Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sermon for July 10, 2005

I was on vacation on July 3rd. This week's post is a bit late, but here it is . . .

Faith Moves: Fools for Christ
Joshua 6:1-20; 1 Corinthians 1:18‑25

There was this guy at a bar, just looking at his drink. He stays like that for half of an hour.

Then, this big trouble‑making truck driver steps next to him, takes the drink from the guy, and just drinks it all down. The poor man starts crying. The truck driver says, "Come on man, I was just joking. Here, I'll buy you another drink. I just can't stand to see a man cry."

"No, it's not that. This day is the worst of my life. First, I fall asleep, and I go late to my office. My boss, outrageous, fires me. When I leave the building, to my car, I found out it was stolen. The police said that they can do nothing. I get a cab to return home, and when I leave it, I remember I left my wallet and credit cards there. The cab driver just drives away."

"I go home, and when I get there, I find my wife in bed with the gardener. I leave home, and come to this bar. And just when I was thinking about putting an end to my life, you show up and drink my poison."

Sometimes you have to have a sense of humor when you face tough situations. When I read the story of Joshua and the Israelite’s conquest of Jericho, I wonder what was going through Joshua's head. We don't have any indication in the text that Joshua thought the Lord's instructions were strange. But if I were in his shoes, I would have found the whole situation a bit unnerving, maybe even humorous. The Lord presented a strange battle strategy ‑ a plan which must have seemed foolish to a 70‑year old leader like Joshua. I'd like to explore what we can learn from Joshua as we continue our series on faith moves. Today, we are going to think about how we respond when God asks us to act in foolish ways.

There is not a lot of archaeological evidence from the Jericho of Joshua's day. The city of ancient times is represented today by an imposing mound that is 70 feet high and 10 acres in area. There is no evidence of a mass destruction of the city in the 13th century B.C. because it's remains have been completely eroded from the summit of the mound over the centuries. Jericho probably began as a small settlement in 8000 B.C. It was known as the oldest walled city in the world, and it grew into an impressive city with a 25-foot wall and extraordinary buildings on its slopes. Joshua's spies discovered that the key to taking the promised land began with occupying this strategic city. It was a huge obstacle that had to be removed from their path.

Let's stop for a moment and think about the unmovable obstacles that confront us in our own lives. As you stand on the banks of life and look at what lies ahead, what barriers do you see? What are the Jerichos in your life? What keeps you from enjoying the covenant blessings that God has promised you? Scripture is clear that sin and temptation are universal problems that stand in the way of our enjoyment of God. Sin is an obstacle that can never be removed by our own efforts or good deeds. No matter how hard we try, sin separates us from God.

There are other obstacles as well. Some face the obstacle of grief. Perhaps you can't imagine going into the future without a lost loved one. It is difficult to believe God's promises when life just seems barren and hopeless.

Some face the barrier of disappointment. Maybe you can't go on because a loved one, or a friend, or even God has let you down. You have lost faith because it seems that a trusted person has betrayed you, and so you face the future with cynicism.

Some face the obstruction of broken relationships. Maybe you feel rejected, or isolated, or unloved, and the road ahead looks lonely and bleak.

Maybe you’re jus tired and you don’t have the energy to face the obstacles of the next day.

At one time or another we all face obstacles that seem to lock our path to happiness. The question is: how can we move past the Jerichos of our lives, and live in the promises of God?

Let’s get back to Joshua and the Israelites for a moment. Try to picture them faced with the conquest of a menacing city. Its walls are high. Its gates are locked tightly. It is impenetrable. And what does God tell his people to do? God says, “Josh, I want you to take your soldiers and your priests and march around the city once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day I want you to march around the city seven times with the priests blowing their trumpets. And on your last lap around the city, the trumpets will make a loud blast. Have all the people shout at the top of their lungs, and the walls of the city will collapse.” That’s an unusual battle strategy, isn't it? In every situation, there are two ways of facing the challenges of life; our way or God's way. In this case, God's way went against established human logic. It's as if the Lord said, "Joshua, I'm not going to allow you to rely on human wisdom and tricky military strategies. This is my battle, and I will be the one who gives you the victory." Israel's job was to carry out God's crazy orders .

