Leadership and Consecration- Joshua 3 and 4
3/11/12 Falls HC Retreat- Jeremiah Ramsey
My friend, Neil Brooks, is preparing a teaching on Joshua 3 for our home church retreat. I say that he’s preparing it but really, we both are. We’re co-teaching. I couldn’t believe it when he asked if I’d like to do this with him.
The reason for my surprise goes back a few years- to 2008. At that time I was unemployed. I couldn’t find a job. My circumstantial unemployment turned into deliberate unemployment after about 5 minutes of looking for a job. I became frustrated and decided that I didn’t need a job at that point. My wife and I had some savings in the bank. I decided to laze around.
My new job became “being lazy.” I played World of Warcraft with almost every waking hour. I was only peripherally involved in church activities. Not only was I not serving, I wasn’t even allowing anyone else to serve me in any kind of way. At some point Neil decided, probably with the rest of our home church leaders that I needed to be confronted and rebuked, if not disciplined for my selfish attitude.
It was late summer, maybe early fall of that year. I came to our regular Saturday evening teaching. Afterward, Neil asked me to join him on a short walk. My shields immediately went up. I knew exactly what he was going to do. Plain and simple- he rebuked me. In a firm tone of friendly confrontation, he read several verses from Scripture which relate to work: Use your hands for honest work etc. He reassured me that he was “in my corner,” so to speak and looked forward to a day when all this was far behind me. “We’ll laugh about it, I’m sure,” he said. In spite of that hopeful outlook, Neil did affirm that until I acquired a job, began to support my wife and started serving people, I would be removed from the teaching rotation.
Well, it’s time to laugh. Neil and I met last Wednesday night to begin work on “our” teaching. After a few moments of watching Neil struggle to feed his squirmy son, I broached the subject:
“I was wondering why you asked me to teach with you,” I ventured. Neil was quite equal to the answer. He told me “Well, Jeremiah, the reason is pretty simple. You’re serving people. You’re on fire for the Lord. It makes sense for those who serve to teach.”
Do you see the humor in that? Four years ago this same man approached me after a central teaching and brusquely informed me that I was now removed from the teaching rotation. Four years later he approached me at home church and emphatically pulled me aside to ask me a simple question, “Would you like to teach with me during the retreat?” My answer was a just-as-emphatic, “Yes!”
If I’ve come any great distance from that four year old rebuke it is as a result of the difficult decisions made by leaders. As Neil has taught, we are to consecrate ourselves. Consciously think of yourself as set apart for service to a holy God. If a person believes they belong to themselves, their life will be marked in one way. If that same person believes they do not belong to themselves, but to God, their life will be marked in a completely different way. During this teaching, I’d like you to think about this question: am I set apart? Have I sanctified myself for service to God?
First, we should look at Joshua’s example of leadership (Joshua 1:1-3 is God’s transference of leadership after Moses’ death). Joshua was responsible for a very difficult nation. In the leadership roles we are asked to assume, we may sometimes have a difficult person. In 2008 I would have been a good example of someone who was difficult to lead. I was lazy. I didn’t want to hear any criticism. I wanted unwarranted sympathy. I wanted to eat up resources without providing my own. I didn’t want to serve. I didn’t want to love anyone but myself. I wanted to just sit in the dark and eat for at least the next year of my life. I wanted to spend that time pressing buttons that made shiny things go “boop boop.”
Think of trying to lead an entire nation populated with people just like I was: lazy, uncomfortable, indifferent, selfish, etc. You might have some idea of what it was like for Joshua as he began to step into the role vacated by Moses. The Hebrew nation stands out in Scripture because they’re always ready to do what God says and they never complain! Right? No, far from it. They always complain. Joshua probably knew that even as he took the reins.
And on top of assuming leadership of a nation of whiners, Joshua had huge shoes to fill. He’s taking over from Moses: the same Moses who saw God on top of Mt. Sinai. The same Moses who received the law directly from God. The same Moses who led the nation of Israel out of Egypt. I would not be at all surprised if at some point Joshua thought “How the heck can I follow that up?”
