Pastor Luis encourages us to move forward in pursuing the promises God has for us.
We are launching into this idea of pursuit. Considering what we are chasing because life is meant to be a life of pursuits. It’s never meant to be static or lived on the sidelines. In fact, if anything, time never stops for anyone. We are not meant to be observers of life, there is a time and place for that, but we are infused with oxygen in our lungs because we’re meant to run after something. What we run after and pursue, what it impacts, how we interpret the events that go on in our lives, and how we decide to experience what we walk through impacts everything far more than we could realize.
Some of you were reflecting. I know I’ve been reflecting on 2017 as a whole and the year that it’s been. In my case in my family, it’s been a year unlike any other. It started off by celebrating Christmas. There are many things to celebrate this year. Many reasons to be joyful and grateful for our family. It was about a day or so after, that I got a number of texts from different members in our community who were not in a place of celebration. They were walking through tragedy. They were experiencing extreme heartache and sorrow.
I remember feeling that. Having in the same span of time a place of having a reason to be saddened, mournful, and reason to be grateful. It was around the middle of the week that I was heading from one point of the city to the other. I was meeting a friend at a coffee shop. We were going to talk and work together. I was heading from our offices out by Candlestick. I was heading on 101 and making my way in. This is one of those weeks where our city becomes a little bit less condensed. People go back home or they decide to travel. I don’t know why they would decide to choose a different city than this one, but they decide to travel for the holidays. So, Traffic becomes less. For whatever reason, there was this point in the freeway where it became pretty congested. It’s this point where two or maybe three freeways meet together. It becomes this long span of cars going in the same direction, trying to weave in and out.
There was this one delivery truck that I think realized needed to be in the lane I was in. They moved in and I backed off and was fine. It was a couple of seconds later that they came to a complete stop. I thought it’d be a good idea to do the same. I didn’t know if I was going to stop by hitting them or stop before I hit them. I panicked, hit the brake, came to a complete stop just short of their bumper, and sighed in relief. The minute I sighed, my bumper got rear-ended. The car behind me wasn’t so fortunate. It ended up hitting me.
It was one of those things, “Aw, man, this is a bummer.” I was telling this story and some of us have heard other stories I’ve shared in the past number of weeks. Some are suggesting that maybe I should stop driving! It’s probably not a good idea. There’s a trend here. I remember getting out of the car, putting my hazards on, going back to the person, and she got out of her car and was very apologetic. She said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know if you heard my tires screech. I don’t know what happened. It just seemed like it all happened at once. I’m so sorry. I’ll give you my information. This is a bummer. Are you okay?’. She started comforting me. We’re having this conversation and I say, ‘yeah it’s fine. How about we just exchange information and we’ll be on our way.’ She says, ‘yeah.’ So she starts looking in her purse for her insurance and lets me know she can’t find it. I said, ‘all right well, just go ahead and take your time, I’ll take pictures… We’ll get other information.’.
We start doing that, and it’s just one of those moments where I realized we’re in the middle of a freeway, and there are cars going all around us at freeway speeds. I’m startled. I’ve been in an accident. I’m just catching up to it. She says, ‘you know what? I think we should probably get off the freeway.’ I said, ‘well you know, I’ve got this appointment to go to. If I just take a picture, we’ll be on our way. How about we just leave on the freeway?’ She says, ‘okay, okay.’ So she keeps looking for her insurance information and she can’t find it. She says, ‘I really think we should get off on the shoulder.’ I think, well, if you could find it, we’ll just go, right? She says, ‘I really think we should probably pull over.’ Then, I start hearing voices telling me, you should probably pull over. In fact, they’re yelling at me, as they were driving by, ‘get off the freeway!’ So I think, okay, I should listen to everybody, and we pull off, we go onto the shoulder, I get out of the car and she finds her insurance. The minute I take a picture of her insurance card, we hear screeching tires and a collision in the very location we were at.
I think, ‘man, that is a bad location.’ That’s not a good intersection. I didn’t think about it, they got off the freeway, everybody’s okay. I Made my way to the appointment, just went from one thing to another, and kept going through my day. It wasn’t until two days ago when somebody came over to our house. They were visiting the baby and my wife and we were just talking. I was sharing this story, kind of having forgotten it, just telling him about what had happened. As I told him, you wouldn’t believe it, once we pulled off, I took a picture of the insurance, and as I’m doing that there is another collision in the same place, and her jaw drops. She looked at me and said, ‘Lewis, you don’t understand, if you had not left, gotten off, that could have been you.’
