The 10 Spies and Fear

“But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land.” – Numbers 14:24. 

Fear does not advance the kingdom of God, but faith does. We see that illustrated in Numbers 13 and 14. If you’re not familiar with the story here is a quick summary.  

The Israelites are standing on the edge of the land that God had promised to give them. These people had experienced firsthand the delivering power of God when He set them free from slavery in Egypt, the sustaining power of God as He provided for them during their journey through the desert, and the power of God’s presence as He led them through the desert via a cloud of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night. God’s faithfulness to the Israelites was proven time and time again, even when it didn’t seem possible. 

In Numbers 13, they finally stood at the end of their long journey. God commanded Moses to send some men out ahead of them to spy out the land (13:1-2). Moses sends out twelve spies (13:3-20). The spies were gone for forty days and while there they observed two things. First, the land was beautiful and fruitful. Second, the people who inhabited the land were huge and powerful (13:21-24).

When they came back with their report to give to Moses and the people, ten of the spies, in fear, said that the Israelites would be foolish to try and go up against the strong armies that inhabited the land. However, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, in faith, said they’d be foolish not to go up and take what God had promised to give them (13:25-33). Fear won the day.  As a result, that generation of Israelites didn’t inherit what God had promised. They spent the next forty years wandering in the desert instead of experiencing the power and faithfulness of God in the promised land.

Discouragement always focuses on circumstances, while faith focuses on the promises of God, assured that His nature and character will back up the promise. It was the same attitude that Abraham had when God promised him a son at the time when most men are thinking of anything but converting a spare room into a nursery.

Caleb at age 85 asked to lead the assault in taking one of the most difficult areas in all of Canaan. He went for the toughest task to demonstrate that giants were not invincible, that the bigger they are the harder they fall, and regardless of how strong you may or may not be when God chooses to give you power over your enemies, even the Goliaths come tumbling down. Before you decide that the promises of God may apply to others but not you, read about Caleb and ask yourself if the God who gave Caleb his heart’s desire is indifferent to what He has promised you.

Remember, faith always sees the promises of God as certain–as though they had already taken place. It sees what others cannot grasp, because faith sees God, not the circumstances.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you looking toward the future with fear or faith? 
  2. What happens to us inside when we overemphasize negative things? How does our negativity influence others? Give an example from your experience.

Faith Versus Fear

“For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.“– Isaiah 41:13.   

Fear, panic, uncertainty… it’s understandable that people are concerned. Sometimes fears are irrational, while other times our fears are warranted. However, as people of faith, Jesus’ followers are not to let fear overwhelm us. We are called to walk by faith, not fear. This is much easier said than done, so how can we keep fear from consuming our lives – especially when facing very legitimate fear and uncertainties?

The benefits of a life without fear hardly have to be stated. Most people would agree that the benefits of living in peace would be incalculable. But fear is a constant obstacle to living in peace. But rather than looking for suggestions and solutions to overcoming your fear and anxiety, what if you replaced your fear with faith.  

We can’t eliminate all of life’s uncertainties, but we can change our response. We can move from living stuck in fear to stepping out in courage and faith. What’s the key?  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus knew that we would be afraid. That is why we read “fear not” over and over again in the Bible. God knows that we alone cannot overcome our fears. Fortunately His love and grace enable us to conquer our fears. The good news is God does not want us living in fear. Remember His power, love, presence, and trustworthiness. Remember His faithfulness.  The reality is that Christ is with us and He is at work in and through us. He is on our side, protecting us always.

Jesus asks us to turn our fear over to Him.  Replace that fear with the love, power, and sound mind that He did give us. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) His presence is the answer to our fear.  Fight fear with a faithful, indescribable God. The only way to deal with fear is to face it head-on before it takes over your life. Trust that God is for us and if God is for us what do we have to fear?  “I  prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

Fear is always going to be a part of this thing called faith. But when faith and fear collide, faith wins the day.  John Wesley said, “I have never known more than fifteen minutes of anxiety or fear. Whenever I feel fearful emotions overtaking me, I just close my eyes and thank God that He is still on the throne reigning over everything, and I take comfort in His control over all the affairs of my life.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What fears do you have in your life today? 
  2. What can we do this week to give those fears to God? 

