Last week the sports world was in that dead moment between the NBA draft and free agency. There was a lot of talk about who was going to move, who was going to stay, and who was going to get paid millions of dollars to play a game. Then an announcement came across the news wire that took everyone by surprise. Darren Collison, a point guard who has been in the league for 10 years and was expected to sign a huge contract, chose to forgo the money and retire. While it might be rare, other players have made the decision to retire while still in their prime because they lost the drive to play a game, or they were experiencing some kind of physical pain. But that’s not the reason Darren Collison chose to give up a contract expected to be worth 12 million dollars a year.
In an open letter Collison wrote: “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith. I am one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and my faith means everything to me. I receive so much joy from volunteering to help others and participate in a worldwide ministry. The joy I feel is unmatched. With that being said, I have decided to retire from the NBA.”
When I was reading his story this week it reminded me of something I read in the book God’s at War by Kyle Idleman. in the book Kyle writes, “How many times have we heard that one? Someone has a dream. They yearn for it; they reach for it; they give all they have to attain it; and it doesn't measure up. Your greatest goal was unmasked as just another god that couldn't deliver. Following Jesus means turning away from the gods that so many people spend their lives bowing down to. Ultimately it becomes a worship choice.”
There are times when we have a big decision to make, and we agonize over the decision because you know your entire future hinges on that choice. Those are nerve wracking times. But more often we just keep walking, wandering down a particular path without really thinking about it. We make a hundred different choices without even being aware that we are choosing. We do things because that's the way our family has always done them. Or because that's the way people we admire do them. Or because these days almost everyone does them that way. Whether or not we are aware of it we regularly make choices that declare which gods are winning the war in our lives.
Let’s get a little back story for our text this morning. Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt, towards the Promised Land. The Children of Israel had a front row seat for the ten plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea. They had a cloud to guide them by day and a pillar of fire at night and with all of that, the people still lacked enough faith to trust God. They constantly whined and complained, and what should have been about a month-long hike to the Promised Land turned into a four decade camping trip.
Moses and his generation dies and Joshua takes over as God’s appointed leader of His people. By the time we reach the 24th chapter of Joshua we find that Joshua is pushing 110. He has led a life of great faith, saw the walls of Jericho fall down, fought the battles, and he carries the wisdom of a life lived in faith. He knows his time is coming to an end so he gathers the people of Israel together for one last time. There is no time to be vague, he gets right to the point and throws down a challenge: it's time for the people to make a choice. The people can follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or they can choose a different god. But they must make a choice. Then Joshua follows up and says, as for me and my house, our decision is made. We will serve Jehovah God.
It has always bothered me a bit that Joshua gives the people three options. Usually when I am talking to people about their souls we don’t go with the multiple choice quiz. But even though Joshua is a commander used to giving orders, he knows that no one can be ordered into the kingdom of God. Everyone has to make that decision for themselves.
So Joshua breaks it down this way: Follow the old gods from beyond the river, from the place where you started out. Follow the gods you met next, in Egypt, where you were enslaved. Follow the local gods, those of the people recently defeated by the one true God.
This old story is actually our story. Joshua knew that everyone must choose who you worship. Did you notice that one of the options was not that you could just choose not to worship anything at all. It’s because Joshua knew all of us are worshipers, it’s hardwired in who we are. Everyone worships something or someone. The question is who or what will be the object of your worship? Because whatever we choose will be the guiding force behind our lives and will ultimately determine our eternity. So let’s explore the four choices and then we are going to ask you to once again make your own choice.
Invitation one: Gods of Our Fathers (and Mothers) The gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River. Joshua 24:14
Long before God invites Abraham to follow Him, the people had already identified a god for every conceivable purpose. The Bible tells us that Abraham's father was an idol worshiper in Ur. Archeologist tell us there were hundreds of gods scattered among every civilization long before Joseph arrived in Egypt. After 400 years of living, thriving, and then becoming slaves in Egypt the children of Israel had become well acquainted with the gods of the Egyptian people.
