This week's Bible Study - August 23, 2015
Stay Focused and Committed
Quotes of the Week:
It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.
- Vince Lombardi
Over the last several weeks, we have learned many tangible lessons from the book of Joshua and this message is much the same. This lesson is about staying focused and committed. Do you ever wonder what causes us to lose focus in our lives? Have you ever found yourself struggling to stay focused? When we are busy at work, it is often easier to stay focused, as our minds are occupied. However, when we find that we have a lot of 'free time', we tend to relax. What is it that causes us to lose focus and wane in our level of commitment? It seems that it is pretty easy to stay focused when the task is right at hand and we need to devote significant attention to it. The 'all hands on deck' mentality can help to set a common goal for an immediate need or crisis. Of course, if this is the prevailing way a business is run, it begins to wear on the employees and eventually they begin to make mistakes.
I worked one place many years ago where overtime was not suggested, but mandated. We had a lot of work to get done, so they put our entire team on mandatory 60 hour weeks for up to 10 weeks in a row, regardless of whether or not you were behind schedule. What we found was that at a certain point, the return for the investment was lacking. As people got more tired, they were much less effective. On another program, the schedule suggested that tasks would take several months and as it turned out it required far less hours to complete than originally anticipated. As you can imagine, many people had a lot of time on their hands with little to do. As the saying goes, "Idle hands are the devils work" because when we get bored, we lose our focus - and when we lose our focus we drift, and when we drift we can end up in places we never intended or imagined we'd be. So on one hand, being too busy was problematic and on the other hand, being too idle can also lead to issues.
We can probably all recall a time in our own lives where commitments that once seemed to be strong have been weakened or even dropped and some of those have occurred because we lost our focus.
Often, when we read Scripture, we see things that the Israelites did and wonder how they could have fallen to such depths. Or, we may look at some things that the disciples did, even in the presence of Jesus Christ, and ask ourselves why they did this or that. We assume that if we saw God doing the same miraculous things that they did, we would never make the same mistakes that these people made. In truth, we are not much different at all. If our lives were documented, I have to assume that the same questions would be asked of us and our decisions.
In this lesson, we will see that Joshua did a few key things in an effort to help keep the Israelites focused and committed on the tasks they were called to do. While the specifics of what is written may not seem as applicable (we don't have the same Red Sea experience), many of the concepts can still be applied to our lives today.
The passage begins by saying that after a long time had passed and the Lord had given the Israelites rest from all their
enemies around them, that God summoned all of Israel together. Have you ever noticed how it can be easier to stay
focused on God when you are constantly facing battles, but when the battles pass, it seems as if it's easier for us
to drop our guard? This applies to just about everyone and it can be a dangerous period in our lives. When things
in life seem to be going easy, our reliance on God and His strength can easily take a back seat to our own intellect
or ability. Joshua reminded the people of all that God had done and all that He promised He would do in the future.
This is a really easy thing to overlook but something that is vital if we want to survive the next war in our life.
We need to recall what God 'has' done and go to His word for the assurance of things He 'will' do or be to us as we
enter the next battle we are certain to face.
This is from Berkley - This is something that both Don and I rely on as we are in a
battle with a terminal disease. We don't know if God will provide a physical healing on earth (it's certainly what
we are praying for) but we do know that God will be with us no matter what occurs.
I'll be super honest and tell you that having already been a widow at age 40, the thought of living that part of life again makes
me sick to my stomach and takes me to my knees in tears, gasping for breath. I don't want to be a widow. I don't
want to watch my husband die. I don't want to lose my best friend. I want to go to Cardinal's baseball games and
stand on beaches and mountains with him until we are both too old to walk or stand. I want to be able to just sit
next to him on our couch and hold his hand. It's not just that I don't want to be alone - I don't want to be
without Don. Can any of you relate to what I'm saying? Are you facing something so much bigger than you - that
the mere thought of 'it' freezes you in your tracks? I would assume we have all had something in our lives that
has overwhelmed us, terrified us or stricken us with a grief we didn't know we were capable of experiencing.
