So we are wrapping up the first week of 2018 and many of us are already excited for the first week of the New Year to wrap up. Most of us gave up on New Year resolutions long ago, few of us write down goals, and many of us are just trying to get by. Could it be that God has more for you in 2018 than that though?
As I prepared for the New Year I prayed about what theme we at LifePoint Church would run with through out the year. In 2017 our watch word was Stronger. We wanted to grow stronger relationally, spiritually, financially, physically, in every way that mattered, we wanted to be stronger. And overall I would say that we met that goal. So what would be the theme that would bring us through 2018?
As I prayed and read the Word, I found myself again and again, through most of the spring and summer reading through Joshua, and there in chapter one things became very clear. Read with me:
After the death of Moses the Lord’s servant, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.
God is speaking to Joshua here. Joshua had been an assistant to Moses, God’s right hand human, for quite some time, but now Moses was dead. It was time for Joshua to step up and lead, to lean fully into the role God had been preparing him for. This is a natural time of transition.
We all face times of transition, and typically they are stressful. Leaving for college, starting a new job, driving on your own, getting married, buying or selling a house, these all represent times of transition but they also represent something else, milestones. Milestones tell us where we are along our journey. They represent progress or growth. They are marks to be pursued, achieved, celebrated, and remembered, and they don’t often come easy.
A new year is a time of transition and a perfect time to stretch to that next milestone in life. Be prepared for that to take extra effort. Get ready for that stretch to be uncomfortable. Expect that there will be things that you will face that you aren’t prepared for. And then make your move anyway.
It takes courage to transition, to grow, to leave the comfort of what we know and to journey to the next level God is calling us to. The illusion says that we can stay where we are and things will always be the same but it’s simply not the case. We must always choose between atrophy and progress. We can work hard to maintain status quo but our success will be limited because even if we don’t change, because the world around us always does. Progress means that we dictate change. That we prepare ourselves for the things to come by being proactive. That is what healthy transition is all about, and the good news is that we don’t have to figure this out all on our own.
I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’
The lesson here in all of this is that God may not give us all the details, but he does give us promises. He didn’t detail to Joshua how the land would be given to him. If it would be won through conquest, supernatural victory, or if it would be empty land open to claim. He was simply promised that wherever he set his foot the land would be his. God left the other details out and simply implied the necessity of trust.
This is what faith is all about. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” God doesn’t give us all the details, but he does insist that we put our trust in His promises. So what is that promise?
No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.
These are powerful promises, but one is far greater than the other. We like the first promise of victory and even dominance but the second part is far greater. It secures the first promise, and makes our victory possible. Even more so it redefines victory for us. Knowing that we have God’s favor and that His presence doesn’t leave us is a complete game changer for us. For Paul, it inspired him to write one of the greatest motivational speeches in all of history:
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
-Romans 8:31-39 NIV
When I read that I feel like I can take on an army, like I could be thrown into a pit of lions, like I could stand against anything that is out there… but there are plenty of times that I don’t feel like I am a conqueror. Sometime I feel like something a conqueror stepped in or on. Sometimes I feel like a guy who can’t find the battle. Sometimes I feel like I would be better off if I just hid.
Those are the times when faith has to kick in, when we have to believe in the evidence we cannot see. When we trust in God’s Word without the detailed plan of how things will be accomplished, because He is God and He says that He will come through. It doesn’t mean we are completely foolish, but it does mean that we take steps of genuine faith. And that can be terrifying, which is why over and over again in this short little passage in Joshua 1 this phrase is repeated,
“Be strong and courageous”…
All that work to build up our strength is supposed to serve a purpose. Strength doesn’t just give us confidence, it sustains it. It prepares us to engage and endure the struggles we face now and the ones that lie ahead. But strength alone isn’t sufficient, we need the courage to use it.
… for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them.
I love the personal nature of our faith and relationship with God. It is so empowering to know that God wants us to each have a personal relationship, a personal walk. Yes of course we are the body of Christ. There is tremendous power in corporate worship through service, giving, and simply being the church. But the onus of the call doesn’t belong somewhere else. It’s not someone else’s responsibility “for you are the one who will lead these people…”
You have to have courage. You have to be strong. You have to have faith. You have to take those steps of faith. This is your life to live, your call to answer. It’s not all about you, but your choice to play the part God has called you to play is all about you. You are the only one who can make that move.
The message is clear, you can’t rely on someone else, you can’t claim someone else’s faith. I come from a great legacy of faith, but my grandpa’s faith won’t save me. Faith in his ministry and accomplishments won’t suffice for the forgiveness of my sin. I have to come to the place where the decision is mine, each and every day. We can lean on others when it comes to matters of faith. The gift of encouragement is all about helping people through when they can’t make it on their own or when their faith is weak, but at some point, some way, some how, we have to take that step of faith ourselves. No one else can take these steps for you.
So you build up the courage. You stick that foot out and put it down on what seems like thin air… then what?
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.
The power of God’s Word is profound. As God is communicating to Joshua he is guaranteeing him, and us, success if we just follow His Word. How cool is that? But it’s also where things get really confusing. There are 613 commands in the Torah. Who can understand them all? Who can keep them all? Where do you start?
A great idea would be to start with the 10 Commandments, but even these 10 Commands are difficult for many of us to fully embrace. Thankfully Jesus simplified it even more for us.
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second islike it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
– Matthew 22:37-40
At LifePoint we sum all this up by simply saying Love First. It’s what you do when you don’t know what to do. This is the Commanders Intent. This is how God is calling us to live. To love God first by honoring Him in everything we do. It is more about an attitude and way of life than about rules we follow, this is what giving God all of our hearts looks like. It is expressed in how we love others. You cannot love God and hate people. If you love God you will love His children, even the difficult prodigal ones. The ones that don’t play nice, who cause problems, and who don’t get it. That love has to be tough sometimes, but it can never be absent.
We probably all agree with that on some level, but here’s the rub. With Love there is always a risk. Love requires a vulnerability if it is for real. And that is where courage comes in. Being vulnerable means you could get hurt, that you have taken a risk, even a calculated one. It isn’t safe.
We were never called to be safe.
Again and again, God calls us, not just here but in many places to be strong and courageous. He promises that He will never leave us, and it is His presence and favor that secures our victory come what may.
This 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 1:1-9 NLT
So how can you take steps this year to become more courageous?
Trust Him. – This is what faith looks like! Dig into His Word and understand His promises. Don’t try to find a way to make God “work” for you. But instead build a relationship with Him by trusting in those promises that He gives so often.
Connect with Him. If you are going to trust God you need to connect with Him on a regular basis through reading His Word, experiencing Him through prayer and fasting. I plan to release my first book later this year based on a series we did at LifePoint called Pillars and it’s entire focus will be on 6 ways we can grow in our relationship with Him.
2018 will be your year to conquer. God has great plans for you, will you be courageous enough to pursue them? Or will another year slide on by?