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How to Face the Future in Times of Uncertainty, Part 1

From the series Facing The Future with Confidence

We live in an age of uncertainty and rapid change. So is it possible to face the future with confidence? Chip launches this series by sharing the story of a young man who, under similar circumstances, received advice from God that empowered him to remain hopeful and confident in times of great uncertainty.

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Message Transcript

A number of years ago my wife had routine tests – like women have – and the bad part was, we got a call back. And the call said, “I really see something that looks serious, and I need to run another test.” And so, we went in on a Thursday – as best as I can remember – and he said, “We’ll run the tests and I’ll have results on Monday.”

And I have four children. At that time, they were all living in our home, and two or three of them were pretty young. And men, I know that you know what this is like, and women, many of you in this room have experienced this. But I went through a time of the most powerful uncertainty I’ve ever experienced.  And I went with her, and we ran the tests.

And then I had Thursday, and then I had Friday, then I had Saturday, then I had Sunday, and then most of Monday before I heard the results. And I don’t know about you, but when you think there’s something wrong with your wife, and it could be serious, and if that biopsy comes back different, and if it’s a cancer that grows very quickly, you could lose your wife.

What I found was, one, I was afraid. I was really afraid. First, of the unknown. Then I was afraid that, somehow, I would fail, or God would fail me, or something would happen, and we wouldn’t make it through this, or I would fail my children. And then third – I guess, most selfishly, because I love my wife – I had the fear of abandonment: What will happen if we get some bad news on Monday, and we spend the next six months, or a year, and at the end of that, I find myself doing a funeral for my wife, and having four kids and saying, “How in the world do I go on?”

And I fasted, and I prayed, and I sought God, and at the time, I was studying for the ministry, and I realized: I was telling a lot of people about how Jesus was strong, and His Word was true, and a lot of those things that are really, really important, and that I believed.

And God said, Chip, I’ve got a little test for you. I’d like you to step up to the plate, and I’d like to walk you through a little personal, private tutoring by Me, and God the Holy Spirit.

And I want to take those truths that you have in your head, and I’d like to make a little journey into your heart, that when we get to Monday, regardless of the test results, I want you to walk into those tests knowing: Number one, you don’t have to be afraid of the unknown. Number two, you will not and cannot fail, because I’ll give you whatever you need. And number three, you’ll never be abandoned, whether you have Theresa or not, because I will never leave you or forsake you.

And we are living in a world right now as you look at the front of this handout, as you just scan that, some of those things can make you afraid.

And unless you go into total denial, we live in the most uncertain days I have ever seen in my life. And left to ourselves we can be very afraid. But here’s what I want to suggest: those responses that you have there, the fear of the unknown that we all experience, the fear of failure, and just the flat out fear that we will be abandoned somehow by family members or we are going to lose people – I want you to know that this could be the greatest, most strategic opportunity for the body of Christ in decades.

How we respond as a Church, how everyday believers like you and me in your home and your neighborhoods and at work – how you respond to that list of things and the attitude you have could be the most fundamental, strategic thing that the body of Christ ever gets a chance to ever respond to in your lifetime.

God placed you where you live in your neighborhood, where you work, with your kids, with your background, at this time in history, and He’s got a plan for you. Sure, He’s got a plan for the world, He’s got a plan for countries, but He’s got a plan for you.

And I’d like to spend the next several minutes walking through God’s Word, to teach you what He wanted to teach someone else who was in a time of uncertainty, so that two, or three, or four months from now, you literally will have a fellow student, or a coworker, or someone in your neighborhood walk up to you and say, “Could we have a cup of coffee or grab a Coke? Because I don’t know about you, but I’m reading the papers and I’m watching CNN, and I heard this thing on Fox, and I’m scared to death, and I’ve got anxiety!

And I’ve got knots in my stomach, and you are so calm. Would you tell me what in the world you have?” And you will have an opportunity, because of the grace of God working in you, to introduce them to the God of peace.

But you can’t do that if you’re as afraid as everybody else. And you can’t do that if – under the guise of, “Oh, I go to church, and I love God, and I read the Bible a bit” – if you live like everybody else. And the temptation is to think that in these desperate days, it’s never been worse, and this is terrible. I’ve got news for you. Uncertain times aren’t new.

