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Keys to A New Beginning (2)

Deuteronomy 1:1-6
Numbers 14:2,3; 20:2-4
1 Corinthians 10:1-12

Jim Davis

A preacher who had never sailed before told about going sailing with his friend. When he got in the sailboat, he was like most landlubbers. He saw the sailboat only as a means of transportation--like driving to work. He thought their purpose was to get to the next docking place as fast as possible. But his friend had a much different about sailing. He was in no hurry at all. In fact, he took great delight in sailing his boat. The winds and waves were a challenge to him. As a true sailor, he received as much enjoyment from sailing as he did from reaching the destination.

We often feel the same way about our journey to heaven as that preacher did about sailing. Thinking only of how wonderful it will be when we arrive, we become impatient and dissatisfied in the trials of this life. So we miss out on much of what God has to offer in the immediate challenges. Great spiritual blessings can be ours as we face life's challenges. There are truths to be discovered, battles to be won, lessons to be learned, and spiritual delights to be enjoyed along the way.

Israel missed out on much of what God had to offer as they journeyed through the wilderness. They didn't know how to enjoy the challenges growth required along the way. In Deuteronomy Moses reveals that it took Israel 40 years to make an eleven-day trip. Moses writes, "It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road." (Deuteronomy 1:1-3). Kadesh Barnea is on the border of Canaan; it is an eleven-day journey from Horeb. Yet, Israel took forty years to get beyond it.

This eleven-day journey on foot would be nothing for our space age. But it took them forty years to make the trip. It wasn't the distance traveled that made it a long journey. Their trip was much like the woman who was asked by a coworker: "Well, I hope you enjoyed your three week vacation?" The woman responded, "Have you ever spent three weeks in a van with people you thought you loved?" Israel had wondered forty years in the wilderness and they did not see it as a vacation from gathering straw and making bricks.

Their forty-year wilderness journey wasn’t like the sail boat ride. Israel’s wilderness journey could have been as exciting and challenging as a sail boat ride. They were not enjoying the challenges the trip offered. They were like many of us who hate the challenges we face as we seek to live for God.

What took them so long to make an eleven-day trip? Was it their enemies? Was it their circumstances? Was it their trials and tribulations along the way? Or, was it something entirely different that prevented them from arriving at their destination?

Do Not Be Uninformed

Israel's deliverance from the bondage of slavery in Egypt--was almost as miraculous as our deliverance from the bondage of sin through Christ. The amazing thing for me is that the journey to the Promise Land is just as treacherous for me is it was for them.

Paul speaks of Israel's failure to reach the Promise Land after their Exodus from Egypt as a warning for all of us.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
"For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

"Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did-- and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did-- and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did-- and were killed by the destroying angel.

"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (NIV).

Paul says I don't want you to be uninformed--the same thing can happen to Christians. The Christians in Corinth weren't enjoying their Christian journey either. Egos were running rampant. Dissension was so rampant that Paul told them that they would be better off to stay at home than to come to church and act as they acted (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). They had lost sight of Christ as they came together to break bread in memory of him. Paul told them that their assemblies did more harm than good.

Paul warned the Corinthians that many of the Israelites were overthrown in the wilderness. God had saved all of them from Egyptian slavery but he was displeased with most of them. These things serve as examples to all of us even when you think everything is fine.

They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea . . . The night before God parted the Red Sea for Israel to cross, God came between the Egyptians and the Israelites in a cloud. The Egyptians only saw darkness while Israel enjoyed the light. Paul referred to God overshadowing Israel with a cloud and crossing of the Red Sea as a baptism into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. He compares it to our baptism into Christ.

Paul says that they were also following Christ as their spiritual rock. They ate the same spiritual food . . . they drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the same spiritual rock . . . that rock was Christ. Paul sees Christ as the key to a proper interpretation of the Old Testament, for the writings of Moses and the prophets all pointed to Christ. Therefore they were following Christ. Christ was seeking to lead them to the Promise Land, just as he seeks to lead us to the Promise Land.

Unfortunately, Israel was like many of us who have been baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:26,27). They enjoyed the same supernatural food that we do, but it gave them indigestion. It took them a lifetime to make an eleven-day trip. Sadly many of them didn't reach the Promise Land, including Moses.

Paul was concerned that many in the church at Corinth would never make it to the Promise Land. I am concerned that many I preach to may not make it. I am concerned about making it to the Promise Land, myself.

Paul warns us saying, ""These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

It's scary to realize that most of the people who failed in Scriptures failed in the second half of their lives. When Moses struck the rock in anger, it was at the very near the end of the forty years wandering in the wilderness. It cost him the Promise Land.

King Saul’s demise happened in the last years of his life.

1 Samuel 15:10-11
"Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions." Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night" (NIV).

Solomon’s heart was drawn away from God, as he grew old.

1 Kings 11:4-6
"As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done" (NIV).

These things serve as our reminder.

Romans 15:4
"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (NIV).

Initially, I am taken back when I observe Israel's wilderness journey. They wandered around the same mountain for forty years. After all they had witnessed, they failed to reach the Promise Land. It had nothing to do with the harsh wilderness they found themselves in. It had nothing to do with bad leadership. It had nothing to do with lack of opportunity. It had nothing to do with their lack of ability. It had nothing to do with an unwillingness to be baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. It had nothing to do with not having a God-given direction.

Hindrances to Moving On

Moses writes, "The LORD our God said to us at Horeb, "You have stayed long enough at this mountain" (Deuteronomy 1:6 NIV). Have you ever felt like, "I have been here long enough, Lord let me move on?" There are many things that hinder us from moving on with our lives.

