Joshua Called Courageous!

“Joshua Called Courageous!”

Josh 1-9 be strong, poster

Joshua 1:1-2, 5-9 (1:9) – June 17, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Do you know what it’s like to be a second fiddle? Someone’s assistant? Someone to back up the real leader, or director, or president? Always there, just in case, always ready to step in, in case of emergency, but never really, fully in charge? I do. I’ve been in that faithful, dependable assistant position a lot, for a number of years.

It can be a relief, not having to be the top person in charge. Remember, President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” With the second fiddle, the buck definitely would not stop at the assistant’s desk. He or she would be able to pass it on.

All the same, imagine Joshua, the newly designated leader of the nation of Israel. His predecessor, the strong and dynamic leader—or, director, or head of the Israelite nation—Moses, had been in charge of the nation for over forty years. Israel had been wandering in the wilderness all that time. Joshua had been Moses’s right-hand man all of that time, too. By all accounts, Joshua was a faithful, dependable assistant and second-in-command to Moses, for decades.

What kinds of things must have been going through Joshua’s head, after the death of his leader, probably even his mentor, Moses? I cannot imagine the shock and grief at his leader’s death, plus all the huge weight of the responsibility for the whole nation of Israel, now resting squarely on Joshua’s shoulders. What on earth does he do now?

As the book of Joshua begins, we hear the words read to us today, where the Lord God meets with Joshua. Not with Moses, as had happened a number of times in years past, but with Joshua, instead! Joshua is the one having an up-close-and-personal encounter with the Lord!

This is a first-hand encounter with the God who led Israel through the wilderness for forty years. Pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night, manna every morning, for forty years. We’re talking an extraordinary God, here! Power beyond understanding, magnificent glory, works miracles on a daily basis. That’s the God who meets with Joshua.

Joshua probably did not feel at all up to the daunting task of primary, solo leadership. However, God knew better than Joshua. “Joshua was prepared by faithful service in small things, in being Moses’ assistant. Dr. Alan Redpath tells of a motto over a kitchen sink: “Divine service is conducted here three times daily.” [in the washing of dishes] The motto is true, and great men and women are prepared by faithfulness to the small things.” [1]

We see that God has encouraging words for Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, “Be not afraid!” That is why many biblical scholars think that Joshua had an inferiority complex. The Lord needed to give him a leadership pep talk!

When Pastor Gordon and I began an interim, emergency pastorate in 2014 here at St. Luke’s Church for three months, this was a familiar job for me. Gordon and I had done it before, in an interim position at another UCC church in 2007. I was Gordon’s assistant. I was playing second fiddle to a seasoned, self-assured pastor who had many years of experience under his belt. When Pastor Gordon left St. Luke’s Church in June 2014 and left me as solo pastor, I was experiencing some of the same feelings that Joshua probably felt. How on earth am I going to lead these people? Yet, with God’s help and the help of several seasoned professional pastors and clergy, I weathered that storm of low self-confidence and low self-esteem.

Joshua faced a huge, new, daunting task, to be sure!

What is one of the most important things the Lord says to Joshua, when giving him the heavenly pep talk? “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.“ Reading and meditating on the Word of God on a regular basis is of primary importance to God. Moses did these things. Joshua must have seen Moses read and meditate on the Word of God, countless times, and I suspect he joined in, as well.

Let’s break down God’s words to Joshua in these verses, and take a closer look at what God is telling him to do. “Joshua must take great care to observe the law. God’s Word and Joshua’s commitment to it would be the pillars supporting his success. Joshua did not only need to read God’s word. It had to be on his lips (“shall not depart from your mouth”), in his mind (“meditate in it day and night”), and he had to do it (“observe to do according to all that is written”).” [2] Regular, even daily insights into God’s Word, the Bible, can help us think the way God does, behave in the way God does, and have compassion on the people God does.

Even though you and I are not facing such a huge task as Joshua, today, what we face can be daunting to us. Sometimes, we can be anxious, fearful, afraid, even stressed out, angry or confused. We might need encouragement and support from God, too. What is a daunting task, to you? How can God’s words to Joshua be helpful and encouraging to any of us, today?  

Pray, seek the Lord, and talk to other, trusted Christian friends. The helpful, encouraging answer will be there. The Lord can—and does—inspire and encourage each of us as we face new and daunting tasks in our lives, day by day. What a tremendous promise to celebrate!

