Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

You Can’t Serve the Lord!

It was presumably sometime shortly before his death at 110 that Joshua called the people of Israel around him to hear his final sermon. It contains that familiar call: “choose this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).

But it also reveals a confusing and perhaps disconcerting strategy.

Obviously, Joshua called the people to make a choice, a choice to serve the Lord (v.15).

To this the people responded with a promise to serve the Lord (vv.16-18).

But Joshua was not satisfied. He told them they were incapable of truly following the Lord (vv.19-20)!

The people—a bit taken aback—cried out that they were serious! They would indeed follow the Lord (v.21).

In the face of their insistence Joshua redoubled his call and demanded that they choose to serve the Lord (vv.22-24).

So why the hard sell, Joshua?

Why did he respond to the people’s pledge this way?

I hear Joshua here as saying something like this …

“Look, I’m an old man. I’m about to die. I don’t have time to mess around with you or play religious games. I’m going to stand before God just a few breaths from now, so I’m calling you to Judgment Day honesty and seriousness! I’ve seen and experienced more than you can imagine. I’ve seen it all … from agony in the brick factories of Egypt … to miracles in Pharaoh’s court … from the death angel passing over my home … to the waters of the Red Sea opening up before us … from the manifestation of God’s holy fury on Mt. Sinai … to the folly of idol worship at the foot of the mountain … from desert wastelands … to a river flowing from a rock … from following a man most people called crazy … to being called to step in and lead in his place … from wars on the east side of Jordan … to wars on the west side … from impenetrable walls falling down at a shout … to the sun standing still in the sky … from graces untold … to the ground opening up and swallowing liars and thieves … I’ve seen life given through miraculous provision … and lives taken through divine plague. Don’t you mess with me! I need to know you are serious when you say you will follow the Lord!”

As I was contemplating this possible motive behind Joshua’s final and somewhat strange sermon-strategy a Johnny Cash song came to my mind.

Yes, that’s what I said …

I suddenly heard a weathered, aged Johnny Cash singing, “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

If you’re not familiar with the song, take a refresher course here: I’ve Been Everywhere

So here is the weathered, worn, weary, soon-to-be-in-heaven Joshua mustering his last breaths to call God’s people to faithfulness. Only I hear the words going like this …

I’ve Seen Everything

Joshua

I was toting my pack along the long dusty desert road
When along came a man with a high and canvas covered load
If your goin’ to the Promised Land, Josh, with me you can ride
And so I climbed into the cart and then I settled down inside
He asked me if I’d seen a road with so much dust and sand
And I said, “Listen, Yo! I’ve traveled every road in this here land!”

I’ve seen everything, man
I’ve seen everything, man
I’ve seen what the deserts bring, man
I’ve been carried on eagle’s wings, man
I’ve drank from rocky springs, man
I’ve seen everything

I’ve seen,

  • Hittites
  • Canaanites
  • Perizzites
  • Girgashites
  • Hivites
  • Jebusites
  • Amalakites
  • Amorites
  • Amonites
  • Moabites
  • Edomites
  • Mountain heights
  • What a sight!
  • Anakim
  • Rephaim
  • Philistines
  • A hill of beans!

I’ve seen everything, man
I’ve seen everything, man
I’ve seen what the deserts bring, man
I’ve been carried on eagle’s wings, man
I’ve drank from rocky springs, man
I’ve seen everything!

Ok, I know … kind of weird. But can you hear Joshua’s anguished plea? “I’ve seen too much to pander and play nice. Take this call to serve the Lord with the utmost solemnity and seriousness!”

I think we can hear then in Joshua’s call to Israel our Savior’s call to us as He marched toward the cross: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:27-30).

Consider carefully the cost. Don’t play religious games. Make your decision. Follow hard after Christ!

