Last week’s WV Baptist convention in Hurricane was a fascinating event. The music, the fellowship, and the preaching were all outstanding. One of the things I enjoy most about large gatherings of that type is that I can learn from other churches and church leaders. There’s no desire to try to imitate other churches, for every church is unique. There is a definite place however, to learn from other churches. You can see what God is doing across the state in a variety of Baptist churches. Music is one area in which God is moving. I remember the conventions of the 1980s – it wasn’t that long ago. In those conventions the music pretty much consisted of hymns, with only a piano and organ as instruments. There were no projection screens, and the only hand clapping or hand raising that occurred was as applause at the end of an impressive report or perhaps to vote in favor of an issue. What I observed between then and now is that West Virginia Baptist churches, at least the most healthy and effective ones in ministry, have been willing to embrace the change God brought to them.
Many of the churches that were thriving then but are struggling now are the ones who dug in their heels and refused to change their methodology. Theology must never change, but methodology must constantly change. God is a God who does new things, and if a church refuses to embrace the new things God is doing it will find itself missing the wave of God’s Spirit. Without God’s Spirit moving, there is no life, for Jesus has said that unless you abide in me, you can do nothing.
So music has changed, worship has changed, God is doing new things. It really is irrelevant to God as to whether or not it suits you, He is doing it. The stark reality is that if don’t get on board with God, you’ll get left behind. A thousand years ago God used Gregorian chants in churches to inspire them in worship and praise. There is nothing wrong with a Gregorian chant. If you stop there however, and don’t acknowledge and embrace what God has been doing since then, you’re going to be missing a LOT of Divine activity. Were they worshipping the same God a thousand years ago as is worshipped today? Absolutely. God never changes. Methods for worshipping him however, are constantly changing. To attempt to make time stand in one particular decade and for one particular generation of music is a foolish thing. To do so is at your own peril. God is constantly doing new things among his people, and you can’t fight God.
Anyway, not only is God doing new things in music, he is also doing new things in missions. I attended two workshops this past week on missions. The first focused on how we can better communicate and support missions. In previous generations mission support was much more institutional and organizational. Now its becoming much more relational and personal. The work of missions is the same, but the methods of raising support have changed. The way of promoting missions has changed. Missions is now increasing promoted through websites, through email and through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Skype. Did you know that you can now arrange a Skype conference with many American Baptist missionaries around the world and have an actual face-to-face conversation with them? The work of missions, to share the love and message of Jesus Christ, is the same. The methods of doing that work however, are changing. In this particular passage on missions through the Bible, there is a generational shift occurring. God is still accomplishing his purpose, but he is calling a new leader of a younger generation to replace the one from the older generation who is passing from the scene. I’m sure that many of the people of Israel thought, “What will we ever do if something happens to Moses? How will we function without him? Our entire journey from Egypt to the Promised Land will come to an end if we lose Moses.” Well, at the beginning of this passage Moses is dead. The people of Israel still haven’t reached the Promised Land. Rather than the mission of God grinding to a halt, God takes into a younger gear. You see the work of ministry belongs to God, not to one particular leader or group of important leaders. Charles DeGaulle, the famous French general and statesman said, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” The same could be said for indispensable women. God’s work of mission continues to move forward through successive generations, changing its methods, but never its purpose. In this passage for this morning there are three things to grasp about missions for younger generations.
