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To the future

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Joshua 23:1-16

Thesis: We must walk with God today to step into the future he intends for us.

Goal: Examine your present obedience to the Lord and his word.

The Chinese have a saying: “To predict is difficult, especially with regard to the future.” I have often wished I didn’t have to be right more often than a weatherman. Or a futurist.

Consider these confident prophecies: “The phonograph is not of any commercial value” (Thomas Edison, 1880); “Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible” (astronomer Simon Newcomb, 1902); “Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote” (Grover Cleveland, 1905); “Ruth made a big mistake when he gave up pitching” (Tris Speaker, 1921); “I think there is a world market for about five computes” (IMB chairman Thomas J. Watson, 1943); “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home” (Digital Equipment Corporation president Ken Olsen, 1977).

How do we face the future with confidence? By obeying the God of the future in the present. You and I can only step into tomorrow with God if we walk with him today.

In this study, Joshua will teach us how to consecrate our lives to God in the present by remembering his purposes from the past. Then we can trust the God of tomorrow with triumphant faith.

Let’s learn how to embrace and share the grace of a God whose love transcends our every circumstance and need.

Look back at his provision (vs. 1-5)

Many years ago, my home church pastor preached a sermon on Psalm 23 which has stayed with me ever since. He showed us “God in three tenses.” He walks before us, leading us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He walks with us, protecting us through the valley of the shadow of death. And he walks behind us, as his goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. He is the ever-present, timely and timeless God.

Joshua here calls his people to follow God in all three tenses. First comes the past, narrated by one who lived it.

A long time has elapsed since the events of chapter 22, and “the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them” (v. 1a). Now Joshua was “by then old and well advanced in years” (v. 1b), most likely near his death at the age of 110 (24:29). At least 25 years have passed since the end of the Conquest.

Their leader from the Jordan crossing to the Canaan conquest now “summoned all Israel” by gathering their representatives from every dimension of leadership: elders, leaders, judges and officials” (v. 2a). Once assembled, he reminded them of his age and experience (v. 2b). And he took them on a pilgrimage across their past:

•They have seen all that God has done to the surrounding nations

•They must remember that “it was the Lord your God who fought for you” (v. 3).

•Joshua then recalled their tribal inheritance and distribution (v. 4).

•And he promised that the God who had given them these lands would help them continue to conquer and control them (v. 5).

An elderly saint once said with a smile, “All I have seen teaches me to trust God for all I have not seen.” Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), all he has done in the past he is still able to do in the present and the future. When we need to be encouraged about uncertainty ahead, it is always good to look back at the sure and certain presence and power of our God.

What about tomorrow most concerns you today? Let’s look to the past to find his love in the present. Are you worried about a health issue? The One who “healed many who had various diseases” (Mark 1:34) is still a Great Physician. Is your material security in doubt? The One who fed the widow of Zarephath and her son so that “the jar of flour was not used up and jug of oil did not run dry” (1 Kings 17:16) is still rich.

Are you struggling with loneliness or discouragement? The One whose angel touched the discouraged Elijah (1 Kings 19:5) still comforts. Is your marriage in pain? The One who blessed Hannah and Elkanah in their childless suffering (1 Samuel 1:19-20) still cares.

Are your children making disappointing choices? The One who redeemed a lost son (Luke 15:24) still forgives. Your God loves you without condition and beyond description. Remember the last time he proved his love to you—your last sin he forgave, your last prayer he answered, your last need he met. And know that he didn’t bring you this far to leave you.

Look around for his purpose (vs. 6-11)

In light of all God has done for Joshua’s people, he deserves their obedience and trust today. His requirements for the present are four.

First, “Be very strong” (v. 6a). Here is a consistent them of Joshua and the word of God: strong courage is required of the people of God. Three times in Joshua 1 we find the injunction, “Be strong and courageous” (vs. 6, 9, 18). In verse 7 the command is made even more urgent: “Be strong and very courageous.”

Paul exhorted young Timothy, his son in the faith, in the same way: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God (2 Timothy 1:7-8).

God’s purpose will always succeed in his power, but never in our own. We can do “all things” only “through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). If your present service to your Lord does not require courage and strength on your part, your ministry is not bold enough.

