God’s Word Amidst Hard Changes (Part 2 of 3)

 

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.

Last week Tana Tuttle began to share with us practical truths from Joshua 1:1-9. We made our way through the first verse and a half with these highlights:

  • Sometimes for us, like for the Israelites, God doesn’t speak because He has already spoken.
  • God will always acknowledge the truth that needs to be faced.
  • God never plans to leave us in the past; there is always a “now” word coming from God.

I love how Tana highlights the relevance of God’s Word is to each of us. I can’t wait to read more!

                                                            –Sandy MacMillan

In Part 2 of 3, we begin mid verse 2, with “Now then…

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Tana and her daughter Kara

The next word in our text is “you”. You. A very personal word. You want to know why? Because you are important to God. What you are going through is important to Him.   God is very much into individuals. You are never an impersonal being to God. You are never overlooked, or pushed aside. You, your life—fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in your mother’s womb (see Psalm 139)—is of utmost importance.

Yes, “you” in the text was referring to Joshua, but don’t miss that “you” also means you! You are just as important to God as Moses was, or Joshua.

Really? Really. Does that mean that you will have the same call as Moses or Joshua? No, but it does mean that the call you have is just as important. I’ll tell you why in just a bit, but for now:

Remember that God’s present (now) word is always addressed first to you, personally.

After the word, you, the very next words extends the “you” to “and all the people”. God is saying: “You are important (see above). You and your family, you and your friends, you and your church, you and your generation. You are included in what I am doing in their lives and they are included in what I am doing in your life.”

God is working out a plan, a purpose that we cannot see right now, but we are important in what is happening on this earth. What happens in your life affects others, and what happens in others’ lives affects your life.

God is going somewhere with whatever you’re going through!

That’s why you are important, and so are others around you. You are just as important as Moses or Joshua and God has planned accordingly.

We know Moses and Joshua cooperated with God. Will you? Will I? That’s the question before us. If we do not know and understand our importance to God and His plan, we will whittle away our lives and we, as well as others, will suffer.

What is God calling you to do?   It is just as necessary to what God is doing as Moses and Joshua’s calls were for their generation.

God’s present (now) word will be addressed to you, personally, and expand to include the people around you.

Next word?

“Prepare.” Or as the NIV says, “Get ready.”

On the surface, when Moses died, it looked like God had abandoned the Israelites, that He had taken something from them, something important, something vital.

The enemy of our souls will tell us, “Look what God took from you; if He really loved you He would not have let this happen. If He were a good God, He would not let you suffer. This is unfair. God obviously doesn’t care about you.”

Have you heard this in your ear like I have? You know by now that these are the enemy’s lies. God is not a taker, He is a giver, or as I like to say, “God is an exchanger.”

God may take something away, but He always gives something in exchange. You will never be left with a minus (see 1 Cor. 4:7 and Romans 8:32).

God was going to exchange 40 years of wilderness wandering for the land of milk and honey. The incredible thing is, those 40 wandering years included many good provisions and promises from God. But there was more to come.

You and I know the story. These people, of course, did not yet know that the land of milk and honey was right up ahead or have confidence that they’d ever reach it. They needed a time of preparation, an in-between time.

You and I must have a time of preparation also. The things that are in your life, that you would never choose, are a preparation time for what is up ahead. It is an in-between time, in between n-o-w and n-e-w.

God is sovereign over everything in your life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Now, prepare. God is up to something you cannot see that will turn out good. This is for you—and for others.

Now is the time to be expectant, to put your hope in God, to let Him walk you through the preparation time to the next place in your journey.

In your present circumstance, your new normal, God desires that you prepare for where He is taking you, for He is up to something good in the midst of your life.

(From Sandy:

We’re out of space for this week! So, like the Israelites, we can use the time to “prepare” for where God is taking us, while we wait to hear more from Tana next time!)

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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?

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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!)

The Dead End View

bikeshadowIt was a sunny vacation morning. I hopped on my bike, looking forward to a worry-free time exploring beachside streets. But as often happens, my worries hopped on board.

I began to think about the series of blog posts I had planned to write this summer. The ones (about what it means to be blessed) that still aren’t written.

I started the series in the spring, but all my efforts to add more installments ended in frustration. I hit dead end after dead end.deadend1

I couldn’t move forward with my plan, so I didn’t move forward at all. I felt like a failure.

I wondered and worried, what does a writer do when she can’t work past a dead end?

deadend2And as I rode and wondered, I realized I was riding past dead end sign after dead end sign.

So I began exploring these dead end streets.

Some simply ended.roadfade

Others faded into footpaths and unexplored territory.

And still others ended with a breathtaking view.view1

Then it hit me.

