Imaging going back in a time machine to December 31, 2019. Everybody is waiting in anticipation for the new year and thinking of what they want to do differently to make their lives better for 2020. Knowing what you know now, how would you advise yourself with the 2019 version of you on what your New Year’s resolutions should look like? Imagine a conversation between your present self and your December 31, 2019 self!
2019 Self: I think I want to try and get in shape and lose some weight!
2020 Self: Um, everyone is going to turn into a couch potato and that will be a goal that will actually be very hard to maintain. Just accept that you are going to gain some weight.
2019 Self: Ok. I think I would like to spend more quality time with my spouse.
2020 Self: Well, in a way, you will have this but more like QUANTITY TIME instead of QUALITY time. You will both be working from home on your couch annoying each other.
2019 Self: Okay, I want to get out more and enjoy the outdoors.
2020 Self: There will be MURDER HORNETS!
2019 Self: I need to spend more time with the kids.
2020 Self: Oh really!?! Wish granted! You will become a homeschool parent!
2019 Self: Wait! What?!? That is not what I was wishing for!
If we are honest with ourselves, 2020 could not be anything we could have every imagined. Our world has been turned upside-down.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have every guessed that we would not be holding graduations as the Cintas Center and having graduations parties all over our communities for the next several weekends.
Never would I have ever guessed we would not be going to Memphis and Mexico for our mission trips.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that church buildings, for the most part, all across out country, would be closed to their parishioners.
I would like to suggest today that we are in a similar situation that the Israelites were in as they were heading into the Promised Land. If you recall, they were enslaved in Egypt. God called and empowered Moses to go and confront the Pharaoh to “Let my people go!” Through a series of plagues, the Israelites were released and sent away to a land that God would provide for them. They were in a transitional time. There was “WHAT USED TO BE” as they were heading to “WHAT IS TO COME” but in the meantime, they were transitioning, they were in-between.
As they came to the land of Canaan, it was time to send out some spies and get a glimpse of what the new land looked like. 12 men were picked out among the tribes. They were given 40 days to scout out the land and come back and give a report.
When they returned they gave their report. The land was amazing but the people there were scary. Fear began to spread throughout the camp. But one person in particular stood up and defied the others. That man was Caleb. He stated that:
READ Numbers 14:7-9
“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 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. 9 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.”
Caleb had a vision for what God could do through them. Instead of focusing on the immediate fears that the others were consumed with, Caleb believed in God’s strength and power to forge a NEW REALITY for the Israelites. Now Caleb is one of my most favorite Old Testament characters. While everyone was consumed with fear and panic, he was looking forward to a NEW REALITY that God was creating with them. He was able to RISE ABOVE the negativity and stand firm on the possibility that God was doing something new here and it was up to the people to believe and trust in the possibility of this NEW REALITY.
While Caleb’s speech was inspiring and encouraging, look at the reaction he got from his audience. Now keep in mind, these very people are the ones who publicly witnessed all the miracles in Egypt which God used against the Pharaoh and the Egyptians in order to free the Israelites. They were witnesses to the cloud and the pillar of fire leading them through the transitional time. They saw God meet with Moses on Mount Sinai and forge the Law. They have witnessed miracle after miracle, blessing after blessing, and yet, as they look towards the Promised Land, they come to the conclusion that:
READ Numbers 14:2-4
“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.”
This BLOWS MY MIND! In light of all that they have seen in the past, they are willing to forget all of that and allow themselves to be consumed with fear and give up on trusting that God was going to create a NEW REALITY for them. Instead, they wanted to GO BACK TO EGYPT! They were afraid for their future and longed to go back to the past with all the oppression and slavery.
Now, I want us to consider our current situation. We are living into trying to figure out this coronavirus pandemic. Depending on who you are listening to, there is a lot of fear out there. And for legitimate reasons.
Losing 100,000 Americans is shocking and appalling. We should be mourning as a nation over the recent losses due to the pandemic as well as the continued acts of
and racism as seen through the untimely death of George Floyd and Ahmed Aubrey
If this isn’t bad enough, we are heading into a political season where fear is going to be stoked to gain voters like we have never seen before. America is really, really sick right now.
Not just because of a virus,
spiritually sick, sick, sick.
When we see all that is going on, we have to be careful not to give into the messages of fear and cry out like the Israelites and say “If only we could go back to Egypt!” Your “Egypt” might be what things were like on
Just like the Israelites, we tend to look back on the past and idealize a time when we thought things were so much better. We forget about the systemic sins of the past and just remember the “good old days” longing to get back to an idealized time, even 4 months ago. We forget all that God is trying to teach us as we leave our Egypt and travel through the desert.
So, I beg to ask the question: What is God teaching you through this pandemic? The beautiful thing about our God is that He will always bring something good out of difficult situations. If we channel our inner Caleb what can we take from our past and our present situation, and look forward to the NEW REALITY before us? I will dare to say that there is no
“Going back to Egypt”
for any of us. We will never fully go back to the way things were 4 months ago or 40 years ago.
