Crossing the Threshold
December 30, 2018
If we were all to be really honest, we all have fears and phobias. What one person fears, another may laugh at. For example, I have a fear of heights. And I’m not overly fond of snakes and spiders. Most people have something which gets them.
It may be something they don’t talk about. It could be something like a fear of failure. Or it could be a fear of public speaking. Maybe it’s a fear of needles or blood, or it could be water, or closed spaces.
As we come to the end of 2018, I’m sure we can look back and see areas where we were successful and areas where we missed the mark. Maybe we’ve also seen opportunities missed. We could have missed those opportunities and we regret it. We’ve learned that hindsight is always 20/20. We always see the past much more clearly.
With that in mind, on this last Sunday of the year, I want to talk about a missed opportunity for the people of Israel as they were preparing to enter into the promised land.
After the Exodus, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. Until finally, they came to the threshold of entering this new land. They were promised it was a great place to live. Abraham had lived there and now his descendants were about to enter.
As Moses stood at the burning bush, before the people were freed from slavery, God told Moses ~
8 I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. – Exodus 3:8
That was the promise from God. Now, the people are finally standing across the Jordan River, looking at the land. It was time to enter. I can only imagine the joy and hope the people felt about arriving to this new home. A land with great promises. Wouldn’t you be excited . . . maybe a little nervous about this land? I’m sure the people were.
For the first time in their lives, the people were free, they were moving into this new land and they allowed themselves to dream and have visions of this new future, a preferred future in this new wondrous land.
As the Israelites made their plans to move into this promised land, they were at the proverbial threshold.
As we end the year, and look forward to what 2019 brings, we also stand at a threshold. Before us are new possibilities and challenges. We can look at the possibilities as a gift from God, as challenges to our faith, as tests which propel us to trust God more than we’ve ever trusted Him. And in so doing, we’ll be ensuring that our witness to the world and that First Baptist Church will embark on a mission which glorifies God.
However, if we allow them, the obstacles can disappoint or even frighten us. When that happens we may turn and run for cover. We may return to that which we know, even if it’s not good for us, but, it’s familiar. When we look at the story of the Israelites, this happened to them as well.
God used Moses to lead His people out of their miserable past as slaves in Egypt to the threshold of their future in the Promised Land. There in the desert south of Israel, God showed them the land which He had promised to Abraham, hundreds of years earlier.
God told Moses to send out an advance team (a group of spies) in order to determine what the Israelites needed to do in order to take the land. Everything was set for them to cross the threshold to take what God had already given to them. I really believe this was God’s test for the people of Israel. Would they really trust God, or would they trust in themselves?
Some of the spies threw a wrench in the plan. Twelve men were sent out. Let’s look in at Numbers 13 and 14, and catch their report ~
25 At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land.
26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel.
They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us.
It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.
28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large.
31 Then the men ... said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” – Numbers 13
1 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night.
2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them,
“Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!
3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?
Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?”
4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
5 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel.
6 And Joshua and Caleb, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes
7 and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel,
“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land.
8 If the Lord delights in us, He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.
9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.
Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”
10 Then all the congregation said to stone them. – Numbers 14
So, that’s the story. Ten of them came back and said, “Hey, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news, is God’s right, it’s an amazing land. The bad news, the people are going to destroy us.”
So, the people decide it’s better to go back into slavery. Let’s choose a new leader who will take us back to Egypt. It was so much fun being a slave, let’s do it again. They don’t listen to Caleb and Joshua. They ignore the concept, the belief that God was calling them to the land . . . and if God called them, He would certainly make sure they would succeed in taking the land.
As we stand on the threshold of a new year, God gives us, individually, as well as the church, a similar opportunity. What decisions will we make as we stand on the threshold of our future?
In their fear, the 10 spies let their imaginations get the best of them. They began to think God had brought them to the new land only to brutalize them and their families. They began to rethink their decision to leave Egypt. In their fear they thought returning to Egypt would be good and why not stone their leaders for good measure.
In the end, the people didn’t want to trust the plans God had for them. They only trusted what they could see, their limited abilities. Let’s be slaves again. That was the good life.
They were chronic complainers. If they couldn’t be immediately satisfied, they grumbled and complained and were called “STIFF -NECKED” people. In other words, they were stubborn.
When we are at the threshold, as we are right now. As we face a new year . . . do we face our future with fear, do we choose to grab a blanket and warm ourselves, all snuggled remembering the good old days. Filled with fear that we cannot take the next step.
When we make that choice, we face the same problem as the Israelites. The better days we long for don’t exist anymore, and they will.
