God Gives the Victory


2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Joshua 5:13-6:5, 20

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “You’re kidding me!” How many times have you said or heard that phrase? Do you know where it comes from? When you kid someone you are treating them like child. When children are young they’re kind of like sponges, they just soak in information. In fact, they will often believe everything exactly as you tell them. So, a child is often easy to trick or “kid.” Remember that? When you were a child and you’d believe just about anything someone would tell you? What happened? Well, it doesn’t take long before children begin to be suspicious if something sounds a little crazy. And maybe it’s because they have had their hopes or expectations dashed too many times- someone has led them along with a certain hope or idea, they’ve begun to get quite excited, only to have their hopes dashed. If that happens to you a lot you begin to get suspicious. And we begin to use phrases like, “Are you kidding me? Are you joking? Are you really being serious? You don’t actually think I’ll believe that, do you?” So, now, if something sounds a little odd to us, it probably is. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We grow accustomed to living in a sinful world- we have to. We have to filter out truth from hoax, reality from fiction.

But do we do that with God? In fact, God wants us to have a “child-like” trust in Him. God wants us to take His words and promises at face value – even when it sounds crazy. But how often aren’t we carrying over to our relationship with God not an unquestioning faith and obedience to His Word, but a skeptical, “Are you kidding me God? Are you joking? Are you really being serious? You don’t actually think I’ll believe that, do you God?”

What do you think the reaction of the Israelites was to the battle plan that God laid before them? I wonder how many were saying or thinking to themselves, “This is absolutely crazy! You have to be kidding me! You’re joking, right?”

So where are we? The Israelites had been in Egypt for several hundred years, they had become enslaved and treated ruthlessly. Under Moses God miraculously delivered them out of slavery through a series of 10 plagues on the Egyptian nation, then led them with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, then miraculously parted the Red Sea so the whole nation could cross it on dry ground to escape Pharaoh’s army. Then God led them to the border of the Promised Land of Canaan, they sent in 12 spies to search out the land, the spies returned and told how wonderful the land was, but how strong and mighty the people of the land were. 10 spies said there’s no way we can take over this land, 2 spies – Joshua and Caleb – said, “We can do it! With God with us they are no match!” But the people believed the unbelieving spies and so as a result of their unbelief God had them wander throughout the desert wilderness for about 40 years until all those 20 years and older died. Now, Moses has also died and Joshua has taken over as the leader of the Israelites. Joshua will be the one who will lead the nation as they take over the Promised Land from the Canaanites who lived there.

First, as the nation enters the Promised Land God does another miracle. The entire Jordan river – which was at flood stage- was cut off so the entire nation could pass into the land of Canaan on dry ground. The first major city they came to was Jericho. It was a very strategic city, located on some main trade routes. Thus it was a well-fortified city. Most of these cities in Canaan were like their own little city-states, each with a ruler, a government, and their own army. Jericho also had something else: a wall. Archaeologists who have studied Jericho have concluded that the wall seemed to have two parts to it. There was stone retaining wall base 12-15 feet high, on top of that was a wall 20-26 feet high 6 feet thick. Then there was a space and then another wall on an embankment and the base of this 2nd wall 46 feet above ground level. So imagine you’re an Israelite. You’re standing on ground level, not only are you staring at a wall 30 -40 feet above you, there’s a second wall that starts at 46 feet above where you’re standing. This was a heavily fortified city!

So Joshua is out standing near Jericho, probably scouting it out, thinking about how they are going to attack it, maybe even wondering to himself how in the world are we going to be able to defeat this city. They don’t have months or years to lay siege on it. When all of sudden he looks up and he’s rather startled, the Hebrew literally says, “He lifted his eyes and looked and behold! A man standing in front of him with a sword drawn out in his hand!” And Joshua asks the person, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” And the man responds, literally, “No, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Now we have a couple questions. First, who is this guy? And second, what does He mean? First, who is he? A couple things, we notice that Joshua falls down before him in reverence and the Hebrew word usually denotes worship. And the ground that Joshua stands on his holy. Very similar to Moses when God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. It seems quite clear that this is the Lord appearing to Joshua and quite likely this is the 2nd person of the Triune God – God the Son before He was born into the world to save us. And what does He mean “no” or “neither”? It could mean that Joshua is way off if he thinks this man is just an ordinary human being- he’s not, He’s God. Or, it’s not so much God being on certain sides, like “God must be on my side.” No, the real question to ask is: Am I on GOD’s side?

