The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10 ESV

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Power to Endure and Mature - Understanding & Responding to Trials James 1:1-8,12

(I last gave this message at Community Alliance Church in Port Saint John Florida on July 30, 2017. You can view a YouTube video of the same message given at First Baptist Church Oakland Park Florida on May 18, 2014 HERE.)

In athletic competition there is one thing all athletes need no matter what their sport, football, basketball, baseball, water polo and so forth. They need endurance, physical strength and stamina to compete successfully in competition. In other words, they need to “be in shape”! Therefore most sports have a period of preparation before competition begins. The Florida Marlins go to Spring Training early in the year to prepare for their season. The Miami Dolphins have their Training Camp each summer as they prepare for the start of the season in the Fall.

May I suggest to you that there is a parallel between the physical the spiritual world. What is true in the physical world is also true in the spiritual world. We need the power to endure and mature spiritually.

If I were to ask you to list for me what is needed to build spiritual endurance and maturity, you would probably put the following on the list: prayer, Bible reading, Scripture memorization, the teaching and preaching of the Word, small groups for fellowship and accountability, evangelism, outreach, mercy ministries, and so forth. There is, however, an indispensable item that most of us would leave off the list. James deals with it in the opening verses of his letter.

James 1:1-8, 12 (NIV) ""James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does....Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
I suspect that some of you are facing circumstances this morning that you would consider to be a trial. Something you would not ordinarily choose to go through, but are facing none the less. The good news, is that God has provided us with truth, here in James chapter one, that will show us both the purpose of the trial, and how to respond to the trial, so the trial can be used by God, for our good and His glory.
Note with me, first of all that trials are God's means of spiritual conditioning. James says it is through trials that we develop perseverance or endurance, steadfastness (NASB) or patience (NKJV). Trials are God's means of conditioning us, getting us into spiritual shape; His means of increasing our spiritual strength and stamina.
 What is a trial? William Barclay says the word translated “trial" is a “...trial or testing directed towards an end.” in other words there is a purpose behind the trial. That is the meaning of the word. For several years when I lived in Gainesville right outside my living room window, each year Cardinals would build a nest and begin a family. When those eggs hatched the baby birds begin to mature and grow feathers. They learned to move and flap their wings not merely for exercise but in preparation for the day when they would jump out of that nest and learn to fly rather than drop to the ground below.
There are four things James tells us about trials in this passage. First of all, there are various kinds of trials, verse two. In other words trials come in many forms. Let me note at least two broad categories of trials. First, there are trials that we suffer because we are human and live in a fallen, sinful world. Trials like sickness, accidents, dangers and crime. The list is endless.
About two weeks ago Bill Perry, a pastor friend of mine from Fort Lauderdale, was involved in a serious auto accident while returning from two weeks of camp where he was a speaker. His car hydroplaned on the highway and crashed into a tree, totaling the car, breaking bones and severely injuring Bill's head. He remained in a coma until he passed away last Sunday morning at seven in the morning. Every day Christians suffer trials, to numerous itemize here this morning. Many, simply because we live in an imperfect, fallen world.

Secondly, there are trials we suffer because we are Christians - unpopularity, ridicule, hostility, hatred, misunderstanding, and persecution. Today violence, even death are the daily experience of Christians in various parts of the world. Jesus said we should expect trials because we follow him. John 15: 20 “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

James tells us four things about trials. There are various kinds of trials. Secondly, trials test our faith verse three. A number of years ago there was a major earthquake in Kobe Japan a city where I went to school while living in Japan. The experts were surprised at the failure of buildings and roads that had been designed to withstand earthquakes greater than 7.2 on the Richter scale. I watched an interview of engineers on their way to Kobe to study what had taken place. They said that you cannot test the structural integrity of a building in a laboratory. You have to go to the sight of the earthquake and examine the effect of the earthquake on the structures.   
James says that trials put our faith to the test. The word translated “test” is the word “dokimon.” It is the same word used for coins made of a genuine precious metal. For example “sterling silver” is a term we used for pure silver.