It could have been far worse. I remember that day and share it with my wife. I was frustrated. I wasn’t happy and I found myself pursuing the insurance company to replace my bumper and do all this stuff. It summarized for me in a small nutshell what it might feel like where there were interruptions, inconveniences, and things that we had not planned on. Things we’d rather not have occurred. For some of us these are small in nature, for others of us, they’re not. They are life-altering. This will be a year we would look back on, and there’s no other way to say it, except some tragedy occurred and it’s just sad, and mournful.
That might be true, and there might at the same time, in the same span of time and space, reasons to be grateful. Reasons to be able to say thank you. Reasons to be able to recognize, I am so happy to be alive. All of that encompasses what it might look like for us to venture through this journey. If we think about it at this moment, as we consider how this year has gone, how we would love the year to come by. It’s good for us to realize that life in many ways is a life made up of many pursuits. It really is. A lifespan is many pursuits linked together. Right now, my wife and I, more now than ever, have a miniature human in our house. We are concerned and motivated to see her pursue milestones. It’s all about the milestones. Every week means something, every month means something. Every day is something, there’s a new discovery we’re trying to help her pursue. I remember when I was a child, life was about the pursuit of innocence, fun, and joy. Oh, Christmas meant so much.
Adolescence is the pursuit of independence. We go to college and it’s the pursuit of knowledge. When we come out of college, we start to explore and discover something new; adult adolescence. We start to think, the illusion of pleasure is our pursuit. Some of us may actually pursue a career. We long for some degree of stability, monetary wealth, and security. Some of us long for a friendship, a spouse perhaps. We pursue a home, the accumulation of successes, and over time, as time wears on we continue to pursue the different things that consume us, that draws us. We start to discover that there is no amount of success or possession, or anything really that satisfies a deeper longing, which is a longing for meaning. We might find ourselves pursuing something of significance. For others of us, life has dealt us blows, or our own choices have inflicted wounds upon us. Now we’re in a season, our pursuit is one of healing. We long for comfort. Maybe because I get to see others around me, and I get to hear people’s lives and stories. I get to see, as years wear on and decades come and go, there’s a desire to recognize, know, and be assured of their life pursuits. They actually made an impact. They will leave a mark. Now some desire generational transfer, that is now their pursuit, to know that what they built will last beyond their days on this earth.
Of course, there is the ultimate desire for a legacy. To end things well, to know that when we are no longer here, what we have pursued, leaves something worth celebrating. Life is made up of many pursuits. I remember when I was young, I found myself in a Bible study in somebody’s home. In this community actually from someone whose life’s proof; they are wise. I remember them telling me, listen, everyone asks themselves these two questions, subconsciously or consciously at different times in different seasons of life. One, what am I pursuing, and two, who am I pursuing it with?
The answers to these two questions; what am I pursuing and who am I pursuing it with? If they are unresolved, if we do not know what we are pursuing and who we are pursuing it with, well that is the definition of floundering and feeling lost. It is there that we start to wonder, where are we, and where are we going? Others of us, we find ourselves, we could answer those questions. We know what we’re pursuing, we know who we’re pursuing them with, but it doesn’t satisfy, it doesn’t actually fulfill. If that’s the place we’re at, it is the place where we long for change. It may not mean changing our core commitments, it is not an excuse to leave core commitments, but it is a reason to consider; how do we carry out our life pursuits? How are we doing this?
If the answer to those two questions, of what we are pursuing and who we are pursuing it with, lights a fuse within us. Well, we either have stumbled into or intentionally discovered the pursuit of a promise. The pursuit of a promise that we long to see fulfilled. There we find motivation and a promise. A promise depends on who gives it for it to actually be deliverable. That is the very thing I’d love for us to explore in the time we have left. If we can open up our handout, we’ll see, there is a significant promise that was given to a man named Joshua. There was an interaction between God and Joshua at this particular time in Israel’s history. We’ll just take a look at this very well-known passage. It is found in Joshua 1:1-5. We’re told that after the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua, Moses’ assistant. Moses, my servant is dead. Now, therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all these people, and into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.
