A Blurry Picture
We live in the age of streaming, we stream out music, TV and now even games! A few days ago I was watching football via a sports streaming service. Normally the stream works great, it is not quite 4K HD, but it’s perfect for enjoying the sport. However, for some unknown reason, that stream refused to work cleary up. No matter what we did, the pixels remained boxy and the picture blurred. Strangely everything was working fine, the sound, graphics, etc.… just not the picture; We could ascertain something of what was happening, yet, with the pixeled nature of the stream clarity was absent. It was like trying to watch a TV through a misty window. How often is this the story of our lives? That even when there is something better to look at, a better way to see, we chose to remain in the blurred space because we think there can be nothing better?
Choosing to Clarify our Vision
As I was reading the Scripture I found myself in Joshua 24, at the end of the leadership of Joshua. The one appointed by God to lead the people of God into the promised land and settle them there. As you read through the entire book, you will see that his work has not been exactly as the Lord has commanded, they have been half-measured in some ways. Yet, at that point, things seem to be going well for the people of God as they are in the lands that he promised them when he rescued them from Slavery. Thus, here at the foot of a mountain with the gathered leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel Joshua challenges them about their vision: their seeing of God and the world, and in the challenge, he calls them to look only to God and to live only for him. It is a call to clarify their vision and how it impacts their lives and a call that we must heed today.
The Covenant Renewed
Joshua presents a simple choice for the people: Worship the Living God or worship something false like your ancestors Terah and Nahor did. False deities that demanded everything for them, and did nothing for them; gods made by man to serve the needs of man, and yet even though lifeless they somehow ended up enslaving men! It seems like a simple choice: look too and trust in a good, loving and all-powerful God or waste your worship with lifeless idols. Yet, it is only a simple choice to those who see clearly! The people of God even though they had seen God at work in the world in ways we could only dream of still somehow managed to blur their vision again and again and accept manmade things in place of God. Joshua again challenges them in his last act as a leader to see God clearly: He who called Abraham to himself and brought him to lands far beyond him and in that journey gave him many descendants. Joshua presents a clear picture of choice to the people of God as he sets out to renew the covenant between them and the people of God. It is a clear comparison and one that calls the people of God to see clearly what they give their lives too. The choice was now their’s: to see God clearly and live for him because there is nothing better, or to continue looking to a blurred picture because it was safer and demanded less from them. To see God is to know God and to Know God is to live for God. Thus, these people would often look elsewhere.
Choose Who You Live For (14-15)
Joshua has gathered the people and reminded them of all that God has done for them. In this section of chapter 24, Joshua outlines what for the people of God what it means to worship God and live for him, and the consequences of their actions if they choose tho worship, false gods – to forsake the living God:
“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:14-15 NIV
In response to what God has done for them, the people of God are called to live for him. First, they are to fear him (to be in awe or have reverent respect) then they are to serve him with all faithfulness (they are to be devoted to him above all else). To see God clearly is to see the wonder of who He is and has done, then a response in gratitude to it. For the Christian today that means grasping the wonder of what Jesus came to do and living for Him; for the twelve tribes under Joshua, it was to remember the exodus and to grasp that if God could do that he could do anything. Furthermore, if God would rescue his people either from their sin via the cross or from slavery via the exodus: He is a God who can be depended on. Not like the gods we make for ourselves, those things we give ourselves to for freedom or comfort in fear. Yet, they will only leave us more enslaved and more fearful. Idols in the time of Joshua where obvious things: statues and ornaments – objects that symbolised some of the pagan gods around them. Today, our idols can take on a more subtle form as good things become god-things, yet the urgency remains the same. We must deal with them! Whether our idols are: job’s, family, bank balance, possession. The question is, do we see clearly? Joshua shows us how clear he sees and his allegiance as he states:
“But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
“If you don’t want to serve the God who is alive, good and all sovereign, then that is fine you go and choose whatever god you want, but me and my household we will serve YAHWEH.” That is what Joshua means by the above statement when read in the context of the whole passage. It is not just a choice about vision, service, or worship – it is matter of identity. To worship something is to give yourself to it: To worship God is to belong to God and identify with him. Thus, to worship Yahweh is to choose him above all else. For Joshua to declare his and his household’s service onto the Lord was to declare that above all else; all the politics of the nation, all the tribes and everything life had given them he and his household would first be a people dedicated to Yahweh – the God who had saved them, and nothing would come between them. Joshua is our model of worship and vision. We must see the Lord as him, and in the power of the Holy Spirit commit to the service of the Lord like him.