Then God gives Joshua the battle plan. But first he starts with this: “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” At that, it’s already done. No matter what happens next, it’s as good as accomplished because God promised it. And here’s the battle plan: they are to march around the city once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day they are to march around it seven times and have the priests blow the trumpets give a loud shout and the walls are going to come crashing down, fall right down, not teeter and fall, but straight down and they will go straight in. You see, usually to take a walled city there would eventually be a breach in the wall and the army go in through it, but here, it’s everyone straight in.

Now, imagine you’re an Israelite. You’re staring at this massive wall in front of you and you hear the battle plan. What are you thinking? “Are you crazy? You’re joking, right? You’re kidding me, right? March around, the wall fall down, really? That’s crazy!”

What’s your Jericho in life right now? What are you facing? What insurmountable thing is staring you in the face and you can’t see how God is going to bring you through it? My bills are increasing but my income in decreasing. I know my health is not what it should be and I’m not sure what the future holds. My marriage relationship is not in a good place. I’m just not getting through to my children. What’s your Jericho right now? What are you facing?

Six days they marched around Jericho. Interesting, isn’t it? Isn’t God economical? Why not just save time and do it all at once? What’s with this six days of marching around the city? Ever thought about that? Maybe you have, as you’re marching around your Jericho and nothing’s happened yet. There’s a reason. God is foremost interested in our hearts. God is foremost interested in growing the faith He has given His people. To God a greater faith is far more important than a material gift, a stronger trust in Him is more important than the walls falling down. And in order for that to happen all attention must be directed away from humans and on to God. It won’t be the strength of their army or their ingenuity that is going to take the city, only God. The same is true for you and me. More important to God than bringing down your Jericho’s walls, more important than giving you things that will make your life easier, is growing your faith, is leading you to serve God with all your heart, is moving you to place all your trust in God.

And God acted. Jericho’s walls came crashing down, just like God had said. But this is just a foreshadow of something far greater. This is just a precursor of the real Joshua who brought down the real wall. The name Joshua in Greek is Jesus. The name means “The Lord saves.” The worst Jericho, the largest wall in your life is really the wall of sin that has separated you from God. All your mistrust of God, all your doubts about Him and His love, all your questions, all your worry, all your failures to be the person of faith God has called you to be – all those sins have built an insurmountable wall between you and God. You’re never going to bring that wall down. It looks impossible. But God does the impossible. He tears walls down.

The Almighty God born as a baby and placed in a manger – you’re kidding! But it’s true. The Creator and Ruler of all walked our dusty roads and didn’t have a place to lay his head- you’re kidding! But it’s true. The Lord of all nailed upon a cross to die for the sins of the world – you’re kidding! But it’s true. Jesus rises from the dead to prove that our sins are forgiven – you’re kidding! But it’s true. Satan defeated, the wall of sin between you and God destroyed, the victory is won!  And furthermore, God broke down every wall of resistance your stony heart put up and every scheme of Satan in order to bring you to faith in Him as your Savior.

I don’t know what Jericho you’re facing in life right now. But I do know God’s promises. I do know that when God makes a promise, it’s as good as done, no matter how crazy or bizarre or impossible it sounds. It was true for Joshua at Jericho and it’s true today. And this is what faith does, faith looks at the promises of God and says does God have the power to do what He’s promised to do? God promised to cause the walls of Jericho to fall down, did He have the power to do that? Yep! God promised to send a Savior into this world, born of a virgin, did He have the power to do that? Yep! God promised that the Savior would suffer, die for all sins, and rise from the dead, did He have the power to do that?  Yep! God’s promised to be with you always, to never leave you nor forsake you, to never give you more than you can handle, to strengthen you through His Word, to always answer your prayers in the best way, to work all things for your good, to finally take you to heaven when you die. Does He have the power to do all that? Yep!

So no matter what Jericho you are up against, find your strength in God’s promises. Say with Joshua, “What message does my Lord have for His servant.” And where do you find that message, where do you find God’s promises? In His Word.  No matter what Jericho you’re up against, you’ll find the strength for the battle in God’s Word. And through it He will assure of His promises to you, grow your faith and He will give you the victory. No kidding! Amen.

Godly Resolutions for the New Year


New Year’s Eve 2015

2 Timothy 3:12-17; Joshua 1:8; 1 Peter 3:20-21; Matthew 26:26-29 – Make More Use of the Means of Grace

Earlier this week my family and I were in the Cities visiting family. I spent a little time with my brother Adam there and I helped him change the brakes on his car. My brother doesn’t have that many mechanic tools, so we spent quite a bit of time searching for the right sockets and wrenches to get the job done. And in the process we broke a couple of tools because they weren’t of the right quality to get the rusted bolts off. As we were working in his cold garage I was reminded of an important truth: In order to get a job done, you need to have the right tools.

