The Certain Decision

July 19, 2009

Have you ever been disappointed with the way things are turning out but still certain of where you are supposed to be going? Joshua and Caleb followed Moses out of Egypt along with the rest of the people of Israel and during that time they had watched God provide for them time and time again. It was God who parted the Red Sea so they could escape from the Egyptian army that was hot on their trail. And it was God who miraculously provided food for them to eat and water for them to drink. During the day God guided them with a column of smoke and at night God provided a pillar of fire, the ultimate GPS. They were there when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai and now God had brought them to the very edge of the land He had promised them, all they had to do was go in.
Perhaps you remember the story, 12 men were sent into the Promised Land to bring a report back to the people of Israel and what a report they brought, Numbers 13:27 This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. The fruit that they were showing off was mentioned earlier in the story in Numbers 13:23 When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs. Those are big grapes, even if it was a preacher telling the story and you had to divide by seven to get a realistic size they were still big grapes.
And so the spies brought back this report to Moses and the people of Israel, and I’m sure that people were over the moon and then the spies add these words. Numbers 13:28 But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! Later in the story they would expand on that statement and say Numbers 13:32-33 So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”
And when everyone weighed in it was the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity, to borrow a phrase from Spiro Agnew, who actually borrowed it or bought it from his speechwriter William Safire, who won the day and it was decided that it was too dangerous to go where God was leading them. The disappointment that Joshua and Caleb felt on that day must have weighed them down and crushed their spirits. And for just a few minutes this morning I want to focus on Joshua and Caleb. After all I’d be willing to wager that nobody here can even remember the names of the other ten. So why waste our time on people we can’t remember.
So, it’s been a couple of weeks since we last looked at the Traveller’s gift so let’s come up to speed. After hearing the author Andy Andrews speak last year I got a copy of his novel the Traveler’s Gift. The book chronicles the journey of David Ponder who travels through time to meet with seven individuals who each offer him one principle to live by. The book is sub-titled Seven Decisions that determine Personal Success.
And so the first week we looked at Ponder’s visit to Harry Truman who encouraged him to choose the responsible decision and understand that he was responsible for where he was in his life. It was then that we looked at the story of Adam and Eve and we learned that we need to accept responsibility for the choices we have made in life. And we need to realize that if we are going to move on in our lives we can no longer blame our parents, our friends or our circumstances.
The next week we looked at the time Ponder spent with King Solomon who told him he needed to choose wisdom, this is the guided decision. And we looked at the need to pursue wisdom through reading books, yes books, not magazines, newspapers or blogs but good old fashioned books, through the wisdom of those who have something to offer us and through prayer and reading God’s word.
From Solomon’s temple Ponder found himself transported to July 2, 1863 at Little Round Top. It is the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg and Ponder meets Colonel Joshua Chamberlain a 34 year old school teacher from Bangor Maine, who is commanding the 20th Maine a volunteer unit in the Union army. And it is from Chamberlain that Ponder learns the lesson of the active decision. If we are going to succeed in life we will need to do something, it is not enough to simple have great ideas unless we are ready to put those ideas into action.
And from Gettysburg Ponder travels back almost three hundred years to receive his next lesson, from . . . Christopher Columbus. For nineteen years Columbus had sought someone to sponsor his quest, his vision and belief that the world was not flat as believed by most but instead a sphere, and finally after meeting disappointment after disappointment King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain sponsored the expedition that would open up a whole new world to the people of Europe.
And what does Columbus tell Ponder? “Most people fail at whatever they attempt because of an undecided heart. Should I? Should I not? Go forward? Go Back? Success requires the emotional balance of a committed heart. When confronted with a challenge, the committed heart will search for a solution. The undecided heart searches for an escape. Indecision limits the Almighty and his ability to perform miracles in your life. He has put the vision in you — proceed! To wait, to wonder, to doubt, to be indecisive is to disobey God.”
And so today we look at the “Certain Decision”. If there is any one thing that seems to prevent us from moving forward it is disappointments. “I tried and it didn’t work, so why bother trying again?”
Let’s go back to the heroes of my message Joshua and Caleb; these two guys were so excited about what the future held in store for them and the nation of Israel. They had seen the Promised Land, walked across it lush plains and tasted its fruit and now they were watching it slip from their fingers.
When Angela and I were first married, late in the last century, we owned a couple of kittens. And one day the male, Mick, discovered a balloon on the floor of our living room and he started playing with it. He would bat it and then chase it across the carpet, he was having a ball. Now I knew what was going to happen, but having a slight nasty streak decided to let things progress on their own. Well eventually Mick cornered the illusive beast and pounced with every one of those needle sharp kitten claws extended. And with a bang his prey disappeared. The bang set him back a bit but the look of disappointment on his face when his plaything disappeared was so sad.
