Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Joshua published by Tom Vander Well in March, April, and May of 2022. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.
When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, as the Lord had commanded.
Joshua 19:49-50 (NIV)
In preparation for the Holy Saturday message I gave among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I’ve been doing a lot of studying about death. In particular, I’ve been reading about people who’ve had a Near Death Experience (NDE). These are individuals whose bodies literally died. No heartbeat, no brain activity, and no breath for a period of time until they were revived or miraculously returned to life.
There are a lot of commonalities in these experiences. If you’re interested, I recommend the book Imagine Heaven by John Burke (a shout out to Jen P for recommending it to me!). Among the commonalities in NDEs is a “life review” in which the person is shown a replay of their entire lives. Time is different in eternity. Even the Great Story speaks of eternity in which “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like just a day.” Many describe their “life review” in those same terms. They saw every moment of their entire earthly life, but it only took what seemed like an instant.
Many who’ve experienced this life review also speak of the fact that the most important thing in this review was how well they loved others. Some mention that they saw the events of their life and could actually feel what others were feeling around them. For example, a childhood bully felt the agony of the person they victimized. A son forever estranged from his father, who had always blamed his father for their poor relationship, felt his parent’s emotions as he watched how he treated them as a youth, and he realized that he was just as much a part of the breakdown in the relationship.
Those who have experienced this NDE life review often speak of returning to their earthly lives with completely different priorities. They immediately begin to invest in relationships. They become more loving, generous, and faithful towards others because they died, they tasted eternity, and they learned that it’s the only thing that really matters just as Jesus taught.
Today’s chapter tells of the final allotments of the Promised Lands to the Hebrew tribes. In one final allotment, Joshua is given the town he requested in reward for his faithfulness. A few chapters back, it was Caleb who was first to receive an allotment. Now, Joshua is the last to receive an allotment. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who originally spied out the land for Moses and had faith that the tribes could conquer the land and the people living there. The other 10 spies doubted. Over forty years later, Caleb and Joshua bookend the allotments of Promised Land and receive the rewards of their faith.
Joshua and Caleb received an earthly reward for their faith, and that got me thinking about eternity. The Great Story speaks of two distinct judgments to take place in the climactic final chapters of the Story. One is simply whether or not my name is written in the Book of Life. The second is described as an inspection of how well I built my life on earth as evidenced by how well I loved God and loved others. Based on what so many who’ve experienced an NDE describe, there is an eternal reward and the only thing that counts eternally is our love for others. Or as Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (MSG)
And so, I enter another day and another work week with a huge task list, yet reminded that the real priority, the only thing that truly matters, is how well I love those with whom I interact.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.
Joshua 6:25 (NIV)
Over the last year, I found myself subscribing to several accounts on social media that regularly publish posts and memes about what it was like growing up in the 70s and 80s. It’s brought back a lot of memories:
As much as these bring back fond memories, they also remind me of just how much life has significantly changed in just one generation. Just as I could never fully fathom what my grandparents’ lives were like living through two World Wars and the Great Depression, my grandchildren will never fully fathom life without access to more information in their hands than was available to me on the entire planet.
As technology, data, processing speed, and computer memory continue to advance at an ever increasing pace, I’ve observed what appears to be an increasing lack of empathy and/or appreciation for the past. What I witness is that Cancel Culture isn’t just about socially ostracizing people who don’t toe an ideological line, but I also see people dismissing the past as being as outdated and worthless as that second-generation iPod gathering dust in a drawer somewhere.
Today’s chapter introduces us to the brutal life that was daily human existence 3500 years ago and in the early chapters of the Great Story. The Hebrew conquest of Canaan is layered with meaning that contains implications and themes that foreshadow the larger themes of grace, judgment, and redemption that are present in the larger story. Yet, it is easy to dismiss for modern readers who are used to simply canceling anything that doesn’t comfortably fit in my 21st century, politically correct worldview.
