November 1, 2009 | Brian Bill
I want to suggest that that we’re facing an epidemic that may be even more frightening than the flu. This epidemic is hitting our families hard. We could call it the epidemic of indifference or apathy. Let me share some stunning statistics and facts about the state of the family today.
- According to George Barna, 61% of today’s young adults were churched at one point during their teen years but are now spiritually disengaged. Most youth of today will not be coming to church tomorrow.
- According to the book, “Already Gone” by Ken Ham, we are one generation away from the evaporation of church as we know it. Doubts come first, followed by departure. Students don’t begin doubting in college, they simply depart by college.
- A recent Lifeway poll discovered that 87% of parents believe it’s important to teach their children how to have a relationship with God, but only 55% take their children to worship services on a regular basis.
I’ve shared these findings before from Thom Ranier in his book The Bridger Generation but I want to again because they show the decline of evangelical Christianity among each successive generation. Here’s the percentage of born again believers in each generation:
- Builders (born 1927-1945) 65%
- Boomers (born 1946-1964) 35%
- Busters (born 1965-1976) 16%
- Bridgers (born 1977-1994) 4%
Before passing on, make sure you pass it on by leaving a legacy
Here’s what strikes me about these numbers. If it’s true that many “Builders” and “Boomers” have a vibrant faith, then it’s imperative that the older generation look for ways to intentionally pass along their faith to “Busters” and “Bridgers.” As we’ve said previously, Before passing on, make sure you pass it on by leaving a legacy. Friends, the character of our children tomorrow depends on what we put in their hearts today. If we expect the younger generation to grow spiritually, those of us who are older must pass on what we possess.
Remember: Because We Forget (24:1-13).
Joshua is now pretty old and verse 2 says that he’s speaking to “all the people.” That means that his message is not just for moms and dads but for everyone here today. I found it fascinating to learn that according to one USA Today article, there are over 28 forms of family today. That means we’re all included somehow.
He’s gathering them at Shechem, which was the perfect setting because it was alive with sacred memories. Shechem is where God appeared to Abraham, it’s where Jacob built an altar and told his family to put away their idols and its where the people renewed their covenant when they came into Canaan back in Joshua 8:30.
They’re coming back to a place that was filled with spiritual memories. He wants them to remember because it’s so easy to forget. In the first 10 verses, he summarizes the nation’s history and then in verses 11-12 he recounts what had taken place in the years since they crossed the Jordan River. Why does he do this? Simply put, because they had forgotten and their faith was starting to unravel.
Joshua’s concerns at the end of his life are the same ones he had for the people after they crossed the Jordan River. As an older man he is focused on the future of family life in the new land. This is actually the fourth call to covenant renewal in the Book of Joshua, showing that we need multiple opportunities and regular challenges to make sure we are living out what we know to be true.
Verse 13 describes what can happen when we start taking things for granted: “So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.” Life is pretty good for them. They are now in Wisconsin (the Promised Land), they have food, clothing, housing and prosperity.
Joshua is seeing a slow fade going on with families and so he urges us to remember because we forget. Next, he calls for a response because we falter.
Respond: Because We Falter (24:14-18)
Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is very well known. What you might not know is that it almost didn’t happen. He was the last one to speak on August 28, 1963, and after reciting some points about history, people seemed to be just listening politely in the sweltering heat. As he was getting ready to wrap it up, he turned to leave the podium and heard these words from Mahalia Jackson, “Tell them about your dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” Encouraged by shouts from the audience, King drew upon some of his past talks, and the result became the landmark statement of civil rights in America. Some of his best-remembered words have to do with his vision for his family: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
In a similar way, after reciting some history so they don’t forget, Joshua rises up and challenges the people to respond because he knows they are faltering. Listen to his dream in verses 14-15: “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, 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 knows the human heart and how hard it is for us to surrender our wills to the Lord. He knows that we get complacent, we’re prone to compromise and some of us procrastinate in order to avoid commitment.
Let’s look at his four-fold challenge.
1. Fear the Lord devotedly.
The word “now” means in light of all that God has done, we must tremble before Him and see him as holy. Proverbs 15:33: “The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom.” And this is not just an Old Testament concept because Hebrews 12:29 says that “our God is a consuming fire.”