Walking With God

“Hebron still belongs to the descendants of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite because he wholeheartedly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.” Joshua 14:14

Caleb isn’t the most well-known name in the Bible. His story is one of disappointment and dreams deferred, yet Caleb is a powerful example of perseverance, faith, and finishing strong. We read about Caleb and Joshua in the Old Testament book of Numbers. 

God commanded Moses to send out 12 spies (one from each of the tribes of Israel) to the land of Canaan, the land God had promised the Israelites when He led them out of slavery from Egypt. After 40 days, the 12 spies returned and brought back a report of the land that they had just scouted out. All 12 agreed that the land was good, really good. However, the agreement stopped there. The spies other than Caleb and Joshua focused on the size of the enemy they found there, rather than on the promise that God had given them that the land would be theirs. The 10 spies’ negative report shook up the people to the point where they decided it might be better to go back to Egypt.

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb were angry and frustrated. In spite of that, Joshua and Caleb tried to encourage the discouraged Israelites. “They said to the whole community of Israel, “The land we explored is very good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us. This is a land flowing with milk and honey! Don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. We will devour them like bread. They have no protection, and the Lord is with us. So don’t be afraid of them.” (Number 14:7-9)

Caleb and Joshua were so confident in the promise God had given to them, that the large stature of the enemy seemed insignificant to them. They knew God had promised this land to them and they knew that God was with them which would have led to their victory.

Forty years later and at 85 years old, Joshua led the people into the promised land. Caleb had every right to let the years of waiting and disappointment make him bitter and cynical. After all, Caleb had the faith to move ahead when the majority did not. As a result, Caleb also suffered in the wilderness for forty years – waiting. But Caleb demonstrated an eagerness and confidence as he prepared to step into the promised land. Caleb kept his eyes on God rather than on the challenges in front of him. Even when life didn’t go as planned, Caleb held onto his faith. So when Joshua offered him an opportunity to overcome the toughest enemy in the promised land, he said, “…if the Lord is with me, I will drive them out of the land, just as the Lord said.” (Numbers 14:12) 

There’s no better time than right now to begin walking with God. Because a strong finish begins with a strong faith. So, why don’t you make that faith decision and start today? Who knows? You may be conquering huge challenges at 85, just like Caleb.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you putting God first in your life like Caleb? In what areas has God tested you in this?
  2. What do we need to do differently to follow God wholeheartedly?

The Thing About Righteousness

“Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens.You have done such wonderful things. Who can compare with you, O God?”  – Psalm 71:19.

Righteousness is one of those religious words that has become in many ways a cliche. It is thrown around the church as if everyone knows what it means. But do we? What does it mean to be righteous? How do we become righteous? Does it mean simply “being good?”  

The answer to the question in Psalm 71, who is righteous like God, is an easy one. No one. Only God is righteous because by definition righteousness means to be perfect. This means that God is always right, He is never wrong and everything that He does is justified. Every one of us is guilty of sin so none of us are righteous. 

Nor can we ever live up to God’s standard of righteousness. Psalm 19: 7-9 says, “The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living. Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair.”

No human being is “good enough” to earn righteousness in God’s sight. The Bible confirms what we already know: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23). Because we all sin, it is impossible to be “right” with God based on our own merits. Our lives are so full of sins, shortcomings, and failures that the Bible says: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6). We sin far too often to be righteous before God on our own.

Jesus came to make us righteous. Romans 5:1 (TPT) says, “Our faith in Jesus transfers God’s righteousness to us and he now declares us flawless in his eyes. This means we can now enjoy true and lasting peace with God, all because of what our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, has done for us.” Romans 5:19 adds, “Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.”  