War and conquest were the dominant way of life. City-States and regions were continually embroiled in surviving those armies, nations, and fledgling empires bent on growing their power. But what happened at Jericho is actually different in many regards. God makes it clear that it is He who is passing judgment on the people of Jericho, it is God who is out front making victory miraculously possible, and it is God who was gracious with Rahab and her family, who by faith, believed that the God was the one true God. The Hebrew people were not allowed to take spoil from the battle. Archaeological evidence at Jericho found entire jars full of grain that had been left which makes little sense in a world in which famine regularly wiped out entire people groups. There’s something different taking place. For forty years God has been doing something different with these Hebrew tribes than the world has ever seen.
And, if I can’t fully fathom what life was like for my grandparents in the Great Depression, then I certainly can’t fully fathom what life was like for those Hebrew tribes at Jericho. Personally, I don’t take that as a license to ignore and judge either the Hebrews or God, but rather as an invitation to be gracious in my ignorance while also wrapping my head and heart around the larger Story being told that I might continue to gain wisdom in my own journey and where this Great Story is leading.
In the quiet this morning, I can’t shake the fact that it is God who is driving the action, God who is leading the charge, God who is just beginning to reveal Himself to humanity by telling His people “I’m going to show you a different way of doing things.” Which is the same thing that Jesus did when He revealed that Messiah was not about earthly power and kingdoms, but about a suffering servant compelled by love to sacrificially lay down His life for others.
Which reminds me that on this day, even with my phone in my hand which has more computing power than the Apollo mission had sending men to the moon, and access to an infinite number of distractions of any kind I could possibly want, I believe that Jesus is still trying to get my attention, to hold my focus long enough to get through to me: “Tom, I’m trying to show you a different way of doing things. A different way than you see all the kingdoms and power structures of this world doing with them amidst all the technology and knowledge they have. Follow me.”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; 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.
Joshua 1:8 (NIV)
Along my life journey, I’ve learned that one of the most strategically vital, and yet infinitely tricky, aspects of the long-term success of any human organization is succession. The longer and more successful a leader’s tenure has been at the top of an organization, the more critical and precarious the succession becomes.
Joshua 1:8 was the first verse I memorized as a follower of Jesus when I was fifteen years old. I memorized it at the instruction of a man who was my boss in an afterschool job. He discipled me for two years, intently teaching me the basics of studying the Great Story, and the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fellowship, being a witness. He and his wife later started a company. I began working for the company in 1994, became a partner in 2005. My boss and mentor died in 2015. I became the company’s President in 2018.
I’ve experienced first-hand how tricky succession can be, and ours is a relatively small organization with relatively few entanglements. The larger the organization, the more complex it gets.
Today, this chapter-a-day journey begins a trek through the book of Joshua which begins with the end of Moses’ story. Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. Through Moses, God established a rule of Law, a religious sacrificial system, and an organizational structure for governing their 12 tribes. Moses led the Hebrew people for 40 years of wandering through the Sinai wilderness. Moses is the only leader the Hebrews have known for more than a generation.
Moses is dead, and the Hebrew people are facing the most monumental task they’ve faced as a people. They are looking across the Jordan River at the land God had promised them. They are to cross and conquer. They will need a strong leader.
As I read the chapter this morning, I couldn’t help but feel for Joshua. In terms of succession, Joshua is in an almost impossible position. Moses has been his mentor. Moses was the miracle man, the savior, and God’s undisputed leader. I know the self-doubt. I know the feelings of expectation. I know the angst that comes with stepping into shoes that feel as if they were forever ordained to be worn by the original wearer, and will always seem a few sizes too big for your own feet.
I took particular note that it was God who spoke to Joshua in this morning’s opening chapter. It was God who gave assurances, made promises, and instructed Joshua regarding the task at hand. It was God who gave this fledgling leader the mantra “Be strong and courageous.” Why?
These are God’s people, not Moses’.
This is God’s story, not Moses’.
It is God’s ultimate purpose to which Joshua is being called, not Moses’.
Joshua is ultimately God’s person for the job, not Moses’.
