Thursday, November 24, 2005

Commitment: A Sermon preached in Dollingstown & Magheralin churches on Sunday 20th November 2005. Readings: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, Philippians 3:10-21

Every day, we have lots of choices to make. Can anyone think of some of the things you have to decide on? Maybe we have to choose which breakfast cereal we're going to have, or what to wear. All of us have choices to make.

This morning we're going to learn about a big choice that a group of people had to make many years ago, and see how we have that choice to make as well.

Joshua had been leading the Israelites after Moses died. In that time, he had brought them into Canaan, the land that God had promised to them. They had defeated the inhabitants of the land and were now established in their new country. But Joshua was coming to the end of his life so he called them all to come together in one place to make sure that they would continue to live according to God's way.

He was speaking to them, and told them to make a choice. Were they going to serve God, or would they choose to serve some other gods? It was almost like an election, who would they pick?

And yet, the decision was actually quite straight forward. Because why would they choose to serve some foreign god, when they could serve the true God? Joshua gave them some reasons from their history why they should serve God. It was God who had called Abraham, in the first place, which led to the nation of Israel being established; it was God who had cared for them and brought them out of the land of Egypt, where they had been slaves; and it was God who had given them the land they now lived in, where they could enjoy the fruits and all the good things the land produced.

Whereas, on the other hand, the other candidates were false gods, they were just idols, statues of wood or stone or gold, that couldn't really do anything, and shouldn't be worshipped.

Joshua was a brave leader, and said that even if everyone else would choose to serve the false gods, he would still serve the true God.

So who would they choose? God, or the false idols?

The people decided that they would serve the Lord, the true God. Yet Joshua wanted to make sure that they were genuine, that they meant what they were saying, so he challenged them, and tested them three times. So they committed themselves three times to worship God, and live for him. And they made a covenant – an agreement with God that they would serve him.

So what has this story got to teach us, who live in the 21st century? Is there anything we can learn from Joshua and the people of Israel?

Well, we all have a choice to make – who are we going to serve? What are we going to put first in our lives?

What sort of things are there that people can worship? Any ideas? Some people worship popstars, or footballers, and want to be like them, and think about them a lot. Other people worship money, and put it first in their life, by working long hours to get as much as they can.

But, just as Joshua called on the people to worship God, the true God, so I call on you today, and encourage you to serve God. Why would we want to do that?

Well, just as Joshua could give a series of reasons why the Israelites would worship God, so there are also reasons why we should put God first in our lives. The first is because God has created each of us, and knows us better than we know ourselves, and so he is worthy to be worshipped. Further, God has provided salvation for us, by sending Jesus to die for us on the cross, to pay for our sins, and to bring us to heaven with him. And just as Joshua looked back on how God had provided in the past, we can see how God has been faithful in the past. He has given us faithful Christians who have taught us about God, [D: and provided us with a growing church, as we look forward to a new building for meeting in] [M: and provided us with these organisations where we can learn about God while having fun with our friends].

[M: Today, as you are enrolled in the Boys Brigade and the Girls Friendly Society, you will make some promises. You will make a commitment to attend each week, and to be a good member by doing your best, in the activities.]

But the choice remains for each one of us today – choose this day who you will serve! If you have never made the decision to follow Jesus, never made a commitment to him, then make it today! Maybe you have been coming to church all your life, and have always heard about Jesus. Maybe you know all about him, but you don't know him. That was me – I grew up through church, and was in the Boys Brigade and most times won the Scripture Exam, because I knew a good bit of the Bible. I knew about Jesus, but I didn't know him.

And thirteen years ago this month, I came to know Jesus, and made a commitment to him, to follow him, and to come to know him more through reading my Bible and praying to him. And, do you know what? It was the best decision I ever made! I have never looked back!

But the decision isn't just a one-off – something you make once and that's it finished with. Following Jesus is a life-long commitment. It is a commitment to serve God for the rest of your life. And it isn't just for the boys and girls, it is for every person in church. You have to keep going, because while things aren't always easy, it is the best way.

In our Second Reading today, we heard from the apostle Paul, who was writing to the church in Philippi. In the reading we discover how we should be committed, and the reason for that commitment. He says that the reason for being committed to God is that we're looking forward into the future, towards 'the prize for which God has called' us. There is the reward waiting for us, if we're faithful.

So how should we be committed? How should we live? 'Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the prize'. All your thoughts, words and actions should be lived out looking forward to the last times, and the reward waiting for us. So when you have a decision to make, make it remembering forward to the reward. As the bracelets that some of the young people might be wearing say: WWJD – What Would Jesus Do?

So what can we learn today; what can you take away with you? How will you respond to the challenge that Joshua first put to God's people all those years ago: 'Choose this day who you will serve.'

Make that commitment today, come to Jesus, and continue in it, as you grow and develop.

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