Straight Talk from the Wilderness
I’m going to share some lessons from the exodus wilderness wanderings that, I believe, relate directly to our conversations about our building and property. Last week we talked about “Lessons from the Garden” after the Orlando tragedy. This week I want to share some straight talk from the wilderness that may help us as we engage in a dialogue about our future.
The experience of the Hebrews during the exodus wanderings from slavery to freedom is told and re-told for two primary reasons, I believe. First, that exodus event is a core part of our story with God. Second, life often feels like a journey from the familiar to the unfamiliar, the scenery and situation of our lives -as individuals, a church and community- always changing.
If you are like many in our congregation, you are a part of a conversation about the proposed building concepts generated by our architects in response to input from our congregation. Some are excited by the proposed plan, some are puzzled, and some are alarmed. No votes are being taken right now as we talk, pray, and explore the best options going forward. Decision-time is down the road a bit.
What in the world does the wilderness experience of the Hebrews, thousands of years ago, have to say to us as we look ahead to our own future as God’s servant people?
Leaders move first (into deep water)
Look at the story in Joshua 3:14-17. The people are leaving the wilderness and heading across the Jordan River to a new set of challenges. The water is at flood stage and yet the leaders are called by God to lead the way, stepping into the water that is deep and fast moving.
My thought, if I had been there, would have been to wait until the snow melt stopped filling the river beds to overflowing. I would have waited for the water level to drop. I would have wanted to wait for the circumstances to be more favorable.
Straight talk from the wilderness says that leaders are always called to lead the way, even stepping into water when it is at flood stage and the challenge looks overwhelming. Our temptation is to back away from the challenge, but God promises to be with us and to do what we cannot imagine.
So waiting for an easier moment to move forward may be tempting but it isn’t the way God seems to work with us.
Inspect the land (do your homework)
To be a person of faith doesn’t mean we blindly move forward, taking foolish risks because we don’t bother to gather the necessary data. Moses sends spies into Canaan to explore the land. He says (Numbers 13:18-ff.), “You must inspect the land. What is it like? Are the people who live in it strong or weak, few or many?”
A friend of mine is a national sales manager for a company, and he loves to use the phrase, “Do your due diligence.” Know what you’re facing. Gather information. Do your homework. So you can make an informed decision and then act in faith.
Two years ago our congregation voted to authorize a study of our building. Engineers did a thorough inspection of our building. They have identified $2.5-$3.2 million in needed repairs, while affirming the basic integrity of the building. Then, after the engineering study, our architects met with scores of church members and groups to hear how the building works for ministry and how it presents us with challenges.
At every step of this process we are working hard to “inspect the land.” We want to act in faith, with courage, but we also want to know what we are facing so we are gathering the best possible information.
Don’t magnify the obstacles
In Numbers 13 and Deuteronomy 1:19-ff. spies are sent into Canaan to map out the land. Identity the obstacles facing the Hebrews. The spies go into the territory as “far as the Cluster Ravine” (it’s called that because the grapes are so thick and large).
The land is described by some of the spies as wonderful but others are more fearful. They say, “People far stronger and taller than we live there. The cities are huge and the walls are sky-high.” Some report (Numbers 13:28 & 31) “There are…powerful people who live in the land. We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we.”
Because of the fear of a few who saw only the challenges but missed the potential God brings to every moment, the people turned back. They missed a great opportunity. They lost a generation.
Don’t magnify the obstacles, the wilderness experience teaches us. See not only the challenges but also see the power God brings to every situation.
The ex-slaves, in Numbers 20, make it all the way into the desert of Zin. They stop at a place called Kadesh. There, Miriam dies. She has a been a leader. Miriam has been a source of encouragement. In that place there is no water for the community, and so the people “assembled against Moses and Aaron.”
The people are in despair. They cannot see where they will get what they need to stay alive.
God and Moses talk. God says, according to the Bible, “Tell the rock to provide water.” That may be one of the most nonsensical things you’ll ever hear!
Moses gathers the people, taps a rock with his staff twice, and “Out flooded water so that the community and their animals could drink.”
God provides. Remember that this week in your life. Remember that as our church has this conversation about our next one hundred years. Remember that as we move forward and towards God’s dream for us.
We are a pilgrim people. Which I often find irritating. I would prefer to find a good place and settle down. I would prefer to be comfortable, and I would choose a predictable life. To live is to experience change and I find adjusting to a new reality is sometimes hard for me!
God, in the wilderness, keeps calling the people to move on. They leave the familiarity of Egypt behind. They move through the desert of Zin. They march towards Moab. In Numbers 21 we are told the people marched from Oboth to Iye-abarim, from Iye-abarim to the Zered ravine. Moses remembers how they then marched across the Arnon to Moab, and marched on to the well at Beer.
The early Methodists in Bloomington had been on the move before they settled in this small village. They knew that life changes and what matters is being faithful to God in the journey. The Methodists went from a log cabin to a log church to a wood frame church to a brick church to a stone church. All along the way their love for God remained steadfast, as did their commitment to reach out and share God’s love.
Keep moving. Don’t make the mistake of trying to “freeze” this present moment but in faith lean into the future. God and life are ahead of us…not in going back.
Straight talk (a summary)
- Leaders move first (into deep water)
- Inspect the land (do your homework)
- Don’t magnify the obstacles
- God provides
- Keep moving
Here is a hunch: this straight talk from the wilderness may not only apply to our church, but it may speak directly to where many of us are in our lives. Focus on your right next step. Trust God to provide. And keep moving!
Join us Sunday as we explore the experience of praise by looking at Psalm 33. Visitors are joining us through the Summer as people look for a faith community. Keep your eyes open to new guests and offer to help them find their way around our building.
Remember to let us know your favorite psalm (and why). See you Sunday!
I’m convinced these songs can change your life, and offer you life lessons you’ll never forget. I’m confident your relationship with God will never be the same if you let the songs get inside you!
Grace and peace,
Holy Land Trip in February of 2017
Contact the church office and/or pick up a brochure for the Holy Land Trip in February of 2017. Led by Pastor Mark Fenstermacher, the trip is with experienced tour operator EO (Educational Opportunities Inc.). At this point it appears we may have approximately 25-30 persons making this life-changing journey. The cost is under $3,000 per person (including airfare, hotel accommodations, tour guide, motor coach transportation in Israel, morning and evening meals, etc.). Contact Ms. Cath Foreman if you have questions. Note: this is a special price that is significantly less than other tours. You must register and pay your deposit before July 10th to receive the reduced price.
Join us this Sunday, in a Jesus community where all are loved and welcomed, as we continue our series Soul Songs: A Journey Through the Psalms. Invite a friend to join you.