Joshua’s Bucket List

In 2007 the movie “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman inspired many people to think about what they wanted to do before they died. I have never made an official “bucket list” but there are a few things I hope to do before my life here on earth is complete. Near the top of my list is to visit to the Netherlands during the Tulip Festival. I would also love to spend some time walking the ancient streets of Israel retracing some of the steps that Jesus and his disciples took.

Near the end of the book of Joshua we read about the number one thing on Joshua’s “bucket list”, something that was not even for himself but for others. This compilation of verses from chapter 23 should give you a clue as to what he wanted for God’s people:

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left” (v6). “But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now” (v8). “So be very careful to love the Lord your God” (v11). In verse 14 he brings it all home, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”

Joshua wanted what was best for the people as he was getting ready to “go the way of the earth”. His greatest concern was for the people and their relationship with the Lord. With one last opportunity Joshua addressed the whole nation, an address that I can only imagine was delivered with incredible passion and deep heartfelt emotion. Alongside each verse quoted here Joshua also gives a sharp warning of what comes if the people do fall into the temptation of doing life on their own, without God. With incredible grace and mercy through Christ today we have all we need to stay strong so that when we do fall, he picks us up to journey forward.

From the day Joshua spoke these words to this moment in time here and now and into the future, the promises made by God to his people continue to be trustworthy in their fulfillment. Knowing this brings incredible hope to me and many others who know and follow Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. 

What if we took a different perspective on adding things to our bucket list based on Joshua’s words? What if as followers of Christ we continue to build our own relationship with the Lord while also focusing on helping others do the same. We can continue to be strong in our own faith while helping someone grow in theirs; we can hold fast to the promises God has made to us and share them with someone who might not know about them. 

What if we move our attention away from what we want to what others need? Today more than ever people need Jesus. We have something that so many others need, as a disciple of Jesus a part of our responsibility is to share his incredible love with others. 

So, what might we add to our bucket list today? First, pray and ask God how he might inspire you to find a way to share his great love with someone else. Second, write it down and share it with someone close to you and third, do it. Easier said than done, I know. A wise man once said, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13)

Misread Intentions

We have all likely been in a position of misreading the intentions of another individual or organization at some point in our life. Our judgements are typically based on our personal or corporate values and creates the lens to which we measure the intentions of others. Often, without a complete picture of one’s intentions the resulting judgement results in friction or conflict between people or organizations. 

Part way through Joshua chapter 22 we have recorded for us the account of Joshua sending off the Eastern tribes to their home on their side of the Jordan River. This portion of land was what they asked for based on its physical qualities to support their livestock and families. (Numbers 32). On their way home they built an alter to be a witness between them and the rest of the nation, so future generations would know that they belonged to a nation who feared the Lord. 

Initially, the actions of the two and a half tribes (the Reubenites, the Gadites and half tribe of Manasseh) was misread as a departure from faith in God. Seen as a rebellion against God the Israelites prepared to wage war against them but first sent a delegation of men ahead to “clear the air” about their intentions. The nation of Israel was in fear because of past sins, past experiences where the Lord had dealt with them accordingly. They were concerned that the actions of the two and a half tribes would mean punishment for the whole nation. When confronted by the delegation, the two and a half tribes were able to explain their true intentions, finding favor with them and effectively avoiding a civil war. 

Given the history that the nation of Israel had experienced with past sin and its resulting actions I can see why they reacted the way they did; they did not want to see history repeat itself once again. 

This passage lays down some important foundations for understanding how we can work effectively to avoid undue conflict through misunderstanding. The wisest man to ever live once said “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:12 NKJV) Phinehas, the son of the high priest, the one who led the delegation of men who confronted the tribes heeded these words well. His first action was to go and meet with the leaders and begin a conversation. 

Following the expression of their concerns, Phinehas and the delegation took the time to listen to their side of the story. After hearing what they had to say the delegation was able to understand that their initial understanding of their intentions was misguided. The open conversation made way for understanding. Upon their return to Canaan, they reported this news and as scripture records it, “they talked no more about going to war against them” (Joshua 22:33) 

I have been guilty of jumping to false conclusions myself as I followed the path of misread intentions; conclusions I came to without fully understanding true intentions. I have also experienced the positive outcomes in following these simple and effective strategies found in Joshua 22.

Often the hardest step in understanding the truth of other’s intentions is starting the much-needed conversation. What is one conversation you can be praying about today? Pray that the Lord will lead you to a place of courage to begin that conversation today. 

What Will You Receive?

