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In-depth Bible study where men dig into God's word and consider its meaning and purpose.
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Home of James Love
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The opening of Joshua starts with an alarming charge from God to Joshua. Following the death of Moses here is what Joshua hears from God (Josh 1:1-2): "After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aid: 'Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them - to the Israelites.'"
Moses. My servant. Is dead. Now then…
To fully grasp the death of Moses is to grapple with a death of a human being, the likes of which we’ll never know in our lifetimes. Moses was great. In fact, he was the greatest leader of the children of Israel. If you read the end of Deuteronomy here is the epilogue to Moses’ life. It’s a eulogy any of us would be honored to have pronounced over our dead, average bodies (Deut 34: 5-8, 10-12):
"And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died YET his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over...Since then, NO prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt - to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has EVER shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel."
It actually says ‘no one EVER’ in the NIV. No big deal - the greatest person ever to this point in recorded history has died. And who’s taking over? His aid.
Now we don’t have recorded the exact thoughts of Joshua at this time, but it doesn’t tax the imagination to envision that they were something like, “Holy Toledo! NOW, what am I going to do?” We start to get the very real sense, based on how God engages with Joshua next, that the man may need some reassurance.
“Moses, my servant is dead. Now then…”
As I spent time reading Joshua this summer, two things popped out to me from this chapter that I’d offer to you all for consideration. The first is on this balance of FAITH IN THE FACE OF FEAR.
Over the last 6-7 months since the last men’s retreat, I’ve been struck by how many men of faith I hear talk about fear. It’s everywhere. It’s fear of losing a job, fear of taking a job, fear of starting new relationships, fear of losing relationships, fear about the changing seasons of life, fear of losing identity, fear of losing momentum, fear that even this Men’s Fellowship momentum will fizzle, fear we’ll continue to grow more divided as a society, more marginalized for our faith. Fear. It feels like it’s in the air. I’ll confess I’m one of these fear mongers too - and I’ll talk about this more in a bit.
I had the privilege of participating in the Global Leadership Summit via live telecast with TFCA this summer - it’s a conference that Bill Hybels’ puts on every year. Steve asked me to come, Robert Mackay was there too. It was awesome. If you are a junkie for leadership development, you have to at least stream it. You get to hear Christian and non-Christian leaders talk about how to be a stellar leader. The closing speaker this year was Gary Haugen, CEO of International Justice Mission. He talked a lot about fear. Given Gary and his team’s line of work, I don’t think anyone of us would fault the IJM team for being a tad afraid to do the work they do. Gary had an interesting observation about fear. Here’s what he had to say: "There is one thing that determines the difference between what you are capable of doing, and what you actually accomplish: fear. Fear is the most powerful force standing in the way. Nothing undermines the power and blessing of a leader like fear."
Joshua was a leader appointed by God for a monstrously big task, and as he receives the charge the Lord immediately starts stamping out any kindling fires of fear. The Lord gives a three-fold reiteration of his presence with Joshua specifically:
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.
Be strong and VERY courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go...
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
God knows that Joshua needs encouragement so he layers it on not once, not twice, but thrice. If you look at the components of his encouragement it reads like a thoughtful, strategic plan:
- God has already promised Victory to the Israelites through his promise to Moses
- God gives a blueprint - follow my laws and they bring success (not might, not cunning, not even seeing God’s backside is a prerequisite)
- The Lord is with you wherever you go - like literally wherever
I think what God is doing here is stamping out fear, and the dual sins of hubris and self-loathing. God is calling Joshua to a momentous task, but he’s not calling him on his own strength. He’s calling him in God’s strength.
As I read through Joshua this summer, well before the GLS or being asked to do this talk, the thing that stood out to me in God’s call to Joshua is his proactive, strong, loving REBUKE of fear. When God calls us, he demands trust - but he gives us GOOD REASON to trust: he makes good on his promises; he plans things out in advance and tells us how to win; he’s always got out back. Joshua is called to live in the tension of Faith + Fear, but God gives him every reason to believe.
There’s one more thing that pops up to me as I read the first chapter of Joshua. Remember how it starts: "Moses, my servant, is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them."
On its face, it seems that God drops this huge challenge on Joshua’s plate and asks him to immediately execute. It seems daunting, if not impossible. And it certainly would be had God NOT been working in Joshua’s life for decades to prepare him for the mission.
If we take a few steps back from the actual book of Joshua and look at what the Bible says about him elsewhere, you start to see that God has been equipping Joshua for some time for this monumental task. Look back to Deuteronomy 34 to the epilogue of Moses’ life - within that there’s a parenthetical statement about Joshua, the man selected to lead the Israelites (Deut 34:9): "Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses."