Well, the truth is, each one of us is a broken project needing to be worked on by God. We have broken thoughts that are so often selfishly directed on ourselves and attempt to justify our sinful behavior, we have broken words that are horribly lacking in building up and encouraging others or praising God, but are filled with the opposite, we have broken actions that give in to temptation. Each of us is in desperate need of God’s repair.

And the truth is, God can do anything. However, when it comes to working on us, God has chosen to work through His tools: the means of grace. Why do we call them “the means of grace”? Because God could have left us on our own, but He graciously chooses to use beautiful ways to bring His grace to us over and over again.

First, God’s Word. God has chosen to speak to us not through premonitions, not through visions in the night, not through whispering in our ears, but through His own inspired Word. Do you want to hear what God has to say to you? He speaks to you through the Bible. And what message do we hear from God in the Bible? In thousands of different ways God tells us about His grace and love for you and me that found a way to rescue us from our brokenness with His Son Jesus who was born to die on a cross to forgive our sins. There on the cross God restored the broken relationship that we had with Him.

Yet, that’s not all! God then brings us everything that Jesus has won for us through the waters of baptism. In baptism God saves you. He saves you by connecting you personally to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through baptism God works faith in your heart. There are times in life when you can feel your sins most severely and Satan is right there pointing his bony finger at you, “How do you know you’re saved? How do you know God loves you? How do you know you’re going to heaven?” There’s one thing that no one can take from you and that’s your baptism. It’s part of your own personal history. In it, as we’re told, God saved you!

And that’s not all! God uses another tool: the Lord’s Supper. In the Lord’s Supper time and again you receive not just bread and wine, but Jesus’ own body and blood. And for what purpose? The forgiveness of sins. What assurance! What peace! What joy! To receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Through the Lord’s Supper God assures you of His love for you and repairs your relationship with Him!

So, do you want more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control in the New Year? We all need those things because we all need to be repaired by God. How about this resolution for the New Year: Make More Use of the Means of Grace. Amen.

Psalm 63:2-8; Philippians 4:6 – Persistently Practice Praise and Prayer

Attitude makes all the difference, doesn’t it? In my past jobs I’ve worked with quite a few people who ended up being fired. And some of them, it wasn’t because they weren’t hard workers –some were very hard workers, it wasn’t because they weren’t dedicated to our company, it wasn’t because they lost the company money, they were fired because of their bad attitude.

And you know what that’s like. I’m sure you’ve seen it in other people, I’m sure you’ve seen it in yourself. You can wake up in the morning grumpy, angry, sullen, expecting everything to go poorly in the day. And how does the day go for you? Not only is the day miserable for you, you also end up making the day miserable for everyone around you.

Is that right? Is that good? Is that really who we are? Are we really people who have reason to be upset, angry, grumpy and grouchy? No way! If we are, what are we really saying about the gospel? Are we saying it doesn’t affect us? Are we saying it only matters on Sunday morning? Are we saying it doesn’t really change our lives?

You see, we have every reason to praise God…all the time! You have a God who doesn’t treat you like your sins deserve! You have a God who tells you that as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is his love for you! You have a God who reminds you that in Christ Jesus He has cast your sins into the depths of the see where they will never ever be found! You have a God who has won you eternal life! That’s just scratching the surface!

Now, yes, bad stuff happens in our lives. And we can choose to react angrily or we can choose to react to it in view of the gospel. God has restored the relationship between you and Him that means you can go to Him, approach Him, talk to Him in prayer- even when you’re confused, anxious, or troubled and leave it in His hands.

So, looking for another New Year’s resolution? How about this: Praise Him. Wake up in the morning praising your God and Savior who’s rescued you and blessed you in incredible ways and pray to Him. Pray to Him in everything.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 – Live in Light of the Last Day

New Year’s Eve. We’re closing out 2015, another year done and another year lies ahead of us. One thing that we can say is that although we don’t know when Jesus will return, we do know that His return is nearer than it was yesterday. Might Jesus return in 2016? He could, we don’t know. And why don’t we know? So we’re constantly ready. And how are we ready? We’re ready as we believe in Jesus as our Savior and live each day like Jesus could return at any moment.

As you notice in your bulletin, this isn’t the only place where the Apostle Paul wrote about the Last Day. It was something that was constantly on His mind and something He was constantly reminding people about. So, what’s the lesson for us? The Last Day puts our lives in the proper perspective.