Jesus took our sin, our shame, our broken fellowship and gave us His righteousness, His holiness and His perfect nature in the exchange. It is not based on anything we can do and have ever done, it is based solely on what Jesus did. Paul tells us, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). It simply means that when God looks at us, He sees us through Jesus Christ and His finished work of the cross. We are completely accepted by God and are clothed with Jesus’ righteousness. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define righteousness?  
  2. What are some advantages of righteousness? 

Love Like Jesus

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” – John 15:12-14. 

 Are you passionate about Jesus because He changed your life? Are you undone by His love, crazy about His grace, overwhelmed by His mercy, and want your life to be a continual reflection of Him? That’s what we want to be about.  It starts with love. 

What if we made it our mission?  What if it stopped being about everything we receive and became about what we can give? What if, when we feel slighted or excluded from a situation, we do not hold tight to bitterness or fear and still offer love freely like Jesus?

Wouldn’t that be incredible? To be the people who love more, forgive freely, give grace abundantly, and walk in a confidence that stems from the ever-flowing love of Jesus? That would be the gospel in action. 

Ephesians 5:1-2 in the Passion Translation (TPT) says, “Follow God and imitate all he does in everything you do, for then you will represent your Father as his beloved sons and daughters. And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance in heaven and earth.”  

“…Continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ…” Paul is asking us to imitate God’s forgiving love into action in our lives. And then, to strengthen His instruction, Paul pointed us to the individual who can be an example of what walking in love looks like for us: Christ Jesus. Imitating the love of Christ means we don’t love others part of the time, or as an exception to the rule or as a religious duty on Sundays. We are to love our neighbors, whether they live in our home, sit in the next cubicle or live miles away. We are not to love others once in a while, or as an exception to the rule, or as some kind of special religious duty. Rather, love is to be our way of life, our daily pattern of behavior. Imitation means loving as God loves. 

We need the power of God to love as He does.  Fortunately, He gave us that power. The Holy Spirit living within us is His power for us to use. We need only to allow Him to live in us, guiding and convicting us, He provides the strength and power to help us fulfill His love commandments.  Philippians 2:13 says, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

 Not that loving like Jesus is easy. Jesus sets the bar ridiculously high. To love like Jesus takes action and commitment.  Underneath it all, we need the desire and motivation to love like Him. Try to be mindful each day and look for opportunities to show His love. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we imitate the love of Jesus in our daily lives?  
  2. How can we do this week to walk in love?

God Is For Us

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 

At low points in our lives, we may be tempted to think we don’t really matter to God. The struggles of earthly life can sometimes overwhelm us, and cause us to feel like God is far away.  But when we come to grips with the overwhelming evidence that God loves and cares for us we realize that He will never leave or forsake us: we can find real security in the arms of our Heavenly Father.  

We matter to God. He knows each of us intimately and loves us in spite of our sins, failures, and weaknesses. No matter where we are in life, He still cares for us, and His promises have never failed. 

Look at 1 John 3:1-3: “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.”

Sure we know in our head that God is for us, that there’s great hope in His relationship with us and salvation for us. And God is patient. Patient probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of God. We might think of faithful or powerful and love. God cares about us so He is patient.

As Christians, God doesn’t show us patience based on our behavior – patience is who He is. He said so Himself: “I am the Lord God. I am merciful and very patient with my people. I show great love, and I can be trusted.” (Exodus 34:6 CEV). By offering us His patience, He offers us Himself. We don’t “deserve” patience and we sure can’t earn it. God is patient because He will never cease to be who He is. And get this: because God’s nature is unchanging, He was and is and always will be patient with us.

Peter, of all people, knew God’s patience: “The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.” (2 Peter 3:9 CEV). A couple of verses later, Peter says, “… our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved.” (2 Peter 3:15). 