Have you been there? Have you had to help fill the empty shoes left by a leader who had to leave? Does the thought of “filling shoes” terrify you? Sometimes it terrifies me.
When the Brooks and Michaleks left our old home church, and when the Schoofs left the other church before we recombined, we all experienced a sudden need for leadership. It very quickly turned into trial-by-fire. And I think we did well! There were troubles, sure. But by and large, things turned out ok. People willingly stepped into the roles the previous leaders had filled and it had the result of turning out new leaders.
Not only can I look back and use myself as an example of “on the receiving end of good leadership,” but I can look forward and say, “Where do I want to go from here?” Do I want to be someone who makes themselves available to provide good leadership? The problem I’ve run into is that I’ve discovered I don’t want to lead. I have several fears and assumptions which are almost like a blockade in my mind. Some of these fears and assumptions are:
“Leading here is going to be like it was in my old church. There will be clergy/ laity. There will be bureaucracy. Those things cannot be avoided, no matter how much we try! I hate that garbage! I don’t like the idea of being an ‘official’ leader. I only want to lead if I feel like it. If I take on that ‘official leader’ crap I’ll have to go to every single event regardless of how I feel. On top of that, I’ll be asked to do things I’d rather not do! Someone’s going to say ‘Hey Jeremiah, we need you to call this list of phone numbers and figure out alternative home church locations for every Tuesday for the next 5 years.’ And then they give you that certain smile that says they know they just asked you to do something no one else wanted to do! I don’t want to do that!
“On top of all this, even if I was a leader, there’s no way I’d be as good of a leader as Mark, Joe, Neil, Nicole, Lauren, Neil, Kalie, Diana, Michael, Charlotte, or Ryan! I’ll fail! Who wants to just go try something they know they’ll fail? Not me! I’m shrewd! I also am not terribly fond of spiritual attack. Why would they teach us that leadership opens you to spiritual attack and then ask us, ‘Who wants to help lead!?’ Work on your marketing! I don’t want to be shot with a flaming arrow from the asscrack of Satan! This whole leadership thing seems like some kind of con game!”
Obviously that’s all a load of crap. My problem is that I’m unwilling to follow God where He’s leading. He’s telling me to “cross the Jordan” at this point while I’m scouring the territory downstream in favor of an easier route or perhaps no route at all. Maybe I want God to think I’m following Him, when really I’m not. “Go on ahead God, I’ll catch up,” I tell Him. “My shoelace is untied and it’s time for a bathroom break.” “Sure,” says God. “But the last time you stopped to tie your shoe you were held up for a year.” Think about that: what holds you up? What holds you back? There is never a time when God is not calling us to a step of faith, so what step of faith are you resisting- or even engaging right now?
There are a couple things we need to keep in mind when we’re thinking about leaders and leadership. First, no leader is indispensable! In Joshua 1:5, God is telling Joshua what to expect. God makes it clear that “…no man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life…” There is an ending to any leadership role. But this comes with a blessing! God also tells Joshua, “…Just as I have been with Moses I will be with you; I will not fail or forsake you.” The consistent leadership in any situation is God’s committed role, which He promises to any leader who has the courage to follow Him into the river.
God’s leadership is consistent and committed. He tells us His work is not dependent upon having a “great leader.” What a relief! That’s great news to someone like me. At the same time, God calls us into a role of leadership. It isn’t an option. We’re all called to lead the lost to God.
