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Category Archives: Joshua

The Three Chairs

In the 1730’s, the Pioneer Valley was the center of The Great Awakening when Jonathan Edwards preached in Northampton, MA. According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are tied for the top spot in least churched states in America. They are closely followed by Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut. How did New England go from godly to godless in 300 years?

Why do godly parents sometimes have rebellious children?

When I became a Walk Thru the Bible seminar instructor in 1987, I was introduced to “The Three Chairs Principle.” It looks at three examples in the Old Testament that help answer the questions above.

The principle is seen best in what happened in the generation that follows Joshua. Joshua 24:14-15 contains Joshua’s farewell message to Israel.

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:31 and Judges 2:7 explain what happened in the next generation.

Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.

And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel.

Judges 2:10-12 reveals what happened in the third generation.

And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

Joshua had a firsthand experience with God. Miracles were part of his daily life—crossing the Jordan, seeing the walls of Jericho fall down flat, praying for the sun and moon to stand still to give him a longer day to achieve victory, to name a few. The elders who followed Joshua had a secondhand knowledge of God’s power. Joshua did the great works while the elders saw the great works. The third generation did not even know the stories about God.

Firsthand experience develops convictions—“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Secondhand knowledge develops beliefs. While the elders believed God was powerful, the opening chapters of Judges reveal they did not trust him to drive out the enemy. Consequently, they gave a half-hearted effort and did not obey completely. No knowledge or experience develops opinions, namely that God was not worth following. Judges 21:25 sums up their philosophy, as “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

The second example is seen in the family line of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). While he was far from perfect, he acknowledged and confessed his sins when he was confronted (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51). In contrast, Solomon had a half-heart for God. He compromised every command given for the king to obey (Deuteronomy 17:14-17; 1 Kings 4:26; 10:14-29; 11:1-10). Rehoboam, David’s grandson, took it one step further as he had no heart for God and rejected wise counsel and pursued his own agenda (1 Kings 12;1-24). David was primarily concerned about pleasing God. Solomon was focused on pleasing others. Rehoboam was solely concerned about pleasing himself.

The third example is seen in the family line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The key insight in this example is tracing the words “altar” and “well” through Genesis 12-28. “Altar” represents the idea of worship while “well” represents the idea of work, since these men were shepherds. The first thing Abraham did when entering a new region was to build an altar. The first thing Isaac did was to dig a well. Jacob offered to build an altar, but only if God delivered him from his problems. Abraham’s first priority was worship; Isaac’s was work; and Jacob’s was wealth. Abraham’s theme was God; Isaac’s theme was me and God; Jacob was all about me, until God broke him and gave him a limp.

1st Chair

2nd Chair 3rd Chair
Firsthand experience Secondhand knowledge

No knowledge

No experience

Convictions

Beliefs Opinions
Whole heart Half heart

No heart

Please God

Please others Please self
Worship Work

Wealth

God

Me & God Me
COMMITMENT COMPROMISE

CONFLICT

Many of us did not have the greatest role models growing up. Perhaps you weren’t raised by a first-chair Christ follower. That’s ok. The key is to remember that the legacy you leave is more important than the heritage you receive. You can make the choice to sit in the first chair and to raise first chair kids and grandkids.

What do you do if you are in the first chair, and your kids and grandkids are in the second or third chair? While they need to make the choice to change chairs themselves, you can nudge them in that direction. Place them in situations where they are forced to make choices to trust and depend on God. You can also expose them to other committed first-chair kids. The key thing you must not do is rescue them and bail them out. While this goes against our nature as parents, sometimes God’s best lessons are learned through crisis and difficulty.

I spent the first half of my life seated in the second chair. I grew up in a Christian home, trusted Christ as savior while I was a child, and generally was a “good” kid. After college, I realized I did not know how to live by faith because I never had to. When I went to seminary, I wrestled with whether God wanted me in ministry or whether I was just trying to please my mother who wanted a son in ministry.

Halfway through seminary, I bottomed out. The Bible had become an academic book. I stopped praying. I was in a spiritual desert. I came to realization that I either had to walk with God or walk away, but I would not be a hypocrite. So I made a conscious choice to change chairs.

This does not mean I am perfect today. Ask my wife and kids and they will tell you the truth. But it means I fasten my seat belt and five-point shoulder harness to keep me in the first chair. If I don’t constantly recommit myself, I will naturally slide into the second chair of compromise. I can focus more on pleasing people than pleasing God. One reason I keep going back to Russia is to place myself in situations was I have to take risks and depend on God.

