New Year's Day

Joshua 3:1-17

“New” is one of those words in our English language that most always finds the welcome mat out at our heart’s door and brings a smile to our face. In our childhood days there was the joy of having a “new” bicycle or a “new” ball glove. In adolescence there was the joy of a “new” car (at least new to us). As we journeyed through life there was the “new” job, then the “new” house and the “new” baby. For those of us who have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, by grace through faith, there is the “new” birth along with the promise of a “new” life all provided for us through the “new” covenant accompanied by the “new” commandment. And, as if that were not enough, we live with the promise that later we will have a “new” body and a “new” home called heaven. God is the giver of many wonderful “new” things. He is the God of new beginnings.

We stand now at the door of another new beginning; a new year filled with new possibilities and opportunities. Twelve new months, 52 new weeks, 365 new days, 8,760 new hours, 525,000 new minutes and 31,536,000 new seconds…every one of which is God’s gift to us.

For the children of Israel it had been a long journey. Moses had led them out of Egyptian bondage, through the Red Sea’s parting, to the portals of the Promised Land at Kadesh Barnea, and then back through the wilderness wanderings for four whole decades and finally, to the eastern bank of Jordan just opposite the land of promise. It was now cross over time, decision time, a time to decide once and for all to go on or be content to stay bogged down with the past. It was “D-Day,” time to cross over the Jordan and begin the conquest and possession of their new opportunity. It was truly a day of new beginnings.

There are crossover times in every life, times of transition where, like Joshua, we too “have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4b). This was a traumatic time for the Israelites. Moses had led them for a whole generation. They had journeyed together through the mountain tops and the valleys. Quite frankly, they had gotten a bit used to that lifestyle. Our human inclination is to get used to what we know. Change does not come easy for most of us. We get comfortable holding on to the past.

New Year’s Day provides us with a crossover moment, an opportunity to step out of our comfort zones and into a new beginning. Crossover times can be caused by all sorts of challenges. For some, it is the death of a loved one that causes us to cross over when we have “not passed that way before.” For some, crossover moments can be caused by such things as divorce or disease or discouragement or a myriad of other situations or circumstances.

It is interesting that this phrase, “cross over,” appears 48 times in the Bible. This idea is woven like a thread through the fabric of scripture. Jesus used it himself when he challenged his disciples to “cross over” to the other side of the lake (Mark 4:35). There are times in our lives that call upon us all to be cross over people, to leave our own comfort zones, step out on faith and cross over. This new year affords us such an opportunity.

As we stand at the brink of this new year, our hearts should be filled with anticipation and challenge. Only God knows what the future holds but our possibilities are limitless. Joshua, though he is dead, still speaks to us today and challenges us to enter the new year in the same way he led his people into their new beginning. As we enter the new year we should do so by being flexible, being focused, being faithful, being futuristic and being fearless.

As we enter this new year we should do so by determining to:

Be flexible

“…you have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4)

Be flexible. Don’t be afraid of change. Change can be your friend and not your foe. For three days the children of Israel camped on the banks of the Jordan River looking across at the Promised Land. For three days they contemplated...many hundreds of thousands of them knowing that crossing that river would mean a change from everything they had ever known. It is strange how comfortable we can all get in our own personal wilderness.

Joshua readily admitted that “we have not passed this way before.” Perhaps this fear of the unknown feeds the resistance to change as much as anything. Let’s face it…change is hard. To illustrate just lay this book down a moment and fold your hands together as though they were in prayer. Now, move your fingers over just one digit. Yes, change is uncomfortable at first. It doesn’t “feel” right.

We have a way of subconsciously conditioning ourselves to resist change and new beginnings. James Belasco wrote an intriguing book entitled Teaching the Elephant to Dance. He explained how circus elephants when they are small are shackled by their trainer with heavy chains around their ankles. These chains are then held firm by steel stakes deeply imbedded in the ground. The elephant then stays put. He cannot go past the length of his chain. As the months and years unfold and he grows and becomes huge he has more than adequate strength to pull the stake out of the ground. But he never does! He never leaves the length of his chain because he has been conditioned and therefore change is out of the question. His movement becomes limited simply because of mental conditioning. Like these powerful elephants many of us and many of our churches are “bound” because of conditioned restraints, because we, too, “have not passed this way before.”

