Part IV: Choose Life

  • Part IV: Choose Life
  • Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a
  • Bill Couch
  • May 1, 2016
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5-1-16 sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

May 15 is the Celebration of my retirement. Our District Superintendent, Richard Edwards, will be preaching for us. I will attend the 9:15 worship service and after that will be available for hugs at a reception in Fellowship Hall. I will bring my last message as Senior Pastor on May 22. It will not exactly be a sermon, but an expression of gratitude for my time with you and my excitement about your future.

This morning is my last message in the Momentum series—what I would consider my last official sermon. I’ve based this series of messages upon Moses’ last series of message to the Israelites recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. They are in the “land between”—they have completed their 4O year journey through the wilderness and have arrived at the Jordan River ready to cross over into the Promised Land. Joshua has been appointed as their new leader for this next chapter in their history, but Moses is still with them. His last words build momentum to boldly venture into their future.

We are in the land between. I have announced my retirement and Lyndol Loyd has been appointed as your next senior pastor. His first Sunday will be July 10. There will be about six week buffer between my last Sunday and his first Sunday. What do we do when we are in the land between?

In the last three messages in this series, I have proclaimed some of the same themes that Moses preached to the Israelites. A special thanks to Old Testament scholar, Dr. Sandy Richter, who provided me with insight into Moses’ key points.

As you wait in the land between, I encourage you to recognize that this space provides fertile ground for God to deepen our faith and trust in him. In times of uncertainty, we know that God is with us and will take care of us because we have seen him provide for us in the past. This is a time to remember what God has done among us and the key events that have shaped who we are. Remember who you are and take that with you wherever you are. We looked at the pivotal moments in our history–not to dwell on the past but to capture those things that we need to keep in our hearts as we move into the future. Last week we talked about some things that can derail momentum as we move into the future. If you sit on the sidelines as spectators and wait to see what will happen, you can derail the momentum. When things are going well, if you forget to pray and depend upon God’s Spirit, you can derail the momentum.

This morning I want us to look at Moses admonishment that there will be challenges in the future. Although they are entering a land of milk and honey, there will be trials and disappointments and defeats along the way. How they handle those moments will determine their future. They have a choice every day; they can choose a defeatist attitude and die. Or they can choose life by trusting in God. Let’s listen to some of his last words to the Israelites.

 

19 …Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a

In his last message Moses tells the Israelites, you will not arrive in the Promised Land on easy street! There will be challenges and difficulties ahead. Moses reminds them that their pattern for handling difficulties in the past was not always the most resourceful. In the face of adversity, they grumbled—a lot. When they did not have food and water they grumbled to Moses that he had brought them out in the wilderness to die. When they got tired of manna they complained about their limited menu. They cried: “We should have stayed in Egypt where we had vegetables and garlic and plenty to eat.” They somehow forgot that they were slaves treated horribly by their taskmasters. Yet they glorified the past and grumbled about the present. Moses reminded them that in spite of their grumbling God provided for them and took care of them.

Moses anticipated that they would glorify the wilderness journey. They would only remember the spiritual highs like when God descended upon Mt. Sinai in smoke and fire. They would only remember the glory of God descending upon the Tabernacle. They would forget the harsh conditions roaming in the desert, constantly moving from one location to the next. They would forget the snakes, the plagues, the rebellions against Moses leadership one of which was led by his brother and sister.

Moses encouraged them to be realistic as they recalled the past. Don’t forget the difficulties as well as the high points. God was with them on the mountain tops as well as in the valleys of their journey. Some of the most transformative moments took place in times of difficulty and challenge. As they depended upon God they emerged from the challenges stronger and deeper in their faith.

As LakeRidge UMC moves into the next chapter of its history, we need to be realistic when recalling the past. We don’t need to glorify it. We have had some wonderful experiences together. God has moved in and through our church. He has blessed us far beyond what I ever dreamed or imagined. And we have also had our challenges: staff transitions which created some turmoil and sometimes people leaving the church; financial challenges when we had to cut our spending; tragic deaths that caused great sorrow for our church family.

Moses warned the Israelites that there would be difficulties and challenges ahead as well as victories and celebrations. As the Israelites looked across the Jordan River they saw their first challenge looming before them—a vastly fortified city called Jericho. There were two sets of walls. The first set was about 15 feet tall and the second set built up on a steep embankment was about 26 feet tall—with a combined height of 41 feet! So this massive barrier was equivalent to a four-story building! Jericho was considered by the residents to be an impenetrable fortress. Inside were vast stores of food and a protected water supply. In order to occupy the Promised Land the Israelites had to conquer Jericho. If they failed in their mission there would be much grumbling at the new leader, Joshua, and they may have retreated back to the desert in defeat.