Remember God’s words to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, repeated again and again throughout Scripture? “Be not afraid!” Be that way. God said so!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/joshua-1/   David Guzik Bible commentary on Joshua 1

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

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By Scripture Alone

“By Scripture Alone”

2 Tim 3-16 Scripture God-breathed, script

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (3:16) – October 1, 2017

Who remembers going to Sunday school? Remember the bible lessons, and learning about God’s faithfulness? How God was faithful to people over and over in both the Old and New Testaments, and how God is faithful to us, today? Who remembers going to confirmation classes, and learning about God’s grace? How God extends abundant grace to us, today? Who remembers learning about Jesus, and how He came into the world to save sinners, including us?

The young Timothy learned lots of that kind of bible stuff, too. He grew up reading the Hebrew Scriptures, and was carefully taught about God and the ways of salvation and faith. Except, timid Timothy needed a knowledgeable mentor, an older brother in the faith, and he found one in the Apostle Paul. Paul zeroed in on the fact that Timothy grew up with the Scriptures. He praised Timothy for learning the Bible; “how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

I mentioned last week that I will be preaching this month on the five “Solas,” the five foundations or main principles of the Protestant faith. As we remember Martin Luther and his posting of the 95 Theses, or grievances against the Catholic Church on that chapel door in the town of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, this October 2017 is the 500th anniversary of his brave act that sparked the Protestant Reformation.

This week, I am preaching on Sola Scriptura, or by Scripture alone. This foundational principle sets Protestants apart. This was a big deal in Martin Luther’s day. One of the rallying cries of the Reformation, by Scripture alone was not the case in the minds of many, many people in Martin’s day. Not only clergy but also lay people in the 1500’s thought that they needed more stuff to add to the Bible, for salvation—to get them to heaven.

“I need the Scriptures plus the Pope to save me.” That was what some people thought. They considered the Pope’s pronouncements to be equal in weight to the Scriptures. That was one thing that Martin Luther publicly denounced in his 95 Theses, in several pointed statements.

Don’t get me wrong; I have highly praised both Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II from this pulpit, on several occasions. Francis is a spiritual, kind, caring and devout man, a marvelous representative for the Catholic Church worldwide. I could say similar things about John Paul II, may he rest in peace. Great leaders, and wonderful examples. Just not elevating their pronouncements to the level of the Holy Scriptures.

“I need the Scriptures plus church tradition to save me.” That was what some people thought. Yes, Holy Scripture was important. But many, many people for centuries thought that the doctrines and traditions of the Church Universal were of equal importance. The creeds and confessions and catechisms of the church were considered of equal importance, too.

Guess what? Doctrines, traditions, and creeds are all human creations. That means that humans made them. In most cases, very carefully. They checked and double-checked to make certain they agreed with Scripture. However, sometimes these faulty humans made mistakes. Sometimes these fallible, sinful humans goofed and put down their goofs on paper, for posterity to see. Sometimes sincere people of good conscience passed rules stating that certain things were good or positive or “the way things should be” or “it’s always been that way.”

“Over the centuries, doctrines have been developed with the interests of the Church in mind.  These doctrines have come to us from human hands and minds.  They are imperfect.” [1]

One vivid example? In 2017, we now understand that slavery is immoral. 150 years ago at the beginning of the American Civil War, sincere people of good conscience in certain denominations split ways over the biblical condition of slavery, described numerous times in the Scriptures. They did not reconcile for many decades. Similar to people at the time of Martin Luther, many were bound to tradition and following the church leaders of past centuries.

What about today? Is this still true? I think, yes. Today, “men use the Bible to enforce patriarchy.  Bigots use the Bible to justify discrimination.  The calling to serve the poor falls on deaf ears.  ‘Healing the sick’ is not a community responsibility, lest we have to pay more in taxes.  [Many] Christians use the Bible to satisfy their desires, promote their own interests, and express their own fears and bigotry.” [2]

How can people so blindly follow tradition, we might ask? To illustrate , here is a short story. “The new bride is making her first big dinner for her husband and tries her hand at her mother’s brisket recipe, cutting off the ends of the roast the way her mother always did. Her husband thinks the meat is delicious, but says, “Why do you cut off the ends — that’s the best part!” She answers, “That’s the way my mother always made it.”