Sometimes in life, our plans don’t work out. Whether in writing or relationships, careers or creative projects, we come to dead ends.

We may need to turn around.

We may decide to hack our way through overgrown paths.

Or sometimes, we need to let go of unfinished plans, park our bikes, and enjoy the view.

Ironically, as I took in the amazing dead end view, I felt truly blessed.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

Blessed? Part 2: Hopeless

Aside

Imagine this:

A good friend calls to say “I wanted to let you know how blessed I am. Yep. I’m in a womanonphonereally good place. Happy even!”

“Why?” you ask. “What happened?” You know she’s been struggling financially, as well as with some serious family problems. You wonder if she’s won the lottery, or received some other out-of-the-ordinary help.

“Because I’m hopeless! I have no answers for any of my problems!” she responds enthusiastically.

Do you drop the phone? Suggest your friend might be feverish? Call for the men in white coats?

 As crazy as it sounds, our imaginary friend may have a thoroughly Biblical perspective on her situation.

Last week, I invited you to join me on a “blessed quest”—a search for understanding of what it means to walk in God’s blessings. I figured we’d start our quest with the words in red—what Jesus said about being blessed.

Most of what Jesus says about what it means to be blessed is contained in Matthew 5, in a 10-verse long section of the Sermon on the Mount called the Beatitudes, which means—drumroll please—the Blessings!

The Beatitudes are one of those parts of Scripture that many of us think we know, so I thought I’d check them out in a newer, less familiar translation. See how the Common English Bible translates the first of Jesus’s list of blessings, from Matthew 5:3:

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

In case you don’t recognize this verse, the NIV translates Matthew 5:3 this way:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I’d read the NIV version before, but hadn’t thought much about what it means to be poor in spirit. I wondered: does it really mean “hopeless?”

When you look at the Greek text, “poor in spirit” is a pretty literal translation. One who is poor in spirit is one whose spirit is in absolute poverty—a beggar in spirit. It is one who has to plead for help from others because they have no resource on their own. In other words, one who is hopeless.

(So the scholars who translated the CEB version knew what they were talking about—imagine that. I’m sure they’re relieved to know I think so :)!)

But that still doesn’t help me understand what Jesus meant. How can being poor in spirit—hopeless—possibly be a blessing?

What do you think? (I’d seriously like to know!)

As I pondered what Jesus might have meant, an analogy came to mind:

We have one of those minivans that allows you remove and replace the seats with the push of one little lever. It’s totally easy IF you have the seat in the right position.

For some reason, it took me a long time to figure out what that position was. So I would wrestle for a ridiculous amount of time trying to get the seats out or put them back in. Often my son Morgan (who knew how to work the seats) would find me hunched over the seat, sweating and cranky.

There’s only room in the doorway for one person to mess with the seats, so Morgan would stand back and watch me struggle until I gave up and asked for help. Then he would step up to the car, position the seat properly, and Voila! It worked like magic.

As soon as I conceded my inability to fix the seat and moved, Morgan was able to solve the problem. But in my stubbornness, I wouldn’t get out of the way—until I had to admit I was totally hopeless.

Could it be that when we try to live life on our own we are actually blocking the blessings of God? Could it be that, when we hold stubbornly to the belief that we can handle challenges by ourselves, we are actually getting in God’s way?

Perhaps it’s only when we get to the end of our own ropes—when we are hopeless/poor in spirit—that we able to allow the grace and power of God to work in our lives.

Perhaps, as we admit our helplessness we open the door for God to rule in our lives, thus receiving the promised blessing, the kingdom of heaven.

Can you think of times in your life when, only as you gave up you were empowered, only as you lost hope, you found God’s provision?

Then, my friend, you have been poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is yours, and Jesus calls you blessed.

Will you call someone and tell them?

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about what it means to walk in God’s blessings. Please post your comments here or on the Women at the Well Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WomenAtTheWellbsumc.

 

Aside

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Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

What does it really mean when we say “I’m blessed”?

One popular blogger says that “I’m blessed” is the one thing Christians should stop saying. He reasons that when we say “I’m blessed” because of material blessings (or I would add, things like good health), we are in danger of making God “some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.”1

I agree that we need to be careful about how we use the term “blessed.” A friend— the mom of a special needs child—recently related a conversation she had with an acquaintance. The acquaintance told her that her own family had been “so blessed” to have a healthy baby, after being told the baby might have a diagnosis similar to that of my friend’s child.

My hackles raised at the implication that my friend was somehow less blessed than this woman; her absolutely adorable child is indeed a blessing. Yet—like the acquaintance—I remember feeling relieved and blessed when each of my children were born in perfect health.

