It’s the last Sunday of the most ridiculous year on record, and we face a very uncertain future in 2021. So what is the way ahead?
This New Year, not only do we have the corona virus, new strains, old strains, gives me Eye strains, but we also face in this country the greatest threat to our civil liberties and right to free speech in history, with laws coming through parliament, already in Victoria, forbidding your expressing a different opinion to the government on anything. So whether it’s homosexuality, transgendering, euthanasia or the legalised murder of babies in the womb which they call abortion, but which I call abhorrent, the government this year is threatening legislation to punish with jail terms anybody who even questions or expresses opinions contrary to their and the media’s decisions.
But I’m not afraid, I’m excited. I am believing that 2021 will be a year of mighty breakthrough for the Kingdom of God, and Ignite Church in particular. I’m believing that against all odds and despite the frustration of dealing with council, governments and regulations, God is going to open up a new, larger venue for us.
I SPY WITH MY INNER EYE
Numbers 13:25-32 (ESV)
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large.
And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”
But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.
All the spies saw the same thing. They all saw the fruitfulness and the quality of the land, and they all saw the large inhabitants. 10 saw the giants, the troubles and the defeats, but 2, Joshua and Caleb, saw with their inner eye. They saw victory and a land that was there for the taking. They saw through so called reality to God’s purposes and promises.
OVERCOMING THE ODDS
Coming into this year we face greater odds arrayed against us than ever before. I know so many Christians and even pastors who are worried, fearful, and figuring out ways to appease. But I’m excited, because last I saw,
1 John 4:4 (ESV)
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
We face enemies, we face giants, we face persecution, but let’s get exited like Caleb. 2021 is our moment to shine, because when the darkness gets darker the light shines brighter.
John 3:19-21 (ESV)
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
So let’s have a look at Caleb and how he, when push came to shove, believed God, and when the opportunity arose, he went for it!
So what is the way ahead?
CALEB… EYES OF FAITH
Caleb saw the same things the other spies saw, but he saw them through the eyes of faith. We need these eyes going into 2021.
Caleb faced the pressure to despair after his spy mission in Canaan. Ten of his fellow spies panicked when they saw the size of some of the people living in Canaan—enemies the Israelites would need to defeat in order to claim the promised land. “There’s no way we can beat them,” the other spies assessed. “They’re too powerful.”
Caleb’s scouting report reflected a different perspective. He wasn’t impressed by the size of the Anakites—he was bowled over by the power of the One who had held back the waters of the Red Sea. He didn’t fear the fighting force of the Amalekites—it paled in comparison to the artillery of the One who had brought Egypt to its knees.
He brushed aside doubts that God would protect the Israelites—this wasn’t any more of a challenge for God than the manna, quail and water he had provided in the desert.
Caleb surveyed the obstacles in front of him and concluded that none of them was a match for God’s power. So much so that God later said.
Numbers 14:24 (ESV)
But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.
CALEBS, IT’S TIME TO STEP ON UP
So what is the way ahead?
Isn’t this what we need right now coming into 2021? We need the Calebs of the church to step up and say I trust God, no matter the obstacles that seem to be before us. In Joshua we read Caleb saying this…
Joshua 14:10-12 (ESV)
And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the LORD spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.”
Have you reached the same conclusion regarding the obstacles in your life? Perhaps the financial crisis that seems hopeless? The coworkers who are hostile to your Christian faith? The medical crisis that is turning your world upside down? The destructive habit no one else knows about?
Or maybe Militant socialist governments stealing our right to free speech? My God is bigger and can sustain and protect us. Painful sickness, painful situations, painful people, bills too big, fears too wide, Church building too small? God can deal with that.
Instead of allowing the problem at hand to overwhelm you, think about the Resources at your disposal. Make a mental list of past situations in which God protected you, provided for you and cared for you. Refuse to be intimidated by your spiritual enemies—no matter how enormous they seem. Remind yourself that anyone plus God is a majority. And be the guy in your group if friends whose optimism in the face of adversity inspires others.
Caleb faced problem years like this with an unshakable confidence that God would prosper him. I believe we can have the same faith. 2020 was a year of setbacks, but in God a setback is just a set up for a come back!
The way ahead is not fear or dread or regret. The way ahead is not to look back on 2020 as the year of disaster. We all confidently declared 2020 a year of vision, and what a year it was for changing and modifying our vision for the future! No one saw it coming. The most useless book in 2020 was a yearly planner!
The way ahead, the way to make 2021 the greatest year ever, is by faith expressed in obedience.
So how do we face what the world sees as a fearful, frightening year with faith filled favour?
So what is the way ahead?
1. RECOGNISE GOD’S PAST PROVISIONS
Psalms 77:11-12 (ESV)
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Caleb had seen God part the Red Sea, and knew this same God loved him and had a plan for his life. Giants were tiny compared to God.
So what has God done for you in the past? Has He blessed you, sustained you, protected you? Remember these times, and you will be strengthened to believe for right now.
I ponder how we as a church can expand. We are already over full, but I know I can trust God. We saw Him miraculously bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the church to buy this building. Is anything too small for Him?