2. Serve the Lord exclusively.
Joshua is calling his people to serve the Lord with all they have. The word “serve” in Hebrew comes from the same root as “worship” and is used 15 times in this chapter. Worship must lead to our working. Three times the people respond by saying that they will “serve the Lord” (18, 21, 24). Here’s the rub. You’re going to serve somebody. In fact, you are serving somebody right now. It’s either self, Satan or the Savior. And by not serving God you are choosing to serve self and Satan. To not decide is to decide by default for the dark side because there can be no neutrality. Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
3. Throw away idols totally.
It’s amazing how many times God’s people were tripped up because they wouldn’t incinerate their idols. The phrase, “throw away” literally means “to turn off.” The idea is that we throw them so far away that their power over us is extinguished. The problem for many of us is that we don’t throw them away; instead we keep them close by. In fact, we can infer from this verse that God’s people still had some idols with them. Look at verse 23: “Throw away the foreign gods that are among you…” This was a huge problem throughout their history. It’s as if they wanted a spiritual security blanket; something they could fall back on if God didn’t work out.
An idol is really anything that is loved or feared more than God. It can involve the worship of a person, an image, object, activity or idea. John Piper reminds us that the things that take our attention are not always evil in and of themselves: “They are your basic…gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking…and all of them can be deadly substitutes for God.” John Calvin once referred to the human heart as an “idol factory.”
Joshua is urging the people to consider their options and then to make a choice:
- They could go way back and worship the gods that Abraham did. These gods offered spiritual highs and a reliance on mysticism and astrology.
- They could return to the gods of Egypt. This religion was steeped in materialism, power and prestige.
- They could commit to the idols of the Amorites. This way of life offered sensuality, emotional fulfillment and an emphasis on outward success.
A lot of these same gods are still worshipped in America today, aren’t they? Our culture also seems to bow down to the idol of busyness. In her book called, “Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families,” Ann Kroeker writes this: “America, the land of the high-achieving, multitasking speedaholics. We’re in perpetual motion, never resting, and never quite satisfied…American families are sucked into a vortex of activities and obligations. We pile on appointments, lessons, practices, games, performances, and clubs, and then shovel in fast food…western civilization’s high-speed, fast-paced, goal-oriented life has propelled us into a state of minivan mania.”
Kroeker also refers to a great book called, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” by John Ortberg in which he tells about the time he asked a friend for some spiritual direction. Ortberg described the pace of life in Chicago, the rhythms of his family life, and the condition of his heart. He wanted to know what he could do in order to be spiritually healthy. After a long pause his mentor answered, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Ortberg wasn’t satisfied with this answer so he asked what more he could do. “There is nothing else,” the man said. As he reflected on that advice later, Ortberg made this observation: “Hurry is the great enemy of the spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well…For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.”
Friends, we can’t settle for a mediocre faith or a mediocre family!
4. Choose who you will serve unreservedly.
Would you notice that a choice is required? “Then choose…” This choice must also become very personal: “Then choose for yourselves…” And his choice is an urgent imperative: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” Too many of us waver and hesitate and capitulate because we want to keep one foot in and one foot out. It was G.K. Chesterton who said, “The Christian life has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” Spiritual indecision leads to disorientation. Or to say it another way: Indifference will lead to indecision.
Hundreds of years later, Elijah framed the question this way in 1 Kings 18:21: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him. But the people said nothing.” I like the translation that says, “How long will you go limping between two opinions?” Did you catch that last part? The people said nothing. There’s something within us that resists making a commitment. We’d rather not choose a side. Maybe it’s because we want to keep our options open. Or more likely we know that to choose God means we have to surrender to Him, and frankly we don’t want to do that.
The late Paul Harvey used to tell the story about the indecisive soldier in the Civil War who, figuring to play it safe, dressed himself in a blue coat and gray pants and tip-toed out onto the field of battle. He got shot at from both directions.
Check this out. As a father, Joshua is choosing to live out his faith for the sake of his family. It’s as if he is saying: “I have chosen to serve the Lord, I am choosing to serve the Lord right now, and I will go on serving god until the very end.” The Hebrew literally reads, “I myself.” He is determining that his faith will be lived out at home: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua, as the head of his household declared, “AS FOR ME…” and then he included his household because he was going to lead them in the right paths. Don’t miss this parents (and grandparents): You can’t pass something on to your children that you don’t have yourself.