So, turn, if you will, to Joshua chapter 1 – I’ve put some notes in there – and lets literally roll up our sleeves, and let’s study the text. There is a man who went through a very uncertain time, and God taught him something, and what He taught him, He wants to teach you.

And after we hear how God taught Joshua how to deal with his uncertain times, I want to move and principlize it. Because what we’re going to learn is, the very thing God taught Joshua was the very thing that Jesus taught His disciples.

And what are you? You’re a disciple, aren’t you? So, Jesus wants to teach you, and He wants to teach me how to respond, in these uncertain times, in such a way that not only will you experience His peace, and His love, and His joy – not your head in the sand, not in denial, not pie-in-the-sky religiosity – I mean authentically, in your gut, and in your heart – to such a degree that those outside of Christ would say, “Man, I don’t know what you have, but I’d like to get a taste of it.”

Uncertain times aren’t new. Listen to this situation: “Now it came about” – verse 1 – “after the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, that the Lord spoke to Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, ‘Moses My servant is dead.’” He talks about the past. All these millions of people look to Moses. Moses went out in the Tent of Meeting – the cloud came down. When Moses was here, if you had a problem – ask Moses. Moses would get the answer. When the cloud would move, or the fire would move, we all packed our tents and we went with him.

The paradigm has shifted. Moses is gone. The leader is gone. The cloud is gone. The manna is going to be gone. No water out of the rock. All the miracles – that has past. There’s a new paradigm. “And Joshua, you’re the man. It’s a new world. I’m going to expect new things out of you, Joshua. Life has never been like this before.”

And so, after He talks about the past, notice the present: “Now, therefore, arise, cross this Jordan, you and all these people.”

And before we get into our little Bible story mentality, let’s think of a real man, in real life who watched Moses, who saw his face glow, who remembers when he would put the veil over it, and remembers all these miracles – and Moses is gone. And now, God says, “Now you take all these people, who have not been an easy group to lead, and you cross the Jordan” – now, here’s the promise – notice the future – “which I am giving to them the Sons of Israel.”

Hey! You remember the promises? I’m the God of history, and I’m sovereign. I’m good. I’m powerful. Remember Abraham, Isaac, Jacob? I made promises to them. Moses picked up the baton. Now it’s your turn. I’m going to fulfill My purposes for these people, and I’m going to use you.

Can you imagine how inadequate he felt? You’ve got to be kidding me! Oh, Lord, I don’t have what it takes! There’s no way I can make it!

What do you do, when it gets so uncertain that you’re not sure? Listen to the words of assurance. And don’t listen to them like God’s speaking to Joshua, though that’s the context. But listen to how a God who cares for a regular person like you wants to literally put His arm around you, the way He did Joshua – and He gives him words of assurance. And notice, the words of assurance have three specific promises.

He says, “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you. Just as I spoke to Moses, from the wilderness, and from Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates – all the land of the Hittites – as far as the great sea, toward the setting of the sun, will be your territory.”

Joshua is scared to death. There’s uncertainty. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen. What’s God say? What’s He say? “Your future is secure. Your future is a done deal. I said it to Moses; I will fulfill it – all the same parameters. Hey, Joshua, you may be afraid, but I’m the God of the universe, and I created all this. And I’m telling you that it’s a done deal.”

We’re going to find, in a minute, that’s the very thing that Jesus would say to His disciples. And it was the source of their security. He gives them a promise about the future.

Notice the next line: “No man will be able to stand you – before you all the days of your life.” What’s that promise? One, it’s a promise about his fear of the unknown. Now, He’s addressing the fear of failure: “Hey, look, Joshua, you’re bulletproof! Trust Me. Step out. Don’t worry about the economy; don’t worry about the war. Do you need to be prudent and make wise plans? I’m with you!”

The same power that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you, as a believer. Nothing will come your way in the next thirty, sixty, or ninety days, that the Spirit of God, using the Word of God, and the body of Christ, will give you everything you need to be victorious.

