I suppose we can all relate to children playing the game of "follow the leader"; but, if we think about it for a minute, as adults we continue to play the game.
We follow good leaders and bad ones.
Sometimes we do so as part of a game, and other times it's because we want to do what the leader is doing.
Then, at other times, we pretend to be following one leader, when in our heart we're following another one.
We also do this in relation to following the Lord our God.
Joshua knew that many of the people in his day were also playing the game of "follow the leader", and that is why he said to the people (Joshua 24:14-15):
14 "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
And how did the people respond (Joshua 24:16)?
16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! (NIV)
This took place when Joshua was preparing to retire, but note what happened just a few decades later (Judges 2:1-13):
1 The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you,
2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?
The people did this because they weren't really following the leadership of the Lord their God; they were "playing" at following Him.
To them, it was just a game.
On the outside, these people pretended to follow the Lord, but on the inside they liked what the people of the land were doing and they wanted to participate in those ungodly things with them.
To them, their worship service was a way of trying to appease the Lord, so they could continue to believe and act otherwise in their hearts.
So what does the Lord do?
He allows them to have the desire of their hearts, along with the consequences.
3 Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you."
4 When the angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, 5 and they called that place Bokim. There they offered sacrifices to the LORD.
Are they sincere, or are they still pretending?
Are they truly repentant, or are they just playing the game, and trying to appease God?
The problem with answering such questions is that the true attitude of another person is not always immediately known.
Some people are very good at playing "follow the leader" in public, and in hiding their true feelings.
Only over the course of time will the true intent of their hearts become evident.
6 After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance.
7 The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel.
8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten.
9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.
Why is this?
Didn't this older generation teach their children about the Lord their God?
From all outward signs, they only may have told their children about the Lord, but the children obviously didn't come to believe.
The children must have only understood their parents to have been playing the game of "follow the leader" when it came to matters of the Lord.
Today we see the same thing happening.
Parents wonder why their children act the way they do.
The children obviously hear what the parents say, but more importantly they see what their parents do, and the two are most often something different.
So, if the children understand their parents to be only playing the game of "follow the leader", that is what they will learn to do.
The problem is that these parents never gave their children the insight to follow their true leader, the Lord their God.
They were never given the opportunity to come to know the Lord along with their parents.
If parents don't go to church, the children don't think it's necessary either, and thus they drift further away from the Lord, and their heart is set only upon following the ways of the world.
All too soon they completely lose sight of the true standard they are to be following.
This is just as true today, as it was with the Israelites over 3,200 years ago.
11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.
12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger
13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. (NIV)
Today, we may not make these images of false gods, for they are just as unreal as our true God.
Today, we worship and follow the ways of the world around us.
Today, we follow the leadership of lust and greed and power.
The moral teaching of the Lord our God, the life example of Jesus Christ, and the Lord's examples of unconditional love and compassion all have become as a collection of myths, as a book of fairy tales, as something unreal.
It is obvious that Moses followed the leadership of God.
It is equally obvious that Joshua followed the leadership of both Moses and the Lord.
But the elders of Joshua's day seemed to have followed only the leadership of Joshua, for their children never seemed to have came to know the Lord.
For the most part, these elders must only have been playing the game of following the Lord, while they were following Joshua, and their children, like our children, picked up on the true intent of the hearts of their parents.
This comes about because people who follow other people see their hypocrisy, for we all fall short of God's desire for our lives; and thus they stop playing the game of following the leadership of the Lord, and act according to the hypocritical state of the those they follow.
The result is that the people of the world become harder and harder of heart, and more and more violent; and God's existence and presence become more and more distant.
If we who are gathered here today truly believe, and are truly following the leadership of the Lord our God, then we need to show our Leader to others.
We need to live the life we say we believe.
If we are embarrassed to show the Lord of our lives to others in public, then others will likewise be embarrassed to do so, too.
Jesus Christ needs to be alive in our lives as well as in our hearts.
We need to show the next generation that is growing up with us, Jesus, that they will come to follow Him, and not us.
We need to take their attention from ourselves and place it upon the Lord and His teachings.
We need to stop playing the game of "follow the leader".
We need to truly follow Him, if we ever hope to have others do so, too.
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