Yesterday I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham. Before the talk we watched a short clip from the Disney DVD “Winnie the Pooh” to illustrate how powerful fear can be and how it can escalate.
Often the talks are recorded at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church, so this may be available on the website for a few weeks as an “mp3” that you can download and save to your computer.
I have as usual included the Bible reading.
Joshua 1:1 – 9
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates–all the Hittite country–to the Great Sea on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Whose ever been afraid?
The English language has many words to describe that feeling:
The Bible mentions the word “afraid” 206 times. “Fear” is mentioned 253 times. So this is obviously an important topic.
I’m sure we’ve all been there. Situations we have to face, things we have to go through. They take us out of our comfort zone and we just don’t like it.
For most of us, its not knowing what’s going to happen, a fear of the unknown that gets to us.
Recently a friend of mine asked me to pray for him as he was having to undergo an unpleasant medical investigation involving a camera. After the event I spoke with him and he told me the worst part was the ½ hour in the waiting room before the procedure.
Our film clip illustrated the point that it is the unknown that is so fearful or frightening. If only Owl had realised that Backson was really “back soon” then they wouldn’t have been so afraid. And look how fear builds upon itself and the characters come up with yet more terrible deeds that the Backson is guilty of doing.
Fear and worry are very closely linked. I am told that the root of the German word for worry is strangle, and sometimes that is exactly what our worries and our fears do to us.
Somebody once described worrying as sitting a rocking chair. It can take a great deal of effort and gets you nowhere.
The American preacher and author Max Lucado in his book “Come thirsty” writes this about worry:
• 40% never happens
• 30% is about unchangeable deeds of the past
• 12% focuses on the opinions of others that cannot be controlled
• 10% centre on personal health which only worsens if we worry about it
• 8% concern real problems that we can influence.
Lucado concludes that 92% of our worries are needless.
I’m going to read a short passage from a children’s book, in fact one that I used to read to my sons when they were very young. You may think that the Mr Men can’t teach you anything but you’ll be surprised.
“It was a beautiful autumn morning. The sun was shining. The leaves on the trees had turned to a glorious red. And the wind stirred gently in the treetops. A single leaf fell gently from the tree right outside Mr Jelly’s house and quietly brushed against his bedroom window as it fell. Mr Jelly awoke with a start.
“What’s that terrible noise?” he cried, “Oh heavens! The house is falling down! Oh disaster! It’s an earthquake! Oh calamity! It’s the end of the world!” And he hid under the bed clothes, trembling with fright.”
God doesn’t want us to live our lives full of fear. Many times in the Bible he tells people not to be afraid, or he says “Do not fear”.
There is a lovely story in 2 Kings 6 which illustrates this:
11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” 12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” 13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. 15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. 16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
If only we can see situations as they really are, as God sees them. We get so engrossed in our lives that we either forget who is really in control, or perhaps we’ve never actually made that step of faith and placed our lives in the hands of Jesus.
We may have heard about Jesus, we may have even read our Bibles and been to church for years, but we’ve never actually taken that step of faith and put our lives in God’s hands.
We heard a few weeks ago, from pastor Sue Millar, about Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4. The disciples have a practical demonstration that Jesus is the Lord of Creation and that if they are with him they don’t have to be afraid.
So lets look at our Bible passage for this morning.
Joshua has just taken over the leadership of the Jewish people from Moses who had obeying God, led them out of Egypt and through the desert for 40 years.
Joshua had a difficult task.
According to Exodus 12 there were 600,000 men plus all the women and children. Just imagine being in charge of all those people and responsible for them!
Joshua was to get all these thousands of people and all their animals and possessions over the River Jordan and into the promised land where they are to not only conquer every town and city they find but then settle down and live there.
Many of us find it enough just to organise the family holiday or moving house. But moving all these people and animals and then fighting battles to remove the existing inhabitants? That seems overwhelming.
The Jews had had a chance to do it some 40 years previously but had been so overcome with fear that they refused to obey God and miss out on the promised land.
How many times have we felt God prompting us to go somewhere or start a new venture, but haven’t? And we then wonder why things aren’t going so well for us.
In Number 13 we read that Moses sent 12 men to explore Canaan, the promised land. These men came back and reported a land flowing with milk and honey but also the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. Anak was a legendary giant.
Ten of the spies convince the Jews that its an impossible task, and so condemn themselves to wandering the desert for 40 years.
And now Joshua has to lead the people into the promised land and conquer it. So what does God say to him?
• v3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
• v5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.
• v5 As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
• v6 you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.
• v8 Then you will be prosperous and successful.
• v9 the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.
And what does God expect Joshua to do?
1. v7 Be strong and very courageous
2. v7 Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you
3. v8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night
4. v9 Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.
Do you notice that several times God stresses to Joshua he is to be strong and courageous. Often our courage fails us when we have something new or difficult to undertake or we are uncertain of what we are doing.
There are some big challenges ahead for Joshua and his people. The River Jordan to cross and then cities to over run and armies to defeat. If you read Joshua you may think it’s rather unpleasant that God condemns all these people to die, but if you look into the religious practices which included human sacrifices then you would understand how angry God was with the Canaanites.
We all have our own challenges. We have strongholds of the enemy in our lives to be overcome, difficult people to deal with, awful situations to work through, as we make our way through life. Or perhaps God tells us not to compromise with no believers just as the Jews were not compromise with the Canannites.
And maybe, as we read in Joshua 7, “sin in the camp” prevents us fulfilling God’s plan. Maybe its our wrong lifestyle or habits that stop us in our tracks. That’s why we need to do as God commanded Joshua in v 7 & 8 of our reading: v7 Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you and v8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night.
In our own lives God tells us to do some difficult things. It’s not because God is a spoil sport but because he loves us that he tells us to avoid certain situations or not to get involved with certain people.
Whilst Joshua was alive the Israelites did as God told them and all went well. However after Joshua’s death they decided that they knew best and brought a whole heap of trouble on themselves.
So today as we have new challenges or just restart our everyday tasks and duties lets hold onto God’s promise to Joshua and claim it as our own: Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.