Do you remember the bizarre and tragic story of the “Balloon Boy” from a couple weeks ago? In order to get recognized by a reality TV show his parents led authorities to believe that their boy was in a runaway balloon, when in actuality they had hidden him at home. They were passing along a legacy of lying. I was encouraged to hear the boy tell the truth about what happened when the whole family was on the Today show. Parents, be careful about what you say and how you’re living – because you children are watching.
D.L. Moody once heard someone say: “The world has yet to see what God can do with a life totally surrendered to Him.” Moody’s response was similar to Joshua’s: “I will be that man.” God is still looking for fathers and mothers, men and women, and boys and girls who are totally surrendered to Him. Will you be that man or woman?
Don’t miss the fact that Joshua is setting the spiritual temperature in his home. He’s the priest of his home. We will learn in this series that it is the parents’ responsibility to connect their kids to Jesus and equip them to be growing and faithful followers. Studies have shown that the influence of a parent is two to three times more influential than any church program in passing along faith to the next generation. The church will partner with you as you live your faith out at home, for the home is the primary place where faith is to be nurtured. When that happens we will see “home makeovers” all over this county.
I’m reminded of the famous painting by Norman Rockwell that appeared on the cover of Saturday Evening Post in 1959. It shows a suburban family going off to church, led by the oldest sister followed by the mother who is followed by the younger sister. All three women are dressed for church. Following them is a young boy who appears to be going with some reluctance. Why the problem? At the center of the painting is dear old Dad slumped in a chair, in his pajamas, reading the paper with a cigarette in his hand. As junior walks by he casts a longing eye at his father. He’s going to church but clearly he’d rather be with his father.
Fathers, for the sake of your family, cultivate your faith! I love this quote from Roland Martinson: “What we ought to do is let the kids drop their parents off at church, train the parents and send them back into their mission field, their home, to grow Christians.” In verses 15-18, the people respond quickly – maybe too quickly: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods…we too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
We need to remember, we need to respond and finally, we need to remain.
Remain: Because We’re Fickle (24:19-27)
Notice that Joshua doesn’t put up with any shallow easy-believism or sappy spiritual sentimentality. In short, he won’t take “yes” for an answer. Perhaps he detected some insincerity. I was listening to a podcast of 60 Minutes this week and heard one of the leaders of the Church of Scientology say that they try to recruit movie stars like Tom Cruise so that it will be “easy” for others to join them.
Joshua will have none of that. Check out verse 19 to see what is perhaps the most shocking statement in the Old Testament: “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God…” Their service of God must be rooted in the nature of God. He wants them to know that it’s not about religious reformation – it’s about spiritual transformation. The people respond in verse 21 by saying, “No! We will serve the Lord.” Joshua finally backs off a bit but tells them that they must serve as witnesses against each other should any of them break their vows.
Notice this truth: Joshua knows that the future of their nation is tied up in the faithfulness of families. As the family goes, so goes the nation. Because faithful families are often fickle, Joshua pushes them to make sure their decision will remain for the long haul.
- Throw away your gods. Once again, Joshua brings this up because he knows how tightly we hold on to things. Perhaps he knew that they had some private sins, some hidden habits. I wonder what that would be in our culture. Recreation? Sports? Free time?
- Yield your heart to the Lord.
- Write it down so you don’t forget. Will they depend on God or depart from Him?
- Use a large stone to be a witness. By the way, this is the ninth and final memorial in Joshua.
Making a Memorial Marker
1. Make the defining choice right now to follow God wholeheartedly.
You can’t choose the true God by default or by inheritance
Stop straddling the fence – Satan owns the fence anyway. Remember this: If you choose to not choose, you’ve already made your choice. You can’t choose the true God by default or by inheritance. Do it now because it’s urgent. Respond personally and then make it public. We need a generation of Joshua’s who will declare, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord!”
2. Ruthlessly eradicate any idols in your life.
3. Pull together your family for a rock-signing time.
Make a family memorial where you declare your devotion to Christ.
Let’s face it. Most of us need a home makeover. Verse 25 tells us that Joshua was leading them into a new covenant. This was serious business. If they wanted to avoid the indifference epidemic they needed to remember, respond and remain.
In a similar way, communion should be entered into carefully because it’s a celebration of the New Covenant. They went back to Shechem to seal the deal. We’re going to go back to Calvary to remember, to respond and to remain.