At the end of the book bearing his name, Joshua gives this charge to the people of Israel (see Joshua 24):
"Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness...choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
The people answer: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods...we will also serve the LORD, for he is our God."
Joshua's reply to their enthusiastic profession of faith? "You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is holy."
Then follows a short back-and-forth between Joshua and the people of Israel:
People: "No, but we will serve the LORD."
Joshua: "You are witnesses against yourself..."
People: "We are witnesses."
Joshua: "Put away the foreign gods that are among you..."
A couple of things jumped out at me from this passage recently. First, the people seem sincere in their profession: they truly desire to follow and serve God. When Joshua instructs them to put away their idols, they do...at least for a while.
Second, the people believe they are capable. When Joshua, in response to their commitment to serve God, tells them that, no, actually, they are not even able to serve the LORD, they come right back with Oh, but we WILL serve the LORD. God's people do not yet understand the depth of their depravity and brokenness, the vastness of the chasm that lies between their good intentions and the holiness of the God they desire to serve. These people who are so zealous to serve God will soon sink into grossest religious and moral degeneration. And yet...
They are God's people.
They are God's people, not because they are capable of loving and serving their Creator as they ought, but because God himself redeems and keeps them.
The thing that astounds me is this: God chooses to glorify himself not through the ability of those who profess to love Him, but through his own faithfulness in preserving and sanctifying his people even as they demonstrate their complete inability to fulfill their vows and good intentions.
Once again, I am brought back to brokenness. In brokenness, God's people can have no confidence in themselves, but are forced to rely completely upon God. In brokenness, we can claim no glory for ourselves, but can glory only in our Savior.
As long as I think I bring something to the table - my good intentions, my sincere desire to please God, my gifts and talents, my confidence in myself that I actually can serve this holy God as I ought - to that extent, I stand, like the children of Israel stood before Joshua, as a witness against myself.
I am God's child. Not because I am capable - because I am not - but because Jesus is capable, and He stands in my place. God himself redeems and keeps me. And, as in the case of Israel, God does this peculiar thing of showing me my utter brokenness (Oh! I did so want to be good enough! To be competent!) and then He uses that brokenness to bring glory to himself.
To the extent that I hide or draw back from the brokenness that God exposes in me, to that extent, I still entertain the self-delusion, the lie, that I can - I CAN! - serve this holy God as I ought. And to that same extent, I seek to glorify myself, not my Savior.
This is Upside-Down World, people! I give God my brokenness and abject poverty, and He gives me his glorious self in return? What kind of transaction is that?!
I so want to do great things for God with my life. God wants to BE the ONE GREAT THING in my life.
In a bulletin from a couple of week's ago, I scribbled this (it had nothing to do with Sunday's sermon, but, obviously, with my own heart):
naive/ignorant → willfully blind → false gospel/self-reliance → true brokenness → JESUS
I begin naively ignorant of my own sinfulness, my own inability to love and serve God as I ought. (Like Israel before Joshua, I say "I will!" - fully believing that I am able.)
As a shadow of conviction begins to spread, I remain willfully blind. (My sin is not that bad/no big deal. My motives/intentions were good. My circumstances are to blame. Well, you know, there are always two sides to every story. At least I'm not as bad as ----.)
Then, I embrace a false gospel. I profess repentance with my lips, but resolve to power through in my own strength. (That was a one-time slip-up - I'll do better. Maybe my sin is an offense to God, but my sincere resolve to serve and honor Him from here on out more than atones for any sin I've committed against Him. I will pray more/fast more often/go to church more - that will make me able.)
The only problem with self-reliance is - it never, ever, ever works. All my personal adequacy and competence and resolve and zeal are ground to dust against the immovable mountain of God's absolute holiness.
Finally - FINALLY - I reach the place of true brokenness. Finally, I understand that when God's prophet says, "You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is holy" - that means me. I am not able. I am completely destitute, empty, incapable.
I - have - nothing.
Like the psalmist, I lie prostrate at the feet of God, crying, "Save me! I am yours!"
And it is here, on my face, that I hear the voice of my sweet Savior say, "Look up, for the day of salvation is at hand."
God does something glorious with brokenness: here, at the foot of the Cross, God transforms complete wretchedness into life and hope and transcendent joy.
Do I want to testify about the greatness of God to others? Do you want me to sing to you the praises of my Savior?
I would LOVE to tell you about my holy, holy, holy God and about my sweet, sweet Jesus. But I must warn you first: this is a story that begins with great brokenness. I can hardly bear to tell it. Do you think you can bear to hear it?
4 months ago