Joshua and Caleb had had their balloon burst, they were disappointed as they watched their dreams feel apart. You’ve been there you know what I’m talking about. At some time or another in your life you have had dreams come crashing down. Perhaps it was a job or promotion that didn’t materialize like you thought it would, or a dream that you’ve never seen fulfilled. Maybe it was just a delay or maybe it was a complete stop.
I am convinced the more vivid the vision the greater the disappointment should the vision fail to materialize. Author Eric Hoffer said “Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy — the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.” Bankruptcy of the soul, if you’ve felt it you know how apt that description is. I’m sure that there were others in Israel who were disappointed as well but because they hadn’t been so passionate about the dream the disappointment wasn’t as crushing.
We’ve all had disappointments, in our education, our careers, our marriages and our spiritual lives. But how we deal with our disappointments will determine whether they destroy us or make us stronger.
1) Disappointments Are Only Delays. Who says that every setback has to be final? Even though Joshua and Caleb could not enter the promised land right away they did eventually get there. And it was just as beautiful as they had remembered it.
Even though you may not be able to enjoy the taste of victory today doesn’t mean you won’t tomorrow. You may have to reshuffle your plans, you may have to rearrange your priorities, but disappointments don’t have to be final. The anticipation can be as much fun as the arrival. That delay may give you the extra time you need for more planning.
2) Disappointments are Educational Many times we can actually learn from our setbacks. I never make a mistake that I don’t try and learn something from it. And I am convinced that we never learn nearly as much from our successes as we do from our failures. Now I know that it’s a lot more fun to learn from out success, but we don’t learn as much.
As many mistakes as each one of us makes, as many disappointments as we experience in our lives it would be one of the greatest wastes of resources in the world if we failed to learn from those mistakes and disappointments that come our way. Sometimes the delays that we experience provide time for reflection and self examination and in that it provides us with a learning opportunity.
In 1990 we uprooted our family and moved from the booming metropolis of Truro to Brisbane Australia with a population of 1.75 million people who all drove on the wrong side of the road. Now not being one to shun a challenge we immediately made plans to drive into the centre of the city, actually the plans had already been made for us but we were game to try. So armed with our trusty refer-dex, which was simply a fancy name for a book of street maps we ventured into the valley, as downtown Brisbane was called. And it was there that I discovered the benefits of stop signs and red lights. Although they did slow me down they allowed me to sneak a look in the book and find out where we were. Because with traffic going in all directions I needed the opportunity to stop and get my bearings. Sometimes the disappointments in our lives are stop signs that allow us to get our bearings. And sometime they prevent us from continuing in the wrong direction.
It is only when you can’t learn or are unwilling to learn from life’s disappointments that they become failures. And when we stop we need to look at what we have experienced and ask the big question; Why? What caused this to happen? Can I correct it? If it can be corrected then do it. Maybe the reason you didn’t get that job you wanted was that you showed up in ratty clothes needing a haircut and mouthwash, you can learn from that experience and change things for a more favourable outcome. Or perhaps you wanted to play basketball in the NBA but you’re only 5’2” then you might want to look for a different calling, because some things you can’t change.
3) Disappointments Are Times of Adjustment Too many times life becomes boring and routine. We are in a rut and we all know what a rut is right? Right, a rut is simply a grave with both ends kicked out.
Day after day we do the same thing. Day in and day out we are content to simply continue doing the familiar. And it’s only when disappointments come that we look at these experiences and re-evaluate the way we’ve been doing things. Some of our greatest moments happen because we are forced out of our pattern of repetition by a disappointment.
Eight years ago we had a series of events that resulted in a down turn in the attendance and revenue at Cornerstone, it was a disappointment for me. In order for us to continue we decided that the best option was for me to look for an outside source of income. That was a disappointment for me; I didn’t really relish the thoughts of having two jobs. However due to those circumstances I was approached by an editor to do some writing and I ended up writing for six different magazines. That year I was also offered a position as adjunct faculty at our Bible College in New Brunswick and now I teach a course every other year and I discovered that not only do I enjoy teaching at the college level, but I’m not bad at it either.
I’ve been looking for a place to quote Red Green and this looks like the spot. Red Green says “You are not good at something just because you enjoy it. Karaoke has proved that. To my way of thinking, you are not good at something because you enjoy it; rather you enjoy something because you are good at it.”
The disappointment that led to those offers wasn’t fun I did not enjoy it one little bit, but the adjustments that we made as a result have been a real bonus for Denn.
