Fighting fear in a new year

Deut. 1:19-36

 New Year, new challenges and for many of us in uncertain times, that challenge is fear.

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Camped on the east side of the Jordan River, the Promised Land was so close that they could smell and taste it. The children of Israel had waited 37 years for this moment, but they were not ready to cross. Their parents had failed at the edge of the Promised Land because of fear. Moses wants them to succeed where their parents failed. It all comes down to faith. There is a high cost for fear and their parents had paid dearly for their fear. People fail all the time because of a lack of faith. They are overwhelmed by the problems and they forget God. They wonder what they are going to do. Some even walk away from God thinking He can’t or won’t help them. This was a time for faith because people lose everything because they have fear not faith.

Failure comes when the enemy is too big v.27 Moses begins by recalling an. Many in the crowd were not even born, but that event 38 years ago affected their whole lives up till now. Scouts were sent into the Promised Land to determine where they should enter. Instead they came back with stories of giants and destruction. They cowered in fear in the barren desert instead of marching into the fertile lands God had prepared for them.

Failure comes when God is too small v. 32 Ten plagues had overwhelmed the Egyptians so that they begged the Jews to leave. Waves of water had washed aside the greatest army in their world. Food had fallen out of the sky so hundreds of thousands could eat each day. It was a miracle that the people were here in this place. Yet, they forgot what God had done. They forgot how God had defeated a great army and miraculously brought them to this place.

Victory and honor belong to those who believe v. 36 The model of such faith was Caleb. He was easy to pick out because Joshua and Caleb were the only men older than 60 years old in the whole camp. Caleb and Joshua had believed when no one else would. They had known that God could do great things for them and wasn’t afraid of the giants. Old as Caleb was, he and his sons would take the choice lands in southern Palestine that he had once looked 38 years ago.

Israel was at a crossroads. Would they repeat their parent’s failure or would they have faith. As God called them to cross into the Promised Land, obedience was important. Faith was essential. They need to trust the Lord so much that they would follow Him because they believed that He would not fail. It is a model for every person who finds themselves at a crossroads of life. Instead of panicking, you pray. Instead of worrying, you worship. Instead of stewing, you study. You bring the problems to the Lord on a daily basis and asking what He can do with the problems that you face instead of what you can do. You look into the word of God to find out how you live so that you avoid problems and do the kinds of things that will build life. Listen so you learn and live. Those who let the Lord be their teacher and guide will thrive in life.


What really is faith?

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

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Faith is something necessary for salvation, but I find that it is rarely understood. We talk about faith all the time. We have faith in politicians or in a doctor ready to operate on us. We have faith that the weather. But such is not Biblical faith. It is only a hope or wishful thinking. Faith is certain and it is life changing. The text gives the example of Abraham as a man of faith. Elsewhere such faith is counted as righteousness for Abraham (Gen. 15:6). So what is this faith?

Faith begins with faith in the person of God. Abram had to believe in the person and truthfulness of God when God called Abram to travel to Palestine. That faith grew as he came to believe in the promises of God given in Genesis 12. He believed that God would make a great nation of him. He believed that his children would own the land of Palestine. He believed that God would bless the whole world through him. Abraham did not see any of those things come to pass, but because he believed in the person of God, he believed in the promises. It allowed Abraham to go to the mountain and begin to sacrifice his son. He knew that God would make it all come out right. He was certain of something he could not see or understand.

So what does that have to do with us? It shows where we must begin with faith. We must come to know who God is. You have to believe in God’s person before you will believe in the promises of scripture. We have to be sure of what we hope for. That certainty comes from knowing God. That certainty will allow you to do the impossible. Many actions in ministry must be done without any guarantee of the outcome. We witness to friends not sure if they will be open to the message. We serve in a ministry wondering, at times, if things will turn out OK. There are times that all of us must just go forward in ministry trusting that God will not lead us astray. We are certain that God can make good things come out of even our disasters because we are certain of God. Faith trusts God even when we can’t see where things are going. That was true of Abraham and it can be true of us.

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Underestimating the greatest gift of all

 John 14:15-27

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 We drool over the latest cell phone and are willing to pay outlandish prices for them and for their monthly fees. The world stops for some people when football is on, nothing else matters. Why don’t most Christians have the same admiration for the Christian life? Shouldn’t we be excited about a ministry and willing to do anything for it? Shouldn’t the world revolve around Sunday worship and Bible class? The cell phone will be outdated in a year and won’t work after a few years. Who will really care what happened to the Bengals or some other team by February? Yet the gifts of God make an enormous impact. The character and values that come from being with God will impact our work, home, and life. The lessons that our children learn from Sunday school and youth group will protect them from danger. Eternal life gets more valuable as we age.

I can think of several gifts that come from being a Christian. First, you will never walk alone Christians are the most blessed of all people. Our God is always with us. He is only a prayer away at any time of the night or day. He is willing to comfort or guide us anytime we open up his word. Second, you can live a life worth living. We can have a life of purpose as we grow in meaningful service that uses the spiritual gifts and talents that he has given us. You can impact the lives of those you love. Third, the Spirit will teach you how to succeed.  Most of the world wanders through life hoping that they can figure out how to survive. The joy of being a Christian is that we have someone who wants to teach us how to succeed.

Have you ever had the feeling that it just doesn’t get any better than this? It might be a day on a cruise ship in exotic ports. It might be Thanksgiving with your family gathered around the table. It is a feeling that the entire world is right and ordered. Cares are gone and life is good. What you have described is very much like the peace that God alone gives. While we know the day on the cruise ship or the Thanksgiving feast must end, the peace of God can go on and on in our life. God can give us a kind of Feng Shui in life where things are ordered in our lives and where they work together. Why should our cell phones be loved more than Jesus? What activities could bring more peace than prayer? We are the luckiest people in the world. We have Jesus and when appreciate and use His gifts, life just doesn’t get any better than this.

Ok, But Future Uncertain

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In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:4-6

“Ok, but future is uncertain” was the answer that made me pause. As part of the Re: vitality workshop, there was a survey that just the head pastor took. It asked for the health of the congregation. Answers ranged from “closing soon” to vibrant and excited about the future”. We are doing fine financially as we started the summer with a surplus. We are doing renovations with memorial money this summer and we are doing OK with summer block parties and a few new members over the last couple months. The question made me wonder about the future. We are graying with more than half of the congregation over 50. We struggle with Sunday school. Both of those are normal in a lot of traditional churches but are they healthy.

The future of the greater church is not in doubt for me. As we studied “The Story”, it was evident that the Old Testament Church had lows that the church has not yet experienced. The New Testament Church faced persecution that is unheard of in our time. God brought both churches through those struggles. He will bring the church of today through our struggles. It might take a crisis like an Old Testament famine (financial crisis) or a New Testament persecution to wake up church members like such crisis has done in the past. If so, I guess we have it coming. I trust God to do whatever it takes to bring people to salvation.

It made me wonder about Bethany. Like the Philippian church, we are small and we feel poor at times. Paul was confident about them. I am confident about us. Your willingness to be part of Re: vitality (at this time 15 of the 18 slots are claimed) is a sign of your faithfulness and confidence in the future. Your willingness to try things like block parties and trunk or treat events says a lot about your heart and your commitment to Christ. With Christ, the future is certain. It is just that we all have to be with Christ. Our Lord can do anything. He has resources that are infinite and power that can move mountains. Re: vitality is not about us figuring out how we can do it. It is about learning to partner with God so that He can move mountains through us. Maybe I need to change my answer to OK, but future is certain with Jesus leading us onward.