All the Israelites could see was their limitations. Take note of how negative these people were. They were complaining ready to give up easily. They preferred bondage to the challenges that were ahead of them. They preferred bondage to the Promised Land.

Numbers 14:2-4
All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 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" (NIV).

If we think that we have a bleak future, we will tend to glorify the past. Israel longed for the good old days. It is easy to develop this mindset. It is difficult for these slaves who were forced to feed their babies to the crocodiles to believe that their future held something better. It was extremely difficult to believe that they could overcome the lure of Egypt.

Too often our past and present take control of our future because we rather hold on to what we have than entrust our future to God. We know what we have and we are not willing to invest it in our future. Too often when we do make an investment in our future we begin to wish we hadn't.

We have a hard time moving on because it is difficult to relinquish control of our lives. The only way we know how to face the fears of this world is to feel as if we are in control. We may have ourselves convinced that we are in control of our present lives. However, stepping out on faith requires relinquishing control of our lives. It requires surrendering your future to God.

If your focus is centered upon yourself, the smallest risk is too great, because you realize that both success and failure can destroy you. If your life is centered upon God, then no risk is too great, because success is already guaranteed--the successful union of creator and creature, beside which everything else is meaningless. (Morris L. West in The Shoes of the Fisherman. Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 3.)

The idols of this world seem to give us something tangible to hold on to. Aaron sought to give Israel a tangible representation of their gods.

Exodus 32:1-4
"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.’

"Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt’" (NIV).

Their unbelief hindered God's plan. It was difficult for them to believe that God really knew what he was doing. He was leading them to the Promised Land, but their unbelief hindered God's plan.

Hebrews 3:16-19
"Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief" (NIV).

They were not trusting God at all. The psalmist writes, "Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun" (Psalms 37:5-6 NIV).

It was easier for Israel to believe they would fail than it was believe in God's ability to lead them to the Promise Land. They had a negative mindset that led them to believe they would fail even before they got started. They were like many of us. They thought with God’s leading the circumstances they faced would be much different. They expected perfect circumstances.

When God sets us free--freedom requires us to develop a new way of thinking. "The problem is never how to get new, imaginative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.

"Every mind is a room packed with archaic furniture. You must get the old furniture of what you know, think and believe, out before anything new can get in. Make an empty space in any corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it." (Dee Hock, the visionary leader of VISA.)

A woman found a unique picture at a garage sale? It didn’t go with her décor at home, but she bought it anyway. She took it home and found a special place for it. Within five years the picture gradually transformed the whole décor of her home as she bought other things to match that one "cheap" painting she found at the garage sale. This is the way we must change our thinking.

The prophet Jonah was sulking in disappointment when he preached to Nineveh. His failure was the result of a lack of imagination; it was a failure of heart. He had no idea what God was doing--the largeness of his love and mercy and salvation. He had reduced his vocation down to his own performance--he was in the right place, doing the right thing--but he interpreted everything through his Jonah ideas, his Jonah desires. (Eugene Peterson, Leadership, Vol. 14, no. 1.)

Jonah had a child-sized plan that did not pan out; God was enacting a huge destiny that surprised everyone.

This was precisely Israel’s problem.

Numbers 20:2-5
"Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, "If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD's community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!" (NIV).

These verses tell us what was in the mind of the Israelites when they were very near the end of the forty years of wilderness wanderings. They had been here before. Ten spies had brought back an evil report about the Promised Land. They failed to enter at God's command. They decided not to obey God.

Repeating the same attitudes that bring failure over and over will keep us wandering in the wilderness. They have repeated this same behavior several times before. When they were only three days out of Egypt the people began to complain, but now nearly forty years later they are still complaining. Their complaints always resulted in the judgment of God upon them for their hardness of heart.

Surprisingly, God furnishes them with water even though they complained. God is working with them in every conceivable way to bring them to the Promise Land.

Somehow we never see God in failure, but only in success--a strange attitude for people who have the cross as the center of their faith.

Quite often the absence of immediate success is the mark of a genuine call. Failure tests our ability to trust God. Our willingness to press on despite our failure often reveals a genuine call. So we shouldn’t get discouraged if we don’t first succeed. Maturity is pressing toward the mark; immaturity is complacency and self-satisfaction.

A newfound freedom always creates a lot of excitement. Do you remember when you first got your drivers license. How exciting is driving now for some of you who have been driving for years? Excitement will cause us to set out for one place and settle for another. The energy received from the goosebumps of excitement will not sustain you.

Excitement will carry you for a little while, but it will not take you across the finish line. A new venture is always exciting simply because it is new. Have you ever noticed how exciting a new hobby is? Give it a few months for the excitement to wear off, and drudgery will set in. Then we are looking for a hobby with a little more excitement.


Some things that appear dangerous are actually much less hazardous than their safer-looking alternatives. Commercial airline travel, for instance, is 30 times safer than transportation by car. It may not seem that way to the person who would rather fight rush hour traffic on the ground than ride a solitary Boeing 747 at 35,000 feet.

Being carried by tons of metal thrust through the air by huge jet engines is actually safer than being pulled along in an 8-cylinder machine that never leaves the ground. The same thing is true in our journey through life. Following the Lord may seem perilous. But in reality it is the safest way to travel through life.

Paul wanted Timothy to experience that same security. He reminded him to be sensitive to the Spirit's leading. He explained to him that a path that involves suffering for Christ is ultimately safer than all other alternatives. That's why Paul could declare with confidence, "I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day" (2 Timothy 1:12).


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