Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sermon Notes

The Battle Begins:  Joshua 1:1-9
Reflections by Megan Adams

Wow! We’ve covered a lot of territory in the last seven weeks! And now, after 40 years with Moses leading the (grumbling) people through the wilderness, his time has grown short. We see him pick the man he thinks can lead his people. He picks the man with great faith and trust in the Lord. He picks the man that knows God will be with them when they need to overcome the cities that are in their way. He picks the man that has shown strength and courage in the past – and is still standing with him.

He picks Joshua. Moses introduces Joshua as the new leader and says to Joshua, in front of all the people of Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” And then, Moses finally climbs the mountain to get a glimpse of the promise land… Only to find out, that because of the few times he lost trust in God – he will not get to actually enter the promise land. And here, he dies.

Now Joshua is left alone to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land. He’s to take Moses’ place. Can you imagine?! The last paragraph of last week’s chapter said, “Since then, no prophet in Israel has risen like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

Those are some big shoes to fill! Can you imagine being Joshua? I don’t know about you, but I would be trembling in my boots! (But remember the words of Moses… Be strong and be courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not despair… We’ll hear those again somewhere…)

Have you ever faced straight on an overwhelming challenge that just about scared you to death? If so, did you confront or retreat? This week, in “The Story” we find Israel facing an overwhelming challenge… After 600 years of waiting for God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation – it’s finally happened! And the people of Israel are ready to advance into the Promised Land. But there is one problem. And it’s a BIG problem. Literally! There are wicked people already living in the land and among those people are some literal giants.

The children of Israel are under a new leader, Joshua, and are back to the spot they camped 40 years earlier – before they made a colossal wrong turn. Do you remember? 40 years earlier, they had been at this same spot – able to see the Promised Land, Canaan. A group of spies had been sent to check things out – and while the land was flowing with milk and honey, as promised… There were giants in the land. The other spies said, “I don’t think so!” While Joshua and Caleb tried to convince the Israelites that with God on their side, they would have no problem up against the giants! But alas… The Israelites couldn’t be convinced. And God, dismayed at their lack of trust AGAIN, let them wander another 40 years in the desert – until all of the untrusting, grumbling generation died off.

And now? God tells Joshua and the people of Israel that it’s finally time for this generation to take the land. Take Canaan. And in this speech, Joshua is told 3 times to “be strong and courageous.” Because now is the time for courage!

Here’s where we start today: Joshua 1:1-9
“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aid, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and be very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’”

So now Joshua is getting his marching orders directly from God. God gives Joshua a ludicrous plan – by our standards. After 40 years of wandering, God tells Joshua to: Cross the raging Jordan River with a million people. Once that’s done, set up camp and circumsize all the adult men. Once they’re feeling a little better, have them take the city of Jericho. But don’t do it with violence – just walk around the outside walls for several days, until you’re given the signal. Then? Make as much noise as you can! The city will be yours.

Joshua has to sell this plan to the people. Be strong and be courageous.

None of this makes sense if we look at it through the lens of the “lower story.” Remember – the lower story is the actual events that are taking place… Joshua’s life is part of the lower story. Taking an entire city by whooping and hollering is part of the lower story…

But what about the “Upper Story”? That part that is “God’s Story”? What is this teaching us about God’s nature? One of my favorite quotes in studying this chapter this week, was “In the lower story, the giants are bigger than the Israelites. In the upper story? God is bigger than the giants!”

We are learning, through the story of Joshua, that God is with us when we trust, believe, have faith – when we listen for God. Following God is full of ongoing battles – everyday. And unfortunately, this will always be part of our story… Our culture is one that is constantly pushing back against the values that God tells us to hold dear.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul – not easy in a world that emphasizes so many other things that control our destinies… Money. Success. Power.  Love your neighbor as yourself. Really? In a world where I come first? My needs, wants, desires, comfort? My neighbor can take care of themselves – right? I don’t have time for that…

The thing is, in our culture, following God first can be like a salmon swimming upstream – we can fight to survive and keep going, or we can give up and go with the flow… and eventually die. When we lose trust in God, when we lose faith , when we allow fear to control our choices… We don’t live in the light of God’s love. We forget what it is to shine and reflect God’s glory. We drown in grief and uncertainty. Life becomes something we wander through (much like the Israelites in the desert), without hope.