We see that God has been preparing Joshua for leadership through the spirit led leadership of Moses. He wasn’t just observing Moses or taking notes along the way. God’s spirit was poured out on him by a veteran, - a wiser, bright-eyed, visionary man of God. If you look even further back into Deuteronomy and Numbers you start to see other examples of this. In Numbers 14, Joshua and Caleb go with 10 other spies on an espionage mission into Canaan, the promised land; only Joshua and Caleb come back reporting that, “Yeah the people in this land are big and their cities are fortified but guys, GOD is with us and TOLD us to go here. He will fight for us” (that’s in the message). I’m not sure if you recall this tidbit in the story - and not sure who is fact checking me in Numbers - but their own countrymen try to KILL THEM! Because of their faithfulness, however, God permits they and their families to enter the Promised Land. And decades later at the beginning of the book of Joshua, God makes good on his promise.
God gave the vision for Israelites entering Canaan. God was with Joshua - through Moses’ support - when the Israelites tried to kill him. God was pouring his spirit into Joshua through Moses’ prayer. As Moses’ aid, God gave him a ring-side seat to see HIS faithfulness and HIS promise to support those who follow him. And ‘aid’ here means ’protege’, not like ‘here lean on my shoulder for stability you old man’ type aid. And when God delivers the charge to Joshua he reiterates over, and over, and over that HE will be with Joshua along the way. If we pull back we can see that God equips Joshua for leadership - for this task. It takes decades of equipping, but it’s clear GOD gave the vision and GOD equipped.
Whom God calls, God equips.
It may be because I’m getting older, or maybe because I have kids now, but the world seems more connected. The more I think about the concept of leadership, the more I’m convinced that there are no sole actors, no lone wolves, no Great Man leaders. All leaders are the by-products of faith and fear. All leaders are the byproduct of someone else pouring into them. God equips, and we act out His good plans.
These two ideas - living by faith through fear and who God calls He equips - have been anchors for me in this season of life. I’ll admit I’ve struggled for almost 2 years to figure out what to do next in my career and life. I’m so thankful for my job, but it’s lost its luster and moreover - I’ve lost my luster. I’ve been whipsawed by insecurity about my abilities, my understanding of what I want to do in life, and where I think God is calling me. I’ve been a final interview candidate for 5 jobs in the last year, none of which I got. I’ve been denied from graduate programs that I thought were a sure fit for my capability. I’ve watched literally dozens of my peers in and outside work get promoted or take on new and expanded roles. And the nagging feeling that keeps me awake at night says, “Your success to date is a fluke. Your passions are wildly idealistic. No one wants you.”
I know for a fact that God is with us ‘wherever we go’ - just like for Joshua. I know he helps us ‘be strong and very courageous’. And I know that when God calls us to a plan - and He does have a plan for us all - HE equips. It’s been hard, personally, for me to make that move from head to heart. I know, it’s kind of a downer and it’s maybe uncomfortably personal but look, this is life and this is where I am.
I’ll end with this. A charge. Consider one thing you fear. Name it. Write it down. Bathe it in prayer. Ask God to equip you to what he’s called you, and give your fear over to Him. He loves you, he wants you to follow his words, and he’s with you wherever you go.
My initial reaction when asked to speak today was - No Way! I was scared – terrified, actually terrified, of not performing well and showing my weakness.
But then I remembered the new life journey I committed to about 8 months ago after reading Francis Chan’s book Forgotten God, Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.
Since then I’ve been intentionally listening for the Spirit’s nudgings and trying to follow through on those nudging’s when they come. Today, I’m following through on one of those nudgings by speaking to you, with all my fears and weaknesses on full display. The title of this message is, "Be Bold and Courageous like Joshua and the Newly Circumcised at Gilgal."
Four times in the first Chapter, Joshua is told to be bold and courageous. This repeated message is not surprising since the work God called Joshua to undertake is outrageously enormous. Conquering the Promised Land and ruling a nation will require great boldness and courage.
While most us won’t be called to conquer any lands or rule a nation, God does have outrageously enormous work for us to do that will require boldness and courage
Skipping forward a bit to Chapter 5 we find the entire nation of Israel – about 602,000 men plus women and children - having just crossed the Jordan River after God stopped the water from flowing so that his people could walk on dry land
Once they crossed into the Promised Land, the river started flowing again. With the flowing river blocking them on one side and hostile armies on the other three sides, the nation of Israel was clearly in a very weak military position
But as we learn in Verse 1 of Chapter 5, God took care of his people by melting the hearts of the nearby opposition so that “they no longer had courage to face the Israelites.”
As the Israelites were obediently walking through the dry riverbed, God was building a zone of safety for them to rest in. Here’s a good lesson for us to learn: There’s no need to worry about tomorrow because God’s already taken care of tomorrow for us.
What happens in the next verse of Chapter 5 seems totally bizarre. God tells Joshua to make flint knives and conduct a mass circumcision. What? Did God just tell Joshua to render his entire army impotent through a mass circumcision? (If you don’t get circumcision, talk to John or Bill. They can give you the details.)
