BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS

UtahThis is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” [Joshua 1:6a,9 (NLT)]

Joshua 1:9 was my Bible verse for the day but I decided to make it my verse for the week. To make sure I kept it in mind, I wrote it on a post-a-note and stuck it where I’d be sure to see it: on my phone!

Wanting to put this inspirational verse in context, I reread the first chapter of Joshua. The book of Joshua is about the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham made four hundred years earlier. Its first chapter is one of my favorite chapters of the Old Testament narratives. To set the stage: Israel is camped on the east side of the Jordan River with the Promised Land in sight. Forty years have passed since the parting of the Red Sea. Moses is dead and only Caleb and Joshua remain of the adults who’d once been slaves in Egypt. The Israelites are standing on the edge of the unknown and the Jordan River is at flood stage. With no bridges or ferry boats, they must have wondered how they’d manage to get safely to the other side. Joshua is the new leader of the Israelites and God tells him to be strong and courageous.

Granted, God’s words were spoken to Joshua around 1400 BC in an entirely different setting but, because I’m standing on the edge of the unknown as well, God’s words to Joshua are both comforting and encouraging. Then again, we’re all standing on the edge of the unknown. None of us know what tomorrow (or even the rest of today) will bring: be it good news or bad, tornadoes or sunny skies, an accident or a near miss, the making of a new friend or the loss of an old one.

When Joshua is told to be strong, God wasn’t talking about working out at the gym. This strength had nothing to do with muscles unless, of course, we’re talking about spiritual muscles. It had to do with having the strength to prevail, withstand, and sustain. Being of good courage, is more than not being a fearful coward; it’s being alert both physically and mentally, steadfast, and determined. It wasn’t powerful foes or a lack of weapons, battle strategy, or seasoned warriors that threatened Israel; it was fear, discouragement, and weakness of faith.

Being strong and courageous is easier said than done. Nevertheless, God tells Joshua exactly how to do that: meditate on and obey the instructions in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible and the only scripture at the time). Authored by God through Moses, those books contained the people’s history and God’s law, promises and plan. If the Israelites had only done that, the Old Testament would be an entirely different (and far less violent) story! 3,400 years later, we’re no longer limited to a mere five books; we have both Old and New Testaments to make us strong and courageous. Just the same, knowing and obeying those words can be as much of a problem for us as it was for the Israelites.

At least for me, the best part of Joshua 1:9 is God’s promise that He is with us wherever we go. Whether we’re crossing a deep river or just going across the street, confronting an enemy army or a CT scan, or facing a walled city or the loss of a spouse, we know that, no matter what befalls us, God is with us. When we’re standing at an abyss, facing the great unknown, there is no need to be afraid or discouraged. We can be strong and courageous because we have his promise in writing; He is always with us, “even to the end of the age.”

If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable. [John Newton]

Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:20 (NLT)]

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WORRY AND PRIDE

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)]

tropical water lilyWhen the Israelites sent scouts out to Canaan, they were doing due diligence and getting the lay of the land. Let’s remember, Moses had only asked them to scout out the land, not to determine how or whether they should proceed. But, when they returned, ten of the twelve reported the Promised Land was the land of giants who were undefeatable. In spite of Moses’s leadership, the reassurances of Joshua and Caleb, and God’s promises and power, the Israelites pridefully decided they knew more than God and chose fear instead of stepping out in faith.

Right now, while I’m not looking over the Jordan to Canaan, I’m in the land of waiting—between tests and results, between diagnosis and treatment. On the plus side, at least I won’t be here for forty years as were the Israelites! Nevertheless, the land of waiting can turn into a land of fear and worry. Our “what is?” evolves into “what if?” Instead of scouting Canaan, we scour the Internet, sift through contradictory information, imagine assorted scenarios, try to make sense of medical terms, research, and recommendations without benefit of a medical degree, and turn unknown challenges into undefeatable giants.

It occurred to me that, to a great extent, my worry is the result of pride. The Israelites trusted themselves more than God and, apparently, I trust myself and my research more than either my doctors or God. Could I really think that I, whose only medical degree is that of Dr. Mom, am smarter than my doctors? There’s a fine line between understanding a condition and self-diagnosing or treating it, between concern about something and worry over it, and I’ve crossed that line. Having already researched the qualifications of my physicians, I was satisfied with their credentials, so why did I think I should second guess them? I must remember that God didn’t ask the Israelites for their opinion about Canaan; He asked them to trust Him. Not trusting our doctors can be a mistake but not trusting God is a sin!

I’ve been pridefully leaning on my own understanding when I should be leaning on God. He’s the one in control of my tomorrows and whatever they may bring. My prayer is no longer that I become more enlightened and better qualified than my doctors but that God leads me to the right doctors and gives wisdom to them.  We can worry or we can trust God, but we can’t do both! Let us cast our anxiety and cares on Him, our Great Physician.