Bothered by this, the young bride calls her mother and asks, “You know the roast brisket recipe? Why do you cut off the ends of the roast before you put it in the pan?” Her mother answers, “That’s the way your grandmother always made it.”

“The next week, they go to the grandmother’s house, and she prepares the famous roast brisket recipe, again cutting off the ends. The young bride is sure she must be missing some vital information, so she asks her grandma why she cut off the ends. Grandma says, “My dear, that’s the only way it will fit in the pan!” [3]

What does Paul tell Timothy? “How from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. We, too, have learned Scripture in Sunday school, in confirmation classes, in bible studies and sermons over the years. “The one tradition, the one Scripture we are to continue is the one that has been nurtured in us, which points to only one thing: salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” That is a foundation stone of our faith. By Scripture alone.

Returning to the words of the Apostle Paul, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” So, Scripture is God-breathed. Divinely inspired. Breathed out by the Ruach ha Kodesh, the Holy Spirit.

The important part? “The descriptive words here are important: teaching, correcting, training. The Scripture invites us into a pattern of gospel living. It does not provide “yes” and “no” answers to every situation, every question, every dilemma.” [4] What the Bible does offer us—these blessed, holy Scriptures invite us into a pattern or example of gospel living. In other words, live like Jesus.

Is this an easy example to follow? No, but it is straight-forward. What would Jesus do?

As John 1 tell us, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Do you hear? Holy Scripture equals the Word. The Word equals Jesus, the Word made flesh, come down from heaven.

We look to Scripture for our nurture, our faith, and our salvation. We look to our Lord Jesus to save us from our sins. We look to the Word made flesh, the Word we celebrate and remember in Communion, today. Praise God for salvation. Praise God for Scripture.

[1] https://modernlectionaries.blogspot.com/2013/10/making-sense-of-god-sound-doctrine-and_20.html

“Making Sense of God: ‘Sound Doctrine’ and Divine Inspiration,” Richard Mario Procida, Modern Lectionaries, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.snopes.com/weddings/newlywed/secret.asp , adapted.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=725

Commentary, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Check and Double-Check!

“Check and Double-Check!”

Acts 17 bereans

Acts 17:1-5a, 10-14 – September 13, 2015

When I attended seminary I had a handful of classes that were absolutely superb in every way. Interesting course material, fascinating professors, and assignments I could totally sink my teeth into. One of these courses was Reformed Tradition, taught at the Presbyterian seminary on the south side of Chicago. This course highlighted the Reformed Protestant church practices and theology since the 1500’s. And, I absolutely loved it.

One of the strong memories I have of this course is studying the practices of the Reformed missionaries of past centuries who were called to cross barriers (and in some cases, also cross continents and oceans). They took the message of the Gospel to those who had not yet heard the Good News of Jesus Christ.

That’s just what Paul and his friends are doing here in Acts 17. This week is the last of our Summer Sermon Series, Postcards from the Early Church. When last we met our intrepid heroes, (in Acts 16) they had crossed from Asia into Greece, into Europe. Here, in both towns of Thessalonica and Berea, they start preaching and speaking with the groups of Jews living in both areas, and they also preach to their Greek neighbors and friends.

To go back to the course I loved in seminary, Reformed Tradition, I discovered that many Protestant missionaries and mission agencies had a master plan. The missionaries would not just go and preach the Gospel. No! They almost always had an excellent method behind their outreach. They not only would start a small church or chapel, but would also often develop a health clinic, sometimes even a hospital. And—the missionaries almost always began a school. They wanted to teach people; not only how to read, but also teach math and other subjects; sometimes even beginning institutions of higher learning in far flung areas.

So, reading and literacy were of extremely high regard to the missionaries! This went along with the importance of each person being able to read the Scriptures for themselves. We can see that translating the Bible became a high priority, too.

What does this have to do with our Scripture passage for today, you might ask? After Paul and his friends were thrown out of the town of Thessalonica, they went down the road to the next town of Berea, fifty miles away. We don’t know very much about Berea, except—the Bereans eagerly searched the Hebrew Scriptures after they heard Paul’s message. Paul wasn’t just delivering a line, or trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, no! The Bereans not only read, but diligently searched and sifted through the Scriptures to make sure that what Paul and his friends were telling them was true!

