- it just hasnt happened yet. And yet we shall see. One way or the other, Gods boundaries for these folks are clear. His goals for them are clear. I wonder how long its been since you and I have thought in terms of Gods goals for us. Ephesians 4:13 is a wonderful goal for you and me if we are Christians, if we have placed all our trust in Jesus only for salvation.
Isnt that good? This is about growing in Christ likeness; this is about the Holy Spirit living inside the believer, gradually, surely, over time, changing our character. This tells me that will be His work and Gods goal for me, personally, individually, is not only that I trust Jesus for salvation. Thats called being born again, but you dont take a brand newborn baby and leave it there. They grow, and God takes responsibility for that for me. What does that mean, specifically?
That can be a general personal goal if youre a Christian, but I dont think we should leave it there. In all our lives, all the time, as we get to know God, as we turn to Him, as we pray, and as we do grow in that Ephesians 4:13 way, He convicts our hearts about things more specific, yet related to Ephesians 4:13. Things like: hows your prayer life? Are we praying as we ought? Are we in Gods Word regularly, meaningfully, daily? If were not, Ill be the first to tell you, we sure should be.
How about in our homes -- as husbands, are we loving? As wives, are we submitting? As children or young people, are we obeying? Thats right out the book because thats how Gods order is established and thats how God works success as we submit to these types of things. How about in our social venues? Are we sharing Gods gospel with those who need to hear it? With our family, our friends, our neighbors? How about in our relationships -- to whom ought we apologize, or to whom ought we extend forgiveness? And should we be somehow involved in ministry? Are there opportunities for you and me to serve that were just blowing off, because we have tons of stuff to do?
God does have goals for us. As individuals, as a church, make disciples of all the nations. Its very clear from Matthew 28, Gods command, Gods goals. If we want success wed better figure out what His goals are.
Verse 5 -- what a great verse. Joshua spent years under the tutelage of Moses, who was considered the friend of God, who spoke to God in a sense face to face. God met him in the tent of meeting, conversing as a man to a friend. Moses was Joshuas mentor. Dont you think that throughout all those years Joshua had a tendency to lean on Moses? Moses relationship with God, Moses spirituality, Moses capabilities. Naturally that would be the case, but now Moses is gone. Joshua is only left with God. Sounds silly, doesnt it? Someone has said, "When God is all you have, God is all you need," and Joshua is about to find that out. Verse 5:
In other words, if God be for us, who can be against us? It reminds me of a quote by Justin Martyr, who died for the faith in the second century. His words, regarding the Romans who were going to kill him, were, "They can kill us, but they cant do us any real harm."
Isnt that interesting? Perspective, you see. Was that a successful way to go? Not in the worlds eyes, but Justin Martyr didnt seem to have a real problem with it. "No man shall stand against you all the days of your life. I guarantee your success, Joshua. As I was with Moses, I will be with you. I will not fail you, I will not forsake you." Isnt that something?
Notice that there dont seem to be strings attached at this point. This is a relationship which God has initiated, which God has set up, and which God has now sealed. Joshua, stand by. The most precious blessing of all is the presence of God, His being near. We know what happens when God withdraws his presence. In Numbers 13, the spies went out into the land. Ten were bad and two were good. God said, "OK, you dont want to go in the land, then I will give you a forty year hike." It says in Numbers 14, beginning in verse 39, they went ahead. God said, "Im not going with you. They went ahead and got whipped good.
If God withdraws His presence, there is no success ultimately. Gods presence is a guarantee for Joshua. Hes a believer. I remember other Bible verses like Matthew 28:20, after giving the disciples the great commission, "Go into the world and make disciples of all the nations and I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Always. All the way to the end! Im with you. The very meaning of Gods name, the name Yahweh, so frequently translated in our Bibles as LORD in all caps. It isnt a title, its a name and it means I am with you, I have been with you, and I always will be with you.
The name of God itself guarantees His abiding presence. Someone has said, "Dont be afraid of tomorrow, God is already there." His presence - the most precious commodity. Hebrews 13:5 is also our mail and it is, I believe, a reflection of Joshua 1:5. Hebrews 13:5 contains in the entire Bible the only triple negative in the whole book. That means absolute, superlative emphasis, cannot be improved upon. When the LORD said I will no way, never leave you, nor no way never forsake you. It is the strongest possible way it could have been said. The promise of the living God to His people. "Im not going anywhere. Im right here."
I John 5:11
The witness or the record or the testimony is this and these words could not be made clearer. "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." We lock that concept in our minds. Eternal life is in Jesus Christ. He goes on, "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life." The presence of God in you or in me means we live forever. If we do not have the Son, we do not live forever because He is the eternal life we need.
It could not be made clearer, and if we desire success in the eyes or the economy of God, we must start here. We must turn to Jesus Christ and say, "I want your life. I want your presence."
For the most part we could look at it like an uneven swap. We can say, "Lord, why dont you take my life, which really hasnt been all that great anyway and give me yours, which is most wonderful and which never ends." That request, made from the heart, is always answered yes.
© Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA