“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”–Joshua 24:16

Enter just about any Christian household and chances are you will find this quote somewhere—over the front door, in the kitchen, in the bathroom. Christians love to use this quote as a proclamation of their faith. It’s a great quote and most Christians know it, any many non-Christians too, but I’m not sure everyone knows the story behind it.

Story Time

This quote appears in the books of Joshua which takes place after the Israelites had finally entered the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness after God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. You would think that after all that they had been through that they would have a lot to be grateful for and that they would never forget all that God had done for them…but they did. Believe it or not, by this time, the Israelites had pretty much completely forgotten about God. God had rescued them and God wanted to rule over them and he made that pretty clear as they started their new lives, but they didn’t listen.

At the time, God had designated Joshua to be their leader and Joshua looked around and saw what was going on and knew that it wasn’t right so he issued them a challenge.

You can read it here

Basically what he said was, “Ok guys, you’ve entered a new land.  All around you are other countries that serve other gods.  You get to pick.  You can pick the god of the Canaanites or the god of the Amorites or the god of the Hittites or the god of the Termites.  Pick whichever-ite you want to follow.  I’m going to serve the Lord. But you get to pick.”  The people heard this and do you know what they said?

You can read it here

They gave the right Sunday school answer: “We love the Lord. He saved us. We can never forget Him and all he did for us. Of course we are going to worship Him.”

Do you believe them? Do you think Joshua believed them? No! Of course not. He knew these people. He had spent his whole life with them. He knew them. He had heard them give the right answer before and had watched them do the opposite. So he calls them on it.

You can read it here

My Experience

This may sound like a harsh response from the guy who is supposed to be taking care of these people, but let me tell you why I don’t think its harsh. Let me tell you why as a pastor, I don’t think its harsh at all. You see before I was the pastor at Canyon Springs Church in San Diego, I ran a high school camp called Forest Home for 7 years of my life.  There were some amazing parts of my job: I was responsible for bringing the Wall of Velcro to Forest Home.  Kids would jump and stick to that wall. It was awesome. I’m proud of that.  I am also the person responsible for bringing karaoke to Forest Home.  I’m less proud of that.  I heard more renditions of “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang than any person should ever be subjected to.  I believe there is a special place in Hell where the only sound is “Celebrate good times come on. Let’s celebrate.”  There were lots of great things about being the camp director but there was one moment that I never enjoyed: the camp fire.  Do any of you remember the camp fire at church camp? Someone gets up with a guitar and sings a few songs then they ask for testimonies. “Who’s life has been changed this week?”  There were some really powerful stories, but so many times the camp fire testimonies sounded like this: “God has changed me and when I get home things are going to be different.” Then they would rattle off all the things they would never do again:

  • I’m going to stop smoking.
  • I’m going to quit the party scene.
  • I’m not going to sleep around anymore.
  • I’m going to respect my parents.
  • I’m going to throw away my secret stash.
  • I’m going to go to church every week.

Then there would be crying.  Lots of crying.  Even if you weren’t sad, you cried. Basically these kids promised to completely change every aspect of their lives.  Nothing would be the same.  I’m not sure how long that worked for them.  I was the camp Director so I stayed at camp and they went home.  What I do know is by the time they came back the next year, whatever happened, they had to make all the same promises again the next year.

Back to the Future

I don’t think Joshua was being harsh, I think he was being honest. Joshua challenged these people to do the right thing: Don’t follow the people around you. Don’t let them influence you.  Don’t worship who they worship and drink what they drink and watch what they watch.  Follow God.  But I know you won’t do it.  Next year when you come back to camp you’ll have to make the same promises. And he was right.  Joshua died in 1380 BC and for the next 310 years the people of Israel entered a time when God used judges to call to his people Israel.  And for 310 years this line was proved over and over and over:

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” –Judges 21:25

 They had one standard by which to measure what they should do: Is it right for me?  Does it work for me?  Does it serve me?  Sounds like a very self-serving way to live doesn’t it?  It also sounds pretty familiar. The book of Judges is a chronicle of what life looks like when everyone does what is right in their own eyes. It was the Israeli way during Biblical times but it sounds an awful lot like the American way now: I should be able to do what I want when I want to and with whom I want to.  I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do. I don’t want anyone to tell me who I can or can’t do it with. Just to make sure we retain a trace of a moral compass we add this statement:  “As long as no one gets hurt.”  Another way to put that way of thinking sounds like this: “You can’t tell me what to do.”