Do what you can, and then trust God with what you cannot do. [Craig Groeschel]

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. [Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)]

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MISTAKES HAPPEN

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. [1 John 1:9 (NLT)]

golden mantled ground squirrel - YellowstoneIt was late Saturday night when one of our pastors glanced at the next day’s church program and saw that Sunday’s sermon was titled “Epithet.” Since he wasn’t speaking about insults on social media but about the way we’ll be remembered when we’re gone, it should have read “Epitaph.” After spending the next hour trying to figure out a way to tie epithets into epitaphs, he realized it made more sense to own up to his spelling error, which he did at all three services.

Life gives us an abundance of opportunities to make mistakes and, sometimes, it seems as if we never miss one! We mishear, misinterpret, misjudge, misread, misspeak, misspell, misunderstand and, yes, we sin. We take wrong turns, say the wrong things, and believe the wrong person. Sometimes, that wrong person is an over-confident self. Overly confident, the pastor didn’t proofread, the builders of the Titanic didn’t provide enough life boats, and Napoleon thought he could successfully invade Russia in the winter.

Like the pastor, as much as we hate to do it, we need to own our mistakes and admit our responsibility for them. Sometimes, we can make the best of them, in which case they cease being mistakes. For example, while 3M’s Patty Sherman was trying to develop a rubber that wouldn’t deteriorate when exposed to jet fuel fumes, she made a mistake and spilled a few drops of one failed test batch on her shoe. Later, seeing that those spots were clean while the rest of her shoe had gotten stained and dirty, she made the most of that mistake with a product we call Scotchguard!

Sometimes, we can fix our mistakes. When KFC discovered their motto “Finger-lickin’ good!” became “Eat your fingers off!” in Chinese, they quickly corrected their clumsy translation. Sometimes, though, we just plow on ahead in the face of our errors. The Leaning Tower of Pisa started to lean five years after construction began but, rather than admit and correct the problem, building continued for another for 192 years. They kept compensating by making the uphill side shorter but, because mistakes don’t correct themselves, the tower kept leaning.

Like that learning tower, many of our mistakes are ones with which we must live. Hopefully, we learn from our errors as I imagine NASA did when they accidentally taped over their video of the moon landing. Rather than dwelling on our mistakes, we have to move out of the land of “what if” into the land of “what is.” This, however, is where we encounter the hardest part of making a mistake: forgiving ourselves.

Consider the mistakes of Judas and Peter: Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and Peter denied Him three times. Realizing Jesus would die for his betrayal, could Judas have been trying to undo his mistake by giving back the blood money? Filled with remorse and unable to change what had been done, he killed himself. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if only Judas had waited three days. I know Jesus would have forgiven Him. Think of the testimony Judas could have given if he’d forgiven himself and waited as did Peter. Like Judas, Peter betrayed Jesus but, unlike him, he forgave himself, lived with his mistake, and was in the room when Jesus appeared! Think of the powerful testimony Peter did give!

We have a choice about even our most grievous mistakes. Like Peter, we can live with them, forgive ourselves, accept God’s forgiveness, and move on with our lives in service to Him. Or, like Judas, we can hold on to them and refuse to forgive ourselves. Our guilt may not take our lives but it will take our peace, joy, self-confidence, hope, and even our faith in a forgiving God. We’re told we must forgive to be forgiven; it would seem that command means forgiving ourselves as much as it means forgiving others. Let our guilt be washed away!

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. [Psalm 32:5 (NLT)]

And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. [Hebrews 10:21-22 (NLT)]

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LAST RESORTS

Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord; hear my urgent cry. I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me. [Psalm 86:6-7 (NLT)]

“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. [Psalm 107:13 (NLT)]

digging in the sandOnce upon a time, a little boy was busy digging in the sand at the beach and, like other youngsters through the years, he thought he even might be able to dig all the way to China. His steadfast excavations got so deep that he encountered a large rock. With great determination, he dug and dug with his small shovel in an attempt to free it from the ground. Unfortunately, the little boy and his plastic shovel were no match for the rock. When the shovel broke in two, the boy let out a howl and burst into tears. Hearing the child’s cries, his father immediately ran to comfort him. Through his sobs, the boy told how he’d tried and tried to free the rock but was too weak, his arm was too short, and he’d broken his only shovel. His father gently asked why he hadn’t used all of his strength. “But I did, Daddy, I really did!” exclaimed the boy. “No, son, you didn’t,” explained the man as he reached into the hole, grabbed the rock with his large hands, and pulled it from the ground. “You should have called me!”

