God’s Word Amidst Hard Changes (Part 1 of 3)

One of my favorite things to do is to listen to the speakers during the gathering time right before our women’s Bible Studies on Thursday mornings. Though I haven’t gotten to many gathering times this fall, I am always encouraged by the gifted speakers.

A recent talk I attended was so good I want to share it with you. So “listen” in the next couple of weeks, as Tana Tuttle gives us her insights on the first 9 verses of Joshua 1:

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.                     Joshua 1:1-2

Change is almost always hard! Everyone faces this unwelcome guest many times throughout his or her life. We may not know when change will hit, but there are ways to navigate through it. In Joshua 1, we find several concrete and substantial elements that are essential to move through those changes.

We can always find the direction we need in God’s living and active Word. God is up to something in everything He sovereignly allows in your life and mine ~ be encouraged that His unchanging character and nature will undergird all the changes we will encounter. Let’s turn to Joshua 1 and see how!

First, however, we need a little background. As we come to Joshua 1, we see that a chapter in Israel’s history had come to an end. Moses, having heard from God out of the burning bush, had returned to Egypt to lead this group of probably two to three million people from Egypt to the Promised Land. Moses had been their strong leader, one who knew God face to face. In fact, the entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses recounting what God had said specifically to the Israelites (see Deuteronomy 1:3).

But now their fearless leader is dead. We are told that the Israelites mourn for Moses for 30 days, then, as we see in Joshua 1:1, the Lord speaks. This implies that for 30 days the Lord didn’t speak.

This would have been one of the most difficult times in Israel’s history. They were on the threshold of the promised land when Moses died……and then God was silent.

I wonder if perhaps some of you are in a “30 days” when God is not speaking. Perhaps something has happened ~ medically, financially, relationally ~ in your extended family , or maybe there’s just a host of difficult challenges confronting you, and God seems silent.

There will be times in our walk with God that He doesn’t “speak.” Often these are times that we feel we need Him the most.

But I believe that the reason God didn’t speak to the Israelites is. . . that He had already spoken.

Moses had faithfully recorded everything God said, everything the Israelites had needed to know. (see Deuteronomy 1:3 again) This 30-day period was a time not only to mourn Moses death, but to remember what God had said. God desires that we focus on what He has said, not on who delivers the message. God wanted the Israelites to depend upon Him, and He had already given them everything they would need for the next stage of their journey.

God had not changed His mind about anything He had said. Sometimes for us, like for the Israelites, God doesn’t speak because He has already spoken. 

In Joshua 1:2, when God speaks, He says “Moses, my servant is dead”. Well, now, that seems a bit obvious. God waits 30 days after the crisis, and then God tells them the obvious, Moses is dead. There was no question about that.

So why in the world would God’s first word in thirty days be to speak the obvious? I believe that God was helping the Israelites to acknowledge the facts. He was telling them the obvious because it had to be faced. God never asks us to pretend everything is just fine, or to sweep a hard situation under the rug and hope it goes away. God is a realist. God “honored” their loss and their grief; He designed us to need the release of emotions loss brings, whether it is the loss of a job, a pet, or something catastrophic. Big or small, He will allow us time to grieve our losses.

God had given the Israelites 30 days to mourn, to regroup, to get their emotions out, to face their loss. He was acknowledging how their lives had changed, giving them time to accept their new normal. I don’t know about you, but my life has gone through quite a few “new normals.” The Lord has never rushed me through my grief, but there comes a time when it is unhealthy to continue grieving, and God will gently move us on. In verse 1, I believe God makes a clear statement. He is saying: “This is your situation. It’s time to acknowledge and accept it.”

God will not pretend. He will not sugar coat anything. He will always tell us the truth. Remember, God will always acknowledge the truth that needs to be faced.

What’s the next word in your Bible? In my translation it is “now”. “Now” means….Now! In the present! Right away! Such a little word, but so important. Why is “now” such an important word?

tana photo

Tana and her daughter Kara

The first statement God made when He spoke after 30 days of silence was what had happened in the past (“Moses, my servant if dead”). But “now” implies the present.   Why is this word “now” so important? Because no matter what your situation is, no matter what has happened, no matter what your new normal is, or your current difficulties, God desires to speak into the present “Now.” Today.

Remember, God never plans to leave you in the past; there is always a “now” word coming from God.

(To be continued next week!)

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Ordinary People

“How do you fight an ideology?”

This question, asked by a morning show host the day after the horrific attacks in Paris, has since haunted me.

The host asked her question as the show was discussing potential responses to the new level of threats from ISIS and their continuing ability to recruit people worldwide. I think the question struck me in part because it seemed to come from her personal struggle, without the usual polish of a seasoned journalist.

I don’t remember how the expert answered, or if he even addressed the question. The experts struggle to discern appropriate responses to the rise in terrorism globally, and I am certainly unqualified to offer large-scale suggestions–politically, militarily or otherwise.

But the question continues to echo in my mind. Perhaps it haunts because I feel like there is something we can and should do.

How do we fight an ideology? Is there anything folks like us can do?

As I continued to wonder, I began to see in my mind pictures of those who have joined ISIS—particularly from the U.S. and cultures similar to our own. Often, as reporters told their stories, they would show photos from before the individuals were radicalized. And they looked like ordinary people.

Ordinary people.

I don’t know much about international politics. I don’t (to my knowledge) know any terrorists. But I know a lot of ordinary people.

What if the key to changing an ideology comes down to ordinary people. What if ordinary people could treat each other in ways that foster hope instead of hate, love instead of fear?

What if ordinary people can draw others to a better ideology?

  • Ordinary people being kind to those who are different.
  • Ordinary people standing up for a child who is being bullied.
  • Ordinary people offering grace to those who have hurt us.

I think of the Emmanuel AMC shooting in Charleston. The shooter, Dylan Roof, told police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”* Relatives of those same ordinary people chose to forgive Dylan rather than perpetuate the hate that motivated his actions.

Ordinary people, acting with extraordinary love.

I am reminded of something Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

I wonder if, as a preacher, King was thinking of something the apostle John said centuries before:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Candlelight_(8183902106)Perhaps that light can shine from one candle at a time, held by ordinary people.

I do not want to minimize the seriousness of terrorism, or suggest that nations need not respond definitively to protect human rights and innocent lives. I pray that God will guide world leaders to righteous and just actions with constructive long-term effects. But I know that I have neither the knowledge nor the influence to make a difference on a grand scale.

So I consider the things I can do. Ordinary ways that I can choose to shine light in the darkness.

  • I can speak a kind word to strangers of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds.
  • I can choose to forgive those who speak to me in anger, or disappoint me, or simply ignore me.
  • I can encourage the good I see in others rather than criticizing the bad.
  • I can pray for strength to love even when I’m grumpy, for discernment that fosters compassion, for courage to speak against wrongs.
  • And I can pray for the ordinary people in my life.

Sometimes ordinary people become terrorists. But sometimes ordinary people become extraordinary light bearers.

I know an ordinary person who offers love to homeless folks through a greeting card ministry.

I know an ordinary person whose grief motivated her to start support groups for widows.

I know an ordinary person who opens her home to single women who often feel marginalized in the church.

I know ordinary people whose hugs and kind words get me through the day.

Ordinary people. Extraordinary Light.

How do you see ordinary people shining the extraordinary Light of Christ? We’d love to hear your comments and stories!

Taking Heart with you,

Sandy MacMillan

Photo by By Frank Malawski (Candlelight) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

*NBC News Story

Learning About Sheep

By guest blogger and Take Heart Leadership team member Frankie Sherman.    sheep

I have been studying about sheep in preparation for the Take Heart Leadership retreat in January. Our theme is “Still,” and is based on the 23rd Psalm. You know the psalm; it talks about the Lord as our shepherd–and compares us to sheep!

Oh my! The more I’ve learned about sheep the more I’ve discovered how they (we) desperately need a shepherd.

Did you know that sheep are easily distracted? Or that they have a tendency to follow other sheep and just wander off? It’s true. Yet some amazing nuggets about sheep gave me reason to not feel so bad that Jesus compared me to an animal that did not have the brains God gave to a Billy goat…literally!

The sheep know their shepherd—the sound of his voice—and follow him. Even when several herds graze or sleep together, the voice of their shepherd has the power to separate them. When it’s time to move on, the shepherd calls the sheep and they come. They need no markings to distinguish them—all they need is to hear the sound of the shepherd’s voice.

Sheep follow the one they know. They come when their shepherd calls. They will never follow the voice of another shepherd.

We are the sheep of God’s pasture. May we not be distracted by duty or devices, or enticed to follow other sheep to illusions of greener pastures. Instead, may we listen for the call of the Good Shepherd who knows our name and leads us to want no more.

I am the good shepherd,” Jesus assures us. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me… My sheep listen to my voice. I call them by name and lead them. They follow me because they know my voice… I am the good shepherd. I lay down my life for my sheep” (John 10:14, 3-4, 11, slight paraphrasing of NIV84).