Life is filled with choices. We choose what channels we will watch, we choose our cellular provider, and we choose what we will eat. We choose our attitude, our friends, and how we will invest our lives. Choices are a necessary part of life. People who have difficulty with choices will have difficulty with life. Think about it,
- If you do not make choices about where you will invest your time you will be constantly running and you will feel like you are torn in different directions or you will be overwhelmed, and simply do nothing.
- If you do not choose what you are passionate about in your life you will tend to stand for nothing and fall for anything.
- If you do not choose to be fiscally responsible, you will always feel poor and never know financial freedom.
- If you do not choose to make good decisions about your health, you will be prone to illness and will never feel energized and alive.
Choices are important. Some choices are made by default (when we refuse to make a choice we have in essence made a choice). The best choices are the ones we make consciously and deliberately.
In the final chapter of the book of Joshua we find Joshua near the end of his life. Chapter 24 records Joshua’s final words to the people of Israel. This faithful servant of God took the people on a stroll down memory lane as he reminded them of all the things that God had done for Israel. Then Joshua challenged the people to be faithful in response to God’s mercy and grace. He wanted them to make a deliberate, conscious and resolute choice to be faithful to the Lord of the Universe.
This passage is filled with practical application. If we think about what Joshua was challenging the people of Israel (and us) to do, we can learn several things.
We All Serve Someone or Something
We all like to think of ourselves as people who are independent; people who are free to do what we want. We are Americans, which we believe means we do not serve anyone. In truth, we are all serving something or someone. We are driven by something outside of ourselves.
Every year we are reminded that we have to work until the summer (July 11th this year) before we have actually made enough income to offset what we will pay in taxes. For more than half the year we are actually serving the government! Many of you work for someone which means you are, in essence, serving them. Many businesses are service based which means their job is to please or serve their clients. The idea that we don’t serve anyone is a myth.
Joshua recognized that everyone serves someone. He said to the Israelites,
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 (15)
Joshua didn’t give “serve no one” as one of the options. The people were told that there were many gods they could serve and they should choose who it was that they were going to serve. There are of course many different religions that clamor for our loyalty. In addition to these other faiths, there are other task masters,
- The gods of success (we work to be successful; whatever we gain when we reach that goal)
- The gods of material accumulation. We are enslaved to getting stuff. We live to buy more things (that later we will consume, throw away, sell for a dollar at a yard sale or put in boxes)
- The gods of academia. We serve the latest fads, studies, or theories. We work hard to be at the cutting edge of academia (even though most theories are eventually disproved or discarded)
- The gods of public approval (peer pressure). We want other people to like us. These followers do what they have to do (even sell their soul to the devil) in order to gain the approval of others. Some live for the approval of parents. Many parents today seem to live to gain the approval of their children! Our dress, our spending, our language, our friends are all chosen to get the kind of approval we crave.
When all is said and done our ultimate service either is to the world or to the Lord: to God or to Satan. It is good to take some time and ask ourselves an honest question:
“Who or What are you serving?” “What is it that occupies your greatest attention?” “What causes you to become most animated and passionate in your conversation?” The answers to those questions may point you in the direction of the gods that are calling most forcefully for your allegiance.
Why We Should Choose to Serve the Lord
The word that is used for “serve” in Joshua 24 has the obvious sense of “being devoted to” Joshua qualifies this service with the words “in sincerity” and “in faithfulness”. Joshua is calling people to something greater than the half-hearted devotion that characterizes most of our lives. He calls us to a service of the Lord that involves giving him authority and ownership over our life. He is calling for the people to stop playing games and become serious about their discipleship.
If you were going to have some kind of surgery, the Doctor, or hospital, would make sure that you were told of all the known risks in that surgery. You would be told the worst case scenario (what could happen to you if things go bad) and the best case scenario (what the Doctor hopes will happen). You might be told that a certain procedure is going to have you in the hospital for a week but after that time your pain should be gone. Or you could be told that a surgery will correct one problem and create another. Before you make a choice on whether or not to have surgery the hospital wants to make sure you are giving an “informed consent”.