Questions to consider:

  1. Which chair best describes your condition today?
  2. If you choose to do nothing, which chair will your child(ren) most likely occupy?
  3. What is one measureable change you can make which will help you or your child(ren) move to the first chair?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 3, 2019. It is the final message in a series on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Questions to Ponder

Why do godly parents sometimes have rebellious children? Why is it that churches that have the reputation for teaching the Scriptures often have … the same percentage of divorces that you find in the world? Adult children who walk away from God? Division and dissension over petty issues? A lack of concern for the lost? A sense of complacency about evangelism?

Join us on Sunday at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, as we consider “The Three Chairs.” The study examines what happens in the generations that follow General Joshua.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2019 in First Central Bible Church, Joshua

 

What God Are You Serving?

Sometimes the hardest choice in life is knowing which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn. Consequently, we often waffle and stand still in the middle of the road.

If General Joshua were present today, he would say, “Stop waffling between two opinions. Because of God’s mercy, pledge your allegiance to serve God alone. Count the cost and mean what you say. But make a decision. Today!” That is the message Joshua delivered to the people of Israel in the last chapter of his book.

Nearing his death at the age of 110, Joshua gathered the people of Israel together at Shechem (Joshua 24:1). Shechem was a place where commitment and significant decisions were made. God promised the land to Abraham (Genesis 12:6) and Abraham responded by building an altar here (Genesis 12:8). Jacob buried the family idols at Shechem and recommitted himself to following God (Genesis 35:4). Joshua and Israel reconfirmed their commitment to the law at Shechem (Joshua 8:30-32).

Joshua encouraged Israel to remember the evidence of God’s mercy (24:2-13). Joshua mentioned four specific examples of God’s mercy and protection. He spoke of how God called Abraham out of idolatry, introduced him to the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants (2-4). God delivered Israel out of bondage and oppression in Egypt (5-7). God gave the Amorites into the hands of the Israelites. He turned the curses of Balak and Balaam into blessings (8-10). Lastly, Joshua explained that the Promised Land was not conquered by weapons, but by the power of God (11-13). Joshua’s emphasis was that we must recognize what God has done in order to appreciate the choice laid before us.

The overwhelming evidence of God’s grace placed Israel under obligation to serve the Lord exclusively. Just in case we might miss the point, Joshua uses the word “serve” seven times in verse 14-15. He presented a powerful, logical, and compelling argument. If this God, who acted as he did in space, time, and history for his people, calls for commitment, then commitment becomes the only logical and rational thing to do.

C.T. Studd, the famous English cricket player, gave away his vast wealth and became a missionary in 1885. His slogan was, “If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.”

Joshua drew a line in the sand and challenged Israel to make a commitment. The people responded with wholehearted agreement (16-18). Joshua encouraged them to count the cost and to mean what they said (19-24).

Joshua established two witnesses for the commitments that were made that day (25-28). One was a written record of what took place. The second was a monument that would remind future generations. Both served to remind the people of what God had done.

The chapter and book close with three burials—Joshua, the bones of Joseph, and Eleazar, the high priest. All three demonstrate the joy of finishing well.

What are the gods that you have to choose between? What are the siren songs that call your name? Do you feel the pressure to cheat to stay competitive on the playing field, in the classroom, or in the boardroom? Do you find yourself sacrificing family events because of the demands of your career? Have you made your family into an idol and made pleasure and fulfillment the god you serve? Have you succumbed to the temptation to base your worth on possessions and material things?

Choose this day whom you will serve. Will you serve the gods of this world or the one who gave his life for you? Choose this day whom you will serve.

Joshua confronts us with the choice.

Joshua 24:14-15 – “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Whom will you serve?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 27, 2019. (It was scheduled for January 20, but we canceled our services due to snow and icy conditions.) It is part of a series of messages on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Passing the Torch

One of the memorable events of the Olympic Games is the Torch Relay. The Olympic Flame is lit at Olympia in Greece and then carried by relay to the host-city of the games. For the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the flame traveled 101 days through 17 cities and provinces in South Korea. It was carried by runner, cow, robot, hot air balloon, and helicopter. The Torch Relay symbolizes the passing of Olympic traditions from one generation to the next.

Nearing the end of his life, General Joshua is ready to pass the torch to the next generation. When the book opens, Joshua and Caleb are 78 years old. In chapter 14, they are 85 years old.  Chapter 22 occurs that same year and peace is declared after seven years of fighting to conquer the Promised Land. In chapter 24, Joshua dies at the age of 110. Chapter 23, where Joshua passes the torch, occurs somewhere towards the end of his life, between 10-25 years after the events of chapter 22.

Joshua calls the leaders of Israel together (23:2). His message is simple and direct. Because God keeps his promises, we should obey his commandments. Since God has been faithful, we should be faithful.

