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Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

-Joshua 3:5

The setting is the edge of the Jordan River. The people of Israel have just spent the last 40 years wandering in the desert because the previous generation had allowed fear to prevent them from moving into the land that had been promised to them. Now, facing a rushing river, walled cities, and trained armies, they are on the verge of an unknown future.

Rather than looking back to where they had come from or cower from the obstacles in front of them, both of which the previous generation had done, their leader, Joshua, calls on them to dig into their connection with their God and prepare for amazing things that he was going to do among them tomorrow.

As Covenant approaches our 40th Anniversary we are on the verge of an unknown future. The world has been changing quickly and this pandemic has only accelerated that change. The past 40 years has not been wandering in the desert for us, but as we look at the tide of change and unanswerable questions in front of us, we must realize that the church of tomorrow must, in some ways, be different than the church of the past 40 years (or 400 years). When will things get back to normal? If, by normal one means the way things were . . . the short answer is never.

But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can prepare for what is to come even though we don’t know what it is. We, you and me individually and together, would be well served to learn from the words Joshua gave to those he led several thousand years ago.

  • Purify (consecrate/sanctify) yourselves. The idea of sanctification is of being set apart for God. It is about focusing time, energy, and attention to deepening our relationship with the Divine and living in the way of Jesus. Different biblical texts talk about this idea in different ways:
    • My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NLT)
    • For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)
    • And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
    • But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT - holy means “set apart”)
  • Tomorrow. The posture of God’s people is to be looking ahead. The older I get, the more I find myself looking back. Remember when? Why can’t it be like that was? During this pandemic the most natural posture for many of us is to wait for things to “get back to normal.” But we are invited to look ahead to what will be rather than the way things were.

The world we live in is not going “back to normal” and if we try to, we will only increasingly distance ourselves from those we are called to love with the love of Jesus and invite to join us in the family of God. Covenant has, for 40 years, been committed to meeting people where they are and walking with them. If we aren’t looking forward, those we are committed to meeting where they are will have walked so far away from us that walking with them will be nearly impossible.

But this can be a worrying, perhaps even scary, thing to be looking ahead. It isn’t comfortable. We can’t know what tomorrow will hold so we can’t move into it with certainty or control. Thankfully, Joshua’s words speak assurance to us in this regard.

  • The Lord will do amazing things among you. As we give attention to deepening our relationship with a God of love and mercy of grace we also look to him to do among us what only he can do. We can look to tomorrow with confidence, despite our personal questions and uncertainties, because we are a part of someone and something that is so much bigger than who we are. We can be bold and strong because God has our back. We can be willing to try and fail because the one whose account of us ultimately matters doesn’t approve or disapprove of us based on our success rate.

    Some of us have already discovered during this pandemic that, by God’s grace, we can do things and achieve things that we never imagined were possible! So let us keep our eyes on him - the author and finisher of our faith - to keep doing that among us and through us!

I don’t know what is on the other side of this pandemic river. I don’t know what obstacles and struggles we will face on the way. I’m confident that much of what we loved will be retained. And likely much of what made us comfortable will be lost. But despite not knowing what lies ahead, I’m glad to be walking there with you looking up and looking ahead with confidence because we know who holds our life, our future in his hands.