We may not see it, it may not stick out to us in these verses, in these words that we’ve just read together. But, this is a particular time in Israel’s history that is filled with deep uncertainty. It’s a time unlike any other they had ever known because the man God chose to use, to liberate his people of Israel out of slavery, into becoming a nation was no longer present. Over many decades, the trusted and stable figure of leadership that the whole nation had come to trust, follow, and grow under was no longer there. Indeed, the man who was more than a man became a symbol. He became more than that. He became the Paragon of leadership, even to this day, his shadow casts long over Israel’s history. He’s revered as one of the greatest leaders that Israel has ever known.
That man was no longer there, and in that place, his assistant, to say he was left in a place of vulnerability would be an understatement. Obviously, he was not only mourning the passing of a mentor, trusted friend, and leader. But I have to believe a part of him also was mourning the passing of something else, something he had known, something of anonymity. Because he had known what it was like to serve under somebody else’s leadership, somebody else carrying the burden. Now, he was being asked to step into that spotlight. He would understand deeply, unlike anyone else could understand, the pressure and weight such a position brings.
It was now his time. That place of sorrow, grief, and loss, I think in many ways, has some similarity to being in this place in our year. Because, if we understand it, Joshua was in a place where the similarities are that we are at the ending of a year. We are at the end of a year and however we might think of this year. Well, one thing is certain. We know 2017. We know it, we understand it. We lived it. We will not look back upon our lives and be surprised by what happened. No, we walked through it, that surprise is over! We have experienced it. It is behind us and it is not coming back. We’re looking into a future that we do not know yet. A future that has yet to be written, experienced, and lived out.
Like it or not, we are at the end of a season. We truly are. We’re transitioning from one season to the other, and this evening, some of us may do this. Now for the first time in my life, I may go to bed at nine on new year’s Eve, but many of us will celebrate the passing of one year to the next. We will see something happen simultaneously, more now than at any other point in our year. But, time continues. As soon as something ends, something begins, there is no pause. Something ends, something moves forward, something new. Into this place, God decided to step into Joshua’s life. It’s not to say that there is no time to mourn, reflect, or consider. What God ends up saying to Joshua, the subtext is very striking. It’s almost as if He’s saying to him, ‘Listen, it’s not simply about you, Joshua. Yes, you are mourning Moses’ passing. Yes, you will forever miss him. Yes, his life will leave a mark on you. Yes, you will honor and memorialize it. You will remember it for the rest of your days.’
It’s almost as if He’s saying, ‘your life must move forward. It’s not just your life we’re talking about. It’s connected to your people. You are connected to others.’ God has a plan for his people, and you have a role to play. He has a plan that encompasses more than you, but it involves you. God ends up moving into Joshua’s life in such a way that He asks him to pursue a promise, and what a promise it was. We’re told in verse three, ‘that every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, I have given to you already, just as I promised to Moses. This promise is not contingent on Moses. Moses didn’t make the promise. I did. Moses is not here. I am. That season is gone. I remain, this is why Joshua, you can take a hold of this.’ Now, this would be a very controversial statement for us to declare in 2017, but 3,500 years ago, well, God was carrying out something far larger than simply giving Israel land. Do you know what He was doing simultaneously? He was executing judgment on inhabitants He had entrusted the land to, who had rejected Him and instituted a level of wickedness that grieved Him for generations. God is an impartial God, ends up calling Israel to make sure that they pursue justice in this land.
If they don’t, they will suffer similar consequences. Generations down after Joshua’s life, they do suffer similar judgment. It’s not as though God is playing favorites, but at this particular time, God is stepping into Joshua’s life and saying, ‘listen, I want you to take a hold of this promise. Even though Moses is no longer here, you can still pursue it. God’s promise is bigger than one person, or one generation, or one season. Indeed, it’s bigger than a year. This promise in a sense ends up becoming an amazing promise that lives on for all of Israel’s history.’ We’re told it’s unparalleled. We’re told in verse four ‘from the wilderness and this Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the great sea, toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. You’re going to inherit it. No man shall be able to stand before you, all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Joshua, this is the incredible promise you are to pursue. You and my people. You, all of you, must chase after it. You must, you must go get it.’
It’s yours, but you have to pursue it. There’s no other way to get it. It’s at this point of grieving loss and looking toward what he yet does not have. In this point of grieving what he knew, looking into the unknown, that he is given a promise to pursue in this hinge point of their history. A promise that would fuel his soul the remainder of his days. Indeed he would, he would pursue it with everything he had, and he would take hold of the very thing God promised to deliver. The very thing only God could ever deliver.