When Joshua mentions the gods of their forefathers he is talking about our natural default. Everyone who has, is now, or will one day raise children will face the fact that you are passing along your faith, or lack of faith. Everyday subconsciously we are setting up idols in our homes and teaching our children about who or what is worthy of our worship.
Think about the home where you grew up. There are some things you inherited that are visible, you've got your dad's nose or your mom's eyes. But that's not all you picked up from them. Because you were exposed to your families likes and dislikes, they shaped you life. You chose Ford over Chevy because that’s what your parents did. You root for Alabama or Auburn because that who they rooted for in your house growing up. You chose the place you worship because that’s where your parents went. It’s not always the case, but the law of exposure is true more often than not. There is a possibility that the gods you are serving in your life are the same gods your parents or grandparents worshiped when you were younger.
This is especially dangerous for us because so many of us want to pass along our faith, but if we are not careful we pass along the god of our religion. While those might look alike, in reality they are as far apart as night and day. The Hebrew writer defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. But religion is the form or function of our faith. In an effort to pass along our faith, there are times we simply pass along the form and forget to mine out our understanding or reasoning behind the form. The end result is that we raise a generation fo people who know that they are supposed to take communion every Sunday, or that they are supposed to worship in a simplistic nature, or that they are supposed to make a confession of faith and accept God’s offer of forgiveness through baptism. While they might be able to quote a few verses, they really have no understanding of why it is important. So we make decisions based on what our parents or grandparents would be comfortable with instead of what faith is calling us to do.
Everyone of us struggle with the gods of our parents. And honestly it is the easiest god to serve, because it is what we have always known, what is comfortable. We like to worship what we know.
Invitation 2: Gods of Your Past The gods your ancestors worshiped ... in Egypt. - Joshua 24:14
Joshua knew that the gods of the previous generation never go away. The Children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt longer than the United States has been a nation. It was inevitable that they were going to absorb some of their culture. Even after they left Egypt, they took some of their old habits with them and struggled with false gods and idols.
Maybe this god is a little closer to home for you. I mean do you ever find yourself struggling with things you thought you had gotten past a long time ago? I have noticed that a lot of times when someone becomes a Christian they make a declaration of faith and ask the Lord to be the God of their life. At first, everything is great, they are exploring life with God, learning how to trust God and act out of their love for Him. But every now and then something creeps back into their lives. Stuff that the laid at the cross of Jesus, embarrassing things that were washed away at their baptism show back up.
They begin to struggle, because they believe that their sins are forgiven. But if Jesus took away all of their sin, then why are they still struggling? It’s like they were baptized, but they wonder what actually changed. They still struggle with the same temptations, they battle old desires and old habits. While they sincerely invited Jesus to be the Lord of their lives, all of those old gods keep peeking around the corner. What we are struggling with is not that we didn’t make the choice to follow Jesus. The problem is that we have tried to follow him without leaving those other gods behind.
When Joshua gives the Children of Israel this option, he knew that there was still a bit of Egypt lingering around the camp. Old gods die hard. Maybe when you gave your life to Christ those old gods fell silent for a while. But they always regroup. So even if you've chosen the Lord God in the past, Joshua is reminding you that once again it’s time to choose this day whom you will serve.
Invitation 3: Gods of Our Culture Or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. - Joshua 24:15
The third option was something a new and mysterious. There were gods in the Promised Land and they were hiding in plain sight among the milk and honey. Jehovah warned the people that if they were going to take the land and be faithful, they would need to clear all the false gods out of the land. This was not going to be like Egypt where God went to battle and defeated all of those false gods. This time the the Children of Israel were gong to have to make this decision, And they learned a hard lesson; sometimes the greatest weapon is proximity.
The Promised Land was not just a place of amazing beauty, it was a place of amazing diversity. Unlike the empires of the Egyptians or Mesopotamians the Promised Land didn’t have a single king ruling the area. Instead there were 7 Canaanite tribes that made up 31 city-states scattered all over the map, each ruled by its own king.
