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Going Forward
October 26, 2008

Wesley United Methodist Church


Moses stood on the top of Mt. Nebo and gazed at the Promised Land. What must have gone through his mind, what emotions he must have experienced as he gazed at the fulfillment of his life’s work. However, he knew he was dying; he knew he would not have the joy and privilege of actually putting his feet on the hallowed ground. The Lord said to him, “I will give it to your descendants; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” For 40 years Moses worked with the bickering, griping, former slaves. He led them out of Egypt; he rescued them from slavery. For 40 years, he waited until he felt they were ready to assume possession of the Promised Land. Now, they were ready, but he couldn’t go. Moses died, without enjoying the completion of his life’s work. He saw the Promised Land but he couldn’t go there.

Even though he couldn’t go, he urged his people to go forward without him. He recruited and trained his successor. Joshua would assume leadership.

This is a message about transition, about going forward, leaving the past, and moving on. The transition from Moses to Joshua began with 30 days of mourning. Deuteronomy 34.8, “The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.”

Wesley Church is also going forward. We are on the edge of a new adventure. We have an opportunity to purchase the adjoining property, and we are currently brainstorming ways to use the property for ministry-- ministry to families, to children and youth. We are on the edge, looking from the mountain. Can you see? Can you catch a glimpse of the future?

We are also on the edge of receiving a new senior pastor. We are in transition. I was sent as an interim to help with the transition from Mariellen to Keith. The transition, however, lasted more than 30 days! But, the end is in sight, and we rejoice in the coming of the Inouyes.

It is interesting how the ancients knew the wisdom of taking time for a transition. In the United Methodist system, a pastor leaves a church on one Sunday, and the new one appears the next. One week for the transition! No wonder a change of pastors is often disruptive, chaotic and difficult. The need for a period of grieving is ignored. 3,000 years ago our ancestors knew more than the United Methodist Church! 

Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote the bestseller Psycho-Cybernetics. Originally a Plastic Surgeon, he noticed that it took 21 days for amputees to cease feeling phantom sensations in the amputated limb. From further observations he found it took 21 days to create a new habit. He called it the '21 day' phenomenon. The human mind takes 21 days to adjust to a major life change, whether it's the loss of a limb or the death of a loved one, a change of employment or residence, or entering into a new romantic relationship. It takes 21 days to get used to a new idea. So, men, give her time! Don’t rush her!

Brain circuits take time to adjust. Our brain does not accept new data unless it is repeated, bombarded each day for 21 days (without missing a day).

According to this theory, to make a change, to make a transition, devote 15 minutes a day to the formation of any habit you wish to establish, and do this faithfully for 21 days. By the fourth week, it should actually be harder not to engage in the new behavior than it would be to continue doing it.

For example, think of a change you would like to make—exercising, or praying, or improving your self-image. Improving your self-image might mean setting aside 15 minutes a day to reflect. Remind yourself that you were created by the Creator, redeemed by Jesus and powered by the Holy Spirit. Remind yourself that you are somebody, someone significant, a child of God, a disciple of Jesus. Wow! Reflect on Paul’s affirmation in Philippians 4.13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” All things. Consider what you will be facing that day, and imagine yourself acting with confidence.

According to this theory, do it for 15 minutes a day, for 21 days. For example, if you want to establish the habit of praying, it helps to pray at the same time every day, perhaps wear the same clothes, assume the same posture, and in the same location. Some folks set aside a room or a corner with pictures and a candle.

In order to retrain the brain, it is very important, according to the theory, to not miss a day. If you miss a day, keep going until you've been doing the new behavior for 21 days in a row.

Well, you’ve had more than 21 days to make the transition from one pastor to the other. And, you will have more than 21 days to let your brain adjust to the possibility of acquiring the neighboring property.

Note how the Israelites went forward. First, they took 30 days to let go of Moses. They took time to let go of how Moses did things so that they would be ready to embrace the new leadership of Joshua.

Secondly, the Lord prepared Joshua for his new role. The Lord told Joshua in Joshua 1.5-9, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail or forsake you. Be strong and courageous…being careful to act in accordance with the law….do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful where you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The Lord prepared Joshua. And Joshua took courage, probably with butterflies in his stomach, with jittery nerves. But, with confidence Joshua took charge, vs. 10-11, “Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, ‘Pass through the camp, and command the people: Prepare your provisions; for in three days you are to cross over the Jordan, to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God gives you.” 

Therefore, people of Wesley, as you consider the Soko Hardware property, prepare your provisions, pray for guidance, make your master plan, and raise the money. Cross over the Jordan River, walk across the property line, and take possession of the land the Lord your God gives you.

The new pastor begins his ministry on January 1. As with Joshua, the Lord is preparing Keith. Keith, be strong and courageous. Meditate on God’s word. Then, like Joshua, you shall make your way prosperous and you shall be successful. 

And congregation, get ready. In my column in the recent newsletter, I provided suggestions on how to receive Keith and Viki. Many of you told me you found the column helpful. If you did not receive the newsletter, there are copies of my article on the table in the narthex.

In addition to the newsletter suggestions, let me add three more: 

1) Embrace. With open arms and open hearts, welcome the Inouyes. I know you will because you welcomed Eleanor and me with open arms, and you didn’t even know us. And, I'm not Japanese! 

2) When Keith or a committee presents a new idea, or suggests a change, the first response is usually “No.” Hold the “No” off for 21 days! Let the brain deal with the new material. Then, if your response is still “No”, be prepared to present your thoughtful, prayerful reasons. If your response is “Yes,” embrace it and offer your help.

3) Most important of all, as you receive a new pastor, undergird Keith and Viki with prayer. Pray daily for your pastors. Pray daily for our church. Prayer works wonders. Prayer prepares the way. They will appreciate and feel the support of your prayers.

Finally, to quote Joshua, “Prepare your provisions; get ready to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land.”

© 2008 Douglas I. Norris