Some mornings I find that the chapter has such direct correlation to my own life journey as to be profound. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that God’s purposes are ultimately at work in my own life and journey. Therefore, like Joshua, my own experiences with change and succession are ultimately about God’s purposes for me and the business to which I happen to have been given a position of leadership. Like Joshua, I’m called to be faithful, obedient, mindful, strong, and courageous. Like Joshua, I’m to trust God’s promises and not my leadership prowess. Like Joshua, I’m to recognize God’s constant presence and ultimate purposes, whatever that purpose might ultimately turn out to be.
Time for me to get to work.
Have a great day.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”
Numbers 13:31 (NIV)
In today’s chapter Moses sends out twelve men, one from each tribe, to spy out the land of Canaan. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, come back with a report that the Hebrew tribes should press forward and conquer the land. The other ten spies reported exaggerated claims of giants living in the land whom the Hebrews could not defeat. Their report stoked fear in the hearts of the people.
It’s fascinating how susceptible the majority can be to “group think.” It happens to be the morning of All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, as I write this. Perhaps that’s why the ten spies swaying the nation of Hebrews with their exaggerated claims reminds me of a handful of schoolgirls convincing the people of their village that they saw upstanding members of the community in cahoots with the devil. Nineteen people were eventually hanged as a result of the Salem witch trials. It’s amazing how bewitching “group think” can be (pun absolutely intended).
The social psychologist Gustave Le Bon theorized that there were three stages of crowd think. A group of people submerge themselves in the collective whole, losing a sense of individual thought and responsibility. Individuals are then susceptible accept, without question, the contagion of popular thought within the group, opening themselves up to suggestion of different kinds. Even in a nation and culture that celebrates freedom of thought and speech we are prone to follow the crowd in all sorts of ways.
As an enneagram Type 4 I tend to be a fierce individualist. Nevertheless, this morning I’m reflecting back along my journey. It’s funny to think about fads, social trends, and popular thoughts I’ve observed and even found myself a part. The further I get in my journey the more desirous I am to think and act independently, rather than allow myself to be submerged in the bewitching trends of the group think of the moment. It’s hard to do. The unconscious draw of group think is often subtle and subconscious as it was for the ancient Hebrews, the puritans of Salem and still is today.
I’m preparing to deliver a message on Sunday morning and one of the key verses on which I’ve been meditating is this: “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
God, grant me open eyes, open ears, perceptive spirit, and a mind increasingly renewed by Divine Truth and Lady Wisdom.
“Yet there shall be a space between you and [the ark of the covenant], a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it.”
Joshua 3:4b (NRSV)
Last weekend Wendy and I watched the recent film version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is a fascinating story set in the dark ages in Scotland. Macbeth is a warrior with relatively low rank among the nobility of the Scottish clans. On his way back from a successful battle he encounters three witches, also known as The Weird Sisters, who utter a prophecy that Macbeth will be named Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland.
Macbeth writes his wife a letter and tells her of this news. Then, while still traveling home, he is advised that King Duncan has named him Thane of Cawdor, just as the sisters prophesied. Upon arriving home, the Lady Macbeth urges her husband to man up and take hold of the second part of the prophesy. King Duncan makes a surprise visit to the Macbeth’s household and Lady Macbeth sees this as her husband’s chance to make the prophecy come true. Macbeth, at his wife’s urging and insistence, murders King Duncan in his bed. The second part of the prophecy is thus fulfilled, but a madness of blood-guilt and paranoia is also unleashed that will ultimately doom Macbeth and his wife.
The story of Macbeth raises an interesting spiritual dilemma. Do you step up and try to make a prophecy come true, or do you sit back and wait to see if the prophecy is fulfilled of its own accord? Wendy and I spent some time after the movie exploring the question. We recalled an experience from recent years in which we watched a person strive, in Macbeth like fashion, to make what they believed had been prophesied happen. The results were similarly tragic, though certainly not as tragic as the bloody carnage of Macbeth!
In today’s chapter, Joshua is told by God to send the ark of the covenant out in front of the people into the Jordan River. No one is to get within 2000 cubits (e.g. approximately 3000 feet/900 meters) of the ark. When the ark enters the river, the waters are miraculously stopped (just like Moses and the Red Sea) so that the people can cross.
