Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian (OLD)

Your Next Step



Joshua 3:15-17

Karen is a friend of mine who is an avid hiker and runner. She has run in the Boston Marathon and climbed Mt. Whitney. She knows what she is doing when it comes to those sports. Karen is also an enthusiastic Christian, sharing her faith and actively looking for ways to introduce friends to Jesus. She and a friend, who happened to be an atheist, were doing a practice hike out of Idyllwild in preparation for climbing Whitney. Karen had two goals, to make it up and back in a certain amount of time and to find a way to invite her friend to an Alpha class at her church that would give her the basics of Christianity. The hike up went without a hitch in terms of climbing and timing. But, the friend made it clear she was not interested in Karen’s church. They hit the top of the trail on schedule and their strategy to not bring anything but water and a camera was proving effective. That is until they took a wrong turn. I’m not sure if they slid down a hill or decided to go a different route or just missed a marker on the path. Whatever happened, it was a turning point in their hike, a significant and unfortunate milestone and they found themselves lost and cold with night setting in. Neither woman was worried about their endurance but both knew that a night in the wild was bad and a fall into an unseen ravine could be deadly. I’ll tell you what happened in a little while.

Significant milestones or turning points happen in all our lives. I call them Next Steps. Not every decision is a next step, but, in all of our lives, there are a few.

It can be argued that the most decisive and redemptive moment in the history of the nation of Israel is found in our text, Joshua 3: 15-17. Remember that Moses had brought the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. They crossed the red sea. They made their way to the Jordan River but would not cross over into the land God wanted to give them. It took them forty more years before they got a second chance. Every step of the way was a repeat. Everywhere they went, they had been before until Joshua chapter three. Here they were where they had been forty years before. The first time in forty years they were going to take a step in a new direction, a clear direction led by God. Everything that happens in the rest of the history of Israel begins here, with this step.

15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 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.

That literal step into the Jordan River was a next step for Joshua and the nation of Israel. Everything that comes after that step is different than it would have been if they had not taken it. Let me say that again. Everything that comes after that step is different than it would have been if they had not stepped into the river. That is a true, “Next Step.” Can you think of a time when a decision or action you took changed the direction of your life? What was a significant milestone or turning point for you, a next step?

A hundred years ago a young Scottish teenager named Peter Marshall got a summer job in an English village just over the border from Scotland. Only 400 people lived there surrounded by countrysides of wheat and barley fields and basalt and limestone quarries a hundred feet deep. One night, Peter was walking home from a neighboring village and cut across the rolling fields. He had no lantern or candle, certainly no flashlight a hundred years ago. No moon or stars were out that night. It was pretty much pitch dark but, he was sure he would be alright. The wind blew and there was no sound but for birds he disturbed and sheep in the distance. Then someone shouted his name anxiously, “Peter.” He stopped; called back, “Yes, who is it, what do you want?”  He couldn’t see anyone or anything. There was no response. He thought he must have made a mistake and started to take a couple more steps then he heard the voice again, urgent this time, “Peter!” like a parent shouting to a child about to walk into the street with a car coming. It shocked Peter to a halt. He even fell to his knees. To steady himself, he reached out a hand and felt thin air. He felt around in a semicircle around him, there was nothing there. He was on the edge of a hundred foot cliff down into a limestone quarry. Another step and he would have plunged to his death.

He managed to pull himself back and made it home safely. Peter’s next step was to not take that step. Sometimes not taking a step in a certain direction is the most important next step we can take. Peter Marshall became a famous preacher and the first chaplain of the United States Senate.  He never forgot that story and never doubted that God intervened to keep him from taking that fateful step.