The second thing we need to keep in mind is that, while no leader is indispensable, neither is any leader replaceable! In Joshua’s situation, there’s no way he can be “Moses II.” We’re all unique! Suppose Mark Michalek was out one day and drove off a bridge while reaching for his Tums. Bye Mark, you lucky so-and-so! Well, we’re out a leader. Someone will step into that role. However, could they ever replace Mark? Suppose Keith reached for his pipe one day and, while trying to light it, set himself on fire! Horribly burned, his charred hands attempt to spell out a message with odd finger movements. “Heaven will be full of play-sure!” and then he dies. That’s terrible! At least his suffering was slight. Could anyone replace Mark or Keith? Suppose Neil Brooks was out scouring people’s curbs for his next free and broken item on the next trash day and, ironically enough, got mowed over by a recycling truck? Ouch! He’s gone! No one could replace him. No one could replace any of these leaders. The work would continue– but our leaders are a gift from God.
Because our leaders are gifts from God, it is wrong to do “leader comparison.” Leader comparison is when we have a leader we like (or don’t like) and we compare everything they do or don’t do to another leader. It’s a kind of measuring tool to measure things that don’t matter. When we compare one leader with another, we’re really trying to decide which of God’s blessings we prefer so we can make a choice! That kind of thinking comes dangerously close to bringing us into an ungrateful state of mind because it results in our designating one of those blessings as “not a blessing!”
Moving into Joshua Chapter 4, we begin to see the result of Joshua’s step of faith and the way his willingness to follow God impacted the people he was leading. First, notice the instructions God has given Joshua in verses 5-7. Simply put, He tells Joshua to build an altar of remembrance. It is important to realize that this thing God told them to build was not an altar to their own ability. God did not say “You did such a great job without My help that I want you to memorialize it!” The altar they built was to be a memorial to the provision of God, realized in “…a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” Also of importance is the fact that God didn’t just demand Joshua’s obedience and that’s it. Verse 14 tells us that “…the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel…they revered him just as they had revered Moses.”
The willingness of Joshua to lead as well as the willingness of the people to follow resulted in God establishing their esteem even into future generations. What more could those future generations ask for in a foundation? Their ancestors trusted God to the point where they crossed a raging river and almost immediately took up a heated battle of epic proportions! We should consider that our own willingness or unwillingness to follow God’s example could severely impact future generations! Think of it this way: right now I am contributing or not contributing to this church in regard to the next generation. Which are you doing? What are you doing? I don’t like asking myself questions like that because I’m never satisfied with my answer.
Remember that we only have one chance to live by faith! Once we are with Jesus, we no longer are able to do that because He’s right there in our presence (or rather, we’re in His). Don’t let your faith become a hobby!
This is the point at which our newest burden comes full circle. We’ve recombined the force of two home churches to repent of the fact that maybe somewhere along the way we “…left our first love” (Rev. 2:4). We’re gaining momentum! We are making a great start in remembering our first love! When we talk about the difference between a dynamic Christian walk and a mundane Christian walk, that first love is going to be somewhere in there! The excitement you feel as you choose to trust God in where He will lead us is proof that you are regaining sight of that first love.
The mundane Christian walk is one in which that first love is not really much of an issue. “Excitement wears off,” we say. “It’s hard to maintain that gusto for very long.” Excuse me? Are you saying that every time you’re faced with following God into a raging river it bores you? Or are you saying that you’ve given up to the point where you don’t even come close to anything resembling water? I find that in my own life, it is the latter: if I think God is leading me to some raging river, it’s time for me to head to high ground.
The dynamic Christian life is one in which that first love has the highest priority. Everything the person does flows out of or into that love. Their life is marked by an unflappable willingness to follow God- and it makes the rest of us think they’re somewhat crazy. The first priority in their life is to bring glory to God. That never gets boring. So ask yourself, “Is my faith dynamic or mundane?” A lot depends on your answer.
Moving down chapter 4 into verse 12 we see a somewhat odd reference to some weird people- groups: The “sons of Reuben,” the “sons of Gad” and “The Half-Tribe of Manasseh.” If you’re wondering where these guys even came from, they are showing up to do battle as a result of a plan worked out probably some years back when Moses was still the leader of the nation of Israel (in Numbers 32). They made a quid-pro-quo with Moses: We’ll do this if you give us that.
