Posted by: lepages | April 10, 2011

Cleansing for good!

Several weeks since I’ve posted – result, several preaches to post and a couple of duathlon events to report on! Well, I’m not going to attempt to do them all now!

Our series of teaching in Joshua was a valuable one for us as a church, addressing a number of things that as, by and large, comfortable Westerners, we don’t always feel comfortable with. Here’s another one that I preached on 13th February. If you’d prefer to listen to the preach than read my notes you do so here, on the church website

Cleansing for good

Joshua 8:1-29

Introduction
Lights! Camera! Action!

This is a story that would make a great film! The intrigue of strategy, of careful plotting and planning. The ability to set up the forces making secret moves to their ambush positions. The shock and horror for the people of Ai turning and seeing their city in flames…. it would without doubt be an exciting film, not an easy film, perhaps a disturbing film… in the lines of the Mel Gibson classic, Braveheart!

But, just as with the film Braveheart, to understand the current story you need to understand what went before. If you missed out on the teaching last week, can I encourage you to go online and listen to last week’s teaching or get a CD?

Our heading for this week is:-

Cleansing for good

Last week we saw how one person’s selfishness – looking to their own wants and desires, what the Bible calls sin, affected the lives of many others, leading to the people losing a battle which humanly speaking they expected to win. We saw how justice was done and the people of God were pure again in God’s sight.

In our cell groups this past week some of us came in confession to God for the stuff that is wrong in our lives. In our group it was a moving time as the Holy Spirit came and ministered God’s grace, his forgiveness and his cleansing to our lives, unexpectedly also manifesting new spiritual gifts amongst us.

God’s cleansing enables a new start. For Joshua and the Israelite people it meant that now, the city they had foolishly assumed they were able to take with a small army was theirs’ for the taking as God directed them.

When we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, when the bad stuff in our lives, the sin, is removed as we confess to God and barriers which have blocked our communication with God are removed, so we are able to better hear what God says to us – and so it was for us in our cell group on Thursday night. And so it was for Joshua and the people.

The sin which had cast a slur on the people of God and separated them from God’s protection was now removed and the Lord was able to come close once again; so in our reading for today from Joshua 8 we find the Lord saying to Joshua in v1&2

‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.
You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.’

The Lord comes to reassure firstly, and then he commissions for action… and he not only commissions for action, but he gives direction too -‘set an ambush behind the city’

This is a pattern that the Lord repeats again and again.
He reassures, and he commissions, those who have been cleansed.

When we come to the New Testament, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, now the Father’s anger has been turned away, Jesus commissions his people not to go and take physical ground, but to go and take spiritual ground – to go and make disciples of all nations, to baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to teach them to obey everything he had commanded – but he doesn’t only commission, he also reassures and he says ‘Surely I am with you always, right to the very end of the age.’

That commission and that reassurance applies to us today.
If you are cleansed, healed and forgiven through faith in what Jesus did on the cross then you are now commissioned to take that good news to others and Jesus stands with you always.

Part of the commission was to baptise people – so if you have not been baptised as a believer in the Lord Jesus you need to be; speak to one of us as elders and we can arrange for your baptism.

The Israelite people having been cleansed were then able to go and fulfil God’s command to possess their land. The Lord gave them some direction in what to do – to set an ambush.

I reckon the Lord specialises in ambushes!! 😉

Think about people you know whom the Lord has brought to himself, perhaps even yourself?!

How many that the Lord has saved have found a network of folk around them who demonstrate the kingdom to them, who share the gospel with them, who the Lord uses to gradually draw them to the Saviour?

When Jesus called his first disciples, Peter and Andrew, he called them to follow him and become ‘fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:19). Fishing to them was not like folk who fish alongside Bedford river – often sitting there alone, patiently waiting for a fish to come and bite their bait – fishing for them was a team activity – working together as a team they would seek to ambush a shoal of fish, to cast a net over them and to draw them in – so when Jesus called them to come to fish for men they wouldn’t have envisaged going off alone, they would have expected that this was something they would do together – and so it was.

We need to learn about that. Sharing our faith is not just something to do on our own, it’s something we are called to do together – it’s why something like the Y-course or Alpha are helpful, because there we work together with our different gifts and personalities and share the faith with folk and see them drawn to the Saviour. It is a strategic approach, but it needs planning!

The Lord told Joshua to make an ambush, but he then left the details down to him.

Joshua separated out some men to go and set the ambush behind the city. He commanded them to be sharp and focused, to be on the alert, to watch what was going to happen. He explained how he would with the other forces attack the front of the city, engage in battle and then start to withdraw, drawing the forces from within the city out to chase them down as they’d done the previous time – and when that happened the ambush forces could arise and take the city and put it to the torch.

Do you think that the people who were sent into battle in this way were trained? (response??!!)