First of all, as you follow God’s call, be focused. Joshua 1:1-5 says, “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”
There’s a few ways described here to be focused. First, be focused by letting go of the past. The previous era of leadership isn’t coming back. Moses is dead. Don’t be dwelling on how things were in the good ole days. It’s okay to remember, its okay to cherish the memories, but your focus is to be on the task now before you. In the past few years I’ve attended the funerals of two great men of God who were both pastors. A few years back I attended the funeral of George Pauley. He was my mentor, he was my pastor, he was my inspiration, but he is now dead. Although he is very much alive in the presence of God, his existence in this world has come to an end. The work of the God he served however, is still continuing. This last week I attended the funeral of Lee White. He was my great uncle, he was a role model, he was a fine pastor. His last full-time pastorate was the Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Teays Valley. He pastored Oakwood Baptist Church several years before my time there, so when there were funerals, Lee was often called back to do them. He and I would do them together. I don’t particularly enjoy doing funerals, but doing them together with him was always a privilege and an inspiration. He is now dead. He too is very much alive in the presence of God, but his existence in this world has come to an end. The work of the God he served however, is still very much continuing. The point to catch here is that although church leaders, both staff and volunteers, come and go, God’s work remains and continues to move forward. Also, be focused by looking at the opportunities and the potential before you. God is telling Joshua here to survey the land, to get well acquainted with all the potential that can occur as God does his work. Look at the opportunities for ministry at FBC Nitro, look at the opportunities for ministry in this community and the world beyond it. The fields are white to harvest. Then, be focused by remembering the God who is with you will always be with you. You are not alone in serving God, he is on your side. As you follow God’s call, be focused.
Then, as you follow God’s call, be strong. Joshua 1:6-7 says, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous,…” How can you be strong and courageous as you face the many challenges that are ahead of you? How could Joshua do it? How can you do it?
You can be strong by realizing that the God of the universe is with you. He is your strength. Paul wasn’t just blowing smoke and spreading religious sentiment when he wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Paul had been imprisoned, persecuted, shipwrecked, beaten, left for dead, had suffered extreme hardship in the course of doing God’s work. So when he says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” it really means something. If Paul could experience that kind of Divine strength, you can as well, for God doesn’t change. Paul’s God is your God. Paul’s Jesus is your Jesus. Be strong, draw upon that strength of the Lord Jesus within you and use it. Last Sunday a friend of mine, Holley Faulkner, who is the pastor of the Baptist Temple in Fairmont, finished his first marathon in Chicago. I had my cell phone set to receive text messages of his progress at different points in the race. I was nervous for him when he began, because I’ve been there and done that, and I was thrilled when I received the text message that he’d crossed the finish line. To run a marathon requires more than physical conditioning. The physical training is very important, and you’d better not to try to run one without it. Running and completing a marathon also requires mental strength. If you allow your mind to start dwelling on the wrong things and thinking the wrong thoughts, the amount of physical ability you have won’t matter. Your mind has to be dwelling on the right things, or you’ll fall far below your potential. What is true of a marathon is also true of ministry and of missions. If your mind is not set on Christ, if it is not constantly being renewed by prayer and the word of God, you will fall far short of your potential. It’s not positive thinking, it’s Christ-centered thinking. Peter Pan could fly by thinking happy thoughts, but you’re not Peter Pan and life isn’t Neverland. Happy, optimistic thinking isn’t the key. Christ-centered thinking is the key. So as a result you may have all kinds of talent, but if your mind is dwelling on the wrong things, you’ll falter. As you follow God’s calling, be strong.
Then, as you follow God’s calling, be Biblical. Joshua 1:7-8 says,
“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” There are three things to keep in mind about being Biblical. First, know God’s word. It takes time and energy to do so. In this day and age, time is at a premium. Some people would say that in this society, time is more precious than money. To know God’s word takes an investment of time. It takes time to read it, to listen to it, to learn about it in church Bible studies, in Sunday School, in worship services. It just takes time. So if you really want to show God how much you love him, spend some time with him getting to know his word better. You will never master it, you’ll constantly be learning more about it. In fact, the more you learn, the more you’ll realize how much you don’t know. Second, meditate upon God’s word. Sing it, memorize it, listen to it through your Christian music. Don’t just know it in your head, but hide it in your heart. Third, obey it. Knowing God’s word and treasuring God’s word will be no benefit to you if you don’t do God’s word. Obey it. One of the saddest questions that Jesus asks the people who claimed to be following him is in Luke 6:46. It says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
So this morning, how would you answer Jesus’ question? Are you just calling him “Lord, Lord” or are you actually following him? Following him involves a journey, following him involves missions. As it was with Joshua, so it is with you today. So what choice will you make? Every single person here has to make a choice. Will you launch forth in response to God’s call, or will you hesitate? The time is short, the work is great, and God longs to work through you. What will your choice be?