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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

God's Hand is Mighty

So we're still in Joshua, chapter 4, and the Israelites have just crossed the river and set up camp on the other side in Gilgal on the border of Jericho. Each tribe has taken a large stone out of the riverbed, and now Joshua creates a formation with these rocks to serve as a memorial of the miracle that God had just performed.

Knowing God~His Mighty Hand Guides Me

"When your children ask. . ."What do these stones mean?" then you shall let your children know, "Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground." . . .so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, and so that you may fear the LORD your God for ever." Joshua 4: 21-24

God asked them to set up a memorial so that they would be able to tell the story again to their children, and to serve as a notice to everyone on earth that God was a powerful God. I think it's pretty neat that He told them to take stones out of the riverbed. They could have used smaller stones from the side of the river, but using stones from the actual riverbed was like using little pieces of the miracle to make a memorial to remind them of the miracle. The children would look and ask, and then be in awe that those very stones had once been at the bottom of the rushing river. It was a very real picture.

The word "fear" in today's context would imply a stern and vindictive God, but I think it actually means to "revere, worship, honor" God, which would make much more sense. If God had just performed this amazing miracle, why would they be afraid of Him?

As I look at this passage, remembering what I read yesterday about putting my feet in the waters, trusting that God will open up a clear path, I think about the stones and wonder how I can make that a practical reality. As a writer, I am constantly memorializing moments in my life that make an impact on me, whether filled with joy or difficulty. Perhaps as I look at the times when I took that hesitant first step into rushing waters and then saw a dry path miraculously appear, I can symbolically take a stone from the middle of that dry path and create an altar of my own. Perhaps my altar is made up of stones from all the rivers I have crossed so far, and perhaps it is an altar that will continue to be added to. Perhaps my memorial is my testimony, of the miracles that I've seen God do in my life, miracles that leave me in awe and lead me to worship and honor God.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Step in Faith

Knowing God~He is with me

Joshua is getting ready to cross the river, his first major feat after Moses' death. He instructs the people to prepare themselves for God's wonders that will happen the next day, by sanctifying themselves. He instructs the priests to carry the ark of the covenant in front of all the people. Then God speaks to Joshua and encourages him. He says, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses." (Joshua 3: 7) He gives Joshua some last minute instructions and then Joshua tells the Israelites to gather around.

It's interesting that here we have a repeat of what happened at the Red Sea. An insurmountable obstacle, a river instead of a sea but still lots of water, dry land to cross over on, this time there is no one chasing the Israelites but it seems like yet another opportunity for them to learn to trust that God will open up a path where there is none. One of my favourite verses in Psalms says, "Your path led through the sea, Your way through the mighty waters, though Your footprints were not seen." The Psalms are actually filled with references to the Israelites and their experiences of wandering in the desert and rebelling against God in the promised land. Psalm 106 and 78 are excellent examples of this.

God tells Joshua that he is the one to tell the priests what to do, and that they must go right up to the edge of the water, put their feet in the water, and as soon as they do so the water will stop flowing and a dry path will appear for the people to cross over on. Joshua then encourages the Israelites, telling them that God's promises (ark of the covenant) will cross in front of them into the river, and this will be a sign to them that God is with them and that He will drive out all their enemies.

When God made the dry land appear in the Red Sea, the Israelites were terrified that they were going to die. Moses told them to stand still and see the deliverance that God was going to perform. The Egyptians would also see God's power that day and recognize that He was God. Now Joshua was encouraging the Israelites to recognize that God will deliver them from the enemies that lie ahead of them, rather than behind, and that once again He will overcome the insurmountable.

As I look at the story and think about how this can apply to my life, I think about how the priests had to actually put their feet in the water before it would stop. They had to act on faith that God would do what He had promised to do. They could have refused to put their feet in the water, they could have compromised and said they would stand at the riverbank and wait till the water dried up before they put their feet down on dry land, rather than getting their feet wet. But God specifically says, "you shall stand still in the Jordan." He didn't say, go forward in faith and then continue on blindly and presumptuously. He said, Go forward, take that first step trusting that I will fulfill My promise, and then stop and wait for Me. Wait to see that I have honored your trust and wait to see My promise fulfilled. Then you can continue on safely and in the assurance that you are in My will.

I've been struggling a lot lately with trying to understand how I can know that I am doing what God wants me to do, particularly when it comes to getting a job. I have had two really difficult experiences in the workplace, both happening in jobs where I was convinced that God was leading me to work there. I have seen family and friends looking for jobs and the conflicting schools of thought have thoroughly confused me: wait until God opens a door you haven't knocked on and take that as a sign that He is blessing you, or knock on doors until one opens and take that as a sign that He wants you to go through that door. I believe God works in providential ways but I also believe that He has gifted us with the ability to reason so that we can make logical conclusions.

Reading this passage and thinking about the priests taking that first step encourages me because perhaps it can be applied to this question that I have. Perhaps God asks us to trust His promises, which say He will provide for us and bless us and has a hopeful future for us. Perhaps we have to take that first step in faith that He will fulfill His promises, even as the water seems to be rushing very quickly in front of us and we are afraid to step forward because we fear we will be swept away by the current of life. Perhaps as we take that step, when we stop and wait for Him, He sees that our act of stepping forward demonstrates our faith, and He then honors His promise to still the waters and we can see a clear path in front of us.

