God Guides Proper Priorities

August 26, 2018

Pastor John Hering

Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. 2 Joshua said to all the people… 14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 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. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! 17 It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”

Joshua 24:1,2, 14-18

Jesus said these words and the people got angry,

“I am the Bread that came down from heaven!”

You have heard those same words spoken the past 6 Sundays.  You probably didn’t get angry when you heard these words because Jesus said these words to people that wanted to follow him because he gave them food, healing and success. But, if following Jesus meant sacrifice and trust then they weren’t going to follow him.  So, why are you here this morning?  Are you here because this is a place where you can quietly get away from the sacrifices you make at work, or the sacrifices you make as a parent taking your kids to piano lessons, sport practices, sleep overs, or because you were surrounded by people this past week who broke their promises to you in your marriage, in friendships or in business and now you’re here to listen to God’s promises? We hear such a promise when Jesus says,

55 For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him”

John 6

Wait, did Jesus just say that believing in him means we will remain in him?  And we all know what it means to remain in Jesus!  It means Jesus restored our relationship with the Father by dying on the cross.  It means that our status before God is now changed as the Father looks at us believers and declares us not guilty.  It means that now our life is changed from being all about me, to being all about giving glory to God.  It means that God now gives us the freedom to live as Hi own dear children and that we now get to prioritize our lives to reflect what we are.  And that’s when many Christians act just like the people did when they heard Jesus say he was God, their Savior. They didn’t want to give up the things of this world for Jesus, their Savior.  Think about it! The Gospel told us that after Jesus revealed himself as the true Messiah sent from heaven, many deserted him.  And in the Epistle lesson, after people hear what God’s roles are for men and women, that teaching is met with great hostility and ridicule from the world.  So, today, Joshua’s call to follow the Lord is proclaimed to people who have been richly fed by God’s Word, who have seen God’s mighty works in their own lives and God’s continued faithfulness to his Word. So, this is not just about God redeeming his people, but it is about God’s redeemed people being given the freedom to make the right choice in order to give glory to God.  And God has told us in his Word that we give him glory when we trust in him, and when our trust shows itself in our life by prioritizing God at the top. Therefore may the Holy Spirit continue to increase our faith to trust that

God Guides Proper Priorities   , therefore

Rely on God’s Performance

You could feel it in the air! The Children of Israel were in the Promised Land! It really is a perfect illustration of what we’re talking about today.  Just like God has made us his own dear children and heirs of eternal life—yes, that we actually HAVE eternal life now through faith, so the Children of Israel were already in the Promised Land!  It wasn’t as if Joshua was saying, “Hey, look.  If you guys do what God says, he will bring you to the Promised Land!”  They were there.  All they could do was mess it up!  How would they mess it up?….  By making their own rules, by following the false gods of the neighbors, or by living such a disgusting life that their hearts would become hard and they would become arrogant and prideful. But, now they were there!  They owned it!  It was theirs because God had performed miracle after miracle to bring them to this point.  Now Joshua was gathering the people together to remind them to keep their priorities straight, to “own the mission” which was theirs from the hand of their gracious Lord.

It might be hard for us to put ourselves into their shoes. It was over 40 years ago that they passed through the Red Sea. And the present people gathered around Joshua had been fighting for the past 30 years with plenty of bloodshed in order to establish a foothold and homes in this land. Joshua was at the end of his career when he gathered the people together at Shechem (dead center of the Promised Land). “Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.” Remember, Joshua was well respected as their leader.  He didn’t sit at his desk and direct his army, but was there on the front lines, fighting with his men and gaining victory after victory for the Lord.  Yes, the Lord had worked mightily through Joshua. Now he gathered his troops for a final farewell speech and reminded them to rely on God’s performance. Joshua 24 15

“2 Joshua said to all the people… 14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 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. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua did not talk about himself,“Look what I did, how I led you, how I’m a role model for your kids.” No, his message was quite the opposite.  Look at what the Lord has done for you! Look how well he has performed his acts of mercy and might! He chose Abraham to be the father of many nations, he worked to bring Joseph and Jacob’s family to Egypt and there for 450 years raised a mighty nation. He sent Moses to deliver them. The Lord caused the walls of Jericho to crumble, and the people witnessed the clever battle plans of the Lord unfold and success over and over again! Joshua pointed them to the Lord’s performance.  Joshua knew that everything he was, all he had, all he hoped to be, all depended on God’s performance alone!  Joshua called it the way it was…. When the Children of Israel did not make God their top priority, regularly honor God with prayer and praise, refused to rely/trust on God for their success instead of their own strength, then their lives were a mess. But, when they relied on God’s promises, God’s power and God’s performance then great blessings would come from God’s gracious hand (Remember the Red Sea split;  They lacked food.. God gave them Manna and Quail; Lacked water, God provided it from a rock.  All examples of God teaching his people NOT to rely on themselves, but on his performance!

Have you had moments in your life when you suddenly had to re-evaluate your life’s priorities? Maybe you sailed through school on charm and natural smarts, but last semester you had a C+ on your report card!  Maybe you’ve always been a great athlete, but injury has sidelined your career. Maybe you’ve always had good health, but now the words “lump” or “polyp” have entered your vocabulary. Maybe someone you cared about said, “Enough is enough! I’ve forgiven your weaknesses over and over again.  But you’re inconsistent and either you change your behavior or we’re over!”  These instances are shocking and cause us to evaluate our priorities and ask some questions as we look into the mirror:  What really counts?  My record? My trophies? My performance?  No!  What really counts and what really arranges the priorities in our life is God’s Performance!  So, let’s

Rally Behind God’s Performance!