Is there a next step that you are facing? Is your way unclear or even dark? What would it look like for God to intervene in your situation? I think it is safe to assume we should not wait for an audible voice to call us back from the brink of disaster. God has given us a clear statement on the subject of divine guidance.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

We live with so much light in our world that a verse like this doesn’t hold the power for us that it would for the people in the day it was written or say, for Peter Marshall. We have street lights, headlights, porch lights. Even when there is no direct lighting, the ambient light of the city keeps us from ever having total darkness. If you have ever been in a cave, on a tour, and had the lights turned off, you know that your eyes  do not adjust to the darkness. It is as if your eyes are closed. If you have a lantern or flashlight, you could hold it down towards the ground in front of you and see clearly enough to take one step. Or, you could hold it up and see vaguely enough to know if you were coming to an edge or bend in the path. The psalmist says that God’s word is that way for us. It helps us know the step we should take immediately ahead of us and a general sense of the direction we are going. That is usually all God wants us to know otherwise we would spend all our time worrying about what we see way out ahead. Imagine if ten years ago you had seen everything that would happen to you over the last ten years. Some of us might not have been able to get out of bed. The second reason God only lets us see a little way ahead is faith. He wants us to have faith and to put our trust in Him. It took faith for the Israelite priests to step into the river at flood stage.

How do we practically use God’s Word as a lamp and a light? We can actually go back and see how God coached Joshua as he was getting ready to take on the greatest responsibility of his life. In chapter 1, verse 8 the Lord told Joshua, “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.” Those instructions meant two things to Joshua. First, memorize scripture. Second, meditate on it, or think about it all the time.

First, memorize scripture. That is what it meant to keep the book on his lips. He didn’t have a Bible in his pocket. There were scrolls that only priests read. And, even if he had a Bible, the Lord didn’t tell him to keep it handy or close by or on your iPhone. He said to keep it on your lips, repeating it. You can only do that if it is in your mind. Second, meditate on it. Joshua and we aren’t just to read it in the morning before we start our day. We are to think about it, apply it throughout our day.

Memorization and meditation lets you experience God’s word as a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. I want to help you practice both of these “spiritual disciplines.” Let’s go back to memorization. It’s not as hard and tedious as you may think. In fact, you may have already memorized a verse today without knowing it.

Your word…. Is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

 Psalm 119:105.

Different people memorize differently. You do not have to do it the way I do or like the way I do it. Perhaps your best way to remember something is the old fashioned way, by repeating it over and over. But, many of us really don’t want to do that. And, rote memorization can be a challenge when you are trying to memorize more than a couple verses. The way I do it is actually fun, at least it is for me and I have been able to memorize larger portions of scripture with it. I’m a visual learner so I memorize with images.

I will warn you that this will probably seem weird but I do it because our minds are amazing machines. They remember images and words we associate with those images. For example, if I told you to imagine a four footed animal that looks like a horse but has black and white stripes, you would immediately see an image of the animal in your mind and you can’t help but remember the word or name associated with that image, zebra. I don’t make my mind or yours work that way, I just take advantage of it. I invite you to try it with me and memorize Colossians 3:1,2.

1Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Here is how I would memorize that text. In fact, let’s experiment with this. As I lead us, I want everyone to close your eyes and I want all the men to sit quietly but do everything you can to not see the images I describe or to memorize the verse. Women, concentrate on seeing the images I describe and connecting them with the verse as I tell you. Close your eyes. Remember, no noise, don’t distract anyone else. Imagine a swimming pool at a nice hotel. Jesus is in his robe and sandals lying on a lounge chair and you are lying beside him on another. Jesus gets up and as he does, you come up with him as if you are attached to him. Since you have been raised with Christ. See Jesus lying down, getting up and you coming up with him and whisper the line, Since you have been raised with Christ. In the image, once you are up you now imagine you have a giant Valentine’s heart card that you are holding with both hands. You lift it up over your head and can just barely set it on lifeguard stand that has a bunch of things, whistles, life preservers, water bottles stacked around. You look past all the things and see Jesus is sitting in a life guard chair next to, on the right of God who is also sitting in a chair. Set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. See the movement, you raise this giant heat above your head and set it on all those things where Jesus is sitting on the right side of God. Say the sentence, Set your heart on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Now you have a plastic brain in your hands and you raise it above your head and set it next to the heart and you look down at a bunch of world globes on the ground and shake your head and sweep your hands as if to say, “No way I’m setting it down there.” Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. See the movement, lifting a plastic brain over your head and setting it next to the heart then looking down at the globes and shaking your head and sweeping your hands. Say the sentence. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.

