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Monday, January 23, 2017

New Year--2017

A few days ago, I was watching/listening to Dr. Charles Stanley (for those who don't know, First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Georgia, USA--outstanding preacher!). He was discussing the new year just ahead of us, and he preached on Joshua chapter 1--entering the Promised Land. As I thought about this for a few days (sometimes I do think), I realized that there's a counterpoint chapter to this one, in the book of Numbers, in the Old Testament, and it's contained in these events:

After leaving Egypt and receiving the Law (and the 10 Commandments) from the LORD, the Israelites are poised at the entrance to the promised land, the land of Canaan. God tells Moses, "Send 12 men to search the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land, and bring back a report." Numbers 13:1-2.
Canaan was inhabited, and the purpose of the search was to learn about the land, how many people were in it, what their fortifications were, who they would have to fight, and the food they could expect to get on the way as they entered their new home and conquered it. In modern language, they were going to secretly "scope it out." This story is rehashed, with some additional details, in Deuteronomy chapter 1.

So the men went out, and returned. They pointed out the wonderful fruits of the land, which they had brought back (they were carrying this huge cluster of grapes along with some pomegranates and figs, on a pole between two men); they said, "Yes, this land is indeed fruitful and beautiful, and it does flow with milk and honey, just as Moses and the LORD said,



"There are strong people there--fortified cities, tough mountain men who occupy the hill country, and then there are the "Sons of Anak." Those guys are giant. We felt like grasshoppers looking up at them when we saw them."

Of course, everyone got excited. Somehow they hadn't expected to actually fight for the land. They must've thought it would be empty and ready for occupancy.  So they all started to complain and mutter and whine and talk about turning back to go to Egypt.

About this time, Caleb stood up and said. "HOLD ON! We WILL win! We gotta go NOW!"

Lots of other people, including 10 of the spies who went out, said, "NO WAY!" Those sons of Anak are huge!" (They were, too, Goliath of Gath, whom David killed, was NINE feet tall). So the spies said, "Look! This land eats up the people who live there. We have NO CHANCE!"

Caleb and Joshua and Moses and Aaron BEGGED the people to listen, but they wouldn't.
In fact, they decided to appoint another leader and go back to Egypt--about 250 miles away if you take the shortest route (as if that was possible. You can't go back. Not gonna happen.).

So the LORD punished them: 10 spies died immediately, and the rest of the Israelites spent forty years wandering about in the wilderness, until the entire generation that rejected God's plan for them was dead. So they got to live in the desert for those 40 years, rather than on the beach and in the mountains. Yuck.  All of them were dead, that is, except Joshua and Caleb. Joshua became the new leader of the Israelites after Moses died, and Caleb conquered the region of which all the rest of the spies were so afraid--but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So that's why the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for so long. The question is, "What led to that? Where did the Israelites go wrong?"

The answer is found in the text of Numbers 13-14, and in Deuteronomy 1, AND in Joshua 1.
Here's what the passages say:

1. They did not believe God. God was really quite unhappy with the way the Israelites acted. They had, as He said, "seen His glory and His miracles which He performed in Egypt and in the wilderness," but rebelled against Him time after time, even after they said to Him, "all that the LORD has spoken we will do, and be obedient." So despite the fact that they had seen all these mighty miracles, they were unwilling to transfer what the LORD HAD done to what He WOULD do. This is an exceedingly common problem. Most people have to really work at believing God for the future, even if they have seen Him work miracles in the past. So the thought here for you and me would be, "Remember, Relive, Respond in faith." Even if God has not yet done anything "miraculous" for you, you can in fact trust Him. It's time to move on with your life. Go. Now.

2. They were cowards. True faith and courage are Siamese twins--the inseparable kind.  Here's what it says in Joshua 1:6: "Be strong and courageous..." in 1:7: "Only be strong and very courageous..." in 1:9: "Be strong and courageous." (courageous X3)
If God chooses to repeat Himself, He does it for a reason. Here that reason is that the original failure was a lack of courage to accept the commands God gave. As for you, now it's time for courage. Every new thing requires courage, and many of us have a large amount of self-doubt: "There are giants," we say, and "They are too big for us..." NO! No giant is really big if God is standing with you. When God is with you, you are allied with the One who said, "Is any thing too hard for the LORD?" (the answer, of course, is NO.). We all face a new year. We don't know what it will hold. We do know that God has said, "I will not fail you. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you." He will be with you. Always.

3. They refused to listen. When God said, "Go take the land," they said, "Let's send spies." (apparently the people originally asked Moses to do this, and Moses took the request to God, who said, "sure. Let the spies go look at the land, and then come back and do what I tell you." See Deuteronomy 1:22).  Once the spies came back, and told the Israelites what they had found, the Israelites were horrified, and wanted to give up right away (did you ever say, "I can't do that!" I have, much to my personal loss).  Moses said, "You were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD..." in other words, God spoke, and the Israelites turned a deaf ear to what He said. Moses continues, "Do not be shocked (at the Canaanites and their fortifications), nor fear them. The Lord your GOD who goes before you WILL HIMSELF fight for you, just as He did in Egypt...and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son...but for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God..." (see Deuteronomy 1:29-33).
This is why God emphasizes to Joshua the immense importance of what He says: "Be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded not turn from it to the right or to the left...(Joshua 1:7)... "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, so that you may be careful to do ALL that is written in it, for THEN you will make your way prosperous, and THEN you will have success." Joshua 1:8).

So the Israelites had these three problems: They refused to believe, they refused to act, and they refused to listen. This was because they were faithless cowards who turned a deaf ear to God.

So how does this speak to us about the coming year?
There will definitely be challenges. There are challenges every year. We must not shrink from them. We must meet each challenge with faith and courage, listen to God, and do what He says. Pretty simple, really. It's just hard remembering these things when you are facing a challenge that you think is much bigger than you are. Nevertheless, you CAN do it, because if you worship and love God, HE IS WITH YOU.

This new year, and all the new years, are for courageous people of faith who listen to God. 

Did you fail last year?

OK...that was last year...Forget the things which are behind...reach forward to do the will of God this coming year. Don't let yourself get scared. Even if you're scared, do it anyway (THAT's courage). Believe God. He will be with you. All year. Not ONE day shall pass that God forsakes you. Not one hour. Not even one minute.
Remember, for us who believe, we are citizens of heaven. We CANNOT be destroyed. Act like it.

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