Pilgrimage – Overcoming Giants
I can still remember, in vivid detail, being in 9th grade English class at Ranson Middle School. We were reading through one of Shakespeare plays, I’m not sure which. I had dodged reading aloud for a couple of days. I would slink behind the person in front of me to be missed by the teacher’s eye, but not that day. Nope, I was caught in her sights and given one of the main characters to read. My fear had become a reality. I had stumbled through the class reading my part to the best of my ability. I missed words. I mispronounced others. The whole time I was in a cold sweat and my heart was pounding. I hated reading in public, still do. That was one of my giants in life. It took me a long while to get comfortable talking in front of a crowd. God and I had long talks as I went through college and seminary. I told him I would be willing to do anything but be behind a pulpit. But here I am. Not by my own choice, but by God’s will.
What I have found is as I have followed God’s calling in my personal life my giant has become smaller. I am still nervous almost every Sunday. Being the one heard, the one speaking, the one preaching was never my dream but it is my calling. The giant I had to face was my fear of speaking in front of people, reading in front of people, messing up words, or saying the wrong thing. But through lots of practice and mainly because of the grace of God, I stand behind this pulpit today to bring you this message God has laid on my heart. Anything is possible with God.
The scripture I read today is the last half of the scripture I read last week. The reason we are covering it twice is because it is so important to understanding how we as individuals and us as a congregation can move forward into God’s Promised Land. What we hear today is the ten spies describing to the people who lived in the Promise Land. They tell them they are giants. This is the “Grasshopper Report.” The reason they give this report is because of fear or, as we called it last week, perceived reality. The task of going into the promise land, a land full of milk and honey, seemed too much. There were too many people and too many fortified cities. All they could see was death ahead of them. In verse, 14:3 is says, “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land to fall by the sword?” For the ten spies and for the community of Israel the future looked too bleak, too difficult.
For Caleb and Joshua though they had what is called “remembering encouragement.” They looked back and they had seen what God has brought them through and they were convinced God would be able to do the same. They came from a place of faith in God, or envisioned reality. They believed God would bring them into the Promise Land because that is what God had promised.
What is interesting is that Caleb and Joshua never went against the idea of the giants. They never argued that there weren’t giants in the land. Instead they simply said that God could get them through it, no matter what. They realized there were some big hurdles that lay ahead of them. They saw fortified cities and people who have lived in this land for generations, but their faith told them that anything was possible with God.
What giants do we face? What huge hurdles do we have to get over in order to be in the Promised Land of God? How can we live into that mission and vision that Jesus prayed for us back in John 17? To do so will take lots of work and also recognizing the giants that will have to come down in the process.
There are two basic giants in our world, the general and the specific. First let’s talk about general giants. These are the giants that everyone faces in our culture. We share them as a nation and a society. There is no escaping them because they are what they are. The book I am using defines these general giants are worldviews, technology, and expectations. Let’s start with the worldviews. They quote Walter Wink’s book, The Powers that Be, who says there are five major worldviews to define God and the created order through humanity’s history.
1. Ancient Worldview – This view of the world links the spiritual world and the physical world together. These two realities mirror one another. We can see this in Genesis where humanity is made in God’s image. If something happens on earth it is in relation to what happens on the spiritual realm.
2. Spiritualist Worldview – This worldview separates the spiritual and earthly realities. It states that anything spiritual is good and anything earthly is bad. It completely separated the two and attempted to keep them separate. Think of monasteries. These were places where people would attempt to shake off the physical world and live in a spiritual world, thus shaking off the bad and putting on the good.
3. Materialist Worldview – This world view became popular during the Age of Enlightenment. This worldview ignored the spiritual realm and only concentrated on the physical. It stated that the spiritual realm is simply an illusion and life is only a process of chemical reactions and made up of atoms. It concentrated on science as the source of truth.
4. Theological Worldview – This worldview attempted to counter the Materialist. It stated that the earthly reality could be defined by science but theology defined the spiritual realm and could not be proven through science. One of their more famous quotes to describe the physical and spiritual realities is “Science tells us how the world was created and religion tells us why.”
5. Integral Worldview – This view is currently emerging. It states that everything has an inner and outer aspect. Heaven and earth are the inner and outer aspects of the same reality. There is no separation between the spirit and the flesh, the spirit is the inner aspect and the flesh is the outer.
What makes these five worldviews giants is explained by a quote from Walter Wink. “The important point here is that we may be the first generation in the history of the world that can make a conscious choice between these worldviews.” For the first time in history we can choose which ones of these worldviews to believe, follow and frame the way we view the world around us. Which one we choose will tell us a lot about how close we will get to the Promised Land.