I found this to be an interesting word picture and an unexpected continuation of our Macbeth conversation. In murdering Duncan, I would argue that Macbeth tried to get out in front of the prophesy. He may have crossed the proverbial river into the promise, but the result was ultimately tragic as he refused to wait for the natural course of events to take place, if they ever would. Macbeth and his Lady were short on faith. Instead of trusting that the prophesy would be fulfilled at the right time in the right way, they were compelled to make it happen. In contrast, Joshua tells the people to stand back, make way, and give God room to get out ahead and clear the way. Only then shall they cross.
Today I’m reminded of the messy balance between doing what I’m called to do and, at the same time, waiting on the Lord. I don’t want to get out ahead of God or presume to stand beside. I also don’t want to lag behind and get off course. I want to follow at an appropriate distance and attentively follow where we are led on Life’s path.
At that time, too, I [Moses] entreated the Lord, saying: “O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” But the Lord was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. The Lord said to me, “Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see.” Deuteronomy 3:23-28 (NRSV)
Casting a show is one of the more difficult things about being a director. You can have throngs of people audition but only so many parts to go around. It’s crucial to make sure you have the right people in the right roles and there are so many things to consider about an actor when deciding which role you want her/him to play including ability, experience, physicality, chemistry with others, and the ease of working with her/him.
Without fail, people will be disappointed with the roles in which they are cast. It’s a universal. Even as I write these words I can quickly name specific roles from long ago productions in which I still believe I should have been cast. Everyone who is a part of theatre for any length of time experiences this. There’s something at the core of our fallen nature given to this seed of both envy and pride. That person thinks he/she should have been cast in that role. Feathers get ruffled. Feelings get hurt. Some refuse to play the role in which they were cast. Others grudgingly accept the role they were given, but infect the rehearsal process with their grumbling and disgruntled attitude.
Today, I’m finding parallels between God’s direction of the events in Deuteronomy and the experience of directing and leading a production. In today’s chapter we find Moses, who was the lead character in the wildly successful Exodus from Egypt, wanting a lead role in the sequel production, Conquest of Canaan. He entreats God, the great Director, with a little flattery and then begs for the part. The Director seems a bit frustrated with the incessant grumbling and insists that the lead role in Conquest belongs to the actor who was cast (Joshua) and there will be no further discussion of the matter.
One of the most difficult yet rewarding lessons I’ve learned along life’s journey is that of choosing contentment in the roles that I am given. This is true whether we’re talking about a bit role on stage or the role given me by God in the on-going production of Life. When I stop whining about not having the role I desire and pour myself into the role that I have been given, then it’s a win-win-win for myself, the Director, and everyone else in the production.
Then God commanded Joshua son of Nun saying, “Be strong. Take courage. You will lead the People of Israel into the land I promised to give them. And I’ll be right there with you.” Deuteronomy 31:23 (MSG)
The company that my partner and I now lead was founded and led for twenty years by the man whose name is still on the company. The general plan of succession had been well established for many years and the actual period of succession had relatively few problems in comparison to other companies with which I’m familiar. This did not, however, mean that there were no issues. For everyone involved in our small firm there was a period in which emotions ran high, even if they ran high under the surface. I can still remember grappling with feelings of anxiety, fear, and stress as everything changed.
Whether it happens in family, church, business, or community, change always creates all sorts of anxiety on a system. There are many kinds of change, but the change from a strong and instrumental leader to his or her successor can be among the most critical. Moses was not only a great leader, he was the leader for his people. While Aaron, and later Joshua, had been by Moses side for many years, it was Moses who led the people out of Egypt. It was Moses who stood up to Pharaoh. It was Moses who led the people through the Red Sea. It was Moses who met with God on top of the mountain. It was Moses through whom God had given the law. It was Moses who carried the staff. It was Moses who spoke with God’s authority. Now, at the most climactic moment since leaving Egypt, the people are standing at the river getting ready for the monumental task of entering and taking the Promised Land. For the first time in over forty years they will face a task without Moses. Moses is stepping down.
