November 18, 2019

A Generation of Promise: A Modern Day Parable

There was a low roar on the bank of the Jordan River that day. The murmurs and excited conversations of some three million people, mixed with the bleats and howls of their livestock, must have been a raucous sound heard far and wide as these people prepared to haul all their worldly possessions across the raging river. On the other side of this flood-stage tributary lay all their hopes and dreams, the dreams that had pressed them to keep plodding forward – step by step – across the desert for the past two years.

The anticipation was palpable. Twelve scouts had been enlisted to ford the river and bring back a report of the land. Would it be as great as they’d been told? Was it truly a land worthy to be called “The Promised Land?” And, if so, would they be able to possess it? Was their god really big enough to deliver on the promise to them?

“Was their god really big enough to deliver on the promise to them?”

Surely they could believe. After all, their god had miraculously released these Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt – even compelling the Egyptians to hand over their wealth as the group was leaving their servitude. During their trip, God had provided a big cloud in the day and a supernatural GPS in the form of a huge ball of fire at night. All they’d needed had been provided; food even dropped from the sky each day to feed them.

But still, could they really trust their God? Wasn’t it a downer that God wouldn’t allow them to collect more than enough food in one day? All they wanted to do was ensure they had enough for tomorrow, just in case God forgot to feed them on a given day. Was it so wrong to try and take care of your own children? How socialistic of God to make them so dependent on him.

Also, it might be a little heretical to say, but God HAD taken some 400 years to get them out of slavery… They were the ones who’d endured the lashes on their backs as they awaited a God-sent savior. They’d made the required number of bricks each day without being given enough straw to get the work completed. Where was God then? Maybe God wasn’t quite as trustworthy as they wished. Four centuries of disappointment will make trusting God difficult for any generation. How could they truly believe for anything good to happen now?

The Choice of a Generation

“Here they come!”

A shout rang out and families emerged excitedly from their tents to watch the men work their way back across the river. What would the report be? Would God really come through?

“Look at the size of those grapes!” exclaimed a young man, pointing at the cluster two men were carrying. Necks craned to see fruit so enormous it required a large stick for the men who struggled to keep it above the water. Clearly, the land was as abundant in produce as foretold. 

“Let’s break camp and go!” shouted Joshua, along with his high-spirited friend Caleb. Joshua and Caleb were young for such a responsibility as making determinations for the nation, but Joshua was the most-trusted advisor of their leader Moses, surely his word was good. Husbands looked at their wives and struggled to squelch their smiles. Mothers clutched their children a bit tighter. They had hope, but to fully allow themselves to enjoy the moment – it was difficult. It had been a long, hard journey, could they truly believe it to finally be coming to a profitable end? If only this could be the great day for which all of Israel had longed!

A Report from a Different Generation

“Wait!”

Another voice was getting stronger in the distance. Another man wanted to be heard over the commotion. The ten older spies had struggled to keep up with Joshua and Caleb but now they were determined to share their full report.

“Yes, Joshua’s correct, the land is great,” said one of the elder scouts, “but let me tell you the real truth about the land.”

Any smiles that had been allowed on the faces of the people quickly faded. They were so close. The evidence of the land’s fertility was right in front of them. Yet, the fear that they wouldn’t be able to take the land quickly began to take hold.

“The people in the land are giants and evil,” the older scouts shared, “and we’re just a bunch of sojourners. Who are we to think we make this place work?”

As these more mature men recounted all their risk aversion with the people, Caleb saw the faces of the people droop and their shoulders slump. He knew he had to act fast.

“Quiet!Let’s not lose perspective here” Caleb argued, demonstrably waving his hands above his head. “If we believe in God, as we say, and believe in God’s plan for us, there’s nothing we can’t do.”

Despite the encouragement of Joshua and Caleb and the evidence of the grapes in front of them and the facts of all God had done on their journey, this generation simply could not believe there anything other than bad report of the older generation. They had experienced too much suffering, too much disappointment. They’d always been victims of the circumstances of their lives and surely it was the same today. It was impossible for them to believe anything outside of what they’d always known.

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Anger began to rise as the bubble of hope burst with the sharing of this negative report. Why had Joshua and Caleb raised their hopes? This next generation was just a bunch of dreamers. An “every kid gets a trophy” generation that made them believe in possibilities rather than thinking logically. Discussion began to circulate that maybe they should get rid of Joshua and Caleb – this younger generation just didn’t understand the realities of life. They would teach these kids a lesson to prevent them from spreading false hope in the future. The people began to gather rocks in order to permanently shut the mouths of those with dissenting opinions from the prevalent mindset of the generation. They would hear no more of this.

“STOP!” 

Moses shouted at the top of his lungs as he ran down the hillside. His voice echoed all around them. The stones dropped from their hands as the instructions of their leader brought them to their right minds. They were, indeed, breaking camp, Moses shared with them, but not to go into “The Promised Land.” No, they were going back in the direction from which they had just come.

