Friday, June 3, 2016

"But As For Me...." My challenge to the ALIVE Student Ministry class of 2016

Joshua 24:1-18(NIV)

The Covenant Renewed at Shechem

24 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.
Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt.
“‘Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. When I brought your people out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. But they cried to the Lord for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.
“‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
11 “‘Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. 12 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. 13 So 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.’
14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates 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 ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, 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 parents 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.
For many of you graduating seniors, this is the last time you will ever sit in a group like this. This may be the last time you are ever the oldest person in the room at church. It may be the last time you hear a message geared especially for people like you at your exact stage in life. The church has spent up to eighteen years putting you in targeted environments, geared just to you, in hopes that you would be impacted by what you were learning; hoping that you would choose to follow hard after Christ and serve God on your own. So tonight, the question we are going to ask is, “Who are you going to serve?”

My freshman year, I was one of three freshmen named Tim on my high school soccer team. Two of the Tims were standout players, the all-conference type, and the freshman starter type. The other Tim sat on the far end of the bench and only got into a game during the last 10 minutes, if we were either winning or losing by at least three goals. I will let you guess which of the Tims I was. Because we all came into the school the same year, and we shared the same name, and we were on the same soccer team, we ended up spending a good amount of time together. About a month into the season I started to realize how different the other two Tims were from each other. On the surface they looked like just about the same person, even down to their first name. Both of them chose the same small liberal arts Christian College, both of them were members of the same team, both of them had older brothers that had also gone to school and played soccer there as well, but they were very different people. The one Tim seemed to always be getting in trouble. If there were a fight to be in, he would find some way to be involved. Within a few short weeks, he was on academic probation, and he ended up leaving school after just one semester. The other Tim seemed to do everything right. He showed up early for practice, early for class, early for curfew. This Tim would always play the peacemaker, Instead of being the fight starter.

Towards the end of the season, I was having dinner with one of the upperclassman on the team, and asked him what he thought of the other two Tims. He told me that neither one of their personalities came as much of a surprise to him, because he knew their older brothers, and he knew their parents. He then told me some embarrassing, albeit entertaining stories about the family of the first Tim, and then told me about the kindness and generosity that he had experienced from the family of the second Tim. Then he said, “It is the kind of family that I wish I grew up in, and that I hope my kids will get to grow up in.” Now, this is in no way a perfect family, but even as an outsider looking in it was obvious that there was something different about them. They were excellent at everything that they did, but with a tangible sense of humility about them.

Have you ever met a family like that? Have you ever been around a family where everyone just seems to do what is right, without being conceded or arrogant about it? 
How does that happen? 
How does one family get it so right? 
We have all been around families that don't seem to get anything right. We know families where everyone seems to get into trouble, and there is no stability.

A.E Kinship published a book about the findings of Benjamin Warfield in the late 1800s. In 1874 a sociologist named Benjamin Warfield was doing a study on the population of one prison in upstate New York. He found several prisoners that had the same last name; in his research he changed the name to Jukes, even though they came from four different families. He continued to do some research on these men, and found out that they were all related, but distantly. He continued to look into this family's history, and found that of the living 29 male members of this family tree, 17 of them had spent time in jail. He traced these men’s lineage back five generations to a Dutch immigrant, named Max Jukes. He followed the family through 13 New York Counties, and found that just like in his generation, the previous generations of Dukes, we're not exactly upstanding citizens. Of the 540 ancestors he could find of Max Jukes, 150 had served significant time in prison, 18 of them were brothel keepers, 120 of them were prostitutes, 200 members of the Jukes clan had received welfare from the state, and between the family members in the prison system and the welfare system, the state of New York had spent $1.3 million on this family by the year 1877. 

Benjamin Warfield also tracked and studied the lineage of another American family; the family of Jonathan Edwards. From the time he was a teenager, he resolved to ask himself at the end of every day “was there a way I could have served the Lord better today.” God certainly blessed Edward’s life and ministry, but his greatest legacy isn’t a sermon he preached, or a book he wrote. Garfield was able to find 1,394 descendants of Edwards in five generations. Among them he found 13 college presidents, 65 college professors, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, more than 100 pastors, more than 100 missionaries, 60 authors of prominence, 3 United States senators, 80 public servants in other capacities including governors and ministers to foreign countries, and one vice-president of the United States.

Max Jukes never went out of his way to decide to have a dysfunctional family; he just never decided to do anything. Jonathan Edwards decided everyday of his life that he and his family would serve the Lord.

In the above passage, Joshua was addressing the people of Israel one last time. In a lot of ways, they were very similar to our graduates. For their entire lives they had been told where to go, what to do, when to begin and when to end, but now they were going to be on their own for the very first time. They would not have to report to a military leader, they would not have to only set up their tent in one designated area, they were spreading out over an entire country, they could finally make choices for themselves and start a life of their own. I don’t have time to go through the entire passage verse by verse in this blog, but there are several things I want to highlight.

The first is the fact that before the people of Israel ever made a choice, in fact hundreds of years before they were even born… Check this out:

2This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham Joshua 24:2-3 (NIV).

God Chose First.
God did not choose Abraham and his descendants on any merit of their own, He chose them because He wanted to. Joshua wants the people of Israel to know that the reason that they have a relationship with God, and other nations don’t, has nothing to do with them being any better. It was only by the grace and will of God that He has blessed, preserved, and protected them as a nation. He then reminds them of all of the times God has worked in their favor. He reminds them of what God did for their parents; of how He liberated them from slavery, protected them from the Egyptian army, and allowed them to cross the Red Sea on dry ground. Then he reminds them what God had done for them in recent years; how He protected them from army after army in the desert, enabled them to cross the Jordan River, provided miraculous military victory after miraculous military victory, and now had given them peace and a country, a homeland for them to settle and populate. And this all happened because God chose them.

Not Choosing is a Choice
Next, Joshua tells the people that they have to make a choice, and it is not a choice they can put off. He doesn’t say that this is something you can come back to later; he says chose now. 
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. Joshua 24:14-15 (NIV).

The reason he said “choose now” is because he knew that everyone is going to serve someone. If the Israelites were not going to serve the Lord, they would be serving something, whether they intended to or not. 

People Follow Choices. 
Joshua made a choice, he made it emphatically, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” He said, no matter what anyone else is going to do, here is what I am going to do. And the people followed his 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.” Joshua 24:16 (NIV).

The people wanted an example that they could follow, so seeing Joshua make his choice made it that much easier for them to make theirs. 

The same things that Joshua told the Israelites three thousand plus years ago are true to us today. God chose first. The fact that you are sitting here today is evidence to the fact that God loves you and wants you to choose Him. He has already done so much for you. He has paid the price for your sins, through Jesus, and based on nothing you bring to the table, He loves you. God has already chosen. 

But indifference to God is not an option, Not Choosing is a Choice. If you are waiting until you are older or more established, or out of school, or married to serve God, you are not simply putting off your choice; you are actively choosing not to serve Him, and to serve something else in his place, and that is idolatry. 

People follow choices. Do you want to make a difference in your world, in your family, in your legacy? Make a choice, and follow through with it. People follow choices. They don’t follow empty words they follow choices. 

The Challenge:
So who are you going to serve? As you graduate and begin to experience new freedoms, trials and temptations, you will find that everyone is serving something. Will you be willing say “but as for me, I will serve the Lord”? 

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