Peter uses the same word in 1 Peter 1:6-7 “ for a little while you may have suffered grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may BE PROVED GENUINE and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (emphasis mine)

So there are many kinds of trials. Trials test our faith. Then as we said earlier there is a purpose built into the trial. The trial is designed to produce something. Notice thirdly, verse three, the testing produces endurance, or perseverance (NIV), patience (NKJV) or steadfastness (RSV). The New English Bible translates it “breeds fortitude.”

The word does not speak of just passively accepting something. The word speaks of an active enduring with a purpose. Someone has said, “Hupomone is the quality which makes a man able, not simply to suffer things, but to vanquish them.” William Barclay writes, “not simply the ability to bear things; it is the ability to turn them into greatness.”

Pastor Warren Weirsbe writes, “In the Bible patience [endurance] is not passive acceptance of circumstances. It is a courageous perseverance in the face of suffering and difficulty.” Friends, that is what our trials are intended to produce. That is the silver lining, so to speak, in the cloud.

Pastor Greg Hinnant, "The power to endure is strictly a matter of spiritual conditioning, of what level of difficulties we become capable of handling. Every test we go through successfully conditions, or prepares us to go through the next one. The more we take, the more we can take. Every strain we accept and bear in full submission to God enlarges us and creates within us the ability to bear even greater adversities with equal ease. In this way our tests are constantly taking us from one level of strength to a greater one.”

When we face trails pressure is applied to our faith. If we respond the right way we develop endurance, the power or ability to endure, the ability to persevere.

So first of all, there are many kinds of trials, secondly trials test our faith, thirdly the testing of our faith produces endurance.  Fourthly, endurance leads to maturity, verse four. In other words, trials are not meant to take us down a dead end road. Here is what lies at the end of the trial – maturity. The endurance results in maturity. James describes it three ways. That you may one, be mature or perfect (KJV), secondly, complete and thirdly not lacking anything. Williams translates "mature" as “fully developed.”

I remember years ago after a deep freeze hit north central Florida, the citrus industry lost acres of fruit trees. After they cleared away the damaged trees, they replanted the groves with row after row of new young orange and grapefruit trees.  They did not plant those new trees so the countryside would be more attractive to the tourists. They planted the trees with the intention of producing new citrus crops as the trees reached maturity, as the trees became fully developed. 

That is what James is describing here. The endurance that comes through trials will produce maturity and the fruit of maturity. Verses three and four in the New Living Testament captures the imagery: "For when you faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.”

Perhaps you have heard or read of George Mueller, that great British man of God known as a man of faith who founded an orphanage for hundreds of orphans while never once asking for money from anyone. Instead he went to the Lord alone for his needs. He writes, "The only way to learn strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testing."

If you are a Christian this morning and are undergoing a trial, know that God's intention is to build His character into your life through the trial. Endurance results in Godly character. Friends, the trial God allows to come into your life is getting you ready for something. In Hebrews 5:8-9 it says of Jesus Christ "...he learned obedience from what he suffered, and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Pastor Rick Warren, “Since God intends to make you like Jesus, he will take you through the same experiences Jesus went through. That includes loneliness, temptation, stress, criticism, rejection, and many other problems.” (Purpose Driven Life, p. 197) This morning, do you sense that God is at work making you like Jesus?

Well, the obvious question at this point is, How? How do we respond to trials so that God can turn our trial into a blessing? We have come to the "how to” section of the text. How we respond to trials will determine whether or not we receive the blessing embedded in the trial. Notice secondly this morning, three ways to respond to trials.

First of all, we are to see the trials from God's perspective, verse two. James says "consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds." Our first response to those words might be, "Now wait a minute! That sounds counter-intuitive! Rejoice in our trials?" But remember, we have just noted three reasons trials are a blessing. They test our faith. The testing produces endurance (perseverance) and the endurance leads to maturity. So, James says, in light of God's purpose in your trials consider it joy! In other words, rejoice that God is working in your life with a purpose in mind. You see, trials are evidence that God is doing something in your life.  So the response consistent with faith would be,  "consider it joy." In other words, trials are an opportunity to live out the Gospel.