2. READ GOD’S WORD
If you don’t know God you cannot trust Him. The more you know Him the more you trust Him. That’s why reading the Bible every day is essential.
Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
And at Ignite, we make this easy for you. Our Bible reading plan is available on paper, on the app or on our website. Join us and let’s read and discover God’s provision and guidance together.
3. REQUEST GOD’S PLANS
God has plans, for us as a church, for you as a person. His plans are not to ruin our lives, not to hurt or disadvantage us, but He says,
Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
The problem occurs when we start telling God what He should be doing for us, not asking what He wants of us.
Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
4. RECONNECT WITH GOD’S PEOPLE
Now more than ever we need to be in church, shoulder to shoulder with God’s people. So many post COVID are staying away from church, but whatever hangups or quirks the church might have, it’s still God’s plan to save the world.
Ephesians 3:10 (ESV)
so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
No church is perfect. If you find a perfect church, don’t join it, you’ll mess it up. Yet despite our imperfections, we are better together. And we are even better still when we live in unity.
So many churches have infighting. So many Christians have their own agenda, not God’s. So many champion certain doctrines of Scripture, but completely overlook all the Scriptures on unity. Unity doesn’t mean we agree on everything, but it means we can agree to disagree agreeably.
THE STRENGTH OF TOGETHER
So what is the way ahead?
The tallest trees in the world are the Sequoia sempervirens, or Redwoods. They grow up to 350 feet tall (107 metres). You would think that a 100 metre-tall tree would need deep, deep roots, but that’s not the case at all with Redwoods. Their roots are very shallow, often only 2 metres deep. But they make up for it in width, with roots sometimes extending up to 30 metres from the trunk.
They thrive in thick groves, where the roots can intertwine and even fuse together. This gives them tremendous strength against the forces of nature. This way they can withstand high winds and raging floods. They stand because they stand together.
What a great picture of the Christian walk. It is true that we grow better as Christians when the root systems of our lives intertwine with each other. We can withstand difficulties, trials and tough decisions when we have other believers walking with us. But it’s not just during the difficult times, we are called to honour each other in all things, and it is as we walk together, as we intertwine our roots, we experience the greatest of joys!
Some Christians want the shade and strength of the church while refusing to set down any roots. God, yes. Church, no. They like the benefits, but resist commitment. The music, the message, the clean conscience—they accept church perks. But commit to the church? Can’t do that. So many things to do on a Sunday, we’ve got to keep options open. Don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.
I propose they already are. Listen, if you miss the church you miss God’s sanctioned tool for a God promotion. Like it or not, God set up the church as a key place to grow and do what you do best to the glory of God. Unity is important to God, and should be important to us. More important than our opinions, preferences and theological beliefs.
1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV)
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Have your own flavour, sure, but like a great curry, let’s blend our flavours together.
WE (THE CHURCH) ARE GOD’S POEM TO A TRAGIC WORLD
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The Greek word for workmanship descends from the word POEO, which means to be made, to be created or to be authored, and it is the root from which we get our English word “poem”. We are God’s poetry, His living poem to a dark, desperate world. We express his creativity best.
But notice, You aren’t God’s poetry. I’m not God’s poetry. We, together, are God’s poetry. Poetry has variety, creativity, flavour, just like the church…
1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (ESV)
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
The church, you and I together, are God’s love poem to this hurting world. So what is the way ahead?
YOU HAVE ONE LIFE
Hebrews 9:27 (ESV)
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
You have one life… It’s all you get. If you blow it, if you waste it, if you fritter if away on temporal things that don’t last, then this life is all you get. It’s not a video game where you click on a heart and get more lives… This is it. We don’t like to talk about it, you don’t get cards saying merry death, happy dying, but this life you currently lead is all you are going to get.
My challenge to you today is… what are you going to do with your one life?
Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV)
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
So what is the way ahead?
Caleb and Joshua had one life each, but they made their one life count, when the other 10 spies cowed in fear and spread a bad report.
And God is still looking today for Calebs and Joshuas. God isn’t looking for complaints or whines or debates or independent thinking or your great idea, He is looking for obedience. When He leads you, He doesn’t want criticism or contention or cover-ups, He wants commitment. He’s not interested in objections, He’s interested in obedience…
2 Chronicles 16:9 (ESV)
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.
Are you that person in 2021? So what is the way ahead?
CT Studd was from a very rich family and was an English international celebrity and test cricketer, who played in the first ever test against Australia in 1882. This was the very test that, when Australia won, the English burned the bales and put them in a little urn, naming it the Ashes. He was from a rich family, incredibly famous and successful, and was one of the so called Cambridge 7, seven students who gave up everything to become missionaries to China.
He gave his entire fortune away to live a life of poverty preaching the gospel in China. He was a Caleb. He saw what his contemporaries saw, but saw through the so called realities of life to the vision God had for his life, then paid the price without question.
I believe 2021 is the year for you to step up and move into your God given destiny. But there’s a price to be paid. I think most of us approach this new year too selfishly, and too flippantly.
So what is the way ahead?
Today, I’m going to pledge my life to serve the Lord no matter what this year takes, and I’m going to ask you to join me in saying, “ I will follow You Lord wherever You lead, no matter the opposition, no matter my fears and no matter the cost.”