Jesus could return at any moment. And it’s going to be great! It’s nothing to fear, it’s something to look forward to. Jesus is coming to take us to our real home, our heavenly home –that’s great!

Here’s a  New Year’s resolution for you: Live in Light of the Last Day. Live like Jesus is returning tomorrow and this is your Last Day. If you do that, your relationships with others will be stronger- you’ll be more willing to repair any wrongs and express your love to your loved ones, you’ll have less stress – God might just take care of everything tomorrow by returning, and you’ll have more joy and probably more energy – Jesus is coming! What could possibly be better than that? Amen.

Rahab: My Son, My Sanctifier



2nd Wednesday of Advent
Joshua 2:8-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Dear friends in Christ, What’s it like to be an outsider? In 1978 Joe Smarzik from Walnut Grove, MN was going to be spending Christmas alone. He was divorced for 20 years and had lost contact with his wife and children. He was in his own words “terribly lonely.” So what did he do? Just before Christmas he placed an ad in the local newspaper seeking a family to eat Christmas dinner with and offered to even provide the turkey. A family Tracy, MN took him in and shared that meal and many more holiday meals together. He had some new found friends. He was included.  He was no longer an outsider.

Isn’t that what everyone longs for? No one wants to be an outcast, we all want to be included somehow, someway. At this time Joshua is leading the Israelites and he’s in charge of bringing them into the Promised Land. God’s patience with the sin of the Canaanites was through and God was about to bring upon them judgment for their sin and unbelief through the Israelites conquering them. The first stop was the city of Jericho. So, Joshua sent in two spies to check up on the city. They entered Jericho and apparently were trying to be discreet so they went to a prostitute’s house- not to solicit business but probably to aid in their cover. But, somehow their cover is blown. The king sends people to go and arrest the spies, but Rahab covers for them and hides them saving their lives.

How much of an outsider was Rahab? First, she was a Canaanite, she wasn’t a Jewish. Her ethnicity doomed her to the same fate as all the unbelieving Canaanites whom the Israelites were about to destroy. Second, socially, in this culture she was a woman who was apparently unmarried and childless and in a culture where having a family was your status, she was at the bottom rung and without much prospects, what self-respecting man would marry a prostitute or tolerate his wife to be in such a profession? How many friends do you think she had? I’m guessing she had few female friends especially married ones. And so she lived on the margins of society, in fact, there isn’t much more marginal in an ancient society than having your house set in the city’s outer wall.

In every way, to a human and outward standpoint, she’s a most unlikely candidate for inclusion in God’s kingdom. But what do we see here? “I know that the LORD has given this land to you…We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea…the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Wow! Did you hear that? This foreigner, this former prostitute, this lady who lived a life of sin, and what does she know? She knows the LORD! The LORD, the God of free and faithful love, the LORD who made a covenant with Himself to send a Savior into this fallen and corrupt world! This is 40 years after the Red Sea event and they’re still talking about it! Clearly the news about the LORD has traveled and it hasn’t gone without effect. In absolute grace God, the LORD of love, has wooed and won another sinner into His kingdom through faith.  The outsider was brought into God’s kingdom.

You know, really, we’re all like Rahab. We’re all outcasts and outsiders in God’s kingdom. None of us should be included. We were born estranged from God. Essentially prostitution is giving your body to be used in degrading ways in order to get a cheap pay off. Perhaps we haven’t done that physically, but what about spiritually? Have I used my body to harbor greedy thoughts? That means I’ve degraded it for the cheap pay off of maybe feeling like I deserve more than what I have. Have I used my body to speak words that hurt or cut or tear down? That means I’ve degraded my body for the cheap pay off of feeling better about myself at the expense of someone else. Have I neglected showing love and compassion and care for someone who is hurting? That means I’ve degraded my body for the cheap pay off of being lazy.

You see, we might look at Rahab and think she was a special kind of sinner, perhaps someone who deserved to be an outcast. But the reality is, we’re no different. And it’s important that we realize that. It’s easy for us to look down on others as if someone else needs more saving than we do, that God has to work harder on others than He has to on us. If we think that, then we have the same problem the Pharisees had with Jesus.  Jesus had the reputation of associating with whom? Tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.  Jesus came in order to rescue everyone. But it’s only the sick who need a doctor, only those who know they need Him who will receive Him.

