Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In the Land of Beginning Again

Who hasn’t looked back over his life and, with nostalgia welling-up, wished for a new start?  Rare, indeed, is the person who has never said, "If I had my life to live over again, I'd..." 
"I wish there was some wonderful place
Called the land of beginning again,
Where all our mistakes, and all our heartaches,
        And all our poor selfish sin,
Could be dropped, like a shabby old coat at the door,
        And never put on again."[1]
The children of Israel had made their share of mistakes.  Forty years prior to the time of our text they had refused to listen to the Godly report of Joshua and Caleb.  Instead they listened to the 10 frightened spies, and become fearful and unfaithful to God's command to possess the land of Canaan.  They wandered around in the desert like lost children as a penance, while a whole generation passed off the scene.
Now Moses has died and Joshua is their leader.  A new spy contingent has looked over the land, and this time the people are going to go ahead with conquering what God has already declared is their possession. 
It was a new day, a new time to serve.  God's people took their heritage that stretched back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 
·     They carried their memory of Joseph and Egyptian bondage, and also an ark with remembrances of wanderings in the wilderness. 
·     They carried the taste of manna, supernatural food with which God had fed them for forty years. 
·     They wore sandals and robes that hadn’t worn-out for generations. 
With a kind and gentle hand God had prepared them for a new day.  Now it was time to leave the past and enter their destiny.  It was a time to cross the Jordan River and step into the Land of Beginning Again!
Every one of us always stands on the shore of Beginning Again.  The chance to begin again is like the mercy of the Lord:
It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. Lamantations 3:22-23
     How do you enter the promised land of beginning again?  Notice the spiritual principles Israel observed as God instructed them:

You must Take a Stand  

 ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’”  Joshua 3:8 (NRSV)
The old maxim still holds:  If you won't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.
The kind of "stand" that is represented here is the stand of faith.  The priests were told to take the ark into the midst of the river.  As their feet touched the edge of the river the waters rolled back as they had forty years prior at the Red Sea.   This was a revisiting of the power of God, visible for all the people of God to have their faith strengthened.
Notice that the priests "stood firm" on dry ground in the midst of Jordan (3.17).  A firm stand isn't belligerence, it is merely the confidence that God's way is best, and you will do things His way, no matter whom it may please or displease.  Take a stand for Christ this year.

You Must Remember the Stand            

1When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua: 2“Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’” 4Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 6so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”          
22then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ 23For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea,
which he dried up for us until we crossed over, 24so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, and so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”   Joshua 4:1-7, 22-24   (NRSVA)
The priests put up a memorial of stones where they crossed over, as a sign of their obedience to the Lord.  Putting up memorials is a good way to remember where you've been, and what great things the Lord has done in your midst. 

You must teach the stand

Memorials of this nature help us to not repeat mistakes of the past.  God's children did not want to act without faith as they had forty years prior.
Notice please that they were very careful to teach their children the meaning of this memorial.  Sometimes we are good at teaching rituals without conveying to the world the meaning.  That is what is wrong with some liturgy and worship in churches.  Everything is done for the congregants in a "holy huddle" while the average pagan, or even the children of the saints look on with puzzled looks.
Teaching the stand has to do with communicating the "God" in the middle of our ritual.  Crossing over Jordan on dry land is an exciting event in the lives of a whole nation. 
·     It is like the "shot heard round the world" in Colonial America. 
·     It is like the wall coming down in Berlin. 
·     Or like watching the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad being pulled-over by the people with ropes. 
This year, take a stand for Christ, and Teach that Stand (witness) to the world.

You Must NOT Stand Still

Lay Down the Stones  

8The Israelites did as Joshua commanded. They took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD told Joshua, carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there.   Joshua 4:8 (NRSVA)
Memorials are for seeing.  First we see them to remember -- then we see them in the rear view mirror.  It is impossible to go forward when you only look backward.  (You bump into things that way!)

Prepare To Go To War  

13About forty thousand armed for war crossed over before the LORD to the plains of Jericho for battle.  Joshua 4:13 (NRSVA)
Spiritual warfare is done with the Gospel of peace, righteousness, truth, the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.

Respond to the Upward Call  

16“Command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, to come up out of the Jordan.” Joshua 4:16 (NRSVA)
Once you've laid down the memorial stones and taken up the tools of spiritual warfare, there is nothing left but to move out in faith. 
Notice (5.1) that when God's people did those things, the enemies' hearts melted.  God gave victory to the people who did things his way.
Let me encourage you, people of God... Take a stand for Christ this year, Teach that stand to the community, and then...Don't stand still -- lay down the stones, pick up the tools, and move up and on for Christ!

[1]Louise Fletcher Tarkington

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