Be Strong and Courageous!

“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 1:9 NLT

As Joshua was about to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, God had some instructions for his people. God told Joshua that he should be strong and courageous because he, Joshua, would be the one who would lead the people to possess the land promised to their ancestors. God told Joshua that no one could stand against him because He would be there with him all the days of his life. God told Joshua that he and the people of Israel should be strong and courageous. They would be successful as long as they obeyed the instructions that He had handed down to them through Moses. They would be successful as long as they stayed on the path God set for them to follow, without deviating to the left or the right. They would prosper and find success if they studied and meditated on His Word. And then God said, “This is my command—be strong and courageous!”

It’s the first part of that statement that really stands out to me: “This is my command.” God wasn’t saying, “Hey, Joshua, listen. Here’s my suggestion: be strong and courageous.” He wasn’t saying, “Look, in my opinion, you need to do be strong and courageous.” He was saying, “This is what I expect from you. This is what I’m telling you to do. Be strong and courageous.” It was not a recommendation, it was not a request. It was a command. They were to be strong and they were to be courageous. They were not to let their fears paralyze them or cause them to want to give up. Why? Because God would be with them wherever they went. God was bigger and stronger than their fears. And He would be with them no matter what enemy they faced, no matter what obstacles stood in their way.

God’s command to Joshua and the people of Israel is His command to us today. Whatever enemies we may face, whatever obstacles stand in our way, He is there. And because He is there, we must be strong and courageous. We must not let fear get the best of us and cause us to give up. There is no mountain that God can’t help us climb. There is no darkness that God can’t help us see our way through. There is no enemy that God can’t help us defeat. When we walk on the path that He sets for us, when we keep His Word in our hearts and our minds and obey that Word, we can be sure that He is with us every step of the way. When we face the enemies and obstacles in our lives with God by our side, there is no reason to be afraid, there is no reason to become discouraged. God is greater!

Hear, O Israel…

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

On the doorposts of Jewish homes, you will find a decorative case called a mezuzah. Inside this case is a piece of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which is comprised of what we, as Christian believers, know as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Those verses include the Jewish prayer called Shema Yisrael: “Hear, O Israel.”

The word shema has a primary meaning of “to hear,” but it also takes on other meanings, including “to obey.” In Deuteronomy 6:4, the meaning of the Hebrew word shema is literally “to hear and obey.” In addressing the Israelites in chapter 6 of Deuteronomy, Moses was telling them that they needed not only to hear and understand what he was saying but also to obey it. So what was it they were to hear and obey?

Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Moses was reminding the Israelites that the Lord their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was the one true God. When Moses used the words, “Shema Yisrael,” he was telling them that they need not just to hear the words that followed, but also to understand them. There was only one true God and He was YHWH, the Lord. This was something that they needed to fully understand. But there was more than that required of them.

Moses continued by saying, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Moses had just reminded the Israelites of the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Now he was making it clear to God’s people that the God whom they understood to be the one true God must be loved with total devotion. He must be loved with their entire being: heart, soul, and strength. And the way by which they would be able to show that love is by the way in which they lived their lives, by obeying His commands. They were to keep those commands in their hearts, in their minds, and in their mouths.

The words of the shema are not just for Jewish believers. They are for followers of Jesus Christ, as well. In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus confirmed this when He said, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

There is only one true God, and He is the Lord. He is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, When we live our lives as Jesus commanded, loving God with our hearts, with our souls, with our minds, and with our strength, and when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we fulfill the greatest commandment. But more than that, when we live our lives understanding that the Lord our God is the one true God, and obeying His commands, our lives become true worship in His eyes (Romans 12:1-2).

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Yet I Will Rejoice in the Lord!

On October 29, 1929, an event took place that shook our nation and the world. It was on that date that the New York Stock Exchange experienced the worst financial panic ever seen in the history of the United States of America, the stock market crash of 1929. Panic ensued as investors began to sell their stocks, resulting in a dollar loss of $25 billion, which would be about $319 billion in today’s economy. There were rumors of investors jumping out of windows which, although they were untrue, illustrated the devastation felt by so many.

In the days of the prophet Habbakuk, Israel’s entire agricultural system would have been represented by three crops: figs, grapes, and olives. Economic success rested on these crops, as well as on livestock such as sheep and cattle. The loss of just some of these things likely would have been as catastrophic as a stock market crash like the one that occurred in 1929. So, when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, and Israel faced the complete failure of these crops and total loss of sheep and cattle, one would expect the same kind of panic to have ensued. Although there likely were some in Israel who panicked, Habbakuk trusted God. Look at what this prophet writes in Habbakuk 3:17-18 (NLT):

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

Habbakuk knew that inner peace did not depend on the success of crops or livestock. Inner peace came from God. And because he knew that inner peace that only God can give, Habbakuk rejoiced despite the failure of those important crops. He was joyful despite the fact that the sheep had died in the fields and there were no cattle in the barns. Despite the circumstances, Habbakuk rejoiced in the Lord and found joy in the God of his salvation. He worshiped God despite what was going on all around him.

