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How much longer?

Welcome to yChurch from wherever you are—whether here in central Indiana, elsewhere in the state, friends in New York and Washington State. If you haven’t yet introduced yourself, take a moment to say hi by way of the contact form if you’re on yChurch’s website. We’re glad you’re here, and we’re glad to be here for you!

Right about now, a lot of us are like kids in the car on a long trip, with the classic question, “How much longer? When will we get there?” We wish we could make summer vacation plans, but we just can’t know yet.

We’ve got cabin fever. A friend and I were daydreaming aloud the other day about where we’d like to go once everyone is healthy and the pandemic is past. He described heading to Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. 

Its a beautiful region with lighthouses, cherries, top-notch local wine, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, warm-water swimming in Grand Traverse Bay from the lighthouse on the Old Mission Peninsula, and more. Highly recommend it.

Hard things

All of our national parks invite visitors to fill out comment cards. And when you ask for comments, boy do you get them! Some actual visitor comments include these:

  • “Ski lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.”
  • “Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.”
  • And my favorite: “Please avoid building trails that go uphill.”  

Seriously! Can’t you just make all the mountains flat so we don’t have to walk uphill?!

What part of mountain climbing do these people not understand? It’s supposed to make you break a sweat. The challenge is an essential part of the experience, the journey!

But truth be told, we don’t like hard things, do we? The past many months have been hard. But if there’s one thing we all share in common in this long season, it’s that it’s been hard on everyone. Everyone. 

Now the latest is that vaccines are on the way but we don’t know exactly when. And in-between times can be the hardest time—whatever your age. It’s the in-between times that are the hardest. So what can we do in this in-between? That’s what we’re going to go after for the next three weeks, How To Get Through What You’re Going Through. Building on a series by Dave Ferguson, we’re going to unpack how to make it through tough times and come out of it a better person.

You can boil down the whole journey of following Christ at its most basic as three phases, three…

Phases in spiritual growth

  1. 1. Confident faith
  2. 2. Challenged faith
  3. 3. Living faith

Confident faith is typical of when you first come to trust in Jesus. That can be as a child praying with your parent, or it can be as an adult asking Jesus to become your Savior, forgiving your sin, and asking him to become your Lord, asking him to lead you daily throughout life. Confident faith is marked by:

  • The Bible coming alive for the first time. The stories pop. You can see yourself in the stories as Jesus is there, teaching and healing and driving out demons.
  • Confident faith is marked by a new kind of joy and happiness at knowing God and being connected to others who love him.
  • With confident faith, you begin to grow in being able to talk with God about anything. You start to know and feel that God loves you, that Jesus came for you. Confident faith.

At some point, things shift into the next phase in spiritual growth, which is challenged faith. Challenged faith. 

  • Doubts pop up and eat away at your faith.
  • Hard questions come up, and you don’t know where to look for satisfying answers.
  • You meet Christians who are highly unpleasant people, unChristlike, and it throws you for a loop, trying to reconcile the power of the Holy Spirit with people who ought to be much more mature by now than they are. 
  • You long for a fresh experience of faith and happiness. Challenged faith.

Making it personal

How about you? Where would you say you are these days, with everything that’s been happening? I want you to take a moment to write down the thing or things in your life that are challenging right now, the things that you’re finding hard to deal with. Feel free to hit the pause button to grab a pen and piece of paper. If you want to send up a flare to get someone praying for you, feel free to use the contact form on the church website to say, “I’m really wrestling with X. The thing that’s hardest for me right now is…” When you hit send, we’ll be in touch within a day to pray for you and to listen to you. Promise.

Go ahead and write down a word or words, or draw a symbol that represents what you’re going through. I’ll do it too.

We’re going to come back to the word or symbol that you wrote down, that everyone watching is writing down. This hard stuff, the thing that’s burning inside you lately, has the potential to take you to the next phase in spiritual growth, which is Living faith. Living faith. From that initial confident faith as a new believer, to challenged faith when hardship hits, that hardship has the potential to pull you through to Living faith; a deep and abiding faith in God that stands strong when the headwinds blow strong against you.

All of us want to be the kind of person who stands strong and is marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control whatever comes your way. The only way to get there…is by journeying through the Challenged faith phase. So in this series, that’s what we’re going to focus on—how to make it through what you’re going through.