God's plan of attacking the obstacles in our lives can seem unusual to us, too. God says to us, “I will defeat the roadblocks in your life if you will let me. But, I want you to do it my way.” It's exactly the kind of talk that sounds so foolish to us. We don't like to hear that we can't do it on our own. We like the idea of being rugged individualists and self‑made people.

A man brought his boss home for dinner. The boss was blustery, arrogant, and domineering. The little boy in the family stared at his dad's boss for most of the evening, but didn't say anything. Finally, the boss asked him, "Why do you keep looking at me like that?" The little boy said, "My daddy says you are a self‑made man." The boss beamed and proudly admitted that indeed he was a self‑made man. The little boy asked, “Well, if you're a self-­made man, why did you make yourself like that?"

The problem with self‑made people is the illusion of self‑sufficiency. They allow no room for God to do something miraculous in their lives. As long as we retain complete control, the barriers in our lives may not be moved. We may pick away at them, and even find some happiness, but it’s not the same as letting God have total control. God's plans are not always the same as our plans. Sometimes God’s plans are hard to believe, often because they seem so utterly foolish.

Just stop and think about God's plan of salvation. God knows that our biggest obstacle in life is sin, which separates us from his presence. We regularly praise God for sending Jesus to die on a cross, rise from the dead and take away our sin. But it's really foolish when you think about it. We gather each week to praise and remember some guy, battered and bloody, who died gasping from breath while nailed to a cross for crimes against the state and his own religion. His closest friends abandoned him in his time of need. They forgot all about him and fled to save their own hides. But still we remember him. And not only that, we claim that his dead guy came back to life and then a few days later got beamed up to heaven. You see how ridiculous this message can sound? But God's plan is for us to find hope in that story, so that we might receive new life in Christ.

And how about the unusual ways God tells us to approach our Jerichos? Instead of going it alone, God calls us to be baptized so that we may belong to a covenant family. Instead of devising our own schemes, God tells us to submit our problems to him in prayer, and he will answer. Jesus encourages us to find peace through loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. Even more, God calls us to live lifestyles of holiness and modesty, honesty, faithfulness, and trust. It goes against everything the world stands for. Behavior like this makes us look like dimwits or outcasts ‑ fools for Christ. Our text from 1 Corinthians reminds us that God chooses what is foolish to shame those who think they are wise. God chooses the avenue of weakness to shame those who think they are strong on their own. God chooses ways that seem lowly so that we can't boast of anything except Jesus Christ and the redemption we can experience through him. God uses his unusual methods to destroy the obstacles to his presence, change lives, to give his people hope, to heal our wounds and lift our burdens.

How do you respond to the seemingly foolish requests of God? Joshua gives us one model. To Joshua's credit, he accepted God's unusual plans without argument. Without a second thought, he put God's orders into action. Why would he do this? The only answer I can come up with is because of faith. In fact, Hebrews 11:30 confirms that by faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. Faith is having complete confidence or trust that God will do what he promises, even if God's methods don't make sense. And because of faith, Joshua made sure that the strategy of God was followed to the letter.

There has never been a time when God has expected anything less than full obedience. Like Joshua, our obedience calls for faith ‑ an earnest trust that God will help us face the obstacles in our lives. And even more, as we face them obediently, we will see God clear the path for us. So let me ask you, how's jour faith? Are you tired of facing the Jerichos of your life alone? God is ready to take the walls of sin and temptation, or grief, or loneliness, or broken relationships, and clear a path through them so that you may have hope for the future.

What stands in the way to experiencing all that God has for you? I encourage you to continually hand them over to God, and be open to his unusual plans to make a path through them, even if they seem foolish.

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