4 Lessons I Learned About Crossing Rivers and The Israelites

When we moved from Ohio to Virginia, I fell in love with the story of God leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. Time. Time again I saw connections between that journey and ours, leaving a place we knew to head towards a place of promise, without a map and without a plan of our own.

A few months ago, I found myself drawn to Joshua, someone that I knew enough about from childhood Sunday School, VeggieTales and the occasional sermon to give you a basic run down of his story. I had no idea, however, just how his experiences would speak so perfectly to my own. I had the pleasure of writing a sermon about him for class and was overwhelmed with all I learned from that character study.

I find myself walking through a riverbed this week, having seen the waters parted and the way made clear for me to head in to a new position at my church. I’ve remained in that Joshua story, making sure I took notice of just exactly they went through in order to get into the Promised Land.

Here are a few things I do not want to forget.

1. It was big and scary. God did not mince words when He over and over told Joshua that what lay ahead would be something that could be seen as terrifying. He said this to Joshua, the guy who had lead the nation in military victory, who had gone as a spy into the Promised Land 40 years before and wasn’t scared of the giants then. And yet, God had to repeat over and over “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged.”

We have the idea that the Promised Land was ONLY filled with milk and honey, as if here came the nation of Israel with bowls of plain Cheerios ready to flavor their life with sweetness and refreshment. But that’s not what they found.

Before they entered the land, the sent spies for a second time. These spies were found out and their lives were in danger! They had to rely in Rahab, a woman of low reputation from Jericho, to deceive her king and sneak them out. After they escaped, they spent days trying to shake the men from the city who pursued them. The first set of spies, 40 years earlier had only seen the people in the land and perceived great danger. The second set of spies were seen by the people of the land and were in actual danger!

Yet still, when they returned to Joshua, they said “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” That’s some confidence!

What lies ahead of us when we walk into God’s promises on our lives may have challenge, but God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God is the same for Joshua, for me and you and for generations to come. When He says He will lead you into His promises, follow Him! He is trustworthy!

2. It took a minute. God directed Joshua as to the plan, and Joshua immediately set about accomplishing the plan. However, before they would take the city of Jericho, before they would accomplish the first great task at hand, they had to pack an entire nation, send the spies, consecrate themselves, wait for the Jordan River to part, go back into the riverbed and collect stones, build an altar, tell the story of what God had done for them, set up camp, allow the story to reach the kings of the nations in the land, circumcise the men, heal from that, celebrate Passover, hear the plan of attack from the angel of the Lord and get themselves ready and head over to Jericho.

This was no flash of lightening and boom! Accomplished! No, it was a process, and each part of it served to prepare them not just go into the land, but to inhabit the land. God’s plan was never about entrance. It was all about dwelling.

When you are moving from one chapter to the next, be patient and be ready to find valuable preparation along the way.

3. The riverbed crossing was intentional. God made sure that the nation would see Joshua in the same light they saw Moses. Everyone knows about the parting of the Red Sea, but not many people talk about the Jordan River. But reading and rereading this part so sweetly illustrated the magnificence of God’s authorship. Through water Israel passed to freedom and through water they passed to promise. God is making very obvious points so as to make clear just exactly what story He is telling.

Echoed in this beautiful evidence of God’s crafting of a story, we see one man from each tribe head back into the riverbed, selecting 12 stones with which they will build an altar, the purpose of which is to communicate to the watching world what God had done for His people. God wrote the story so His people could tell it and tell it forever.

As you walk in a transitional time, make note of the story God is telling in your life. Make something permanent that you can refer back to for your own edification and to show others what God has done for you.

4. Be ready to fully rely on Him.  The Israelites had stopped circumcising their boys in the wilderness. Nothing marked them as set apart for God. So before they could be able to move into inhabiting the land, they had put themselves in right relationship with God. For them, this meant circumcision. For us, we look to a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the law, an identification by cutting away what is between us and God, a commitment to God’s precepts written on our hearts. They had to take radical action to show that they trusted God, and so must we.

As they healed from the circumcision they celebrated Passover (oh, the beauty of God’s storytelling!) The day after the celebration, they ate food of the land for the first time. Until this point they had still be eating manna. They were finally able, having told and retold and celebrated God’s story on their lives from Egypt to the other side of the Jordan, to enjoy what grew in God’s promise. No more would they just open the tent flap and grab breakfast. Now was the time to harvest and gather and prepare new delicious dishes! God had kept them on a steady diet of plain provision, and now He set before them a bounty of promise. There is a maturing that has to happen to move from the expectation that God will put the food in front of your face to getting the food that grows in abundance around you. This is in itself a deepening in your reliance on God, because it is not as easy as just eating what’s put in front of you.

