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Fear can be a powerful motivator or hinderance in our commitment to following God, particularly when we are called to go to a new and unfamiliar place. The most difficult part is often the journey, the transition between your old place and the new place. There is a tension between the uncertainty about where you are going and the familiarity of where you have been. It is this in-between place where doubt and fear can take hold of us, where faith and facts compete with one another. This is where the Israelites were as they approached the land God promised them.

In Numbers 13 and 14 God instructed Moses to “send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites (Numbers 13:2, NIV).” The spies spent 40 days exploring the land and reported that the land “does flow with milk and honey (13:27).” But they also reported that “the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large (13:28).” This is the moment where fact and faith present themselves to the Israelites.

God has laid out a plan for your life, a journey that will lead you to “a land flowing with milk and honey (14:8).” With each new step, he asks us to follow him in faith. The challenge is to not do what the Israelites did and take your eyes off God, to not let fear take hold of you. In Numbers 13:33 there is a telling phrase where some of the spies say, “in our own eyes.” They could only see that they looked tiny, like grasshoppers, compared to a foe who appeared “stronger” and “of great size (13:31-32).” They were scared they would be crushed like bugs even though God assured them they would take the land.

God asks us to view things through his eyes, not the world’s eyes of things like power and riches. Sometimes he asks us to take a step of faith even when the challenges look insurmountable. That’s when we need the advice of faithful followers of God like Joshua and Caleb. In Numbers 14:6-9 they tell the Israelites not to be afraid, that the Lord will give them the land; that it is a good land; that the Lord is with them and they should not be afraid. Numbers 14:24 tells us that Caleb “has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly.” This is the type of counsel we need to encourage us on the path that the Lord has laid before us. If we let fear instead of faith dominate our actions, we may miss what God has in store for us.

Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. – Numbers 14:30-31 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 16, 2010

The author of life created us with a purpose. He gives us the words in the Bible to define our life. Yet too often we choose the sinful words from this world to describe our existence. We build our life story around temporal things that lack meaning and purpose, settling for a life that’s disoriented and distant from Christ.

Galatians 5:16-26 reminds us that there are two sets of words to live by – those that describe the sinful nature and those of the Spirit. Verse 17 tells us “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that “you do not do what you want to do.”(NIV) It’s a daily struggle to choose the right words to build a life story around Christ.

The Message translation of the Bible gives us a striking list of words that describes the sinful nature in verses 19-21: “repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” You don’t have to look far to see these words in the world today and the kind of story they tell about a life caught up in the sinful nature.

If we live by the Spirit our lives will tell a different story, a story that reads as it was originally written before it was edited and revised according to the sinful nature. Verses 22-23 tell us the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” It’s interesting that verse 23 ends with “Against such things there is no law.” Laws abound around trying to control the sinful nature.

The story of a life lived with the Spirit will bear fruit that communicates Christ clearly to others. In the struggle to write our life story each day according to God’s design, let us carefully choose our words. Paul advises us in Gal. 5:24, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

There’s a phrase “putting down roots” that describes someone settling down in a place. I have heard this phrase used to describe people I know who have finally settled in one place after jumping from job to job and one town to another. But do we think of this phrase in the spiritual sense as settling down with God?

To settle down with God is to focus on building a relationship with him. It means putting down roots deep into his scripture; spending focused time in prayer with God; drawing deeply from solid relationships with other believers. The challenge is to not get distracted by customs and beliefs in this world that can uproot our faith in Jesus. This is what happened repeatedly to the Israelites in the Old Testament. Psalm 106:34-35 tells us how the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God by mingling with other nations and adopting their customs.

When we put down roots with God we secure ourselves to his eternal grace and love. The deeper our faith in him, the more we can draw on God’s strength and not our own; the better prepared we’ll be for the storms of life. Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit (NIV).”

In the last chapters of the book of Ezekiel, Israel is in exile and the prophet Ezekiel is given a detailed vision of the restoration of the temple and Israel (chapters 40-48). In 47:8 there is a description of water flowing from the temple into the Dead Sea. The result is that “the salty water there becomes fresh.” Verse 9 tells us that “where the river flows everything will live.”

This is a compelling picture of how God’s living water brings life to formerly dead things. Because of the water from the temple of God, plants bear fruit for food and “leaves for healing (verse 12).” As believers in Jesus Christ we can do the same for people in our lives. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).” 

In the course of our day we can let living water flow from the temple within us (1 Cor. 3:16)  to touch people we encounter with the Spirit of God. We can bring fresh water to people who are wading through the saltwater swamps and marshes of life (Ezekiel 47:9-11).

A friend of mine has been in ministry for more than 40 years. Recently we were together and I relished hearing him tell about how several people he impacted with his ministry over the decades were now coming together to create a new ministry that he would lead. It reminded me of the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4. Here were small seeds, sown years ago, about to mature into a mighty plant with strong branches bearing much fruit. This is the longview of the Kingdom of God.

What’s intriguing to me about the parable of the mustard seed is the parable that precedes it. In Mark 4:26-29 Jesus talked about a farmer scattering seed on the ground. Verse 25 tells us, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grow.” The next verse tells us that the seed matures and bears fruit even though the farmer “does not know how.” He then proceeds to harvest the crop. 

Couple this parable with its companion parable in verses 30-32 and you get a powerful image of how God can turn small things into a large, fruitful thing for the Kingdom of God. In this parable, Jesus talked about how a small mustard seed, when planted, “grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” So big in fact that “the birds can perch in its shade.”

The common thread weaving through both of these parables is the action of planting. In both instances, the seed must be planted in order for it to grow, but it is God that actually grows the seed to enable it to be fruitful and useful. Too often we focus on trying to create the big thing first without waiting on God to grow and mature it from first sowing the small seeds.

In these parables Jesus reminded us that often the work of the Kingdom of God is found in the small things. We should not ignore the work of sowing the seed of the gospel into the lives of people we encounter each day. Even the smallest of seeds can eventually mature into something powerful for God. When we see the fruit it bears years later we are amazed that God could grow something that large from something so small. 

Jesus reminded us in these parables that it is God who transforms the seed of the gospel into mature and fruitful believers in Jesus. We are to be obedient in responding to God’s leading to sow the gospel into the hearts and minds of people in our lives, no matter how small and insignificant the encounter might seem. As my friend found out decades later, many of the small seeds he had sown over the years now were maturing to bear fruit and provide for people in ways he never dreamed possible.

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I have always admired the way Joseph kept his focus on God even though his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Throughout Genesis 39-45, from the point Joseph is sold by his brothers to when he is reconciled with his brothers, Joseph continually lets his devotion to God guide his decisions. Yet there is one passage of scripture in all these chapters on Joseph that is easy to miss yet very thought-provoking.

In Genesis 41, after Pharaoh has placed Joseph as second in command of all of Egypt, he has two sons. When the second son is born Joseph remarks in verse 52, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (NIV).” Even though he has become a powerful ruler of Egypt, he still calls it “the land of my suffering.” He is beginning to see how God has used his suffering to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Joseph’s statement in verse 52 causes me to ask if I can see God’s fruit in the land of my suffering. Too often I am focused on the agony and not on what purpose God might have for my pain. In the midst of our enslavement and imprisonment in the land of our suffering, be mindful of the fruit God is ripening for his glory.

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