If you are a Christian, Christ is living in you. Trials present, perhaps, the greatest opportunity for you to yield more of your life to Christ. 

Listen to the Apostle Paul's testimony, 2 Corinthians 4:7-11, "But we have this treasure [Christ] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

Now listen to the trials that he experienced as he continues. Perhaps you will identify with his circumstances. "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body."

Is there clearer testimony in Scripture that God uses trials to produce the life of His Son Jesus Christ  in our lives? James says that is reason for joy. Would you agree?

Secondly, seek the Lord in obedient faith. When we face a trial, we always come to a fork in the road. Are we going to seek the Lord? Or in the pressure, uncertainty, perhaps even pain and confusion of the circumstances, are we going to wander from the Lord? That is always the temptation we face. At this point, perhaps, we face the greatest challenge in our response to trials.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul spoke of being tormented by a thorn in his flesh, a "messenger of Satan," he called it, a "thorn" that the Lord would not take away. Instead, this was the message he received from the Lord, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) Paul learned to live in the grace and power of God in a trial that evidently never went away. That friends, is the essence of the Gospel; the sufficiency of God's grace in the midst of our trials.

Again Pastor Rick Warren, “God uses problems to draw you closer to himself. Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days –  when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you're out of options, when pain is great – and you turn to God alone." He continues, "It is during suffering that we learn to pray our most authentic, heartfelt, honest-to-God prayers. When we're in pain, we don't have the energy for superficial prayers.”

That is one of the reasons God allows trials in our lives. It's to push us to Him. It's to push us into his arms. There is nothing wrong with turning to God because you are desperate!

Joseph was kidnapped by his brothers. They wanted to kill him. Can you imagine that? His own brothers wanted to take his life? But they didn't, instead selling him into slavery. Then as a slave he was unjustly accused of adultery, (Genesis 38:8,9) and was put in prison. Put in prison because he did the right thing! He served his prison master faithfully. If you read between the lines of his story in Genesis chapters 39 and 40, there is no evidence, not even a hint of rebellion, disobedience or hardness of heart toward the Lord during his trials that lasted for years.

There is, however, another way to respond to a trial in contrast to obedient faith. In verses six through eight, James describes the man who lacks faith. According to verse seven, he lacks faith because he is double-minded and unstable. A double-minded person is one who compromises the will of God. A double-minded person wants things His way. He'll settle for God's way – if it is convenient. That is why he cannot believe God for anything. He is sitting on the fence – and he knows it. He is not obeying the Lord – and he knows it. He is double-minded and his faith is therefore compromised. He cannot trust God in that condition. So James says he is unstable. He's blown and tossed like a wave at the mercy of the wind. Might that describe your response this morning as you face your trial?

The third response to a trial is to ask for wisdom, verses five and six. First we see the trial from God's perspective and rejoice. Secondly, we seek the Lord in obedient faith. The third response is very practical.  We ask for wisdom.

When we are in the midst of a trial we often need wisdom to make sense out of what we are going through. We need wisdom to understand "What is going on here?” So James says if anyone lacks wisdom, ask God who gives generously to all.

Pastor Warren Wiersbe tells the story of his secretary. She was going through great trials. She had a stroke. Her husband had gone blind. She had taken him to the hospital where he was not expected to live. Pastor Wiersbe saw her in church and said he was praying for her. He was startled by what she said next, "What are you asking God to do?" she asked. “I'm asking God to help you and strengthen you.” he replied. She then said, “I appreciate that, but pray about one more thing. Pray that I'll have the wisdom not to waste all of this!” That is the idea here. Wisdom to know what is going on, and wisdom to know how to respond.