When I talk about God’s Performance, let’s be clear what we’re talking about.  He saved us from being stuck in the slavery of sin.  He delivered us from being slaves of the devil so we don’t have to make bricks and build pyramids for Satan anymore. God has taken us through the waters of baptism and brought us to the Promised Land of his Forgiveness.  God made his “Son” stand still so he could be ridiculed, beaten and crucified in your place. God knocks down the walls of temptation with the promises of his Word.  God has given us the battle plans of Christian living.  And here’s the clincher!  No matter how badly you’ve sinned.  No matter how far you’ve strayed.  No matter how badly you’ve messed up your priorities in the past, there is still hope for you because of God’s performance that directs us to his eternal mercy and love!  Dear Friends, this is the place from which we wish to rally!  Let’s do it!  Let’s Rally Behind God’s Performance!

This is what Joshua was talking about!

“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”

After all I’ve said already this morning, I also want to be clear on this point.  Some have read this and wondered, “Can we choose to be with God or not?”  The answer is “No” and “Yes.”  Scripture says both! No, we can’t choose to get into a connection with God’s love from the point of spiritual death and unbelief. Jesus said,

“You did not choose me, but I chose you”

John 15:16

Actually, this is the only place in all of the gospels where the word, “choose” is used.  And in the whole NT the word “choose” is never used when speaking about following the Lord or coming to faith. But, YES, once the Holy Spirit puts God’s love and forgiveness in our hearts, after we are made alive spiritually, we can choose to remain with him.  Someone once put it this way, “We can choose to be more or less thankful for being God’s own dear child.”  Joshua knew the Lord had already chosen the Israelites to be recipients of his love.  Now, the Lord offered this proposal through Joshua, “Are you going to follow me, or not?  You Israelites didn’t do anything to be chosen as God’s people any more than you had anything to do with being physically born into an Israelite family. But, you can do something to get out. You sure can ruin it for yourself by rejecting God!  How foolish!”

I recently heard a story that makes the point.  A mother was telling her employees about her daughter.  “My daughter was yelling at me!”  You see, mom had spent her life to change her diaper, feed her, dress her, take her to school, spent countless hours helping to do homework, helping her make good choices about her friends at school, helping her get a job.  Even giving her money to purchase her first vehicle—a beautiful truck.  The daughter had gone to college in Louisiana and recently returned home with the surprising news, “I’m quitting my job and moving to Louisiana to move in with my boyfriend.” The mom was shocked and said, “Ok, if you want to live like that, then please get your own iPhone, your own truck, and pay your own medical, car, and life insurance.”  The daughter was yelling at her mom, “You’re so mean!”  Really? (Pause). Sounds to me like the mom was working hard to get her daughter off to a good start, but the daughter refused to rally behind mom’s performance. The daughter chose to follow her own set of priorities and now she would get to live by them.

God asks the same of you today. He asks you to look at everything he has done for you.  He asks you to look at everything that he has given to you since your birth (it all belongs to God and you are actually only a manger of all the stuff God has graciously given to you).  And now you hear Jesus choose you and invite you saying,

“I am the Bread that came down from heaven.  Follow me!”

John 6; Matt 4:19

That is a call to manage well the blessings God has given to you.  How are you going to manage your faith? Will you regularly feed it God’s manna by reading his Word and regularly worshiping so you can attend the Lord’s Supper?  How are you going to manage the blessings God has given to you? Will you show God your trust in his promises to provide everything you need by FIRST returning a generous, regular, proportionate, cheerful portion to him to support the gospel ministry of God’s church? Every day it would do us good to pause and look at what all God has done for us. When all we see is his mercy, grace and love, how can a child of God respond any other way than, “Yes, Lord!  Thank you!  Let me rally behind you!”  Joshua had it right and set the tone with words that have found their way into Christian homes for generations,

“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”

Israel rallied behind their leader’s example.

“Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! …We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”

They promised to rally their priorities behind the Lord’s performance as well. We don’t have to read very far to learn how well they kept their promise. They failed miserably. And when we promise to follow the Lord, our sinful nature will also cause us to fail. If you’re like me, you wouldn’t want your record of selfishness, unfaithfulness, and greed and grumbling to be published because it’s too embarrassing…. It’s damning! So, what shall we do about it? Make more promises?  Confess our sins to God and tell him we’re really sorry this time! How can we get our performance to match our promises? How can we keep our priorities in order? How can we “own the mission?” There is only one way to do that. Rally behind the forgiveness that empowers us to change and be consistent in the performance of promise-keeping. Go back time and time again to God’s performance at the cross of Jesus and his empty tomb. There at the cross of Jesus you can rally behind God’s performance.

I’m not sure this is true, but back in the day I’ve heard that people in prison were only given bread and water to survive. If it is true, it really speaks to what Jesus and Joshua are teaching us today. The basic sustenance for God’s people is one thing: Jesus. You get to meet him in the bread of the Lord’s Supper.  You met him in the water of your baptism.  Is it any wonder that Joshua directs God’s people to prioritize their lives to keep the most important thing, the most important thing?  It’s all about Jesus who died to pay the penalty of all your sins.  It’s all about Jesus who rose because you have been declared not guilty of all your sins.  It’s all about the Holy Spirit who choose you to believe.  Dear friends in Christ: Rely on God’s performance.  Rally behind God’s performance, and your life will be Guided by God’s Proper Priorities.  Amen!

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