Joshua begins by reminding the leaders of God’s faithfulness (23:3-5). Over the past seven years, they had been eyewitnesses of God’s power and miracles. They saw God part the Jordan River, bring down the walls of Jericho, rain hail down on the enemy army, and make the sun and moon stand still for the longest day of battle. Not only are these miracles cause for celebration, but they should instill confidence for the future.

In light of God’s faithfulness, we should stay centered on God’s Word (23:6-11). In 1:7-8, God told Joshua to obey and meditate on God’s Word. Now, Joshua instructs the leaders to keep and do God’s Word (23:6). As Joshua knew firsthand, it was the secret of success.

Joshua cautions Israel about not giving in to small compromises (23:7). Instead, they are to cling tightly to God (23:8). The word “cling” is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe a marriage relationship. In the same way that a marriage is made strong by a husband and wife holding fast to each other, so we are to cling to God. Clinging to God will bring power and victory (23:9-10).

In addition, Joshua challenges the leaders to love God with all of their being (23:11). Centering your life and God’s Word, clinging tightly to him, and loving him with all your heart will protect us from falling away from God.

Joshua closes his charge by reminding the leaders of what will happen if they disobey (23:12-16). If they give in to the short-term pleasure of sin and choose to associate and intermarry with their neighbors, they will lose God’s favor and he will no longer fight their battles for them. In addition, their neighbors will become a snare, trap, whip, and thorns. And they themselves will ultimately perish.

Godly living is not accomplished by winning a single skirmish but by enlisting for lifelong service. For Joshua and Israel, the clashing of swords had stopped, but the need for a faithful, diligent commitment was greater than ever.

Because God keeps his promises, we should obey his commandments.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 13, 2019. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

God can be trusted

The most valuable lesson my father taught me was that God can be trusted. During the last four years of his life, my dad lost his eyesight due to a blood clot behind his eye, regained his eyesight, his car was hit by a train at a faulty crossing guard, recovered from a broken shoulder and hip, was diagnosed with cancer, had surgery twice, and died eight months after the initial diagnosis.

Two months before his death, I sat in the car with my father and asked him, “What do you think God is teaching you through these trials?” He responded, “I have no idea. But I know he can be trusted.”

Trusting God’s promises is a lesson that General Joshua passed on to the leaders of Israel. After seven years of fighting to conquer the Promised Land, the statement is made,

Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:45).

Approximately twenty years later, Joshua restates his confidence in God as he nears the end of his life.

And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed (Joshua 23:14).

Over the course of their lives, my dad, Joshua, and countless others have learned firsthand that God can be trusted to keep his promises. That is a legacy I want to leave for those who come after me.

 

When Misunderstandings Arise

While we may speak the same language, it doesn’t mean we use the same definitions. It follows that misunderstandings are part of daily life. Sometimes they lead to laughter, sometimes to broken relationships, and other times to conflict and war. Joshua 22 tells the story of a conflict between family members that led to the brink of civil war.

After seven years of conflict, the conquest of the Promised Land is complete (21:43-45).  General Joshua dismisses his troops to their well-deserved rest (22:1-4). Joshua 13-21 describes how the land was parceled out among the 12 tribes of Israel. According to Numbers 32, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh decided to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River rather than inside the Promised Land.

As Joshua dismisses the soldiers, he is like a concerned parent watching a son or daughter go off to college or into the world. He wonders whether or not they will walk with God. So Joshua challenges the people to the deepest spiritual commitment with six short commands—pay attention to God’s instructions; love the Lord your God; walk in his ways; keep his commandments; cling to God; serve God with all your heart and soul (22:5).

As the two and a half tribes head east, they set up a large, imposing altar on the eastern side of the Jordan River (22:10). The tribes who stayed in the Promised Land immediately jumped to the conclusion that their brothers had abandoned the faith. They were ready to go to war to bring them back (22:11-12).

On the one hand, Israel was to be commended because they took the holiness of God seriously. They were not willing to compromise one iota. On the other hand, they based their judgement on circumstantial evidence. They were cynical and suspicious and believed the worst rather than believing the best about their friends and family.

Rather than avoiding conflict at any cost, Israel formed a delegation to confront their supposed erring brothers (22:13-20). They went directly to their brothers and spoke what they thought was the truth. Unfortunately, they failed to ask questions and get all the facts first.

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and east Manasseh could have acted offended and sullenly refused to listen to the wrong accusations. However, they wisely took the opportunity to present their reasoning (22:22-23). In doing so, they also engaged in some blame shifting as they too had believed the worst about the tribes who remained in the Promised Land (22:24-25). They explained that rather than setting up a competing altar for worship, their replica altar was a witness to the unity of the entire nation (22;26-29, 34).