When we face circumstances that threaten to drag us down, that cause panic to begin to set in and doubts to arise, we need to look to the example set by Habbakuk. We need to face our circumstances, face our doubts, and then take them to the Lord. And we need to worship Him despite what we feel and despite what we see. We need to rejoice in the God who, because of His great love for us, has provided for our salvation. Our circumstances may not change, but when we rejoice in the Lord at all times, when we give our circumstances to Him, He will give us inner peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:4-7).

Where Does Your Confidence Come From?

But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!” But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” (Numbers 13:30-33, NLT)

This year, I made it my goal to read through the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation, something I have not done in a while. Today’s reading plan included chapters 11, 12 and 13 of the book of Numbers. When I read the last few verses of chapter 13, I recalled a post that I wrote in October 2017 and decided that I would share that post again today. Here it is:

In 1930, a now well-known illustrated children’s book was published called The Little Engine That Could. In this story, a very heavy train needs to be pulled up a steep hill. Several large and strong engines are asked to pull the train up the hill but, for various reasons, they say they are unable to do it. They look at the task they are being asked to do and decide that the train is too heavy, or the hill is too steep. Finally, a little engine is asked and replies, “I think I can.” The little engine begins to pull the train, slowly at first, then a little faster, until it makes it up and over the hill, exclaiming on the way down, “I thought I could!”

After being delivered from the hands of Pharaoh, the Israelites had wandered in the wilderness for over two years when they came to the wilderness of Paran. At God’s direction, Moses then sent out men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to spy out the land that the Lord had promised them. This group of men spent forty days spying out the land and then returned to give their report. The land was as fruitful and beautiful as God had promised. But, all but two of the twelve men reported that there was no way that they could take this land. The land was filled with people who were stronger than the Israelites, people who lived in fortified cities (Numbers 13:27-28). And not only that, there also were giants in the land, giants who made these ten men feel like mere grasshoppers. And that’s how these men viewed themselves, as grasshoppers (Numbers 13:33). “There’s no way we can take this land,” they reported.

Is God calling you to a task that seems too difficult? Do you feel that you are not qualified to do what God has called you to do? God doesn’t call you because you are the most qualified person for a particular task. You may be weak, but He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). You may not be qualified, but He is, and He is with you every step of the way when you step out in faith. If David had felt that he was too small and too weak to defeat Goliath, who would have brought victory to the Israelites. If Peter had looked at the water and said, “Uh-uh! There’s no way I’m stepping out of this boat,” he would never have walked on water. If the apostles had said, “Hey, we’re just a group of fishermen, tax collectors, just ordinary people,” how would the early church have gotten its start?

When God calls us to something, He will give us all that we need to do it. Our job is to say yes and put our confidence in Him. Instead of saying, “I think I can,” like the little engine, we need to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And, when that task is accomplished, our response should be, “I knew He could!”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Stuck in the Mud?

Have you ever been stuck in the mud? Recently, a 79-year-old New Hampshire man found himself stuck in mud up to his neck while duck hunting. The man had waded through a swamp, which was only two to three feet deep, not realizing that the bottom of the swamp was coated in thick mud. He soon found himself hopelessly stuck in the mud, and the more he struggled to get himself out, the deeper he sank in the mud. He remained stuck there for 33 hours until rescuers found him and managed to lift him out of the mud and onto dry land.

While most of us probably have never been stuck in the mud like that unfortunate duck hunter, there are times in our lives when a dilemma in which we find ourselves makes us feel like we are stuck in a “pit of mud.” Sometimes, we end up in those dilemmas, those “pits of mud,” through no fault of our own. For example, a financial “pit of mud” may have been caused by a job layoff or the loss of income due to an accident or serious illness. But there can also be times when we end up in that “pit of mud” due to our own wrong behavior, such as marital problems caused by indiscretions or addiction to pornography. But no matter what dilemma we face, no matter how deep we find ourselves in a “pit of mud,” there is a way out.