Imagine trying to step into those shoes.
It is no wonder that both God and Moses continue to remind Joshua and the people over and over again to be “strong and courageous.” The important piece of this commonly repeated encouragement is not the “strong and courageous” part, but the tag at the end: “I’ll be right there with you.” Moses may die, but the same God who led and empowered Moses would be right there to lead and empower Joshua. Tremendous change would take place in the leadership ranks, but God was the true leader of the nation – not Moses. And, God wasn’t going anywhere.
In times of profound change, when I’m feeling the stress and anxiety of things shifting all around me, it is good to know that God is a solid rock who isn’t changing and isn’t going anywhere.
At that same time, I begged God: “God, my Master, you let me in on the beginnings, you let me see your greatness, you let me see your might—what god in Heaven or Earth can do anything like what you’ve done! Please, let me in also on the endings, let me cross the river and see the good land over the Jordan, the lush hills, the Lebanon mountains.” Deuteronomy 3:23-25 (MSG)
When I was young I was called to preach. I’ll spare you the details of how it happened. It’s a story for another day. Preaching and teaching was not an ability I developed or worked at. It was something that I just did and I was good at it. At the same time, I had several friends who were gifted singers and musicians. I loved the way music was so easy for them and I envied the way they could stand up and sing or play and move the audience with their music in powerful ways.
And so, because I envied my friends musical ability I would try hard to sing well and to play music. It was agonizing at first. With practice I became decent at singing and playing. I became competent at it, but I will never be a gifted vocalist or musician. I watched as some of my gifted musical friends tried desperately to communicate through the spoken word. In concerts they insisted on sharing long winded stories and talks between songs. It was agonizing. They weren’t gifted communicators. People wanted them to stop talking and play their music.
Along the journey I’ve noticed this pattern in people. We envy the gifts and abilities of others while failing to appreciate out own. God gives each of us our own gifts and abilities and calls us to serve in a unique way based on those gifts and abilities. We do the same thing with our callings. Moses wanted desperately to cross the Jordan and lead the people into the Promised Land, but that was Joshua’s job; It was what Joshua was called to do. Moses’ calling was to get the people out of Egypt, give them the law, and lead them to the river.
We too often treat our gifts and callings like we do our material possessions. We get bored with what we have and are enamored with what others have. Today I’m reminded that I’ve got to do what I’m gifted and called to do while celebrating what others are gifted and called to do.
Moses followed God’s orders. He took Joshua and stood him before Eleazar the priest in front of the entire community. He laid his hands on him and commissioned him, following the procedures God had given Moses. Numbers 27:22-23 (MSG)
A week or so ago I was catching up with a long-time friend. When I asked him what he’d been experiencing in his own life and faith journey, he commented that he’d learned that life was separated into several different “seasons.” In the simplicity of our youth we tend to think of life in simple terms. We are children and then we become adults. We’re young and then we grow old.
My friend was correct, however. There are many seasons in life and with each passing season there is time of transition which can be accompanied by grief, joy, confusion, contentment, frustration, and any number of other emotions.
There is something essentially human in needing “rites of passage” to help us transition from one season of life into another. In today’s chapter, God saw to it that Moses created a rite of passage to transition authority and leadership from himself to Joshua. Likewise, we have graduation services, weddings, showers, special ceremonies, confirmations, birthday parties, and awards dinners to help us mark time and the occasions when life transitions from one season into another.
My experience is that some of the most important rites of passage have been lost or weakened in our time and culture. The rite of passage for girls into womanhood, and boys into manhood are incredibly blurry (and often non-existent) in today’s world.
Today, I’m thankful for life in all of its seasons. Death-like winter seasons of difficulty teach us wisdom, patience, perseverance and prove our character. Summer-like seasons of joy provide rest, healing, abundance, contentment and celebration. I’m also mindful today of how I can consciously help my family, friends and loved ones as they transition from one season to another through our various rites of passage.