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

In our third and final guest blog from Tana Tuttle, Tana starts again with verse 2 of Joshua , but moves quickly on through verse 9:

 2b Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success[a] wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (ESV)

In the second part of Joshua 1:2 we see that the people were told to cross over “into the land I am giving to them.”tana Christmas

Note the implication that all the Israelites were going, not one would be left behind, as they enter the land God is giving “to the people of Israel.

In case they don’t get it, God clarifies in verse 3: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.”

This is covenant language, this is what God had already told the Israelites through Moses back in Deuteronomy 10:24. God is saying, “I told you. I promised!” God’s intentions were clear; He did not bring them out of Egypt to harm them. He did not set them up to be destroyed. He promised them a land flowing with milk and honey. They may have taken a 40-year detour, but now they were to prepare—to get back on the track of God’s good intentions.

The times when it seems God is silent, or that He has taken something from us, we must remember what God has said, and that God is faithful to fulfill what He has promised.

General promises are wonderful, but the specific promises He has made to you are equally sustaining.

We must know God’s unchanging character and His unchanging Word.   We must cling to what God’s Word ways. Never give up on what God has promised you.

God desires to fulfill His promise to you, to extend your influence, to take you to the next level, for you have been called to bear much fruit.

Verse 4 continues with God’s reminder that He will fulfill His promises: “From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.”

But did you notice that the Israelites’ territory includes the “wilderness”? Does it seem odd to you that the “promised” territory of the Israelites includes the wilderness?

Ever been in a wilderness? It’s usually characterized as a dry, barren place, a mysterious, unwanted, get-me-out-as-fast-as-you-can kind of place. Who wants a wilderness? Hmm. Apparently God does. The wilderness was not a good place for the Israelites. They spent 40 years there. I’m sure they wanted to leave it behind as fast as they could.   But God included it in their territory. You know what this tells us?

God never throws away our past, it is included in everything He is doing in and through us. The wilderness will work for us, even if all it does is remind us that we don’t want to go a certain place or do certain things again! Remember:

All your experiences work together for your good because God includes the wilderness! 

As we move along, the passage switches its focus from the land to God’s relationship with Joshua, and by extension, with us.

Verse 5 tells us: “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” You can face anything and anybody with God. God is a very present help in trouble. (See also Psalm 46:1.)

Never face anything alone. You don’t need to! Bring your life and your stuff to God. No matter how bad it is, He will be with you and never forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

You will always need God’s presence with you ~ past, present and future.

Moving along to verses 6 and 7, Joshua is told to “be strong and courageous” (and again to be strong and very courageous).

What’s the opposite of strong and courageous? Weak and fearful, right? Well, there you go. Only two choices—strong and courageous or weak and fearful. Which do you prefer? Which will you choose?

Every day, we must make the choice; and remember, if we do not intentionally choose to be strong and courageous, we will by default choose weak and fearful.

Who wants us to be weak and fearful? That is Satan’s desire and intention for you, you never have to wonder about that. God will never wake you up and tell you, “Today, I prefer you to be weak and fearful all day long!” As soon as we open our eyes in the morning, I believe God whispers to each of us, “Do not be afraid. Be strong and courageous, for I am with you.” I have read that the Bible contains 365 “do not be afraid” verses…..one for each day. How like a gracious God!

God’s call to every believer, not matter what, is to be strong and courageous. 

As a summing of God’s instructions about how to live victoriously, let’s look at verses 7 to 9. These instructions are vital if we seek to make it through change and on to what God has ahead for us:

  • Obey the Word (Be “careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.”)
  • Speak the Word (“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth.”
  • Meditate (or chew) on the Word (“You shall meditate on [the Word] day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

 And now, let me leave you with one final instruction from verse 9:

Do NOT be discouraged!

I may not know what you are facing or going through right now, but no matter what it is: do not be discouraged!

Discouragement is one of Satan’s biggest weapons against us. God will never discourage you and He will never call you to discourage others! (See Numbers 13:26-33 and 14:36 to find out how God feels about discouraging others.)

1 Samuel 30:6 tells us to encourage ourselves in the Lord. If one of the biggest weapons against us is discouragement, then the counter weapon is to encourage ourselves in the Lord. Many times in my life, I’ve had a crisis with simply no one to call on for encouragement. I’ve learned that I must encourage myself in the Lord by remembering truth—truth I’ve stored up over time in God’s Word and presence. The Holy Spirit will not fail to remind you of the truth you need! (See John 14:26 for some super-charged truth!!).

So, dear sisters in Christ, be encouraged today if you are facing change. He did not fail the Israelites, He has not failed me, and He will not fail you!