Recently there was some discussion at my house around a particular science assignment that one of my girls was working on. We inherit certain traits from our parents that dictate the outcome of our physical attributes; I have blues eyes and my wife has beautiful brown eyes. When my daughter plugged these variables into a Punnett square (a weirdly named scientific tool) and with a little explanation from our resident science teacher she finally realized why she and her sisters all have brown eyes. There are many things in life and in death that we can inherit. 
 
If you have the time and patience to read through chapters 13-21 of the book of Joshua, you will come across the word inheritance somewhere around 50 times. After leading the nation of Israel through many victorious battles it was time for Joshua to allocate the land that the Lord had given them as their promised inheritance. The reality of living in the land promised to them through Moses was coming to realization. 
 
To inherit something typically means something is passed down or given to you. You may not have earned it or even deserve it, but it comes to you in one form or another. Joshua and his army were one to be feared; they did things that are seemingly unimaginable for most of us to get them to the place they were in. God was the force in front of and behind them as they battled to secure the land he promised to them. We may be inclined to think that they deserved the land that they deserved it. Yet, without the Lord’s help they would have had nothing. The Promise Land was a gift of God’s incredible love for them as his chosen people. The land was their inheritance from their Father in heaven. 
 
These events that happened in centuries past are a strong witness to the assurance we have today in the fulfillment of 
another promise made to those who continue to faithfully follow God.  
 
1 Peter chapter one describes for us a promised inheritance that is kept for us in heaven, one that will never perish, spoil, or fade. As followers of Christ our inheritance is found in him. Our life (new birth) in Christ through his own death and resurrection promises us eternal life with him in heaven. 
 
We have been given an incredible gift of love by the same God that brought the people of Israel into the Promise Land. In many ways like the people of Israel experienced time and time again our promise of faithfulness often falls short of Christ’s command to be holy as he is. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the complete forgiveness of all our sins and through the incredible gift of grace we are presented as blameless and pure in God’s eyes through Christ. 
 
As followers of Jesus, we are considered children of God, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). As his children we will inherit what God has promised, eternal life. As we live our lives in wait and wanting for the completion of our salvation (that day when Christ comes again) we can be assured that God continually works for the good of those who love him. It may be hard to see amid all that is going on around us in the world today, but we have inside of us a living hope that points us to a better day. 
 
Do you hope for an inheritance that will never perish, spoil, or fade? Here is the best part of this promised inheritance, it is available to anyone who truly seeks it and humbly comes before the Lord and asks him for it. What will you receive?

Melting Point

This past summer as one of the particularly long heat waves passed through our area, we discovered that two of our Costco sized bags of chocolate chips melted and transformed from little, tiny morsels into large solid blocks of chocolate. Our chocolate chip cookies turned into chocolate chunk cookies. It seems that everything has a melting point. 

Six times in the book of Joshua we read about the idea of people “melting in fear”. (2:9; 2:11; 2:24; 5:1; 7:5; 14:8). In context of each of these verses there is a very real sense of fear surrounding life and death as people have witnessed the incredible power of God through the continuance of his promise to bring his people into the land promised to them through his covenant with Abraham. 

Chapter 2 of Joshua recounts the interaction between Rahab and the spies where she explains to them, “When we heard of it, (the crossing of the Jordan) our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” As we read this today, we recognize the transformation in Rahab’s life that speaks to a “melting” or “softening” of another kind. We don’t know a lot about Rahab, but we do know that at some point in time she recognized God for who he is and gave her life over to him, her heart was softened.

What started as a real fear in the sense of life and death became a life changing experience for Rahab. A new sense of understanding and fear of the Lord became a new reality of reverence and awe for a God who saves and protects those who love and follow him. Later in scripture (Heb 11:31; James 2:25) we hear of Rahab as an example of faith, one who stands out because of her actions in service to God. 

In life and ministry, I have had the opportunity to hear many incredible stories of life transformation as God continues to work in the hearts of his people. Each story, unique in their own way demonstrate the incredible power of love, forgiveness, and acceptance as people put their hope and trust in the Lord. Unfortunately, I have also heard stories that are surrounded by a paralyzing fear that keeps people at a distance from God. They fear that their life choices and actions are unforgivable, and that God could never love or forgive them.

The scriptures are filled with stories of forgiveness and redemption; Rahab’s story is only one of many. David is another example, and he shares these words for all of us:

He (God) does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

The God that we serve is so full of mercy and grace and no matter who we are and what we have done there is forgiveness available to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. 

The stories we have in scripture have the power to inspire and change lives. Our stories, just the same, have power to inspire and encourage others who may not know how great the love of God is.

When was the last time you shared your story? How has God has worked in your life to draw you close to him? Take some time to pray and ask God to give you the opportunity to share your story with someone, you never know the kind of change it will bring in someone’s life.

