What does it feel like when God's Word speaks to you? To me, it's always like a smack on the forehead. "Listen Up! This is for YOU, silly!" Or maybe it's more like that Herdman kid from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, whose strange proclamation somehow sounds like the best news you've ever heard: "Hey! Unto you a child is born! And he's in a barn!"
Well, this past Sunday I heard a sermon that spoke to me like Gladys Herdman. (I highly recommend you take a listen to it if you have the time.)
During the past year, our little church has been blessed by much change, some heartache, a search for new senior leadership, multiple guest speakers who have taught us from God's Word, an awesome associate pastor who has stepped up in a big way, and a long process of church revitalization. I'm on the Vision Team, and though I've put in many long hours (and Calvin, too, once he arrived), I think every minute has been valuable. One of the first parts of the process we've undertaken is to discern why God has placed us where we are. Why are we in this community? On this corner? In this building? And how can we use that to be part of what God is already doing? I thought about all this as I listened to the pastor draw together the grand picture of God's plan of redemption with events going on both across the world as well as in our own little corner as he exhorted us from the first chapter of Joshua.
The last time I really meditated on the book of Joshua was 12 years ago. The summer of 1999 was coming to a close, and I was at a leadership retreat for our college's InterVarsity chapter. Just before arriving at the retreat center, I'd returned home from a summer away working at camp to find out that a childhood friend of mine had been killed in a car accident, killed by a drunk driver. She was only 19. Like Joshua mourning Moses' death, I was grieving. And yet, our IV leader showed me Joshua chapter one, and the encouragement there. It helped me not to focus on my own sorrow and loss, but on the task ahead and the work God had for me. And I needed to hear it then, just like I needed to hear it again yesterday, but for slightly different reasons these days.
As he read from that first chapter, I was struck again by the oft-repeated "be strong and courageous," but also, for the first time, the parts surrounding the phrase:
"Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1: 6-9) And also, in verse 3, the Lord tells Joshua that "every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you."For the first time, I connected those truths to my own life. Yes, I know intellectually that God owns everything, the mountains and the valleys are His and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. The earth is His and all the fullness thereof. And I know that in Christ, the promises were extended so that now the promised land we are to inherit is not just a tiny patch in the Middle East, but the entire world. "For God so loved the world..." That is his promise -- His kingdom shall have no end. But on Sunday, I finally "got" that it applies to me. To our church. Right where I am, right now. Wherever I go, God is with me. God has people in this city that are His. If we commit to His Word and "meditate on it day and night" He will bring us people to share with, to love, to tell about the good news of Jesus. People in our neighborhood. People in our streets. People at the grocery store and the gym and at schools and parks and restaurants. Every place that the soles of our feet (or our tires) tread upon He has given to us. It seems like such a "D'oh!" moment to me now, writing this. Of course God is with you where you are! He's everywhere! But sometimes I just need someone to put it in slightly different words, like a betrodden kid dressed in angel wings who takes over the part of Gabriel and shouts the Gospel. "Emmanuel! God with us! PRESENCE!"