Today, Joshua 24 calls us to open our eyes and see clearly the one who made us and is calling us to Himself to use us for His purposes. Vision shape’s everything: what we look too, and it shapes how we see the world; and how we shape the world defines how we interact with it. A people who worship idols – even lifeless idols – will give their time and effort to those things. A people who see God clearly will be a people who have grasped the wonder of Jesus and then in the power of the Spirit live for him. To see is to choose why we live. Joshua could see Yahweh clearly and gladly chose to live for him, he called his people to the same purpose.
We Need Help to Live for the Lord
The people gathered with him seem to response to Joshua’s challenge, as they declare that they will not forsake the LORD for other gods because He is the one who is sovereign and was good to them by rescuing them:
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! 17 It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. – Joshua 24:17-18
Thus, they conclude using the same language and imagery of Joshua, “We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.” A sentiment they no doubt meant, yet, one they could not keep as Joshua reminded them: “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” (19-20). Why would Joshua say such a thing? Was it because he doubted their words? Perhaps he wanted God and living for Him to be only for his household? It is none of these things. Joshua rebuked the people because it was the truth. As their leader, he spoke based on his expense of leading them and knowing their heart. We are not geared towards the service of God, we are geared towards service of self – sin. The human heart is totally sinfully, and a heart that is not given over to God cannot see him clearly. The people of God might speak the right words, but actions display a different heart and vision. To see clearly, we must see form a heart that belongs to the Lord. For Christian’s today, we know that help through the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ – he who came for us died in our place and took on the burden of our sin. A work that allowed us to know God fully through the dwelling work of the Holy Spirit. Faith in Jesus renews our covenant with God.
Joshua spoke these words because he knew the people of God even with all the good intentions of the world could never serve God fully because their hearts and vision belonged to something other than God. Despite all this, God would be their help time and time again as in His mercy and grace he worked for them. As followers of Jesus and a people of the renewed-new covenant; we receive that help in the person and presence of God the Holy Spirit who works in us as we seek to serve and live for the Lord. The Holy Spirit helps us to see clearly by shaping our heart into the ways of the Lord, he claims us for his own, then set’s our heart to his beat so we can see Him, see as Him and then live for him. The question is what is shaping our heart and vision?
Lives That Display What We Look To (Conclusion)
To the rebuke of Joshua the gathered people insist that they will live for the Lord: “No! We will serve the Lord.” In response, Joshua commanded that they throw away any idols they had in their possession and yield their hearts to God. It was time for their actions to match their words. The command was an imploring that they show their hearts belong to God by acting for it. To throw away the idols was to show by deed a greater devotion – it was to remove man-made things that were coming between them and the living God, and things hindering their living for God. When clarity is had in vision; clarity is had in action. Seeing affects how we interact in the world; if the people of God see him clearly because their hearts belong to him, then their actions will show it. Today, if we know the wonder of a relationship with God through the work of Christ and faith in him, we too must act to protect that relationship and grow in it. I wonder what idols we need to remove from our lives: people, possessions, positions, or past-times that are coming between our worship and service of the Lord? In the power of the Holy Spirit are we willing to deal with them?
Finally we are again reminded that seeing clearly is not just a matter of eyesight, but of heart. For as Joshua commanded them to clear out their idols, he also commanded them to yield their hearts to God. True seeing is not done with our eyes, it is done with our heart. Thus, to see God clearly means that at the deepest part of our being, we have come to see our need of Him; faith is a matter of heart. The words and actions the people of God; however, well-intentioned would be meaningless unless their heart belonged to God and was behind their words and deed. The heart shapes everything! Thus, today we need to be sure that our heart belongs to God, and shapes our seeing, doing, and being. We need to be a people who are first yielded to God in the heart because we have grasped the wonder of Mercy and Grace received through Christ on the cross, then in the power of the Spirit allow that gift of Grace to affect how we see the world and interact within. Then as we live in this world, we must look to God above all else, fix our eyes on him, then live for him as we wait for him so that others too might be called out of a blurred existence into the clarity of knowing Christ. When we get the heart right serving God and obeying him comes naturally as God the Holy Spirit works in us to make us more like him and to allow people to see God through how we see, interact with the world and above all else Worship God because as the people of God we have grasped the wonder of God.