Each of us is in desperate need of God’s rescue. Interestingly in Matthew chapter 1, we hear the genealogy of Jesus, and at that time a genealogy was like your resume. And who is listed? Rahab. By faith in the true God she left her life of sin,  was included in the nation of Israel, got married, and became the mother of Boaz who was the father of Obed who was the father of Jesse who was the father of King David from whom finally Jesus was descended. One of Jesus’ ancestors was a former prostitute. What does that show us? It shows us that Jesus came from a line and lineage of sinners. And yet, He himself was not a sinner, not a tax collector, not a prostitute. But He came to be Rahab’s true Son, although He was without sin, He became the ultimate outcast. Rahab faced imminent death and destruction but was spared by the grace of God. Jesus, the only one who was ever “in” with God, the only one who ever deserved to be “in” with God, became the ultimate outcast, from birth He was an outcast being born not in the inn or a home, but a stable, He was an outcast by His friends when the disciples abandoned Him, became an outcast of society when people cheered for His crucifixion, and became an outcast from God when God forsook Him on the cross.

Why? He became the outcast to save all outcasts. He put Himself on the outside of God’s love so that we could be forever on the inside. Jesus came to save Rahab, Jesus came to save every prostitute, Jesus came to save every sinner, Jesus came to save you and me. Jesus came to sanctify all sinners. Sanctify means God looks at you and says, “I want you included as mine! I want you to be set apart as my special possession, to live as someone clothed with my holiness.” By His blood Jesus set a well-known sinner apart as special, washed her clean of her sin, brought her into his kingdom and won her for eternal life.

He’s done the same for you! Let’s prepare for his coming this Advent season by being sanctified, by jettisoning pride from our lives, confessing our guilt of selling our own bodies to evil for cheap thrills, and trusting in our God who has brought us close to Him, made us insiders in His kingdom through faith in Jesus, our Sanctifier. And may we ever have hearts that seek to bring more outsiders into Jesus’ kingdom that they may be sanctified by Rahab’s son, our Savior. Amen.

We covet what we value most; what we value most, we sacrifice the most for

9th Sunday after Pentacost
Joshua 7:19-26

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, the spy is ushered into a dark room without any windows.  He’s chained to one side of the table.  His interrogators pelt him with questions, trying to pry whatever information they can out of him about his organization.  But he’s been trained to withstand great suffering without giving up any information.  But he knows and his captors know that if he shares any information it will mean dire consequences for his fellow spies and, if he is released from his captors, the top secret information he gave away will most likely mean death for betrayal from his own people.  So what do his captors do?  They place before him a picture of his daughter implying that if he remains silent, she will suffer.  So what does he choose?  Of course, he gives up the information putting his own life on the line.  The spy valued his daughter most and was ready to sacrifice the most for her.

Well, the same is true in our lives.  Probably not in such graphic ways, though.  What we strongly desire or “covet” is what we value most and for what we value most we’ll sacrifice the most.  What is it that we “covet” or have strong desires for in life?  Well, if you really want to run in the Blue Ox Marathon in Bemidji, you may sacrifice all kinds of things in order to do so- maybe sacrifice junk food, sacrifice time relaxing on the couch for some intense running and conditioning.  If you really covet straight A’s, you’ll sacrifice play time for study time, maybe sacrifice sleep for a late night cramming session before an exam.  If you really desire having that new boat or that new car, perhaps you’ll sacrifice free time for extra hours at work, perhaps sacrifice spending on other things for saving your money.  Whatever it is that we covet, it is that which we value and for whatever we value most, we’re willing to sacrifice most, right?

And we see it in the account here with Achan.  At this point Joshua is leading the Israelites into the Promised Land which God had promised to their forefather Abraham hundreds of years earlier.  God had faithfully led them for 40 years through their wandering in the desert, faithfully provided food and water for them every day, and most recently, faithfully parted the Jordan River which was at flood stage for them to cross over and enter the Promised Land.  The first city they were to attack was the city of Jericho – a well-fortified and walled city.  And this was God’s direction on how they were to capture this city: they were to march around the city once a day for 6 days.  Then on the 7th day they were to march around the city 7 times and after the 7th time the people were to shout and God promised that the walls of Jericho would fall down and they could go right into the city.  Sound like a good plan?  There was one more piece of instruction that God gave them: all the silver, gold, bronze, and iron were to be saved and put in the Lord’s treasury and everything else in all the city was to be completely destroyed and burned.

Well, everything happened just like God had said and the Israelites won and destroyed the city.  Their confidence soared and they moved on to the next city which was significantly smaller and so they decided to send a small force and easily defeat it.  However, not only did they not inquire of the Lord before they went, they also had someone in their midst who had acted unfaithfully.  So, when they marched against the next city, they were routed and 36 of them died in the battle.  Their confidence was shattered.  “Now what?  This small force defeated us?  What if the rest of the Canaanites hear about this?  They’ll also come at us and easily defeat us!  We’re ruined!”