The literacy rate in Jewish communities has always been extremely high. For millennia it’s been this way. It’s marvelous to learn how to read, as well as do math and learn other subjects, too. Literacy has been a strong priority among large groups of Protestant missionaries, too. Reading the Scriptures is and has remained a primary goal, but just think about it. As we teach people how to read, we are also teaching them how to think, and how to reason. And, as more people in these far away mission areas learn more and more, the quality and standard of living rises in the whole community, as well! All very good things.

Dr. Luke doesn’t tell us too much about the Bereans. Except, the people in the town of Berea, in the foothills of the Olympian mountains, certainly seem like “people of more noble character” than the troublemakers in Thessalonica.

Using an excellent sermon illustration I discovered, “I want you to pretend for a moment that you are a first-century Berean Jew. Now suppose one Saturday a stranger comes into your synagogue and addresses the congregation. He says that his name is Paul, and he brings you the exciting news that the long-awaited Messiah has finally come! No, he didn’t actually restore the [physical] kingdom to Israel, as expected. In fact He was murdered a few years ago by the Romans. But, Paul says, that this is exactly what was supposed to happen to the Messiah, and he seems to prove it from Scripture. So now what do you do? If you are of noble character [as Dr. Luke says], you begin to search the Scriptures yourself to see if what Paul said is true.” [1]

Luke’s word used here in this passage is a legal term. Luke states that “Paul’s appeal to Israel’s Scriptures [was] a legal ‘witness’ to warrant his gospel’s claims about Jesus.”[2] Paul was not just making up imaginary tales, or fabricating fairy stories to put little children to sleep. No! Paul was using the Hebrew Scriptures as competent testimony to back up what he was telling them. And thus, many of the people who heard Paul out, believed what he said. Because they searched the Scriptures and made sure that what Paul was telling them matched with what they knew and already believed.

It’s like fact checking, today. How many people here have “heard something” about someone famous, or about some political candidate? How many people here are not sure where they first “heard it,” but “everyone is talking about it!” Like, for example, some Internet meme or email sob story passed around from person to person that is patently untrue.

My husband is an editor and journalist, working at a trade publication downtown. He takes special delight in exposing these sorts of gossip and misinformation that keep getting passed from one person to another via email, Facebook, and other kinds of social media. One of his favorite online tools is snopes dot com. “Snopes.com is the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.”[3]

I can just see some of these people in Berea, going to the library or to the synagogue where the scrolls and books were kept, checking out the sermons that Paul had just preached, as well as the discussion they had afterwards. Making sure—fact checking!—that Paul was the real deal. Dr. Luke tells us, “As a result, many of [the Berean Jews] believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”
But, wait! This was not the end. Paul and his missionary friends did not have an easy time of it after starting the church in Berea. The people who stirred up things in the previous town heard about Paul and company and how they were having such an effect on the people in Berea. Some of those troublemakers from Thessalonica came over to Berea and made trouble in that town, too. Talk about nasty people! So, Paul’s new friends, the new believers in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, shipped Paul out of town in a big hurry.

But the church Paul founded in Berea remained. Paul’s work here was done. We know they had a firm basis, since the Berean believers already had a solid foundation in the Hebrew Scriptures.

What about us? Do we have a similar solid foundation? Thank God, we have the Bible translated into English. It was translated for us centuries ago! We can look back to the great job that William Tyndale did in the 1500’s, paving the way for the King James Version, translated just after 1600. And now, today, we have many translations!

We can celebrate those translations, just as we celebrate our freedom to read the Bible, and our ability to study and learn about Scripture. There are still some places in the world today where it is a crime to read and study the Scriptures. I encourage all of you to pick up the Bible. Read a little every day. Become familiar with it. I know some of you do already. There are wonderful helps. Just ask me and I will hook you up with one!

God’s Word is truly a lamp to all of our feet, just as I told the Sunday school children before the sermon. The Bible sheds light on all of our paths. Just as it was with the Berean believers, just as it was with the Apostle Paul and his friends, so it is today. Praise God for God’s Word, freely available to all of us, today.

[1] “The Bereans,” Acts 17:10-14. Sermon delivered 10/25/2009 – Pastor David B. Curtis

[2] Wall, Robert W., Acts, from the New Interpreter’s Commentary series. (Nashville, Abingdon Press: 1994-2004) 239.

[3] http://snopes.com/

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!