Acts of God

Dear Friends:

This is the twelfth message in a series on worry and fretting. The message for 9/28/09 was erroneously labeled the tenth message in the series. There was no message for October 5 due to travel.

This week’s message is about what is most disconcerting to a fretter–unexpected and unwanted change.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t like change. It generally costs too much in people and things that are dear to me.

There is no gambler in me. To risk the known for the unknown does not seem wise to me.

The hard effort that I expend to order my affairs is devalued by the vagaries of accident, illness, storm, flood, rebellion, crime, war, and, yes, growth.

I went to the beach most summer days as a boy. It was great to play in the great blue-green waves of the Pacific. I never spent much time building sand-castles, however,  because those same waves would turn them to grainy gruel at the next tide. What was the point?

Perhaps this looking for the permanent led me into a career in the law. The ordering of responsibility and obligation in a business transaction appeals to me. “The party of the first part will do this and that and the party of the second part will pay this much when that happens and if it doesn’t work our the matter will be resolved by the process set forth herein.” A place for everything and everything in its place.neatly initialed. A good contract keeps the peace.

A good lawyer can’t control everything and, oh, does this ever tick us off! We like to blame God if something unexpected blows the deal after we put it together. We call such occurrences “acts of God” because we like to think God’s the only one big enough to override and “wash out” our best laid plans. We reduce uncontrollable change to a “boilerplate” excuse: “The client’s failure to perform its obligations will be excused for wars, riots, insurrections, labor strife, strikes, transportation delays and acts of God.”

Here is a legal definition of “act of God.”

Any misadventure or casualty is said to be caused by an “act of God” when it happens by the direct, immediate, and exclusive operation of the forces of nature, uncontrolled or uninfluenced by the power of man and without human intervention, and is of such character that it could not have been prevented or escaped by any amount of foresight or prudence, or by any reasonable degree of care or diligence, or by the aid of any appliances which the situation of the party might reasonably require him or her to use. Inevitable accident, or casualty; any accident produced by any physical cause which is irresistible, such as lightning; tempests, perils of the seas, an inundation, or earthquake; and also the sudden illness or death of persons (Black’s Law Dictionary).

So it is with all the prejudice of an experienced business attorney that I read these words from the opening of the Book of Joshua. “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant saying, “my servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites” (Josh 1:1-2).

As changes go, they don’t come much bigger than this. For eighty years, Moses led the Israelites, communicating the will and way of God. They had developed a rhythm–manna to eat six days of the week and more manna for the seventh; cloud by day and fire by night; standards for personal and public hygiene, worship, water received from the rock–even the miracles became routine. Now, Moses was dead in fact, but Joshua had to be told that it was true and that it was time to move on.

Who was Moses? The name means “to draw out.” He pointed out that the Israelites were in bondage and told them what they could do to be free. He helped them, confronting their enemy, Pharaoh, risking himself in the effort. He had a direct connection with God and conversed with him as a friend. More than once, Moses saved the Israelites from death. He told them how to live as free men and women. He was crotchety and angry with their stubbornness and whining, but he stuck with them through their most stupidly fearful moments.

Moses was the only leader that a whole generation had known. He had failings (don’t we all? ), but they were the failings of passion, of a heart in the right place even when his actions didn’t show it. He promised them better things–a better place to live, prosperity, health and peace–and now he was dead and his lieutenant Joshua got the word to step up and move on.

Businesses are often valued on the basis of their leadership. What was Jack Welch to General Electric, Thomas Watson to IBM,  Lee Iacocca to Chrysler and John D. Rockefeller to Standard Oil? Can you imagine Apple Computers without Steven Jobs and Microsoft without Bill Gates. Nations are identified through history for particular defining leadership like France with Napoleon, Britain with Churchill, Germany with Bismark, the United States with Washington and Lincoln. What was Israel without Moses? This was the challenge for Joshua.

This is also a challenge that each of  us faces sooner or later. Who is your Moses? Who helped you out of the pit of bondage, took your side, and shook you out of your slumber?  Who showed you the way to better things and how to get there? Who has meant survival to you and who is going to get you through now that your Moses is dead and gone?

Oh. I see, you hate change also, notwithstanding all those wonderful books, articles, seminars, tapes, refrigerator magnets and cute calendars urging you on to new and better things. In fact, to be honest, even when our Moses tried to take us through the discomfort of change we rebelled and tried to kill the messenger. (See Ex 16:1-3; 17:1-7; 32:1-35; Num 11:1-35; 13:25-14:1-45; 16:1-50; 20:1-13, 22-29) I may have my bad times right here, but I am making it with the help of my Moses, aren’t I? Why do I need to move on if it means trading off the known for the unknown? “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” isn’t it?

As good as the promised land sounds, there are reports of hostile giants there (Num13:25-33).There are so many questions and uncontrollable circumstances. We are tempted to play it safe with what we have right here and right now. We are angry with the act of God. Why did God take our Moses?

“My servant Moses is dead,” God says. “Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving them.”

There are two things about the verse that reorient the priorities of Joshua or us. “My servant Moses,” God said. You thought this was all about you. You trusted the operating instructions that Moses gave you. You thought your life depended on your perfection in following the formula. Now you find out who your Moses was really working for. If your Moses was following God’s instruction when he brought you to this place, it must have been in God’s plan. It follows that the death of your Moses must be in God’s plan. Your moving on must be in God’s plan. You are not at the mercy of acts of God. You are an act of God and that act is no misadventure, no accident and no excuse. Your life is an act of grace.

Because the other thing is that God says the place where he is sending you is his gift to you. You thought achieving the goal depended on your Moses and you. You find out that it is all in God’s grace. Your Moses is gone, but God’s grace continues. God told Joshua in the next verses, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses…No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you…I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh1:3, 5, 9). You can’t ask for more than this. Proceed with assurance.

I have a favorite passage from the writings of the French theologian, poet and writer Francis Fenelon that puts all of this in perspective:

The best place to be is where God puts you. Any other place is undesirable because you chose it for yourself. Do not think too much about the future. Worrying about things that haven’t happened yet is unhealthy for you. God Himself will help you, day by day. There is no need to store things up for the future. Don’t you believe that God will take care of you.
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A life of faith does two things: Faith helps you see God behind everything that He uses. And faith also keeps you in a place where you are not sure what will happen next. To have faith you cannot always want to know what is happening or going to happen. God wants you to trust him alone from minute to minute. The strength He gives you in one minute is not intended to carry you through the next. Let God take care of His business. Just be faithful to what God asks of you. To depend on God from moment to moment–especially when all is dark and uncertain–is a true dying to your old self. This process is so slow and inward that it is often hidden from you as well as others.
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When God takes something away from you, you can be sure He knows how to replace it. There is a legend that when Paul was alone in the desert, a raven brought him half a loaf of bread every day. If Paul’s faith wavered and he wanted to be sure to have enough, he might have prayed that the raven would bring enough for two days. Do you think the raven would have come back at all? Eat in peace what God gives you. ‘Tomorrow will take care of itself’ (Matthew 6:34). The One who feeds you today will surely feed you tomorrow (The Seeking Heart [Sargent, GA: The SeedSowers, 1992], p. 85-86).

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Next week’s message will discuss memory as an antidote to worry and fretting.

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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