Something new?

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C. S. Lewis

Are you facing something new in your life? A new relationship? Job? Baby? Class? Diagnosis? Neighborhood?

After Moses’ death, the Israelites were facing something new, too. They had been in the desert for 40 years and now were were camped on the eastern side of the Jordan River just waiting to cross and begin to claim the land God had promised. Joshua recognizes how scary this might be when he said, “you have not passed this way before.” (Joshua 3:4b)

There was a new leader to follow, a new river to cross, new land to take over, and new cultures to understand. So, God tells them, through Joshua, that he will show them the way. They just have to follow the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

When we face something new in our lives, don’t we feel like that? We have left behind something familiar and comfortable. We haven’t done this thing before. How can we do it right? How can we succeed? Joshua’s message brings us comfort knowing that God realizes our fears. He knows we haven’t passed this way before, but he knows the way and tells us just to follow him.

And following God always brings the unexpected. The next thing the Israelites saw was the priests stepping into the Jordan River which was overflowing its banks. The rushing water stopped and the people were given a path through to the other side.

If we want a full life, we sometimes have to let go of the old path and turn to the new. God will lead us and may have a few surprises along the way. Just ask Joshua!

“You have made known to me the path of life.” – Psalm16:11a

Does it matter today?

“Every Christian should have a passion to please God. We are to delight in honoring Him. It should be our greatest desire to please our Redeemer.” – R. C. Sproul

Sometimes it’s hard to read Old Testament passages without tuning out. I had that challenge in my reading this morning. I was in Deuteronomy and Moses explained that when the Israelites got settled in their new land, they were to take the first portion of their crops (“firstfruits”) and give it to God. It was a way of acknowledging his provision of their new homeland.

Last week my husband and I moved into a new neighborhood in our old home state of Michigan. We believe God has brought us here. How do we acknowledge that in a way that would be parallel to the Israelites offering the first portion of their crops after arriving at their new home?

I don’t imagine I’ll ever offer literal firstfruits to God. We don’t have a garden, and our lawn is not even doing very well at this point! So, how can I show the same attitude God expected of Israel, but in a different way? I asked God about that. Here are two ideas that came to mind:

Donate to an organization helping those who have no homes.

Make our home a place of hospitality – sharing food and friendship with others.

The Bible is applicable to our lives every day. Sometimes we have to ask God to enlighten us to see how we can accomplish the goal of his original command. Let’s think more about that next time we find a text that seems out of touch with today’s world. It probably has a connection we haven’t seen yet!

“And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. . . “ – Deuteronomy 26:11a

It takes practice.

“To learn strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.” – George Mueller

Have you ever learned to play a musical instrument? If so, you know you don’t sit down and play a Mozart concerto on the first day. You start with a few notes and repeat them until the notes on the page flow through you into melody. Making music begins with easy pieces. But if you want to go to the next level, it takes work, stamina, making mistakes, letting the music get into your bones, and, at long last, the more complex composition translates into beautiful sounds. Making music takes practice.

Trusting God is like that: We learn to trust by trusting. The hard part is that the only way to practice this skill is to encounter a problem we can’t solve on our own. Not our favorite thing. And it becomes harder the longer the problem persists. If we don’t give up, our trust grows as we go through the struggle stage-by-stage.

When it’s over, and we’re on an even keel again, we realize our confidence in God is much stronger than it was before the problem began. Then, when God is ready to move us to the next level of trusting, we do it all over again with a new problem life brings, but this time we’re stronger and better able to be joyful, peaceful, and hopeful even in the struggle.

So, let’s not complain when we’re faced with a challenge. Maybe God is taking us to the next level of trust, of knowing him. At each new level, the music is more beautiful, the joy more complete. Keep practicing!

“This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” – Isaiah 25:9b

Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

He kept walking.

“When Jesus set his face to walk the Calvary road, he was not merely taking our place; he was setting our pattern.” – John Piper

Jesus knew what was coming. He told his disciples he was going to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. After three days he would rise from the dead. Jesus knew what had to take place if he was going to be the Savior of the world. So, “. . . he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

The walk from Capernaum was nearly 80 miles long. Lots of time to think about what was about to happen. But he didn’t waver. He pointed himself toward Jerusalem and kept walking. He stopped to heal people along the way – then kept walking. He stopped to eat and sleep, and then kept walking. Resolute. Pointing toward his own death. Never turning back.

What was he thinking about? We get a clue from this passage: “. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

He kept walking because, at the other end of agony, there would be joy. Joy at doing the Father’s will. Joy in bringing salvation to the people of the earth. He did it for joy.

Are you facing health issues? Family problems? Emotional trauma? Financial setbacks? Work stress? Do what Jesus did. Keep walking, knowing he has a plan for you, knowing the end result is in his hands, resting in his promises of presence, power, and joy. Don’t give up. Keep walking. That’s what Jesus did!

” . . . for the joy that was set before him. . .” – from Hebrews 12:2

NOTE: Original walking concept from Emilie Griffin in Small Surrenders

About Leaders

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” – John Stott

Think about leaders you know. Some are on the world stage as leaders of nations or, in other ways, are international influencers. Others are more local – in our communities, churches, businesses, and families. You can learn how to lead by attending seminars, watching videos, or reading books, but maybe one of the best ways is by observing.

I’ve been reading recently about Moses and his confrontation with Pharaoh about freeing the Israelite slaves. In their conversations and God’s responses (ten devastating plagues!), we see two kinds of leaders at work.