But this is not what God created us for! God is with us – in the darkest moments. The moments when we are most fearful and unsure of the future. God is there to guide us – we just need to do our part to be ready.  We need to be strong and courageous in our lower story lives! We need to know that God gives us the ability to be strong – when we lean on God.

The book of Joshua goes on to tell us how Joshua lived in obedience to God – how he was able to lead his people through battle after battle, winning city after city, by listening to God’s guidance and following God’s plan… The book gives us three ways to follow more closely in our lives, too. 1) Be people of the Book. 2) Pray. 3) Reflect God’s glory.

First: We need to be people of the Book! The Book, meaning The Bible. We’re coming together, reading The Story together to remember what it means to be people of the Book. We’re learning, talking, discussing, asking questions, sharing thoughts and ideas around these stories together – continuing to learn about God and God’s relationship to us.

A couple of weeks ago, we were reminded that the Book includes the Ten Commandments. We were reminded that these aren’t there to punish us or to take the fun out of life – but to be guidelines for a full and wondrous life with God and our neighbors. The Bible is there for us always – to read and memorize, to grow familiar with God’s relationship with us – so that, in times of fear and challenge, we are ready to continue to follow God’s guidelines for community. We are reminded, through scripture, how to live with grace and dignity – with one another and with God.

It’s easy when times get tough, when life is uncomfortable, when we don’t know where to turn next – to forget what it is that gives us life. But when we can remember how God came searching for Adam and Eve in the Garden – even after they messed up… how God gave Abraham and Sarah a baby even after they had given up… how Isaac was rescued from death when God provided another sacrifice… how Joseph’s life of grief and pain kept being redeemed again and again, and things that were intended for evil were always turned into good… how Moses became God’s most trusted man to lead God’s people out of harm, despite his insecurities… When we can remember and point to the stories where people (people like you and me) were hurting, scared, unsure, we can be assured that God was with them in those moments – and God is with me in my dark moments, too.

God told Joshua to “be strong and be courageous” 3 times. Oh, and by the way, “Do not be afraid!” We’ve heard that before, right? The phrase “do not be afraid” appears in the Bible more than 100 times! (You could say that’s a major Upper Story theme!) The thing is: God will not have his community characterized by fear – despite the fact that we will face many fearsome moments in our lives.

How do these fears affect the way we lead our lives? Are we afraid to try new things? Meet new people? Trust others? Are we scared to share our thoughts and feelings? Do we keep our money and time to ourselves – for fear there’s not enough to go around?

God promises us, “I will be with you.” And in these moments of fear, we are called to live distinct, wholesome lives that stand out from the norms of our culture. We are called to face the giants in our lives and reflect our trust in God. We are called to choose life over fear. To choose people over fear. To choose love over fear.

What overwhelming obstacles are present in your life today? What fears are holding you back? Where is it that things seem hopeless? What giants are presenting challenges? What would it take for you to be strong and be courageous in these places? How could God’s words “Do not be afraid” be allowed to sink in?

Be strong and be courageous. Be people of the Word. Pray. Reflect God’s glory through the life you lead. Do not let God’s community be characterized by fear – but stand together. Trust God. Trust each other. Lean on one another. Be a community that can tear down walls – by standing together with voices that spread hope.

Jericho was only one of many battles for Joshua. And in the end, he won them all – and Israelites were finally home. His trust in God, obedience to all God called him to do, his strength and courage in following through – against all kinds of obstacles – made Joshua the hero he’s still known as today.

For Joshua, living out his trust in God was what “stuck” for him. He knew the Book, he spoke to God, and he let his life reflect the glory of God. What is it about your faith that “sticks” with you? What is it about your relationship with God that you could not live without?

Before Moses died, he stood in front of the people – men, women, and children, and read the Book of the Law so all could hear it and know it – so they would have it written on their hearts again. Before Joshua died, he did the same.

On one hand, they were reminding the people of something they already knew. On the other, they were challenging the people to take their knowledge out of their heads and instill it in their hearts, their souls, wherever it would land… Let the words of faith take on a life of their own.

Reminders of how to love God and love neighbor are a daily part of our faith journey – and by living by these words, we find the ability to journey through life with strength and courage.

Today, as you ponder the life of Joshua… May you discover what it is about your own relationship with God that you cannot live without… And then, may you find the strength and courage to be that in this life.  Amen.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thinking About Chapter 7

Personal devotion questions to connect chapter 7 to your own faith journey...