–Tana Tuttle

 

 

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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…

tana photo

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!)

Permission to Breathe

It’s already happening.

Before the Thanksgiving fixings were in the oven, I started falling into Harried Holiday mode. I felt like l was frantically trying to juggle all the balls others (and my own ego) threw at me, and life was inching into a bad place.

This morning, as I went to my first exercise class in months, the reality of my harriedness (is that a word?) smacked me in the face again. As we relaxed at the end of class, the instructor told us to lay back and to simply breathe in and out.

Abdome_superiorIt was so relaxing. Exactly what I needed. But then I thought—“Wow! How sad is it that I need someone to give me permission to breathe!”

So today, I’m giving myself—and all of you—permission to breathe. As soon as I’m done this e-blast, I’ve blocked time to look at my month, consider what I want it to look like, and do some damage control:

  • I don’t want my time with God to turn into devotions on the toilet and study prep time for Bible Study. I refuse to multitask God!
  • I don’t want to get so caught up planning our women’s ministry Christmas dinner that my loved ones find me too busy to interrupt. I don’t want friends and family to lose out because I have holiday chores to do. Relationships are eternal. But gifts wear out and cookies get stale. The decorations we put up today just have to get boxed up again in January!

 

There are things I love about the holiday season. I love baking cookies for my guys. I do like gift giving (within limits). I love how our Christmas tree brightens up the house.

And I do believe God loves a good party and celebrates Christ’s birth along with us.

But there are ways to push back against the crazy expectations. Little ways, and big ways:

  • Maybe I’ll skip make up, hair, and fussing about what I wear, so I can relax in my quiet time. Everyone’s too busy to notice my yoga pants anyway!
  • Maybe we’ll eat a few more meals out of the freezer, so I can sit at the table with my family instead of running around the kitchen.
  • Maybe I can skip hearing that Christmas performance and get to bed early.
  • Maybe I can give fewer gifts, knowing that those who truly love me love me, not what I give them.
  • Maybe I can schedule my time so that I know I have permission to breathe!

What does permission to breathe look like for you? My prayer is that you will rest with God and He will show you how to breathe your way through the
Christmas season immersed in His love, which will overflow into the lives of His Beloved all around us!

Merry Christmas from the Take Heart team!

–Sandy MacMillan, Take Heart Director

P.S. Please check out our Ministry Leaders Breakfast on December 12th and our Leaders Retreat at the end of January (see the Take Heart website, www.TakeHeartTogether.com for details). We don’t want to add more busyness to your schedule, but both will be great opportunities to breathe.

Feel free to come in your yoga pants!

Photo by André R. Maciel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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!)

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).

Remembering Who We Are

When someone asks who you are, what do you say?Woman_love_question.svg

I’m guessing it’s some version of “I’m a … mom, wife, aunt, grandma, teacher, graphic designer, lawyer, church volunteer….”

This kind of answer tells a lot about what you do and how you relate to people. But does it really tell who you are? What happens if you lose one of these things—for good reasons or not so good ones. You choose to stay home with kids so are no longer defined by your career—or you lose a job. Your kids head off to college, your grandkids outgrow you, or you lose a spouse to death or divorce. So who are you then?

When I answer the “who am I” question, I often tell people that I direct Take Heart or work in women’s ministry leadership at my church. But recently, I started looking for a job. It meant, potentially, that the volunteer activities I let define me would take a back seat. It wasn’t a complete separation from those activities, but I couldn’t commit to things I loved to do, like leading a weekly Bible Study. I felt kind of lost and purposeless. Who was I?

In the midst of my floundering, I wanted God to quickly show me what the new me would look like, so I could settle into my new identity. Instead, God reminded me that who I am has nothing to do with what I do. Rather, who I am has everything to do with who God is and what He has done for me.

Did you get that?

Who I am has nothing to do with what I do. Rather, who I am has everything to do with who God is and what He has done for me.

God began to take me to passages like Ephesians 1: 3-13, challenging me to personalize them. Check it out:

  • God has blessed me in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven.
  • God chose me in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world.
  • God destined me to be his adopted child through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to me freely through the Son whom he loves.
  • I have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and I have forgiveness for my failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over me with wisdom and understanding.
  • I have also received an inheritance in Christ.
  • I was destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design.
  • I was sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because I believed in Christ.

It’s a pretty impressive resume, isn’t it?

It would be a lie to say that I’m all-of-the-sudden secure in who I am apart from what I do. But I’m beginning to think differently about my identity, to look to God for my answers, and to trust that God’s truth will make the journey from my head to my heart!

Image by Sunset_02459.jpg: Nevit Dilmen Do_you_love_me.svg via Wikimedia Commons