NEW YEAR’S DAY JOSHUA 3:1-17
O. S. Hawkins wrote, “New is one of those words in our English language that most always finds the welcome mat out at our heart’s door and brings a smile to our face. In our childhood days there was the joy of having a new bicycle or a new ball glove. In adolescence there was the joy of a new car (at least new to us). As we journeyed through life there was the new job, then the new house and the new baby. For those of us who have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, by grace through faith, there is the new birth along with the promise of a new life all provided for us through the new covenant accompanied by the new commandment. And, as if that were not enough, we live with the promise that later we will have a new body and a new home called heaven. God is the giver of many wonderful new things. He is the God of new beginnings.”
We stand now at the door of another new beginning; a new year filled with new possibilities and opportunities. Twelve new months, 52 new weeks, 365 new days, 8760 new hours, 525,000 new minutes and 31,536,000 new seconds . . . every one of which is God’s gift to us.
I ask you to turn in your Bibles to Joshua 3. I will be reading selected verses from this chapter instead of the whole chapter. But before we look at those verses, I want to give you a little background about this event. The children of Israel had been on a long journey of forty years. Moses led them from Egyptian bondage, through the Red Sea parting, to the entrance of the Promised Land at Kadesh Barnea, and then back through the wilderness wonderings and finally to the eastern bank of the Jordan just opposite of the land of promise. It was now time to cross. The people of Israel had a choice to make either to cross over or remain bogged down where they were in the wilderness. It was a time for a new opportunity and a day of new beginnings.
Every year God gives us opportunities as individuals, families, and church families to crossover into new beginnings. And this year is no different. We can crossover into these new opportunities or remain where we are. Crossover moments are opportunities to step out of our comfort zones and into new horizons. Crossover times are caused by all sorts of challenges which include: death, divorce, disease, or discouragements of all sorts.
As we stand at the brink of this New Year, our hearts should be filled with anticipation and challenge. Only God knows what the future holds but our possibilities are limitless. Joshua and the people of Israel teach us some important lessons about entering a New Year.
BE FLEXIBLE – 4
The first lesson, I see in this story is to be flexible. In other words, do not be afraid of change. Yet, our human inclination is to get used to what we know. Change does not come easy for most of us and we get comfortable holding on to the past. The children of Israel camped on the banks of the Jordan River looking across at the Promised Land. They had three days to contemplate this move into a new territory. They have not passed this way before and this meant a change from everything that they ever known.
Joshua reminded them that this would be a new adventure. Let’s face it change is hard. We have a way of subconsciously conditioning ourselves to resist change. James Belasco wrote an intriguing book entitled Teaching the Elephant to Dance. He explained how the circus elephants when they were small are shackled by their trainer with heavy chains around their ankles. These chains are held firm by steel stakes deeply imbedded in the ground. The elephant then stays put. He cannot go past the length of his chain. As the months and years unfold and he grows and becomes huge he has more than adequate strength to pull the stake out of the ground. But he never does! He never leaves the length of his chain because he has been conditioned and therefore change is out of the question. His movement becomes limited simply because of mental conditioning. Like these powerful elephants many of us and many of our churches are “bound” because of conditioned restraints.
This past year, we became flexible to change by purchasing a piece of property for our future due to circumstances in our present location. It may not have been what we wanted but it was a necessity. This New Year, the staff is asking that Marble City Baptist Church family to be flexible in the way we learn to love one another. We ask you to go out of your way to make our guests feel welcome. And one of the ways we are going to try to do this is through name tags. I realize we have not passed this way before, so I am asking you to be flexible. There may be other changes that we will have to make in the course of the year, so be ready to make them for the glory of God and the growth of His Kingdom.
BE FOCUSED – 3
The second lesson learned from this story is to be focused. The people of Israel were instructed to keep their eyes on the ark. The ark was an oblong wooden box, overlaid in solid gold with tow golden cherubim on the top with their wings touching over what is called the mercy seat. It contained the tablets of the law, a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded. It was placed in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle in the wilderness and later in the temple in Jerusalem. It was there that God would visit His people on the high, holy Day of Atonement with His Shekinah glory.
The ark was a type, a foreshadow, a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. For Israel, they were to keep their eyes on the ark. In fact, they were instructed to stay 1,000 yards behind it. That was equivalent to the length of ten football fields. The reason for the distance is so that the whole camp could see it. Folks, we are reminded in the New Testament to keep our eyes of Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
There are many things that can distract us from keeping our eyes on Jesus. For example, we desire to be like everyone else or to have what everyone else has, but Christ has called us to be different from everyone else and having Christ is all that you need. As a church family, it is easy to see what other churches are doing, especially the successful ones and try to do what they do. Here we are reminded to keep our eyes on Jesus.
