What If I Am Overwhelmed?

Sermon Text – 02.23.2020

[Numbers 13]

Inside every airplane are instruments that are critical to flying the aircraft.  The instruments will give a true reading of how the aircraft is flying, even if a pilot’s mind may tell him differently.  On a clear day, maybe the pilots don’t need to check the instruments as often, but at night, or in the clouds, pilots are completely dependent on those instruments. This story comes to us from Kent Crockett’s The 911 Handbook, from 2003. There was once a man named Lt. Col. Jeff Patton who flew as an F-15 fighter pilot in Desert Storm.  On the first night of the war, his mission was to escort a large formation of fighters in bombing a chemical weapons plant in northern Iraq.  The date for Desert Storm was chosen because the absence of moonlight and the high clouds helped the attacking allied fighters from being detected by enemy defenses. Flying in total darkness, the pilots became completely dependent upon their instruments.
          Shortly after crossing into Iraq, Col. Patton’s jet was “locked on” to by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile radar. He violently maneuvered his aircraft to break the radar’s lock on him. It worked, but it created a new problem.  Those radical movements in the dark threw off the balance in his inner ear (which is what happens when a person gets dizzy), causing him to become disoriented. His mind was telling him his plane was in a climbing right turn, but when he checked his instruments, they indicated he was in a 60 degree dive towards the ground!  He was sure he was in a climb instead of a dive, and his mind was screaming at him to lower the nose of his F-15 to halt the climb.  While his mind commanded him to correct the plane in one direction, his instruments instructed him to do just the opposite. In pitch black, his life depended on making the correct choice. 

          Even though it took everything within him to overcome what his mind was telling him, he decided to trust his instruments.  He rolled his wings level and pulled his F-15 upward, which drew seven times the force of gravity, pulling the aircraft out of its dive.  If he had lowered the nose of his jet like his mind had been telling him, he would have crashed the plane.  Trusting his instruments saved his life! First thing he did was check his altimeter, which told him the elevation of his aircraft.  He had narrowly escaped colliding into the mountains of Iraq by just 2,000 feet.  Although he had made the correct decision by trusting his instruments, he realized if he had delayed just three more seconds his plane would have crashed into the mountains. Even right decisions can be wrong ones if they are made too late. In life, God will guide the “instruments” inside our hearts through his Spirit, even though our minds may tell us to do just the opposite. Proverbs tells us “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding”


          Now today is week three of our sermon series Old Testament Stories of Trust, and I don’t know about you – but I’ve been having a lot of fun with these Old Testament stories. First we looked at Noah, and we saw that God is the best, even if we are not. Then we looked at Rahab, and we saw that God doesn’t make mistakes, instead he redeems OUR mistakes. And now today we are talking about the story of Caleb. Now this story is not real well known. I mention the name “Caleb” and most folk have no idea who I’m talking about. I probably would have had to look it up too. Last week we talked about Rahab who lived in Jericho, and Joshua the leader of the Israelites was investigating the promised land. You might remember, he sent in those spies who hung out with Rahab. For our story today, we have to back up just a little bit. Maybe you remember that last week, Joshua and the Israelites had just finished wandering in the desert for 40 years. And you might ask – why did they wander for 40 years? It sort of creates this visual image of a group of people aimlessly walking around in the desert. Did they never think to stop and look at a map? It’s not like Moses refused to pull the van over and ask for directions for forty years. I know men are stubborn, but 40 years is a really long time to be lost. But you see, it was no accident that the people of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years. It was actually a punishment, from the story of Caleb. Not all who wander are lost. They knew exactly where they wanted to go, but they were not allowed to go – because of this story.

