Is there something beautiful in your life you have been overlooking?
For people of God, the Jordan River carries heavy symbolism. If you are a churchgoer, take a quick peek in your hymnal. You will find songs revealing the Jordan as a symbol of death. Crossing the Jordan and reaching the Promised Land meant entering the gates of heaven.
Some time after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, baptism took the meaning of dying to your old self (upon immersion) and being raised to new life found in Christ (being drawn back up out of the water).
In Joshua chapter three we read the people of Israel needed to sanctify themselves before they could cross the Jordan River. For this ancient people it involved devoting themselves completely to God and worshiping him. God was about to perform a miracle and he wanted their undivided attention.
“Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”” Joshua 3:5
Unlike the Red Sea crossing found in the book of Exodus, crossing the Jordan to take possession of the Promised Land required an act of faith on their part–especially by the priests. God wasn’t going to stop the flow of the Jordan River at flood stage until their feet were in the water. The priests, however, didn’t go into the water alone. God was with them in the form of the ark of the covenant, which they carried.
“The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” Joshua 3:17
Some thoughts for those who know God through his son Jesus:
Joshua chapter 2 features two spies who are sent to Jericho to gather information about the city prior to the Israelite invasion. Their job, blend in to a culture foreign to them, one in which they didn’t belong. As Christians doesn’t life in the workplace sometimes seem just like this; different ethics, language, and temptations we’re not prepared for.
The spies encounter Rahab, a pagan prostitute and owner of the establishment. Her house, an inn, was the best place to gather information, that is, until they were labeled spies. In a startling turn of events, Rahab not only agrees to hide them from the authorities, she lies to protect them. Her motivation: she fears God and believes He is the one true God of heaven and earth. In the most unlikely of places the Israelites encounter a person of faith.
…for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below. Joshua 2:11 NLT
In exchange for harboring them, Rahab asks for a guarantee she and her family won’t be destroyed when the Israelites invade. She is given a red cord to hang in her window, a symbol she has chosen to side with the God of Israel.
One has to wonder, how will Rahab be remembered after she is gone. After all, she’s a prostitute and a liar. Yet, the Bible chooses to remember her as a person of faith.
It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. Hebrews 11:31 NLT
D.R. Davis in his commentary on Joshua states, “Genuine faith never rests content with being convinced of the reality of God but presses on to take refuge in God.”
How will you be remembered? Will people remember you by an occasional good deed or will you be remembered for your faith in God, your refuge?
Here’s the transcript of my thoughts I shared at “The Service of Hope” held on December 16th, 2018.
I’m here this afternoon because like many of you I have experienced the loss of someone significant in my life. My father passed away in 2005 and my mother in 2016. The pain of loss is real and no one is immune to its effects—even those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus don’t need to apologize to anyone for their pain and sorrow in that regard. One of my favorite passages of scripture is the 11th chapter of John, which gives the account of the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. In that story Jesus is moved by the sorrow of Mary and Martha as they mourned the loss of their brother. The words, “Jesus wept,” serve to remind me Jesus knows and understands the pain and sadness we feel when we lose someone we love.
Dad was 69 when he died of prostate cancer. Growing up I idolized my father. By the time I graduated from college he didn’t seem that important to me. I had a life of my own. Yes, we gathered together at family functions but I wasn’t that connected to him anymore. When I reached my 40s, having established my family and a career, an unexplained desire emerged to get to know dad better. Looking back I see it was God who gave me that desire and I’m glad I acted on it. I recall praying God would show me something we could do together to connect with him.
Family genealogy turned out to be the vehicle that joined us together. Dad and I quickly became hooked on it. My wife Patty and I made a number of trips together with my parents to Pennsylvania as we researched our family tree. Not long after we connected dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It turned out to be the aggressive sort and 9 months later he died. I believe God wanted dad and me to be together as he struggled to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. When he could no longer pray, I prayed for him.
God prompted me to do something else when I learned dad wouldn’t be with us much longer. He inspired me to write down my thoughts as dad and I walked through this ordeal together. Perhaps some of you have read these thoughts in the book, Junior’s Hope. It was a book that almost wasn’t published. I figured it was my therapy, you know, something to help me cope with losing a father, my namesake and friend. I wanted to chronicle my life with him and create something to remember him by. But as time passed after his death I believed my writing had served its purpose and it didn’t need to be printed. Then one night, which happened to be exactly one year to the day after his death, I saw my father in a dream. In that dream I saw dad as a healthy man in the prime of life. We exchanged a few words and then he was gone. The dream was so real it filled me with hope and inspired me to get the book published. I remember thinking, okay Lord you made your point.
My life changed after dad passed away. I now had one more person to care for, mom. While I deferred to Patty to take care of mom’s physical needs, I focused on helping mom with whatever else she needed. As it turns out the book I almost never published became a source of hope for her. She was so proud of me that she had to tell everyone she knew about it. We can never fully understand the purposes of God. He accomplishes them on so many different levels.
Mom lived 11 more years without dad. Family, friends and Christmas were the joys of her life. During her life, mom dabbled in writing poetry. I usually don’t dabble in poetry but the time I spent with her inspired me to write a handful of poems on her behalf. When I showed them to her she’d say, “Bill that’s exactly how I feel.” One of the shorter ones is printed on the back page of your bulletin.
