Publication:Pastoral Letter, November 2012
I recently met a Minister from Sudan, where genocide has taken place and where black African Christians have been killed by Arab Muslim extremists. The pastor told me about some of those horrors. The killings have moved further South across the continent of Africa in to nations such as Nigeria, and also into Kenya, where churches have been bombed and innocent people terrorized. This is not a new thing; militant Islamists have initiated persecution like this in the past. Of course all Muslims are not terrorists, but enough are that this will be a growing problem.
Christians in such areas have a choice: submit to Islamic conditions, Sharia Law or be subject to persecution or even death. I have a friend whose pastor was killed because he chose to serve Jesus.
I am grateful that we here in the United States still have choices that are less threatening, and if we want to keep it that way, we must exercise our current choices prudently and with the Lord’s guidance. We need to pray for wisdom and courage.
Joshua was Moses’ servant, and upon the passing of Moses, he became Israel’s leader. He knew Moses well, the Lord well and remembered the slavery in Egypt. In time, like all leaders, he would pass from the scene. Prior to his departure, he delivered a farewell address to the leaders of Israel that is recorded in Joshua 23 and 24. He reminded Israel of its history and how the Lord had given them land, cities and vineyards. He warned them to put away the gods of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and called Israel to choose whom they would serve. He said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (see Joshua 24:15).
TERAH AND ABRAHAM
Terah was a descendent of Noah through Shem. Terah was the father of Abraham, and they lived in Ur, a city that was east of the Euphrates River. Ur was a Cushite city of Noah’s descendants through Ham. The Cushites had become idolaters, worshiping the sun and moon and numerous gods and goddesses of nature and fertility. Terah was affected by his surrounding culture and also became an idolater.
Terah crossed the Euphrates going West toward Canaan but brought his gods with him; he died at Haran (see Genesis 11:32). The river should have been a boundary between his past and a different future but he couldn’t release the gods.
Abraham was Terah’s son, but of a different mind. He left Haran and the gods of his father and returned to the God of Noah and Shem. His faith took him on a historical journey to Canaan, to a covenant that blessed him with land, descendants and wealth. In so doing he became the father to all who walk the journey of faith and became heirs of the promises that God made to him (see Galatians 3:14-18). Abraham made a clear choice and to follow the Lord, and we must also. Terah had brought the gods with him; Abraham left them across the river (see Genesis 12).
Jacob was Abraham’s grandson and he also encountered idolatry, while working with his Uncle Laban back east. But when he was returning to Canaan he had his own encounter with God, Who changed his name and nature. Later Jacob and his family went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan and remained in Egypt 400 years. Israel again was affected by idolatry and became enslaved over the course of time.
The Egyptians had all kinds of gods. They worshiped nature, animals and other “deities”, even crocodiles to whom they sacrificed children. They worshiped Isis, female goddess of fertility. They had a god for every season and every place which they celebrated with festivals.
Israel was finally delivered through Moses’ leadership, being “baptized” in the cloud of God’s presence and in the Red Sea (see 1 Corinthians 10:1). Once again the waters were intended to be a boundary between the past enslavement, darkness and idolatry and a new journey to God’s government in Canaan. But like Terah, some brought gods with them. Even as Moses was receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, some of the people were worshiping the golden calf. They wanted a God that they could see (see Exodus 32).
UNDERSTANDING THE CHOICES
Joshua clearly understood the choice between idolatry and serving God, and the consequence of both; he urged a clear choice. Several things should be apparent to us centuries later:
- We cannot serve both God and idols.
- Idolatry was and is a continuing problem.
- The Lord requires a choice.
- Choices affect the future generations.
- God offers liberty, justice and requires responsibility (see Leviticus 25:10).
- Idolatry offers bondage, corruption and produces irresponsibility.
- Serving God is a voluntary choice.
Salvation or deliverance is an act of God; we cannot save ourselves, but we can choose the One who can deliver us. Idols cannot. The works of our own hands, wood and stone, cannot deliver the hand that fashion them (see Isaiah 17:7, 8).
I remember the prayers of our nation during World War II, how people met together and called upon God and He delivered us from evil Nazis and the Axis Powers. Such prayers were part of our history when our forefathers “crossed the waters” and left tyranny behind. Our earliest settlers came to these shores to be free from tyranny whether political, economic or religious. People still immigrate to secure the blessings of liberty. Our founders understood that the privileges of liberty were not from nature but from nature’s God.
We are not a theocracy but do pledge allegiance “under God” and have a motto, “In God we trust.” At various times our presidents have called for days of prayer and fasting. Psalm 33:12 says “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” But things have changed. Our nation is now secular, multicultural and many have brought their gods from “across the river.” It is a supreme irony that what they escaped they brought with them; and like Israel, we have all been affected.
I realize that our nation is not the kingdom of God; nevertheless, who and what we serve matters to our politics, economics, religions and our children. Abortion does not have to be called “Moloch” to have the same effect. Sensuality doesn’t have to be called “Isis” to have the same effect. Worship of nature and animals does not have to be called “Baal” or “Pantheism” to have the same effect. Central control over all aspects of life doesn’t have to be called “secular socialism” to have the same effect. Homosexual marriage doesn’t have to be called “Ashteroth” or “Sparta” to have the same effect. None of those pagan or secular philosophies ever brought liberty and justice. When we oppose those practices the mask of evil falls off, then the spiritual source is manifested; tantrums and riots could be the result.
Joshua gave Israel a choice, God or idols. In one of their better moments, they chose God. But choice is a daily issue. T he choice to serve God is a choice to obey, to follow and to make disciples of all nations. (I highly recommend Joel Rosenberg’s new book The Invested Life.) It is far more than a choice to go to church, listen to sermons, singing or giving offerings. It is a choice to serve God and His government daily.
Our choice is not about party, personality, politics or “likability.” It is about who we will serve, and we will serve; it is only a matter of whom. One choice provides liberty within God’s laws of responsibility – the other choice is toward increasing control, dependency and irresponsibility. Reality is not very far up the road.
Joshua could not make the choice for Israel but he made the choice clear for himself and his family. Those are things that we must do. Failure to be clear and actively obey God leaves a vacuum to be filled by others who want to make our choices for us!
THE OTHER RIVER
Those of us who have followed Jesus in baptism (see acts 2:37-42), have made our choice and have “crossed the river” into God’s unshakable Kingdom (see Hebrews 12:25-29). Baptism is a boundary where the “gods” of wealth, power or sensuality should be left behind. We seek His Kingdom first and trust that prosperity, power or other blessings are a result, not the goal. Worship is reserved for the Lord. If so, we will endure the shaking that is to come_with righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 14:17).
Meanwhile we are in the world, not of it and are called into it to be salt and light. We cannot simply withdraw into “fortress church” (see John 17:14-19). Spiritually and in faith, we have “crossed the river”, “crossed the Red Sea” and “the Jordan”, but we may still have to live among the “Cushites, Egyptians or Canaanites.” We must love them enough to show them the difference_that serving God does have consequences, and present the choice to them.
P.S. Please continue to remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month. Your support is a vital part of our ability to continue forward in mission, especially at this time. Visit us at www.csmpublishing.org and on Facebook at Charles Simpson Ministries.
Scripture Reference: Joshua, Genesis, 1 Corinthians, Exodus, Leviticus, Isaiah, Psalms, Acts, Hebrews, Romans, John