1.  What can we learn about godly leadership and succession planning as we watch the batonn passed from Moses to Joshua?

2.  We often draw black and white lines when we disagree with others.  Read Joshua 5:13-14.  How do people today co-opt Jesus to ensure He's on "their side"?

3.  God gave Joshua assurances to face the coming battles, but Joshua still had to act in faith.  What battles are you currently facing?  How can God's presence and promises change the way you cope with them?

4.  Do you suppose God viewed Rahab as a woman of sin or a woman of faith?  Who in your life needs to be viewed through "grace-colored" glasses?

5.  How does the destruction of peoples and cities in the Promised Land square with God's Upper Story of redemption?

6.  Observe the battle between Israel-Gibeon and the five kings of the Amorites (p 78-80).  What human factors and what divine factors led to victory?  What parallels can be drawn between this battle and your own spiritual battles today?

7.  Joshua is known for the statement, "As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."  What habits and attitudes have you seen in other families that are good examples of leading a household in serving the Lord?  How can you emulate them?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Face Your Battle With Strength and Courage

When 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 you 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).

Yet he took on the most barbaric giant there is, death, and lived to tell about it. He can help you do the
same. You need only be strong and courageous in your faith.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Actions in Wisdom

One of the best things we can do is listen to people of wisdom and faith.  In chapter 6 of The Story, Joshua and Caleb came back from their exploration of the land and gave wise counsel.  Unfortunately, the people did not listen to them.  Find one or two wise men or women of faith that know you well and ask for their insight and perspective on your life.  Share how you are seeking to follow God and where you feel you are wandering off course.  Invite their wisdom and prayerfully listen to them.  Consider asking if they will meet with you on a regular basis to be a sounding board as you seek to walk with Jesus.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wandering - Chapter 6 Recap

God's GPS is instructing us on how to live life in the upper story where we find blessing and purpose.  God has the whole journey mapped out, from beginning to end, and God knows the best way to get us to our destination.  God is with us every step of the way, whether we're aware of it or not.  When food and water were withheld from the Israelites, it was because God was testing them to see if they would trust God.  If they trusted God in the wilderness, they would trust God in the final destination.  Their wilderness experience was to be an indicator, a sign to the watching nations about how life works when you put trust in God, who desires to be in relationship with us.  In order for God's grand scheme to work out, God's plan to get all the nations back, the children of Israel were going to have to trust God.

Application for this week:

The Christian life is like a road trip.  God wants to lead us every step of the way from God's GPS.  God sees the whole picture from beginning to end and God wants us to make it to the final destination and enjoy the journey, but we must trust God.  When God says go left, we should go...  Left!  When God says go right, we should go...  Right!  When God calls for us to stop, we should...  Stop! (Dead in our tracks.)  When God tells us to go faster we should put the pedal to the metal.  When God tells us to break down the barrier in front of us, no matter how big and bad it looks, we need to charge ahead in faith.

There are others in the car with us, who are affected by our decisions.  They will experience the blessings of our good decisions and the pain of our destructive decisions.  What choices are you making today?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wandering Reflections

Reflect on any way your life has gotten off course.  Ask God to help you recalculate and get back on the right path.  Confess where you have been stubborn and rebellious, and think deeply of the grace you have received in Jesus.  Then, identify the ways you need to change your actions, attitudes, and motives to bring them in line with God's will for you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thinking About Chapter 6

Some personal devotion questions to further your journey...

1.  Israel's complaining is a reminder of how easy it is to become ungrateful.  List five things you are grateful for.  How does gratitude change your perspective?

2.  God punishes Miriam and Aaron for slandering Moses.  Have you ever had to deal with lies spoken against you?  How did you handle it?

3.  If you had been the 12 spies, how would you have described the Promised Land?

4.  How many examples of answered prayer can you find in this chapter?  Which most encourages you and why?

5.  Moses charged Israel to keep God's commandments and diligently teach them to their children.  How can you, whether as a parent, or a member of your church community, pass on god's commandments to the next generation?

6.  When he passed on the mantle of leadership, Moses told Joshua to be strong and courageous.  Is a lack of courage keeping you from becoming a leader?