What Moses and these tribes worked out was that if these tribes would agree to fight for and with the nation of Israel, then Moses would see to it that they would receive land for themselves. Those warriors are showing up to make good on their agreement. They’re leaving behind their homes and families to do it, too. They are trusting in God to protect what they are leaving behind when it would be far easier for them to say “I never made that promise! It was my forefathers years ago! There’s no way you’re taking me away from my home to go off to some weird God-battle!” But they trusted God too. They are taking the same step of faith in crossing the Jordan as the entire nation of Israel. The only guarantee anyone has is from the mouth of God Himself. What a dangerously safe place to be!
Here we can also see an example that reaches down into our lives as well. Just as those warriors had to trust God to watch over their homes when they went off to do battle elsewhere, a home church sometimes must be willing to serve outside of the sphere of itself. This is something I think our home church does very well. People from our home church are in nearly every other ministry within our whole church, from our college group on down to the nursery. People serve in retirement homes and as suicide counselors.
In closing, we come to the most personal and intimate part of this whole ordeal. We’ve talked about consecration, and I find that I tend to think of consecration, or setting myself apart, as being wholly individualistic: I do that for myself. I can’t do it for anyone else. For a single person, that is probably true. What about consecration in terms of family life?
These people crossing the Jordan in Joshua chapter 3 aren’t just young, single college guys. These are entire families. Some of these men and women are holding infants and toddlers in both arms as they watch this turbulent force rage past in a whirl. It is much easier to be brave when you only have to worry about your own welfare. What if you are in a position where several other people are depending on you to make the right decision? What if that right decision involves stepping into whitewater rapids? What would it look like if our home church was standing on the bank of that river?
When parents make a conscious effort to consecrate themselves, flowing out of that come a consecrated marriage, consecrated household, consecrated relationships with their friends, nothing is left unconsecrated. A child raised in an environment such as that will see it and it will become part of their spiritual DNA. It will be part of their values system- permanently.
Take a look at some of the families here at Xenos who have raised their children in this body. I’m sure there have been times when they have practically had to drag their children “into the river.” Their parents are leaders who are trying to follow God as He is leading. They’ve moved all over the place in some situations. They’ve changed jobs and taken other serious steps of faith with their children in tow.
It is no guarantee of course but children reared in a family with parents who readily acknowledge that “wall of water” as the safest place to be are much more protected from the fate of protective, tribal families!
Funny enough, when you try to shield your children from “the world” (from God) and there are no marked steps of faith taken by the parents- the family attitude is one more fear-driven, i.e. ” Let’s stay here on the bank of the river where it is safe.” And it is this kind of thinking that results in children lost to the world system! I admonish myself as much as anyone with this statement- Raise your children to see the wall of water as the safest place they could ever possibly be! Neil mentioned the idea that even when we balk at that wall of water, perhaps not even giving a second look, God is still willing to bless us. Perhaps you’re satisfied with the “consolation blessing!” What if following God resulted in a greater blessing you could ever imagine! I think that is true, for “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind can conceive the wonderful things that the Lord has in store for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4).
Final thought: Count the cost: we hear it all the time. Usually we say count the cost when we’re talking about following Jesus. What if we look at it another way? What if we count the cost in not following Jesus/ trusting God?
- Joshua 1:1-3 (Conveys the idea of the transference of leadership from Moses to Joshua)
- Joshua 1:5 (Leaders are not always around- not always the same person)
- Joshua 4:5-7 (God’s reward to a faithful generation: Esteem in the eyes of the next generation)
- Joshua 4:14: (God’s reward to a faithful individual: Esteem in the eyes of the people)
- Revelation 2:4 (First love)
- Joshua 4:12 (Faith of others and their potential cost in following)
- 1 Cor. 2:9; Isaiah 64:4 (The wonderful destiny of those who love God)