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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I Really Want to be Like Jesus…

I really want to be like Jesus…

Instead, I disappoint my friends, speak harsh words, and let the dumbest things get me off track.

It was one of those days. By lunchtime I was in tears over the ways I had failed. I flopped on the couch at our Take Heart office, totally discouraged.

Then my eyes drifted up to a picture on our wall, one of the framed pieces we’d used in our prayer chapel:

enterhisrest Enter His rest. Be still in His silence. Be renewed in His quiet.

As I read these calming words, I began to feel the peace of Christ wash over me, reminding me of the forgiveness that is available to all who ask.

I was reminded that God called us to Himself “while we were yet sinners.”(Romans 5:8) When Jesus said “come to me all you who are weary and burdened,” he didn’t say we had to get it right before we came.

In fact, he was calling to the discouraged. To people like me who start the day by the Spirit and too easily slip into the habits of the flesh.

I closed the office door, eased back down into the couch, and the tears that fell became tears of gratitude for the love of a Good Father. One whose arms are always open. One who calls us to be renewed in His Presence. One who readies us to go out again, to work out our salvation, learning to be like Jesus one moment at a time.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt:11:28-30

Fighting Fair with God

madwomanShe was mad. Mad at her husband. Mad at her boss. Mad at the world. And mad at God. She ranted about how badly life had treated her. And how she couldn’t understand why God didn’t fix things for her.

My heart reached out to her. She had really been through a lot. Some of her struggles were truly not her fault. But other problems were, at least in part, the result of her own bad choices.

To blame God for not rescuing her from her own poor choices—well, that just wasn’t fighting fair.

But—in fairness—while my friend’s rantings made her error more obvious, one look at the mirror told me that she wasn’t the only one who sometimes blames God for problems she walks into all by herself!

Scripture gives plenty of examples of people struggling with God, pleading with God, pouring out their troubles and asking for rescue. And I absolutely believe God would have us fight things through with Him rather than walk away from Him.

But, as I look at the Scriptures, I see certain principles of fair fighting, certain truths that can turn our rantings at God to a growing trust in God.

  1. Remember who God is.

I think of Job, who truly didn’t deserve his hard times, but was still chastened for questioning God. God’s reply to his complaint:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand.” (Job 38:4) and

“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?” Job 40:2a

When we pridefully challenge God, we dishonor Him by forgetting that God is Creator and that we are created. We fail to acknowledge how little we understand about His purposes for the world and for us.

David also had plenty of troubles. And he very openly poured out his anguish and complaints to God, saying things like:

“My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:3)

“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)

“My God, my god, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1)

But even as David questioned God’s presence and provision, he never forgot who God is. Look at these verses from the same three psalms:

In Psalm 6, David calls on God to save him, “because of [his] unfailing love” (v 4 ) affirming that because “the Lord accepts my prayer,” “all my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed.” (v 9 and 10).

In Psalm 10, David says that “the Lord is King for ever and ever,” the God who hears “the desire of the afflicted.” (v 16 and 17).

In Psalm 22, immediately after asking God why He has seemingly ignored David, David says “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them (vss 3-4).

Taking time to remember who God is gives us an important perspective check. God is good. God loves us. But God is sovereign and does not answer to us.

  1. Remember who we are.

 When my friend and I blame God for our circumstances, so often we forget

  • Our own limited perspective
  • Our personal responsibility

After hearing God’s answer to his railings, Job replied, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4-5)

When we remember who God is as Creator and who we are as the created, we realize the arrogance of our arguments, and come before him humbly.

And, as Paul reminds us in Romans 3, that humble place is not only because we are created. It is because we are fallen:

“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11)

When I bring my complaints before God recognizing my sin, I am less likely to blame God for things that are my own fault. Instead, I am humbled to ask God to forgive me, to transform me, and to help me. And I am reminded that it is God’s grace that works to redeem my messes for my good and His glory. 

  1. Remember that God has the best plan.

When I rant at God, it’s often because I know what I want. I think I know best, and I’m not getting it!

Yet when I think about requests God has said “no” to in the past, it’s very often with a sense of gratitude. Because looking back, I catch glimpses of the work God was doing that I couldn’t see at the time—character building, preparing me for even greater blessing.

I believe God is pleased when we bring Him our hurts and even our frustrations with His apparent lack of help. And sometimes we have to wrestle with God about intense feelings of hurt and disappointment. Like barren Hannah, we can pray “out of great anguish and grief” (1 Samuel 1:16) But as we fight fair, remembering who God is, and who we are in relation to him, we can also leave the fight with faces like Hannah’s that are “no longer downcast” (v 18) because of a restored trust in our good, loving God. 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, at FreeDigitalPhoto.net.

 

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

Image

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