Keep your eyes closed and just let your little movie play and say the words as you watch it. Jesus on a lounge chair gets up. Since… you have been raised with Christ, (Valentine heart) set your heart on things above, (Jesus in a chair) where Christ is seated on the right hand of God. (plastic brain) Set your mind on things above (globes) not on earthly things. Women, are you ready to see if you have actually memorized a couple sentences for the first time without almost any effort at all. With nothing but the first word, say it out loud all together. Since…. How many did it? Imagine if you give it a little more effort. Now for the moment of truth. Men, with no help, after trying not to memorize it, say it out loud all together. Since…. You see its like me telling you not to think of a zebra! There are some things you can learn that will help you with this but you see here that it works for many of us. A leader in the field of spiritual disciplines and formation says that one of the most helpful things a church can do is to help its members memorize scripture.

Now that we have a verse memorized, we can meditate on it so that it can be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Again, this can be a pleasant practice not a burdensome task. I’ll walk us through a day of memorization and meditation. As you get up in the morning you use the verse as a prayer. Lord, since I have been raised with you, I set my heart on things above where you are seated at the right hand of God and I set my mind on things above, not on earthly things. As you go about your day, when you see, hear, read or think of things that hurt you or cause other emotions in you let them remind you, I need to set my heart on things above, things where Christ is seated next to God. The things of God are more important that this thing that hurt me. My heart is with Christ. As something challenges your thinking or makes you worry about day to day problems or trouble in the world, think, I set my mind on things above, not on these earthly things. Lord, how should I focus on this challenge so that it doesn’t drag me down with it. When you hear about a friend who has a crisis, “Lord please help them know the hope of a heart set on things above, where you are with God.” Then at night as you are are getting ready for, or lying in, bed you might review your day with the verse. Lord, today I set my heart on something low, I got caught up in my emotions over a situation at work. Help me to set my heart on things above. And I never got my mind off earthly things. I never even looked up and enjoyed the sky you gave me today.  Help me Lord live a life raised with Christ. Amen.

Did you notice how easily saying the verse became a prayer. Now you are praying Scripture, maybe for the first time. You see how that one verse could direct both your immediate step and the way you look into the future – both a lamp and a light. Don’t be surprised when you find God more and more directing your next step and your path. God is with you in your significant milestones, your turning points, your next steps and is ready to guide you. He most commonly and easily guides when we have his word in us. My challenge to you is to soak up scripture in your life. Try memorizing scripture. Try it and let me know how you do. You can start by working your way through the rest of the first seventeen verses of Colossians three. I want this for you. Practice memorizing and if you need help, ask me.

Lastly, back to my friend Karen and her friend, lost in Idyllwild with the sun going down. They were really stuck. No cell phones, no food, jackets or light. Soon it was pitch black and they were actually in the same situation Peter Marshall was in, walking blind with the possibility of a cliff with every step. Even though they were both strong women, they were also smart enough to be frightened, very frightened. Karen had been praying silently for awhile. She asked her friend if she could pray for both of them. The friend said that if God got them out of there she would attend the Alpha class. Karen prayed. Then she remembered the digital camera in her pocket. She took it out and snapped a picture. The flash went off and for an instant they could see the ground right in front of them and get a sense of what lay ahead, enough to know they weren’t headed for a cliff. They began to move down the hill, one flash at a time, a lamp to their feet and a light to their path. When did God get involved in their story? Was it when Karen prayed or all the way back at their turning point, their next step that led Karen down the hill and her friend into knowledge and faith in God.

We all have next steps. Don’t take yours in the dark. Let God’s word be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. Amen.

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