Big Shoes to Fill

Here is a somewhat interesting fact about me, I wear size 15 shoes. Now, to most of you that might not sound so interesting but when your “in my shoes” it certainly can make for some curious conversation. I have been the heel of many big shoe remarks like, “at least you don’t need water skies”, or “wow, you have your own flippers for swimming”. While I inherited my larger than average foot size from my father who was a size 16, I do wonder how this will play out for any one of my three daughters. 
 
We often use the expression they have some “big shoes to fill” when a person takes over a job that the person before them performed particularly well. It typically means that it is going to be hard to do the job as well as they did. 
 
Recently as I began reading through the book of Joshua I was thinking about the “shoes” that Joshua was filling. The leadership role that Moses provided in the deliverance of the nation of Israel out of Egypt and the giving of the law would have been a tough act to follow. Joshua had some big shoes to fill but he was not alone. 
 
Standing on the shores of the Jordan River the Lord gave direction to Joshua to move forward in the promise that he would provide for them all that they needed. His words to Joshua read like this, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” What incredible words these would have been for Joshua to hear from the Lord as he stepped into his new role as the nation’s leader.
 
As followers of Jesus, we all have some big shoes to fill as we are called to carry on his mission. Jesus clearly lays out his mission for us, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
 
These words in Matthew chapter 28 are as real for us today as the day they were spoken by Christ himself to his disciples. Just as Joshua had a mission from God to continue leading the nation of Israel, we too have a God given mission to continue as his disciples. The mission is clear and might sound simple enough yet in our eyes there are seemingly unmoveable barriers in front of us. We might feel like Joshua standing at the shore of the Jordan River wondering how the impossible might happen. 
 
The incredible words spoken to Joshua by God as he stepped into his role as leader are echoed in Christ words to his disciples and to us following the command to go and make disciples of all nations, Jesus reminds us of an incredible promise that we see and hear all throughout the pages of scripture, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
 
Yes, we may have some big shoes to fill in carrying on the mission Jesus started but he continues to live in us through his Spirit today. We are not alone in our own shoes. As Christ followers, we carry within us the same power of the living God who parted the waters of the Jordan River for Joshua and the people of Israel. How many steps have you tried to take on your own in carrying out the mission given to us? Remember this, God is with you always, to the very end of the age, you are not alone. 

Turn Signals

Recently as I was driving on the highway, I was reminded of the significance and importance of using turn signals and the fact that some people have forgotten about this factory installed feature on their vehicle. Turn signals provide a means of communication to let other drivers around you know where you are going so that they can act appropriately. 

My last blog entry (click here if you missed it) indicated that I was closing off my time in Nehemiah, but I was inspired one last time by his words and I wanted to share one last thought. 

For twelve years Nehemiah used his God given gifts of leadership and discernment to bring honor and glory back to a nation of people that God had chosen as his own, to bring honor and glory to the great and awesome God that he served. During his time as governor of Jerusalem Nehemiah never led the people without a signal of what direction he was going. All the rebuilding, the prayer, the scripture reading, the teaching, the love and compassion were signals that were used to help bring the people back into a right relationship with God. 

Through opposition by other leaders, corruption in his own ranks, and amid intimidation and offerings of bribes Nehemiah never lost sight of the direction he has heading. He may have had to signal around these obstacles but always stayed on course making sure that everyone knew where he was leading them to go.

This made me think about the signals that we may or may not use that other people see, indicating the direction that we are headed in our own relationships with God. While some of these things are personal and remain between God and us, there are some that are obvious indicators that provide opportunity for others to see and follow. 

What are these signals? What will people recognize in our lives that set us apart from the rest of the world? Well, after reading Nehemiah I would say the number one signal that others can see is humility.

First, Nehemiah did nothing for his own personal gain or recognition. His motivation was to serve God first, then the people of Jerusalem. Living humbly and serving God and others before ourselves seems counter-cultural in our world today. When we live a life outside the bounds of cultural norms, we signal to others that we are different and that opens opportunities to share the answers of why.

Second, Nehemiah showed incredible compassion and generosity to the people. He did more than just listen to the needs of the community around him. As governor he put into motion a plan that levelled the playing field in respect to social and economic injustice. He gave generously from his own wages so that other could benefit. When we serve and give freely to those in need, we signal to those who are watching that other people matter to us. 

Third, Nehemiah was dedicated to the reading of the word of God and prayer. Our lives should reflect the same. We have an incredible opportunity to show the people around us who our God is and how much he loves them. Prayerfully reading and studying the word of God will inspire us, motivates us, and show us that our God can and will use us to be a signal of hope for those in the world. 

