Just as He moved his people through the land between,
God continues to move us when we feel directionless, hopeless, isolated, trapped or alone.
Whenever I need an answer or have a problem that needs fixing, God is my go to guy. There’s no guilt in calling God in the middle of the night, or putting private information upon God’s shoulders. God is good at taking on that kind of stuff; faithful, loving, always ready to help.
On NPR this week, there was a news story about combat veterans struggling to make the transition into civilian life. Their story begins on the Appalachian Trail, where many vets have gone to literally “walk the war” out of their system.
With the time and the space in nature to process everything they have gone through, these Warrior Hikers, as they call themselves, can safely shed the weight of war and stress of multiple deployments that can make them feel isolated and alone. I imagine this 2,100 mile journey is their spiritual wilderness, the very land between who they are… and who they wish to become.
After enduring 450 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites go on a little walkabout themselves. While wandering around the Sinai desert, they too are in a period of transition. Caught between their past and their future, they too feel isolated, and alone. They struggle not only with fear, but also to find their own identity. Like the Warrior Hikers, the Israelites had to take this rigorous physical and spiritual journey, in order to develop the strength they would need to move from slavery into becoming a mighty nation in the new Promised Land.
In his book, “The Land Between,” Jeff Manion writes about this historic trek and the transition they faced leaving Egypt. He argues that transitions provide our greatest opportunity for spiritual growth and that “God’s desire to meet you is most present in these times of chaos and emotional upheaval.” And so, we go to God.
Moses and the Israelites knew going backwards was no longer an option. And yet they did not know how to go forwards. I’m sure Moses doesn’t have a clue what to do either, but he knew enough to tell his people not to worry, “The LORD will clear away these nations before you, little by little.” And God did just that. God is good in that way; faithful, loving and always ready to help. Little by little, God clears a way for us, too. Just as He moved his people through the land between, God continues to move us through these times when we feel directionless, and hopeless, isolated, trapped or alone.
The story of Israel teaches us, true growth rarely comes easy. There are always obstacles and oppositions to overcome. What we discover is, it’s moving through this process that makes us stronger, better prepared to receive God’s promised salvation.
Jesus’ own struggles give us strength and assurance that not even death can overcome us. And through these obstacles, Paul tells us to rejoice, and do not fear. God is in our midst, giving us his peace. By God’s grace and mercy given to us through Jesus Christ, we shed our past and walk towards our new future; little by little we become more complete, more at peace, and better equip to do God’s will.
Some of you might recall my first sermon, in which I spoke of the growth chart that is notched into the doorjamb of our kitchen back home. Each of our kid’s birthdays is mark with these little dashes that track their physical growth. I remember thinking how much those little dashes looked like rungs on a ladder…each leading upward toward something greater.
When we moved to Greenville, we were given an oversized wooden ruler to continue this tradition. Well, today is Fiona’s 15th birthday. And yes, she got measured. Despite her best efforts, she’s barely grown a half of an inch since moving here two years ago.
Little by little however, she has become a giant in her own right. God has been hard at work, clearing the way for Fiona to overcome many difficult situations. These struggles, which I can identify with, have helped her better understand herself; who she was, and is today, and who she is destined to become.
Little by little God helped Fiona make the transition from an insecure, angry teenager to a caring and responsible young lady. I sense the same will be true here as this church faces a period of transition ahead. Thus I encourage you to go to God, give Him your fears, worries, and pain. God is good at taking care of stuff like this.
Whether we like or not, life is full of unwanted transitions; divorce, retirement, the loss of health and physical dependency, unemployment, foreclosure, and death; each one puts us in a place of uncertainty, often increasing our insecurity. We are all facing a truly challenging time. And the way this church responds to God’s purpose and plan, can and will result in deep, lasting growth.
There are two things that are imperative for this church to do if it desires to grow in such a way. The first is to remain united, not divided. Let God be the judge. Your job is to be the church, which means to remain one body in Christ’s love and peace.
The second thing is this. Call an interim minister who is trained to help you take the necessary steps that will prepare this church for the Promised Land. This person can help you do the hard work necessary to discover who you really are, and who God has destined this church to be in this community.
Little by little, God has put a vision and desire in your heart. But be mindful, because God will not eliminate all the opposition at once. Nor will God set you in your land of promise without taking you through the important experiences necessary to avoid this pain again.
These obstacles and oppositions you might experience could be people. But you might be surprised to discover they could also attitudes, mind-sets, circumstances, and relationships. God wants to build you up, strengthen you to be victorious in all situations. And this will take time and patience. Little by little, slow and steady as one might say.
As you leave here this morning, remember, “God’s desire to meet you is most present in these times of chaos and emotional upheaval.” So go to God. And as you do, look to Jesus as your guide who takes you to him; walking you through the land between life and death and resurrection. And lastly, never forget the encouraging words of the Apostle Paul who tells us to celebrate God all day, and everyday, to rejoice in our hearts and in our faith, through all trials and tribulations.
Go to God in prayer. And allow God to plant the peace of Christ Jesus into your hearts so that you can plant it in others. Little by little God’s love will take shape within you, and transform you to be truly faithful people of God…the very body of Christ…the church that does not worry,… but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Bible. Deuteronomy 7:22-26; Philippians 4:1-7.
Dowdy, Naomi. 4 Keys to How God Brings Transition. Sept 16, 2013. http://www.charismamag.com/life/women/10173-4-keys-to-how-god-brings-transition (accessed Oct 6, 2016).
Lawrence, Quil. On The Appalachian Trail, Combat Veterans Learn To Let Things Go. Oct 6, 2016. http://www.npr.org/2016/10/06/496826293 (accessed Oct 8, 2016).
Manion, Jeff. The Land Between: finding God in difficult transitions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.