So, is it wrong to thank God for things we have that others don’t? Is it ok to feel blessed that your child got into his choice of college, even when his best friend didn’t? Should we consider a new job a blessing even when others are unemployed?

These questions have started me thinking—what does it mean to walk in God’s blessings? I do believe that all good things come from God. And I want to “praise God from whom all blessings flow” as the traditional Doxology exhorts us. But I’m not sure I have a good understand of what those good things are; maybe I’m not sure I have a Biblical understanding of what it means to be blessed.

So, I’m on a quest to understand better what it means to walk in God’s blessings, to be able to recognize “every good and perfect gift [that] is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”

The quest may take a while…the concept of blessing is all over Scripture. The New American Standard Bible uses some form of the word “bless” in 486 verses, translating a variety of Hebrew and Greek terms.

But if the idea of blessing is that common in the Bible, it must be important, and I’d like to get it right.

How about you? Would you like to join me on my journey?

In the weeks to come, I’ll share the insights I glean, and I would love to hear yours as well. Please post your comments, and perhaps–as we journey together–we will be truly blessed.

1Dannemiller, Scott, “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.” Weblog post. The Accidental Missionary. 20 Feb. 2014. 5 May 2014 (http://theaccidentalmissionary.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/the-one-things-christians-should-stop-saying/).

 

 

Discouraged for a Reason…

I’ve felt like a failure quite often lately.

I’ve dropped balls on tasks I promised to do. I’ve watched helplessly as friends and family struggle with problems for which I have no answers.

ImageI can’t even keep my house clean. (Seriously…this picture is of my desk right now!)

And this morning, as I struggle to write an encouraging word to my sisters in Christ, I can’t seem to finish a thought.

But I don’t share this so you’ll feel sorry for me. Or even try to make me feel better.

I share because I believe that God has allowed me to come to a place of discouragement for a reason:

Discouragement has reminded me once again of my desperate need for God.

Discouragement has forced me once again to decide: will I try to live life on my own, or will I trust God to be who He says He is, to do what He says He can do?

This spring, our Thursday morning small group studied the book of Ephesians. In the first chapter, Paul prays for the readers of his letter, saying:

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:17-19)

Paul goes on to say that “this power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”

Paul wants his readers to know that they have access to the same power that brought Jesus back to life. He wants them to believe it, to live according to this truth.

I confess that I often doubt God’s Spirit will really work in me and through me. But I am encouraged to know that the Ephesians apparently struggled too—I figure if they had already mastered this truth, Paul wouldn’t have needed to pray for them!

So, as I face today’s impossible list of things to do, as I watch loved ones struggle with issues beyond my help–even as I wade through papers to find the desk underneath–I am making Paul’s prayer personal. Perhaps, if you need to trust in God’s power at work in you as well, you’ll pray with me:

God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, I ask that you give me the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that I may know You better. I pray also that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened in order that I may know the hope to which You have called me, the riches of Your glorious inheritance in the saints, and your incomparably great power for us who believe. Amen!

Happy to Try

nicholaseditedAt that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Mathew 18:1-4 NIV

Our 8-month-old nephew, Nicholas, was just learning to stand. He happily balanced on wobbly legs, then just as happily fell onto his diapered bottom. He moved on to the next attempt—or to the toy that caught his eye as he fell—totally unfazed by his success or failure.

I, on the other hand, can let the smallest failure ruin my day. I tried a new pilates class recently and left in tears because I couldn’t do all the exercises. My discouragement as I compared my efforts to those of others in the class (who were more experienced or simply more fit) put a damper on an otherwise great day.

Nicholas and I both “failed,” in a sense, but Nicholas was unfazed while I was distraught.

So what does an 8-month old have that I’m missing?

Or maybe the question is, what do I have that I need to get rid of, so I can be more like Nicholas?

Nicholas experienced the joy of something new. I traded the joy of new experiences for damaged pride.

My pride led to embarrassment from unmet expectations. My pride experienced fear of being judged for what I couldn’t do. In hanging on to pride, I lost the chance for joy. I traded the joy of learning a new thing for a pride that worried what others might think.

When Jesus told the disciples that they needed to become like little children, he was talking about becoming like the lowliest of people—humbly receiving God’s gift of salvation as those who are helpless to earn it on their own. As those without pride. And as those full of joy for the gift of life.

I wonder how often I have missed the joy that God calls me to because of my pride. I wonder how many times I have missed a chance to grow as a Christian because I was afraid that in trying something new I might look like a fool.

Perhaps if we can remember, when we try something new, that God looks on our efforts as we look at Nicholas—cheering him on with each attempt to stand, heedless of his fall—then we too can be like little children, great in the kingdom of God, and full of joy as we humbly embrace each new experience.

By Sandy MacMillan, Take Heart Director