Rick Warren, "Problems force us to look to God and depend on him instead of ourselves. You'll never know that God is all you need until God is all you've got.” Now that is almost frightening, isn't it? You'll never know God is all you need until you're at a place where God is all you have? Friends that is where God want each of us to live. That is a good place to be. May I suggest to you, if you are a believer, sooner or later God will bring you to that place where you have no choice but to turn to Him.

The Apostle Paul's testimony illustrates this truth. When you read through the letters of the Apostle Paul it is hard to overlook his repeated reference to suffering. Almost every page speaks of some kind of trial that he faced. Writing the Corinthians he said, verse eight, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardship we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life." (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) He "despaired even of life"! That's a picture of desperation, if there ever was one. Perhaps you identify with his feelings. I have. He continues, verse nine, "Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” Perhaps the greatest missionary and pastor of all time, acknowledged the value of his suffering. It led him to rely totally on God!

And sometimes we don't see the purpose right away. Back to Joseph. Years later Joseph had an opportunity to reveal himself to his brothers. They were dumbfounded. They were scared to death because of how they had treated him. And now he stood before them as the second most powerful man in Egypt. But listen to what Joseph said to them, Genesis 45:5, “But don't be upset, and don't be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” God had given Joseph the wisdom to recognize that all of the things we spoke of earlier, the kidnapping, murder plot, slavery, the unjust accusation that sent him to prison had all been part of God's plan to preserve his entire family years later, to preserve the nation of Israel. Are you looking for the purpose of God in your trials? You might not see it right away. Joseph waited many years for the answer.

David was sent by his father to his brothers who were with the troops facing the Philistines. The giant Goliath was daily intimidating the armies of Israel, taunting the army and blaspheming God. Do you remember what David said when he asked permission of King Saul to fight Goliath?  “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

Do you see what David is saying here? His argument was based on his victories over previous trials. Had he not had the victory over the lesser enemies, the lion and the bear, he might not have been prepared to face Goliath, the greater enemy. The lesser trials of the past had prepared him for the greater trial in the present. The trial you face today, could very well be preparing you for an even great victory tomorrow!

There is a promise for us in verse twelve. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the victor's crown, the life God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

On December 1, 2008 I lost my job as the result of a major downsizing of the ministry where I worked. That same month, I went to the dentist and was told I needed a crown on tooth number eighteen. Then I was told I needed a root canal before they could do the crown. I went to the optometrist for my annual vision test. He sent me to an ophthalmologist who diagnosed early stage glaucoma in my right eye. I had my annual physical that month. When my Doctor saw the PSA result, he sent me to an urologist, and after a biopsy I was told on December 30 that I had prostate cancer. Later I was told it was a high-risk prostate cancer. December 2008 was a month I will never forget. But I'm here to tell you that these trials have pushed me to God in a way that nothing else would have. And I rejoice in that.

A few weeks after losing my job one of my colleagues in ministry sent me a devotional written by Dr. A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance entitled "Days of Heaven on Earth.” Dr. Simpson writes,

“How did God bring about the miracle of the Red Sea? By shutting His people in on every side so that there was no way out but the divine way. The Egyptians were behind them, the sea was in front of them, the mountains were on both sides of them. There was no escape but from above. Someone has said that the devil can wall us in, but he cannot roof us over. We can always get out at the top. Our difficulties are but God's challenges, and many times He makes them so hard that we must get above them or go under. In the Providence of God, such an hour furnishes us with the highest possibilities for faith. We are pushed by the very emergency into God's best. Beloved, this is God's hour. If you will rise to meet it you will get such a hold upon Him that you will never be in extremities again;
or if you are, you will learn to call them not extremities, but opportunities. Like Jacob, you will go forth from that night at Peniel, no longer Jacob, but victorious Israel. Let us bring to Him our need and prove Him true.”

A few months later, in sharing this with another pastor, I wrote: “I am learning to live out this truth in these days of testing and challenges.”