As I reflect on His patience toward me – toward us – I remember He is still patiently waiting for others. This journey of experiencing God’s patience isn’t solely for ourselves or to “learn a lesson.” Though He does show He cares about us. But God cares about those far from the heart of God. We should extend His patience with everyone who crosses our path.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you know that God cares for you? 
  2. What can  you do this week to extend the patience of God to others? 

The Gospel

“The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.” – Tim Keller

What exactly do Christians mean when they talk about the “gospel of Jesus Christ?” Since the word “gospel” means “good news,” when Christians talk about the gospel, they’re simply telling the good news about what Jesus Christ has done to reconcile sinners to God. Jesus Christ gave His life as the price for this fallen and broken world. He is the good news we need to help us restore our lives. Jesus, more than anything, wants to be a part of our lives and build a relationship with us.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ refers to Jesus dying on the cross and rising again three days later. It’s Jesus taking upon Himself the guilt and shame of our sins and offering us the free gift of forgiveness and an eternal relationship with God the Father in Heaven. In other words, it’s an indescribable peace and assurance, love and acceptance that we can never earn or deserve alone.

In a world that seems to be an endless stream of bad news, the Gospel offers hope. The truth of the Gospel means that no matter what kind of suffering you are facing, no matter the difficulty, set-back, illness, grief or heartache – there is hope. Why? Because Jesus has risen and that makes all the difference. No matter how circumstances unfold, Jesus is victorious. Jesus is bigger. Jesus will walk you through all of life’s ups and downs.

The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social change. Change won’t happen through “trying harder” but only through encountering the radical grace of God.

Another thing that makes the gospel unique is that when the story does seem to get stale or boring. After a few years as a Christian, we believe we “get it” We understand the story. Only to spend some time in the Bible and discover an even deeper appreciation for and respect for the gospel. The story gets richer the more you engage it. The gospel is a song that gets sweeter the longer you listen, a film that grows more epic as you rewatch, a photograph that glows brighter the longer you stare.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does the gospel mean to you generally? What does it mean on a daily basis?

We Need More Harvesters

“Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” – Matthew 9:35-38.

Jesus has been traveling all throughout Galilee, teaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. Not only that, He’s been healing diseases and casting out demons. Epileptics, paralytics have been healed and the blind received sight. A young girl has been raised from the dead. As the crowds watch this, they were amazed: “Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel!” they exclaimed.” (Matthew 9:33). Can you imagine what it would have been like to see this?

The Matthew 9 passage bridges the gap between Jesus’ ministry and ours so that we have the same kind of ministry that He had. In this passage we are asked to believe something and then given something to do.

First, we’re given something to believe. Jesus says in verse 37, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” He is telling us that the harvest is plentiful all around us. Do you believe that? There are many yet to be reached with the gospel of the kingdom, and there’s an urgency. They’re ready to hear, but are we ready to tell them. This is what He tells us to believe. Do you believe it?

He’s given us something to believe – that people are ready. Now He gives us something to do about it. Wouldn’t you expect that Jesus would say, “So get out there and tell them!” But that’s not what He said. Surprisingly, He said, “So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

Why would Jesus tell us to pray instead of doing something? He knows that before we have the ministry that He has, we must have the same prayerful reliance on the Father that He does. Before we have the compassion of Jesus, we must have the connection with the Father that Jesus has. It’s one thing for us to go and do. It’s another thing to pray to God that He would raise up people – either through conversion or growth – who are ready to go; to pray that God would give them a spirit for the work, call them to it, and give them wisdom and success.  

And when we start to believe that the harvest is plentiful and pray that He would send out workers, you never know if we may become the answers to our own prayers – that we would be the workers commissioned by the Lord of the harvest himself. So two questions:  Will you believe Jesus when he says that the harvest is plentiful? And will you pray, beginning today, that God would raise up people – maybe even you – to do His work?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe the harvest is plentiful? Why or why not? 
  2. How can we pray this week that there will be harvesters for the harvest?  