It's not a perfectly lined up example that fits with my whole job-question. I'm not sure what happens if I take that step, I'm waiting, and then life gets messy and those river waters come rushing back and overwhelm me even though I'm still doing what I believe I should be doing. Perhaps, though, that part isn't my fault. Perhaps even in leaving I can still be acting in faith. Perhaps I'm simply taking another first step into unsure waters--in a different direction this time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Know The Way

At the Women of Faith conference this weekend, I listened to one of the dynamic speakers share how she liked to get into the text when she was reading her Bible, imagining what it felt like, tasted like, and looked like. As an imaginative person myself, I like the idea of recreating the scene in one's mind and pretending to actually be there when the event is occurring. Today I'm looking at Joshua 3, with a particular focus on verse 4.

Knowing God~His Covenant Leads Me

Moses has just died and God now commands Joshua to prepare to cross the Jordan river and conquer the land of Canaan. They have been camping at Shittim for some time now, and Joshua tells the officers to tell everyone to pack their belongings and prepare to leave Shittim to cross the river in three days. At the same time, he sends off the spies and they return just before everyone is ready to leave, or perhaps they meet the Israelites at the river, since the Israelites had to camp out there for three days as well.

It is now time for the momentous occasion. Doing some brief research online, it appears that while the Jordan river was not so wide, reports vary from 20 feet to 100 feet, this event did occur during harvest season when the river had gone past its banks, so it likely was a rushing river, and not still and calm. I imagine that while the spies would have been able to swim across as able-bodied men, it would not have been possible for the old, the women, the children, and the animals to cross over unless they could be ferried across. As there is no mention of boats appearing miraculously, God commands the people to prepare to cross.

As the officers pass through the camp telling everyone to get ready, they give some pretty specific directions. They tell the people that when they see the ark being carried by the priests, that they should follow the ark so they will know which way to go. I guess in a way it was very similar to what the Israelites had already been doing, which was to follow the cloud during the day and the pillar of fire at night, since they had no idea which way to go in the desert. So God continues to lead them with a very specific clear direction and with something that they can see with their own eyes.

"When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. . .Follow it, so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before."

How can I today recognize God's leading in my life? When His presence goes before me. It was clear that the ark of the covenant represented God. It was a tangible symbol of God's presence to the people, and they were following His promises (covenant) into the land of promise. What a neat picture that paints! When I'm feeling a little lost or confused as to the direction of my life, I can look in my Bible for God's promises. God says, "You won't know which way to go, because this path is completely brand new to you. But I'm sending My covenant before you, to clearly show you the way to go." If I take the comparison even further, the covenant is also a symbolic representation of Jesus Who went ahead of me and is ready to show me which way to go.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Set His Heart On Me

One of my personal quests in life is to know Who God is and how He relates to me. I've recently started going through my compact NIV concordance, looking up texts that are found under "Know" and reading the passages around those texts to get an idea from Scripture of Who God is. My order goes something like this: Verse reference, summary of concept, summary of context, and personal application. Sometimes if there is a confusing section in the verse, I will do a cross-reference to see what that confusing word or phrase means, which can be kind of fun and take me off on a number of "rabbit trails" as my Bible teacher in college used to say!

Today I'm looking at Deuteronomy 7: 9.

Knowing God~He is God; He is faithful

Deuteronomy starts out by Moses recalling the history of the Israelites, from the time of their rebellion in the desert when God decreed that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until now. It is almost like a farewell speech, a blessing, and an admonition to obey God, remember how He has been faithful and protected them, and a reminder to keep His laws so they will be blessed in the promised land. Moses is preparing them to carry on without him, and to assume the responsibility of transitioning from slaves to God's chosen people. (Deut. 27:9)

Deuteronomy 7: 1-11 are some really neat verses. My favourite are: "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be His people, His treasured possession. It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set His heart on you and chose you-for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that He swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God Who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations, and who repays in their own person those who reject Him." ~Deut. 7:6-10, NRSV

Moses reminds the Israelites that they are God's chosen people, and tells them why He has chosen them, because He loves them and because He made a promise to their ancestors that He would redeem them. After listing God's attributes, Moses says, this is how you can know that your God is God, because He is faithful and loyal to His covenant.

Somehow God keeps His covenant even though the Israelites continued to mess up and rebel. Somehow, like David, He looked at His people and realized they were human, trying their best to do the right thing and yet helpless on their own to be holy. Perhaps He honored their faith as of greater significance than their inability to live perfect lives.

What can I take away from this? How can I recognize and know God in my life? When I see God's faithfulness in my life and when I notice that He is keeping His promises. He has said that I am holy to Him, chosen, a treasured possession, loved, redeemed from slavery, and God has set His heart on me. I like that phrase, "set His heart on you," because it sounds like God has not only made up His mind that He cares about me, but that His heart is fully committed as well. When we have our hearts set on something, we won't rest until that particular thing, whether it be a new car, a boyfriend, or a cute pair of shoes has become ours. We devote all our energy to pursuing it. We choose to invest our time to achieving our goal. And we do it because we want to. Kind of a neat picture about how God cares about us, and all because He wants to.