Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who Would You Follow Into The Flood?

Read: Joshua 3:7-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 and Matthew 23:1-12          

        I like a church where people read the Bible.  People who read the Bible for themselves are less likely to be lead astray.  Be wary of people who build their lessons on a verse here and a verse there.  Read before and after the verse. See if the whole section, chapter, or book supports the lesson that they are teaching
Now, I can promise you that I am not trying to lead you astray.  However, if I was the kind of person who would lead you astray, I would be the kind of person who would lie and say, “I can promise you that I am not trying to lead you astray.”
        So, how do we choose the spiritual leader that we follow?  And I am not talking about how the conference appoints a pastor.  I’m talking about how WE chose to whom we listen.
        Have you ever played “Follow the Leader”?  One person leads and everyone else follows and does exactly what the leader does.  Anyone who doesn’t do the same as the leader is out of the game.  The game goes on until only the leader and one other person is still in the game.  Of course the leader in the game tries to make it as hard to follow as possible.  It is the challenge that makes it fun.  In life we want a leader who wants to make it possible for us to follow even when the times are challenging.
        Some leaders are charismatic. There is just something about their personality that makes people want to follow them.  By all accounts, Jesus Christ was certainly a charismatic leader. People were drawn to Him by the strength of His character.  However, the cult leader Jim Jones was also said to be very charismatic.  So charisma is not the answer.
        Maybe we choose to follow a particular leader because they lead us where we want to go.  That certainly sounds like a leader we could follow.  Amen?  I’ll remind you of some Biblical examples.  Moses lead a mob of ex slaves that complained and back peddled for forty years in the dessert – all because they did not like where he lead them. 
        In the New Testament, Jesus consistently took his disciples to places they did not want to go.  He took them to the houses of sinners and tax collectors.  He took them among the lepers and He took them into Jerusalem when the authorities were making plans to kill Jesus and punish His disciples.  No, we should not choose a leader because he leads us where we want to go.
        Perhaps we choose the leader we follow because he can quote scriptures to back up his leadings.  Recall, if you will, that Satan also quotes scripture.  Between the Old and the New Testaments there are so many passage that can be pulled out of context and made to sound like something they were never meant to say.  No, even Bible knowledge is not the test of a true spiritual leader.

        The Hebrew Bible lesson takes place just after the 30 days of mourning following the death of Moses.  Moses had trained Joshua to take his place.  Moses had told the people’s leaders that Joshua was going to lead them into the Promised Land.  However, this was the moment when Joshua became a leader because “Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to honor you in front of all the people of Israel. I will do this to let them know that I am with you just as I was with Moses.”
Following God’s order, Joshua ordered the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant, “When you step into the water of the Jordan River, stand there.” 
Now remember that the Jordon River was at flood stage.  We, here, have been through floods in the past few years.  We know the power of the flood.  We have heard the warnings to not drive on flooded streets because even a few inches of fast moving water can sweep a car down into deeper waters. 
Now, put yourself in the place of the priests who have just been told to walk into the flood and stand there.  How willing are you to step into that water?  How much do you trust the man who just told you to stand in the flood?
Now Joshua calls to the people of Israel and tells them, “Come here, and listen to the words of the Lord your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly force your enemies out of your way. Watch the ark of the Lord of the whole earth as it goes ahead of you into the Jordan River. The water flowing from upstream will stop and stand up like a dam.”

        In the New Testament reading Paul give thanks that the people of Thessalonica have been good followers of his example.  He commends them for being good followers of the gospel of Christ. What kind of leader was Paul?  Well, he says that he took a job to earn a living so that he could minister to them with burdening them financially.  He says that God is his witness that he was pure, honest, and blameless in his dealings with the believers. And that he treated each of them the way a father treats his children. He comforted them and encouraged them. Yet, he insisted that they should live in a way that proves they belong to the God who calls them into his kingdom and glory.

        In our gospel reading we find Jesus warning people to follow the teachings of but not the examples of the religious leaders.  These leaders continued to teach the laws of Moses but they had enforced burdens on the people that the leaders were exempt from.

The reading begins, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,”
Then – Jesus said.  Then – indicates something had happened before.  So, let’s set what He is about to say into the time frame of what has gone before.
·       Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt.
·       The people have hailed him as the Messiah.
·       He has cleansed the temple and overturned the tables of the temple merchants.
·       He has been challenged by the religious leaders and has won every debate.
·       He has just finally silenced the Pharisees by asking them questions about the Messiah that they could not answer.
Then – Jesus turns to the crowds and to his disciples and says, “The scribes and the Pharisees teach with Moses’ authority. So be careful to do everything they tell you.”
Jesus recognized that, as persons in positions of authority, the scribes and Pharisees were to be respected.  It is much like what I was told in the military.  When you are saluting and officer, you are saluting the rank – not the man.  So, these teachers were teaching with Moses’ authority and are to be followed because of what they teach – not because of who they are.
Jesus even said, “But don’t follow their example, because they don’t practice what they preach.”
These people obviously knew the truth because they had been teaching it.  Jesus says that what they teach is true.  However, they do not live it.  Even worse, He says that they intentionally make it as hard as possible for the people to follow the rules they create.  And yet do not subject themselves to the same set of rules.
Jesus states their motivation is to “do everything to attract people’s attention. They make their headbands large and the tassels on their shawls long. They love the place of honor at dinners and the front seats in synagogues. They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have people call them Rabbi.”  These, so called, leaders want all of the attention, trappings, and power of their positions but are unwilling to fulfill the true purpose of their positions.
Then Jesus gives the people a further warning, “Don’t make others call you Rabbi, because you have only one teacher, and you are all followers” When compared to the true teacher, every other person falls short.  We must all be students of the true teacher.
Then Jesus tells us who the true head of our household is to be. “Don’t call anyone on earth your father, because you have only one Father, and he is in heaven.
Since we all have one Father that makes us family.  That means that there is no ‘us verses them’ because we are all ‘us’.  That perspective should eliminate a whole lot of conflict when we finally embrace it.
As to being a leader, He says, “Don’t make others call you a leader, because you have only one leader, the Messiah.”  If you want to truly be a leader and not just be called “Leader” here is what you must do.  “The person who is greatest among you will be your servant.” And remember, “Whoever honors himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be honored.”

So, when we are looking for leadership, these are the attributes for which we should be looking.  We need a leader strong enough to lead us where we do not want to go.  We want a leader that truly has our best interests a heart.  We should look for a leader who is both gentle and firm as a father.  We need a leader who is not just trying to line his own pockets or increase his own power. We need a leader who has the heart of a servant.  And most of all we really need a leader who is a sincere follower of God. 
And let us not forget that we need to do our part by keeping ourselves in tune with the word of God so that we can recognize and embrace the true leaders in our lives.
        So let me ask you, who do you trust to lead you through the flood?

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