I don't know what trials you are facing this morning, if any. But if you are not responding to the trial as James has instructed us, this morning you have an opportunity to change course. If you are fighting with God over your trial, you have an opportunity to yield to Him. If you have turned away from God, turned your back on God in your trial, this morning you have an opportunity to return to Him.

If you not a believer, having never been born again, the first step in facing your trial is to repent of you sin, by faith call out to God for forgiveness and salvation and begin to walk with Him in your trial.

Corrie Ten Boom was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp where her sister died. She wrote, "If you look to the world you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you'll be at rest."

Jesus' invitation, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, And I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 10:28-30  (NIV)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Following God's Leading - Joshua 21:43-45; 23:14-15

(I gave this message most recently at First Christian Church of Wilton Manors on July 9, 2017)

James Chalmers was born in Scotland in August 1841. At the age of 24, he married Jane Hercus, two days later was ordained, and in less than three months set sail with his wife for Sydney Australia. Sixteen months later they arrived at their ultimate destination the island of Rarotonga in the South Pacific Cook Islands. Ten years later, Chalmers and his wife moved to the island of New Guinea.

Of the south Pacific islands John Starke has written, "...the indigenous population lived in primitive conditions, immersed in cannibalism, licentiousness, infanticide, and constant warfare. " But these were Chalmers words regarding his desire to proclaim the gospel to such people in New Guinea, "The nearer I get to Christ and His cross, the more do I long for direct contact with the heathen."

Glen Royer writes, "Whatever made savage life loathsome and fearful to the ordinary man made it attractive to him." After the death of his wife Jane in 1879, just two years after moving to New Guinea, Chalmers wrote "Oh, to dwell at His cross and to abound in blessed sympathy with His great work! I want the heathen for Christ." He continues, "I cannot rest and so many thousands of savages without a knowledge of Christ near us."

James Chalmers, remarried nine years later in 1888 only to have his second wife die two years later on the mission field. Biographer Eugene Harrison, writes of Chalmer's final days as he made an effort to reach a particularly fierce and unapproachable group of natives for Christ.

"In April, 1901, Chalmers set out to visit the district around Cape Blackwood, on the eastern side of the Fly River delta. He knew this area was inhabited by a particularly ferocious tribe of savages who were both skull hunters and cannibals. He was accompanied by Rev. Oliver Tomkins, a promising young colleague recently arrived from England. At a place called Risk Point on the island of Goaribari a swarm of natives, with all sorts of weapons, came in canoes and took forcible possession of the mission vessel as it lay anchored off shore. Tamate [Chalmers] decided to go ashore, but, anticipating trouble, urged Mr. Tomkins to remain aboard the vessel. Mr. Tomkins, however, insisted on sharing whatever dangers might await his beloved leader, so the two went ashore together to the village of Dopina. Those on board the vessel never saw them again. This was on April 8, 1901. A few days later the Christian world was stunned by a cablegram stating that James Chalmers and his young colleague had been killed and eaten by the Fly River cannibals.

As was ascertained later, when Chalmers, Tomkins and several boys from the mission school got ashore, they were invited into the dubu of the village to have something to eat. As soon as they entered, the signal was given for a general massacre. The two missionaries were hit on the head from behind with stone clubs and fell senseless to the floor. Their heads were immediately cut off, then their followers were similarly killed and beheaded. The heads were distributed as trophies among the murderers, while the bodies were handed over to the women to cook. The flesh was mixed with sago and was eaten the same day by the wildly exulting cannibals."

Remember Chalmers words, "The nearer I get to Christ and His cross, the more do I long for direct contact with the heathen." "Oh, to dwell at His cross and to abound in blessed sympathy with His great work! I want the heathen for Christ!"

What led a Scotsman to leave the comforts of his homeland to a life of great danger and hardship and devote over thirty years of his life to reach cannibals for Christ in one of the most primitive places on the planet?