And yet…..we are still here. We still have to live - to function. At times it seems unbearable and that we won't
make it to the next minute. It's in those times - those minutes that seem to push you down and close in
around you. Those days that seem like they will never end and the times where the sheer agony of just
breathing seems to be more than you can deal with - that Jesus steps in and holds you. He doesn't take all
the pain away, but He gives a peace that can not be explained with words. It's times like those, that we need
to look back and remind ourselves of what and whom God has been to us. How he has held us, comforted us and
sustained us. Sometimes it's critical to look back, so that you can go forward.
I am almost afraid to type those words for fear that I will be reading them to myself as a reminder of how I felt
when the days were brighter and lighter - when the battle was something that wasn't here yet. But no matter what I
face - no matter what you face - we don't face it alone. We never have and we never will. The Israelites were getting
to ready to go into a 'new' phase of life and they needed to be reminded that they too had never been alone and that
they never would be as long as they followed God and His ways. Before they went forward they needed a refresher
course on all that had been done for them by their God!
The next two verses deal with Joshua reminding the Israelites to be strong and careful in how they live their lives and to obey what God had said to them. I think about America and how we have deviated from being a nation that truly follows God. In fact, even our churches fall short of the obedience that God requires. Have you ever noticed how easy it becomes for a society, including churches, to change the definition of right and wrong? I have often thought about what God has commanded, as a target on a wall. None of us are able to hit it in every area of our lives, but it should not change where the target is placed. The problem becomes when we change the objective to be more in line with what we can achieve. Over time, people allow more and more deviation from the target to the point that it is no longer anywhere near where it was originally intended. It is easy to see how we have done this with many of the commands God has given His people.
God was certainly adamant that the Israelites follow His ways. They were to be wary of association with other nations, so that they would not begin to invoke the names of their gods, and they would not serve or bow to any other deity. When we think of our day, we may not bow down to a statue representative of another god, but we can easily see how non Christian preferences have influenced how we live each day. They were encouraged to hold fast to what they had been called to do and that same encouragement is applicable to each of us.
Why should they be focused on following the Lord? Seriously, why would they not be focused? The Lord had driven out great and powerful nations and provided their lands to the Israelites. There was absolutely no way that they could have done this on their own. Not a single nation had been able to withstand them. They would be foolish to start thinking that they could have done this with Him. The Lord may not have defeated nations and enemies to give us land, but the Lord has truly worked in each of our lives. For example, each of us has been gifted by God with talents and skills. Just as the Israelites should be careful to never start thinking too highly of their own abilities, we should be mindful to give God the glory for the talents and skills we possess.
Joshua continued to say what would happen if the Israelites ignored what had been said to them. He said that if they were to turn away from the Lord and form alliances with the other nations, they would lose the help of the Lord. Joshua encouraged the Israelite leaders by reminding them that not one of God's promises had failed. We struggle with this today, but failures in life are more the result of our own failures and less about God's promises failing. When we say that we follow the Lord, but we do not follow His commands, we are much like a person who goes to a dentist but never bothers to brush their teeth. Certainly the dentist is nothing like God, but any 'power' that your dentist has is directly related to whether or not you take care to do what you've been told to do. God is more powerful than any dentist and He 'could' still work in our lives even when we go our own direction, but do we really think that we can do whatever we want to do and expect God to continue to work in us? Joshua said that when God says do this or don't do this, they were to be very careful. Just as God had promised what would happen if they obeyed, He also had said what would happen if they chose the path of disobedience. The Lord said that His anger WOULD burn against His people, and what He had given would be taken away.
In chapter 24, we read that Joshua gave a rather in depth look back at what God had done for the Israelites. Joshua wasn't telling them what they didn't know, but he was sharing the high points of their history in order to show how much God had been involved in their past. As we already mentioned earlier - looking back on how we have been preserved by God helps to remind us that He will continue to walk with us until the day He calls us home to Heaven, to worship with Him there.
