June 2019   
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Message for 3-23-14 OVERCOMING SELF-DOUBT


Joshua 1:1-9


            How do you define courage?  Shall we define it by the Famous Last Words of the Redneck: “Y’all watch this!”?  It is sad but true that the largest percentage of those who get bitten by snakes and those who get too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon are young men, ages 15-25.  Foolishness is not courage.  Neither is it courage to face danger in ignorance, like the person who gladly agrees to surgery without realizing the high chance of dying on the operating table, or the person who borrows a huge amount of money with no thought of the risks of default.  Blissful ignorance may breed self-confidence, but not what I would call courage.

            If courage is confidence in the face of danger, like young David attacking a lion or bear to rescue a sheep, then the opposite of courage is self-doubt or lack of confidence.   The verb “to be courageous” in today’s scripture means basically to be firm, the opposite of shakiness or lack of confidence.

            In today’s scripture, Joshua has an unbeatable source of confidence, if he can bring himself to place his faith in it.  But Joshua’s also got plenty of reason for self-doubt.  Moses is a hard act to follow.  Even though we are told that Moses was the meekest man on earth and was slow of speech and of tongue, God pulled off astounding miracles through Moses, the greatest miracle being the parting of the Red Sea.  Joshua has reason to wonder: What guarantee is there that God will do the same for me?

            Joshua has seen God pull off some mighty military victories under his command.  But Joshua has also seen how terrible his army performs without God.  He remembers how closely his men came to losing his first battle, against the Amalekites.  He saw his army get chased out of Canaan the first time they tried to invade, after God warned them he was no longer with them.  Joshua knows that they do not have the muscle to bring down those walls, force open those gates, or tangle with the Canaanites’ superior technology (chariots of iron versus soldiers on foot).

            No one can say that Joshua is ignorant of what he’s up against.  And Joshua is no fool, ready to charge across the Jordan into an army that is ready to eat him for lunch.  Joshua needs a gentle shove from God.  (Little does he know that the Canaanites are even more scared of Joshua than he is of them.  We find that out in the story of Rahab.)

            Commenting on this passage, Robert Hubbard writes that in a case like Joshua’s, “The danger is that fears, feelings of inadequacy, [and] doubts may cripple the leader’s resolve, muddle his mind, and shake his confidence.  Confusion, wavering, and tentativeness sow despair, if not dissent, among the followers and endanger the mission.  The temptation, then, is to back off from risks, to strike compromises, or to retreat altogether.”

So what does God say to Joshua, after he confirms to him that Moses is not just missing on Mt. Nebo, but has gone to meet his ancestors?  What does God say to Joshua to prepare him for Operation Promised Land?  God knows that Joshua needs reassurance on the outcome of this campaign.  He’s in a position like Eisenhower about to invade Normandy.  How do we know that we will achieve any advantage?  Later on, after his defeat at Ai, Joshua cries to God, “Why did you ever bring us over this Jordan?”  Joshua needs an answer to that question before he gets started.  So God promises Joshua, “I will give you every place where you set your foot.”  That means a lot, when you’ve got fortified Canaanite cities staring you in the face.

God gives Joshua further reassurance: “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life.”  (The lone exception would be the case where Israel sins by embezzling sacred plunder.  God’s promise is conditional: Joshua must not deviate from the Law of Moses, as we will see.) 

God proceeds to pile on more reassurance: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.  I will not (or: never) fail you or forsake you.”  Everyone agrees on the meaning of the verb “to forsake.”  The NIV misses the boat on the first verb.  With the first verb, God says literally, “I will not go slack on you / I will not wimp out on you.”  It’s the same verb Pharaoh uses when he tells the Israelites, “You are lazy / idle / slack!”

God makes this promise to Joshua to fortify his confidence with the firm knowledge that he is not alone, that the same incomparable God who was there for Moses is also with him.  And Hebrews 13:5 quotes this line as a promise to us: “I will not fail you or forsake you.”  God’s not going to leave us hanging.  God’s not going to go slack on us or fail to show up.  That’s not a promise that God’s going to reward us no matter how far we deviate from his directions.  That’s not a promise that we won’t have huge problems or setbacks.  The promise is that God will be with us to help us tackle them.

So, God’s presence is what Joshua can base his confidence on.  Because I’m there right by your side, God says, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I promised to their ancestors.”  God says, Don’t doubt me!  You will succeed in what I’m commanding you to do.  “Be strong and very courageous.”