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Decisions You Make Affect Those Traveling With You

Every 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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Commands and a New Covenant - Chapter 5 Recap

A little humor?  A little girl had been naughty and was sentenced to time in the corner.  As she endured her time-out, her mom called to her, "Sally, are you still sitting down?"  Sally called out, "I may be sitting down on the outside - but I'm standing up on the inside!"

During our journey through "The Story," instead of getting lost in the details of the lower story, we're rising up to the 30,000 foot level and connecting the pieces of the upper story in order to see what God is up to.  Chapter 5 will surprise you when you see what it is going to do for us in God's grand plan to get us back.

In Chapter 5, God wants to come down and dwell with Israel.  This is the big idea, the big vision of the whole story of God.  The trinity of God wants to extend their community to include people.  God wants to come down and do life with us.  That was the original vision of Genesis 1, and this is what God is desperately wanting to do, in page after page in scripture, chapter after chapter of The Story, God wants to get us back.

In Chapter 1, sin changed everything; it ruined God's vision and seperated us from God, and really, from each other.  In Chapters 2, 3, and 4, God interacted with people, but in Chapter 5 God is determined to come back down and dwell with the people.  But in order for this to happen, three things have to take place:

1.  The people must follow the guidelines on how to treat each other and God (10 Commandments)
2.  God needs a place to stay (the Tabernacle)
3.  Sin must be atoned for (through sacrifices)
What's the application for us today?

1.  We must atone for our sins...  Jesus' blood has already been sacrificed for us.
2.  Instead of a tabernacle, we get to be the place that God can dwell.
3.  In order for God to come into our lives, there have to be guidelines on how we treat each other.  But trying to obey the 10 Commandments without first accepting Jesus' sacrifice, and God's place in our hearts, is no better than the little girl that was "sitting down on the outside and standing up on the inside."  In order to outwardly conform to God's laws - we need to be inwardly transformed by God's presence in us!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thinking About Chapter 5

Some personal devotion questions to start you thinking about how your story fits into God' s story...

1. Moses said, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." Describe what it means to "fear God." How does your life show that you fear God?

2. Moses was an intermediary between God and Israel. Has there been someone in your life who prayed for you, helped you see God's will, or acted as a spiritual mentor? Would that type of relationship be a blessing to you today?

3. God continued to use Aaron, even after the Golden Calf debacle. Have you ever felt like your sin disqualified you for service to God? How does Aaron's story encourage you?

4. Moses prayed to God on Israel's behalf. Who in your life needs you to intercede for them? Make a list. Offer a prayer for them.

5. Could you be described like God: compassionate, slow to anger, gracious, abounding in loving kindness? Which of these traits best describes you? Which are most difficult?

6. God reminded Moses that children live with the consequences of their parents' sins. Identify a sin or unhealthy tendency in your own family line that still affects you. What measures can you employ to stop the cycle?

7. Moses' face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. What evidence for your relatonship with the Lord would others say they see in you?

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Home God Wants For His Presence

It 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 God's coming. First, God 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, God 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 God wanted to camp out right in the middle of where they were camping. God wanted to be close to God's people.
But God also wanted them to be close to each other. So God declared a third thing to get ready. God 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 to know God 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 they were God's people. God gave us Jesus so that, when we live like him, others will know that we are God's people.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taking Action

Part of faith is taking action. If you feel prompted by God to sing in the church choir or play an instrument on the worship team, open your schedule and start practicing!

If you feel God calling you to the mission field, surrender and commit to follow. In addition, contact some mission organizations, talk to the missions leader in your church, go on a short-term mission trip, or take some other kind of action that will help you prepare.

You get the point. Surrender to the leading of the Lord, but also take action. God will do God's part, but we need to do our part. God called Moses, but Moses had to head back to Egypt and stand before Pharaoh.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Deliverance - Chapter 4 Recap

A little humor for your week: Moses says, "Let my people go," and Pharoah says, "No way, Mosay," and Moses says, "Yah way!"

(Get it? "Yahweh"?! Ha ha ha.)

The Story tells us that God hardens the heart of Pharaoh. Why would God do that? God is using Pharaoh's disobedience to accomplish God's overall plan. God looks into the heart of Pharaoh and says, "Pharaoh has determined in his heart a direction in his life. He will not follow my upper story. Now, I'm going to use his disobedience to finish my overall plan." And God used his stubbornness to unleash not just one plague but ten, so that over and over again God has an opportunity to display God's undeniable power. The tenth plague not only reveals God's power but it reveals God's plan for the shedding of blood to deliver us from sin and restore God's relationship with us.

