Sunday, August 21, 2016

Be Strong & Courageous

A first grade teacher recently shared a great story about one of her new students. It was the first day of school. Accustomed to going home at noon in kindergarten, Ryan was getting his things ready to leave for home. But, he was actually supposed to be heading to lunch with the rest of the class. The teacher asked him what he was doing. "I'm going home," he replied. The teacher tried to explain that, now that he is in the first grade, he would have a longer school day. "You'll go eat lunch now," she said. “And then you'll come back to the room and do some more work before you go home." Ryan looked up at her in disbelief, hoping she was kidding. Convinced, finally, that she was serious Ryan then put his hands on his hips. Then, he demanded, "Who on earth signed me up for this program?"

Now, that is a great question! Have you ever asked yourself that question about life?! As followers of Christ, that seems like a pretty valid question sometimes. When I consider the many things that God calls us to do, Things are completely counter to everything our world tells us to do. Surely, God doesn’t mean for us to forgive 70 X 7 times! Surely, God doesn’t want me to turn the other cheek when someone hurts me! What does Jesus really mean when He says, “Take up your cross and follow me”? Those of us who are serious about making Jesus Lord of our lives—it’s not long before we are like this little first-grader. We find ourselves looking around and asking, “Who on earth signed me up for this program?”

But, again, those of us who are serious about making Jesus Lord of our lives—we know why God asks us to live this way. We have experienced the rewards of forgiveness. We know the kind of peace that comes from not holding grudges. And there is great joy in taking up our cross and following after Jesus. There really is! But it takes some time to learn that, doesn’t it?

This week, many parents are sending their children back to school. Some, actually, are sending their children to school for the first time. And others, are sending their children off to school in another city (sorry moms and dads). But there is a common feeling that many parents have in all of these situations, to varying degrees. There is a sense in which we hope and pray as we send our children out of the “nest.” We hope and pray that they will come to know the real joy that comes from following Jesus. Moms and dads, I know you pray that prayer at night. And I join you in that prayer.

Because our minds are on “sending” our children, I want to remind you, quickly, of a great story in the Bible: the story of Joshua. Most of us know all about Joshua, he led the people of Israel into the Promised Land. For all of those years, God had promised to bless these people in a special way, all the way back in Abraham’s time! Remember, God brought Abraham and his family out of nowhere. He told them, “I’m going to make you and your family into a great nation.” And “One day, I’m going to give you all of this land!” Incidentally, as God was telling Abraham this news, he and his family were camping right there in the Promised Land. But it wasn’t theirs yet. It belonged to other nations. But God set in motion a plan that took many generations. And finally, when Joshua arrived on the scene, it was time. Joshua was there to lead the people around Jericho. Do you remember that story? The people marched around the city for many days, and on the last day, they blew their trumpets, and the walls “came a tumblin’ down”! Joshua was a giant! But I want you to remember this: Joshua wasn’t born that way! For most of us the story of Joshua picks up in the book that bears his name. Moses dies at the end of the book of Deuteronomy.

And then…we have Joshua. There, we read all about those great victories of Israel. And we see Joshua leading the way! But, please don’t overlook this fact: Joshua’s story began long before the book of Joshua begins. In fact, Joshua appears 28 times in the story before the book of Joshua! In Exodus 17, we have the story of Israel’s first attempt to take the Promised Land. Moses sends spies into the land. Everyone is terrified and says, “We can’t do it.” But two people, Caleb and Joshua, say, “Let’s go.” I have to imagine that a response like that caught Moses’ attention. And it did. Because of that courage and faithfulness, Moses takes Joshua under his wing. He begins to mentor Joshua over the next 40 years! Moses is a teacher. His schoolhouse is the wilderness, and Joshua becomes his number one student. Numbers 11 tells us that Joshua became Moses’ aide, and after many, many years, Moses is ready to die. But before he does, God has an interesting conversation with Moses. Listen to what He tells him:
The LORD said to Moses, "Take Joshua, Nun’s son, a man who has the spirit, and lay your hand on him. Place him before Eleazar the priest and the entire community and commission him before them. You will give him some of your power so that the entire Israelite community may obey. He will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will determine for him the decision by lot before the LORD. At his command, he and all the Israelites with him, the entire community, will go out, and at his command they will return." Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and placed him before Eleazar the priest and the entire community. He laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the LORD had spoken through Moses. (Numbers 27:18–23 CEB)
And the rest, as we say, is history. After Moses died, Joshua took the lead. But here is what I want you to remember: It didn’t happen overnight!

Moms and dads, one day you will, in a sense, commission your children to leave the nest. Some of you already have. And some of you are doing that this week! And many of you are having trial runs all the time. When you send your children off to school each day, that is a trial run. You pray that the lessons you teach them at home, you pray that the lessons they pick up here with their brothers and sisters in Christ, you just pray your children will remember those lessons as you send them out.

So, what are you doing to help prepare them NOW for that day when you will send them out for good? Here are a couple of suggestions. If you are not praying for your children on a daily basis, start today. God tells us in James 5 that the prayers of the righteous person are powerful in what they can achieve! That same chapter tells us: Prayer can heal the sick, prayer can forgive sins, prayer can end drought! And moms and dads, prayer will give your children strength and direction and protection.

Also, don’t try to prepare your children for that day alone. There are folks who have already launched their children into the world, and they have a lot of wisdom! Young families, get to know some of these veterans! When we lived in Lubbock, our children were so young! I always felt bad for Kim each Sunday because I left early. And for a good part of the service I was up here and not next to her. All that to say: I wasn’t much help with the kids. Tony and Carol Compton noticed this too! Their children were grown; they were grandparents. They sat by us every Sunday to help Kim with those young children and we became close friends over the years. If you have questions, ask someone who has been there. And veteran parents, if you see that someone might need help, ask how you can help.

A few years ago, I, along with several other dads in this room, engaged in a study together. It was difficult to find a time when all of us could meet, so we finally agreed to meet at about 6:00 each Saturday morning. We met over a period of many weeks and read a book together: Raising a Modern Day Knight, by Robert Lewis. This book is directed at fathers and sons. It teachers fathers how to raise “modern day knights”—a really good book. At the end of that study, we had a special evening with our boys. We all went out to eat together, and then we came here, to this room. I believe it was a Friday night. We had our boys come up one by one and we shared with them the gifts we see in their lives. When Luke and Ben came up, I shared with them how special they are to me. And then, we gave each of them a pocket knife, which turned out to be much larger than it appeared in the magazine, I believe one of the Dossey boys cut himself before we left the building! On each knife, there was a scriptural reference, a verse we wanted our boys never to forget: Joshua 1:9. Just after Moses died, Joshua took the mantle of leadership. And right there at the beginning, God had a conversation with Joshua. Joshua 1:9 is part of that conversation.
Be very brave and strong as you carefully obey all of the Instruction that Moses my servant commanded you. Don’t deviate even a bit from it, either to the right or left. Then you will have success wherever you go. Never stop speaking about this Instruction scroll. Recite it day and night so you can carefully obey everything written in it. Then you will accomplish your objectives and you will succeed. I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7–9 CEB)
Another translation says it in a way more familiar to many of us:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged; for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9 NIV)
Children, teens, college students: Hear these words.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged; for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9 NIV)
Teachers, school administrators: Hear these words.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged; for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9 NIV)
Moms and dads: Hear these words.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged; for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9 NIV)

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