Joshua called a prayer meeting. The only way they would be able to defeat Jericho was by depending upon God. They had to remember that forty years prior, God’s power had set them free from the strongest nation on the earth at that time—Egypt. If God could defeat the army of Pharaoh, he could handle Jericho. Joshua listened to God about how to approach Jericho. God told Joshua to have the priests lead the people carrying the Ark of the Covenant—the symbol of God’s presence with them. When they stepped into the Jordan River, the waters receded just like they had done at the Red Sea forty years earlier when they left Egypt. It was an encouraging sign that God was still in the business of working miracles. The captain of the Lord’s army appeared to Joshua and gave specific instructions on how to approach Jericho. The people were to march around the wall of the city for six days blowing trumpets. On the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times and then have the people shout and the walls of the city would tumble down. They followed the Lord’s instructions exactly. I wonder what the residents of Jericho thought when they saw and heard a marching band around their city for a week? On the seventh day the Israelites circled the city seven times and began shouting and the walls fell before their eyes creating panic in Jericho. The Lord had delivered their enemies into their hands.

God used this unconventional warfare as a powerful message that when the Israelites depend upon him and listen to his instructions, he would continue to provide for their needs. It was neither their numbers nor their military strength that would enable them to conquer the Promised Land. “Not by might, nor by power, but my Spirit,” says the Lord (Zechariah 4:6). It was a stunning victory.

Joshua sent spies to see what was next on the map. The spies came back and reported it was a little Podunk village called Ai—just a few inhabitants and puny little walls. Nothing like Jericho. They suggested that Joshua only send 3,000 men up the mountain and they could wipe it out in no time. So Joshua sent up 3,000 men who were routed by the residents of Ai and soundly defeated. Joshua and the people suddenly shook with fear—what had gone wrong? Joshua cried out to God. The Lord said, “You did not follow instructions.” God had told the people of Israel not to take any of the treasures of Jericho for themselves. All of the treasures were to be given to the Lord as an expression of gratitude that he was the one who gave them the victory. God revealed that one of the Israelites had taken some of the treasure and kept it—there was sin in the camp. Joshua said, “Lord, why didn’t you tell me? We could have taken care of this man so that we would not have suffered this defeat at Ai.” God responded, “You never asked!” Joshua and the people made the assumption that they could handle the next little obstacle in their path and didn’t need God. They would call God in when they needed him for the Jericho’s but they could handle the small stuff in their own strength. Joshua learned that you need to keep the communications lines open with God—commonly known as praying! God can reveal things that need to be taken care of before they become a major problem if we will take time to listen.

Like the Israelites, our church has faced some major hurdles and God has always seen us through.  There have been times when I made mistakes in what seemed like, at the moment, a small thing. Later it proved to be a big thing. Something that could have been avoided if I just kept the communication lines open to God.

I’ve purposely talked about the importance of prayer several times during this series of messages. Prayer is how we keep the communication lines open to God. Prayer is a way in which we acknowledge our dependence upon God. “Holy Spirit, show me the way.” “God, is there anything you want to say to me? I’m listening?” “Jesus, what do you want me to do today?” LakeRidge is a praying church. Continue to pray individually. Continue to pray at all of your meetings and gatherings. Continue to have church wide prayer emphases. Get involved in the prayer ministry. Listen to the Holy Spirit.

Another thing I’ve emphasized is the importance of getting engaged during this transition—don’t sit on the sidelines. The most difficult period in the transition time following a long-tenured founding pastor is the first two years. If the congregation decides to sit on the sidelines or go check out other churches then the new pastor becomes a short-term pastor. We have prayerfully gone through this transition process and search for our next senior pastor so that would not happen here. I do not want Lyndol Loyd to be a short-term pastor. I want him to retire from LakeRidge UMC many years from now– providing sustained and stable leadership; keeping the momentum going. I believe Lyndol will do his part, will you do yours?

This morning in your bulletins you have an insert entitled “Momentum”. Please take that out of your bulletin and let’s look at it together.

I want the best years of LRUMC to be ahead. We’ve had a great journey together. I want you to experience an even greater journey with your new leadership. He cannot do it without your love, support, encouragement and engagement. And prayers! Please commit to stay engaged for at least two years. I will present these to Lyndol when he comes so he will know who he can count on to boldly venture into the future with him.

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”

Pass these to the ushers during our closing song in sanctuary and at LR Praise.