Saturday, May 28, 2016

Overcoming Life's Obstacles (a sermon from Deut. 9)

Deuteronomy 9:1-7
Overcoming Life’s Obstacles

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’

Know therefore today that HE who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
“Do NOT say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of MY righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you.  Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, AND that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.  REMEMBER AND DO NOT FORGET how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.
Overcoming life’s obstacles... Let’s pray

When Debbie and I go to the mountains, one of our favorite things to do is HIKE.  

I know you aren't surprised - I mean, since I have such a sporty physique and all.  

But REALLY… we do - we love hiking.

There are hundreds of different trails in the Smokies – each of them listed on the hiking map provided by the National Park Service and ranked according to difficulty.  

The most difficult hike we have yet to attempt is the 11 mile trip up Mt. Lacont.  It takes the better part of a day, but the views are breath-taking.  

The first time we tried it, I thought for sure we were nearing the end because it felt like we had been walking all day - but we came to a trail-marker that informed us ⇒ we were only halfway there.  

Halfway?!?!  Are you kidding me!!!!!  

At that point, I was at a ‘cross-roads.’  Was I going to finish it or go back? To be perfectly honest, everything in me wanted to quit.
Which reminded me of life – how often we are struggling to move forward, sure that our hardships will soon be over, that it couldn’t possibly get any worse, only to hear - we are ‘halfway there.’
The Children of Israel were “halfway” there.  Though they had seen the mighty hand of God FREE them from slavery in Egypt, though they had experienced countless trials while wandering in the desert, and witnessed the death of an entire generation waiting to enter the Promised Land, their battles were only half over.  

What should have lasted 3 years tops, had turned into 4 decades of difficulty.  It would be many more hard and contentious years before they would actually settle in the Promised Land – and they would have to do it WITHOUT their leader, Moses.
So here they are - at a cross-roads - how will they respond to the difficulties that lie ahead?
Some of YOU are there now – battle weary, not sure what tomorrow holds, and you don’t know how you will have the strength to move forward IF the difficult part is still ahead.  This passage is for you. Though it is likely that you have many more battles ahead, I hope to encourage you to press on, trusting the Lord and relying on His strength.
There are three things I want you to notice:
1.  First - The Giants we must face.  The Promised Land was in their sites, they could see it with their own eyes.  Just across the river laid that land they had heard flowed with milk and honey.  But make no bones about it - there were giants in the land too – people held in reputation for their military prowess; armed fortresses that had withstood many a battle… and before the Jews could inherit the Promised Land, those folks had to be removed.
Moses knew that hearing about “the sons of Anak” would likely cause the people GREAT DISTRESS.  They were giants - similar to Goliath.  And when they learned of this upcoming opposition, many lost heart.  

But before he told them WHO they would face, he spent the previous chapter reminding them of who God was… and all the things that God had done for them.
  • How God had never failed to care for His people.
  • How he had made a way where there WAS no way.
  • How He protected, fed, and guided them when situations seemed impossible.

  • He kept them healthy - their clothes never wore out - he met every need they faced.
Moses recounted all the many blessings of God, because they needed to remember that Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world!  He rehearsed these blessings to illustrate something Paul said many years later - “If God be for us, WHO can be against us???”
You are gonna face giants too – we all do.  Some will be physical in nature.  

  • In the days to come, some of us will go to the doctor for a routine check up, only to hear a frightening diagnosis and a call for more tests or radical treatment.  

  • Some of us will probably face job layoffs or salary cuts.  
Some of us will face Emotional Giants…

  • A relationship crises, a marriage in trouble, a child that rebels - or the passing of a loved one.  

  • a parent’s health deteriorating to the point that YOU must be the rock of the family when you are already barely keeping your head above water.
And there will likely be Spiritual Giants waiting for us.
  • Some of you may be Haunted by memories of your past – of things that might be forgiven by God, but you struggle to forgive yourself.  

  • Some of us will face the temptation to compromise our commitment to Christ;

  • or we will go through a period of barrenness, wrestling with doubts.
Life has a way of leading us to giants

  • disease
  • death
  • conflict
  • loneliness
  • fears
  • economic uncertainty

I’m not being negative… just honest – giants are waiting for you. What are you going to do?  What would Israel do?  Quit?  Opt again for slavery?  

Moses doesn’t stop there…
2.  After listing the Giants they would face, he told them of the God they must embrace.  IF they had any chance of success, it would be by the help of the Lord.  V. 3, “Know therefore today that HE who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
Giants are common to all – but those who know the Lord, do not face them alone.  Our God knows what is coming down the pike – He can see our tomorrows, and has pledged to help us face those giants - not because of who WE are - but because of Who HE is.  

You will notice that the children of Israel STILL had to move forward, they still had to engage the enemy in battle, but as they obediently followed the Lord, He would make them successful.

Sometimes we make the mistake of believing that, if we trust the Lord, we won’t ever have to fight –that God will do all the fighting for us.  NOT SO.  They still had to fight.  


