Joshua and the Power of Influence
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While we in our macho moments cheer a video like that, men, we also have to admit that, often, we really feel like fools inevitably doomed to failure. I mean who can live up to the picture that we all have of what fathers ought to be like. I distinctly remember walking down the aisle after my wedding feeling this huge weight of responsibility that just seemed to wash over me. Don’t get me wrong! I was very happy to be married, but all of a sudden as we walked down that aisleway I realized that I wasn’t just responsible for me anymore. It was sobering!
And all of us men handle our responsibilities differently. I think we all feel the pressure, and we try to deal with it in different ways. Some of us become arbitrary. If a decisions have to be made, we become little George Bushes, facing down our questioning wives and declaring, “Why? Because I said so, and I’m the decider.” Now that may work where you live, but it’s never gone over very well in my house. But here’s the deal: We often cover up for our inadequacy and become arbitrary because we know in our hearts that we have no basis for our decision other than our own stubbornness, but we still plant our flags, make decisions, and dare someone to challenge us. The problem is, we usually end up with egg on our faces, watching our certain decisions flame out. And the greatest casualty of our decisions is not our embarrassment, the greatest casualty of these missteps is this: We lose the confidence of our family and we lose the effectiveness of our influence.
Because of a few of these notable failures or maybe just because we’re so afraid of them, some men trade being arbitrary for being wishy-washy. These poor guys can never make a decision. They think it through and get advice. They get the facts several times over. They may even pray about it but they never break the paralysis of analysis. They live there lives in a tortured prison of lost opportunities and “almost did it” regrets. But that’s not their greatest casualty. No, the greatest casualty of their indecisiveness is this: It costs them their influence.
So where’s the balance? If you aren’t supposed to be arbitrary and you’re not supposed to be wishy-washy, dads, what are you supposed to be? Well, guys, we’re supposed to be leaders. “That’s great,” you might say, “but what does that mean?” What does it mean to be a leader? What is leadership? Well, I think that John Maxwell may have the best definition. He says that leadership is influence. That really is the answer to our dilemma. You see, as a father, I do not make decisions for my family and I don’t avoid decisions to humor my family: No, I exert my influence on my family and they make the right decisions for themselves.
Ok I know, I know. This sounds like one of “those” Father’s Day messages, doesn’t it? Strong on “ought to” and short on “how to.” Well, I hope that will not be the case. You see, today we’re going to take a look at a man who wasn’t just a father, he was a father figure. Not only did he have his own household to look after, he was also responsible for a whole nation. As the leader, he knew that the force of his position meant little, but the power of his influence meant everything. In Joshua chapter 24, the Holy Spirit rolls back the curtain on this great leader and shows us how he influenced, not just his family, but a whole nation. The bible says in 24:14:
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people . .
Now Joshua goes on to rehearse for the people all that God had done for them: How he had rescued them from Egypt and the Pharoah, helped them to conquer their enemies there in the land of Canaan, and now he stands before them with a challenge: He wants them to recommit themselves to serve the Lord and him alone. That’s what he says in v. 14
Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! 15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of 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.”
16 So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for the Lord our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”
Wow! This may be one of the few times in the history of the nation of Israel that they all got on the same page. With one voice they declare that they will serve the Lord. I don’t think that their resolve was an accident. No! I believe that they had some help. I believe they were led. I believe they were influenced. How did Joshua do it? How did he bring these people to the place that they willingly followed him? And further more, how can you as a father exert influence on your children. Well, you must first
DIV 1: CLARIFY THEIR CHOICES
Our world specializes in turning black and white to pale shades of gray. Compromise and relativism dominate the moral landscape. In a world where there are no absolutes to anchor the soul, clarity is difficult.
This was no less in Joshua’s day. Joshua stands before his people after they have subdued their enemies in Canaan. Faced with the many gods of the nations they had conquered, the Jews were left with lots of choices and competing claims. Against this deafening cacophony, Joshua brings three strong blasts of truth. The first one is a reminder. In vv 1-13 of chapter 24, he reminds the Israelites of the great blessings of God. Speaking to them as if God Himself were talking, Joshua says: “I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’” In other words, Joshua tells them, “You may live in a land of many false gods, but never forget that the only reason you’re working land you didn’t clear; the only reason you’re living in a city you didn’t build; the only reason you’re drinking wine or eating olives which you didn’t plant is because I, the one true God gave them to you. You may think you can choose a thousand other gods, but there’s only one choice that makes sense: ME!”