John 1:29 says, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

1 Corinthians 5:7 says, "For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed."

God was giving us one of the biggest clues so far of God's master plan to get us back and to remove the sin nature. Jesus is the lamb, without defect. It is his blood that was poured out on the cross that becomes the blood we need to apply to the doorframe of our soul.

Application: Is there someone in your life that could use the grace of God in their life? Pray for them - often. Ask God if there is a way for you to share the love of God with them... Ask God for the courage and strength to be bold in your faith!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Could NEVER!

We all have our "I could never" and "I hope God never asks me to..." moments. Where are the places you tend to resist God's call? What things are you sure you could never do? As you honestly reflect on these questions, place them before the Lord, one by one. Admit your fear and resistance. Ask for new boldness and courage to follow God, even when you feel that you have nothing to offer or that your past disqualifies you. Commit to follow God, as best you can, no matter what God calls you to do.

Monday, October 10, 2011


164 in worship this Sunday!

Jill did a great job on the children's chat - reminding us of the difference between "wants" and "needs". (When you're really hungry.... Do you crave pizza? Ice cream? Cookies?) But God knows what we need - and God always provides. Just as God did with the Israelites.

And the choir was Fabulous with "Go Down Moses"! Wow!

We continue to be honored and amazed at all the new faces gracing us with your presence week after week. It's simply wonderful to watch this faith family grow - with smiles, laughter, and growth in the Spirit!

Praise God!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Deliverance - Exodus 14:13-20
Reflections by Pastor Penny

Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his challenging twelve sons – featuring fancy-coated Joseph,
who declares about the difficulties in his life: “God intended it for good.”  This week we are in
Chapter 4 of The Story, with the focus on escape from slavery for the People of God.
Deliverance seems like a rather churchy kind of word – perhaps The Great Escape would be a better way to describe the excitement and drama of this section of our history.  Remember?  This is our story as well as God’s story.  Picture yourself in Egypt:  desert, cruel tasks for you as a slave, years of your personal history haunted by old memories of lost freedom, and God’s promises – perhaps forgotten?
As always, there is a multitude of ways to focus and turn in this section of the Bible.  I’m interested in the echoes of ‘hard hearts.’  I have a favorite heart-shaped rock, pulled from Lake Superior many years ago.  Hearts certainly take all kinds of shapes.

​The hearts in this week’s section of The Story start with heard-hearted Pharaoh.  
We are told that now a new Pharaoh is in charge, who did not know Joseph.  He fears Joseph’s
later generations because they’ve multiplied so.  Solution to the problem:  have the boy babies
killed.  But God is protecting and bringing hope.  Moses is born, and his mother and sister
manage to hide and protect him.  He grows up educated and pampered in the royal household.  
Fast forward to the burning bush, when Moses is called by God to go lead the Israelites
out of slavery.  Through the 10 plagues, the amazing Passover experience and frantic escape
from what had been home.  Finally, the People of God stand at the edge of the sea.  It looks
hopeless.  Water ahead (I’m guessing no live guards among them), Egyptian army behind –
ready to kill.  And Moses tells the people:  "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance
that the Lord will accomplish for you today…”  Exodus 14:13. And that’s just what happened.

So what?  This same promise is for us!  God is the same throughout the Bible.  We do
not have one God in the Old Testament, cruel and harsh, and a different one in the New
Testament, forgiving and loving.  The church tells us that we have one God, whose character
remains the same.  This God offers grace and radical forgiving love to those into whom God
breathed life.  That’s Me, You, US!

How is my heart being shaped?  Where and how do I open my life up to God, who
waits to offer me grace, hope, and a path through – or to walk with me through the dark valley.  
As always, it’s our possibility of choosing the path we take that can make a world of difference
in how our hearts are shaped.  When the Bible says “Do not be afraid, God will fight for you,”
that’s what it means.  Calm down.  Look up.  Stand still.  Pray. Worship. Sing.
​We choose!  God is always waiting…
​If you haven’t read this chapter yet, forge ahead for the next week:  The Story, Chapter 5,
“New Commands and A New Covenant”, p. 59 OR order a CD of the whole Story.  I’ve been
listening to it, and I love it!  (The audiobook can be found on!)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chapter 4: When You Are Walled In

There'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 God's 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 Pharoah 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 be merely too many problems that have piled up in front of you at the same time. And you have no clue which 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 coarses 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 still remains.