So Joshua prayed to the Lord and the Lord answered telling him that someone had stolen, had lied, had taken things from Jericho that should not have been taken.  So, they couldn’t defeat any enemies until they were right with God again and cleansed themselves from this sin.  So they drew lots narrowing it down to find the culprit from tribe, then clan, then family, then individual.  Interestingly, the perpetrator never stepped forward until the lot fell to him.

Finally, the lot fell to Achan.  And what does he say? “It is true!  I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel.  This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weight fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them.  They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”  I saw, I coveted, I took.  What was he thinking?  Hadn’t God faithfully given them an amazing victory?  His actions cost 36 people their lives!  Well, with our experience at rationalizing sin, perhaps we can guess what was going on in Achan’s mind as he stole those things: “No one will know.  God is too strict.  What I’m taking is a mere pittance compared with what others have.  I’m not really being greedy, I just want to take care of my family.  Others are probably doing the same thing.  What a waste to burn this nice robe.  God is getting so much silver and gold out of this, he won’t miss this little bit.”  But regardless, he sinned against God and it affected the whole nation.  But when confronted he confessed his sin, they found the robe, the silver, and the gold hidden under his tent.  His sinful actions had consequences.  They rounded up all that he owned and stoned all of it, including him and burned it all.

Here we see the devastating consequences of the sin of coveting.  What does it mean to “covet”?  Finally, the word “covet” simply means to have a strong desire for something.  We generally think of “covet” in the bad sense, but it is possible to have a strong desire for something in a good sense.  This same word “covet” is used in the Bible to describe the desire that exists between a husband and a wife.  God also wants us to have a strong desire for Him and His Word.  One Psalm says, “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for the living God.”  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  God wants us to have a strong desire for Him, His Word, for what is right and good.

But as we see in the case of Achan there is, of course, all kinds of bad coveting.  Bad coveting is always wanting more of something other than God.  It’s never content with what one has no matter how much that might be.  It wants to gain things at the expense of other people.  But here is what coveting boils down to: It is really a deified desire.  It moves a desire inside of us to have something at all costs into the place in our hearts that God has reserved only for Himself.   This coveting, this wanting, this desire becomes more important to us than God.

It happened with Achan.  God had clearly directed the Israelites to destroy everything and put all the silver and gold into the treasury.  But to Achan, by denying him something so obviously good (at least in his own eyes) God was being ridiculous and selfish.  So, at least in the moment, it was more important to Achan to have silver and gold than to obey God.  And that’s what coveting in essence does.  It reflects our value system.  Shows what is most important to us.  People don’t covet what they have determined to be little value.  People generally don’t covet someone else’s trash.  We covet what we value most and we’ll be ready to sacrifice things we determine of lesser value to have what we value the most.  What did Achan value the most?  Gold, silver, a robe.  What was he ready to sacrifice in order to get it?  His honesty, his faithfulness, his trustworthiness, his relationships with friends and family, the lives of his fellow soldiers, but most severely: He was ready to sacrifice his relationship with God in order to have gold, silver, and a robe.

It’s really idolatry.  It shows up in our lives too, doesn’t it?  In the end, isn’t it God who is the greatest good in life and of infinite value?  So, with a proper value system we should covet a strong relationship with Him and be ready to make whatever sacrifices we need to in order to keep that relationship with Him.  And whatever we give up in life in order to know God better is far worth the price.

But what so often happens?  Just like Achan, our value system gets all messed up.  We begin to think that the essence of life, of our happiness, our joy, stems from having something in this life: a better home, a new boat, a better spouse, a new car, more money, a better job, you name it, and we’ll be ready to sacrifice anything in order to get it – time spent in God’s Word, time with our family, our marriage, our credit rating, going into bankruptcy, our relationships with others.  What is our value system?  Is our faith and our relationship with God of supreme importance in life that we’re willing to sacrifice ANYTHING that might get in its way?  Or are we ready to sacrifice our relationship with God and what He wants for us for ANYTHING that we covet?  We covet what we value most and what we value most we sacrifice the most for.  But as our Gospel states God will not share mastership over us with anything.  We may be able to hide our thoughts and desires from people, but He sees it all.

