Nothing of God Dies
Change in life is inevitable. We know that. We understand the importance of flexibility and resilience. However, change is often challenging. And the church is not immune.
The Israelites were struggling with change as we enter the book of Joshua. Moses had just died. The people were in shock. Leadership was paralyzed. Followership was stunned. Then God speaks. In Joshua 1:2, God tells Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them…”
It seems subtle. But do you wonder why God told Joshua “Moses My servant is dead”? After all, in Deuteronomy 34:8, we read, “So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.” So, the Israelites, including Joshua, where well aware Moses was dead. This makes one wonder – did God tell Joshua this fact plainly for Joshua to begin to accept reality and move on?
It was at this point we see Joshua begin the transformation into the mighty man we quote in Joshua 24:15, and revere for leading God’s people in battle. But he didn’t seem to be completely that way at first. Four times in the first chapter of Joshua he is commanded or encouraged to “be strong and courageous” – three times by the Lord (1:6, 7, and 9) and once by the people (1:18).
We, too, in the local outpost of the Lord’s army, can become disoriented when a leader moves on. The history of God’s people is, unfortunately, riddled with stories of churches who struggled when an elder, preacher, or beloved member passes on, becomes incapacitated, or moves away. The story of Joshua tells us that ought not to be so. The Lord’s church is greater than any one person.
A.W. Tozer wrote, “When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies.” How true is that!? While Moses passed on, God was still sovereign. When the people were mourning, God’s care was still omnipresent. When Joshua’s vision of what to do next was disoriented by death, God’s omniscience was unclouded. When the people went into battle with an unproven commander, God was still omnipotent. When God’s people are in a period of change – God is unchanging. And we are His church.
Kerry Keenan is a great man of God. I remember vividly as a new convert back in 1997 when a beloved leader of the congregation passed on. Kerry, with His godly heart and strong leadership, while not the full-time preacher at the time, got up and challenged us young men to “fill the gap.” After recapping all the fallen leader had done and how he would be missed, he didn’t end there. Rather, Kerry focused on all the work of God that needed to be filled – by someone. I was reminded of this recently when I read that at Winston Churchill’s funeral, by his request, one bugler played “Taps” as another simultaneously played “Reveille.” Churchill wanted the people of Britain to know his death was by no means England’s last note, but a call for others to stand up for action.
No doubt, Oldham Woods will face seasons of change. Those seasons may include losing people we love, look up to, and who will leave large gaps in the work. God’s message to us then will be the same, “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!” In those times, true leaders will have to emerge and fill the gap, even if the gap is so large it takes two, or even three, to fill. We will have to have the wisdom to know when to insist the bugler change the tune, or courage to take the instrument from his hand. Most importantly, we will have to remind each other of Tozer’s words – nothing of the great God we serve is dead.