I thought carefully about whether or not I wanted to include Culture in what I listen more carefully to as I write each day this month. And very quickly I decided that it has to be included. If God gave me life here and now, it's for a purpose. And I won't discover more of His purpose for me by burying my head in the sand.
Yesterday in the surgery waiting room (while Ellie had ear tubes put in and adenoids removed), the news was on and Miley Cyrus was being interviewed. She was discussing her career, her maturing process, and her recent performance on MTV's VMA's. A few of the interesting things that I remember her saying were:
1) She never had a normal childhood or adolescence.
2) She's never felt more 'herself' than she does right now, she feels free to be who she is.
3) Her performance at the VMA's was well-planned chaos.
4) If you look at pop stars in the past who have had success, like Madonna, they all do this. It's part of the evolution process of a pop star and it's a proven formula.
5) This isn't an exact quote, but pretty close... "You have to get people talking. And you might as well make them talk for 2 weeks instead of 2 minutes."
This is someone who our culture has made famous. It breaks my heart for 1,000 reasons.
In Joshua chapters 3 and 4, we read about someone else who is "exalted in the sight of all Israel. They were in awe of him..."
I'll give you the summary but it's a beautiful story and you might want to grab your Bible right now and read through these 2 chapters for yourself.
In Deuteronomy 30 (humor me!) God lays out His promises to the Israelites and communicates it all through Moses, who went before Joshua and was his mentor (and what Moses projects to the Israelites, Joshua takes part in as it becomes reality... so beautiful). As I read through this chapter, I was blown away by the way God loves His people and the promises He gives to them, as long as they are obedient to Him. He says that while they are dispersed and experiencing the blessings and curses "in just the way I have set them before you" (vs 1), if they take God seriously and come back to God and "obey Him with your whole heart and soul" (vs 2), then "God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he'll have compassion on you..." (vs 3) and gather them together again, no matter how far away they've ended up. "He will give you a good life..." (vs 5) and make them numerous. And even better? "God, your God, will cut away the thick callouses on your heart and your children's hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live." (vs 6-7). He promises them a new start, "...listening obediently to God, keeping all his commandments that I'm commanding you today. God, your god, will outdo himself in making things go well for you..." (vs 8-9). But these promises were for them to see fulfilled only if they loved God, listened obediently to Him, and kept His commandments, wholeheartedly returning to Him. They are warned that "If you have a change of heart, refuse to listen obediently, and willfully go off to serve and worship other gods, you will most certainly die. You won't last long...". We are wise to listen to God's voice alone, respond in obedience, and enjoy His blessings.
At the beginning of Joshua (chapter 1), Moses has died and Joshua (Moses' apprentice/mentee) is asked by God to lead the Israelites as they cross the Jordan river and finally inherit the land God had promised to them. God promises to be with and protect Joshua in the same way He was with/protected Moses. Joshua believes God and steps into position as the leader in the wake of Moses' death, and the men respond to him with willing obedience just as they followed Moses.
Joshua sends men out as spies over Jericho (chapter 2), and Rahab the prostitute hides them in her home. The king of Jericho finds out and orders Rahab to give the men up. But she hides them on her rooftop and tells the King that they already left her home and doesn't know where they are. Joshua's men escape unharmed by the King's misdirected men, and they swear an oath to remember Rahab and her family when God gives them the land they've been promised. Then they return to Joshua and report back that yes, the Lord has given the whole country to them.
Joshua 3 & 4:
Joshua and the Israelites are preparing to cross the Jordan River and take the land God had promised them, camping out next to it for 3 days. Joshua addresses the people in Joshua 3:5 "...Sanctify yourselves. Tomorrow God will work miracle-wonders among you." (*all scripture verses taken from the Bible translation "The Message")
God tells Joshua that He will begin to exalt Joshua in the eyes of Israel so that they know He is with Joshua like He was with Moses. He gives Joshua instructions for the priests. Joshua then passes along to the priests God's instructions about how to carry the ark of the covenant, how to approach the river and where exactly to stand. He speaks again to all of the Israelites in Joshua 3:9-10 "...Attention! Listen to what God, your God, has to say. This is how you'll know that God is alive among you..."
He explains that the ark of the covenant, carried by the priests, will go into the Jordan River ahead of the people, and that one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel are to be chosen. When the feet of the priests touch the water's edge, the water will stop flowing upstream and pile up so that the river can be crossed. It happens just as Joshua explained it would and I love how Joshua 3:14 says "And that's what happened." The priests who had entered into the center of the river with the ark of the covenant stood on dry ground until the whole nation of Israel had passed them by, crossing on dry ground where the river once was.
He asks the men chosen from the 12 tribes in Joshua 4:5 "Each of you heft a stone to your shoulder..." to be gathered together later as a memorial to what God had done there.
Joshua 4:14 says "God made Joshua great that day in the sight of all Israel." Then Joshua instructs the priests to step out of the Jordan River with the ark of the covenant, after everyone had passed through it, and as soon as their feet all touched dry land the river resumed its flow within the banks as it had before it had parted. Joshua immediately erects a monument out of the 12 stones taken from the Jordan so that future generations know what God has done here for them. Joshua 4:24 "This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God's rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always."
So we see Joshua:
asking the Israelites to sanctify themselves for the work God is about to do (3:5)...
calling them to pay attention and listen to what God has to say, so that they know He is alive among them (3:9-10)...
testifying to the fact that God is faithful, trustworthy and true and that because of their obedience they were able to cross the Jordan just as God said they would (3:14)...
instructing the men selected from each of the 12 tribes to pick up a stone from the dry ground in the river to be a part of a memorial later on (4:5)...
being exalted by God in the sight of all Israel (4:14)...
exposing God as strong and able to save, encouraging a solemn reverence of Him among all people for all of time (4:24)...
I love the idea that Joshua was famous among the Israelites - made famous by God and exalted by Him because of Joshua's obedience and for God's glory. In comparing Joshua's story, behaviors, and fame with Miley Cyrus's story, behaviors and fame, there are a few things I noticed:
1) Who we listen to directly relates to how we behave. Joshua listens obediently to God. Because of his obedience, the Israelites are inspired to listen to God and are inspired to obedience. Joshua is exalted by God and helps usher in the fulfillment of God's promises and blessings.
2) Our culture doesn't value listening as a means for gaining wisdom. It's more focused on being the ones doing the talking and being listened TO. But what do we really have to say? What is our message? When I consider Miley Cyrus' attempt to make herself more famous, her goal was to make people talk about her for 2 weeks, not 2 minutes. I can't help but wonder... after those 2 weeks (at best) are up, what more does she have to show for her efforts? What's been accomplished? What has she given up in exchange for all the chatter she hoped to stir up?
3) Joshua aspired to serve God and lead the Israelites into obedience and subsequently blessing. Our culture in general seems to aspire to self-worship, which always leads to death.
4) Any fame that we are able to create for ourselves is empty and fleeting. When God exalts anyone or anything, it is for the purpose of honoring Himself and it is lasting. He is the Famous One, and the only one worthy of our worship.
Our culture... it has a lot to teach us if we will listen with a discerning heart.