Which leads us to one conclusion: there’s nothing we could possibly do to earn God’s favor.  For not only have we done many sinful actions, but God sees even our hearts and condemns the sin of coveting in each of us.  So what did God do?  Apart from anything humans have done, God strongly desired something, coveted, if you will, and just like we covet what we value the most so did God.  Yet, what did God covet the most?  God strongly desired the salvation of us humans the most.  And what God valued the most, He sacrificed the most for.  He sacrificed His one and only Son who laid His life down on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice, shedding His blood for our sins and washing us clean from every covetous thought and feeling and desire.

God doesn’t want to force or demand anyone into being His child.  Rather, in pure grace God wants to win our hearts by what He’s done for us on the cross and in the empty tomb.  You see, God’s grace in the gospel is what changes our hearts.  God’s grace in the gospel moves us to want Him, to strongly desire Him.  He changes our value system in life making Him, our Gracious Savior, the most important and priceless treasure in our lives.  And since we have Him- and with Him His love and eternal life- we have all we need.  We can live content with what He’s given us in life.  We can be ready to sacrifice whatever it is in life that gets in our way of knowing God better.  And then we can say with the apostle Paul, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”  In Christ you have it all!  Live with that contentment!  Amen.

What is Your Answer?

14th Sunday after Pentecost

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, It’s that time of year again.  Hard to believe it!  It’s that time of year when synapses in the brain are firing and logical connections are being made.  When the wheels are turning and discoveries are made.  It’s that time of year when students go back to school and begin learning things.  It’s also this time of year when a certain dialogue fills the air.  Questions and answers.  Teachers will be asking questions and hopefully students will be answering them J.  Usually questions are either difficult or easy and answers are either right or wrong. Questions are easy when you know the subject and can remember and recall information.  They are difficult when you can’t.  And nobody wants to have the wrong answer and feel ashamed.  Well, today in our text there’s an implied question to answer: who are YOU going to trust?  Who are you going to serve?  What’s your answer?

The book of Joshua is a very interesting book.  It covers the time period right after the death of Moses.  Remember Moses was the great leader who led the Israelites out of Egypt and then led them as they wandered in the desert for 40 years.  After those 40 years were over God allowed the Israelites to take over the promise land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership.  The book of Joshua recounts the battles and events of how the nation of Israel overtook the land of Canaan and settled it.  (Here I’m going to put in a shameless plug for the new Bible study that we will be starting next week, we’re going to begin a study of this book of Joshua which is packed with excitement, variety, and God’s grace.)  Our text for this morning happens at the very end of the book of Joshua and at the very end of Joshua’s life.  It’s his farewell sermon to the Israelites.  The Israelites are now living peacefully and comfortably in the Promised Land.

Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem.”  I’m guessing that not many here would be able to find the city of Shechem on a map.  Well, Shechem is located right in the center of the promised land of Canaan.  There was a reason why Joshua would have picked Shechem for this sermon.  Here they are right in the middle of the Promised Land able to convene in this large meeting without worry or concern, why?  Because God had given them this land.  Shechem was also important for several other reasons: it was here where God promised Abraham that his descendents would live in the Promised Land, here where Jacob buried the household gods that had been brought from Laban’s house beyond the River Euphrates, and here where Joshua had earlier inscribed the Law of God on stone pillars. So, all in all, Shechem was a good location for Joshua to have the people assemble and renew their commitment to God before he died.

You’ll notice in our text that a few verses are left out.  From verse 2 through verse 13 Joshua actually speaks to the people on God’s behalf reminding them of everything God has done for them.  “I, God, brought Abraham from his land and from his family that worshiped false gods, I gave him this land, I made his descendants into a great nation, when the nation was in slavery in Egypt, I afflicted the Egyptians, I brought your relatives out from there, I parted the Red Sea for them, I guarded you through your wanderings in the desert, I brought you to this land, I drove out the nations that previously live here, I gave you this land for which you did not toil and did not build, I gave it to you.”  Notice a theme?  God first reminds them of what HE has done for them, how HE has blessed them, how HE has saved them.

So, after reviewing some 7 centuries of God’s saving grace, Joshua said, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.”  Revere, honor, trust, put your confidence in, and worship God alone.  “Throw away the gods of your forefathers…and serve the Lord.”  God wanted their hearts.  Remember how the Israelites were constantly prone to idolatry?  Just after they left Egypt they set up a golden calf to worship.  “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.”  If you turn your back on God, then you have options, you can pick which worthless god to serve.  You can pick the gods of your forefathers or the gods of the people who live here in Canaan.  But remember, these gods were powerless and helpless to their clientele when God came through and wiped them out and gave their land to you!  So you have options.  If you reject the one true God, there are bad decisions you can make.  Everyone has to worship someone or something, just like everyone has to eat.  If you reject God, you have the choice between gorging on garbage or devouring dung, which one do you want?  Then Joshua concludes with a statement that has had an impact on godly people for over 3 millenia, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”  Wow!  It doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter if you choose to oppose me, it doesn’t matter if I have to swim upstream, as for me as head of my house, and my family, we will continue to serve the Lord… no matter what!