For me, it means a great deal. It means a great deal because I do think it represents so much of what life with God looks like. It does not represent the conquering of peoples or lands. That’s not a God-centered pursuit, but I do think in a very real way, there is something that we are called to pursue, every single one of us. The minute we sign on with God, we are signing on to a lifelong pursuit. Of a promise, He is breathing into our soul. One that is customized according to who we are, how we were made, where we came from, and where we are supposed to go. It is something that we are meant to chase dreams. We were created for it. We’re meant to create a future, that without us would not happen unless we play the role we were meant to play. We are meant to pursue things. We are never meant to sit idly by. There are times to rest. There are times to recuperate, but there are times to engage, to move out of the bench and into the arena. This is the place. This is the Christian life. It is meant to awaken us. It is meant to be adventurous, enigmatic, and always on the move. It truly is. In Joshua’s case, he was given a dream by God. It was clear. It couldn’t have been clearer. It had a geometric dimension to it. It had actual landmarks to it. We could say, I would love it if God did that with me. But one thing is certain. God made space. He made space to meet with Joshua, but Joshua had to step into that space and make room in his life.
Because it is the final day of this year, I would love to exhort us to not allow the remaining hours of this day, the initial days of the year, and the initial weeks of the coming month to pass us by without us intentionally setting space aside. Making room in our lives to seriously consider what we are pursuing. To ask God, investigate, and take responsibility for why we were created and breathed with life. To ask Him, ‘Lord, what is the promise you have asked me to pursue? What is the dream you want me to chase?’ If we do that and we become open to His life-giving word, we will start to touch something significant. Something that is far larger than just us, but it involves us. I’d like to propose that this account demonstrates something. It has many things for us to glean from it. One of the things or a couple of things I’d like to put on the board is that when our pursuits become God-centered, they start to have a couple of factors in line. One of them is that God-centered pursuits call us out of comfort. They really do. They challenge us to consider the comforts that hold us back. They call us out of it.
In Joshua’s case, the Israelites had a long history of craving comfort in what they knew. Their entire journey in many ways is a reflection of human nature. If you look at it, Moses initially set them free from Egypt. It wasn’t too long after that when they were in the wilderness that they craved slavery in Egypt. Why? Because they knew slavery in Egypt! They didn’t know life in the wilderness and they craved comfort. They craved it. If you think about it, being captured and subjugated was what they knew. They did not know how to be responsible and free. It was uncomfortable too.
Later, when they move to the edge of God’s promise to this nation and Moses sends 12 spies into this promised land, Joshua being one of them, most of them craved to be safe, away from the giants. Why? Because they knew how to take orders. They knew how to be conquered. They never knew how to assert, initiate and then overcome. They had never experienced that. It was a leap too far for them. 40 years prior to this account, that entire generation longed for what they knew. It kept them from the promise God had for them. They were in the desert with Moses. There was a point in which they had 40 days without Moses. The one they had come to know and be comforted and led by. He left for 40 days and ended up going to the mountain. The people end up panicking. In the midst of uncertainty, they create a golden calf, because that is what they have seen. That is what they have known. That is how they know to express their religious fervor.
They ended up worshiping a golden calf. Why? Because they knew what that idol was like. They did not know or feel comfortable in the uncertainty with God. In the uncertain place where God may be a little distant. We have to wait but we crave comfort. Yet, if we are going to pursue what God is asking us to pursue, we must come to terms with a couple of things. As humbly as I can say it, I think it needs to be stated that 2017 is over. It’s gone. Whatever mistakes and points of failures, they’re done. We may have repercussions and their effects, there’s no doubt about it. But, there is no retreading. We may have become comfortable with certain things but 2018 is upon us. It’s here, whether we like it or not. God may be nudging us to strongly consider a dream or a promise that will require our willingness to move out of comfort. I just wonder as we consider what we are to pursue if we could highlight a couple of things. What is the comfortable place we need to let go of?
What is it that we’ve become comfortable with, but we need to let go of? We need to be willing to let go. What is the comfortable place we have camped out at, that is keeping us from the promise that God has for us. In other words, we would rather remain on this side because we know it and it’s comfortable. It’s safe, but God is nudging us. Maybe a little bit more, closer to home. What is the comfort in our relationship that is keeping us from actually experiencing genuine intimacy? Intimacy is being known and knowing, whether that’s in a friendship, our work environment, or the most intimate of relationships. There are usually barriers that keep us from experiencing community. They keep us from experiencing the ability to know one another.