I want to speak to you this morning about "Following  God's Leading" by sharing with you from the experience of Israel as recorded in the latter chapters of the book of Joshua. I want to go to the end of an era in Israel's history. And as we look back into this period of Israel's history we will see timeless truth regarding God's call of Israel and their response, truth relevant to your life and mine, truth relevant to how we respond to God's leading in our lives, individually, as families and as a church.

In Deuteronomy thirty-one Joshua succeeded Moses as Israel's leader. In Joshua chapter one God gives Joshua his marching orders. The spies are sent out in chapter two. In chapter three, Joshua calls the people to consecrate themselves then leads the nation across the Jordan River into the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the desert because of unbelief. The miraculous fall of Jericho is recorded in chapter six. Chapter ten records Israel's defeat of the Amorites and the southern cities, followed by the northern kings in chapter eleven.

Then in chapters twelve through nineteen we are told of the division of the conquered land among the tribes of Israel and the establishment of cities of refuge in chapter twenty. In the closing verses of chapter twenty-one, verses forty-three through forty-five, we have a summary statement of this era in Israel's history as they began to take possession of the land under the leadership of Joshua. A land promised to their forefathers hundreds of years before.

From this summary statement I want us to see three principles as Israel fulfilled God's calling as they took possession of a land He had promised them. Looking at this summary we see three principles of how God leads us into experiencing His will and purpose for our lives. Principles that are relevant to our lives as we follow His leading.

Perhaps this morning, you are facing an uncertain future. You have questions as to what God is calling you to do or how to respond to what He has called you to do. I don't know the challenges facing most of you this morning, facing you personally, in your family, or as a church. But let's trust God for a word to our hearts this morning.

Read with me this brief summary statement found in Joshua 21:43-45, "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass." (ESV)

I want to give you three principles this morning of how God leads his people. Notice first of all that, God always has a plan. Verse 43 speaks of this plan. "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there."

 It was years earlier that God had revealed this plan to Abram, Genesis 12:1-2,3b,  "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'”

You see, this summary statement in Joshua chapter twenty-one, is merely a small part of a much greater plan that God had begun to reveal to Abraham and others that followed. It was a plan that went far beyond God promising a chosen people a piece of real estate. It was a plan that the Apostle Paul said was conceived in the heart of God even before creation. It was a plan through which the whole world would be blessed.

And the first principle I want you to notice this morning is this: When it comes to God's calling or leading in our lives, - God always has a plan. Here is why this truth is so important. The plan defines what God wants to do. The plan always has God at its center. The plan always outlines what God has in mind. The emphasis is on what God want to do. That is what should concern us. Abraham did not have to come up with a plan. God had devised the plan.

I don't know what you are facing this morning. Perhaps unemployment, a foreclosure, an illness, challenges at work, in your business, in your marriage, with your children. You might need direction. Perhaps you are at a crossroads in your life. Whether the challenge is personal in nature, a family matter, a church matter, you might not be clear about what God's plan is. You might know all of the details or what the future holds.

But this one thing is certain. God has a plan! And God's plan defines what He wants to do for you and through you. That should encourage us this morning. No matter how much confusion there might be; no matter how many questions remain unanswered; no matter how uncertain things might seem. God has a plan!

Secondly notice, God's promises always accompany His Plan. Notice the first half of verse 43, "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers." Do you see the promise? You probably already noticed that when you look at this summary statement you cannot separate the plan from the promise. I have separated it so that we might understand more clearly the different principles at work here. But the plan and the promise are inseparable. God's plan for Abraham and Israel was inseparable from His promise to Abraham and Israel. You see, the success of the plan depended on God. In fact the promise was the plan. Verse 43, "And the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers." (ESV)

When God gave Abram the plan it was inseparable from the promise. So inseparable was the plan from the promise that God made a covenant with Abram, Genesis  15:18, "On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates....'"

A covenant is an agreement between to parties. This was an agreement that God had initiated and God upheld. And if you look carefully into this summary statement it is evident that what was accomplished when Israel took possession of the land up to this point was something God had done. Verse 43, "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers." and verse 44, "...the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands." (ESV)

Friends, this is a picture of God's grace at work through the promises of God. Joshua understood this truth.  In his farewell address to the leaders of Israel in chapter 23:3, he said,  " have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you."