Circumcision in the Bible was a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. It was to be done eight days after the birth of all male children. Any male who was not circumcised was to be cut off from his people because he had broken God’s covenant (Genesis 17:14; Exodus 22:48). But if every male was to be circumcised eight days after birth, why did God tell Joshua to circumcise his army? Verses 4-6 answer this question – Due to the Israelites disobedience, the babies who had been circumcised in Egypt all died in the desert. And no one was circumcised in the desert. (Joshua and Caleb were the exceptions. The men who had crossed the Jordon, therefore, were covenant breakers and cut off from God’s covenant with Abraham.)
The mass circumcision, therefore, was an act of God’s mercy where God overlooked the nation’s disobedience and restored the covenant with his people. It was a new beginning for the Nation of Israel. This is a powerful message for us – God is a God of new beginnings – When we fail, He’s always working to bring us back into loving fellowship with Him.
Has anyone been circumcised as an adult, with a flint knife, without anesthesia, or any painkillers? Me neither, but from what I read it’s not fun. In fact, even with modern medicine, adult circumcision is described as “painful as hell” and recovery can take three weeks or more. Think about 602,000 soldiers being circumcised – all at the same time. Think about the pain, the infections, the blood – what did they do with all those foreskins?. Think about the extended recovery time and all the armies that wanted to slaughter them and their families
Do you think they felt vulnerable?
Does the apparent Incongruity of being Bold and Courageous while totally vulnerable grab you as it did me? More importantly, does this gory Old Testament story have any application to our lives today? I submit that it does and that it can be found in the acronym LOVE IS:
L – Listening to God
Joshua listened to God. His relationship with God was close enough that when God spoke to him he heard God’s message. Step 1: We need to do all necessary things to be walking closely with God so that when he speaks to us we will hear him.
O – Obedience to God
God spoke to Joshua and he obeyed. Verse 3 of Chapter 5 simply says “So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites.” Despite how crazy God’s message must have seemed to Joshua, he didn’t argue, he just obeyed. Step 2: when God speaks to us we need to obey, simply obey.
V – Vulnerability
Do you think exposing their male organs to someone with a flint knife and then lying around in pain, while surrounded by hostile forces, made those soldiers feel vulnerable? Step 3 – We need to become completely dependent on God and learn how to be vulnerable while living in obedience to Him.
Because I needed an E to spell LOVE, E stands for “Eeee Gads, vulnerable?” What guy likes to be vulnerable?
I – Inconvenience
Joshua and those soldiers certainly were inconvenienced, as were the women and children who had to care for these men and deal with their complaining. Step 4: We must be prepared to pay the price as followers of Jesus. Doing so is often inconvenient, painful, and sometimes comes at a high price.
S – Success
Joshua started life as a slave, escaped Egypt, was a spy, chosen to be Moses successor, a general, diplomat, and governor. He conquered the Promised Land and died still a faithful servant at the age of 110. I’d say he was a success. Step 5: Listening, Obeying, being vulnerable and willing to be inconvenienced (or worse) will lead to your success.
How the heck do we put this into practice; How do we live this way? It’s not complicated. It’s simply living a life by the Spirit. Before you join a meeting or make a call, say to yourself “by your spirit.” When you come home to your wife, kids or roommate, say to yourself “by your spirit.” When you see a neighbor, someone at the store, or are struggling with a difficult relationship, say to yourself “by your spirit.” When you walk into Church for worship, a meeting or study, say to yourself “by your spirit.”
Make these three words, “by - your - spirit,” your mantra, moment by moment, day by day – and then be ready for God to take you on an exciting and fulfilling journey.
When God told Moses to select Joshua as his successor, God described Joshua as a ‘Man in whom is the spirit” (Numbers 27:18). By listening, being obedient and vulnerable, and willing to be inconvenienced, Joshua successfully achieved the outrageously enormous work God had called Joshua to do. God has outrageously enormous work for us as well
Men of the Falls Church: I urge you to try living a life of LOVE IS - by the Spirit. Like Joshua – be men “in whom is the spirit.” It will work, because God says so. Let’s try it now. How is the Spirit nudging you as you think of your spouse or girlfriend, your kids or roommates, your family, colleagues, friends, neighbors, people in our church... and, yes, even your enemies?
I trust the Spirit nudged you at least once as names and faces came to mind. Now you need to follow through, by his Spirit. My prayer is that God will give you boldness and courage to act on these nudgings. That your acting on these nudgings – and many others - will become daily occurrences. That these daily occurrences will lead to an awakening in our church. That this awakening in our church will spread to other churches. And that this Grand Awakening in our Christian communities will generate the next Great American Revival, BY HIS SPIRIT.
Perhaps this is the outrageously enormous work that God is calling you and us to be about.