Last year, god placed in my heart a mission statement for our church, which is to reach Sylacauga to love God and to love others. This statement helps us keep our eyes on Jesus by following the guidelines he commanded in Scripture in the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Our plan for doing this is to move people from worship to Bible Study to ministry. In other words, we want to exalt Christ, equip the saints, and evangelize the lost.
So this year, we want to stay focus on what God has called our church to do to build the Kingdom of God. We want to be faithful to the Lord by using the people and resources God has given us. So we need to learn to be focused.
BE FAITHFUL – 5
The third lesson we learn from this story is to be faithful. As we enter a New Year, I issue a call to commit yourself to stay pure in mind, motives, and morals. Joshua commanded the people “to consecrate yourselves.” This word “consecrate” means to set apart. So as we enter another year, set yourself apart from the world and recommit yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ.
This process of consecration (sanctification) in the Bible is both positional and progressive. Paul said, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). The verb here means that something had been done once and for all and that God was the one doing it. So positionally, you have been set apart for God at salvation. Yet, there is another dimension to sanctification, which is something we must do. In other words, we are to act on the knowledge of God’s Word by obeying the command to consecrate ourselves.
I ask you commit yourself to God by spending time daily in reading God’s Word and praying. I challenge you if you have never read the entire Bible in a year to do so. Also, learn Scripture by memorizing verses of the Bible. Every week we put in the bulletin and newsletter a verse or verses for the week. Get familiar with God’s Word and hide it in your heart so that you may sin against God.
I challenge you to set yourself apart to come to worship on Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday unless providentially hindered. Make an effort to be with God’s people to be instructed from the Bible. Also, be a part of the fellowship by getting involved in the opportunities that we have to get together as a faith family.
BE FUTURISTIC – 5
The fourth lesson we learn from this story is to be futuristic. What I mean by that is to start believing in tomorrow. For Israel, there was something now for which to look forward. After all those years with no real direction or purpose, now there was hope. They began to believe in tomorrow. They ceased living in the past. They kept their focus forward and not backward on the past. Paul said, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
It is a dangerous time in any life, any business, any relationship, or any church, for that matter, when memories of yesterday are more prevalent and important than visions and hopes of tomorrow. Israel had certainly seen her share of miracles in the past. The parting of the Red Sea. The manna which fell each morning. The pillar of fire that appeared each night to lead them. The cloud that hovered by day to point direction. The bitter waters of Marah turning sweet. The water which flowed from the rock. But now they sat on the banks of the Jordan. It would have been easy to just sit there and reminisce with one another about all they had seen and experienced. But crossover people do not do that.
It is a dangerous time in the life of the believer when memories of yesterday are more important than visions of tomorrow. God did not bring you to the bank and brink of a New Year for you to just sit and think of what has been in the past. Crossing over into another New Year does not mean it is going to be easy on the other side. Israel still had Jericho. And we will have our Jericho’s.
God has done great things in our church in the past, And the same God who did those things back then is the same god who can do it again. Are we going to believe that God is going to do great wonders in our tomorrow.
We are planning for it with some new things for this upcoming year. We are going to have a parking lot ministry that welcomes members and guests with a friendly smile and wave. Maybe God has laid it on your heart to be a part of this ministry. We are going to have a welcome center, to greet our new guests and provide them with material about our church. We need ladies to be a part of this ministry.
Who knows what the future holds for us, but we can trust God with our future and prepare for whatever he may bring our way in 2009.
BE FEARLESS – 7
The final lesson we learn from the story is to be fearless. The Israelites had leadership they could trust. The reason they could trust him was because he was God’s man and he provided him with a vision and not a need. Joshua led by example. The commitment level rises when men and women see the passion in the one out in front. Joshua’s leadership became contagious. And the people followed him.
It is important that before the river parted it was the “leaders” who were the first ones to put their feet in the water. Leadership is risky business. This year we asked our Sunday School teachers to sign an accountability form. Our deacons took on new ministry opportunities to better minister to our faith family. I challenge all our leaders to be proactive rather than reactive.
For Israel, leadership and followship won the day. The leader obeyed the Lord and the people heeded the words of the Lord. Read verse 13, 16, 17 This was fearless leadership you could trust.
As we stand at the start of a New Year there is a sense in which it is our own Jordan. What shall we do? “We have not passed this way before.” How shall we face the New Year with its promise of so many new beginnings? The same way that Joshua and his people crossed over to their own new beginning. How? Be flexible. Don’t be afraid of change. Be focused. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Be faithful. Commit to stay pure in mind, morals and motives. Be futuristic. Believe in tomorrow. Be fearless. Trust in those around you.
The problem with some of us in taking advantage of new beginnings is that we come to the water’s edge and say, “Lord, just let those waters part and then I will step in.” But note that it wasn’t until “the soles of their feet” touched the water that it parted. It was a step of faith for them . . . for us. Often we have to get our feet wet with faith before God begins to “work wonders among us.”