So what’s the next?
Central to my real Christian experience is faith in a gospel that brings good news, confidence in Jesus, who is my Savior, and certainty of what God has accomplished through Calvary—and the fact that his work continues in the world.
At the beginning of this new year, 2021, I confess my usual handshake and faith-filled “Happy New Year” is marked by a slight hesitation. While I know God is faithful and present in the midst of every storm, people I know, people you know, and yes, people who are listening are carrying a burdensome legacy from last year. Some continue to experience hardship and continue to stand on the edge of great uncertainty. Others step into 2021, very alone, vulnerable, exhausted and filled with fear.
Hearing my own words, I admit they sound dismal, but it is important to acknowledge the storm that is sweeping our world. In doing so, I remained steadfast and reaffirmed in my faith in the gospel, confidence in the Savior, my awareness of what God has done and my belief that he has not finished his work yet.
Together, we share challenges in these interesting days. What does it mean to believe when we are blind to our future? How are we to be bold in faith when chaos creates uncertainty? What does it mean to be calm in spirit when the winds batter our frail humanity? Stay with me for a few moments, and I’ll comment on these challenges.
Let me share a story earlier in our officership. While serving with another couple, we often took care of their 4-year-old boy. It happened when mom and dad were busy, and usually, it was for a few hours. During these hours, he would keep me, in particular, quite busy. Then came a request for us to take him for a weekend. Well, I immediately went into planning mode. Activities, games, TV—it was all on the schedule. Well, nothing lasted long, and too often, I heard the words: “Major Brian, what’s next?”
He couldn’t help it. He was bursting with anticipation. He was never fully captivated by what was happening, but waiting for what was coming next.
Let me come back to these challenges. My first word for you today is patience. If we look into Genesis 12:1-3, we catch a glimpse of the life of Abraham and Sarah. They became familiar with the challenge of being blind to the future, and yet they’re active, and reserve in the belief in God secured for them—a plaque in the hall of fame for faith followers.
It’s an amazing story. God shows up and what followed was a call to go that was accompanied by extreme testing on the journey, but it all happened under the umbrella of God’s promised presence. Sound familiar? Abraham and Sarah stepped out, giving a stellar example of obedient faith, and so we have Hebrews 11:1: Now, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Friends, I don’t pretend to know what lies ahead. But, I’m witness to the fact that I know, and I trust the one who does.
My second word: perseverance. Let’s look further into the Scriptures, and let me take you to Numbers 27. It’s in this chapter we meet Moses and Joshua. If you know your Bible stories, you will understand that their predicament was not so much about blindness, unable to see the way forward, but more about possessing boldness. Boldness in a time when the rains of chaos and uncertainty have been falling for years, Moses had led the Israelites for some time, and we know of the dramatic escape from Egypt. We know of the repeated miracles, and we know of all that God did for them. But, at a certain point, both leader and people blinked, and when they opened their eyes, all they could see were giants and enemies, and their boldness disappeared.
It prompted 40 years of wandering in a desert. I admit I smile when I read the story. In part, it is lovely that Moses, who had been mentoring Joshua, was ready to pass the leadership torch. Look closer. What a mess, still wandering people still dissatisfied and a nation in the midst of chaos. I likely would have said, “Find someone else.” But if you stay with this story and read it all the way through, things change.
Joshua would soon own the words: be strong and courageous. Nothing across the river had changed. Same giants, same enemies. He couldn’t have known what the next months would have held for them. What created extreme boldness for Joshua wasn’t a change of circumstances, but rather words from the Almighty.
I will give you the land. You will be able to stand. I will not forsake you. Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6). Again, sound familiar?
Here we are on the edge of this new year. Most of us are saying nothing is for sure. Hear his voice. I will not forsake you. Be bold, be strong, and be courageous. Get yourselves ready, and follow me.
So, today I pray, Lord, give us an Army that’s clear about its mission, undaunted by uncertainty. Let us be an Army who knows the battle is the Lord’s.
My third word: possibilities. One more challenge: How do we possess a calm and certain spirit when we are confronted by our own human fragility? In the past year, this global pandemic has taught us at least one thing, and that is that human fragility belongs to all of us.
Would you with me reflect for a moment on a roller coaster ride that might describe the disciples in Matthew 28, where the Great Commission comes? Can you imagine endless days, strolling and listening to Jesus, being in his presence? Can you imagine days and days of miracles? Then comes Jerusalem. Opposition takes the stage, and you become an onlooker to a rigged trial, and the worst possible outcome, a crucifixion. And if that were not enough, the tomb is empty. Appearances of Jesus occur, and finally, parting words from the Savior and a commission like no other. I wonder if anybody asked them on Monday, “How was your weekend?”
I’ve often heard the words, after all we’ve been through: “Now this?” Not wanting to put words in the disciple’s mouth, I’ve read and re-read Matthew 28:16-20, and I can almost hear the muffled words coming. “You want us to do what?” Emotionally drained, tired, aware of their frail humanity, afraid they receive a call from God that holds eternity in the balance for all of humankind. Ordinary men and women responded to that call with obedient faith. No, the uncertainties didn’t change, but they were changed, and in turn, they changed the world. Does that sound familiar?
That’s what God calls us to. Our challenges will overwhelm us if we can’t approach God with anticipation. Salvation is family. Ask God, what’s next for you, for your family, for The Salvation Army? Ask the question, knowing that God is greater than pandemics, economic downturns, and yes, even death. Ask him what’s next. The one who redeems the desert places, the one who replenishes the soul, the one heals the brokenhearted.
Turn to a God who transcends the temporal triumphs over the transitory and the one who turns us by his grace to things that are our return. I’m inviting you to rely upon a God who hears the cry of suffering, who acts on our behalf, and whose plan includes you. I invite you today to know that that plan is intact and on target, and it’s okay to say, “God, what’s next?”
I pray we will be a people, a global Salvation Army that takes God at his word. Even if we cannot see, even if our timidity gets the best of us, and even if we are disturbed in our spirit, still, we step out in faith. We move at his command. We speak his name because in the absence of clarity, there is confidence in a God who is soft.
“So General, what’s next?” Well, it’s not new, but depending upon your response, what’s next is our responsibility to change the world.
Hear the call to mission, to be ready, to be engaged, to take responsibility. Don’t blink. Don’t take your eyes off him, not for a moment.
Salvation Army, hold fast to eternal values. Don’t be distracted. Turn toward the multitudes who need him, and win some for the kingdom. Rise up from an online church reality, and bring Jesus into the community where you live. Cease your longings for a new normal. All the way, a focus on eternity will suffice. Everything else will disappoint.
So today, with patience, with perseverance and with the idea that there are untold possibilities, step into this new year with confidence in a God who sees, who knows and who will provide.
May God bless you today.
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