Joshua week 3: When to follow, when to flee

For whatever reason, whenever I hit a passage in the Bible that has something to do with leadership, my sermon goes long.   I am beginning to believe that people’s biggest passions are often born out of their biggest mistakes–or at least it drives their insatiable drive to not repeat the same mistakes. 

The second half of Joshua chapter one is one of those passages that most would read through without a second thought.  At first glance these eight verses appear to simply push the narrative forward when, in fact, they give us a lot of insight into the leadership and unity in the body. My intent is not to repeat the entire sermon, you can listen or read it here. Instead, I’d simply like emphasize one point.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad churches being led by bad men.  By “bad”  I mean men who are false teachers, men who abuse the Word of God, and men who by their bad leadership produce sick churches drinking the kool-aid they offer.  In Joshua 1, the people affirm their commitment to follow Joshua.  But it is not some BLIND “you are the leader we’ll-do-whatever-you-say”, kind of affirmation.  They quality what they mean:

16 And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! 18 Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.”
The people promise to follow Joshua as long as Joshua commits to following the Word of God–otherwise, deal’s off.  Godly leadership is biblical leadership, period.  When it isn’t biblical, it isn’t godlyWhen it isn’t godly or biblical it is at best misguided and in need of correction or, at worst, demonic and in need of destruction. Without doubt, good biblical godly leadership in churches should be trusted and followed, obeyed and submitted to (Hebrews 13.17).   God has commissioned these leaders, as he did Joshua, to shepherd the people.  I realize using words like obey or submit makes many people cringe or perhaps even nauseous as they remember harmful past experiences with bad leaders. If you feel this way, know that leaders are not worthy to be followed because they are simply “leaders”, but only when they are FIRST followers, submitted to Jesus in a way that everyone can see, hear, and believe.  The office of leadership gives them responsibility to lead, but the Scriptures give the office authority to exist.  In other words, test all leaders, test what they say, test what they do, test how they lead.
Without doubt, there is a time to follow and there is a time to flee. If a leader leads with his own wisdom and not the WORD of God, run.  If the leader leads as if he is a “lord” and not in submission to THE LORD, run.  If a leader leads through power and not meekness, run.  If a leader leads by demanding service without serving, run.  If  a leader leads the church but not his family, run.  If a leader leads in submission to no one, not other leaders and not Jesus, run.   Follow leaders who truly follow the WORD, because you will always be led to Jesus–and joyfully satisfied.  Run from leaders who follow themselves, because you will always be led to men–and woefully disappointed.

Joshua Week 2: God’s Men are Strong

God’s men (and women) are commanded to be strong and courageous.  If they are, they are guaranteed success and prosperity–not necessarily wherever we go–wherever God sends us.

Such promises of God should not make us arrogant, but they should make us incredibly confident regardless of what we see, think, or feel. The phrase “be strong and courageous” is used three different times in this first chapter.  In our culture, that phrase could easily be misunderstood as, “Be tough.  Man up.”  Now, without question there is a time and a place to tell someone not to man-up and not be a pansy. But Joshua is anything but a pansy.  He is a proven general, the minority voice willing to stand up against the crowd, a strong and courageous man.  There are plenty of misguided “manly-manimals” who can debate people into corners with their verbal swordsmanship, who can bully people into a corner with puffed up chests, and who talk like they are afraid of NOTHING .  Manly-machismo-manishness is not what God has in mind when he says, be strong and courageous in the eyes of the LORD.

General Joshua is not told to perfect his bow staff skills, hire a speech writer, or flex his muscles.  He is commanded to be strong and courageous in a particular way, a way that will guarantee success.  Joshua is charged NOT ONLY to fight hard and be fearless against the enemies—but he is told THE MOST IMPORTANT manifestation of strength and courage is to be faithful to God’s Word.  As he follows God, Joshua will encounter battles that feel difficult and situations look impossible.   He will be asked to do things that will be counter cultural, counter intuitive, and offensive to his emotions.  His greatest temptation will be to turn from God’s Word, to depend on his own wisdom.  If he does, he will become weak and prove he is a coward.  Straying from God’s Word will not only make you spiritually impotent in waging war against sin in your life; you also become a coward governed by the fears of everything and everyone BUT God.

Joshua’s and our  most active fight will not be for external accomplishment, but for internal worship, his greatest battlefield will not be on the plains of the Canaanites, but on the wasteland of his heart.

Joshua Week 1: 5 Excuses People Use to NOT go on Mission

The book of Joshua begins right after the death of Moses.   Moses’ death signals the last of a generation God had patiently endured while he waited for them to die.  Numbers 13 and 14 record the story of when Moses sent 12 spies into the land and they returned with conflicting reports.  All of the spies agreed the land was amazing, but 10 of them believed its inhabitants were too strong to defeat.  Though Caleb and Joshua plead with Israel NOT to follow their “bad” report, the 10 other spies made strong arguments that filled all of Israel with fear.  In fact, the 10 spies are so convincing, that Israel begins to cry, hide behind their families, and threaten to overthrow the current leadership.