Pharaoh was was ego-driven, power-hungry, inconsistent, angry, and stubborn. As a result of his decisions, Egypt was devastated – crops and livestock wiped out, military might destroyed, and there were unimaginable personal losses for every family. His people suffered greatly under his leadership.

Moses, on the other hand, has been called the humblest person ever born (Numbers 12:3). It was also said of him that God talked to him face-to-face as a man speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11). Moses wasn’t perfect, but he did his best to follow God’s direction and to live by his principles. As a result, God’s people were set free under his leadership.

Whether we lead or follow, we must acknowledge that leaders matter. So, when we have a choice, let’s choose carefully who we will follow. And, if we lead, let’s do so with Moses-like humility and authority. That’s leadership God honors.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” – Hebrews 13:7

Did you get it wrong?

“Bless the LORD, O my soul . . . who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psalm 103:2-4

We make decisions early in life that set a trajectory that’s hard to change. You know the kind I mean: Education, career, marriage, home, and kids. Often before we’re 30.

Wanting to get it right, we ask God for direction and then decide. Sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes not. If we realize, often years later, we’ve made some mistakes, is there anything we can do? The Bible gives some insight here:

God had been ruling Israel through judges. The people, though, noticed that other nations had kings, so they wanted a king, too. They persisted and, finally, God relented and gave them a king.

Some time later, Samuel reminded them they had been wrong to ask God for a king. The people seemed to realize Samuel was right, and they acknowledged their bad judgment. But what could they do? They already had the king they’d asked for.

Samuel said: “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:20b). He says, essentially, just follow God in your present situation.

Have you ever made a big mistake? Or have you committed a sin you’ve regretted for years? God still says something like this, “Yes, you were wrong, but don’t be afraid. Just follow me, love me, serve me where you are today.”

He is the God of second chances. He still leads, heals wounds, and uses broken people who keep on following him no matter what.

“. . . the things about you that make you cringe most, make him hug hardest.” – Dane Ortland

Photo courtesy of a friend and neighbor. Thanks!

Breaking Promises

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. ” – Hebrews 10:22

Did you ever make a promise and later regret it? We probably all have. We are people of our word and, no matter what, we’re determined to keep a promise we’ve made. But, should we?

Most of the time we should. But, the Bible teaches that, if keeping a promise leads to sin, it’s better to break the promise than to do something harmful or wrong. David’s an example of this when he vows to his 600 fighting men that they will wipe out the household of Nabal because Nabal refused to provide food for David’s men. David is on his way to do that when Nabal’s wife, Abigail, meets him, brings food, and talks him out of his foolish promise. David relents and then acknowledges that her intervention kept him from sinning (1 Samuel 25).

Herod should have been willing to go back on his promise when he told Herodias’ daughter she could have whatever she wanted, and she asked for John the Baptist’s head. Herod was too proud to go back on his word, and John was unjustly and immediately beheaded.

If keeping our word will have consequences that are harmful, sinful, or just plain unwise, it’s better to break that promise than to keep it (Leviticus 5:4-6). We will have to give explanations, apologies, and even restitution if we have hurt someone by backing away, but that’s better than doing the wrong thing.

We should not make promises lightly, but we should never keep a promise that leads to sin or harm. Speak carefully, correct thoughtfully, live wisely, and God will be glorified.

“Never do what’s wrong! Do nothing until it’s right. Then do it with all your might.” – Chuck Swindoll

Making a Difference

“. . . (The Lord) who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
– Psalm 103:4-5

Life can be frustrating, discouraging. Sometimes we feel like we are trying our best, but not making a difference at all. We find ourselves asking if what we are doing today will matter in the long run.

Don’t give up. God works in ways we cannot see – at least not yet! I read recently about the life of David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians in the 1700’s. He kept a journal, so we have a window on his private thoughts. He was often discouraged. He was alone and lonely. He was sick (diagnosed with consumption). And his ministry was not very successful. But, even when he was depressed, he kept going. He prayed – sometimes for a whole day at a time. He fasted. He read and re-read his Bible.

And, listen in to the cry of his heart: “Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.” God answered that prayer. Though he had few converts and died at the age of 29 after only a four-year ministry, his devotion to God during tough times has inspired countless others to gives their lives to God in service as ministers and missionaries.

So, even when we are discouraged, we don’t quit. God is working something in us and through us that we don’t understand. Let’s pray, as Brainerd did, that God would use us to make a difference that is disproportionate to who we are!

” . . . God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.” – John Piper

Nothing More, Nothing Less

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life”
– Psalm 23:6a

What do you want God to do for you? Or give you? The biblical David, who grew up tending sheep, understood the role of the shepherd – it was to provide for and protect the sheep. Reflecting on his life, he wrote Psalm 23 in which he expresses trust in God, the Shepherd who’s been with him through life’s journey and has done all the things a good shepherd should do. In fact, if all he had was the Shepherd himself, that would be enough. This Shepherd would give him what he needs and what he wants him to have – nothing more, nothing less.

Do we have enough trust in God to say, as David did, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing.“? That whatever he provides is enough? That just being with this Shepherd is enough?

Listen to God’s whisper:

Am I enough even if I don’t answer your prayers?

If I don’t heal your child?

If I allow you to be sick or in pain?

If your bank account dwindles?

If you lose your job?

I am your Shepherd, your Father, your God. Am I enough?

If we trust in his goodness, his power, and his love for us, he will be enough. We can go through any difficulty, face any threat, go without any material thing, suffer any pain, or experience any loss. Knowing the Shepherd is with us, we realize he will give us everything we need – nothing more, nothing less. And it will be enough.

“You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours.

Do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace,

And that is enough for me.”

from Pray-As-You-Go devotional