Several months later, the clergyman confesses he only put $10,000 in the envelope and sent the rest to a mission in South America.
The doctor confesses that his envelope had only $8,000 because he donated to a medical charity.
The lawyer is outraged, "I am the only one who kept the promise to our dying friend. I want you both to know I placed in the coffin an envelope with my own personal check for the entire $25,000."
God is the ultimate promise keeper. We need to be men and women who keep our word so people can depend on us, but while we sometimes fail, God never fails… it’s God’s nature. I read about a missionary in China before World War II. When the Japanese army invaded northern China, she was forced to flee Yangcheng, taking with her 100 orphans. As she led the orphans into the mountains, she became concerned about ever making it to safety. After a sleepless night, a 13-year-old orphan girl encouraged the missionary by reminding her of God’s great act of salvation with Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. “‘But I am not Moses,’ replied the missionary. ‘Of course you aren’t,’ the girl said, ‘but God is still God.’ God is still God.
Carl Crouse is weak and knows very little. This Church is full of sinners. But God is still God! And God always keeps his promises.
We continue in the book of Joshua. God has used Joshua to lead the people across the Jordan River into the promised land. The people had been wandering in the desert for 40 years after escaping from Egypt as slaves. There is at least one failure and a compromise along the way, but slowly Israel defeats the people living in the promise land. In chapters 13-21 the land is divided among the tribes of Israel. I encourage you to read through the Bible and when you come to Joshua and these chapters, have a map in one hand so you can see how the land is divided. Today’s scripture, Josh. 21:43-45 is a powerful summary statement that tells us an amazing truth about God that is as true today as it was then and is as amazing today as it was then: God Finishes What He Starts. God keeps his promise. It may take time! We may sabotage God’s working out his promises like the Israelites tried to do, we may grow impatient, but God/ Will/ Finish/ What/ He/ Starts! This is why when it looks like the world is going to hell, this is why when it looks like your world is going to hell, we can have confidence in the promises of God!
Josh. 21:43-45 tells us a tremendous amount about God’s Promises:
All of God’s promises are GIFTS… “So the Lord GAVE…” (Josh. 21:43a). How easy we read over these words. In American we have a lot of stuff. We so easily slip into a mind set that we deserve. The presents we give each other at birthdays and Christmas sometimes feel like chores or obligations. When I was in school in Pasadena at Christmas time I worked at Hickory Farms in a nearby mall. We sold hundreds of gift packages with a variety of combinations of cheeses and meats. Some were relatively small boxes costing $10 with a few items and others were quite large costing as much as $150. I was amazed at how many people came to make a purchase to give away as a gift, and they really did not care what was in the package. The only thing they cared about was how much it cost because they felt an obligation to spend a certain amount for a particular person. “The Lord gave…” We do ourselves a favor when we recover the depth of the meaning of a gift. Not an obligation, not expecting something back, but a simple gift. A gift from God that can never be repaid. A gift from God that is intended to bless, to enrich, to lift up. When we were on our cruise to Alaska, in Ketchikan we took a bus ride to a totem pole park. Fascinating. One of the poles was originally a pole to honor Seward, the secretary of State under president Lincoln, who was the person that secured the state of Alaska. I can’t remember why he was an admired person but in any event, there is a beautiful totem pole with Seward sitting on top. The story is told that Seward made a major blunder in that he did not realize he was supposed to reciprocate and give gifts to the tribe that honored him. So, after a time, the tribe ascended the pole, painted Seward’s nose and mouth and ears red, thus changing the honor pole into a shame pole.
We give gifts like that all the time. Conditions. Give me something back. That is certainly not the highest form of gift giving. God’s gifts are so amazing, we can NEVER repay him. Consider one of the greatest promises in the Bible. “For God so loved the world that he ____________ his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive eternal life.” (John 3:16). One of the most amazing studies is to go through the Bible and find the verses in which God gives…. God’s promises are gifts, not anything we deserve, not an obligation, no conditions other than to complete the gift by receiving it from God. God is the ultimate father who gives good gifts to his children.
All of God’s promises lead to REST… “The Lord gave them rest” (Josh. 21:44). Underline the word rest. Circle it. Make it into a neon sign. This is one of the most important words in the book of Joshua, and indeed, in the Bible, for it is the goal of ALL of God’s promises: REST. In our overly tired world, tell me a more hopeful word than REST. Most of us are all overly stressed, tired, sometimes it’s bodily weariness, but too often it’s stress of relationships, threats of things going wrong, overextending ourselves, too many commitments, not enough resources, whatever it is we get weary.