“I’m with you. You’re bulletproof.” That’s what He says to Joshua. That’s what Jesus would say to His disciples.

And then, notice the final word of assurance: “No man will be able to stand before you.” That’s great. “But just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.” You don’t have to fear being abandoned. “I will not fail you or forsake you.”

Circle the words forsake you in your notes, will you? And under it, write the words drop you – the literal Hebrew word. It’s like God taking Joshua, or God taking you, like a carton of eggs, and walking down, and there are all these stones, and you’re afraid He’s going to trip. He says, I won’t drop you. I know about your 401(k), and where it’s not, and where it isn’t. I know your fears about the future. I know what you’re thinking about the economy. I understand where the relationships are. I won’t drop you. I’m for you. I love you.

Did you notice how God spoke to this man, during uncertain times, to address his fear of the unknown, his fear of failure, and then, that final fear that scares all of us? So, what about you? Before we talk about Joshua, let’s stop just a second. What are you most afraid of?

If I asked you to turn to the front page and you looked at that list and you could even add to the list. And you could add the fear of being single the rest of your life. Or the fear that your marriage is not going to get any better. Or the fear that one of your kids that is wayward will never come back. Or the fear of the health issue that you just don’t think is ever going to… What’s your greatest fear?

If I took out one of those little pens, and I had a whiteboard, and you could walk over to the whiteboard and write down your top two fears, what would you write on the whiteboard? I want you to get that clear in your mind.

We are not about an academic exercise, where we’re here to learn how God spoke to Joshua. We are here to learn how God spoke to Joshua, because He wants to speak to you.

The Spirit of God wants to take the Word of God to give you hope, and encouragement, so that you literally will live differently – not by your power, but by His grace. Have I given you enough time? What are you most afraid about?

Because now, let’s go to the text, and find out how God specifically helps him work through his fears. He gives him a call to confidence in verses 6 through 9.

It’s one thing to get these words of assurance: “Hey, hang in there. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to be with you. Don’t worry about it. I’m for you. I’ll be with you.” But the sixty-four-dollar question in my life, and the one in your life, I think, is, how does this work? I don’t know about you, I’m going to get up very early, and I’ve got to go to work on Monday morning.

But I need to figure out how to live a life that’s characterized by the peace of God, and the power of God, and the assurance that Christ is real.

And that’s not theoretical. That’s right here in the text. Verses 6 through 9 tells you how to do it. Notice, as you scan it very quickly, there’s a phrase that’s repeated: “Be strong and courageous” – verse 6. “Be strong and courageous” – verse 8. “Be strong and courageous” – verse 9. That’s going to be our responsibility. He’s going to teach us how to be strong and courageous. “Be strong and courageous” – verse 6. Why? “For you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give to them.” You’re afraid of the unknown. I want you to know, the future is secure. You be strong, you be courageous, and I’ll take you through.

Verse 7, “Only be strong and courageous” – in case you didn’t hear me let me repeat that. “Be careful” – or, literally, “observe, look into carefully” – “to do according to all the Law” – or all the Torah – “which Moses My servant commanded you; don’t turn from it to the right or to the left.” Why? “So that you may have success wherever you go.”

Circle that little word success, lest we get the idea that He’s promising Joshua he’ll never have a problem in his life. The Hebrew word for success means, “to be prudent, and to seek God, and thus be successful in following His intent and guidance for you.”

“Success” doesn’t mean, Scripturally, that you’re never going to have a bad day, that you’re going to be healthy, that you’re going to be wealthy, and you’re going to have a nice house and a condo in L.A.

“Success” means you will discern, be strong and courageous, be careful to look into the Scriptures, listen carefully to the truth Moses gave you. So, you do it on a day-by-day, practical basis. And as you do, you will learn what the Scripture calls “wisdom,” and you will live in such a way that you will fulfill God’s purposes for your life. That’s the promise.

Now, notice, He goes on – because the question is, in my mind, where do you get the strength? We’ve all met people who have it, right? Where do you get the strength? Where do you get the courage to live out this radical, different kind of life, when everyone else is shaking in their boots?