The way out of a “pit of mud” cannot be accomplished through our own strength. The duck hunter in New Hampshire tried to free himself from the mud by using his own strength. But the more he tried to free himself, the deeper into the mud he went. On our own, we are likely to become more embedded in the dilemma we face. Our struggle to set ourselves free will often lead to us sinking deeper into the pit. The duck hunter needed the help of rescuers to be freed from that muddy swamp. And we need God to free us from dilemmas that drag us down deeper into the pit.

In Psalm 40, David told of being freed from a pit by God. In verse 2 (NLT), he wrote, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” David was freed from his dilemma by God. God lifted David from the pit of despair, pulled him out of the mud, and set his feet on solid ground again. God can do the same for us when we, like David, wait patiently on the Lord, bring our dilemmas to Him and wait for Him to see us through them rather than futilely struggling through them on our own. As David wrote in verse 1 of that psalm, when we wait patiently on the Lord, He will turn to us and hear our cry.

If you find yourself stuck in a “pit of mud,” turn to God, lift your voice to Him and wait patiently as He hears your cry and lifts you out of that pit. After lifting David out of his “pit of mud,” God gave David a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to God. The result was that many saw what God had done for David and put their trust in God (Psalm 40:3). When God lifts us from our “pits of mud,” we need to sing that new song, we need to tell others of what God has done for us. Our testimonies can be what brings others to come to the Lord, to put their faith and their trust in Him.

A Way That Seems Right

In yesterday’s post, I shared my journal story of the hike that my wife, Linda, and I took in the Poconos in August 2012. The day after I made that entry in my journal, God was still speaking to me through the experience that Linda and I had at the stream. As I sat down to write in my journal on that August morning, I recalled that since the night before, a verse had been running through my head. That verse was Proverbs 14:12, which says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

On August 30, 2012, I wrote in my journal:

This verse was one of the lessons that we learned at the stream on Tuesday. The tree trunk that lay across the stream seemed like a good way to get across without getting wet, but it was narrow and could easily have rolled, with the result of falling into shallow water full of large rocks. We could have been seriously hurt. Then there was the possibility of stepping on the larger rocks to get across, but they were wet and covered with moss, so we would likely have slipped. So the ways that “seemed right” to us could have led to a problem.

The best way to get to the other side of that stream that day was to go straight through. When life presents us with trials, with difficult circumstances, we often look for a way around them. We look for a way that seems right to us. But just as the best way through that stream was to take off our shoes and walk through the icy water, the best way to get through trials, through difficult circumstances, is to go straight through them. We need to trust God to lead us in the way that is His. His ways are always better than our ways.

In my journal, I thanked God that Linda and I took the way through the stream. It wasn’t easy, but it was God’s way, so it was safe. And through the experience of walking through that icy water, God taught us a lesson in life that we will not soon forget. He taught us that, in our lives, in our marriages, in whatever we do, we should always seek His ways and not the ways that seem right to us.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

A Triple-Braided Cord

Journals are a great way to record the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. I recently came across an old journal of mine from 2012 and started thumbing through it. When I got to the entry for August 29, 2012, I stopped to read the words I wrote about what the Lord was doing in my life at that time. Or, more specifically, what He was doing in my marriage. My wife, Linda and I were working through some struggles at that time. On that particular day, I wrote about something that had happened the day before, something that marked a breakthrough for our marriage. I’d like to share that entry today, just a little more than a week before Linda and I celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary. Here’s what I wrote on that late August day in 2012, while we were on a vacation trip in the Poconos:

Thank you, Lord, for another beautiful day. Thank you for allowing us to have a wonderful time away. Thank you for bringing Linda and me closer in these past few days. I especially thank You for our hike yesterday, which turned into a lesson for both of us that we will always cherish.

Yesterday was such a breakthrough day for us both. The challenges we had on our hike were truly lessons in cooperation, leadership, and love. You gave me an opportunity to be a leader and I am grateful for that. Crossing that stream gave me an opportunity to show my love for Linda and I am grateful for that as well. I know that, in the past, I would likely have become impatient with Linda for being so slow and tentative crossing the stream. I may not have gone back into that ice cold water to help her across. I was so aware of the difference in me. I was patient and, when I saw how tentative and nervous Linda was, I just walked right back into that stream, despite the fact that my feet were already cold and red. My only thought was to help Linda to get across safely and quickly. After leaving the stream, when we got to the area where the path got narrow and a bit scary, I took the lead and, following my example, Linda overcame a situation she was first thinking about turning back from. Linda brought to mind the passage from Ecclesiastes that says:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a)

Thank you for yesterday, Lord. It was one of the best days of our marriage!

It truly was one of the best days of our marriage. It was a turning point and it was a day we will never forget. And, I know that it’s because it was not just the two of us there that day. The Holy Spirit was with us and as it says in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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