Friday, October 18, 2019

Crossing Over and Going In

Deuteronomy 8:19-9:3 Unless the Lord comes first, tomorrow is going to turn into today and today will become yesterday.  Ever since there was evening and morning, the first day—time has marched on—and will march on until our Lord’s return in glory to judge the living and the dead and give us all the benefits and blessings of his work on the cross.
The Lord wants us to remember that and live our lives in light of that day—but he also wants us to plan for the future and go forward in faith until that day comes.  That is what we have been talking about over these last several weeks. 
A promise made to Abraham and his children, that they would have a homeland of their own, was about to be fulfilled in the Promised Land. 
More than six hundred years had passed since that promise was made.  The children of Israel grew into a great nation but were then enslaved in Egypt.  Centuries passed.  After their deliverance they wandered in the desert for another forty years.  But now the moment was at hand for them to cross over the Jordan and go into the Promised Land.
What had always been in the future—was now the present.  And so the Lord instructed them as to how they were to plan for this day. 
They were to remember the past and how God had blessed and prospered them along the way and draw courage from their own history.  They were to make sure they were walking in the Lord’s ways so that the future would be marked by the obedience of faith.
Prepared in this way, they were to step out in faith upon the promise of God and lay hold of a new season of life in the Promised Land.  That is not always easy to do. 
When they were getting to leave Egypt and their lives as slaves, they saw the Egyptian armies behind them and they wanted to give up and return to slavery.  But Moses promised them, “The LORD will fight for you!  Go forward! “
When they grew hungry in the desert they grumbled against God and said to themselves it would have been better to die as slaves in Egypt, but the LORD their cries and said, “Behold, I am about to rain down bread from heaven for you.” 
In all these stops and starts, we see how true it is that an unknown future (even when God has promised to bless us in it) can be far more frightening than a familiar past—even when it was difficult.
We of course are made of the same stuff as the Israelites.  Their story is our story.  It can be very difficult indeed to step out on the promises of God and cross over from one day to the next and go into the future with boldness and courage. 
That is why the Lord speaks to us today as he spoke to the children of Israel and promises us that he himself will go with us to warn us and encourage us and do battle against our enemies and in these ways, prosper us in the days to come.  The Bible says:
If you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.
            One of the great temptations that the Israelites would face as they entered into the Promised Land was that they would encounter those who did not share their faith in their Lord and were not walking in his ways. 
Every day they would have to make a choice as to whether they would adopt the thinking of the world around them or obey the voice of the LORD their God.
And so God warned them in the strongest possible way that he would destroy them just like he destroyed the nations around them if they did not walk in his ways and do his will and especially if they worshiped the gods of the pagans around them. 
Please understand, there were blessings without number for them in their future days in the Promised Land-- but there were also dangers-- and they needed this solemn warning if their future lives were to be everything God wanted it to be.  So it is for us.
We live in the midst of the world that does not share our faith in the LORD.  We are surrounded by people who do not walk in his ways or do his will and who worship idols.  The Lord would have us turn a blind eye and deaf ear to this unbelieving world and worship him alone and obey his voice.  This is especially true in our financial life.
The world would have us believe that it is only what we can hold in our hand that is real and valuable.  The world tells us that “the one who dies with the most toys wins”.  The world puts money first.  This way of thinking deserves, and will receive, the Lord’s judgment.
And so then, in our life as a congregation and in our life as individual Christians we are to take this warning seriously and demonstrate with our stewardship that God comes first in our life. 
We do that by following his counsel on how to manage our money and especially by putting the mission of Christ at the very top of our financial priorities and then go forward in faith and boldness, ready to confront whatever challenges lie ahead.  The Bible says:
“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’
            After forty years the wilderness, their life there had become, if not comfortable, at least familiar.  It’s always easier to face the challenge we know than the ones we don’t know. 
But the Lord had no intention of letting them remain where they were!  They were going to face the future and go forward even though there were mighty challenges ahead.
A wandering group of tribesmen were going to face nations that were greater and mightier than them.  A people that had no cities or fortresses of their own were going to encounter that very thing in the days to come.  They were going to face enemies who had unblemished records of success in battle.
The Lord did not hide any of that from them.  But he did not want them to fix their eyes on those enemies and challenges-- but instead put their trust in his promise that they would overcome them! 
He would not let them remain where they were but instead they were to step out in faith upon his promise.
Not only for the Israelites but for us, it is easy to remain where we are.  Even with the challenges we face, at least they are familiar.  It is frightening to go forward when you don’t know the future and it is even more frightening when you can clearly see the challenges and battles that the future holds. 
In many ways that’s where we find ourselves as a congregation.  There are clear challenges that lie in the future regarding our finances.  We are an aging congregation where most of the offerings are given by the older folks and really by even a smaller group within that demographic.  It would be so easy to stop where we are and hide our head in the sand.
But the Lord will not allow us to remain where we are and he insists that we step out in faith upon his promise and go forward into the future with a courageous attitude that is ready to do his work and trust his promise to be with us and bless us.  The Bible says:
Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
            Right here is what should have given the Israelites the courage and boldness to go forward in faith:  the Lord’s promise that he would go with them and he would act for them and he would give them the victory.
If they remembered the past they should have known that!  There was not one step they ever took on that journey to the Promised Land that the Lord did not lead.  There was not one moment in all those years that the Lord was not with them, blessing them and providing for them along the way. Their entire life was a testimony to his power and his presence and his provision.
And as they moved into the future, he promised exactly the same.  He knew better than they did what kind of challenges they would face and what kind of battles they would fight--but he also knew that he was greater and more powerful than all of it. 
Whatever small step of faith they took into the future, the Lord was already there to bless them along the way and accomplish his saving purpose in their lives.
We know even more than they did!  We have seen the Lord’s mighty deliverance in Jesus who died and rose to defeat our enemies.  We know that Jesus is the destroyer of Satan’s kingdom.  And we have seen how the power and the presence and the provision of our Lord Jesus Christ has advanced the church over two thousand years from 12 disciples to two billion Christians today.
Even more we have seen how all this is true in our own congregation and school and the blessings and growth we have experienced over more than 90 years.  We have absolutely nothing to fear as we plan for the future for we know the one who holds that future in his nail-scarred hands promises to bless us in the days ahead.
That is why we are taking this bold step of establishing an endowment that will help fund the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We do that with every expectation that the Lord will generously bless our efforts to step out in faith and do his will and serve him with the resources he has entrusted to our hands.
And we rely on his promise that as we cross over and go into the future, he will be with us and bless us along the way.  Amen.

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