The Key Ingredient.

I am a big fan of chocolate chip cookies. I may be biased but my very talented wife makes the best chocolate chip cookies on the planet. I took a peek at her recipe book and found the dog eared, grease-stained, timeworn page that lists all the ingredients that make up these mouthwatering morsels. The main ingredient by measure is of course flour, but the key ingredient is the semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Without this key ingredient these delectable treats wouldn’t even get a second look. (That is my expert opinion). 

As I finished reading through the book of Nehemiah, I couldn’t help but think about one of the main themes or ingredients that was key in his life and work as a servant of God. While we can garner an incredible amount of wisdom from Nehemiah’s leadership and many accomplishments, the key ingredient that made me take a second, third and even fourth look was his commitment to prayer. 

Found throughout the accounts of Nehemiah’s story we find a variety of prayers; prayers filled with offerings of praise and thanksgiving, prayers of confession, petition, and blessing. It seems that no matter the time or place, the practice of prayer was a part of Nehemiah’s life and leadership, something he modeled for the people of Jerusalem. 

The opening words of Nehemiah begin with a prayer as do the closing words in chapter 13. These words and the many in between are clear evidence of Nehemiah’s dependance on God to help him undertake the mission of rebuilding and rekindling the physical and spiritual condition of God’s people and city of Jerusalem. 

When we examine the life of Nehemiah through his actions, we can see that his motivation came from his complete trust in the Lord. The “main ingredient” in his life and faith was a trust that was proven repeatedly throughout the narrative of his story. The “key ingredient” to his faith and trust in God was renewed each and every day through his devotion to prayer. Nehemiah’s success in life and mission came because he depended on God. 

Nehemiah opens his first prayer with an incredible reminder of who God is, “the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” These words continue to stand true for us today as they did when Nehemiah recorded them. This covenant of love God made with his people was magnified many years later through the incredible sacrifice of his one and only Son so that we could be saved from our sins. How great and awesome is that? 

The loving relationship that we have with Jesus today continues to be the main ingredient of our faith. Christ lived and died for us; his love for us, his sacrifice is the foundation of our forgiveness and promise of an everlasting life in the presence of his father. Our God is an awesome God. 

The key ingredient in faith and life in him is prayer. How often did Nehemiah get down on his knees and pray to God? How often do we get down on our knees and pray to the same great and awesome God? 1 John 5:14 is an assurance to those who believe in the name of the Son of God, it reads, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” It is my prayer that these words inspire you to draw closer to our great and awesome God in prayer today. 

Tending to the Fire

One of my favourite things to do while camping is watching the burning fire. The sight of the flames dancing around, the smell and sound of the wood burning, and the comforting warmth all work together to help me slip into a mysteriously hypnotic state. Fires need tending, a constant supply of fuel to keep burning; without it, the fire slowly burns out leaving small burning embers or nothing more than a pile of ash in its place.

From the moment when Nehemiah first inspected the damage to the walls surrounding Jerusalem, to the time he returned to his position as cup bearer for the king (a span of 12 years) he had been tending “fires” of a different kind. Not only did Nehemiah light the fire of inspiration and drive of the people to commit to rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but he also re-kindled the fire and passion in the hearts of the people to fall back into a life that honored and glorified their Heavenly Father.  

Chapter 10 of Nehemiah outlines the elements of a binding agreement or covenant the nation and its leaders made and committed to follow together. At that time the priests and Levites were responsible for the continued spiritual leadership of the city. In many ways they were responsible to tend the “spiritual fire” that brought the people back into a right relationship with God. As we continue to read on, Nehemiah outlines for us in chapter 13 several things that, after he left, began to stifle the desire (the fire) of the people to stay on track with a life devoted to following the laws and commands given to them. 

If we fast-forward a few thousand years to today, we can see some similarities to our own walk of faith in the Lord. 

Many of you can remember the time in your life when you first accepted the good news of the gospel and made Jesus a part of your life. There was an excitement, a fire that burned inside of you as a new believer; you devoted your life to following and serving the Lord, loving him, and loving others. God’s word (the bible) became your guide for life, you immersed yourself in it and you surrounded yourself with others who lived with that same fire in their soul. 

I have seen in others and experienced for myself this incredible feeling as the fire burned bright in life. I will be the first to admit that there are times when the fire does not burn as bright as it should. There have been times when the fuel for the fire seems in short supply, and we only see a few burning embers. 

