Joshua has always been my hero. His courage and integrity, standing with Caleb for what he saw, as one of the original ten spies that went into Canaan, when the other eight backed down from the challenge of conquering the land. His loyalty, spending years as the right arm of Moses in the very difficult trek across the wilderness. And his fierce commitment to and confidence in God. Who can forget the scene towards the end of the book he wrote, when he squares his shoulders against the whole nation, raises his fist in front of them, and bellows, “Choose today whom you will serve…But as for me and my family, WE WILL SERVE THE LORD?” (Joshua 24:15) That guy has got to be your hero. He has always been mine.
So much so that when Doris was expecting our first child, I said, “We are going to name him Joshua.” This was before the time of on-demand ultrasound, so, Doris asked, “What if it’s a girl?” I said, “We will call her Joshuette.” Man, that’s an awful name. I’m glad he wasn’t a girl.
When Josh was in his mommy’s tummy I would talk to him at night. I would lay beside Doris’s big belly and explain the rules of baseball. I would tell him about the new 3-point rule in the NBA. I would lay an 8-trac tape player on her stomach and play Tschaikowsky, and Beethoven, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. But mostly I would tell him about the Joshua that he was named after. I would tell him about the Battle of Rephidim, when the Biblical Joshua led the army of Israel into war and Moses stood on the hilltop with his arms raised. I read to him about Jericho, when Joshua trusted God enough to look really silly by walking around the walls of the city every day for seven days. And I would quote that phrase to him that God said to Joshua in the Bible SEVEN TIMES, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) I wanted Joshua to grow up and be like the man he was named after.
There is another part of the whole Joshua story that was not so apropos then but very much so now. It is the transition that is taking place in Deuteronomy 31 and 32. When I was a youth pastor in Augusta, Georgia, singing Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” to the in utero Joshua I had no thought of the passing of the torch that would so quickly take place. Today I read about Moses handing the leadership of the Jews over to Joshua and I think, “Man, we are already there.” It happened in the blink of an eye, the young Joshua grew up and Moses grew old. “Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8) And for us, me and Joshua, the young Joshua grew up and Mike grew very old. (No, I am not 120.)
Now, whether your kid is named Joshua, Jane, or Jimmy, that day is coming when you realize the mantle of leadership is being passed from your generation to the next. Erma Bombeck told the story of riding, as a little girl, in the front seat of the car while her mom drove. (Yes, we used to do that!) When her mom would have to stop suddenly, Erma said, “Her arm would instinctively fly across the seat to hold me back.” The she describes the day that she, Erma, was driving. Her mom was old and riding beside her in the front. Erma said, “The car in front of me slammed on the brakes. I hit my own brakes and instinctively, my arm flew across to protect my mother, and I thought, ‘Oh my, it happened so quickly.’”
You know what I’m talking about. Just yesterday you were helping them tie their shoes. Today they are stopping by your house to help you get your computer set up, or to fix the leaking faucet in the bathroom. More than that, you watch your metamorphosis from family leader who can say with great confidence, “Because I said so,” to sideline consultant who hopes for an opportunity to make a suggestion about what to do next. We have all, or we will, experienced the transition of power from the dad to the son, the mom to the daughter, from Moses to Joshua,
Even if it does not happen with your children, let me be clear, it will happen. It is the cycle of life. You move from Lead Pastor to Visitation Minister, taking care of the senior adults. You transition from team leader in the real estate office to being the support member for the young, “up-and-coming” broker. You hand over the membership role of the Ladies Ministry to the 30 Something sweetheart who wants to take the group in a “new direction.” Life happens. We get older and our role changes. We, all to soon, will no longer be the roaring Moses, holding out the rod and parting the Red Sea. We become the old guy, or gal, sitting on the back row of the church, singing the old songs that they used to sing.
So, what are the history lessons from Deuteronomy 31 and 32 that help us during this season of change? Here are a few. First, handing over the reins is the most important thing I will ever do. God says we have about 70 years. Modern medicine has bumped that up to 79 if you are a guy, 81 for ladies. (That’s in the US. Moving to Canada gives you another 3 years, but who wants to live there?) In light of eternity, shoot, in light of human history, I don’t have all that long. So, surely the most significant task I have is preparing the next generation to take my place. The Amplified Bible says in Proverbs 13:22, “A good man leaves an inheritance of moral stability and goodness to his children’s children.” Over the last decade or so, most of my life decisions have been based on my desire to leave Josh and Jacob a Godly heritage.
How would your actions be different today, what attitudes would change, what hurts, habits, or hang-ups would you let go of right now, if you really thought that those who come behind you are watching you? And they will lead based on what they see in you? Most of the stuff that I think is important pales when I start taking seriously my responsibility to influence my children and my children’s children to become great men and women of God.
Second legacy lesson, depend on the Word of God, a lot. In verse 12 Moses says, “Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.” The best place I can go to get help passing the torch, in fact, the very torch I am trying to pass, is the Word of God. Every year I read through the Bible. I use a different Bible each year. I mark and underline and write notes in the margin. When the time is right, I would like to give one of those Bibles to Josh and Jacob, to my daughters-in-law, and to my grandkids. After the great shema, the “hear o Israel,” of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, verses 6-7 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Lean on the law. Leave the law behind. That is your legacy. Let your kids catch you with your Bible in your lap instead of the TV remote in your hand.
Lesson number three, sing often. This legacy thing should be a delight. It is our joy. What a privilege to pass on a life for Christ to those who are following me. Keep it fun. Show them the happiness that comes from following the one who promises to “never leave you or forsake you.” (verse 6) God says over and over, “Be strong and courageous,” but He also says, “Sing.” Chapter 32 is a song that Moses sings to Joshua and the Children of Israel. Don’t make this transition bitter, or with regret. Laugh and love and live a life of joy in front of them. Let them hear you sing. Isaiah 38:19 “It is the living who praise you, As I praise you now. Parents tell their children how faithful you are.”
Not long ago I was singing in the hallway at Branches. Some of the counselor’s remarked about that in front of Josh. Josh said. “When I was growing up my dad would embarrass me all the time, singing while my friends were around.” Ha, that’s great. I’m glad to know that I left Josh something, even if it was just an embarrassing memory. Singing will prepare him to take his place at the front of the line. So be happy. Express joy to those that are following you. Sing. And if you’re looking for a good song, here’s one:
“Jeremiah was a bullfrog. He was a good friend of mine.
I never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine….”
By the way, my hope that our Josh would grow up to be like Moses’s Josh? He did. See you tomorrow, one last time.