Living Until You Die

Different people mean different things when they say they understand and are enriched by a personal computer. For the majority of people, they use their computer to run the programs they want and need to use to make greeting cards, write letters, manage their checkbook, play some games (like solitaire) and read and write e-mails.  Other people use their computer to manipulate sound files, do all kinds of things with photographs and use the Internet to research things.  Still others enjoy the computer by writing programs and working with the code that makes complicated programs work. And still others work with the processor chips that actually make a computer run.  Each of these groups of people would say that they understand and are enriched by their personal computer even though they have different levels of understanding and interest.

I say all this because I want you to understand that the same is true when we read the Bible.  There are different levels of information and understanding in the Bible. For most people, if they sit down and read the Bible they will be pointed in the direction of Jesus Christ and can be led to a personal relationship with God.  They don’t have to do deep study, they just have to be willing to read and listen.  Other people study the Bible for themes that help them understand the character of God.  Still others study the Bible to understand the culture and life of people in Biblical times.  Still others study the Bible carefully to verify the accuracy of what it is telling us.  All of these people are enriched and understand the Bible; just on different levels.

As you read through the genealogies of 1 Chronicles, the purity laws of Leviticus, the sacrificial regulations of Exodus and the record of the various conquests and the division of the land in Joshua, it is easy to get discouraged.  These passages may not mean much to you, but like computer code, they are valuable to those who need to know such stuff.

Because of this, we are going to skim over many of these last chapters in Joshua. We are going to take a step back and try to see the “big picture” and gain some lessons from Joshua and Caleb on how to live our lives as people of influence.

PERSON OF INFLUENCE #1: JOSHUA

Dr. James Montgomery Boice in his commentary on Joshua, discerned some helpful principles from Joshua 10 through 14 that show why Joshua was a person who made a difference. I want to adapt those principles for our study.

Lesson One: Joshua did not let short-term victories deter him from his long-range objectives. In Joshua 10 we read the story of the five kings who attacked Gibeon because of Gibeon’s alliance with Israel.  As Israel pursued the enemy, the five kings hid themselves in a cave.  Instead of stopping to deal with the Kings, Joshua told his soldiers to roll a stone in front of the cave to in essence “lock up” the Kings so they could continue with the battle and deal with the kings later.  Defeating the Kings would be dramatic but it would also distract them from the war at hand.

This is such a good lesson.  You have probably heard about the child who didn’t want to go to Disney World because he was having too much fun playing in the mud in the backyard.  That child was distracted by lesser things.  This happens easier than we think.  We get distracted by: statistics (numbers); gadgets and glitz (what is cool); popularity; political clout; and profit.  It happens at work, in the church, and in our personal lives.

To be difference makers, we must always keep in mind our long-range objectives

  1. Our primary goal is to live in a way that honors and glorifies the Lord
  2. Our mission is to introduce people to the Savior who loves them
  3. We must value people and relationships over mere statistics
  4. We want to make a difference in the lives of others by our acts of love and compassion rather than merely speaking in pious platitudes.

If we keep our focus we won’t be as distracted by the secondary issues.

Second, Joshua took no shortcuts but pursued the campaign in a logical, step-by-step progression.  As we read through these chapters we observe that Joshua had a systematic plan for taking the land of Canaan.  People who make a difference understand that there are no shortcuts to what really matters.

You’ve probably seen the specials on television that report on the epidemic of cheating that is going on in our schools and universities.  Students are using cell phone cameras, text messaging, and computer hackers to get better grades.  The person who truly wants an education knows that getting grades is not the same as an education.  The only way to get an education is to study and work.

There is no shortcut to a quality education just like there is no shortcut to a quality life.  If we are going to move forward in the Christian faith we have to spend time with God; we need to actually read and study the Bible; we need to regularly take a hard look at our lives to see if we are living up to the standard God has set for us.  We need to keep working to give of ourselves to the Lord and to those around us.  There is no shortcut.

Third, Joshua did not allow his early errors to unsettle or defeat him Joshua made some mistakes early on.  He lost good men at Ai because he didn’t consult with the Lord and he ended up being fooled into a treaty with the people of Gibeon.  Joshua could have said, “I’m not good at this, I’m just going to quit.”  That would have been a mistake.

In baseball they say that a relief pitcher has to have a short memory.  If he has a bad outing and has trouble getting people out, he has to forget it immediately.  That pitcher has to come back the next day with clarity and focus.

