A Land Between

by Leah Johnson

Yesterday, a song lyric stuck with me: “Joy still comes in the morning / hope still walks with the hurting” (by Matt Maher in the song Alive and Breathing).  Because it was such a pleasant tune it stayed with me over the next several hours.  I found it expectant, upbeat, on the edge of the next … something; it made me wonder how God will resolve the next situation. 

In this season of life, I’m not hurting, though I do find I’m “in between.”  Theoretically, we are coming out of COVID quarantine.  Schools are back in session, so I will be back to volunteering at an after school program for hurting children.  We must re-tool and change our approach completely.  The Lord is taking me out of my rut and I’m feeling it.  What’s next?  Our congregation’s programing for kids has not resumed, so that’s another volunteer opportunity on hold.  I don’t feel useful, productive.  I know about Jeff Manion’s book, The Land Between.  Maybe I should read it now.  He focuses on the uniqueness of Israel’s journey from their liberation to their final destination of the Promised Land.  At times of uncertainty, they wanted to return to sitting around pots of meat in their proverbial “good old days” (Numbers 11:5).  Did they actually have plenty to eat as they said, or was that how they chose to remember their slavery?  Is this my attitude?  Do I long for what used to be, meanwhile missing the lesson God has in front of me right now?

How about you?  Are you at loose ends?  Unsure of the future?  As an elder’s wife, do you feel like you’re in a “land between?”  Are some of your areas of volunteer ministry on hold right now?  It feels strange doesn’t it?  Do these days make you feel tense, uncertain about tomorrow?  Why would “normal” be behind us, “back there,” before COVID?  What if “normal” is tomorrow, where God is lovingly leading us?

Let’s go back to the song lyric, “joy [still] comes in the morning.”  We get that phrase from Psalm 30.  David wrote Psalm 30, but he wrote it for the occasion of the Temple’s dedication, which happened years after his death.  David was looking ahead, to the future, expectantly watching God at work and waiting on His deliverance.  Rather than blame God for the stressful times while he ran away from Saul’s murderous intentions, David understood it as an opportunity for growth.  God wasn’t out to “get him,” rather in a Father’s love, He was giving David a chance to repent, be stronger, grow closer to his heavenly Father.  David didn’t perceive trials as God picking on him but rather that he was being shaped and refined for future service.

How about us today?  Do I moan, “Why is God making it so hard for me?” or even “Why is God allowing this?”, do I ask instead, “What am I supposed to learn from this situation?”  I can find joy when I know that God is working in my life.  There is hope when I am hurting because God is walking with me through this “land between.”

I am not alone.  We are not alone.

Just Like Proverbs 31

by Stephanie Wright

Here’s a question…

In our world today, how can you help your husband in his work as an elder?

Many will say they can’t, that they are already doing as much as they can, struggling just to come up for air, feeling burned out, stretched to their limit.  I, for one, would place myself in that category. I am crazy busy all the time; well, most of the time, hmmm … some of the time, at least. Dang, I am not that busy at all!  But why does it seem that I can never get all my work accomplished, I’m always behind and playing catch up, and that being stretched to the limit seems an understatement? 

I tried for many years to work like the woman of noble character, the gal in Proverbs 31. I am sure you have read it at one time or another.  No?  Stop reading this moment and go open your Bible to this passage, starting in verse 10. You will find a wonder woman, one who works vigorously with eager hands, is clothed with strength and dignity, and doesn’t seem to need sleep.  She rises before the sun comes up, and burns the late night oil.  Her children call her blessed, and her husband praises her!  What is her secret?  I want to know, because trying to be like her didn’t work for me.  I was grumpy all the time, because I was tired all the time!  I was not able to help my husband because I couldn’t help myself get off the crazy merry-go-round!

Now, mind you, that portion of Proverbs 31 is all I had read, and I completely missed the gem of the whole chapter. Don’t miss the last phrase of verse 30: a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.  It’s so quiet, yet it speaks volumes.  She has a holy respect for God, a relationship with Him, and God grants her the blessing of being able to accomplish all things, because she is doing them for Him.  The Lord wants that same relationship with you – not you and your husband, not you and the kids, not you and your job – just with you.  Imagine just you and God being together, without distractions, and with your Bible open so He may speak to you.  Doesn’t it sound delightful?  It is so sweet, so soft, so intimate.  And it’s yours for the taking.  He is calling you to that peace.  He leads us individually beside the still waters (Psalm 23:2).

I know it will take a few moments to clear some of your busyness to find time, but when you do, you will discover you never want to be without that precious time together, and will make sure nothing comes between you and your special relationship with your Savior!

Now let’s get back to the original question, how can you help your husband in his work as an elder?  Remember, there is no better teacher than that of an example.  When we display God’s ways to another, He is able to use this example to glorify Him.  And also 21remember, it takes no words.  Words only get in God’s way.  There is no reason to tell someone what God wants.  Instead, show them what God wants.  Be the woman God wants you to be.   From your husband to your kids, from co-workers to cashiers, everyone will see within you an example of how a true woman of noble character looks and acts.