Nehemiah saw a fire in need of tending among the people of Jerusalem and once again did his part to help re-kindle the flames of life with God among them. Like Nehemiah, we must pray and seek God’s mercy and grace in our lives; confess to him our weaknesses and He will begin a work in us to restore that burning fire in life. Keep the fire fueled through the reading of his word. When you do, you will hear his voice, his direction for your life. Surround yourself again with those who share in the warmth and comfort of knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior. Consider these words of an old hymn that continue to inspire new life in Christ, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”. 

The Beginning of a New Start

Have you ever worked through a home improvement project? At the beginning of most renovation projects there is a feeling of excitement and energy, there are hopes and dreams about what the outcome will be. Along the way there are many steps to bring those dreams alive. From demolition to decorating and everything in between each step of the job takes hard work and commitment to reach the end.

As I continue to read through the book of Nehemiah, the account of the wall being rebuilt comes to an end. I am sure that when the last brick was cemented into place and the final gate was hung by its hinges, Nehemiah drew a deep breath of relief to know that the wall around Jerusalem was finally restored. Step one was complete. With the wall finished, Nehemiah begins to focus on his next step, the restoration of the inhabitants of the city.

When you read through chapter 8 of Nehemiah the next stage of his plan is laid out for us. His goal in this phase is to help restore the people of the city back into a right relationship with God through the reading and understanding of the Law as given to them in scripture. It was time to focus on the spiritual needs of the city. Verse 8 of chapter 8 says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” 

The beginning of a new start for the people in the city was a reminder of who God is, what he has done for them and how his love for them has not changed over time. The message of what was being read was a reminder for the people to live in obedience to God’s will. 

In my last blog entry, I briefly talked about how we might “lend a hand” in the process of re-building the church after our time of physical separation. All through the pandemic things have constantly been changing for all of us. One of the incredible truths about scripture and its message for us is that it is unchanging. God’s word is and always will be the solid foundation on which our faith is built. 

The people of the city were gathered to hear God speak through these words, they were willing to stand and listen as scripture describes, attentively, from daybreak to noon every day for a week! When was the last time you had a thirst for hearing the word of God read out like this? 

Nehemiah fortified the walls of the city and provided a safe place for the people to gather and hear the words of God spoken and explained. Each day holds the potential beginning of a new start in life and faith as we seek to hear God’s voice for our lives. The words that Ezra read then were persevered for us and continue to inspire many people today as they read God’s word. 

It is my hope and prayer that as we gather again that the center of all we do is found in the words of scripture. From Genesis to Revelation and everything in between God’s Word is the best place to begin a new start. Where will you start today? What is your next step in life and faith? 

Lending a Hand

Have you ever felt like you needed a third hand? There are times in life when having that third hand would be handy. One of my hobbies requires some soldering from time to time and to make life easier I have what is called a third hand jig (also known as a helping hand). This adjustable device holds wires in place while I work with the soldering iron. Without that third hand the task would be difficult. 

Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is about helping hands. In many ways this chapter reads like one of those extensive genealogies found in other parts of scriptures. If you’re anything like me, I tend to just browse right past these types of passages because let’s be honest, we feel like they don’t have much to offer, plus all those names are hard to pronounce. 

Following his inspection of the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah began to assign workers to repair areas near where they lived or worked. Chapter three holds the blueprint to the reconstruction process. Starting in verse 2 we see the beginning of two repeating phrases that becomes the mortar between the bricks of such a massive project. “Next to him” or “next to them” is repeated in one form another over 20 times. As I read these words, I noticed a theme that connects to the many aspects of living and working in community both in Nehemiah’s day and here and now. 

Much like the situation Nehemiah and the people of the city found themselves in, we as followers of Jesus are living amid a similar but different re-building process. As the church gathers again after a challenging time of physical separation, many of them are starting to re-build. With what seems like an ever-changing blueprint in the process, there is one constant that remains and that is the message and mission of the Gospel. 

“Next to him” or “next to them” reveals to us a picture of a community committed to a purpose. In context, Nehemiah was writing about rebuilding the wall (phase two of his plan) so that God’s glory would be able to shine. In our context, it is about coming together again and working next to one another so that others will continue to see the glory of God shine through his people. 

Many leaders today are calling on the church (you and I) to come together, next to one another, to serve and love one another. No one person could have accomplished the work of repairing the walls around Jerusalem; the same stands for today as we work to rebuild. We must work together if we are to continue our God given mission. Our work is to glorify God, to love one another, to serve with the gifts we have been given and to share the good news of the gospel with those who don’t yet know the incredible love of God. 

So, how might you be a “third hand” in helping the church grow into a renewed passion and presence in your community? Who will you work “next to”? Not for your glory, but for the glory of our Father in heaven? In the words of Nehemiah, “Let us start rebuilding.”