As Joshua looked to the future, to the land promised but not yet conquered he said, verse five, "The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you." (ESV) Are you getting the picture? You see God's plan always depends on God's power. 

May I suggest to you this morning, if your plan doesn’t depend on God could it be that it is not God's plan? Listen, this morning you might not be able to spell out God's plan. You might not even see all of the pieces in front of you no less see how they fit together, but He has a plan. And as you walk before God in obedient faith He will disclose the plan and remember, no matter what the plan is, God never leaves us to our own resources. God's promises always accompany His plan. This is both Old and New Testament theology. Peter put it this way, 2 Peter 1:3-4 "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (NIV)

Friends that's the gospel! If this morning you stand apart from God in your sins, this is God's invitation to you. God has made provision for the forgiveness of your sins. He wants to reconcile you to Himself. When you acknowledge your sin and repent of your sin and trust in Jesus' death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sin, God will regenerate you by the power of His Holy Spirit. He will give you a new heart. He will deliver you from the penalty and power of sin in your lives. He will justify you, declaring you righteous in His sight because your sin has been put to Christ's account and you stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Friends that's a plan embedded with a promise, if there ever was one.

So I pause right here to ask, Have you been born again? Jesus told Nicodemus, the religious teacher of his day, "You must be born again." If God is speaking to you this morning of your need for His forgiveness right now call upon Him for salvation. God by his very nature, will not call us to a plan, will not lead us on a mission, that depends on our own resources, because, God's promises connect us to His power, for salvation or any other need. But there is another principle at work here. As we follow God's leading, notice thirdly that, God's plan calls for obedient faith.

Now we certainly recognize that God acts unilaterally. In other words, God does act alone. He can accomplish anything he wants without the cooperation of anyone. He acted alone in creation. He acted alone in redemption. He continues to act alone in His sovereign rule over the affairs of man. He alone sustains the universe in all of its complexity and glory. He will act alone in bringing the world to an end. He will act alone as He ushers in the new heaven and earth. He will act alone in judgment of sin and death. But God also chooses to work in and through his people. Back to Joshua 21:43. We  noted how the first half of the verse speaks of God's part. But notice the second half of verse 43, "And they took possession of it, [the land] and they settled there." Israel did not play a passive role in taking possession of the land that God had promised them. They were the ones who had to cross the Jordan River while God held the waters back. They were the ones that had to march around the city of Jericho and at the designated time blow the trumpets and shout as God brought down the walls. They had to attack the cities. They had to pursue the enemy. In other words they had to respond in obedience to the plan of God by faith in the promises of God.

Remember, God always has a plan and His promises are embedded in His plan. But we must respond in obedient faith to the plan. All through the book of Joshua, and the other accounts of Israel's walk with God this issue of participating with God stands center stage. In all candor they failed more than they succeeded at this point. The history of Israel is full of repeated unbelief and disobedience. Cycles of rebellion followed by God's judgment followed by their repentance and God's mercy and restoration.

Here is the important issue for us. When it comes to following God's leading, our participation is part of the plan. Before Joshua passed off the scene, he gathered Israel together to renew their covenant with the Lord. He was 110 years old. Had God been faithful to Joshua and Israel?