If we are going to be people of influence we have to accept the fact that we will make mistakes.  Some of them will be whoppers.  We need to remember that the successful person is the one who makes the right decision 51% of the time.  When these mistakes and failures come we need to: confess them to the Lord, repent from our sin (turn away from what we are/were doing), make restitution where needed, and then move on.  We can’t change the past.  We must trust God to forgive us and help us start again.

Fourth, Joshua obeyed completely (11:15).  “As the Lord commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses.”  These are impressive words.

Some of you have heard this story before but I share it to make a point. When I was living in Michigan I had a car problem.  I purchased a book to help me diagnose the problem. I concluded that I needed a new “head gasket”. I went to the store and bought this thin cork gasket that goes right under the valve cover of an engine. It looked pretty easy. I took off the valve cover, removed the old gasket and replaced it with the new one. I refastened the valve cover and was prepared to be really proud of myself.

I got into the car and turned the key. The engine “turned over” but it wouldn’t catch and  keep running. So as a typical man who knows nothing about cars, I got out and stared at the engine (I wanted others to think I knew what I was doing!) I dabbled and muttered for a couple of hours until dark and went inside.  The car still didn’t start.

The next morning I got up and tried to start the car again (you never know, maybe it just needed a good night’s sleep). Since I still was unsuccessful and needed to get to work I called a guy who was a mechanic in the church. He came right over and asked what seemed to me to be a clairvoyant question: “Did you have some left over bolts when you put the valve cover back on”.  I thought, “Wow!  This guy is good.”  I marveled that I did end up with two “extra” ones that didn’t seem to fit.  The cover seemed plenty snug so I didn’t put them back in. He then explained that by leaving these two bolts out the engine head I was keeping it from creating the vacuum that it needed to start. As soon as he made the repair the right way, with all the bolts, the car ran just fine.

If we are going to truly serve the Lord with significance, we must work to obey ALL the commands; even the ones that don’t fit with our lifestyle or with what is most convenient.  It is easy to obey commands to do things we would have done anyway.  It is much harder to choose to do what God says when we would rather do something else.  Joshua was a man of influence because he obeyed completely.

The first command that we must obey from the Lord is the command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  What this belief entails is that we must admit our rebellion, turn from our old way of life, and put our confidence in what God has done for us through Jesus.  Christ died as a payment for our sin.  He rose from the dead to show that the payment was sufficient and to open a door for us to have a vital and intimate relationship with God.  We deserve God’s wrath; He has extended His mercy.  The first command is to truly receive this undeserved gift from His hand and to allow His new life to empower us.

Fifth, Joshua let God be God.  In Joshua 14:2 we read, “Their inheritances were assigned by lot to the nine-and-a-half tribes, as the Lord had commanded through Moses.” Joshua was not on a power trip.  He didn’t feel like he needed to make all the decisions.  When it came time to distribute the various tracts of land in Canaan the tribes were given their land by lot.  It would be like putting all the tribal names in a hat and pulling them out to determine who was given what land.  Jacob trusted God’s providence.

We must remember that we serve at the pleasure of the Lord of the Universe.  We are on His team and He calls the shots.  It is not about our title or our “authority”.  It’s about His. A person of influence is one who is not seeking fame but is seeking to be faithful.  These people don’t care who “gets the credit” as long as God gets the glory and people are brought to faith.  The person of godly influence is like a good employee who understands who is the boss and trusts him.  He works hard to do what the boss needs done.

PERSON OF INFLUENCE #2 – Caleb

As we get to Joshua 14 we are introduced to yet another person of influence: Caleb.  He is introduced as Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite.  The Kenizzites were not Jews.  Caleb therefore must have been a first generation Hebrew.  Either his mother was Jewish and she married a Kenizzite, or Joshua or his family converted to Judaism sometime while the Hebrews were in Egypt.

Caleb and Joshua had been friends for a long time. Back in the book of Numbers chapter 13 Moses selected 12 spies to go and check out the land God had promised Israel.  There were representatives from every tribe.  These spies came back and reported that there were giants in the land who were exceedingly strong.  Ten of the spies concluded from these facts that they should not enter the land because they would be destroyed. The other two spies concluded that God was stronger than any giants. They urged the people to go forward. Those two men were Joshua and Caleb.