It’s in life’s battles that we learn to trust the Lord.  It is when we can’t see our way clear that we learn to rely upon His Word and walk by faith.  God loves us too much to allow everything to come easy.  He wants us to trust Him, and what BETTER way to learn to trust Him than to find ourselves in impossible situations???  

God promised his help on the basis of 2 important things:
First, Moses reminds them that God’s help is based upon His Character and Covenant.  God always keeps His Word.  And long ago, long before any of these folks were born, God promised Abraham that His family would have this land.  Hundreds of years may have lapsed, but God’s promises hadn’t.  He fully intended to follow through with the commitment He had made.
And the same is true for YOU.  If you are a believer, God has made a commitment to you.  He has promised

  • never to put more on you than you can bear
  • He has promised never to abandon you when the way is unclear

  • And He has promised to finish what He started in you

It is not because of anything you have done – because you and I have failed God too many times to count – but it is based on God’s character and covenant.  And while I can’t trust MY character… I certainly can trust HIS!

God’s faithfulness to us is ALSO based on His love and goodness.  There will be times in your life when you question God’s love for you.  You are going to hit a hard patch and wonder if God REALLY cares… if it REALLY PAYS to live the Christian life… if it wouldn’t be easier to yield to the flesh and quit.  It’s something that we all experience because it is a tool Satan uses to plant seeds of doubt in our hearts that sprout into weeds of disobedience.
If you examine Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden, you will clearly see that he aimed to create doubt in her heart towards God.  Satan wanted Eve to believe that God was withholding something from her, something that would make her happy… and that God really didn’t love her.
That’s how Satan works.  As we go through hard times, he wants us to question God’s love… even though God has proven His love for us over and over again through the years.  

  • Remember all those times in your past when you wondered how you would make it, but God supplied all your needs according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus?

  • Remember all those times He has forgiven you?  Those PRAYERS He answered for you?

  • If God loved you enough to send His Son to suffer, bleed, and die for you, then surely He will stand with you through every adversity you experience in life.
But Moses reminded those people repeatedly, that it was NOT because anything they had done or didn’t do that produced God’s blessing; because more often than not, they had proven to be stubborn and disobedient.  He wanted them to understand that if they experienced success, it was all because of God.  

And the same is true for us.
So ---- we see ---- the giants we must face, and the God we must embrace.  Third we see
3.  The Guilt we must trace.  This is a hard - yet CRUCIAL lesson for the child of God.  The Lord must humble His people before He can work through them.  Notice verse 7, “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.”  

If you read on, you will see that Moses spends the rest of the chapter, reminding them of all the times they had sinned against the Lord.  

  • How they committed idolatry when Moses was up on the mountain receiving the commandments of God.  

  • How they acted in unbelief numerous times

  • and criticized God and His leadership and provision
  • And how they committed unspeakable acts of immorality

The devil loves to convince us that we are good people - who deserve more - people who can trust themselves.  But Paul tells us in Romans 7, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”  He goes on to confess, “Oh wretched man that I am!!!

No matter what society tells you… we are NOT inherently good people. At my core I am arrogant and proud - spoiled and selfish.  When I allow SELF to rule, there is truly no limit to the evil I can do.  I am NOTHING without the Lord!

Why does Moses spend so much time bringing up their past sins?  Was it to embarrass or humiliate them?  No.  It was to remind them of how desperately they needed the Lord.  That, whenever they took matters into their own hands they experienced pain, and defeat.  When moving forward into this land filled with treacherous giants, this was no time to trust self.  They must remember that trusting the flesh ALWAYS lead to failure.  But trusting in God leads to victory.

Sadly, we often sabotage ourselves...

  • by taking credit for our successes.  

  • We try to HELP God out and rush ahead in the flesh and make a mess of things.  

  • We care way too much about our reputation.  We hunger for the praise of men.  

  • We are proud.

But the Lord can’t do anything significant IN us or THROUGH us UNTIL He humbles us.  Every step we take outside of God’s plan for us - is a destructive step.
Israel wouldn’t experience success without the Lord.  

  • They needed to be reminded of how God had blessed them in the past,

  • of how they needed to trust Him in the future,

  • and how things turned out bad every time they insisted on doing things their own way.

When YOU find yourself at one of life’s crossroads, weary with a long way still to go, you are going to have some tough decisions to make .  Are you going to trust God and move forward in His strength, even though the way is unclear?  OR, are you going to dig in your heels and and do things YOUR way?  

Are you going to obey the Lord and receive His help?  Or are you going to keep insisting that ‘you’ve got this??’  It’s your choice.  CHOOSE WISELY!

As we think about all that lies ahead of us - remember:
The Giants we must face (whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual – there’s some big stuff coming down the pike)
The God we must embrace (the Lord has never failed us in the past, may that give us confidence to trust and obey Him in the future)
And the Guilt we must trace (we need to remember that every time we act in flesh, every time we insist on doing things our own way, we experience pain and loss.

Are you at a crossroads?? Are you facing giants… desperately needing to hear the direction of God??  Why not come pray about it right now??

This time is for you.  Let’s stand…