This is what God had said to Joshua after the death of Moses, Joshua 1:1-2, "You and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan River and enter the land I am about to give to them -- to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot as I promised Moses." And verse 45 of the summary statement, "Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass." (ESV)

But now as Joshua's life came to an end, he understood the reality of things. There was land yet to be conquered. There was still work to be done for the Lord. And he knew that they could not rely on yesterday's commitment to accomplish today's mission. 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.” (ESV) Joshua called his people to a place of decision. And at the core of the matter was a call to obedient service. Notice he led by example verse 15, "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

When we talk of following God's leading, walking in God's will, it starts with an acknowledgment that God has a plan. It means believing that in that plan you will find a promise. In other words, God's plan depends on God's power. But all that will pass you by unless you step forward in faith and obedience as a participant in God's plan. You see, consecration prepares us for participation in God's plan. God will never accept a divided allegiance. In Joshua 24:23 Joshua exhorted the people, “...throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (NIV) That is still the pattern we follow today. There will always be idols competing for our attention and allegiance. Our idols might be called by a different name than in Joshua's day. But whatever stands between our allegiance to God, whatever stands between the surrender of our hearts to God and his plan,  must be abandoned.

As we close, let me return to the missionary James Chalmers martyred in New Guinea. F.W. Boreham writes of Chalmer's legacy, He established " hundred and thirty mission New Guinea..." Dr. Lawes writes, 'On the first Sabbath in every month not less than three thousand men and women gather devotedly around the table of the Lord...Many of them were known to Chalmers as savages in feathers and war paint. Now, clothed and in their right mind, the wild, savage look all gone, they form part of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ and are members of His Church. Many of the pastors who preside at the Lord's Table bear on their breasts the tattoo marks that indicate that their spears had been imbrued with human blood. Now sixty-four of them, thanks to Mr. Chalmers' influence, are teachers, preachers and missionaries."

How do you explain that legacy? It all goes back to two decisions James Chalmers made years before. He was converted at the age of eighteen at a revival in Inveraray. One night, he and some of his young friends went to a revival meeting intending to disrupt the service. But God had other plans. The text of the evangelist that night was, Revelation 22:17, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come!' Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life." As Eugene Harrison writes, "The words glowed with fire and burned deep into James' soul. He went home that night overwhelmed with a conviction of sin and a vision of the loveliness of Christ."

Days later, Pastor Meikle, a Presbyterian minister, led him to faith in Christ. Chalmers writes of his conversion, "I felt that this salvation was for me. I felt that God was speaking to me in His Word and I believed unto salvation." But interestingly enough he had made a another decision that dramatically impacted his life three years before he became a Christian. After attending a Sunday School class the same pastor Meikle who led him to Christ spoke to the class in the chapel. Listen to Chalmer's own words,

"I was sitting at the head of the seat, and can even now see Mr. Meikle taking from his breast-pocket a copy of the United Presbyterian Record and hear him say that he was going to read an interesting letter to us from a missionary in Fiji. The letter was read. It spoke of cannibalism, and of the power of the Gospel, and at the close of the reading, looking over his spectacles, and with wet eyes, he said, 'I wonder if there is a boy here this afternoon who will yet become a missionary, and by and by bring the Gospel to cannibals?' And the response of my heart was, 'Yes, God helping me, I will.'"

He continues, "So impressed was I that I spoke to no one, but went right away towards home. The impression became greater the farther I went, until I got to the bridge over the Aray above the mill, and near the Black Bull. There I went over the wall attached to the bridge, and kneeling down prayed God to accept me, and to make me a missionary to the heathen."

Biographer Eugene Harrison connects the two decisions, pointing out that the desire to become a missionary to the heathen, "— now that he had been born again — came back to him with tremendous force, especially after conversations with Dr. Turner, a veteran missionary from Samoa." You see, God had a plan for James Chalmer's life. It is clearly woven into the tapestry of his experience with God. And in that plan there were the promises of God that allowed a man to live for over thirty years in one of the most primitive environments in the world, losing two wives and his own life all because he was willing to follow God's leading in obedient faith. First, his life was transformed by his conversion to Christ. He then yielded in obedient faith to God's call upon his life to be a missionary to the cannibals of the South Pacific. Joshua's challenge to Israel is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve." 

So I ask you, have you been born again?  If not, today can be your day of salvation. If you are in Christ this morning, are you following God's leading, walking in obedient faith in the power of His promises? As in the day of Joshua and the day of James Chalmers the time to respond is when God speaks to our hearts.