Introducing your tour guide

Our travel guide for this series will be God’s people of old back in their challenged faith phase that lasted 40 years. It’s described in the Old Testament books of Exodus through Deuteronomy. Before we open the Bible, here’s the backstory to how God’s people back then got to their challenged faith time.

Hundreds of years before the scene we’re going to jump in on, a severe famine in Israel brought the Israelites into Egypt, which with the Nile River could still thrive during a time of famine in arid Israel. Everything was great for a long time. But with a change in Egypt’s leadership came a change in how Egyptians viewed Israelis. The Israelites ended up becoming slaves to the Egyptians. They were treated cruelly and were abused. Their lives were brutal and hard.

They found themselves facing the question that drives this series: How to get through what we’re going through? I want to show you two different scenes from their challenged faith experience, and then two very different responses to hardship.

Fire as God’s manifest presence

We pick it up at Exodus chapter 3. God has chosen Moses, an Israelite, to lead his people back out of Egypt and back to the land of Israel. One day, God manifests his presence in a bush that is on fire, but isn’t getting consumed by the flames. In the Old and New Testaments, God’s presence is often manifested, made visible, in the form of fire:

  • A flaming sword blocked access to the tree of life in Eden after man and woman sinned.
  • Here Moses sees God’s presence as a burning-but-not-consumed bush in the wilderness.
  • Fire supernaturally roars down from heaven to consume the prophet Elijah’s sacrifice in a contest to show whose God is God and whose God is nothing more than manmade imagination.
  • A pillar of fire leads God’s people nightly through their 40 years of wilderness wandering.
  • At Pentecost in the New Testament, the coming of the Holy Spirit is manifest as what looks like flames of fire above each believer’s head that day.
  • And in the Revelation given to John that concludes the Bible, in his vision John sees Jesus having eyes like blazing fire.

So right away, Moses grasps that something big is about to happen. He is in the presence of the Living God. And from that burning bush comes the voice of God. Look with me at what Moses hears:

“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey… So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Exodus 3:7-8 & 10

God’s message to people going through a hard time, then, is:

  • I see you
  • I hear you
  • I’m concerned for you
  • I’m here for you

Be encouraged by that! Grab that note you wrote, the word or symbol for what you’re going through. In that, God sees, hears, is concerned, and is here for you. As he was for his people of old, He is for you and me today. We are his covenant people. He is with us and for us.

The key part of what God said to Moses was that God had heard His people crying out; crying out because of their hardship. How did they get through what they were going through? They did the one thing that was clearly in their control: they cried out to God!

Every decent parent gets this. When your kid gets sick or breaks an arm or gets bullied or fails a class and they come crying to you, you see them, hear them, feel concern for them, and you come to them. You take your child or grandchild in your arms and comfort them. You care for them. You go to bat for them. You defend them. This is who God is as well. That’s the first insight for us in how to get through what we’re going through these days. We have a Father in heaven. Cry out to him! Call on him! Tell him your troubles. Cry on his shoulder. He sees you. He hears you. He’s concerned for you. He’s here for you. So cry out to him.

Two more Scriptures. Jump with me to Exodus chapter 13. Through a whole series of miracles, God intervenes on behalf of his people, and they go free from generations as slaves. Then there’s a curious little detail that you just might miss if I didn’t point it out to you. We read…

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter…God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.”

Exodus 13:17-18

Have you ever caught that? Where the Israelites might have expected to be in the Promised Land in a matter of days or weeks, God led them not the shorter route, but around by the desert route. We don’t like that. We want the quick fix and the easy answer. So what’s this about? At least three things:

  • The Israelites had just left Egypt, but there was still a whole lot of Egypt in them. For hundreds of years, generations had lived in a completely pagan and idolatrous culture. As would seen be evident, a lot of that junk had seeped into the Israelites. They needed time and godly teaching to begin dismantling their wrong ideas, and to begin building the distinct identity God calls his people to have. So there’s one reason God led them not by the short route, but by a much longer journey. When your experience doesn’t match your expectations, this can be one of the reasons: God has some things to teach you, to open your eyes to, misguided ideas to free you from.
  • A second reason why God led them the longer route is life-and-death practical: they were a band of civilian slaves who just stepped out of Egypt. They were not in any sense a trained army. Going the direct route through Philistine country would have meant a quick death to the soon-to-be nation. Practical. So sometimes, when your experience doesn’t square with what you expected, it’s God protecting you from what you cannot see but he can. Protection.
  • And a third reason why God led them by the longer route rather than usher them right into the Promised Land is that he wanted to give them new experiences, to build right expectations. What they didn’t know as they set foot into the desert is that God was going to meet them in new and powerful ways. 
    • Very soon, as their captors roared out to haul them back into slavery, they would see the Lord miraculously part the Red Sea and yet cause that same sea to crush their enemy. They would see that there’s no power greater than the Lord.
    • Every day, the visible manifest presence of God would lead them as a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of blazing fire at night. They would know that God was with them. 
    • In the midst of a desert, God would miraculously provide water for them to drink—God who provides.
    • Every day, former slaves who had been badly abused would wake up to literally taste and see that the Lord is good, with manna waiting for them as their daily bread. 
    • Every Sabbath, former slaves could rest, with the manna supernaturally staying fresh each week for that day of rest. 

It was along the desert road that our forefathers in the faith got the chance to daily trust the Lord instead of long for the past. It was along the desert road that they had time to learn God’s Word and his ways. And it was along the desert road that they had enough experiences with the Lord to believe that he is able to lead us through the challenged faith times, the in-between times. But they still got to choose. Here’s what they chose:

“In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’”

Exodus 16:2-3

Crying out vs. Complaining

They model negatively the foolishness of focusing on the desert instead of on the One who leads us through it. They focused on what they didn’t have instead of on what God was giving them day by day. The New Testament uses this crowd as a negative example, cautioning us that these things were written down as a warning to us. 1 Corinthians 10 says of them, “They all ate the same spiritual food. They all drank the same spiritual water. They drank from the spiritual rock that went with them. That rock was Christ. But God was not pleased with most of them.” (1 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIRV) 

So we end with one group of people, showing two very different responses:

  • When struggling in Egypt, they cried out to God—and they got through what they were going through. They got to see the Lord do amazing things.
  • But when their faith was challenged in the desert, all they did was complain.

So for this week, don’t miss the first big takeaway on how to get through what you’re going through—cry out to the Lord, instead of complain against one another.

The difference between crying out vs. complaining: TRUST

At the heart of complaining is a sense of entitlement: “I deserve better! I demand better!” Complaining comes from the myth that we know best and so we demand that God respond how we choose. That’s not faith. 

At the heart of crying out is trust, that God who has not failed us before, will not fail us now. So for that hard thing that you’re wrestling with, cry out, “Lord, I need you! I believe you! I trust you. And I will follow you through this desert time.”

You have the choice, the power to decide which way you’ll go with that worry or frustration or fear—just like the people of old. I urge you, resist the easy path of complaining. It accomplishes nothing good for you or for the people around you. Instead, cry out to God about that which you wrote down. Bring it to him. As the apostle Peter urges…

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:6-7

If you’re trusting Christ, God’s strong hand is on you. 

One final word. Looking at that hard thing you wrote down earlier, in that, you have support from your friends here at yChurch. Pick up the phone anytime. Send a message, a cry for help, for a listening ear, for a word of prayer, for a job lead or personal reference or a meal when someone is ill. Don’t suffer alone. 

Allow me to pray for you. Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we thank and praise you that you know the thing that each one has written down, that thing that’s so hard. We give you our thanks and praise that even in the desert times, you see us, you hear us, you are concerned for us, and you are here for us. We choose to cry out to you rather than complain against others. We humble ourselves under your mighty hand, trusting that you will lift us up in due time. We cast all our anxiety on you, trusting that you care for us. We remind ourselves that the living bread from heaven—Jesus—is with us and for us today. We drink deeply of the grace you’ve poured out on us. Hear our prayer, see each one’s pain, and bring us through what each one is going through. We ask this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen! Amen, meaning so be it, let it be so!

We’re so glad you joined us for yChurch online this week! And we’ll bet you know someone else who could use a good word on how to get through what they’re going through. So do them a favor and share this with them. We’re glad to bring yChurch to your family and friends anytime, anywhere, wherever they are.

God bless you this week, and make you a blessing!