OCTOBER 25, 2009

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            When I turned 60, a so-called “friend” sent me this list:  “You know you are getting older when ...


            You know are getting older when you remember when the Dead Sea was only sick.

            You know are getting older when you friends compliment you on your new alligator shoes and your barefoot.

            You know you are getting older when your idea of a night out is sitting on the patio.

            You know you are getting older when your idea of weight lifting is standing up.

            You know you are getting older when your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.


            Well our chapter for today begins with Joshua facing the fact that he is getting old.  In fact, the chapter begins with Joshua summoning the people of Israel and saying, “I am now old and well advanced in years,” and his proceeding to give his farewell address.  And it’s not a very long address.  It only takes about a minute to read.  Maybe that’s because he’s old and he doesn’t have the energy for a long speech.  Maybe it’s because he was more a man of action than a man of words.  Or maybe Joshua’s address appears short and sweet because of “the sermon reporting phenomenon.”  You have no doubt experienced this phenomenon.  For example, you’ll go home today and someone will ask you what today’s sermon was about and you will summarize what I said in about 30 seconds.  I spoke for 15 or 20 minutes, but your report it in 30 seconds.  That may be what we have in this 23rd chapter.  Not Joshua’s entire farewell address, just a one minute synopsis of what he actually said.

            And one more thing about this farewell address.  We actually have two accounts of it.  One here and one in the next chapter.  And the two accounts are somewhat different and that’s to be expected because two people can watch the same program, watch the same event, witness the same accident and come away with different impressions of what they saw.  For example, ask Trudy and I to describe a movie we saw, and even though we sat next to one another and shared the same bag of popcorn, we report the movie differently.  Take one of my all-time movies “Lord of the Rings.”  Ask me about it and I will say, “It’s a classic story of friendship, and the clash between good and evil.  Lord of the Rings is one of the best series of movies ever produced.”  Ask Trudy and she will say, “Well, it’s really violent, and if you are into fantasy stories you will probably like it, but I’ll take a romantic comedy over it any day.”

            So that’s what we have in chapters 23 and 24.  The same speech but two different accounts of it, and the one we have before us today we might title, “How to Be a Success.”  In this farewell address account Joshua tells the people of Israel how to thrive in the Promised Land.   Maya Angelou wrote, “To survive is important, but to thrive is elegant,” and that’s what Joshua tells the people.  As the curtain comes down on his life the tells the people how to thrive in the Promised Land.

            In so doing, he offers four bits of counsel for thriving in the land, and let’s turn to them now.  Number one, Joshua tells the people that a thriving person knows God is at work in their lives in good times and in bad.  Verse 3.


            You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord you God who has fought for you.


            Many of you know I’m a huge baseball fan, and my favorite team is the team I grew up with, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and I’m disappointed that they lost to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series, but I’ll make it because I know God is at work in good times and in bad.  And speaking of that, I am reminded of the story of Dave Dravecky, a pitcher for the Dodgers hated rival, the San Francisco Giants.  To tell you the truth, I don’t know how someone can be a Christian and a fan of the San Francisco Giants baseball team.  The Giants colors are black and orange, evil like Halloween, but the Dave Dravecky story is a great story, even if it’s a San Francisco Giant story. 

            In the 1980’s Dave Dravecky was struck by cancer in his pitching arm.  A large tumor needed to be removed from his arm, and ten months after having the tumor removed Dave Dravecky was back on the mound, able to pitch again.  Before the game he got tears in his eyes.  He could not believe he was able to take the mound again because when they took out the tumor they had to remove half his muscle in his pitching arm.   Before the first pitch he could hardly see the catcher’s mitt because his eyes got so misty. 

            He pitched eight innings, striking out five batters, and he got the win.  After the game his manager, Roger Craig, said, “I’ve seen a lot of things.  I’ve been in five World Series, and seen Don Larsen’s perfect game, but this is my biggest thrill.”  At the very emotional press conference Dave Dravecky thanked God for allowing him to pitch again.

            That’s as heart-warming as it gets, but let me tell you the rest of the story.  The next time he pitched, he ended up breaking his pitching arm.  He threw a pitch and his arm snapped.  It had become brittle from this cancer treatments and and they eventually had to amputate his pitching arm and part of his shoulder to stem the advance of the cancer.  At another press conference announcing his retirement from baseball Dave Dravecky uttered these words ...


            There is no guarantee that I will get well, that I will overcome cancer, even that I will live another year.  But Jesus Christ is the ground of my peace.  With him I can face any adversity.


            Ingredient number one of thriving in the Promised Land: knowing that God is working in our lives in the good times and in the bad times.