In these passages, Joshua was clear that there was a choice to be made. They had to choose between their God who had provided for them and the gods in the land in which they lived. In a verse that is familiar to many believers today, Joshua said "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." We still make similar choices today. We have to decide if we are going to go with the tide or stand firm in what God has called us to do. I do thinks it's important to differentiate between how 'we' as a grouping of believers follows God and adheres to His commands, as opposed to how 'we' as individuals or families implement following God's directives for their lives. We may have different ways of honoring the Sabath or showing our devotion to God based on what God has laid on our hearts as individuals or families - but that doesn't mean it will look the same for each person or family. We are created uniquely and God desires for us to serve Him as HE has called us to do. My Sabbath may not look the same as yours but different doesn't always equate to wrong. Is this something you need to evaluate in your own life? Have you made your implementation of God's word to you a standard that everyone must live by? We need to trust God to prod the hearts of individuals and families to change if it's what He wants. We are not called to be the Holy Police for those around us.
The people replied to Joshua that they would not forsake the Lord to serve other gods. Joshua told the people that if they indeed were going to serve the Lord, they needed to throw away the foreign gods that were among them. You would have to wonder what they might be holding onto, while saying that they would serve. The truth is that we don't have to wonder too much, as we can look at our own lives. Once again, we are not likely to worship idols directly, but we often find ourselves holding onto something that we know to be wrong. Finally, Joshua set up stone or a monument as a reminder of the commitment that the Israelites made to God.
If you read this lesson only thinking about the Israelites, you may get truth from a historical perspective, but there is great application that we can find in these verses.
As believers, we all know that God has worked in each of our lives personally and that God works in miraculous ways all around us. If someone were to ask you what God has done in your life, could you share anything specifically? Sadly, many people are unable to recall any event. We are much like the person who finds themselves in great distress and prays out to God, pledging that if He will only come through for us in this situation, we will forever do whatever He desires. Typically what happens is that God will provide for our needs, and we will too conveniently forget what He has done until we need Him the next time. How would our next crisis be different if we had a perpetual reminder of what God has already done for us? I (Berkley)know that looking back at how God carried me through some of the most difficult years one could imagine, helps to remind me that He will never leave me nor forsake me; that though my foot may slip He will catch me with His righteous right hand; that He holds all my tears in a bottle and that He is for me and not against me and that He has a future for me - as uncertain as it may be.
So while you may not be able to point back to a literal Abraham, Egypt, Moses and Jordan River experience; you should be able to point back to something relevant that God has done for you. When we know that God is with us, we can be more easily be focused and committed to what He would have us do today. Remembering what God has done in the past can help us in our time of need, but also in times where we are tempted to follow the world's way. Despite what the world might say is allowable, we know that life the way that God intended is true life. At times, we need to remind ourselves of our commitment. You will certainly be faced with decisions in life that will test your focus, and if you find yourself alone, you will find it is much more difficult to stand firm. When we find ourselves continuing to draw close to the Lord and connecting with the other believers, we will find more strength to make the right choices. Are you spending time seeking the Lord and do you associate with other believers, helping to strengthen one another?
Joshua setup a stone to remind the people of their commitment. Recently, Kathi Lee Gifford talked about her late husband, Frank and a stone he took from a river when they were in the Holy Land. It was said to be the river where the young David went to draw stones that he would use to defeat Goliath. Frank kept that stone as a way of reminding himself that he was called to serve God daily - that just as David cast his stone for God - Frank needed to cast his life for God. Towards the end of her talk she asked the following question "Where will you cast your stone for the kingdom of God?" I think it's a great question and one that deserves answering.
Lastly, just as the people voiced that they would serve the Lord, we may want to do the same. Joshua told them that they were to put away the things that served as idols or other gods. While you may not be worshipping an idol, we often allow other things to come into our lives that serve as a distraction, rather than focusing us on what God would have us to do. Is there something that you need to remove from your life so that you can truly say that you are focused and committed in serving the Lord?