I’m sure they were.
In v3 we read that Joshua ‘chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men.’

Jesus spent 3 years with his disciples. He sent them out at different times and in different ways as they gained experience. As we read through Acts, we see teams of people working together to reach out with the Gospel, the Good News. We see them at times taking others on board with them to grow and develop in experience, to train them.

There is nothing wrong with training in the Christian life.
If you want to be effective in your Christian life, then get whatever training you can.

In a few weeks time, for those of you involved in any form of children’s or youth work then there’s an excellent day of training here in Bedford at Russell Park Baptist Church.

We will fund that out of a restricted fund for outreach, discipleship and training purposes. Speak to me if you would like to go.

One of the best ways of getting training is to go on a team where you learn in hands on experience from others as you work together. I have benefited hugely from time spent on Chester Tell-a-Tourist teams – if you’re aged 18-30 and available for a couple of weeks in July, go on the team, with a good friend to the church, Dave Bennett.

Alternatively, why not think of joining one of the GLO (Gospel Literature Outreach) mission teams?
Plenty of countries and teams to choose from.
Again, can thoroughly recommend them – it was through going on such teams to Geoff & Annette Cawston in France that God called us into full-time Christian ministry.

So the Israelites set the ambush up. But then they didn’t just sit and wait. They went forwards to strategically draw the people out of the city.

I sometimes wonder whether as Christians it’s like we set up the ambush and then we just sit back and wait – a bit like someone sitting on the river, waiting for a fish to come and bite their bait – we put on the activities, we run Alpha or the Y-course and we just wait for those we know to come and bite….. I wonder whether we need to be more strategic in drawing people out and in to the kingdom – though not to destroy them as happened to the people of Ai – though for some perhaps it would need a destroying of the way they have previously thought and felt that their minds might be renewed – as we all need….

I wonder whether we should be more strategic in our fishing for men (and women, and children)? It’s like we set out the bait to bring people near the kingdom with our various groups – Teas & Tots, CAMEO, Carpet Bowls, Time Out, The Zone, Seasonal activities – Christmas, Easter, Harvest etc. Cell activities, Alpha, the Y-course and so on – but do we just wait for folk to choose if they want to come and bite as far as the kingdom, the gospel, the good news is concerned? Should we like Peter and Andrew be more strategically throwing out a net to draw the fish in? Should we, with the general guidance of God, ‘set an ambush’ for Joshua, ‘go and make disciples’ for us strategically plan how we can best put it into action?

Joshua oversaw the whole thing under God – and yet, I’m sure there were other leaders who oversaw things in their area – I’m sure the 5000 who went to position themselves behind the city were strategically placed by the leaders of their sub-group. I’m sure that there would have been consultation – key folk talking together about the best places to be positioned and how to progress things.

In our context, I guess our Wider Leadership together with the elders are key in setting the strategy for the whole – and we’ve been thinking about that in terms of how we give confidence to invite folk along to the Y-course in the Autumn, whether we have another ‘Come to Church Sunday’, whether we can join with other churches with the opportunities the Olympics bring next year.
But…. if one takes the parallels I’m suggesting would have gone on for the Israelites as they strategically planned their ambush on the people of Ai, then perhaps in all our groups we ought to be thinking more strategically, how can we use this activity we’re engaged in to win people for the kingdom of God? And then, not just thinking about it, but stepping forward and doing it.

In verses 18&19 something interesting happens.
The battle has commenced. The plan is being put into action. The opposing forces are being drawn out of the city and then the Lord speaks to Joshua and says “Hold out towards Ai the javelin that is in your hand, for into your hand I will deliver the city.” So Joshua held out his javelin towards Ai. As soon as he did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire.

Was this a prearranged plan and signal for the people to attack? and the Lord just prompted Joshua to action at the right time? Or was this one of those Holy Spirit prompts that no-one knew was coming, but when it came everyone knew what it meant? Either way, as well as the Lord giving us general direction and then entrusting to us the responsibility to put it into action and do some strategic work ourselves, the Lord has a habit of prompting in the right direction at the right time. Lets be open to those prompts. They may not always be obvious. There may have been a part of Joshua that wanted to lead the way in battle, but instead he had to stand there with his javelin pointing towards Ai until all the job was done.

Conclusion
So, the key things from this morning.
When we are cleansed by the blood of Christ, as we confess our failings, our sins to God, we should expect to know the Lord speaking to us.
He reassures us of his presence with us and commissions us for action.
Just as Joshua was obedient to the command to set an ambush, so we need to be obedient to the command to go and make disciples, to baptise them and to teach them.
This implies training and equipping – we need to be prepared to step into it.
And then we need to be strategic in what we do in seeking to extend the kingdom of God – open always to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as he gives his prompts along the way.

Prayer.

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