But here’s the key.  “Be careful to obey all the Law my servant Moses gave you.  Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.”  How do you avoid messing up?  Internalize it!  “Do not let this book of the Law depart from your mouth.  Meditate on it day and night.”  Disregarding God’s instructions will void the promise of success that God makes.  It doesn’t mean God will abandon us if we’re not perfect or we make mistakes.  God knows the difference between mistakes done in weakness, and blatant disregard for what God says.

God uses 2 words for success in this passage.  One of them means prevailing through strength or ability.  The other one means prevailing through wisdom or insight.  Neither of them means to be “prosperous” in a financial sense.

Living God’s law is not guaranteed to make you a success by the standards of the world.  It doesn’t guarantee you a win on American Idol or a pile of profits or a place on a major league sports team.  But following God’s instructions should help you avoid making a disastrous mess out of your life.

God understands that Joshua is probably shaking in his sandals from where he stands on the east side of the Jordan.  So God reiterates, “Be strong and courageous,” and then the flip side, “Do not be terrified or discouraged.”  Don’t freak out!  Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by fear or self-doubt.  Don’t fixate on what the Canaanites are going to do to you.  Concentrate on what you are going to do to the Canaanites.  Be confident.  Quit doubting yourself.  It’s not about you.  I’m the one who picked you out.  “Have I not commanded you?”  If I thought you were a useless piece of junk who could never do the job, I wouldn’t have picked you.  Go for it!  “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” 

God’s promises are originally targeted to Joshua’s scary assignment to invade the land of Canaan.  But as we listen in on what God says to Joshua, we can also hear God speak to us.  When we find ourselves plagued with self-doubt in a place where we know that God has put us for a reason, then we too can place our confidence in the same God who backed up Joshua in his mission.  We can claim the same promise: if God put us there to perform a mission, and our hearts are determined not to turn from God’s commands to the left or the right, then God is with us.  That means we can be firm and resolute.  That means we don’t need to be shaken by self-doubt.  The writer of Hebrews says God’s words to Joshua also apply to the early Jewish Christians who are being bombarded by demands for them to return to Judaism:  Don’t freak out and run away.  Don’t give up on Jesus.  “I will never fail or forsake you.”

Joshua takes God’s words about courage to heart.  Joshua goes on to exemplify courage.  His daring guerilla tactics were definite examples of thinking outside the box for his day.  When the town of Gibeon calls on Joshua’s help to defend them from the Canaanites, Joshua marches all night up from the Jordan Valley to surprise the Canaanite forces and drive them into a panic.  When all the northern Canaanites gather at the Waters of Merom in the mountains, Joshua pulls a General-Patton-style move and marches over 100 miles north to surprise the enemy at a place where they can’t maneuver their chariots.  Joshua is a daring general, thanks to his confidence that God is with him. 

When life calls for courage, whether it be a new job, a major purchase, a military assignment, a medical crisis, or when we are called on to take unpopular action, we must not base our confidence on ignorance or foolishness.  It does no good to ignore or deny reality.  Courage doesn’t mean being blind to danger.  Like Jesus said when the devil tried to tempt him into jumping off the Temple, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”  Nor should we base our confidence on our own leadership skill, charisma, popularity, or any other human assets we may have.  That’s not where we find the kind of courage God’s talking about.

God’s word to Joshua teaches us that we don’t need to let ourselves be shaken by self-doubt as we look within. We’ve gotta stop focusing on what we can’t do, and start focusing on what God has given us.  God’s already got a more realistic inventory of our strengths and abilities than we do.  God knows what he’s doing.  It’s not about us!  And that should give us solid reason for courage, as we remember that success does not hang on our abilities, but on the God who is bigger than any obstacle we face, the God who wants to use us to take possession of the land God has promised us.  “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

1200 years after Joshua, another child named Joshua was born, only by this time his name was pronounced Yeshua, and we know him by the Greek version of his name: Iesous – Jesus.  Jesus takes on an assignment that takes far more courage than conquering the Canaanites.  He comes to march into hell itself, to suffer the eternal pain of hell for every one of us, to set us free from sin forever.  When we see him agonize in the Garden of Gethsemane, he can see the agony of hell multiplied 10 billion times, which he is about to take upon himself.  Through his courage, we have found mercy, for all who will say Yes to what he has done for us.

Lord, help us not to be foolish.  But help us also not to be paralyzed by self-doubt.  When you give us challenging assignments in life, help us to remember that it’s not about us, it’s about your power to use us as you please.  Help us to be confident, not in how great we think we are, but in your promise that you are with us wherever you send us.

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