After hearing the explanation, the delegation from the west was satisfied and peace was restored (22:30-33).

In the Bible Knowledge Commentary, Dr. Donald Campbell gives four principles we can take from this chapter. (1) It is commendable for believers to be zealous for the purity of the faith. Compromise of truth is always costly. (2) It is wrong to judge people’s motives on the basis of circumstantial evidence. It is important to get all the facts, remembering that there are always two sides to every dispute. (3) Frank and open discussion will often clear the air and lead to reconciliation. But such a confrontation should be approached in a spirit of gentleness, not arrogance. (4) A person who is wrongly accused does well to remember the wise counsel of Solomon, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:11).

When misunderstandings arise, seek to be a peacemaker. In his book Living on the Cutting Edge: Joshua and the Challenge of Spiritual Leadership, Pastor R. Kent Hughes offers his adaptation of the beatitudes with these words—“Blessed are those who … do not assume the worst when they hear of the sins of another; go directly to supposed sinners; are frank and up-front about their concerns; are loving and magnanimous in their confrontations over sin; reprove their sinning brother in private; go a second time to their brother with others who care; will, when all else fails, tell it to the church—with tears.”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 6, 2019. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Gone “Phishing”

Joshua and the leaders of Israel were caught in a phishing scam long before Nigerians started the practice in the 1980’s. For those not familiar with the term, phishing is a cybercrime in which a target or targets are contacted by email, telephone or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords.

The Gathering Storm (Joshua 9:1-2). No sooner had Israel erected the altars on Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim and pledged their allegiance to follow the law of God, the enemies of Israel threw down the gauntlet. In 2:9-11 and 5:1, it appeared that Israel had the aura of invincibility. But after her sin at Jericho and defeat at Ai, that perception is gone and her enemies plot their attack.

Baiting the Hook (9:3-15). Believing it better to be a live slave than a dead warrior, the people of Gibeon put on an elaborate charade to save their own skins. Politician Adlai Stevenson once said tongue in cheek, “A lie is an abomination unto the Lord—and a very present help in trouble.”

The Gibeonites put on a show worthy of an Oscar, Tony, Golden Globe, or Emmy. They gathered dry and cracked wineskins, moldy bread, torn clothes, and worn sandals in an attempt to convince the Israelites they had traveled a long distance to make their acquaintance. They offered just enough knowledge of God to make the performance believable.

The mistake Joshua and the leaders made was that they trusted their eyes, their ears, and their reason far too much. They apparently trusted God too little because they failed to even seek his opinion. Instead, they drew up a contract and adopted a peace treaty.

What’s the big deal? you might be saying. They want to join God’s side. Isn’t that a good thing? On the one hand, maybe. On the other hand, it was expressly forbidden by God to make a treaty with a neighbor (Deuteronomy 7:1-5). An Arab proverb issues a caution to never let a camel get its nose in the tent, because his body will soon follow. A peace treaty will lead to foreigners becoming neighbors and then in-laws and then they will introduce their religion and practices.

The failure of Joshua and the leaders was not the momentary lapse of an immature disciple. Instead, it was the forgetful disobedience of a mature saint.

Hooking the Catch (9:16-27). The ink was scarcely dry on the treaty when Israel discovered she had been duped. The Gibeonites were close neighbors, not foreign travelers. Needless to say, the congregation was upset and started murmuring, complaining, and second guessing their leaders. The Puritan Thomas Watson once said, “Our murmuring is the devil’s music.” Israel was playing his tune.

Although it was made under false pretenses, the leaders of Israel felt bound to honor the treaty. They knew they would face God’s judgment if they did not. However, they forced the Gibeonites into the role of servants, cutting wood and carrying water.

While servitude was not necessarily a good thing, it brought the Gibeonites into the life and worship of Israel. Their city was one that was given to the sons of Aaron (Joshua 21). King David would later store the Tabernacle at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:39; 21:29). Solomon would offer sacrifices at Gibeon when he became king of Israel.

Concluding Thoughts. Let me ask you to consider four questions as you think about this chapter. (1) What decisions are you facing today? Commit your decisions to God and ask for his direction. (2) Can God overcome your foolish errors and still accomplish his plan and purpose? Remember Romans 8:28, that God can cause all things to work together for good. (3) How do you respond when you make a mistake? Act with integrity. Take responsibility for your actions. Pray for God’s grace. (4) Can God turn your failures into victory? The lesson from our next study (Joshua 10) shows that God will use the treaty with Gibeon to give Israel a military advantage.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 18, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.