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14.1-4)

No matter how you look at it, the people disobey God.  They make all kinds of excuses, some sounding quite reasonable, others emotionally satisfying, but ALL simply ways to justify their disobedience.   We make the same kinds of excuses to not follow God on mission. Here are five of the most common ones, not the only ones:

1.  IT’S TOO HARD:  It’s not that we misunderstand what God has commanded us to do, quite the contrary.  We understand exactly what God has asked us to do, and it just appears too hard.  We fear men or circumstances, more than we fear God in all circumstances.  The truth is, God commands the impossible and then leads the charge up the hill himself, making all things possible.

2.  I’M TOO WEAK:  Those who say this hold to a man-centered theology.  When someone says, “I am too weak”, our response should be, “No duh!”  The Bible declares that we are weak, broken, rebellious, and dead in our sin.  We are weak, but God is strong.  Claiming you are weak completely ignores who God is.  The truth is, God never commands what he himself won’t accomplish.

3.  I’M TOO SCARED: The problem here is that in the mind of this individual, people are big and God is small.  I’m not sure what we’re scared of losing exactly.  If we consider for a moment what we are MOST AFRAID of losing, and that “thing” is not God, we are guilty of idolatry.  I believe it was martyred missionary Jim Elliot who said, “He is not fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain which he cannot lose.”  The truth is, we should be very more fearful of NOT following God on mission.  Scary.

4.  I’M TOO WORRIED FOR______:  The men of Israel, in order to justify their rebellion in Numbers 14, hide behind their wives and children.  We’re tempted to empathize with these guys because it reads as if they are doing what they think is best for their families, protecting them.  The problem is, God has commanded they go; it is the very BEST thing for their families.  The truth is, most of our anxious feelings are genuine, but many of them (when held up to Scripture) are sinful.

5.  I’M TOO COMFORTABLE:   People hate change.  A lot of our refusal to follow God on mission is because we are comfortable.  It is uncomfortable to voluntarily enter the battlefield, it is uncomfortable to make sacrifices, it is uncomfortable to follow God when it doesn’t make sense intellectually or feel good emotionally.  The truth is, if the WORD of GOD doesn’t govern what we do…what does?  Emotions that change?  Intellects that are marred by sin?  Experiences that are deceiving?

Those who refuse to go on mission will be left, as the Israelites were, to wander aimlessly in the wilderness.  It is a place where it is more comfortable, where there is less sacrifice, where there is a confusing sense of purpose and direction, where you do what you want despite what God’s Word actually says.

Church Planting Lesson #24 1/2: Stop being the victim.

Church Planting Lesson #24:  Stop being the victim.

Below is a post that a friend of a friend put somewhere in cyberspace.  I wanted to write a blog about the same thing, but she said it much better than I ever could:

Have you been wronged?
Have you been abused? Mistreated? Unloved?
Have you been cheated? Lied to? Deceived?
Have you been the victim of injustice? Unjust laws? Unjust authority?
Was your mother cruel? Your father absent?
Were you improperly educated? Improperly socialized? Improperly moralized?
Did someone do something to hurt you? Maybe even intentionally?

Well, join the club.
Everyone I have ever known has been hurt in some way by other people. Everyone I have ever known has been, at one point in time, the victim of some type of injustice.

Do you know the difference between the people who succeed in life and those who wallow in failure or despair? It’s very simple—they stop blaming other people for their dysfunction.

I know that there are a million legitimate explanations for why you have a propensity toward anger management issues, laziness, ignorance, sexual impropriety, depression, obsession, or addiction. It may be biological, emotional, mental, etc. And being clear about the reason for your dysfunction is important both for my understanding and for your journey toward well being, but these reasons cannot be used as excuses for your behavior.

Did you hear that?

There is a HUGE difference between providing an explanation for why something occurs and using the explanation as an excuse to affirm it.

So, back to the difference between the people who succeed in life and those who wallow in failure or despair.

They stop blaming other people for their dysfunction.
They don’t say, “It’s because I wasn’t loved enough as a child.”
Or, “It’s because the system is keeping me down.”
Or, “It’s because no one ever told me I was smart.”

As far as I’m concerned, as soon as you are wise enough to pinpoint the problem, you are now culpable for your treatment of it. And the only people who survive these great hurts and injustices in life are those who, rather than wasting time pointing fingers at the problems, choose to rise above them.

Obviously, some of these problems need to be solved: injustice, abuse, infidelity, etc.

But, those who choose the position of “victim” only render themselves helpless to affect change. They take themselves out of a position of power and into a stance that is weaker than their offender. And then they truly do become helpless and hopeless.

So, seriously, can we agree to stop being victims and start taking some personal responsibility for not only ourselves but for our world? Complaining hasn’t helped in the past and it certainly won’t help now.

All the “blame game” does is makes us feel okay about being terrible human beings.

Maybe it’s time we focused, instead, on actually getting better.