     And so our story begins, forty years before Joshua and Rahab, Moses is still leading the Israelites and he sends out some scouts to look at the promised land. And the promised land is amazing. The scouts come back and they are so excited, verse 27 tells us [read it]. I mean, they brought back samples. Now, personally, I don’t get that excited about fruit – but for these guys, it shows them that the land is good for growing things. But the report doesn’t stop there. [read verse 28]. This is the bad side of the report. There are lots of good things in the land, it’s an awesome place, BUT fortified cities, and powerful enemies. Now, the descendants of Anak, also called the Nephilim, the people who live in the land, they have a reputation. First, they are supposed to be huge – like giants. Jack and the Beanstalk style Giants. In fact, the legend of the Nephilim, which comes from Genesis 6, says that the sons of God, probably angels, had children with the women of the world – and that’s where the Nephilim come from. They are not just big, legend says they are like part angel. That’s pretty intense – descended from a fallen angel. Now I don’t know about all that, but the people of Israel believed it. This is the reputation of the enemies waiting for them in the promised land.
     Now Caleb is one of the scouts, and he believes that God is with them. [read 30-31]. And so it’s Caleb vs the other scouts – can we take this land, can we overcome the obstacles? Is God truly with us? And the people are terrified. Moses tries to explain – God is with us, nothing can stop us. But they are so scared, they are so overwhelmed by the size of what’s in front of them – they start to talk about stoning Moses and picking a new leader. But then God shows up [read v10-11]. This is God’s response. He’s angry, he is frustrated with the Israelites. The punishment here is that Israel has to wander in the desert until an entire generation has gone by.


     God is frustrated with the Israelites, and I get it. God is always there for us. God is reliable, and yet Israel refuses to trust him. It’s a frustrated love. God keeps offering his love, and they keep ignoring it.  You ever talk to someone who is amazing, but they don’t believe it. And no matter what you say they will not accept that they are good? You give someone a sincere compliment, and they throw it away by saying, “You’re just being nice,” or “You have to say that, you’re my brother” or whatever. It’s frustrating, right? Right before this story, the Israelites cross the Red sea and they are in the desert and they start to complain about the lack of food and water. God provides Manna from heaven, every morning they wake up and there is bread all over the place. And THEN Moses smashes a rock with his staff and water pours out. Literally God provided food and water out of nothing for Israel. Then a little later, they start to complain that all they have to eat is manna. I guess they forgot that beggars can’t be choosers – because these are some mighty choosy beggars. They don’t want just bread all the time – they want meat. And so God causes some Quail to fly over the camp and die. So many quail that they are three feet deep for a day’s walk in every direction. Numbers 11:31 tells us, [read it]. God is always there for us. God is reliable. God says, you can beat these giants who live in the promised land. When God is with you, nothing is impossible.
    Now, I want to point out something very important here – God is not Santa. God was always there for Israel, but he also challenged Israel – he didn’t just hand stuff to them. God is always there for us, but God challenges us. God pushes us to take that next step, and then backs us up all the way. God encourages us to take that first step – but we have to take that step. God will not do all the work for us. When I say God is there for you, I don’t mean that God will step out of the sky and make all your troubles go away. I mean God created you just as you are and put you in the situation you are in on purpose. God has given you potential, and he has high expectations for you to reach that potential. It’s the difference between giving twenty bucks to buy groceries and getting someone a job interview so they can buy their own groceries for the rest of their life. It’s the difference between giving a man a fish, and teaching a man to fish. You know the old phrase, “Give a man fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ll never see him in Church on Sunday again.” You know, the old saying. God is always there for you. He will catch you when you fall, he will help us back to our feet – but sometimes you will still fall. We still have to take these steps for ourselves. Sometimes God takes the training wheels off. God believes in you, He has a plan for you. Maybe it’s time we start believing in ourselves too.
     The greatest obstacle between God’s support and our goals is fear. Put simply, fear causes us to do stupid things. After Caleb and the scouts report to Israel, we get to chapter 14 and the people are starting to freak out. It says [read 14:2-4]. They want to go back to Egypt. They were slaves in Egypt. They cried out for hundreds of years about how horrible that was, and now they are thinking about going back to their masters? They are so afraid of what is in front of them. Because fear causes us to do stupid things. There’s a fancy word for this called “defamation.” Defamation that thing where you thought you wanted something, but then obstacles show up and so you convince yourself you didn’t really want it. It wasn’t that good to begin with. It’s that moment when you’re shopping and you get really excited about something – clothing, new gun, new guitar amp, and you’re really excited and you think, “it’s perfect, it’s exactly what I’ve always wanted.” And then you look at the price tag and think, “probably wouldn’t fit very well, it was ugly anyways.” It’s a mind trick we play on ourselves and it happens all the time with fear. Fear causes us to do stupid things. When we are afraid of the next step – we try to convince ourselves that we never really wanted it. Israel is staring at the promised land, they know it’s amazing – and then they are trying to convince themselves it’s not very good. SO let me ask you – what do you want from you life? What is your promised land that you have convinced yourself you didn’t really want? What could you accomplish if fear wasn’t holding you back?