You see, by rehearsing the blessings of God, Joshua clarifies for Israel the one Who really deserves their allegiance. That’s why after telling them of the blessings, He begins verse 14 with the words, “Now therefore.” Because of these blessings, there is a logical decision to make. He tells them that they are to “fear the Lord and serve Him with sincerity and truth.” And it is this phrase that further clarifies their choice. In Hebrew it means to serve God with “integrity and truth” The word integrity connotes the idea of wholeness, blamelessness, or even perfection. Joshua is passionately calling his people to be totally devoted and absolutely blameless in their worship of the one true God. One commentator wrote of this:
The choice laid out here for Israel was a breathtaking one. The language about choice is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Normally, God was the one who did the choosing, having chosen Israel from among the nations to be his people (see, e.g., Deut 4:37; 7:6–7; 10:15; 14:2). But now, Israel was being asked to choose its loyalties, something the pagan nations did not have to do because they could embrace all the gods. The Israelites were being asked to do what Rahab had done, namely, to embrace this one God and, by doing so, to reject all others (see on 2:9–11). Joshua laid out for Israel the choice, but he did not threaten them or try to coerce them. The choice was simple, and he set an example by his own choice.
And he adds one more clarifying element to their choosing. When the people say in vv 16 and 17 that they will serve the Lord, Joshua warns the people in v. 19 and 20:
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good
Wow! Joshua wouldn’t have been much of a salesman would he? He tells the people here not just how God has blessed them, and the clear commitment God requires of them, he goes on to make clear to them exactly what God will do to them if they turn back from following them. You can say a lot of things about Joshua, perhaps, but the one thing you cannot say is that he lacks clarity. He is very clear about the choice the Israelites are being called upon to make.
And I must remind us, fathers, that clarity in our job as parents is extremely important. In fact, I maintain that clarity, to a great extent, determines influence. In fact, in 2008, New Yorker Magazine ran a comprehensive article about kids and lying. It reported that:
In a study of teenagers regarding degrees of honesty and deceit, researchers found that most parents believe being permissive will encourage openness and honesty from their kids. Parents of teenagers would rather be informed than strict and "in the dark." However, researchers discovered a "no rules" policy simply doesn't work. One researcher noted: "Kids who go wild and get in trouble…have parents who don't set rules or standards. Their parents are loving and accepting no matter what the kids do, but the kids take the lack of rules as a sign their parents don't care—that their parent doesn't really want [the] job of being the parent… Ironically, the type of parents who are actually most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are most warm and have the most conversations with their kids." Though some rules result in arguments between parents and teens, only 23 percent of the teenagers surveyed considered these conflicts harmful to their relationship with their parents.
As a parent, I will actually do a better job of parenting if I am clear about what is right and what is wrong. If I clarify their choices, I will more effectively influence their behavior.
But some of you may be asking, “Won’t you oversimplify things if you take this approach? Won’t you lead your kids to think that life’s answers are simple when, the truth is, life’s problems are truly complex?
Well, from a human perspective, I suppose our sin does often confuse the issue, but I must remind you that God is not really into nuanced answers. That’s the new political buzz-word, isn’t it. We need “nuanced” answers to our problems, and maybe in a few instances, from a political perspective, that may be true. But God’s not really into nuance. In fact, it was nuance that got man into trouble in the first place. It was nuance that Satan tried when he asked Eve, “Hath God said?”
God’s answer to man’s problem of sin is stark and clear. It is a cross. The cross clarifies a million issues and solves a million problems. Fathers, it is clarity your family needs.
You may be saying, “That’s great, Rusty, but how? How can I clarify my family’s choices?” Well, at this point, many of you could just come right up here and preach this message, because you’ve heard it so many times before. As believers, where does our clarity come from? (Hold up the Bible) That’s right! The Word of God! Father’s, if you are to adequately direct and protect your family, you’ve got to get your clarity from God’s Word, not your own opinion. That just means you’ve got to know the Word of God. I’m not talking about just hearing me preach, or hearing your Sunday School teacher every Sunday. That’s not enough. You must learn God’s word for yourself. You must become a student of the Word.
And just knowing it will not bring clarity either. In fact, knowing it and talking about it without applying it will just make things more confusing:
I remember at Bible College being required to sign in and out if we left the dormitory after 7:00 p.m. at night. If you didn’t sign out and got caught, or if you signed out and didn’t sign back in, you were called in by the Dean of Students and given demerits. Well, There was a great way around this dilemma. Many of the guys in the dorm just wouldn’t sign out. They’d sneak out of the dorm, then sneak back in. Now, folks, these were the very same guys who would leave the Bible College after their Senior years and go out to pastor churches. I guess they figured that being dishonest and disobeying the rules was ok as long as you didn’t get caught.
Now, as a student there, I must admit that when I arrived on campus, I had to get my own heart right with God. In many ways, I had been somewhat dishonest as a teenager, sometimes doing things I should not have done behind my parent’s backs and then not telling the truth about it. But when I got to campus, God really did a work in me and I got things right with Him. But now here it is Monday night, and I want to go to the mall, but I don’t have time. I know I’m going to be dishonest if I sneak out, but here are all these other guys who claim to be Christians sneaking around and being dishonest. After a few times of sneaking around, my conscience bothered me so badly, I just had to stop. What’s my point? Just this: Even though all of those guys knew that dishonesty was wrong, because they refused to live it, I was confused.