While the Israelites were body punching Moses, he opted to look elsewhere. His options? He could have looked at the enemy's army. 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 God.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Forgiveness: It's Never Easy

Forgiveness is one of life's hardest actions. When someone has really hurt us, it is extremely difficult to forgive. During the next week read Genesis 50:15-21, Matthew 6:9-15, and Matthew 18:21-35. Pray for the courage and strength you need to forgive those who have wronged you. Meditate on Romans 5:8 and ask God to help you understand the depth of God's grace so that you can extend that grace to others.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recap of Chapter Three

Joseph was able to forgive his brothers because he saw that God was up to something; he had captured the Upper Story, God's bigger plan. What the brothers did was wrong, but God used their sin and jealousy to accomplish God's overall purpose, God's Upper Story.

The famine would have killed the little fledgling nation of Israel naturally, but supernaturally God made a provision for their salvation by putting Joseph in the right place at the right time.

Why didn't God just thwart the famine? It wasn't time yet for the nation of Israel to take ownership of the land of Canaan. And, they needed to be prevented from intermarrying with Canaanites, so their move to Egypt got them away from the Canaanites and living amongest the Egyptians who thought it was an abomination to marry shepherds. In Egypt they were given the incredibly fertile land of Goshen where they thrived.

Joseph had 22 years of a difficult life, but 71 years of a blessed life. He saw the Upper Story and it made his life in the Lower Story richer. It made all the junk that happened to him in the Lower Story survivable.

Application for this week:
The trials we go through test us and cause us to trust God and see God's power in desperate situations, and equip us for the very thing God wants us to do that we're not yet equipped to do, so that others will not see us, but God.

Huge consequences come to us when we do things in the Lower Story to hurt other people, even though God often uses our sinfulness to accomplish God's overall will.

For those whose life isn't turning out like you had envisioned it, you need the perspective of Romans 8:28:

"That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good."

Try thinking on this scripture this week... Do you trust God with all the details of your life? Do you look at how you can align yourself with God's will and prompts in your life - what small changes can you make to follow a little closer to God on a daily basis?

For me, just starting to read or study God's word everyday has helped immensely! What is helping you?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reflections on Tough Times

Reflect back on your life. Where has God been at work shaping and forming you... Even in the hard times? Are there lessons God was seeking to teach you that you might have missed? Ask for eyes to see them and a heart to receive and learn. Are you facing something tough right now? If God wants you to use this experience to grow you, ask for the courage to embrace it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What a Joy!

A great Sunday indeed!

The kids sang! They did a wonderful job - loud and clear with a fun song! It's amazing how far they've come in such a short time... I can't wait to see what comes next...

It was also Communion Sunday - and what a joy to finally share in the Lord's Supper as one big family! (Thank you, bell ringers, for the beautiful music during this sacred ceremony!)

As I read and listened to Joseph's story again and again this week, I couldn't help but see God's work in our churches... So many times we've been knocked down, but everytime, God has breathed new life into these faith families. Maybe through new staff. Maybe new members. Maybe new minstries. Maybe through new relationships. However it happened, God has brought us to this place, this day, together.

Let us rejoice, that like Joseph, we have not been forgotten - but that God has been planning for a good thing to happen!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Coat of Many Colors

