Brave (1/28/18)

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One of my fondest childhood memories is taking rides with my family through the mountainous back roads of West Virginia. One of these roads contained a place where we could stop and walk out on a rock cliff that overlooked a small valley. The view was incredible.

Once when we were standing on the rock, I asked my father, “How high is this cliff?” “Look over the edge and see,” was his response. That didn’t sit well with me. I don’t like heights. He added, “Step out and look. I’ll hold your hand to make sure you don’t fall.”

At that moment, I had to make a choice. Would I give up control, take dad by the hand and trust him to keep me safe?

The nation of Israel had to make the same choice. Would they give up control, take God’s hand and trust him when they faced danger? They had been slaves in Egypt. Their living conditions were horrible. Male children were drowned at birth. They were beaten, oppressed and overworked. God sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt and to Mount Sinai, where he gave them the law. Then he led them to the edge of Canaan, the land he’d promised them centuries before.

In Numbers 13, God said to send spies in to the land so they could see what he was giving them. Verses 17-21 says, When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

The spies went in and found the land was abundant with fruit and provisions. They also saw that the people who lived in the land were large and lived in fortified cities. They came back and reported this to the rest of the Israelites. Caleb, one of the spies, said, “Let’s go take possession of the land. We can do it.”

But in Numbers 13:31,31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Things got worse from here. Numbers 14:1-12 says, “That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. 11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? 12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

Needless to say, God was ticked.

It’s as if God was saying, “I’ve redeemed you from the slavery of the Egyptians. You saw the plagues of mass destruction I unleashed on them. I allowed you to plunder them when you left. I obliterated their army in the Red Sea. I’ve revealed my power to you and provided whatever you needed. I protected you on your journey. I supernaturally gave you food and water.

Now, I’m taking you into a land that’s flowing with milk and honey. Go do the hard work and fight for it. I will give you victory and be your God.”

What was their response? “No, we can’t do it. You’ve brought us to the edge of the cliff and it’s dangerous. We don’t trust you to hold our hand and keep us safe. We’d rather be slaves to the Egyptians.”

Today, in Snake Spring Valley Church of the Brethren, God is telling us, “I’ve redeemed you from the slavery of sin. You’re no longer bound by its destructive power in your lives. I’ve revealed my power to you by answering your prayers. I’ve given you travelling mercies. I’ve healed many of you. I’ve eased the suffering of others by bringing them home. You’re seeing me work in ways you’ve never experienced before.

I’m bringing you into a new territory that’s flowing with blessings. I’m doing new things in your lives. Now, go do the hard work and fight for it. I’ll give you victory and be your God.”

Last year, we decided to move forward as disciples of Jesus Christ. We made a commitment to prayer, discipleship groups and learning to use our spiritual gifts once the holidays were over. The first of the year is here. Are we going to move forward as disciples of Jesus or will we let fear hold us back?

The decision we make will determine our actions. As Penny Hunt writes in her book, Bounce, Don’t Break, “Fear makes us look for someone to blame, throw up our hands in defeat, and give in to a victim mentality. Faith chooses to face the challenge with hope in a brighter tomorrow.”

What is our response to God? “Yes, we’ll follow you into battle because you’re our God.” Or will it be, “No, we don’t trust you to hold our hand now that we’re standing at the edge of the cliff. We’d rather be slaves to sin, unforgiveness, broken relationships, anger, worry and weak faith.

After all, it’s one thing to say, “I want to go to Greece on a mission trip.” It’s another thing to step onto the airplane.

It’s easy to say, “I want my dysfunctional marriage to be better.” It’s another thing to face the pain of dealing with the issues.

It’s not hard to say, “I want to be committed to prayer and have a prayer partner.” It’s another thing to find a prayer partner and actually pray.

Fear has a way of creeping in and discouraging us from taking what God has promised to give us. It can happen to any of us. A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking, “The congregation is going into areas you’ve never been before. Can you really lead them?” This happened several times and I began to doubt myself. After a couple of weeks of wrestling with this, I thought, “Wait a minute. God is in control. All I need to do is what the Lord tells me to do. He’s in charge of everything else. I’m not going to let Satan talk me out of being faithful to God.” I verbally rebuked Satan through the power of Christ and these thoughts haven’t come back.

Are you letting Satan tell you that you can’t:

find time to pray?

really be a disciple?

find time to spend with God by reading the Bible?

learn to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit?

face the pain of working though the hurts of the past?

face reality and work to have a better marriage?

grow in your faith?

let go of old ways of thinking and be part of something new?

face the challenges of life because you’re too weak?

God has brought us to the edge of new territory. We will see the power of God unleashed in our congregation this year if we don’t give into fear and let Satan talk us out following him into the Promised Land.

The only way to face the fears of walking with God into new areas is to let go of the desire to be a slave, take God’s hand and step into the future. As Olympic medalist Nadia Comaneci said, “I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet.”

Is it scary? It sure is. Is it tempting to remain a slave to fear? It sure is. But do you know what Romans 8:14-17 says? 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Is Jesus greater than our fears? He sure is. He gives us the ability to trust God the Father and step into an uncertain future. We don’t have to be afraid to move forward with God. The things we’re walking into are much better than the things we’re leaving behind.

On your deathbed, do you want to look back at your life with regrets due to the fact you played it safe because of fear? Or do you want to look back knowing you let go of trying to control things, took Jesus by the hand and conquered the giants?

The choice is yours. What are you choosing?