Joshua wanted the people of Israel to commit to the Lord with informed consent. He reminded the people of their history. In the first 13 verses notice how many times God drew attention to what He had done. God had made them into a nation. He fought their battles. He was the one who brought them out of slavery. He chose them, not the other way around. There is a great summary in verse 13,
I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. 13So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’
The people affirm Joshua’s assessment. They agree that,
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. 18And 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.” (17-18)
The people seemed wiling to serve the Lord but Joshua said in verse 19, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins.” Is Joshua speaking in riddles? No, I believe Joshua is saying that we are so dependent on the Lord, that we can’t even serve Him without His help! Our dependence on Him is so great that we cannot even serve Him without His help.
Joshua argues that when you look at what God has done; when you consider God’s work on our behalf; we should be willing to follow Him. We should choose Him with informed consent.
What Does it Mean to Choose the Lord?
The big question is, “What does it mean to choose to serve the Lord?” Let’s use marriage as an analogy. What would you say if someone asked you: “What does it mean to choose someone as a spouse?” Would you say that it means giving someone a fancy ring? Would you say it means going through a ceremony? Would you say it means sharing intimacy or living in the same home? Each of these answers would be inadequate. Each of the things may be part of the process but it is not really what choosing a mate involves. Choosing someone as a spouse is a commitment to give yourself to another person. It is a desire to be attentive to what that person needs. It is a declaration that you will stand with that person through the good and bad times, the changes and surprises, and the advancement of years. It is to commit yourself to another in a way different from every other relationship of your life.
It’s the same way with our commitment to the Lord. It is more than joining a church, performing religious rites, or saying magic words. Choosing to follow Christ is a commitment. Choosing to serve the Lord means at least these five things.
First, it means we must be willing to quit straddling the fence. Fence straddling is an American art form. Politicians get elected by learning how to sound like a person of conviction while telling everyone what they want to hear. We are masters at finding ways to hold on to the idols of the world while we claim to follow the Lord. We declare that we want to follow the Lord but we still want all the stuff the world offers: the power, the indulgence, and the freedom to choose which commands of God we will obey and which we will not. This is unacceptable. It is just as unacceptable to the Lord as a spouse who has a mistress on the side. God wants an exclusive commitment.
Second, we must be willing to root out everything that hinders our commitment. Joshua told the Israelites that they must get rid of their idols. We must do the same. If we are going to truly become a follower of Christ we must be honest about our sin. We must refuse to make excuses and to do real battle with our sinful tendencies. It means we must eliminate the things in our lives that draw us away from Him no matter how painful these things might be. It may mean weaning ourselves from our sports obsession, limiting time on the Internet, changing our television viewing habits, staying away from bars, limiting our contact with people who bring out the worst in us, dealing with our angry outbursts, getting rid of our charge card, changing our attitude or working hard to change our vocabulary. If we are serious about our commitment we will do what is necessary to honor and obey the Lord in our lives.
Third, we must seek to influence the world rather than being influenced by it. Those who follow Christ must be willing to stand up and confront sinful behaviors. We must resist worldly thinking. We must resist a political correctness that demands that we lower our standard of holiness. Our job is to show the love of God even in a hate filled society. We are to bring Kingdom values into a pagan society. We have to live true to the gospel even if doing so will be unpopular.
Fourth, we must pursue our discipleship as a serious commitment. Joshua warned the people that if they professed faith yet continued to play with the idols of the world, they would face God’s judgment. Our Lord reserved some of His fiercest comments for the hypocrites or the pretenders. In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounced woes on those who made great boasts about their allegiance to the Lord but did not follow through. He firmly condemned hypocrisy. Somewhere along the line, good intentions and pious words must translate into action.
In the book of Revelation the Lord told the church at Laodicea that they were lukewarm in their commitment and as a result He was going to spit them out of His mouth. In other words, they made Him sick! The Lord told the church that He preferred that they were either hot or cold. If they were hot, or fervent in the faith, they would have the kind of devotion that He desired. If they were cold, at least no one would be confused where they stood. It would be obvious that they did not follow the Lord. The lukewarm people (like so many today) are deadly because they talk like believers and live like the world. They misrepresent what real commitment to Christ involves and compromise the gospel.