While the circumstances and challenges are different, we’re really not much different than that little boy. Determined to be self-sufficient and strong, we often fail to call on our Heavenly Father to help with the heavy lifting. I’ve never sobbed at the beach while holding a broken shovel but I’ve sat in despair and hopelessness in plenty of other places and cried because I thought I was at the end of all my resources. That’s usually when I complain to God with some version of why: why this, why now, why here, and (my personal favorite) why me? While God rarely offers an answer to the whys, perhaps it’s simply that trials exist to drive us to God: to trust in Him and call on Him in faith.

During David’s reign, Israel suffered from a three year famine and David prayed to God about it. When God told David the famine was because Saul had dishonored a covenant Joshua made with the Gibeonites, the king took rather gruesome steps to make amends and, apparently, the famine ended. [2 Samuel 21] Famine in Israel, an agricultural society, was a grave matter and I can’t help but wonder what King David was doing during the three years of scarcity before he finally fell to his knees and consulted God. Why didn’t he pray at the first sign of trouble rather than waiting until the people were starving? Could pride have made David think that he and his advisors could solve a food crisis on their own? If so, that pride caused his people to suffer for three years simply because he didn’t use all the strength available to him by calling on his Father!

Ours is not a God of Last Resorts! He is not where we go when all else fails: when the shovel breaks or the grain bins are empty. Ours is a first responder God! He’s the first call we make when we see the rock that seems immovable, discover insects infesting our fields, or see challenges looming on the horizon. With His power, we can do things we could never accomplish by ourselves. Let us be strong in the Lord!

We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours. [Oswald Chambers]

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. [Ephesians 6:10 (NLT)]

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. … But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. [Isaiah 40:29,31 (NLT)]

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THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. [Luke 2:6-7 (NLT)]

red roseIn honor of that first Christmas, the one without decorations, piles of gaily wrapped presents or a feast, let’s try to keep it simple today and tomorrow. It’s not too late to change our plans and readjust our expectations. I’m sure Joseph and Mary didn’t plan on birthing in a stable, but their Christmas was a blessed one even though life didn’t go as they’d intended. Accept in advance that some things are certain to go wrong: guests won’t arrive on time, a gift will disappoint, food will burn, a drink will spill, toys will break, tears will be shed, directions will get thrown away, someone’s feelings will be hurt, and we’ll miss those who are absent. That’s as much a part of this holiday as church, carols, family, prayers, candy canes, laughter, a Christmas tree, and pine-scented candles.

We’re all anxious about Christmas. No one, however, was more anxious than Mary on that first Christmas. She had plenty of reasons to be apprehensive and nervous. She’d conceived miraculously, endured an eighty-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and was in labor in a strange place with no women nearby to reassure or help her. There were no prenatal classes, birthing coaches, monitors, epidurals, fancy birthing rooms, comfy pillows, soft music in the background, warmed blankets, or medical care. Without a doubt, with the sheep and cows as her midwives, she was a frightened young girl. Yet, somehow, through God’s grace, she managed quite well. She had the simplest and most meaningful Christmas celebration ever! Things may not have gone right but they went perfectly—just as God planned!

Thank you, Lord, for the salvation brought to us by a baby in a manger. Tonight, as we celebrate Christ’s birth, please replace our apprehension with anticipation, our anxiety with hope, our chaos with peace, and our stress with serenity. Let there be joy, not sorrow; generosity, not selfishness; and love, not rancor.

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God, From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load. [“Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” (Friedrich Layritz)]

All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. [2 Luke 2:18 (NLT)]

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OTHER DEMONS

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39 (NLT)]
Halloween ghost

Yesterday, I wrote of the emotional vampires that can plague us but there are other demons even harder to spot than those two-legged ones. Invisible, they go by the names of guilt, anger, doubt, resentment, shame, regret, fear, and worry. They haunt us with “if only,” “what if,” “should have,” and “could have” and leave us discontented, sullen, resentful, fearful or worried. They are the hobgoblins that whisper lies and half-truths in our ears: we’re unlovable, contemptible, unforgiven, helpless, inadequate, or worthless. Like vampires, these monsters also can suck the life out of us. Friends of the enemy, they keep us from living boldly, stepping out in faith, and leading the fulfilling and joyful life Jesus promised.

It’s time to declare war on these monsters; they have no place in our lives. In the old movies, evil was repelled by the crucifix—a mere religious symbol. In real life, however, it is the power of Jesus that defeats the enemy! Through His power, we can banish those demons that steal our joy and suck the life from us. We can face our secrets, shed our shame, forgive others (and ourselves), know we are loved, release our anxiety and fear, trust God and choose His truth. The voice we hear can be that of the Holy Spirit rather than the unsettling voice of the enemy. With the power of the cross, we will be able to step out of the haunted house of our lives not in fear, but in faith—not in darkness, but in light.

Heavenly Father, help us look into the dark corners of our lives and, through your power, banish the demons that keep us from the abundant life you promised.

The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls. [Edgar Allen Poe]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

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