Who knows, you may even end up not needing any sleep! (I still haven’t figured that one out!)

Unnamed but not Anonymous: Manoah’s Wife

by Paulette Stamper 

What comes to mind when you hear the biblical name of Samson? Chances are you recall the stories of his long hair and supernatural strength. Or maybe you think of his less-than-ideal relationship with Delilah and his ultimate tragic demise. While these stories may be familiar to us, I wonder how many of us are familiar with his parents’ background – specifically his mother? Before you read any further, I want to encourage you to pause and read Judges 13. It will take about five minutes, and it might be the best five minutes of your day.
 
The Book of Judges recounts the ongoing saga of Israel ending up in one hot mess after another as a result of their rebellion against God. In this chapter, they were under the harsh oppression of the Philistines for forty years (and we think four or eight years of a President we may or may not like is a long time!). Circumstances were increasingly difficult for those who remained faithful to God in an increasingly anti-God culture. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
 
I would summarize the chapter like this…
 
Israel was in BIG trouble, and they needed a BIG solution, and God revealed his BIG plan to a wife who displayed BIG faith.
 
If we dig our way through Judges 13, we will discover some pretty big chunks of gold. Let’s look at a few of those gold nuggets together.
 
Gold nugget #1 
 
Dire circumstances make ideal settings to hear God speak.
 
In this instance, Manoah and his wife lived in a hostile culture, and they also faced the personal hardship of being unable to have children. Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse, God sent his angel to Manoah’s wife to deliver the news that not only would she have a son, he would eventually be the one to rescue Israel. Undoubtedly, this answered two prayers – one for a child, and one for Israel to be rescued from her enemies.
 
Gold nugget #2
 
God chose to reveal his plan to Manoah’s wife – even though His plan included them both.
 
Let me pause and clarify something – this isn’t a commentary on the roles of women and men in the church. Not even close. Instead, this is simply a beautiful reminder that God esteems women, and in this particular instance, He chose to reveal His plan to Manoah’s wife. Her faith in God’s Word would play a huge role in her husband’s response – which we will see in the next nugget.
 
Gold nugget #3
 
A faith-filled response can bring peace and reassurance in a fearful situation.
 
That’s a nice way of saying that sometimes we freak out and we need a calming word from our husbands, and sometimes our husbands freak out, and Lord knows, we need a strong, confident, and faith-filled response that ushers in the peace and strength required for the task at hand. That’s precisely what Manoah’s wife did. When Manoah panicked and thought they would die because they’d seen the angel of the Lord, she said, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this” (Judges 13:23, NIV).
 
We also live in an increasingly anti-God culture, but make no mistake, it can serve as an ideal setting to hear God speak. If we position ourselves to hear God by staying in His Word and communing with Him in prayer, our voice can and will carry significant weight – especially in our marriage, so let’s use it wisely.
 
Listen to God, then faithfully and confidently use your voice to encourage and strengthen your husband. Remember, God can and will do BIG things through both of you

When All My Plans are Ground to Dust

by Jon Weatherly 

Leaders plan. Leaders write and revise and execute and evaluate plans. Leaders plan planning retreats.

Elders are leaders; therefore, elders plan.

Today, all of humanity, including the church, is about a half year into the COVID-19 pandemic. All our plans have been ground to dust by a microscopic strand of RNA.

The Letter of James says some pointed things about planning:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13–15).

There was a time when I read those words and thought, “That has to do with selfish planning about getting rich. It has nothing to do with other kinds of planning, not church planning, not my planning.” Well, amid COVID-19, I’m revising that understanding.

James cautions us about our plans because we humans are terrible knowers of the future. With hindsight we love to take credit for knowing things in advance, but the truth is, we’re just educated guessers who sometimes guess right and conveniently forget our wrong guesses.

God, on the other hand, is a perfect knower of the future. And God is a perfect promise-keeper about the future. That’s why James says we should say, “If it is the Lord’s will,” not as a pious formula but as a confession of our weakness and our utter reliance on the Lord. James was simply applying Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:31–34:

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Our ignorance of the future should not paralyze us. It should direct us to trust the God who knows the future and cares for us so much that he sent his Son to die for us.

This tells us something about our planning, something more constructive than “stop planning.” We cannot project the future accurately, though we can make reasonable guesses about parts of it. But we can not only trust God but work to enhance the capacities of the Lord’s church to trust God under any circumstances. James begins his letter by telling suffering Christians to count their suffering as joy because it produces perseverance and maturity (James 1:2–3). Moments when hardship grinds our plans to dust remind us that the Christian life and Christian leadership are about not being the best planner but becoming a persistently faithful, trusting follower and helping others become the same.

So at that next planning retreat, on the other side of the pandemic, let’s talk about the future, in full humility and as best we can. But let’s place ourselves in the Lord’s almighty hands and ask ourselves what we can do to grow up to persistent, mature faith and guide others to the same destination. It has a promising outcome: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).