The Vanishing Word

“The Judeo-Christian heritage, which characteristically has been word-dependent, is contrasted with paganism, which typically has been image-dependent. … [in our day] the image has supplanted the word … A church cut from its word-based heritage and a nation stripped of word-based modes of learning do not have the rhetorical or mental resources to guard against despotism … our image-saturated culture is at risk of being preyed upon by a tyrant in waiting.” –Arthur W. Hunt III (The Vanishing Word, p.26)

Spiritual Hunger

“… man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:3b)

“… I recall a night years ago when my wife and I were in Argentina. We were traveling about in ministry and had come that day to a community in the interior of the country. We were with a couple from Canada and a missionary. We’d been given the opportunity to minister in a church on that week night. We arrived early and were informed of our assignments. I was to preach, my wife was to sing, the other couple would share their testimonies. Curious people began to gather. When the service started the large sanctuary began to fill up. We sang for what seemed like hours, clapping till our hands felt raw. All the while as we were in the front pew we could hear more people arriving and finding places to be seated. As our friends gave their testimonies I realized the seats must be nearly filled, for the men began bringing in benches and placing them on the platform behind the pulpit. People were led in and filled the entire platform until there was only room left in a small circle around the pulpit. Julie shared in music. Then it was time for me to preach. I rose with the missionary who would translate and as we made our way to the platform I resisted turning around to see how many had gathered. When I finally turned I saw every bench filled—South American style! There were more than twice the people on every bench than any American church could manage. The aisles were filled with a crush of people standing in every available space. I was encircled on every side by people who had gathered to hear God’s Word. Then I saw the two windows in the back of the sanctuary. Where panes of glass should have been, there was instead a montage of faces pressing close to hear. As far as I could see into the street people had gathered to try to catch the sound of God’s Word being preached.

Honestly, I don’t remember exactly what I preached that night. I do, however, recall the sight of so many people so compelled to hear what God says. And I remember the fear that I wouldn’t be able to speak for weeping over the privilege of bringing God’s Word to them.” (Revival in the Rubble, pp.169-170)

God: The Great Intolerance

“Tolerance is, no doubt, a virtue without which none of us can live, but we must, nevertheless, at least understand that it is, strictly speaking, destructive of fellowship, for it is a gesture by which the divine disturbance is rejected. The One in whom we are veritably united is himself the great intolerance. He willeth to rule, to be victorious, to be—everything. He it is who disturbs every family gathering, every scheme for the reunion of Christendom, every human cooperation. And he disturbs, because he is the Peace that is above every estrangement and cleavage and faction.” (Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans; quoted in Robertson McQuilkin, Five Smooth Stones, p.198)

Coming Soon!

The third volume of the “… for Pastors” commentaries is almost ready for release. Please pray God will superintend the final processes and use this volume for His glory.

Here are some endorsements:

  • “John Kitchen’s Philippians for Pastors is thoroughly done, theologically informed, exegetically sound, and hermeneutically thoughtful. Suggestions for digging deeper and ministry maxims are sprinkled throughout the text. This commentary will make a fine addition to the library of any pastor or serious student of the Bible.” George Gianoulis, Professor Emeritus of Greek and New Testament, Crown College
  • “Dr. Kitchen’s outstanding Philippians commentary balances sound exegesis with practical pastoral insights and applications. Any pastor seeking to faithfully proclaim and apply the truth of Philippians will find this commentary extremely valuable.” Steven F. Pace, Senior Pastor, New Hope Baptist Church, Lancaster, SC
  • “There are easier things to find than a busy pastor conversant with the Greek New Testament. But rarer still is that pastor who not only can make his way through the original language but can comfortably weigh interpretive options and teach others. Usually, one needs to buy both an upper middle-level exegetical commentary, and a pastoral exposition, breathing a warmer devotional tone. Surprisingly, John Kitchen has managed to bring both together in this new commentary.” Matthew Fisher, Lecturer in Biblical Theology, St. Petersburg Christian University, St. Petersburg, Russia
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