Monday, April 12, 2010

This week's message: Take Possession of the Land

Joshua 18:3 "So Joshua said to the Israelites: 'How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?'"

We all have things in our lives that we wish would just go away. Sins and habits stubbornly hang on even after we surrender ourselves to God. For some it may be a quick temper or sharp tongue. Others may struggle with addictions to food, nicotine, alcohol, or sex. And no matter how many other sins we have experienced victory over, we find ourselves plagued by the ones that refuse to go away. This can be so discouraging! We feel like we have failed. We think we must not really be saved or surrendered. We start to doubt the promise God has given us of victory over sin. But guess what, you are not alone. You are in good company. This is not a problem just for you!

From the beginning, there has been temptation. We can trace it through the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; the prophets and heros—Moses, David; even in the New Testament Paul laments about his thorn in the flesh. This morning, let's look at the problem and the solution together. I think we'll be surprised to see what is behind the struggles we face and God's solution for us to live in victory.

(Genesis 13:17) God promised Abram that everything he could see, all the ground he walked on, would belong to him and his descendents. This was the beginning of the promise and covenant God made with Abraham. He told him to look around and everything he saw was going to be an inheritance for his descendents, even though at the time, Abram had no children. Abraham believed God. He walked with God, not perfectly, but consistently through his life. God walked with him, even in his imperfection and remained faithful to the covenant he had made with Abraham.

(Deuteronomy 11:24) God renewed that promise to Moses, as he was leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. God told Moses that wherever the people set the sole of their feet, that land would belong to them. This was the first time they approached the Promised Land. If we remember, though, the promise was delayed because the people refused to go into the land. They were afraid of giants and did not trust God to fulfill his promise. Yet God did not abandon them or cancel the promise. He brought them back to the Promised Land again.

(Joshua 1:1-9) Then God renewed his promise to Joshua and the children of Israel as they were entering the Promised Land. God promised to drive out the people living in the land and he did so as the Israelites were obedient to go and take possession of the land. There were some people groups who were stubborn and remained in the land that the nation of Israel was promised. After fighting for several years, as Joshua was retiring from battle, he confronted the Israelites about not pressing on to take possession of all the land they were promised (Joshua 18:3).

(Judges 1:19-36) Instead of continuing to fight and take possession of the land, the people were content to live in the land they had already taken. They made some deals with the locals: You stay on your side, we'll stay on ours. They thought that they could live side by side with idolatry and not be phased. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

(Judges 2:1-5) After a generation of living in the land, God's people were intermarrying, they were taking on the idols of the people living around them, they were beginning to worship fertility gods that required evil practices like child sacrifice in order to stay in their favor. They did not change their neighbors, instead their neighbor's practices infected them like a plague.

In our lives, God has given us a promised land. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:3 that God has given us every blessing in the heavenly realms in the person of Jesus. He has given us the promised land for our every day lives. We don't have to live in a particular place, God gave us a portable promised land: freedom in Christ. In Christ, we have victory over sin and the world according to 1 John 5:4-5, which we just studied. Because of that victory we don't have to submit to the destructive power of sin in our lives.

We, like the Israelites, have the ability to take possession of these promises and apply them to our lives. We just have to keep going when things get hard. Those nations the Israelites faced were not invincible. They just looked real scary. They had iron chariots. They were determined to stay in the land. They were like that persistent weed in your garden that no matter how many times you pull it up, it just keeps coming back. But just like we can continue to fight that weed and not allow it to ruin our garden, we can continue to fight against the persistent sins and habits in our lives that work against us. In fact, we must continue that fight. The good news is that we do not fight alone.

I know it is easier when God removes all inclination to a particular sin. Some people come to the Lord and leave their alcoholism and addiction on the altar and are never bothered again. For others, it is a continual struggle. And trust me, that person who was delivered from their alcoholism may still have other persistent sins as well. We find the solution to staying power in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

Paul describes a continuing struggle in his own life. He calls it a messenger from Satan at work in his flesh. This may have been a physical problem, but many scholars believe it is a sin of the flesh. Some kind of temptation or desire that Paul was fighting against. In fact he uses the very same words that God uses to describe the people groups not driven out with their idols. Just as they were a thorn in the flesh of the Israelites, this issue plagued Paul. He prayed and prayed and prayed for God to miraculously take it away, but God did not. Instead, God gave Paul grace to continue to fight it without giving up.

The reason we must continue to fight is that just like the idolatry of the Canaanites seeped into the lives of the Israelites, sin that is not dealt with in one area of our lives leaks into other areas of our lives. We cannot cordon off sin and think that is enough. Sin like a cancer seeks to invade every area of our lives bringing death and destruction.

We often think of persistent sin as a curse, but here Paul says that God shows his strength best in our weak spots. By walking with God in spite of the temptation we face, and showing a consistent victory in spite of struggle, we show God's great grace in our everyday lives.

In our lives we may have sins like the Canaanites crouching at our door. Don't ignore them. Don't get hysterical about them. Instead choose to walk with the Lord through those temptations. Choose to keep fighting until you win the land God has promised you. Don't give up and settle with the land you have already conquered. Don't be complacent in thinking you have arrived and do not need to continue pushing out the area of God's possession in your life. Don't stop until it all belongs to Him.

We do not have to do this in our own strength, he has promised us strength and grace to make it through. The choice is up to you, though, how much victory you want in your life. Don't give up. Lean on God's Grace. Take possession of the Promised Land in your life!

Think about what it would be like if we all chose to let God conquer every corner and back closet in our lives. Think of what our families would look like, our workplace relationships, our church fellowship. Then we would no longer be divided by petty things, we wouldn't need excuses to keep other people at bay. We would see and recognize the areas in our lives that need to be changed and we would let others see them too, knowing that they aren't perfect either. In Christ we have freedom to try and fail, and try again. There is no shame, because we depend on his strength and not our own. If we could accept that truth, then we would be agents of God's grace to one another as we help each other to fight the persistent sins that we all face.

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