            Ingredient number two: obey the Lord.  In verse six Joshua says,


            Be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left.


            What happens inside when we hear the word “obey?”  I know in wedding planning couples often ask if the word “obey” is in the vows.  Brides especially want to know if obey is in the vows and, if so, they want it out.  They are willing to love, they are willing to honor, but not necessarily obey.  How about us?  Would we like the word “obey” eliminated from our Christian vocabulary?

            I think of  well known pastor.  He was asked of all the topics he preaches upon, what is the most difficult.  Is it a sermon on hell or abortion or homosexuality or money?  He said, “I don’t even have to think about it.  The toughest subject to preach upon is obedience.”  He said, “When I preach that, especially to secularly minded people, they think I’m from Mars.  The thought of living according to someone else’s agenda seems ludicrous to them.”

            Listen to this prayer from Joe Bayley.  It’s a great prayer.


            Lord, I don’t want to keep a prayer list, I want to pray.

            Lord, I don’t want to agonize to find your will, I want to obey what I already know.

            Lord, I don’t want to tell it like it is, I want to be it like you want.  Amen.


            So Joshua says to live elegantly in the Promised Land, I encourage you to obey God, I encourage you to never forget that God is a work in your life both in good times and bad times, and number three I encourage you to set yourself apart from the world.  Verse 7.


            Do not be mixed with these nations left here among you ... (skipping to verse 12).    For if you turn back, and join the survivors of these nations left here among you, and intermarry with them, so that you marry their women and they yours, know assuredly that the Lord your God will not continue to drive out these nations before you; but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a scourge on your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land that the Lord your God has given you.


            In other words, “Don’t get sucked in by the cultural values around you.” Joshua knew the danger of going “native” and accommodating ourselves to the values around us.

            A little boy was having a conversation with his dad.  The father was telling the little boy about what a Christian is like, what they believe, how they act, and the little boy asked his dad, “Dad, have I ever met one of those Christians?”

            Do you see the little boy’s problem?  The Christians had gone native.  They had blended in.  They were so much like the people around them they had lost their saltiness, their zest.

            I read a book by the Catholic scholar Henri Nouwen.  What he said in the book hit me in the breadbasket.  He said the three primary aspirations of Christian leaders today are to be relevant, popular and powerful.  Got that?  Relevant, popular and powerful.  I know I’ve wanted two of the three.  I want to be relevant.  I don’t want to get up here and talk about stuff that doesn’t apply to life.  I’ve wanted to be popular.  I like to be liked.  So two out of the three apply to me.  Nouwen, however, claims those three aspirations come from our American culture.  He said that Christian leaders are not called to be relevant, popular and powerful.  He said they are called to be prayerful, they are called to be filled with a servant spirit, and they are called to be in a position to be led by the Spirit.

            If he’s right, I’ve gone native.  I’ve bought into the culture around me.  How about the rest of us?

            So thriving in the Promised Land entails guarding against going native, obeying the Lord, and never forgetting God is a work in both good times and bad.  One final word of wisdom from Joshua and then we are done.  If we want to thrive in the Promised Land, hold on tightly to the Lord.  Verse 8 ...


            Hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day.


            When our children were very young, when they were pre-schoolers, they would do something they no longer do as adults.  When our children were very young, and we would go someplace where there were a bunch of strangers, they would grab a hold of my leg or Trudy’s leg, and they would hide their heads behind our thighs, and wrap their arms around our knees, and not let go.  They would hold fast to us, and when we walked around we would have to drag our leg with a child attached to it.

            I also recall when they became more comfortable with their surroundings, they would let go of our legs and go off by themselves.  As they became more comfortable in their surroundings, they would let go of our legs and let their little legs take them to exciting places, and they could get into mischief in the twinkling of an eye.  They could get into mischief like taking the pots and pans out of a neighbor’s cupboard, or feed ice cream and cake to their dog, or take popsicles out of the freezer and line them up, by color, on the kitchen floor.

            I wish that changed as we got older, but it doesn’t.  As adults when we become comfortable in our surroundings we too have a tendency to wander off.  We no longer hold fast.  We say things like, “Things are going so well, I don’t need to pray.  I can handle this on my own,” and we do, and often with disastrous results.

            A number of years ago Herb Caen wrote the following in the San Francisco Chronicle.  He wrote,


            Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.  It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or be killed.  Every morning a lion wakes up.  It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.  It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle; when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.


            We live in a fast-paced world.  And sometimes it seems it’s how fast and how hard one runs which is important, but it’s not.  It’s how hard we hold on which is important.  Grab the leg of your Heavenly Father.  Hold on tight and don’t let go.