Finally, we must be willing to make a lifetime commitment. We’ve all met people who have gone through a “discipleship fad”. They “were religious” for awhile. They were enthusiastic, they were at every meeting, they were outspoken, and then all of a sudden they seemed to lose interest. They moved on to their next fad. Perhaps they obsessed about exercise, or eating healthy, cleaning up the environment or saving the whales. Their discipleship was just a fad; it wasn’t real.
The kind of discipleship God desires is one that is total. Jesus warned us that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Make no mistake. If you truly decide to follow Jesus then there is no turning back. It means you are truly going to “bet your life” on Him. It means you will stand or fall with Him.
The person who enlists in the military makes a commitment. They give themselves to the service for a period of time. During that time they endure training. They go where they are sent. They do what they are told. Once that commitment is made you don’t pick and choose what you are going to do. You live under a new authority.
The only difference for the child of God is that our enlistment is indefinite. We are in His service for life. We are choosing to submit to God’s authority. We are agreeing to train hard and to do what God commands us to do. We serve Him . . . He does not serve us!
D.L. Moody was transformed by a preacher who said, “The world has yet to see what God can do through one person who is completely committed to Him.” Moody set out to be that one person who was committed and God used him greatly. What would happen if you were that one person who was totally committed to the Lord? What could God do in and through you?
Joshua’s question is one we have to address: Who will you serve? Will you take a stand for Christ or will you continue to straddle the fence? Will you go “all in” with the Lord or will you continue to play at faith? I believe it is a true statement: “We are as close to God as we want to be.”
I urge you to make a decision today. Choose to have a close relationship with God. Be intentional about who you are going to follow in your life. Stop playing games and choose to seriously follow the One who has given His life for You.
For some of you this choosing Christ will mean entering into a relationship with God through Jesus. For you, it may be time to say to the Lord, “Yes, I do believe that Jesus died on the cross as a sufficient payment for my rebellion. I do believe that His resurrection proves that Jesus was who He said He was. I am willing to put my confidence for eternity in Christ. I give up all hope of being “good enough” to earn Heaven on my own but instead I take the right standing with God that is offered through Christ. I receive the gift of eternal life and I welcome the transformation of your Spirit.” Take this opportunity to receive the new life that God offers in Christ. Start the journey right now.
Others of you have said such words. You have concluded that Jesus is the only way to forgiveness and eternal life. However, you need to choose to become serious about your commitment to Christ. You need to resolve to stop playing at faith and start getting serious. You need to move beyond being an “almost Christian” and start following Him fully.
Coaches tell their players all the time that they need the players to give a serious effort to the sport. They want the players to practice regularly and diligently. They want them to learn the plays, practice the fundamentals and do the work that needs to be done on and off the field in preparation for a game. The athlete that is not serious may keep up for a while but eventually they will be surpassed by those who have worked seriously.
The Lord wants us to make a serious effort in our commitment to Him. Are you ready to get serious in following Christ?
- Will you take a hard look at your life and root out all those things that stand between you and serious discipleship? Stop making excuses! Confront the things that are dragging you down. Abandon those reasons you give for not doing what is right. Get off the couch and get in the game.
- Will you make time to build your relationship with Him? Will you give priority time to worship, Bible study, prayer, and seeking God’s will for your life? Make an appointment with God right now. Write it in your calendar. Be as serious about this daily and weekly appointment as you are the other appointments in your calendar.
- Resolve to be a good steward of what God has given you. Stop looking at what you have as “yours” to use as you want, and instead start seeing what you have as “His” to be used as He sees fit. Let Him control your calendar, your checkbook, and your free time.
- Dare to reach out to hurting people. Look past a person’s appearance or history and see the person in need of God’s grace. Determine that you will be willing to be inconvenienced to reach out to someone else in Jesus’ name. Dare to step beyond what is comfortable to risk doing what is right.
- Stop making everything about YOU (even though you make it sound spiritual) and start focusing your life on the LORD.
It is time to make a choice. It is time to decide whether you will be a follower of Christ or just one of his fans. It starts with me and it starts with you. It is time for us to stand up before a watching world and declare with Joshua: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”