When at last you are ready to dwell where He has lead you, do not sit and moan that the manna isn’t falling. Get up and go get that milk and honey!

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In just a few days I will be in a new land.

If you could see my rock pile I’m gathering from my riverbed.
If you will listen to my story of how He did this for me.
Oh, my friends, God was trustworthy and able for Joshua and He is trustworthy and able for me and He is trustworthy and able in your life, as well.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:7-9

This Time Last Year

       I’m continually amazed at what can change in a year.

In January this was particularly obvious as I recalled the shaking shell of a girl I was. January 2016 I was holding my breath and by January 2017 I hadn’t just exhaled, but had repaired all the damage I’d suffered from the extended lack of oxygen. As the year progressed, I remember thinking over and over how I felt like a cat whose fur was growing back in after it’d licked itself bald from stress. January to January was an incredible journey.

But April to April? Can I see such a change there, so marked that I am almost unidentifiable from the person who followed the direction to “Keep writing, Sarah?” By April of 2016 I’d already come so far from January, but I have often found April is take two of the comparative months. Generally by April I can see what my New Year’s Resolution should have been and get to work on it. About the time everyone else is canceling their gym memberships, I am signing up to better myself.

I am very grateful now that I have managed to keep the blogging up for a year now, because a year ago when I started this blog I took an account of myself and documented my mind and my heart. I opened the first post from last April, the 8th, and I’m ready to sit down and take another account of who I am in heart and mind.

A year ago….

 There are days that I ache for Ohio, for our family we left behind,
the children who are quickly becoming adults, the emotional closeness
that proximity allows, the adults who are still growing themselves…..
There are days that I would flee back there in a heartbeat and settle back
into that comfortable life.

………and today.

This weekend we will load up the suitcase and trunks and
return for a quick trip back to our old stomping grounds. Easter
this year will not just be a reminder of the life after death of our Savior,
not just a reminder of the eternal life available to us after our death,
but a reminder that God allows endings to bring about His new beginnings.
He allows eternal live not to be lived only in the hereafter, but grants us
heaven on Earth. And ours is Virginia. Ohio was the birthplace of my adulthood,
and I cherish it, but those fly away home pangs are gone. Because I am home.

     A year ago…

           I’ve had those times, too, where I can see immediate clarity to
how I’m being used here, but much of my time has been spent feeling
a bit like I’m mucking through mire. On the topic, I check in from
time to time, and the answer is almost always the same, “I’m preparing you.”
For what, I’m not sure, but if there is one thing I’ve learned since coming
to the valley, it’s that His plans are always better than my plans.

and today….

This almost makes me chuckle. After 3 years of “I’m preparing you,”
He is filling in the rest. And while being able to complete that sentence
with “for ministry” is a step forward, there is still a vagueness to
the exact method of that. I can only imagine the journey ahead in the
coming year while He continues to unwrap this gift, and I am so excited
to peel back the paper. I’m in the middle of my third class and the
most clear lesson I’ve learned is this. In all that time of preparation, any
number of times I told God that I was pretty sure I was ready for anything,
but today I am acutely aware of how much more preparation I need.

      A year ago…..

          Heritage in Ohio was my home, but this was a good home
away from home. Over the past four months, this church has
supported me, has connected with me, has given me the opportunity
to serve and be served, spoken to me and has sidled alongside
Heritage in my heart. Perhaps the situation is something more akin
to a duplex, than a beach house.

                                                                                               and today…

We officially joined our church here, Harrisonburg First Church
of the Nazarene. There was a long stretch of time that I would have
said it would be a bittersweet experience, but it was with an
undivided heart that I was able to commit to being in HFCN’s body,
and to be doing so not out of obedience, or obligation, or convenience,
but truly joyful that God brought us to this local congregation.

I think a year later I would see myself as settled, but still growing. Perhaps, sprouted or budding would make sense as the stage of development in my little garden here. I wrote a sermon for a class recently on Joshua. Joshua spent all this time in the shadow of Moses. Even though from the beginning it was Joshua who would ultimately lead God’s people into the Promised Land, he was denied leadership for over 40 years. He didn’t use that time to pout or to compare himself to Moses, he used it to support the current leadership and to go into the tent of meeting and to remain in the presence of the most Holy God.

This is where I’ve been for the past year, in that tent, enjoying the presence of God. And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. There may very well come a day when I am fighting battles, marching around my own Jericho, and I will remember the time I had over the past year, drawing near to Him, with sweet remembrance and jealousy….but I sincerely hope that by next April I can look back and say that no matter what growth I’ve exhibited, no matter how much the world looks different to me or I to the world, I hope that it can be said of me, that I went into the tent of meeting and did not depart.