What is the cause of the decline of a nation? How do we prevent it?
Last week, David took you to the end of the book of Judges as a way to introduce you to the theme of the book of Judges. This morning I want to take you to the end of the book of Joshua to show you some of the lessons of the book of Judges.
Joshua 24:31 || 31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel. [ESV]
Joshua was a great leader for Israel. He believed God and had faith in God, even when others did not. He was one of the spies who gave a favorable report of the promised land, he was the assistant to Moses, went up the mountain of God and hung out at the tent of meeting where God would communicate with Moses.
As they entered the Promised Land, God gave Joshua success as Joshua continued to lead the people in a way that pleased the Lord. His faithful leadership brought the blessing of God on the entire nation.
Judges 2:7 || 7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. [ESV]
According to studies, YOU, this church is an anomaly. You are not normal. Did you know that? Statistically, the vast majority of Millennials do not attend church and as many as 1 in 3 of them is hostile towards God. Yes, I am looking out at a church that comprised of mostly Millennials, who actually love God.
However, the decline in the church of American (about 1% per year) and the disinterest and even hostility of the largest people group in America (Millennials) tells me something. It tells me that MY generation has missed something; we’ve dropped the baton.
That statement needs to sink in.
We see this in the business world, don’t we? A company that is on top changes leaders and can lose their hold on a market. Other companies change leaders and experience growth.
We see this in churches. This is why it is so hard for many churches to find choose a pastor, because they understand the implications of their choice. Many churches have split because of bad leaders and flourished because of godly ones.
This is also true in families. If you have children, you must not underestimate the value of your leadership, especially in the area of your faith and pointing your children to God. Your decision to attend each Sunday, so spend time in God’s Word, to pray for them, to teach them ALL make an impact.
However, the CAVEAT is that we can sometimes be guilty of trusting our leaders more than we trust God. We can listen to what our pastors say and not seek out what God says in his Word. We can face a challenge at work and go to our boss before we go to God. We can struggle with our family and go tot our spouse and ignore God.
While godly leadership is a gift from God, it must never replace God.
While the people KNEW God and his WORKS, they followed God. But there is a horrific shift that takes place in the book of Judges.
When we enter the book of Judges, Joshua is gone:
Judges 1:1–2 || 1 After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” [ESV]
Notice in this passage, where did the people look for leadership? They inquired of the Lord. This was a good thing, and I believe a testimony of the legacy of Joshua.
And God blessed them and helped them be victorious. However, God did NOT allow them to drive out all of their enemies. We will talk about this another week perhaps.
After Joshua dies, and the elders die, we read this;
Judges 2:10 || 10 That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works he had done for Israel. [CSB]
After the Joshua Generation died off, those that experienced the Exodus and the initial conquest of the Promised Land, a new generation rose up that missed two things:
There was obviously a failure. A breakdown.
Many parents send their kids, or take their kids to church, because they want them to learn about God. While this is not a bad thing, it is not a complete thought. The goal should not be that our kids would know about God, but that they would KNOW God. And to think that simply having our kids in a one hour service, or 40 minute class will accomplish that is naive at best.
Our faith is better caught than taught, which is why the apostle Paul would write this:
1 Corinthians 11:1 || 1 And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. [NLT]
Philippians 4:9 || 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [NLT]
Somehow, this people who saw the mighty works of God and the special blessing of the very presence of god among them, lost their love for God. They abandoned God.
Judges 2:11–13 || 11 The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshiped the Baals 12 and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They angered the Lord, 13 for they abandoned him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths. [CSB]
The next generation did not KNOW the Lord. Of course, they heard about him, but they did not KNOW him. Apparently, the parents did not even do a good job to telling their kids and grandkids about what God had done for them!
They had the Law…
You cannot legislate faith and obedience. You cannot simply make a law from the head of the country and expect people to follow.
They had the tabernacle…
Though the very presence and glory of God was among them, they turned their back on God. Once they got settled in the land, they become indifferent to the tabernacle. The tabernacle used to sit in the very center of the camp as they wandered in the wilderness. This was a symbol of the significance of keeping God in the heart of things, the central focus, the leader. As they entered the land they dispersed, ad the tabernacle was o longer the center, and the people lived that reality.
As the New testament church, as the people of God, redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we have the Word of God and we have the presence of God. We have, not only the law, but the teachings of Jesus. We have them in print and on our digital devices. We not only have God with us, but when we repent and believe in Jesus, God’s spirit takes up residency IN US. We have God, not among us, but inside us.
And yet… we see that our nation, that our churches, continue to walk away from the Lord.
Parents, if you want your kids to know God, you need to know God. You need to spend time with God and you need to talk to your kids about God. Think about all the hours we invest in our kids dance, sports, instruments, etc – what if we invested even 50% as much time in their faith? WOW! I can assure you, we would not have a generation that does not know God!
We need to model to our family, friends and neighbors, what is means to truly LOVE God.
Faith and obedience come out of relationship and understanding. When we do not teach and model these things, we set the next generation up for failure. I believe this is part of our situation as a church today. We have people who grew up in church but failed to model what is means to be the church, and we have a generation that has walked away from God. We have modeled that God is interested in programs, performances and attendance.
At some point, the nation focused on their possession of the land rather than being the special possession of God. They failed to teach the next generation about the works of God and the person of God.
As we wrap up this morning, I want to challenge you to do a little self-evaluation:
To the church in Ephesus, God wrote these words regarding the last day:
Revelation 2:3–5 || 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. 4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. [NLT]
Though it is good that the church, as a whole, has patiently suffered and not quit, more important to God is whether or not we love him.
The nation of Israel did not love God because they did not KNOW God or his works, because a generation failed to teach, model and exercise their faith in God. May that NOT be the testimony of this church. Instead, my we be known as a church that loves God with all our heart, soul and mind:
Deuteronomy 6 || 1 “These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, 2 and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. 3 Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. 4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 10 “The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. 11 The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, 12 be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. 13 You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name. 14 “You must not worship any of the gods of neighboring nations, 15 for the Lord your God, who lives among you, is a jealous God. His anger will flare up against you, and he will wipe you from the face of the earth. 16 You must not test the Lord your God as you did when you complained at Massah. 17 You must diligently obey the commands of the Lord your God—all the laws and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so all will go well with you. Then you will enter and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to give your ancestors. 19 You will drive out all the enemies living in the land, just as the Lord said you would. 20 “In the future your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of these laws, decrees, and regulations that the Lord our God has commanded us to obey?’ 21 “Then you must tell them, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand. 22 The Lord did miraculous signs and wonders before our eyes, dealing terrifying blows against Egypt and Pharaoh and all his people. 23 He brought us out of Egypt so he could give us this land he had sworn to give our ancestors. 24 And the Lord our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear him so he can continue to bless us and preserve our lives, as he has done to this day. 25 For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the Lord our God has given us.’ [NLT]
May God grant us the blessing of seeing this next generation love God and follow him because of the example of each one of us.