One other general giant is technology. It is that dreaded thing we love and can hate all at the same time. It allows us to do so much more than past generations. Now we can communicate and stay in touch with anyone and everyone around the world. On my Facebook page this week I watch status updates from friends all over North Carolina getting ready for snow while at the same time some friends who live in England do the same thing. Technology has shrunk our world but it also has increased the speed of it. Now once you purchase a new cell phone it almost automatically goes out of date. Technology is always changing and it does so at an ever increasing pace. The struggle is to keep up with it in order to stay relevant.
Anyone heard of Moore’s Law? “Moore’s law is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximnately every two years.” This means that around every two years technology doubles its abilities. So in two years our cell phones and computers will have twice the amount of memory and be twice as fast. Two years after that it will be twice as fast as that year. What Moore’s Law demonstrates is that the speed at which technology changes and changes our culture happens at an extremely fast rate. This is a huge giant in our culture because it is always changing and we are becoming more reliant on it as a culture.
The last general giant is the Giant of Expectation. As technology changes it promises, whether out front and honestly or in our own minds, to make life easier, create more meaning and add purpose. Beyond that we all have expectations about how life is supposed to go and where we are to find purpose and meaning. There are generational differences. What is important to an older generation may not have as much relevance to a younger generation. There are institutional expectations. Our District Superintendent has some expectations on what I am to do as a pastor for this congregation and he has some expectations for you all as a congregation within the Metro District. Add all those to the expectations Christ has for us. If we look back to John 17 we understand a little better what those expectations are, to go out into the world, be representatives for God’s love, and go in God’s love. We all have expectations on where we will find meaning and purpose in our lives and how, where, and why are all huge giants.
These are three general giants in our current reality that we face as a society, as a church, and as individuals. We all share them. But there are some giants that are more specific. Let’s talk a little bit about Indian Trail. If you open your bulletin you can see some of the statistics about our fair town. Here are some of the realities we are living with at the moment. We are the largest populated town in Union County. Yes, we have more people than Monroe. In 1990 there were just under 2000 people living in Indian Trail. Now there are over 38,000. In the next ten years, we are predicted to have over 60,000 people. If we had 60,000 people in Indian Trail today, that would make us the 15th largest city in the state. Currently we are the 25th. Let that sink in for a second.
What is happening in our town is that we are moving from a country, rural part of North Carolina into a major suburb of Charlotte. We are the fastest growing city in North Carolina and that doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon. The giant that we face as a town is how are we going to make that transition. If we truly wanted to get really specific, how are we as a church going to survive that transition as well? What will we have to do stay relevant, up-to-date and accessible to an ever change community?
Another giant we will face is how we, as a congregation, are going to survive. We have aging buildings, financial issues, and an average worship that the conference states is not sustainable. The conference states that a church needs to average 125 in worship on a Sunday to be able to pay all their bills, pension, healthcare, and apportionments with money left over to make an impact through missions in their community. An average of 125 in worship. I am filling out End of the Year reports and the average I have for this year in our worship is 80. We need to increase our Sunday Worship Attendance average by 45 to be sustainable. That is a huge giant that we face.
There are others. We were able to pay $8,000 of our pension and healthcare costs for 2012. That still left us $16,000 short for the year. When you add that to the amount we owed from 2011, which was around $18,000, we are in a fiscal hole to the tune of $34,000. There are some ideas that the Finance Committee is coming up with to help us cut into that debt but we have a ways to go. There are other giants that we need to face and we will be naming some of them tomorrow night in our Bible Study, which I would love for everyone to come to.
We are right there with the Israelites, right on the edge of the promise land. As we name the general and specific giants we cannot forget who brought us here. We have to take the perspective of Caleb and Joshua. We have to interpret our current reality with the eyes of an envisioned reality. If we do we have a future. If not we will be pushed out into the wilderness for 40 years.
I told you the story of me being afraid to read in public because it is my personal testimony to God’s power and grace. I am sure I can ask some of you to tell me the story of your lives and we can hear even more stories of God getting us through things in life, defeating the giants that are in front of us and bringing us to the Promise Land. Our future is bright when it is found in the light of Christ, the source of truth and hope. But that doesn’t mean we won’t face giants. They are out there and whether they are real or imaginary we will have to battle with them.
I am reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. He once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” What does our future look like? I don’t know yet. Will God guide us there and see us through, helping us to defeat our giants? I believe what Caleb and Joshua said, "If the Lord is pleased with us, he'll bring us into this land and give it to us. It's a land that's full of milk and honey."
If you need more proof, hear again what the youth sung to open our worship this morning.
Oh what I would do to have the kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant
With just a sling and a stone.
Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors shaking in their armor
Wishing they’d have had the strength to stand
But the giant’s calling out my name and he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me time and time again.
“Boy you’ll never win! You will never win”
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
And the voice of truth says, “This is for My glory.”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.
And all God’s people said…Amen.