At the time of a disappointment it’s always wise to examine the events surrounding the disappointment and see if you need to make adjustments. Many churches and pastors have chosen to accept disappointment as the norm, rather then changing traditional behaviour. Anytime we begin to fail in evangelism, in seeing people won to Jesus Christ, in attracting people to our church we need to stop and ask: Why? Tradition is good as long as tradition is effective. And it doesn’t have to be old to be tradition. Cornerstone has only been around for fourteen years but we already have our own traditions.
It is an unfortunate that many people through the years have gone to hell because ineffective church programs have become sacred cows. And there are times we need to discover that sacred cows make the best hamburgers.
Every program, every custom, every tradition and every facility must be examined from time to time to make sure they are still doing the primary function and objective and that has been, and should remain to be glorifying God and bringing a lost and dying world to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
And sometimes it takes a disappointment in a program before we make a change. And sometimes it takes a disappointment in your job for you to evaluate your position and your performance. And sometimes it takes a disappointment with your children to adjust your child rearing techniques.
We have to be able to recognize those disappointments and instead of whining, adjust.
4) Disappointments are Pace Setters. Often after a professional athlete has injured them self they return to their sport too soon only to discover that the injury still hurts. Although the pain is a disappointment it is essential to set the proper pace for the athlete’s development and complete healing.
At first they are disappointed because their fastball isn’t as fast as it used to be, their slap shot isn’t a hard as it used to be and their jump shot isn’t as high as it used to be. But it will essentially through time and care eventually heal to pre-injury capabilities.
But sometimes there is a physical healing but not a mental healing. When I was a teenager I owned a horse, a fact of which my daughter constantly reminded me of usually with words like “How come I can’t have a horse you used to?” To which I reminded her that my horse was a free horse, at least that was the initial cost, as my father is fond of reminding me. The reason Extra Time was a free horse was because he was a standard bred race horse who had been hurt. In 1972 his best time was 2:08 for a mile but during a race he stumbled and fell and pulled his chest muscles. The vets claimed that he was completely healed but he never got his speed back. Why? Because he had been hurt and was afraid he would get hurt again. Sound familiar.
Sometimes we get hurt emotionally or spiritually and we never get over the disappointment and we don’t ever grow any further.
In the growth cycle of a church, they usually grow, plateau, grow, plateau and so on. Plateaus will always be disappointing and sometimes if not corrected will become a downward trend. But the reason that churches plateau is that it’s pace setting. If a church grows too fast for too long they get out of balance and become top heavy with new Christians. But after a church takes the time to disciple and assimilate those people they are ready to grow again. What was a disappointment actually helps in their growth.
5) Disappointments are Necessary I love good weather, hot and sunny is perfect for me. The year we moved to Australia we had 93 days without seeing a cloud. I thought I was in Paradise. The result of that beautiful weather? The grass got brown, the flowers died, the water supply got low, the farmers of Queensland weren’t nearly as impressed with the weather as I was. Nature cannot survive as we know it without rain.
In the 1970’s there was a song out the lyrics were “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden, along with the sunshine there has to be a little rain sometimes.” And such is life. For total complete full development we need to have different types of experiences come our way. There is no way we can exhibit the fruit of maturity in our life without the rain of disappointment. A land without rain is called a desert.
Some of life’s greatest virtues: faith, hope, patience and perseverance only come our way through disappointment. Only then will you discover that every problem has a solution. Only when you have met with disappointment and overcome it will you develop the ingredients in your character to seek a solution instead of being perplexed by the problem.
6) Disappointments are Normal Don’t take disappointments personally. Our normal reaction is “Why?” or “How could this happen to me?”
When things go wrong it doesn’t mean that God’s out to get you. That’s life, disappointments happened. But disappointments do not have a negative or a positive impact in themselves. Instead it is our reaction to those disappointments that make them either negative or positive.
2 people can have exactly the same disappointment and end up with two completely different outcomes. It is how we handle our disappointments that will determine our success. Some people are motivated by Disappointments; others are destroyed by their disappointments. How you act and react to life and it’s many disappointments usually indicates who you are and what you can become. Henry Ward Beecher stated “Ones best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” You don’t have to guess how he dealt with disappointments.
I wonder if Mario Andretti the race car driver ever had to face disappointments? I wonder if he ever lost a race? Listen to what he said “Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal. Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it occurs.”
How do you view disappointments? As stepping stones or as stumbling blocks? Do they strengthen your faith or weaken your faith? Do they draw you nearer to God or push you farther away from God? The choice is yours and yours alone.
Let’s go back to our story Joshua 1:2-3 God said “Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you.”
I don’t know what disappointments you are facing today but I’d like to pray for you.