  • You can’t tell me what to do.
  • You can’t tell me where to go.
  • You can’t tell me what’s right for me.
  • You can’t tell me what to do with my money.
  • You can’t tell me how to do my business.
  • You can’t tell me how I should parent.
  • You can’t tell me what I should eat or drink.

So What’s Wrong With That?

Do you know what’s wrong with this idea that I will do what I want, when I want, with whom I want as long as no one gets hurt.  It’s impossible. Someone will always get hurt.  The nation of Israel ran from God and they all got hurt. That’s the way it always works:

  • If you get involved with an addiction, someone will get hurt.  You’re thinking, “It’s my body.  I’m the only one I’m hurting.”  But you’re wrong. As long as you have people who love you, they will get hurt.  When they see how you are hurting, they will hurt:
  • If you choose to sleep with who you want when you want, the people you leave in the wake of your selfishness will get hurt.  All the people who are watching your selfish behavior will get hurt.
  • If your work becomes the sole focus of your life, your wife might get to drive a better car and your kids may go to fancy colleges, but they will hurt for your attention.  It will leave a hole in their heart.

You can’t do what you want, when you want, with whom you want and have no one get hurt.  Your parents will hurt as they watch what you’ve done to your life and your friends will get hurt when they see your selfish behavior and ultimately, you will leave this legacy with your children.  That’s maybe the biggest hurt of them all.  Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.  You have a hurt that one of your parents left you because they made the decision to do what they want when they want with whom they want and when they made that decision the completely disregarded you.  And now you live with that pain every year.

What Rules You?

Here’s the crazy thing about running from responsibility and running from having anyone rule you.  Running from what God says.  Running from what your parents said.  Running from what you know is right.  That thing that represented your freedom when you chose it years ago, over time, it becomes the thing that rules you.  You find that you are ruled by that appetite.

  • Years ago you wanted your freedom and you said, “You can’t tell me what to drink.”  Years later that drink has become your ruler.  It’s calling the shots.  You don’t have control of it anymore, it controls you.
  • Years ago you said “You can’t tell me who to sleep with.”  Now you can’t stay true in a relationship.  Your desire has become stronger than your will.
  • Years ago you said, “You can’t tell me what I can and can’t look at.”  Now you can’t shake off your addiction to pornography.  That appetite is calling the shots.

Let me give you a fact about yourself that you probably didn’t know:  you were made to be ruled.  I know it sounds awful, but hear me out.  You were designed by the creator of the world to be ruled by something or someone.  God made you to serve a king.  He gives you complete freedom to choose who will rule you, but you will ultimately be ruled:

  • Some will be ruled by an appetite
  • Some by an addiction
  • Some will be ruled by a drive to succeed
  • Some will be ruled by family.  (“Everything is family.”)

One way or another, you will be ruled.  There will be a king on the throne of your heart.  Let me give you some wisdom about choosing a ruler:  There is only one benevolent ruler.  There is only one king who always has your best interests at heart. There is only one who will keep taking you back and loving you no matter what you do.

You see our nature works like this: We get ourselves in trouble.  We make some mistakes. We decide to do whatever we want and over time that habit or appetite rules us; it starts calling the shots.  Then, when it gets bad enough, we call out to God. And do you know what happens? When we finally call out to Him, He is there…every single time. He keeps sending help.  He keeps sending people to tell us what’s right. He keeps reaching out.  He listens to our groans of agony and he sends help.  Always.

The Choice is Yours

So I have a simple question for you today: Who do you want to rule your heart?

  • Do you want that addiction to stay in power?
  • Do you want that appetite to rule you?
  • Do you want your workaholism to drive you?

If you’re tired of all those rulers, I have another one you might be interested in.  He’s the only benevolent ruler I know.  It is our God.  He’s your creator.  He knows how you were made.  He knows how to help you find purpose. He will love you no matter where you’ve been.  If you put him in charge he will bring you peace.  He will fill you with joy.  If you follow him, your fear will not be who gets hurt, but your life will be filled with who gets helped..  And even if you stumble along the way, he will never give up on you.  He will keep sending reminders of himself. He’ll keep sending people your way to help.  Because that’s who he is.  He’s the king you always wanted.