Fear Will Come and Faith Will Falter, But WHAT IF? ACTS 18

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ACTS 18:1-17

“Oh, yes! We looked and saw that the land was good. Very good! BUT there are giants! We can’t go.” They were afraid. They were a people who’d been beaten and abused…just yesterday…or so it seemed. You’ve heard the psychology of an abused wife. She discounts every quality she has, doesn’t believe she can move on, believes she needs her abuser. They wanted to go back to Egypt, back into slavery. I’m confident that although Israel had been physically rescued from Egypt, they were still very much chained and steeped in unbelief. They refused the promise and missed out on their purpose. (Deuteronomy 1)

A NEW THING

I had been ruminating on Deuteronomy chapter one and Joshua chapter one for days now. It was the focus of  IF:Gathering 2015, and I couldn’t miss the parallels to our study this week in Acts. Christine Caine (listen to this woman if you can) taught the first chapter of Joshua, and the scene is set for Israel to brave the Promised Land and claim it. The first thing God told Joshua was that Moses was dead.

“Moses my servant is dead. Therefore the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.” (Joshua 1:2 NLT)

God is doing away with the old and bringing in the new, and it’s an obvious pattern he uses to help us grow. When he introduced manna to the Israelites (translated “What is it?”), it was so new they didn’t even know what to call it. The Law was a new thing. The Promised Land was a new thing. Jesus was a new thing. Grace was a new thing. These new things were scary because they were little understood, but when embraced, they nourished the soul completely.

I’ve been wrestling with a new thing myself for almost a year, and while I am not at liberty to reveal the details, I can say that I have asked God, more than once, to retreat. I have spent an inordinate amount of energy, seeking justification so that I could go my own direction with a clean conscience. I was so determined, that I refused to see this direction as the Promised Land. It couldn’t be, because I didn’t like the way it looked. Surely God wouldn’t ask this of me. It doesn’t look like what he’d already shown me. I found myself becoming bitter as I sat this side of the Jordan River, and then I heard God speak to me during IF:Gathering.

“The reason why you are bitter is because of your memories. In the past you felt empty, but you are no longer empty. I have filled you. In the past you have felt hurt, but you are no longer being hurt. I have healed you. Love where I have placed you. Serve.”

I’m not so different from Israel and her memories. How long will I stay on this side of the Jordan River? You see, I thought I had already crossed the Jordan River. And in some ways I had. It took some guts for me step out in faith and assume the responsibility for The Well @ Santa Fe. I had to work through my fears to put my thoughts online for the world. But I now realize that with each layer of growth I have to cross the Jordan River again and again to claim His promise for me. If I refuse, I miss out, and maybe that promise will pass to the next generation. I’m telling you, I don’t want to miss out.

FEAR FOR THE CHRISTIAN?

In the first part of Acts 18 we see God speaking to Paul while he’s in Corinth.

“Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” (Acts 18:9-10 NLT)

I am confident God said these things because Paul was frustrated, tired, and scared. He’d been going from synagogue, to synagogue, to synagogue, preaching, pleading, and running for his life. What a tiresome process. I have no doubt that if I were in his shoes, I would come to a point of questioning my purpose. Earlier in chapter 13, I said that when Paul embarked upon his first missionary journey, he symbolically crossed the Jordan River into his Promised Land. He began living out the purpose God had set before him, to make God’s name known among the nations. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Paul was at the Jordan River again. Could he really face all those giants and continue this pattern city after city? They were looming and legitimately dangerous.

Paul was a man who surrendered everything to God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit who gifted him with discernment, wisdom, and power. Surely he looked fear in the face and refused him. How could this man I revere have fear? Let’s go back to Joshua, before he crossed the Jordan River. In the first chapter of Joshua, God said no less than FIVE times, “Be strong and courageous!” Repetition in the Bible is not insignificant. Could it be that Joshua was a tiny bit afraid? Say it ain’t so!

Of course he was. Fear is not a sinful quality, something for which to be ashamed. As someone who’s been overwhelmed by fear most of my life, I had not fully considered this truth. Historically, my fear had most definitely turned into a sin, an obvious sign that I did not, and would not trust God.  And as a result, when I finally confessed, I resolved to never let fear cross my borders again. How frustrating to assign yourself an impossible task. Can you relate? It does not lessen Paul’s apostleship or authority to realize he wrestled with fear, it only demonstrates the validity of God’s call on our life.

God had called Paul to a new thing.

“Paul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles….” (Acts 9:15 NLT)

And Paul had just said to the Jews in Corinth, as he dramatically shook the dust from his clothes,

“Your blood is upon our own heads – I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:6 NLT)

I can hear the tone of frustration and anger, which no doubt led to uncertainty and fear. God was faithful to encourage him with his words. I admire Paul. It takes much less to send me reeling down a path of fear and worst-case scenarios, when things don’t go like I’d envisioned.

Why exactly did God tell Joshua to be strong and courageous? So Israel could possess the land that he had promised. Do you see the parallel in Acts? “Do not be afraid!…for many people in this city belong to me,” a symbolic land for Paul to claim. These are no small tasks. Who wouldn’t be afraid? “For I am with you,” God promises to them both. We all have a Promised Land before us. A hope and a purpose. A land to stake claim. Eventually God did establish a kingdom for Israel in that land, and while the Promised Land symbolizes his purpose for our life, the Kingdom symbolizes his presence and authority in our life.  There can be no purpose without his presence!  The effect of his presence is quite simply a taste of heaven.

THE PARADOX

However there’s a paradox in our faith, when it comes to eternal life, which results from the intersection of heaven and earth. The realities that exist in both are true yet disparate because they lie in two different spheres. It’s the cost for entry into eternal life. In the heavenly realm that cost was paid by Jesus when he died on the cross. A perfect and sinless God-man, who didn’t need to die, but did so anyway because he loved us. We cannot purchase entry ourselves; he’s given it away freely. Much like the manna he provided for Israel in the desert. He gave it freely and generously. While in this corrupt world, we eagerly anticipate the day we can enter this eternal life that we otherwise know as heaven!

BUT WAIT there’s more! Yes, there is a heaven awaiting us, in this earthly realm, while we are still alive. This heaven/eternal life, is knowing Him! (John 17:3) It’s an intimacy with God resulting from an active relationship with Him, which is nothing less than supernatural. And there is a cost for this heaven too. The cost requires us to forge ahead in faith, despite the fear that looms. In Joshua, the manna, a symbol of God’s free gift, was evolving. There would be no manna in the Promised Land, and the cost to entering the Promised Land was a humbling faith, requiring them to step into the riverbed. Forging ahead when fear loomed. God wasn’t going to do it for them as he had while they were in the desert, but he was most assuredly with them.

Fear will come and faith will falter, but the cost to a deep and fulfilling relationship with God, is a determined trust. WHAT IF GOD IS REAL? Will you trust him? Will you listen and claim his words when he speaks?

When God says,

“Trust me. I will be with you.”

Will you say,

“Yes, Lord. I believe. Help me with my unbelief!”

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Comments

  1. Melissa C says

    so exciting to follow you on your journey with Christ! We miss you at Osterville Baptist but we are thriving. So exciting to see God at work here and with others! Love your writings, too!

    • jenrobadams@gmail.com says

      Thanks so much!!! I am really looking forward to speaking at MOPS in two weeks! It will feel like I’m back home. I know I wasn’t there very long, but I adopted MASS so quickly and LOVED it! I hope I get to see you too!

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