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, "...you 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 "...one hundred and thirty mission stations...at 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.