Maybe I sound cold and brutal. I really did have a great Christmas! No lulmps of coal. But it’s true, isn’t it? We can look at the pictures, we can remember those good old days, and that’s a great thing to do . . . . BUT that’s in the past, and we can’t remanufacture those days. In fact, we need to remember those days with joy . . . but then we should look to a new future and make new memories, ones that hopefully will surpass the old ones.
If I were to snuggle up on the good old days of my life . . . maybe I’ll only remember days better than this one. If I go back in time, I most certainly was younger, had less aches and pains, and had more hair. I can remember the new discovery of Jesus Christ in my life. I remember asking Debbie out with anxiety that first time. I can remember our first date. Our wedding, Joshua being born, Zachary being born. Tim Watson calling me and telling me I was the pick of the search committee. All great moments, yet not one of them can be repeated . . . except in my memory bank with lots of smiles.
All I can do now is look to the future with Debbie, Joshua, Zachary, Tim . . . and all of you. We will make new memories, take new vacations, discover new passions, visions and dreams.
Do we do it with a sense of excitement and longing to be part of God’s plan for our lives, even when what He is asking us to do is difficult?
Or because we don’t trust and believe in God’s perfect plan for our lives, do we just curl up in a corner and seek to go back to the good old days . . . of slavery in Egypt?
Two men, Joshua and Caleb, gave the minority report. Then they pleaded with the leaders to move ahead to the land of their dreams instead of retreating to the land of their memories.
Listen to what they said ~
9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.
Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” – Numbers 14:9
They believed God would go with them as they took the land. They couldn’t fail because God had already given them the land. Moving ahead would be an act of obedience to God.
Caleb and Joshua saw the beauty of the land. They saw the obstacles to victory. But they saw one other thing the others didn't see: They saw the hand of God in all of this. They sensed His purpose and knew His power. Caleb didn’t want to waste any time. In Numbers 13:30, he said ~
30 But Caleb said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” – Numbers 13:30
We talk about a vision, what does that 6 letter word mean? A vision is simply a positive picture of a preferred future. Vision is what we want to see happen. Vision is what gives us the power to confront the difficulties of today for the hope of tomorrow.
Caleb, Joshua, Aaron, and Moses had a vision. They could see the land of Canaan flowing with milk and honey. It was a great place to live, the very place God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They could see the people of Israel flourishing. That was their positive picture of a preferred future. They kept the vision, and eventually after 40 more years, the dream came true.
In his book, Fuzzy Memories, Jack Handey wrote, "There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him. Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons, but the instructor wanted $5 a lesson. I realized it was cheaper to pay the bully, so I gave up karate."
Sometimes it’s easier to go back, to give up. But that’s not what God has planned. It is our reaction to difficult times. It’s our reaction to our fear and anxiety. Too many Christians believe it's easier to pay the bully, rather than learn how to defeat him. We believe it’s easier, less painful to fight for God’s kingdom, than to just give in to the bully.
Unfortunately, later in life, we realize, we should have fought the bully. But again, there’s no going back to the future and changing it. It’s embracing the present and using God’s power and strength to lead us to the glory He has planned for us.
God has plans for us, and we must look to the future with God’s eyes, not our own. We must be a people of prayer. Pray for God to reveal His plan to you, and that you would have the power, passion and purpose to accept His plan for your life.
Be a people of the BOOK. Know and believe God’s Word for you. It all starts with one or two or three people who really believe God’s promises are real. So we could cross the threshold into 2019 with high expectations of great prosperity in the name of Jesus.
As for me, I look forward to 2019 as a great year for us. We will be challenged, we never grow without being challenged, so I look forward to the challenges of hanging onto God, because Jesus tells us in John 15, “I am the vine, you are the branches, if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.”
Folks, we must, and I repeat, we must remember we are nothing more than the branches, left alone, we shrivel up and die, but when connected to our life source ... Christ, we thrive and we bear fruit because we are faithful. My expectation of this church is in 2019, we will be faithful to the call of Jesus, for He is our Lord, and because of our faith, we will be fruitful. It all starts with you and me. Alone, we can’t do it, but together, we can shake the foundations of Alexandria in the name of Jesus.
We will have our moments of doubt . . . we may doubt one another. We may question one another . . . but when we have God’s plan, our call is obedience. It’s following God to wherever He calls us. Obedience, trust and faithfulness.
Joshua, Caleb, Aaron and Moses had a vision. They were looked at as fools, idiots, but the only fool were those who rejected God’s visions. Folks, the only fool I want to be is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4, “a fool for Christ.” Let’s be fools together.