          Fear makes us do stupid things, and so my challenge for this week is this: take a leap of faith. We still have to do the walking, but God is behind us the whole way. Look into the future, and take a leap of faith. When we hear that the people of Israel want to go back to Egypt, it is so easy for us to condemn them. We think – what fools! Going back to slavery is the worst idea ever. But it’s the devil that they know. They understand it, they don’t like it, but it’s familiar. How many of us have held back from the future, because we are afraid of the unknown. Think about abusive relationships. You hear the stories and you ask yourself, how could these women possibly go back to this situation, to walk back into that life? But the truth is it is easier, less scary, than the unknown future in front of you. Or other couples who are falling apart. It’s easier to bottle it up and walk away, just get a divorce and never look back. But to open up a relationship, to stare at our relationship strengths and weaknesses – to have the courage to assess and move forward. That’s terrifying. In the church, how many programs, how many committees, have we hung onto way longer than needed – because they are familiar. One thing I have found very true in the church is that people do not fear change. People fear loss. We are okay with taking that next step if we KNOW it’s going to be better, and we won’t lose anything. But taking that step when the future is unknown, when anything can happen, when we might lose something, when we might fail – that’s what we are afraid of. That’s what holds us back. We are overwhelmed by the fear and the “what ifs” of life.

    Take a leap of faith. My challenge to you today is to demonstrate trust in God by taking a leap of faith. But let me explain what I mean by that –take a leap of faith. I am not one of those TV evangelists who will tell you – sell your house and all your stuff and donate it to the poor, and send the money to the church. I’m not promoting poor planning and rash decisions when I say take a leap of faith. I want you to look at your faith, your connection to God, and take a step in that direction. God is always there for us, but God challenges us. You have a purpose in God’s plan, even if you don’t know it. I love God’s response to Israel’s fear. It says in verse 11, [read it]. It’s kind of like God is saying, How many times do I have to prove this to you? Think about your life, how many struggles have you overcome? How many times have you pulled through to get to today? For me personally, I look back at situations in my past, and I go, Whew if things hadn’t worked exactly the way they did – they wouldn’t have worked out. Every time a challenge comes up in our lives – money’s tight, got in a fight with the wife, kids are acting up, might lose my job, Union strike at GM, don’t have enough volunteers for this program- we react out of fear, and we hurt each other. We say defensive, mean things, we lose our temper and we are more stressed. And that whole time God is watching and waiting…thinking – How many times do I have to prove this to you before you start believing in me? Make God your priority, rely on him, and rise to God’s challenges to fulfill your potential. Take a leap of faith.

          Israel had a big job in front of them, it wasn’t going to be easy, but Caleb believed. We have a big job in front of us in this church. We are here to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It can be scary, when the giants of life confront us, we got some big stuff coming in 2020 but God is with us the whole time. What if I am overwhelmed? You will be, I guarantee it. But God is with you – so you never have to fear.  So I leave you with this – May you make God your priority. May you rise to God’s challenge of your potential. May you align yourself with God, and take a leap. Amen.