Father’s that is what will happen if you know God’s word but do not apply it to your life and to the lives of your family. There will be ultimate confusion. You will lose your influence, and you may well lose your family. If you want to influence them for Christ, you must clarify their choices. And once you’ve clarified the choice you must
DIV 2: SET AN EXAMPLE
That’s what Joshua does, here. In v 15 he tells them: “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . .” Notice the freedom Joshua gives them here. By the way, Dads, you’ve got to learn to do that too. You’ve got to be willing to give freedom to your kids in some of their decisions so that they learn how to make the right decision for themselves. You say, “But if I let them decide, they’ll choose poorly.” Well, that may be, and when they go down the wrong road, that’s when its time to teach them again what they need to do.
And besides that, what Joshua goes on to say in this verse reveals that he is confident in allowing this choice because he knows that he has influenced them to follow God. Notice he says:
And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of 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.
Joshua, here, leads by example. He sets an example in his choice. He doesn’t ask the Israelites to do something he himself wasn’t willing to do. He sets the example by what he chooses. Can that be said of you as a father? Do you consistently set the example for others to follow in the behaviors you choose? in the habits you allow? in the money you give? in the way you spend your time? In the quiet time you give God every day? Joshua was able to influence his followers because he set and example in what he chose.
But he also set and example in the influence he exerted. I noticed something really powerful when I studied this passage carefully. Joshua says “But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” How could Joshua say that? You might say, “Well, that was because Joshua had his house in order. He made his wife tow the line and he cracked the whip on his children.”
There’s only one problem. Joshua probably didn’t have any children living at home at the time! Think about it. He began serving with Moses back when the Children of Israel came out of Egypt. He was there when they sent the spies to spy out the land and one of the reasons he is still living at this point to take the Israelites into the promised land is because he was one of two people who brought back a faith-filled report. I would estimate that Joshua, at that time, was probably 20 years old. But the children of Israel reject his advice and turn on God. God makes them wander in the desert for 40 years. So by the time Joshua says this to the children of Israel, he would have to be at least 60, far to young to have young children. In fact, most of his kids were probably grown with families of their own. So how was Joshua able to say that he and his house would serve the Lord.
I think it may have been because Joshua knew that he had so led his family that he was confident that they would follow Christ. Now that is influence!
Could you speak for your family that way? Those of you whose families are grown and gone, can you stand and say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord?” Are you so confident in the clarity you have presented through your life and the maturity you have seen develop in your children that you know they will make the right choices?
I close today by paying tribute to two of my fathers. Now I don’t have a physical step-dad or anything, but I do have two dads. One is my physical dad, and the other is my father in the ministry.
Now my real dad was a pastor, too. He always set a clear example for me to follow. He told me the truth and he lived out the truth in his life. I feared him because he would let me have it if I disobeyed. I respected him because I never recall him asking me to practice anything he wasn’t already practicing in his life. But there’s one incident that just took my respect to a whole new level.
It was the summer of 1975. Our church was pretty typical for the south: traditional, entrenched, troubled. We had no idea of just how troubled until it all erupted in some pretty ugly events in one church business meeting. As a 16 year-old boy, I was so angry at the end of what I observed that I just wanted to stand up in my pew and start shouting people down and calling them out for the hypocrites I thought they were. But I watched as my father stepped to the microphone and with great grace and dignity handled everything. He set an example for me and that’s why he has always been so influential in my life.
Then there’s my father in the ministry. After 16 years, I have learned so much from Bro. Gordon that I couldn’t even begin to write it all down. I have watched him show love to people who were mistreating him. I’ve seen him handle difficult situations with amazing wisdom. I don’t think, however, that I have ever been more influenced by him than I was just a few months ago.
Many of you missed the message, perhaps, because you were in WSO or MAPS. Brother Gordon preached and even though his voice may not be as strong as it used to be, or he may not be able so speak as quickly as he once could, the message was powerful. He spoke of how the Holy Spirit had been sustaining him since Ms. Hilda’s death. He said, and I’ll never forget this, “People ask me if I’m depressed. He said I haven’t been depressed one time. God has sustained me.” Some might have looked at that and said, “Well, I remember when Bro. Gordon could preach a whole lot stronger than that.” Well, I’ll just tell you that when he was finished two people came forward and one of them received Christ. And I’ll also tell you that the power of God was all over him.
I was talking to Tim Lamm after that message and I told him this: Gordon has always been able to preach a sermon; Gordon, by God’s grace, has lived the sermon. But now, at this point of his life, God has allowed him to become the sermon. When he stands up to preach, he doesn’t even have to say anything. He has so much influence in this congregation that whether he ever preaches another sermon, his life has become the sermon.
Fathers, that’s how you lead your families. You don’t force them to do things your way. You don’t avoid confronting them so that they will like you. You lead them. You clarify their choices and you set the example. You preach the sermon, you live the sermon and you become the sermon.