Look at verse 8: “This Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night.” Why? So that you can be a very smart Christian? No. So you can impress people with how many verses you have memorized? No. So we can put a little star on the refrigerator for all your kids that say, “This is how many verses they know, and they’ve been in Sunday school ‘x’ weeks?” No.

“This Book of the Law shall not come out of your mouth,” you should meditate, ruminate on it. Have a world view that looks at the economy, your family, your health, your possessions, and your time in such a way that you look at it biblically, through God’s perspective, so that you may – what’s the text say? What’s it say? So that you may do, so you may obey, so you may act as a follower, or believer of Yahweh so that you can live the kind of life that reflects Him. The Scripture will inform you. You take in the truth in such a way that you can obey.

And then, notice the promise: “For then” – does it say, “God will make your way prosperous”? What’s it say? “Then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” The word for prosperous here is, “to be prudent; to seek God in following His intent for your life.”

It has the idea of the power or ability to live God’s way. And then, notice, if we haven’t got it yet – in verse 9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Now, before we go on, let me just do a quick little definitional work. It’s pretty obvious that, again, there’s a promise about failure, there’s a promise of God’s presence, and there’s a promise that we’re not going to be abandoned. And whatever it revolves around, in the midst of a fallen world, you be strong, I be strong here, in a revolutionary way.

Now, let me ask you, what do you think it means to be “strong”? We’ve said those words; they’ve got to be really important. You know one of the best Bible study tools? You ready for this? I’m just going to let you in on this. Webster’s Dictionary. The word “strong” means, “the state or quality of being strong; force, power, or vigor.” It’s the power to resist strain, stress. It means being tough. It means being durable. It’s the power to resist attack. Impregnability.

God says, What I want from you is, I want you to be strong. What does “strong” mean? It means you don’t cave in, like everyone else. You don’t give in, like everyone else.  You don’t read the news and run scared. It doesn’t mean you pull in your tent stakes, and say, “Oooh, I’m going to protect my money. I’m going to protect my time. I’m going to make sure my family is okay.” It means that you’re strong. You don’t give up; you don’t give in. And you say, God, in the midst of unbelievable resistance, and pressure, and stress, and fear, I will choose to do what’s right. That’s what it means to be strong.

I’ve got two young men who spent a lot of years in my house. They’re twin boys, and they’re my sons. And over the years, they both ended up lifting weights. And so, there’s a little rivalry there. And you know how I know which one is the strongest, and how they make sure the other one knows who’s the strongest? It’s really easy, isn’t it?  You get a bench press out, and one of them lays down at this one, and one of them lays down at this one, and you put on two hundred fifty pounds, and then two-sixty, and then two-seventy, two-eighty, and three hundred, and whoever can overcome the resistance of gravity, to push off the weight, is the strongest one.

And that’s a good picture of what it means to be strong. You live in a fallen world where the media, and the world are telling you, “Look after you.” You’re living in a world that says, “When it gets hard, give up; find a new partner.” You’re living in a world where everyone at the high school says, “What the heck? You’re not really going to do that religious stuff?”

And God says, “You be strong. You endure. You walk with Me.” When you feel like it? Sure! But when you don’t feel like it? Absolutely!

And by the way, not only do you need to be strong, but it’s one thing to be strong, and know the right thing to do, but He says, “Be courageous.” The word courageous – ready for a definition? Very simply, it’s, “the attitude of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult, or painful, instead of withdrawing from it. It’s the quality of being fearless, brave; one having valor.”

You know what God’s looking for, right now, in this turbulent world is not a bunch of Christians who go, “Ooh, ooh, ooh! What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen? I better make sure all my money’s in a safe place. I better make sure all my family’s in a safe place. I’m not going to travel. I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to do that.”

He’s looking for a group of people who understand, He’s sovereign, He’s good, He’s powerful, He has a purpose for your life – in your life, and my life – and we’re going to be difference makers. And we’re going to change the world, or we’re going to be salt that does something to flavor how people think.

And we’re going to be light that exposes fear and anxiety. And we’re not going to not do it on our own, but by the power of His Word, empowered by His Spirit, as we live in authentic community together. We are different.

And it’s not easy. And that’s why God spoke to Joshua like this. Joshua was scared to death.