Some Assembly Required

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” – Philippians 4:6. 

“Some Assembly Required.” 

If you have assembled something that said “some assembly required” you know there are nuts and bolts and pieces of wood that don’t seem to belong anywhere in particular and it all becomes overwhelming. You are trying to do it all on your own and things are not staying together the way they are supposed to be. And then you stop and you see those directions out of the corner of your eye. You take a deep breath, and you begin again. This time you go slow. When you get lost, as you almost inevitably will in this scenario, you have to circle back and consult your instructions once again. And so it goes.

This is similar to our relationship with God. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been lost in situations where we are discouraged and stressed. It might have been in the midst of a loved one’s untreatable illness. Or we may have been navigating a devastating financial loss. Perhaps it was in the midst of a heart-wrenching relationship struggle. No matter the circumstances, we have found ourselves desperate and looking for the Christian instruction manual, the Bible, for peace and comfort. And then we come to the conclusion that all we can do is pray. We pray, it seems, as our last resort. We turn to it because everything else has failed and we reluctantly admit human effort and wisdom is not enough. And so we pray that God will do what we can not. The question is do we pray first or only as a last resort? 

What if we approached prayer as if it were the key ingredient to the “assembly required”solution, not just the after-thought? What if we were to pray as though we were seeking the help of a God who loves us and who has both the compassion and the power to intervene?

When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, our first response can and should be to pray. When we pray we express our helplessness to the one who is ever-present in times of trouble: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). And then we wait and watch and trust.

Pour out your heart to God. Just share with God what’s on your heart. Praise, confession, thankfulness, pray for others, guidance – all of these things, plus whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re going through…whatever is on your heart…pour it out to God. Whatever it is, I promise He’s big enough to handle it.

We need to take time to listen to God, and that’s what the written Word of God is for. Give God the chance to speak, to guide and direct you through His Word.

Jesus knew our tendency to try everything else first before we pray. He encouraged His followers to break out of that pattern and to go to God first, not last when “some assembly is required.” “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you do when “some assembly is required” in your life? 
  2. Do you pray first or last? What can you do this week to improve your prayer life?  

The Power Of Solitude

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.” – Mark 1:35-39

In the first chapter of his gospel, Mark talks about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He talks about people bringing all the sick and the demon-possessed to Jesus. Everybody wants to be around Jesus. It is probably chaotic at best. Very early the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed. Jesus needed the power of prayer. 

Jesus could’ve prayed anywhere, of course—and He often did pray in public, among crowds, where others could hear and perhaps participate. But the Gospels show us that He made solitude a priority. If He did, shouldn’t we?

Continually Jesus withdrew from people, daily life activities, and the demands of His ministry to be alone with the Father and pray. His ongoing, intimate relationship with His Father was a priority to Him. It’s how He began His ministry. It’s how He made important decisions. It’s how He dealt with the constant demands of His ministry.  

Solitude is not an escape from a busy life. It is not “me” time or a time for rest and relaxation. Solitude is the discipline of setting aside my daily cares so I can spend time in God’s transforming presence. It is an invitation to spend time away from the people and things in my life to be restored and renewed in God’s image. Usually, real solitude means getting up early: But there is no time of day when we’re not distracted by various things. Whether it’s the phone I have, the car I want, or the coffee refill that I need: it’s easy to find an excuse to delay spending some solitude with God praying. 

If you want to hear God, you must practice solitude. If you want fortitude in your life, a steadfastness that surpasses your circumstances, you must practice solitude. You are designed for time spent in the quiet, simply being with your heavenly Father.

So find a place where you can spend time with God free from distractions. Find a place where you know you won’t be interrupted. Second, give yourself an amount of time to spend with God. Solitude is a practice. The more you do it the better and more fulfilling it will become.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is it about the practice of solitude that excites us and/or creates fear?  
  2. What are some obstacles that keep us from regularly practicing solitude?