Ash Wednesday 2014

These are my notes for a message I brought to Sycamore Tree Church on March 5, 2014

40 Days to the Promised Land

Numbers 13:1-2 says The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” . . .

So Moses did. He selected 12 men and sent them to explore the land God had promised to give them. Here they were just about one year after they’d been delivered from slavery and oppression in Egypt, right on the edge of a land God had promised would be better than their wildest dreams.

That’s where many of us are today. God has promised us an amazing life. Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came to give life overflowing, but for some reason we tend to just hand things over to the thief instead. Edmund Burke said that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. So this Ash Wednesday, I’m giving you the chance to learn from history rather than repeat it.

You see, the Israelites had this same forty days to prepare for the best life possible as you do. Yep, Lent is forty days long, just like the spies journey to explore the Promised Land. It begins today and ends on Palm Sunday. Those 12 guys had an opportunity to see all the goodness that God was going to give them. It was their job to find the places to be strategic and creative in taking what God had already given them.

Did you hear that? It was their job to explore the land God had already given them. It was theirs for the taking! But when they came back we realize they’d spent their forty days in vain. Look at what Numbers 13 goes on to say:

21 So they went up and explored the land . . . 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol,[a] they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. . . . 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.
26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. . . .

Forty days wasted. Instead of being excited that God was just going to hand over a land with a single bunch of grapes so big it took two guys to carry it, they chose to dwell on the huge forts and big guys. These guys let fear rob them of the abundant life God wanted to give them. So instead of entering a land with abundance beyond the imagination, they wandered around in the desert for forty years.

And that’s what happens to us. God asks us to do something different, to move out of our comfort zone. He promises us that life will be better on the other side, but we choose to embrace the fear, to stay stuck in the desert and wander in the wilderness, instead of trusting Jesus to lead us into that land of abundance.

Forty days. That’s what we’re looking at here. Six short weeks. And you get to choose. Will you step across the border of the Promised Land on Easter or will you choose to live in the desert for who knows how long?

The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. Their fear delayed their children’s blessing by forty years. Even Joshua and Caleb, the only two guys who truly believed God meant what He said had to wait for the promise. Yes, your fear can hold back more than just you.

But you don’t have to follow in the footsteps of the Israelites. You don’t have to wander in the desert. You could go against the grain and take the advice of Caleb. When everyone was terrified, and those 10 spies were sharing the disheartening news, when everyone was mumbling and murmuring and you could feel the dread of those big guys and bigger cities setting in, Caleb spoke up:

30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said,
“We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

How might life have been different for Israel if they’d have given up their fear and listened to Caleb instead? Jesus wants you to have an amazing abundant life, and I want you to have an amazing abundant life. REALLY! This Ash Wednesday, you can choose to be like Caleb and take possession of the land God has already given you, or you can choose to be like the Israelites. You can continue to live in your fear, just stay right where you are, make no changes, and be comfortable in your misery.

I believe that God is calling each person here to change something in these next forty days. I shared earlier this year that just a few months ago God called me to give up my late nights so He could bring me to the land of early mornings. It wasn’t an easy thing for me to give up, but it was definitely worth it.

What is God calling you to give up during this forty days? Do you have some fear you need to give up? Is there some activity that you are doing that isn’t honoring Christ? Can you go forty days without it? Did you just think, “There is no way I can do that?”

I challenge you today to walk through the door into the Promised Land, explore it for the next forty days. Yep, there will be some big scary things trying to keep us from succeeding. Remember, there’s thief that wants to kill, steal and destroy. But don’t be like those ten spies. Don’t look at the size of the Anakites. Look instead at the magnitude and majesty of the One who promised to give us all we need to experience life abundant.

I challenge you to join me on the road to the Promised Land that God is giving us. It’s a Forty Day journey, but you can make it, especially if you’re walking with all these people who want to get there. Together we can encourage one another to focus on Christ and not worry about the giants.

On the way in, each of you should have received a piece of paper. On it, I’m hoping you’ll write what God has been telling you is the one thing that is keeping you out of the promised land. Maybe you’re like the Israelites and it’s fear of the giants. Maybe it’s some other fear. Perhaps it’s an object or a person. Whatever it is, write it on that paper and bring it up here. Show Jesus that you’re committed to walk with Him into abundance and you’re not going to be held back by that thing that keeps you from the life He wants you to live.

I pray we’ll be more like Caleb and Joshua than the ten who were too afraid to enter the Promised Land. May we always be able to see the beauty of what God is planning to give us, and that the promises He’s made are much bigger and stronger than any enemy we will ever encounter.

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