Usually, those are comfort zones we must be willing to surrender because one thing is certain. If God is in the middle of a promise we are pursuing, He will call us to danger. He will call us into danger. It’s almost as if there is no way, when it comes to faith with God, that there are very few things that cost us nothing. It’s always attached to risk, always. If God is in the center, there will be risk. There will be a call to action that will move us out of comfort, into danger. It will be one of those things that we could put in black and white terms. We talk about relationships, if we want relational intimacy, you know what we need to do? We need to risk rejection. That’s terrifying. Especially if we’ve been burned, wounded, or hurt. In order to actually discover that, then we want integrity and wholeness to become a larger part of our story.
We want to be able to be the same person in private as we are in public, in every sphere of our lives. Do you know what we need to do? We need to risk our pride and confess blind spots. We need to say, I have areas of need. I have weaknesses. I need others to surround me. I need others to help me. Will you be my reinforcement? Will you be the one who keeps me? Will you be the one who strengthens me? I will do that for you. Any venture that has to do with moving forward with God, if we pursue growth, we risk falling short. Why? Because we invest energy, sweat, and sacrifice. But we don’t know what the harvest is or what the production might be like. It calls us to risk. He calls us into the dangerous place. It’s always worth the reward though.
Some of us, I have to say, might be hearing this might think to ourselves; How dare God? How dare He call me to danger? What gives Him the right to ask me to risk? The reality is, He is the one who risks every single day we’re alive. He is the one who risked it all so that any one of us could have the opportunity to know we are loved. Grace and forgiveness flow from my heart to you God says. Every single day He risks Himself on us. Every single moment is a new moment in which God longs for us, pursues us. It is what He does. He is an amazing God. When we start to pursue a promise that He has given to us, we start to discover that He calls us to rely on His presence. He never wants us to do it alone, ever. Our pursuit may not be one of conquering physical land. If God is at the center and you could hear it, then this is a pursuit in which God ends up becoming one who conquers the wounds of our soul, the points of defeat, weakness, and sorrow.
He is the one who brings new life. He is the one who brings wholeness. He is the one who brings strength. The very thing He told Joshua, every foot, every place, the foot of your soul will touch. It becomes a place that I conquer. Why? Because when we invite Him to conquer our lives, we invite Him to be the one who guides us, steps with us and infuses us with life. We become vehicles of His grace. All of a sudden our relationships, how we step into our work environments, and how we step into the different situations of our life become conduits of His grace. We start to see Him do things through us that are unbelievable. We can only say that forgiveness happened because God made it happen. Hope is erupting because God is breathing it. Passion is there because He is fanning it. We start to discover in a very real way what Paul told the Romans when he said you are more than conquerors when Jesus is a part of your pursuit. He told Timothy godliness with contentment is great wealth. What is godliness? God-centered pursuit. What is contentment? A satisfied soul. When we have a God-centered pursuit, we discover a satisfied soul and end up inheriting true wealth.
When I was younger, I read Theodore Roosevelt’s biography. One of the passages that he ended up delivering in a speech is a poem known as ‘The man in the arena’ struck me. I thought I’d share it. I think it might have somewhat to do with how we might want to consider the year to come. It says, “it is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error or shortcoming. But who does actually strive to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows the end of the triumph of high achievement, and at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who never know victory nor defeat.”
It is to the one who discovers the promise that God may want to breathe into our soul that he or she is invited. Enter the arena. Do not let this year pass by without pursuing it with all your heart. To invite God to breathe new life into your soul. So we, no one else but us, might know the joy of a dust-marked face, sweat in our brow, and bled because we chased after something worth pursuing. We went after the promise God is breathing into us. This year, I’m pursuing a God-centered pursuit, maybe a promise that he wants to give.
Lord. I thank you for being one. You are the one who is able to breathe, give life, and hope. You’re the one who is able to knit our souls. You’re the one who transforms our weaknesses and strengths, our sorrows into points of comfort for others, our tears into joy. You are the one who is able to do beautiful things with a life that is fully yours. I pray God that you would give us the ability to hear your voice, and to sense in the core of our being, the reason why you have given us the breath of life. I pray for your help to know what we are pursuing. That it would be your promise for our lives. We asked for this Lord in Jesus’ name. Amen.