Coat of Many Colors: GENESIS 50:20
Reflections by Pastor Penny
I’m inviting you to join me reading The Story!   It’s an unusual opportunity to move through the Bible in a condensed, chronological manner.   I always find myself in the stories-- for who among us doesn’t struggle with temptation, forgiveness, and the challenge of loss?  If you haven’t gotten your book yet, pick one up at church.  If you haven’t quite started, just jump in. This week we’re on chapter 3, “Joseph: From Slave to Deputy Pharaoh.”
As we move from creation in the Garden of Eden, through the life of Abraham and Sarah, we now get to sit around the family table of Jacob and his twelve sons.  Believe me, this is one lively group!  I’ve begun to hear people say how surprised they are that these old stories are ringing true for our time.  That’s how I find the Bible – it resounds with deep truth and shines light on my path.  It also makes me laugh, shake my head with questions, and wonder.
I laughed when I saw the October 3rd Time magazine cover: “Why Mom Liked You Best: The Science of Favoritism.”  There’s Jacob and the 12 – with Joseph standing tall in his beautiful robe.  I can assure you that my sister and brother always thought I got that shining center spot.  All of us deal with the very same issues that these early families of our faith tell us about. 
And the same God who helps them helps us!  As you read along, talk in a conversation group Sunday morning or during the week, or listen to the audio CDs, you’ll be interested in what God’s Spirit draws you to.  That’s what we are promised as we listen; God comes and helps us know how to live.
                One of the key themes in the life of Joseph is found in Genesis 50:20, “Even though you intended to harm me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve numerous people, as he is doing today.”  Just how does that possibly work?  In a way, it sounds like God manipulating jealousy, lust, scheming for murder, lying, ETC! to make something good come in the end.  But I know that’s not in the character of God, so I like the translation in The Common English Bible:  “But God made it turn out for the best, so that he could save all these people, as he is now doing.”  Imagine the heart of God, making it turn out for the best!
                We are invited to imagine that because the whole Bible tells us more and more about the heart of God and how God acts.  1 John 1:5 says: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”  So we know that God is not using or manipulating darkness to make light.  But, in God’s own way, God “turns” the situation to make good for us – for us at St. Paul’s UMC.  I think of this way of understanding as living in the world seeing only the back side of a beautiful tapestry; it looks tangled, a little knotted up here and there, pattern not always clear.  God sees the front side of the tapestry of our lives, which have pattern, clarity, and beauty.
                The Story helps us really see Joseph. The more I look at Joseph’s life, the more impressed I am.  Maybe you had the sense that he was a puffed up kid bragging about his future possibilities, as he interpreted his dreams to his irritated brothers.  But as we read the whole story he stands tall, a man of honor following the God he must have learned about at his father Jacob’s tent and mother Rebecca’s knee.   
                Joseph is a favored child and his jealous brothers find a devious way to get rid of him.  As he is dragged off to Egypt, things look grim.  But God turns what looks like a death sentence into a chance to be useful; in slave-Joseph’s care, the household flourishes.  Terrible trouble comes when the wife of the Egyptian master tempts Joseph. His answer to temptation is: “How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9 
Joseph’s behavior opens him up to God’s best.  He puts himself in the stream of God’s grace and receives a jail sentence.  What?  How does that happen?  For his good behavior, Joseph is thrown into jail.  God moves through Joseph’s life in jail.  God turns this for good.  BIG NOTE:  Good behavior does not guarantee any kind of stress-free life.  There are no Free Passes through the challenges or troubles of life.  But what we do know, and see in Joseph’s story, is that God is always with us, always working to ‘turn’ any situation for good.
            Joseph’s life is full: 2 years in jail, dream interpretation, leading a nation in a challenging time, and reconnecting with the devious brothers and, finally, a happy ending.  Joseph speaks the words of forgiveness and grace to his brothers – you intended harm but God turned it to good.
                So what?  As we read, listen, think, question, and move forward with our own lives, what does the Joseph story have to do with us?  It could be just an old story with forgotten possibilities or a new opening to deep truth and new possibilities.  New possibilities for how we live as families, as we see Joseph centered on offering lavish forgiveness. 
                I’m always intrigued by the new! This week I got a New poetry book by Shell Silverstein, the poems were found years after his death in 1999.  Our grandchildren are enchanted with poems and drawings.  One of our favorites shows the possible outcome of a hairdryer working backward -- beware the foot left sticking out.  Very funny! New science offered Time magazine.  “Faster than Light.  A new study may upend Einstein.” The discussion unfolded:   “A finding about subatomic particles that may be moving over the speed of light…” The finding is enough to overturn a century of firmly established physics and rewrite the textbooks.”
New church!  Well, why not?  God is always inviting to new, to fresh possibilities.  What if the life of our congregation is only just beginning?  Let us find ways to believe that God will turn our present situation and do deep, lasting, permanent good.  For us and for our world.  May it be so!
                Does this story leave you with a question?
                Are You left with an answer?
                An invitation?
                What will you DO about that?
Next week:  Moses and Freedom! Chapter 4, page 43, “Deliverance”