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Archive for May 9th, 2009

My Baccalaureate service was last night and I am taking my theme from the message that was preached by the Rev. Dr. Ronald J. Fowler. Some of these points came directly from Rev. Fowler’s message, but others are my own. In truth, it’s difficult for me to separate them because his theme has gotten into my spirit and become a part of me. So, thank you Rev. Fowler.

My prayer as you read this blog is that its theme will also get into your spirit and bring an enthusiasm, a rejoicing, and a commitment that perhaps has begun to wane in recent months.

Sanctify Yourselves

Then Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”           Joshua 3:5, New Revised Standard Version

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.”          Joshua 3:5, New International Version

The Israelites were about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. They were about to enter the land that God had promised them hundreds of years before. Talk about a long-awaited dream! It was the dream that their parents and their parents’ parents dreamed. It had been passed from generation to generation through hardship after hardship. Now the time has come for the dream to become a reality.

Yet, like the fulfillment of many dreams, the reality of life pushes in with its share of heartache and trepidation. Nothing this side of heaven is perfect. Moses, who had led the Israelites through their greatest victories, who had spoken to God face to face and relayed God’s messages to the people, who had prayed for and protected the Israelites since their release from Egypt – Moses had recently died. Just before dying, he installed Joshua as the next leader. I imagine that the people were still grieving and that they were unsure of Joshua’s ability to lead them. They were also nervous about what tomorrow would bring. The long-awaited tomorrow now loomed in front of them bigger than life itself.

And what advice did this new leader Joshua give to the people? “Sanctify yourselves.” He doesn’t say “get a good night’s sleep” or “pack your clothes” or “be sure your weapons are ready for battle.” He says “sanctify yourselves” – “set yourselves apart.”

Hmmmm…Several things about that passage interest me.

The first thing that catches my interest is the kind of advice Joshua gives. He didn’t give advice that we might consider practical or even useful. I think that I’d want some practical advice at this point. I went to my Commencement rehearsal two nights ago because I wanted to know how to get ready for the event. What do I do? When do I do it? How do I do it? When it came to the battle they were facing, my guess is that Joshua himself didn’t know the specific answers to those questions yet. Joshua had a promise from God that tomorrow would be the day they would begin to move into the Promised Land. Beyond that, he had a confidence that God would keep His promise. And that’s all. He didn’t know much about the “how.”

It’s important to take a short step backwards here, because Joshua had given some practical advice:

When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.          Joshua 3:3b-4a, New International version

While that sounds like it is only practical advice, it is really much more than that. To the Israelites, the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God. It is the place where the spirit of God dwelt. Joshua was saying, “Follow the Ark of the Covenant closely. Turn where it turns, stop when it stops. Stay close to the Lord.” The Israelites were to keep their eyes on the Lord and to follow His every lead.

Still, where’s the battle plan? I’d want to know. “OK, Lord, I’ll follow you, but can you just tell me what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it? Please?” But that’s not the instructions Joshua had, so it’s not the instructions he gave. Instead, Joshua said, “Sanctify yourselves.” “Set yourselves apart as holy.”

The second thing that amazes me about this passage is the advice itself: “Set yourselves apart as holy.” Sanctification strikes me as something that God does in me, not something that I do myself. Yet Joshua’s instruction to the people is to set themselves apart as holy. He doesn’t say “prepare yourselves to be made holy by God.” Instead, he says, “Set yourselves apart as holy.” “Sanctify yourselves.”  He says, “You do it!” He is imploring the people – no, as their leader he is commanding the people, to develop a mindset, a positioning of the mind, which recognizes that they have been established for holy purposes. I am not denying that there is a physical aspect to this command, that is, to put away those sinful things and habits that might be a part of their lives, but beyond that, I believe there is a frame of mind that says, “I am God’s, set apart for His purposes, His holy purposes.”

While the actions of purifying ourselves may come before the mindset, it is the mindset that gets us through. It is the mindset that establishes our identity, and I think Joshua is referring to the development of that mindset as much as he is referring to physical and spiritual cleansing in preparation for moving into the things God has. You see, God had already sanctified the Israelites – He had already set them apart for His purposes. But it was necessary that they recognized that they were set apart for His purposes.

God wouldn’t reveal the “what” and the “how” until the Israelites obeyed His command to sanctify themselves and thus be prepared to receive His next instruction. They would never be ready for the “what” and the “how” until they were sanctified for God’s purposes. The natural man is consumed with the “whats” and the “hows” of life, but those things are low on God’s priority list. God has an infinite number of “whats” and “hows,” but they are insignificant compared to the preliminary step of sanctification. Once we have entered into that dynamic partnership of allowing Him to sanctify us and then sanctifying ourselves for His purposes, we are prepared for whatever God has for us.

The same is true for us, friends. God has sanctified each of us – He has set each of us apart for His purposes; but until we establish that in our minds and develop a mindset that says, “I am set apart for His purposes” we have not sanctified ourselves and prepared ourselves to move into what God has called us to. This message has grown in my spirit overnight and I am beginning to become quite excited about it. I have been set apart by God to establish His purposes on this earth. That’s a pretty amazing statement. He has already sanctified me. I am now in the process of sanctifying myself, internalizing and identifying with the work that God has already done in me.

And that’s a good thing, because tomorrow…tomorrow…tomorrow…

Again, put yourself back in the Israelite camp. Joshua has told you to consecrate yourself because tomorrow God will do wondrous things. We’ll get to the wondrous things in a minute, but first let’s look at the word “tomorrow.” “Tomorrow.” The very word holds such promise. The Israelites have been wondering the desert for forty years, but tomorrow…Wow! Friends, the same is true in our lives. No matter what the past ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, or even seventy or eighty or ninety years have been, tomorrow God can do a new thing. Sanctify yourself because tomorrow holds a new adventure with Him. It might be a continuation of the same adventure, but it is “with God” if you have sanctified yourself! Yes, I’m a bit off message here, but I am so excited about it. Tomorrow God has new mercy, new strength, new blessing, new courage, new power, new love to pour into your life. Tomorrow…

“Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”

Tomorrow, the Lord will do wonders among you.

Amazing things.

Wonderful things.

Adventurous things.

Friends, may I encourage you to get as excited about this promise as I have? No, you may not be an Israelite who has wandered through the desert for the past forty years (in fact, I’d bet money on it!), but my guess is that you have been doing some wandering of your own. My guess is that you have dreams that have not yet been fulfilled. Maybe they are dreams that were passed on to you by your parents. Maybe they are dreams God has put in your heart. Dreams are given to us to help us recognize the “more” that God has for us, but if left unfulfilled, it’s easy for those dreams to become the source of your defeat. Instead, God says, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Set yourself apart for God, follow the Ark (which represents the presence of God) and tomorrow He will do amazing things to bring about the fulfillment of those dreams. You set yourself apart, you follow the Ark. He will do the amazing things. Praise God!

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