Being flexible to change is a necessity even if we have not “passed this way before.” If there is one thing that can be said about our Lord, it is that He brought about a significant amount of change. He was the consummate change agent. In fact, this is what gave Him so much trouble with the religious traditionalists of His day. He changed everything, even the day of worship and the way of worship.

Some stand at the banks of their own Jordan on the eve of this new year. You, too, “have not passed this way before.” The first characteristic of crossover people is that they are not afraid of change. They face the unknown even when they have not “passed that way before.” How? By being flexible.

As we enter the new year we should do so by not just being flexible but by determining to also:

Be focused

“…when you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God and the priests, the Levites bearing it, then you shall set out from your place to go after it .” (Joshua 3:3)

Be focused. The Israelites were to keep their eyes on the ark and follow it through the Jordan and into their new beginning. That is very good counsel for us on the eve of a new year and a new beginning.

Time and space do not permit us to adequately describe this religious object that has fascinated men and women for three thousand years and has been the subject of some of the most successful and profitable movies in film history. Even as I type these words there are teams of modern-day explorers looking for it in various parts of the ancient world still today. The ark was an oblong wooden box, overlaid in solid gold with two golden cherubim on the top with their wings touching over what is called the mercy seat. It contained the tablets of the law, a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded. It was placed in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle in the wilderness and later in the temple in Jerusalem. It was there that God would visit His people on the high, holy Day of Atonement with His Shekinah glory.

The ark was a type, a foreshadow, a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. On that cross-over day the ark was a sign that God was leading His people. Their job in crossing over was rather simple. They were to keep their eyes on the ark and “go after it.” Before this day the Bible always speaks of how the ark was in the “midst” of the people. Now, it was leading them into a new day. They were to keep a distance between themselves and the ark. In fact, verse four indicates the distance was the equivalent of ten football fields in length. Why? So the ark would always be visible to the masses of people. It was so that everyone could keep their eyes focused on the ark...so that there would be nothing between them and the ark. Can you imagine the conversation if those hundreds of thousands of people had crowded up to the ark. One would surely be saying, “Where is the ark?” To which another would reply, “I don’t know. I am following you. I thought you were following the ark.” “Not me, I haven’t seen it in days. I am following the guy in front of me. I thought he was following it!"

Aren’t we just like that on occasion? We allow so many “things” or even “people” to get between us and the Lord Jesus. Often we find ourselves trying to follow someone else who we think is following the Lord. How much better as we enter a new year to be focused and keep our own eyes on the Lord. He is the one who provides the path through whatever a new year may hold.

Up until this moment, the people of God had been following a “cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night” while awaiting possession of their promised land. Now, those had been removed and the ark, the picture of our Lord, was to take the place of leadership and lead the way for them. What a beautiful picture of Christ who goes before us to open our way. He stands in the midst of our own rivers until we cross over. As we embark on this new year the Bible calls us to be flexible, to not be afraid of change, and also to be focused, to keep our eyes on the Lord Jesus and let him lead us by His spirit through His word into our new year of new beginnings.

Another important characteristic of crossover people is their determination to:

Be faithful

“…sanctify yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Be faithful. As we enter a new year this is a call to commit ourselves to stay pure in mind, motives and morals. In the words of Joshua, “Sanctify yourselves.” This Hebrew word we translate as “sanctify” first appears in scripture in Genesis 2:3 when it says that God “blessed the Sabbath and sanctified it.” He separated it from all other days. He set it apart. The new year affords us a new and fresh opportunity to set ourselves apart from the world and recommit ourselves to Christ in faithfulness.

The process of sanctification in the Bible is both positional and progressive. Paul says, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:11). The use of the aorist tense indicates it is something done once and for all. The passive voice that is found here indicates that God did it. At the moment of our salvation God Himself set us apart for Himself. And when we truly know Him then we grow in sanctification by a process of our being continually conformed to His image.

What do you suppose happened that evening as those Israelites camped on the banks of Jordan on the very threshold of all their dreams? They “sanctified themselves.” Everyone got right with God. Then what happened? The same thing that always happens when one gets right with God—they got right with each other. People began to show mercy to one another. Forgiveness was in the air they breathed. And love began to flow. By the time Joshua said, “Let’s go,” they were ready.