Now let’s connect this Old Testament story to the Gospel story. Jesus died on the cross. The disciples thought that they were following a political leader who was going to overthrow Rome and establish His kingdom once and for all. Even though Jesus told them again and again that He would die and rise again, they never heard that message. When Jesus died on the cross and was buried, what became of the disciples in this “in-between” time they found themselves?
They were scattered.
They were hiding in fear.
They were confused.
They didn’t know what to think
and they were in fear for their lives.
Jesus then appears to them, opening their eyes to this NEW REALITY of his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus tells them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit and then He ascends into heaven. In Acts 2, we see that on the day of Pentecost, the disciples’ fears, doubts and confusion turned into
and power as the Holy Spirit descended on them and empowered them for the NEW REALITY of His kingdom on earth.
So, once again, what is God teaching you through this “in-between” time? We are living through legitimate fears right now. How are we going to
and forge a NEW REALITY?
Do we protect what we like about the past, dig our heals in, and hope to return to the way things used to be?
Or do we learn from our past and present to forge a NEW REALITY that looks more, and more like the kingdom of God?
Consider some of the businesses that we have seen come and go throughout the years.
Kodak used to own the photography field. Remember those little Kodak huts where you could drop off your film for development and then pick up your pictures days later? I know I am speaking a foreign language to the younger generations. But then digital technology came along. If Kodak would have adapted to the new technology, they would still be around. Instead, they dug their heals in and protected their product instead of adapting to the new technology.
Or a more recent example, when I moved into Loveland back in 2006, our town was littered with video stores. There was Family Video, Hollywood Video, and Blockbuster. They owned the market in entertainment. I remember spending more time trying to choose a video to watch and the frustration of the store being rented out of the very movie I wanted to watch. But then Netflix came along. What did Blockbuster do? Did it adapt to the times or protect their past and present reality? Within a few years after the birth of Netflix, video stores are now a thing of the past.
We are currently witnessing businesses and churches that are digging their heals in and waiting to “return to normal” while others are
and creating a NEW REALITY.
Now let’s think about our church. Consider this pandemic as our “desert experience”. We are in a transformational time. A lot is changing before our very eyes and we are not out of it yet.
What will the NEW REALITY look like?
Will we dig our heals in to protect our idealized view of the past or are we willing to consider our past and present and, with the power of the Holy Spirit, forge a NEW REALITY as we live into the future?
What is God trying to teach us in all of this?
I can tell you this, we are not sitting on our hands here at church just waiting for us to return “back to normal”. This past couple of months have created a HUGE learning curve in what ministry can look like in the future.
Now, what I am NOT saying is that we will never return back to using the building. Personally, I can’t wait to have our church family back together again. But we can’t just forget about all we are learning through this pandemic and then pitch it when it is over.
Churches all around the world have created digital experiences that are reaching people in ways we never could have imagined.
Throughout this pandemic people are developing a hunger for God as they try to seek out answers for all that we are going through.
Just through our own digital church experiences we have expanded beyond ministering just to our community and we are reaching others within our state, country and even in other countries such as Mexico, Jerusalem and even India. Families spread out across our country are come together for some type of digital experience to share together through Epiphany. We are seeing some amazing things happening that leave us scratching our heads and wondering what God is up to.
So, as we are heading into this NEW REALITY let’s learn from Caleb and look to the future with hope and expectation that God is forging something new through us. Let’s not be like the Israelites who gave into fear and wanted to just return back to the past, forgetting about the reality of their slavery and oppression, and just idealizing their past.
Let us not be like the disciples who forgot all the things that Jesus tried to teach them and instead hunkered down in fear until Jesus sought them out and empowered them to live into the NEW REALITY through the Holy Spirit.
What is God teaching YOU through this time?
Are you able to look to the future with HOPE and EXPECATION that through this time God is up to something amazing?
Let’s consider our teens who have also been going through some difficult times here. I had all 4 of my kids graduating from college and high school. Our graduates did not get the traditional end-of-the-year experiences like previous classes. But I will tell you this, God is up to something with our teenagers.
Many of these teens were born in the looming shadow of 9/11,
they were raised through endless wars,
they grew up during the financial crisis of 2008,
and now they are living through a pandemic on the scale of nothing we have seen in our lifetime.
In some ways I have grieved over the years for what they have had to experience mostly because of the bad choices and decisions that have been made by my generation and others. But I believe in all my heart that
God is not only doing something amazing with our church,
but He is doing something amazing with our young people.
As much as we parents want to shield them from bad experiences and evil in the world, they have gone through the fires of testing and have emerged with a hope and strength like no other generation I have pastored. I am so excited about the future of these teenagers.
Let’s all promise to be more like Caleb and commit to seeing a future that is blessed with God moving us forward.
Let us be like the disciples after their Pentecost experience and start a movement of the Kingdom of God that continues to spread and spread into all areas of this world.
In some ways, we may have been thinking too small.
Let’s allow God to blow up our past and present realities and create a NEW FUTURE REALITY where possibilities are more than we could have ever imagined. What might that look like:
in your context,
with your family,
with your business,
and with your faith?
I encourage you to wrestle with this just as we are here up at the church. What is God trying to teach us as we look to the NEW FUTURE REALITY? These are the discussions we need to be having with one another.