During the closing months of her life we liked to exchange a couple of phrases. I wanted to reassure her she was truly loved so I would say to her, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” To this she’d reply, “I love you, I love you, I love you more!” The second exchange came about out of her concern as to how tired I looked attending to her various personal effects and financial affairs. She’d say, “Bill you don’t have to come see me tomorrow if you’re tired. Stay home and rest.” To this I would say, “I’ll rest when you rest.” We both knew what I meant by her resting. Mom passed away in the summer of 2016.
The pain I felt when dad and mom passed away was so overwhelming it’s hard to put into words. I miss them very much, especially at Christmastime. I have so many Christmas memories.
The reason we gather for a service such as this one is to hear how others have found hope in dark places. I’d like to spend the rest of my time with you talking about how I found hope in a dark place.
I have learned a few things as I struggled to cope with the loss of dad and mom. The first thing that became apparent to me is there is a strong relationship between hope and faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I hope you don’t mind me repeating that verse. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I wear a pendant I found in mom’s jewelry chest to remind me true hope can only be found in Jesus. Inscribed on it are the words, “In Christ alone my hope is found…he is my light, my strength, my song.”
Following the death of my father, I vowed not to be mad at God; I did not want to blame him for my loss. If there was one person who could help me, it was God. I found a scripture verse to remind me that God is always working on my behalf. Romans 8:28 declares, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Instead of being mad at God I chose to embrace him.
I think it was my widowed neighbor that first shared with me the significance of frog. Do you know what F. R. O. G. stands for? I didn’t. It means Fully Rely On God. Someone who fully relies on God is better able to stand on the promises of God with both feet firmly planted. So when a wave of despair wakes me up in the middle of the night, my soul can sing with all its might, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”
The last thing I’ll share with you is something I found in the book of Joshua as I was preparing to lead a study on the book Sunday mornings this past fall. Joshua was in the same boat I was in. The beloved leader of the Israelites, Moses, had just died. It was up to Joshua to pick up the pieces and journey on without him. God tells Joshua in chapter 1:8, “Be strong and very courageous!”
Brushing aside my first thoughts that this had something to do with physical strength and metal toughness, I believe God was telling Joshua that hope could be found in strong and courageous faith. God goes on to tell Joshua, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and later, “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” With my whole being I believe these words to be true. God will not leave me and he will not forsake me in my hour of need. He will be with me wherever I go. He will do the same for you. Faith in God is a true source of hope.
In closing, I would add these words penned by the Apostle Peter:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 1 Peter 1:3-6
“Tis the season of hope!
by Hans Christian Anderson; published in 1845
Most terribly cold it was; it snowed, and was nearly quite dark, and evening– the last evening of the year. In this cold and darkness there went along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet. When she left home she had slippers on, it is true; but what was the good of that? They were very large slippers, which her mother had hitherto worn; so large were they; and the poor little thing lost them as she scuffled away across the street, because of two carriages that rolled by dreadfully fast.
One slipper was nowhere to be found; the other had been laid hold of by an urchin, and off he ran with it; he thought it would do capitally for a cradle when he some day or other should have children himself. So the little maiden walked on with her tiny naked feet, that were quite red and blue from cold. She carried a quantity of matches in an old apron, and she held a bundle of them in her hand. Nobody had bought anything of her the whole livelong day; no one had given her a single farthing.
She crept along trembling with cold and hunger–a very picture of sorrow, the poor little thing!
The flakes of snow covered her long fair hair, which fell in beautiful curls around her neck; but of that, of course, she never once now thought. From all the windows the candles were gleaming, and it smelt so deliciously of roast goose, for you know it was New Year’s Eve; yes, of that she thought.
In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money: from her father she would certainly get blows, and at home it was cold too, for above her she had only the roof, through which the wind whistled, even though the largest cracks were stopped up with straw and rags.
Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. “Rischt!” how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but–the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.
She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of apple and dried plums. And what was still more capital to behold was, the goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; when–the match went out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind. She lighted another match. Now there she was sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree: it was still larger, and more decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door in the rich merchant’s house.
Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when–the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one fell down and formed a long trail of fire.
“Someone is just dead!” said the little girl; for her old grandmother, the only person who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told her, that when a star falls, a soul ascends to God.
She drew another match against the wall: it was again light, and in the lustre there stood the old grandmother, so bright and radiant, so mild, and with such an expression of love.
“Grandmother!” cried the little one. “Oh, take me with you! You go away when the match burns out; you vanish like the warm stove, like the delicious roast goose, and like the magnificent Christmas tree!” And she rubbed the whole bundle of matches quickly against the wall, for she wanted to be quite sure of keeping her grandmother near her. And the matches gave such a brilliant light that it was brighter than at noon-day: never formerly had the grandmother been so beautiful and so tall. She took the little maiden, on her arm, and both flew in brightness and in joy so high, so very high, and then above was neither cold, nor hunger, nor anxiety–they were with God.
But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall–frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. “She wanted to warm herself,” people said. No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a new year.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Psalm 107:8