Face Your Battles With Strength and Courage

strong kidWhen someone keeps telling you to “be strong and courageous,” you might suspect you are up against something big. And the Israelites were.

About to enter the land that had been promised them 600 years before, they had a giant-sized task awaiting them. Literally. Forty years earlier ten spies had come back and told the Israelites that the inhabitants of the land were so big they felt like they were the size of a grasshopper in comparison. Fear took them captive without a battle and sent them off as a group to wander around in a wilderness where they took their chances against wild animals rather than face their giants.

They wandered so long that those who had grasshopper-sized faith died out. Forty years later their children were ready to take the land. They were physically no taller than their parents had been. The enemies in the land were no smaller than before. But the Israelites’ faith muscles had grown.

There were two spies who had reported the land was theirs for the taking. One of them, Joshua, is now the Israelites’ leader. He was courageous. And God wanted to keep him that way. So God tells him three times in the first nine verses of the first chapter of Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” He also reminds him “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

My guess is you have a few giants in your life too. Some uphill battles that appear insurmountable. A task demanding more than you think strong kid wrestleryou have to give. One too many things on your “to do” list than you have the time or energy to do. Unemployment is staring you down. Depression has a grip on you. Bills have raided your bank account and left it empty. An illness hovers in your life like a threatening storm. You’d rather just run and wander.

Instead, be strong and courageous. You have a Joshua that will lead the way. The New Testament equivalent of the name “Joshua” is “Jesus.” And he has promised to be with you always (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus knows how to lead you through battles. He had a few of his own while he was on this earth. Enemies attacking him with accusations (Mark 3:22). No home and no bed (Luke 9:58). Crowds and expectations pressing in on him (Luke 8:45). The religious establishment eventually insuring he was sentenced to a brutal death. (Mark 15:14).

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Decisions you make affect those traveling with you.

travel 2Every parent has been there. The trip ahead is long. The travel schedule is tight. You hit the road with a full tank, confident the plan you have crafted beats anything AAA could muster. But twenty minutes down the highway you hear a small, squeaky voice from the backseat. The artillery begins to bombard you. The questions.

Some you expected. Are we there yet? How much longer? Can we get something to eat?

The next barrage is unexpected. Who was the first person to decide to squeeze those things on a cow and drink whatever came out? Why does our dog get mad at us when we blow in his face but when we take him on a car ride he sticks his head out the window?

Every parent has been there. Questions from the backseat. You come to expect them. Every journey to a destination includes them. The same is true for the journey of faith.

Just like kids on a trip we get tired of the journey. We want to know when we can stop. We get tired of serving. We get tired of waiting. We get tired of the people we’re traveling with.

And we grumble. The Israelites did. They complained about the food, about the place they were traveling, and about their ‘driver’ Moses.

Grumbling does not set well with God. In fact, our grumbling can lead to our wandering. When offered the chance to leave Kadesh and enter the Promised Land, the Israelites listened to the fear-filled report from ten spies instead of the faith-full report of Joshua and Caleb.

Kadesh means “Spring of Decision” and it was time for one. They were in the right place to make the right decision. But the majority made the wrong one. The people wished they had died in the desert. So God told them they would get their wish. They would wander until the unbelieving generation  died out.

And they did. They wandered in the Wilderness for forty years. And their children were impacted by their decisions.

The decisions you make affect those around you, just like the decisions the Israelites made at Kadesh. You can decide to grumble or be thankful. You can decide to turn away from God or turn toward God. You can decide to wander without purpose through life or follow God’s vision for your life.

Just don’t forget that those in the backseat will be affected by your decisions.

God Needs A Home

god's handIt was perhaps the greatest opportunity ever. God tells Moses that he wants to come to his people and dwell right in the middle of their camp. Not on the outskirts. Not in the ‘burbs. But right in the middle of where they were living.

You might wonder, “What preparations would a people need to make for God to live in their midst?” Would it be like getting ready for weekend guests or someone special coming to dinner? You feel compelled to make sure your home looks as good as possible. You want to make a good impression and you want your guest to feel welcome.

God anticipated the question and told Moses what needed to be in place for his coming. First, he wanted to be close to them but there was the problem of sin that created a breach between them. So God provided Moses with instructions about the practice of sacrificing, offering a covering for the people’s indiscretions before a Holy God. Sin is serious stuff, not to be taken lightly, and the sacrifice of unblemished animals was necessary to give the people a picture of sin.

Second, he wanted to stay close to them. Moses was given the blueprints for the building of the Tabernacle. It’s a big word for “tent.” A portable place of worship. Kind of a mobile Motel 6. And he wanted to camp out right in the middle of where they were camping. God wanted to be close to his people.

But he also wanted them to be close to each other. So he declared a third thing to get ready. He gave them Ten Commandments concerning relationships. The first four commandments focus on how we are to demonstrate our love to God. The second set of six have to do with how to show love to other people. In seeing these relationships of love it was God’s desire that people would come tabernacleto know Him too.

Jesus said the same in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. . .  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

God gave the Israelites guidelines so that, when they sought to live by them, other nations would see them as different and know that they were God’s people. God gave us Jesus so that, when we live like him, others will know that we are his people.

For those who know him, God took care of our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus. He tabernacles in the hearts of those who have drawn near to him. Could it be then that the degree to which we are obedient to him in this command to love each other is the degree of his presence we will find among us? It could be our greatest opportunity ever.

There’s A Wall In Front Of You.

facing wallThere’s a wall in front of you. Behind you is a past you are running from. Beyond the wall awaits the promise of a new life. But you’re not moving because there is this “wall.” You feel trapped. No way out. This is just the sort of situation in which God does some of his finest work.

You need only ask the Israelites. Behind them was a life of back-breaking work and slavery. Ahead of them was a life in the land of Promise. Behind them was the fierce army of a fanatical Pharaoh coming towards them. Ahead of them was a wall. Their obstruction was made of water.

Your “wall” may be a fear of failure. Or maybe it’s a lack of confidence that has grinded your progress to a halt. Or it could merely be too many problems that have piled up in front of you at the same time. And you have no clue which one to tackle first.

So you stopped. And you aren’t sure if there is a way over, around, or under this imposing impediment.

At this point many people panic. Anxiety courses its way through the body, atrophies the movement muscles, and rigor mortis overtakes their resolve. Eyes which once had clear focus now only focus on the wall just inches away.

But some look elsewhere. The Israelites looked to Moses. They began belting him with blame. Have you done the same? Blame the boss. Blame a co-worker. Blame your dog. Blame God. Maybe even blame yourself? Blame all you want but the wall remains.

While the Israelites were body punching Moses, he opted to look elsewhere. His options? He could have looked at the enemy’s facing a wallarmy. He could have looked at the ungrateful people he led. He could have looked at the wall of water spread out before him, sat down, and given up.

Instead he looked to God. And God opened an unlikely route through the wall of water. Safely on the other side, the very wall that had halted their steps closed in on and covered the sources of their fears.

The very name of the book where we find this story serves as a reminder when we face our “walls.”  “Exodus” is a compound Greek word meaning “the way out.” And in case you might have missed it,  the way out was not a better job, a different spouse, or a victim mentality.

No, the way out is God. Next time you find yourself up against a wall try looking to him.