The people of Israel believed the conclusion of the majority. As a result of their lack of faith, God sent them to wander in the wilderness for the next 38-40 years while every adult member of the group died out except Joshua and Caleb. These men were the senior statesman of Israel.  Joshua was probably around 100 years old.  Caleb is now 85.  If we do the math, the conquest of the land took 5-7 years.

As the land is distributed, Caleb came to Joshua, in his words we see some additional characteristics of a person of influence.

So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”  (14:10-12)

Do you get this? Caleb is 85 years old and he is looking for a challenge.  He doesn’t ask for a comfortable resort area where he can retire; he doesn’t request a rocking chair; he isn’t worried about his pension.  He is ready and eager to take on the giants who live in the mountains.  I love that spirit, don’t you?

Have you noticed how many people seem to give up living well before they die?  They are like runners who run a race and then stop and sit down within sight of the finish line.  Remember the words of Paul near the end of his life? “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Too often as we get older we say things like,

  • I’ve served my time, it’s time for someone else to take over
  • I’m too old to do that
  • I can’t wait until I retire and do nothing all day long

Caleb refused to sit down.  He was not about to quit before the race was over.  He refused to stop living until he was dead. I want to live like that . . . don’t you? Here are three principles to remember if you want to finish well.

Age has little to do with what you can do and has nothing to do with commitment.  Our commitment to the Lord should be unaffected by our age.  When running a race, the idea isn’t to slow down as you reach the finish line, the idea is to “kick”, to push harder, to use everything you have to finish strong.  At this point runners are tired.  They don’t think they have anything left.  They don’t think they can do it.  However, they dig down and find that hidden reserve and use it to finish strong. Why should life be any different?

In our later years we hopefully have more wisdom than we did when we were young.  We should be putting that wisdom to work.  We often have more financial resources than when we were raising our families.  We should be putting that money to work for eternal things.  We will have more time than when we were younger, we should be using that time to visit with people, to encourage others, to serve in ways others can’t.   If you stop and think about it, some of the most dynamic and energetic servants we have in our church are those past retirement age!  I love seeing people in their 70’s going on mission trips!  That’s the Caleb mindset!

Living until you die starts with an attitude that we develop when we are younger.  The person who doesn’t start planning for retirement until they are just about ready to retire is going to have problems.  Caleb served the Lord all his life.  This man who was ready to face the giants at 40 was still ready to face them at 85!  Caleb made a habit of serving the Lord and trusting Him for great things.  Caleb had learned from a lifetime of obedience, the benefit and joy of serving the Lord.

We have to be careful of always “playing it safe”. Sometimes we need to dare to do something that is a little beyond our reach; something outside of our “comfort zone”.  We need to learn how to trust God boldly now, so that when we are older we will have a vital relationship with Christ that will help us resist the temptation to stop living and simply plop in front of our television set.

Living until we die requires that we focus on God not the Giants.  The key to Caleb’s success was that he had a big view of God.  He believed that God was able to move any mountain.  Caleb was not intimidated by the giants of the land . . . he served the Lord God Almighty!  No matter what the challenge, Caleb knew that God could meet that challenge.

Chuck Swindoll wrote: “vision is the ability to see God’s presence, to perceive God’s power, to focus on God’s plan in spite of the obstacles.”  That’s what Caleb did.  He walked confidently through life because he knew the character and nature of God.  His age was irrelevant when God was at his side.

CONCLUSIONS

I believe all of us want to be people of influence.  We want to lead rather than merely follow.  We want to inspire rather than discourage.  We want to scale mountains rather than be intimidated by them.  We want to finish the race rather than merely start it.  We want to be more than simply mediocre.  In Hebrews 12: 1-2 we read this challenge,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

This morning I have suggested that to live in this way we must

  • Not let short-term successes deter us from the long-range goal
  • We must resist shortcuts and keep moving forward
  • We must not let mistakes or failures derail or defeat us
  • We must strive to obey God completely
  • We must let God be God and let Him call the shots
  • We must finish strong

So, are you living as a person of influence or are you just alive? Are you single-minded in your focus or are you running in a hundred different directions headed nowhere?  Are you trying to follow Jesus on your terms or His? Are you wallowing in the failures of the past or are you learning the hard lessons and moving forward?

If you are an older believer: Are you still looking for a new challenge or a new mountain to climb or have you plopped into your rocking chair for the duration?  Will you spend your final years coasting or sprinting to the finish line?  How you honestly answer these questions will determine whether or not you will be a person of influence.