Second, the Lord asked his people to “be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left” (v. 6b). “Be careful” in the Hebrew means to “act with diligence,” not accidentally but intentionally. Make this your conscious decision and effort.

We are to “obey all that is written in the Book of the Law.” And so we learn the word of the Lord, for ignorance is no excuse. We consult Scripture before we make our next decision, and refuse to do that which God’s word forbids. A lamp is only good in the dark if we turn it on and walk in its light.

We are to obey God’s word “without turning aside to the right or to the left.” Obedience to God’s will is a narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14) with ditches on both sides. It doesn’t matter much whether we sin with the Pharisees in self-promotional righteousness or with the publicans in self-destructive unrighteousness. The only way to stay in the will of God is to take every step in the right direction.

Third, our God warns us: “Do not associate with these nations that remain among you” (v. 7a). Paul made the same request of the Ephesians: “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Ephesians 4:17). Refuse all relationship with sin; “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). What specific steps can we take to follow this command?

“Do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them” (v.7). Any object or person which becomes more important to us than God is our idol and must be refused. Evil can take the place of God, but so can good. The opinion of people cannot matter to us more than the opinion of God. On Judgment Day, what others said about us will not count—only what our Lord says about our obedience.

Rather, “you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now” (v. 8). “Hold fast” is a Hebrew word used to describe the relationship between a husband and his wife (Genesis 2:24). Faith is a journey more than a destination. We never arrive on this side of glory. We are either moving toward the Lord or away from him. Where is your soul this day?

We “hold fast” to God by reading and obeying his word, offering our worship, serving his Kingdom with our gifts and time, trusting him financially. We act into feeling rather than feeling into action. “Hold fast” is a proactive commitment of the will. It is a present-tense, daily decision. As you hold to your Lord, remember that he is holding onto you (John 10:28-29).

Last, we are to “be very careful to love the Lord your God” (v. 11). Why? Again, the look to the past encourages our faith in the present: the Lord has driven out before them “great and powerful nations” so that “no one has been able to withstand you” (v. 9). This victory has come from God alone, so that “one of you routs a thousand” (v. 10a). In their every battle, “the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised” (v. 10b).

What the first Israel experienced physically, the new Israel has experienced spiritually. Our Lord has defeated Satan, sin, and death, removing their sting and condemnation (1 Corinthians 15:56-58). Now it is a fact that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39).

We cannot follow God into tomorrow unless we are close to him today. The church marquee sign asked a profound question: “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved?

Look ahead with his protection (vs. 12-16)

God has blessed his people abundantly, in the past and in the present. Now, as they look to a future without Joshua as their leader, they must face a crucial fact: they have no future unless they are faithful to their Lord. His protection has brought them to this point; if they forsake him, they will lose his power and help. And their nation as well.

Israel had not driven out of the land all those who had inhabited it, despite God’s clear instructions and warnings. Now they might “turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations” (v. 12). As a result, the Jews would intermarry and associate with them. And their God could no longer give them his protection.

These Canaanites would “become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes,” and they would “perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you” (v. 13). Such would be the case at present, except for the sheltering hand of God. Such would be the case in the future, if they disobey their Lord. A fortress is no help to those who will not dwell in its shelter.

They have seen God’s good promises kept. Now Joshua warns them that they will see his promises of judgment kept as well, if they violate their covenant with him: “the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you” (v. 16).

We have no future except as it comes from the hand of our God. Your next breath is his gift. Tomorrow’s sunrise is his act of grace. No king can bless those who are disloyal to his kingdom. No father can reward that which hurts his children. We can step into the future with confidence, but only if our confidence is in our God.

The God who is love intends for us such a future of blessing and provision: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). All loving parents want only the best for their children. As much as it would grieve us to lose the protection and prosperity of God, such judgment would grieve our Father even more.

Conclusion

Not one figure in the Bible knows where he or she will be in a year. The old saying is still true: if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. The only way you can I can step into the coming new year with confidence is to do so in the hands of God. And we can only walk with him tomorrow if we are close to him today.

What must change in your life for you to be fully committed to Jesus? Is there a sin to confess? Obedience to offer? Surrender to make? If your children or friends were as faithful to Jesus as you are, would that be a good thing?

Gifts to your children and friends will be of benefit to them only if they are opened. What is your Father waiting to give to you?