After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua… “My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. … As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall lead this people to possess the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go… 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.”

-Joshua 1:1-9, selected verses

Today, here, it is the first day of school. In other parts of the country, schools have already started, or perhaps they are waiting until Labor Day is past. All week long my Facebook feed has been filled with pictures of kids in their first day outfits, backpacks and all. Many of these kids are grinning as they hold up signs with their grade, or favorite subject, or what they want to be when they grow up. Some, especially those entering a new building, look nervous as they face the camera. What will this year bring, they wonder?

Whether or not you participated in this year’s back-to-school ritual, I’m sure you remember the experience. The excitement, nerves, hopes, fears, anticipation, and dread all rolled into one. It’s not all that different from a first day of a new job feeling, or a day you get married feeling, or a move into a different city feeling. There is worry, yes, but also the eagerness that comes with stepping into what comes next.

The Bible tells us about a lot of people who had to step into a new beginning. Sometimes, it was because God had called them to a new role or place, like David or Mary. Other times it was simply the result of their circumstances changing, like Ruth or Isaac. In the beginning of the book of Joshua, we meet the person Joshua who has been called into a pretty big change: he’s stepping into a leadership role that Moses had filled for forty years.

As God called Joshua into that new role, God reminded Joshua to follow God’s commands, and told him three times to be “strong and courageous.” I’m guessing God said it three times because Joshua was too nervous the first two times to really register what God was saying.

But then, that’s also a lot like the first day of school, isn’t it? In the drop-off line, waiting at the bus stop, or bravely handing keys to licensed teens, parents repeat themselves: “Have a good day! Have fun! Don’t forget your water bottle! Have a good day! I love you!”

The most important thing about a new beginning isn’t what came before or what comes next, but who comes with. In the face of nerves (the student or the parent), comes the promise of God, just like the one given to Joshua: “Do not be afraid, for I will be with you.”

Whatever new beginning you may be experiencing: be brave. Be strong. Know that the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.