Meanderings

Fear, Optimism, or Faith

Reflections on
Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 13 and 14

These next few weeks our church, Pinehurst United Methodist Church, will be praying carefully about the immediate and long-term needs for our community of faith.  The theme for this season of discernment is “Bound for the Promised Land” and recalls this 18th century American dream:

On [Jordan’s] stormy banks I stand, and cast a wishful eye to Canaan’s
fair and happy land, where my possessions lie.
I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land;
oh, who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land.

When I shall reach that happy place, I’ll be forever blest,
for I shall see my Father’s face, and in his bosom rest.
I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land;
oh, who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land.

(“On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” The United Methodist Hymnal, #724, vs 1 & 4)

Samuel Stennett, the hymn’s author, was reminding our new nation of the story of God’s children wandering in the wilderness in anticipation of crossing over Jordan in the Promised Land.  Our community of faith is now 11 years old, we sometimes act like the adolescent we are, and we stand poised to take another big step in our journey together.  Let’s turn to a moment of decision faced by Moses and the children of Israel as they looked over Jordan to Canaan’s fair and happy land.

The LORD said to Moses: “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites; from each of their ancestral tribes you shall send a man, every one a leader among them” (Numbers 13:1).

The leaders are gathered by Moses and commissioned:

Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, “Go up there into the Negeb, and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether
they are few or many, and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the towns that they live in are unwalled or fortified, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not.  Be bold, and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now it was the season of the first ripe grapes (Number 13:17-20).

The spies return and bring the following report to Moses and the people of Israel:

And they told [Moses], “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large (Numbers 13:27-28).

To recap the facts of the story to this point:

  • God has brought the children of Israel out of Egypt,
  • God had defeated Egypt’s pursuing army at the Red Sea,
  • God said to Moses here is the land send spies to bring back the good news,
  • The spies were sent, spent 40 days scouting out Canaan’s fair and happy land,
  • The spies returned with a report of a land flowing with milk and honey that was inhabitated by strong people behind fortified walls.

It seems to me that there are three responses for the children of God at this point.

The voice of fear responds by saying:  The Promised Land is flowing with milk and honey, the fruit of the land is bountiful, BUT the people are strong, the cities fortified, and we cannot win.  This is the response of the 10 spies.

The voice of faith responds by saying:  The Promised Land is flowing with milk and honey, the fruit is bountiful, AND the people are strong, the cities are fortified, AND God is with us. This is the response of Joshua and Caleb.

There is another response that was not explored, but needs mention.

A voice of optimism responds by saying:  The Promised Land is flowing with milk and honey, the fruit is bountiful, each person can choose their home place for themselves, and we will live long and prosper, and let’s go (the optimist says nothing about the giants, and then the people are shocked to discover giants).!

I believe we stand before a fear or faith decision.  We are not “wild-eyed optimists” about our endeavor, we do not have rose-colored glasses on that distort the nature of the task, and we are not youthful dreamers wishing a “big what if…”  We have done our homework, we spied out the land, and the moment of decision is at hand.  I think we are ready to make a decision of faith remembering that faith is defined this way:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

I have an assurance that we can accomplish this next round of building expansion and bring on some new staff to build program.  I have confidence that when that is completed we will begin to taste the fruit of our ministry with children and youth, that we will expand our mission and outreach in our community, and that people will come to know that this place
where God smiles at our faithfulness. I am convinced that God smiles on a church that seeks the joy-filled, connecting and transforming power of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they step into the unknown.

  • I see increased worship opportunities where we are embraced by God’s grace.
  • I see increased moments for fellowship that shape us into the character of Christ.
  • I see enlarged territories where we are humbly led by the Holy Spirit into mission.

We are Bound for the Promised Land

Come and go with me to that land,

Come and go with me to that land,

Come and go with me to that land where I’m bound.