The people responded saying, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!”  Then they list all that God had done for them and how He had protected them, provided for them, and drove out their enemies before them.  They like Joshua said, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

This portion of Scripture is very popular today.  Unfortunately, many people use this passage to defend a false teaching called “Decision theology.”  Which in essence says, “You must decide to believe in Jesus to be a true believer.  After all, Joshua says, ‘Choose for yourselves…’right?”  First, God says people are born in this world spiritually dead, spiritually dead people cannot make any spiritually living decisions.  Second, Joshua is here talking to people who already believe in God, not unbelievers.  Third, the word “choose” is only used here to “choose” between two bad things.  If you reject God, all you have is bad choices, which false god you want to follow.  You see, it is God who first must work on our hearts through the Gospel, telling us what He has done to save us, then He turns our hearts and leads us to trust in Him as our Savior.

How does this apply to us today?  It shouldn’t surprise us to see idolatry and immorality all around us in this world.  Why?  Because everyone in the world is “incurably religious.”  Humans have to worship someone or something.  Even so-called “atheists” have their god to worship, whether it’s power, pleasure, or property or even their own mind or reasoning, which they claim is so much smarter than the Bible.  Everyone has to worship.  And without God a person is incurably sinful.  Humans are born in sin.  Without the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith a person can only make spiritually bad decisions. But the amount of good that does is no more than someone praying to, bowing down to, and worshipping a rock or a piece of wood.

We see in this account how ready the people of Israel were to follow the true God and forsake idols.  But history shows us that the same people who confessed God here would later turn their backs on him for false idols and gods.  A confession once given is not once for all.  Think also of Peter in the Gospel…He gave a bold confession here, but only to deny Him later.  Totally by God’s grace He has worked faith in our hearts through the Gospel, when it comes to our salvation God did it all from a to z.  But now in our lives of sanctification we have a battle going on.  In bringing us to faith God has created in us a new person, a new man that loves what God loves and wants to follow Him alone, but we also have a sinful nature, an old Adam that clings to us till the day we die.  In our lives as Christians there are all kinds of decisions we have to make.  Do we follow the gods of this world, the gods of our sinful nature or fear and serve the Lord?  The fact that we are strong in faith today is no reason to let our guard down against the idols of this world.  All we need to do is look at our own past history filled with idolatry.  The gods of this world are legion: the god of discontentment, the sex outside of marriage god, the god of greed, the temporary gratification god, the god of selfishness, the “if it feels good, do it” god, the “everyone else is doing it” god, and the list goes one.

Where are those gods when you need them the most?  What good are those gods when you are searching for meaning and purpose in life?  Where are those gods when you long for answers to life’s questions?  Where are those gods to give you peace and security when your life is spinning out of control?  Where are those gods to give strength and confidence when you face life’s challenges and difficulties?  Where are those gods to give you comfort and consolation when a loved one is taken away from you?  Where are those gods when you need them most?  Where are those gods when you are lying on your death bed and facing death?

By God’s grace you are on the path that leads to life, the path of fearing, serving, trusting, and worshiping the one true God.  But this path has many forks in it and many off shoots to turn off on, many gods on those roads offering you cheap, temporary thrills, but a life of heart-ache, guilt, and trouble.  And each of those roads take you further away from God and they all end in the same place, death, eternal death.  So who are you going to serve?  Which path are you going to take?  What is your answer?

What gives you the power to give the right answer?  It’s continually reviewing and remembering God’s gracious generosity found in His word.  It’s gazing at the jewels of God’s generosity.  Watch as the record of God’s grace in Christ takes hold in your heart.  In love he chose you, redeemed you through the blood of Christ, called you to saving faith by the Gospel, washed you in Holy Baptism.  Daily he forgives you and lavishes on you all the riches of his grace!

So, who are you going to fear and serve?  Who are you going to follow?  What’s your answer?  Look at God’s faithfulness, be reminded of what He has done to save you, and the answer’s obvious.  When temptations come alluring, when sins seem pleasing, when the gods of this world are beckoning, you will answer with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!”  Amen.