Whenever we are faced with new opportunities that can result in new beginnings, God calls upon us to “sanctify ourselves.” As we enter this new year let’s be flexible and focused, but let’s also be faithful by remembering whose we are and by making a renewed commitment to remain pure. Cross over people also possess a determination to:

Be futuristic

“…for tomorrow the Lord will work wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Be futuristic. That is to say on the eve of this new year start believing in tomorrow. For Israel, there was something now for which to look forward. After all those years with no real direction or purpose, now there was hope. Listen to Joshua: “Tomorrow the Lord will work wonders among you!” Hope, faith, vision began to well up within their hearts. They began to believe in tomorrow. They ceased living in the past. Yes, “Tomorrow the Lord will work wonders among you.” Thus, as they crossed over, they kept their focus forward and not backward on the past. It was at this point that the Apostle Paul attested that “This one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:13).

It is a dangerous time in any life, any business, any relationship, or any church, for that matter, when memories of yesterday are more prevalent and important than visions and hopes of tomorrow. Israel had certainly seen her share of miracles in the past. The parting of the Red Sea. The manna which fell each morning. The pillar of fire that appeared each night to lead them. The cloud that hovered by day to point direction. The bitter waters of Marah turning sweet. The water which flowed from the rock. But now they sat on the banks of the Jordan. It would have been easy to just sit there and reminisce with one another about all they had seen and experienced. But crossover people do not do that. They believe in tomorrow. They trust that “tomorrow the Lord will work wonders among them.”

It is a dangerous time in the life of the believer when memories of yesterday are more important than visions of tomorrow. God did not bring you to the bank and brink of a new year for you to just sit and think of what has been in the past. He is affording you a brand new year, another new beginning. Make the best of it. Be flexible. Be focused. Be faithful. And above all be futuristic, believe in tomorrow.

The children of Israel saw not just what had been, or what was, but what was going to be. Crossing the Jordan did not mean that everything was going to be easy on the other side. It wasn’t. There was still Jericho. And when they won that battle there were many others to follow in the conquest of the land. But they crossed over with the promise that “tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among us.” And did He ever!

A final characteristic of crossover people lies in their determination to:

Be fearless

“…and the Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that as I was with Moses, so I will be with you…’ ” (Joshua 3:3:6-17)

Be fearless. The Israelites had leadership they could trust. They followed Joshua. Why? Because He was God’s man and because he provided them with a vision and not a need. He was a fearless leader. They had needs that were many. But this was not their focus.

Joshua led by example. The commitment level rises when men and women see the passion in the one out in front. Joshua’s fearless leadership became contagious and the people followed him.

It is important that before the river parted it was the “leaders” who were the first ones to put their feet in the water (Joshua 3:12-13). Leadership is risky business. Many never cross over into new beginnings due to the failure of leaders who are constantly reactive and seldom proactive. The leaders of Israel were to continually hold up the ark so that all could see it and follow.

Fearless leadership and followship won the day. The leader obeyed the Lord. The people heeded the words of the Lord to their leader. Note the words, “And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap” (Joshua 3:12). The next phrase simply says, “So it was…” (Joshua 3:13). Then we read “…and the people crossed over opposite Jericho” (Joshua 3:16). Yes, they became crossover people that day.

I love the final words of the text. “Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan” (Joshua 3:17). This is fearless leadership you can trust. It is no wonder that a few days later when they were instructed to march around the walls of Jericho they did so.

As we stand at the eve of a new year there is a sense in which it is our own Jordan. What shall we do? “We have not passed this way before.” How shall we face the new year with its promise of so many new beginnings? The same way that Joshua and his people crossed over to their own new beginning. How? Be flexible. Don’t be afraid of change. Be focused. Keep your eyes on the ark, the Lord Jesus. Be faithful. Commit to stay pure in mind, motives and morals. Be futuristic. Believe in tomorrow. And, be fearless. Trust in those around you.

The problem with some of us in taking advantage of new beginnings is that we come to the water’s edge and say, “Lord, just let those waters part and then I will step in.” But note that it wasn’t until “the soles of their feet” touched the water that it parted. It was a step of faith for them…and for us. Often, we have to get our feet wet with faith before God begins to “work wonders among us.”

We, like the Israelites of old, have been on our own journey. Now, we are cross-over people ourselves. We are crossing over into a new year with new opportunities and new beginnings.

As we enter 2013, may we, as those who have gone before us, be flexible, be focused, be faithful, be futuristic and, above all, be fearless.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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