Each group had their set of minor gods, but there was a dominate god. Baal started as a weather god, but expanded into fertility and from there to such things as ritual prostitution. Since Baal was the prevailing god of their culture and appealed to their carnal nature it was a constant temptation for the Israelites. It was made worse because Baal had the home field advantage.
There are two significant factors that determine which god will win the affection of our hearts: time and place. We may be not confronting Baal today, but we struggle with the gods of our culture every day. Fertility rituals and temple prostitution are a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t struggling with our own false gods that are hiding in plain sight. As a matter of fact our greatest struggle is with the false gods we don't recognize simply because they're so common.
Paul writes to the church in Rome: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). The pattern of this world is bible speak for describing the culture or gods of this age. To go with the flow is to conform to the pattern of this world. J. B. Phillips paraphrased that verse, Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.
We are in a battle with the gods of our culture every day. We live in a culture that has lost its moral compass and serves the god of what I want, what I desire, what makes me feel good, or important. It’s easy to buy into the god of the culture and the lie that whatever beings me pleasure is right and whatever brings me pain is wrong. And the result is that we hurt one another because we only focus on ourselves. That’s why more than ever we need to lean in to Pauls command to focus our minds on the eternal, unchanging truth of the one God.
Invitation 4 Jehovah But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:15
This brings us to Joshua's fourth option, which has really been the only option all along. After all, none of the other options are even real. They are nothing more than some mirage in the middle of the desert. While they may look promising, they are powerless to satisfy our thirst.
Before Joshua gives the people these four options, he stacks the deck just a bit by describing all the things God has done for his people over the years. The Lord God had been active and worked powerfully among them, He redeemed them, protected them, guided them, and provided for them. So before they made a choice Joshua needed them to answer the question: what had these other gods ever done for them?
That’s a pretty good question for us to ask as well. What enduring value has the god of wealth really bought anyone? Did the gods of pleasure ever once deliver true and lasting happiness? What about the gods of acceptance? Can they provide a joy that is more than that of a passing moment? What have these gods done for us? If anything, they have enslaved us. They have robbed us. They have disappointed us.
The truth is, and one that Darren Collison realized, is that wealth, fame, power, pleasure, and accomplishment don't provide the joy and contentment that we are looking for in this life. I know you might think, I would sure like to try them for a while, but how much satisfaction and joy have you found in what little money, pleasure, and accomplishments you already have. Eventually we all have to ask ourselves, What have those gods done for me? And if you honest your answer will always be, not enough.
As you finish the book of Joshua you find that the people responded to Joshua’s invitation by saying the right words. The people replied, We would never abandon the Lord and serve other gods. … we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.” (Joshua 24:16-18).
We would expect Joshua to say something like You have chosen well! But oddly, he doesn't let them off the hook so easily. Joshua begins to talk about the jealousy of God, the holiness of God. He describes the disaster that will come upon them if they don't live up to the words they're speaking.
Joshua has watched these people all his life. He knows how fickle their hearts are, how quickly their attention wanders. He knows how easily they say the right things, only to turn around and make the wrong choices. It's so simple to mindlessly mouth the right answers on cue, but it’s a different thing all together to keep living the truth.
I really wish this story had a happily ever after ending, but it comes with a warning. If you were to flip the page to the book of Judges you can read these words: After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal. They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them. And they angered the Lord. (Judges 2:10-12)
One of the reasons that so many of us have lost our way is because the old gods never surrender. They may lose a generation, but even then, they say, We'll get the next one. They may lose you for a day, but they'll be back tomorrow. That’s why we are being called back to this invitation. We need each member of this congregation to think about the gods that they are serving and make sure that the god they are allowing to rule their hearts is actually able to bring the peace, hope, and joy we are truly longing for in this life and in eternity.
While the false god’s of our age might call out to you with promises of what they have to offer you, the truth is that you will always discover that those promises are hollow and empty. This morning you need to be honest with yourself and decide what god is worth your devotion, the god’s of religion, money, pleasure, and accomplishments which always leave you looking for more, or the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who created, redeemed, and sustains you. You are making a choice every day, the invitation is a call for you to choose the God who you were created to love.