The Lord promises REST. In the book of Joshua half a dozen times there is a reference to the people finding REST from war. Joshua 1:13 God promises the people REST as they enter the land. Rest is a tremendous promise of God: Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find ________ for your souls.”
All of God’s promises lead to REST. I often make decisions evaluating if I’ll be able to sleep at night, because unfortunately that is a problem for me. If I were to misspend money or steal or treat a person a certain way and I know I could not sleep because I would toss and turn from guilt, I take the high road. I need rest. I need eternal rest. Rest goes hand in hand with peace. Rest is peace with a pillow.
God promises REST. I have heard people threatening others, “If you follow through with the thing it looks like you are going to do, I promise I will get you back.” That’s misusing the word Promise because it’s actually a curse. A promise of God results in REST.
All of God’s promises give STRENGTH… “Not one of their enemies withstood them…” (Josh. 21:44b). God’s desire is always for us to have confidence and strength in Him. God never says you sit back and do nothing and I’ll take care of you. God says I will fill you with my spirit and enrich you. Listen to the towering words of Is. 40:29-31… this is the promise of God, to strengthen you, to lift you up, to fill you with his power, his might… Yes, God will take care of you, and in the process you will be changed and be able to stand up to your enemies that are trying to tear you down. God’s promises are always transforming promises: you will be changed into a strong person of high character.
All of God’s promises are COMPLETED… God finishes what he starts. Josh. 21:45: “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” What a grand statement! 1 Thes. 5:4: He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. What an amazing truth. A promise is only as good as the ability and the character of the one who makes the promsie. God has all ability and he is a loving and amazing promise keeper.
Israel is assured that God is dependable and keeps his promises. It is worthwhile, however, to take a look at the road to God’s fulfilled promise to Joshua and Israel:
—The promise was not fulfilled quickly. Scholars figure it took seven years from crossing the Jordan to dividing the land, and actually the original promise was 100’s of years earlier. Lesson: don’t get impatient. I talked to one of the newer residences in the RV Park a few days ago and even though I just met him I was so proud of him and his work ethic and the lessons he is teaching his children and the credit he is giving God for being in his midst in his families journey to find their place… along the way they have sometimes wondered, but to try and wait along the way… We get frustrated with God and either cut the promise short by compromising what he is doing with us, or we get depressed, and the real answer is the one we hate: wait. That’s the subject of other sermons…
—The promised did not come without a struggle ~ there were many battles. Read the book of Joshua through and it is sometimes painful, yet that is also the nature of our journey, the struggles, the pain along the way, and yet finding the strength to keep on going. The most amazing Christians are those who keep on keeping on when it would be so easy to quit, to curse God and die, to give up and let the enemy overrun you.
—The promise of God did not come without some failure along the way. The sin of Achan comes quickly to mind and really the entire nation is indicted for turning away from God. God’s promises never fail even when we fail him. He is a forgiving God. God’s promises are NOT conditioned on us toeing the line and eliminating all sin and wrongdoing. As long as we keep that focus on him, turning back to him every morning, recommitting ourselves to listening to his voice as our guiding truth, he will keep taking us back and forgiving us so that his promises will be fulfilled just as he says.
A young 13 year old declared to a discourage missionary high in the mountains wondering if they would ever find safety, “God is still God!” No matter what mountains may loom before us, God is still God, and we can trust in him.
God’s promises are an amazing GIFT, nothing we can ever repay.
God’s promises always lead to REST.
God’s promises transform us by giving us STRENGTH.
God’s promises are FULFILLED by God himself.
Search for God’s promises. Hold them in your heart. Recite them. Tape them on your bathroom mirror so you see them every morning and every evening and on your refrigerator so you will be reminded every time you eat a meal. When I was a young pastor I went to my father and asked him how to do a funeral. He gave me an outline and he said, “always end with promises from God.” 30 years later, I am still practicing what my father told me….
The promises of God are what gives us hope so that we are guided not by what we see in this discouraging world, but what we know is coming from the certainty of what God has said he will do. As a gift that means God’s promises are nothing we deserve or can earn. God promises give rest to the weary and strength to the weak. God is Still God, and he always finishes what he starts!