With the mentality of slaves, and the penchant for living as victims, this generation of people did not have eyes to see God’s goodness or ears to comprehend a new way of living. Therefore they couldn’t trust God to deliver on the promises and felt goodness in their lives came only from what they were able to accomplish in their own power. Therefore God could not trust them to possess the promises that lay just out of their reach. The people argued to yet go forward, but Moses shared God’s ruling on the issue:

”…as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers… But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” – Numbers 14:21-24

The sounds of excitement were gone as families quietly packed their things and once again rounded up their animals for travel. They knew God would be merciful to them, as had been the case on their travels so far. God would continue to provide food each day, make sure their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out. But the people would never forget the opportunity that had just been lost. Opportunity that would only be seen by the generation of Joshua and Caleb after this generation had passed. The corporate destiny of these people would pass to a generation able to partner with the mindset of God.

Blindness Today?

Just an old story from a long time ago? A tale to which we listen and shake our heads at the foolishness of these people? Or are there similarities to the mindset of that day with the mindset of a generation of evangelical Christians today? Check out God’s promises in the Bible:

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. – Jeremiah 29:11 msg

You’ll be a stunning crown in the palm of God’s hand, a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God. No more will anyone call you Rejected, and your country will no more be called Ruined. You’ll be called Hephzibah (My Delight), and your land Beulah (Married), Because God delights in you. – Isaiah 62:3-4 msg

Jesus shared the purpose of God coming to earth in the flesh:

God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!” – Luke 4:18-19 msg

And, listen to the disappointment Jesus expresses for a generation that can’t hear or believe in God’s promises:

Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. – Matthew 23:36-38 NLT

I believe the Bible is exceedingly clear that our culture can be changed if we follow the purpose laid out for realizing God’s good plans for our cities, state and country. If, however, a generation cannot hear those promises, because their belief has been in their own power for so long that disappointment and victimization have become the norm, we will not see the fulfillment of those plans and those good outcomes will await the next generation.

In the late 60’s, presidential candidate Richard Nixon began to speak of a people group he called “The Silent Majority.” A “law and order” people, who didn’t like the way the world was changing around them; who felt victimized by the hippies, war protestors, civil rights advocates and the media who touted that a new and different America was at hand. That people group, largely made up of Christian evangelicals, voted heavily for Richard Nixon and stuck with him even as the evidence was mounting of the corruption that would ultimately force the president’s resignation. Add in the abortion battle of the late 70’s and the “Reagan Revolution” of the 80’s and this generation became heavily dependent on its politic power as a means to hope for God’s purposes come to pass. Having never realized fully the transformation they desired over the next half-century, this generation has fallen victim to a mindset that can only believe what it’s always known and rejects any evidence to the contrary.

A New Generation

I get excited when I think of what will happen one day when a generation will fully partner with the spirit/mindset we’re called to in the Bible. A generation with the mindset of Caleb. Remember him from Numbers 14:

But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it – Numbers 14:21-24

What was different about this “different spirit” Caleb had? Caleb was willing to allow himself to believe life could be different than what he’d known his entire life. He believed the obstacles ahead weren’t to be the focus, but the possibilities. Caleb knew the fulfillment of his destiny wasn’t completely up to him but would be a product of living a life in line with God had laid out and on his ability to hope in something greater than himself. The Bible explains it like this:

“…when you hear his (God’s) voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled… even though they saw my miracles for forty years. So I was angry with them, and I said,‘Their hearts always turn away from me…” – Hebrews 3:8-10 NLT

The older generation had hardened hearts (mindsets that can’t align with God’s mindset) because they could only believe the fulfillment of God’s promises could happen if they could win battles, even though they’d seen God’s help in the desert time and again. Likewise, today, we see an American Church that believes the “salvation” of our country will come about if a Christian voting block can win elections, place “the right” judges on the Supreme Court and put the right laws in place to force people to obey “Christian” rules. I believe this mindset is not pleasing to God or in line with the life modeled by scripture. God would tell us today, as he told James and John of their mindset (which you can read about in my blog ‘The Dangers of a Political Mindset’) – “You don’t know the spirit you are of…”

Throughout the Bible, God promises that our cities will be filled with the light of heaven which will bring justice, peace and prosperity. As long as God’s people are actually the dividers of culture, however, rather than the “peacemakers” who inherit the Kingdom of heaven, then this generation will take another trip around the desert so another generation with the “Caleb Spirit” can truly see these good things come to pass. God will have great mercy on this generation, but the heartbreak will be real as the purpose of the Bible is passed to the next generation.

Is There Yet Hope for This Generation?

Of course, this generation can avoid that eventuality. The Bible lays out a clear path for mindset shift in 2 Chronicles 7:14: 

“If MY people who are called by MY name HUMBLE THEMSELVES, and pray and seek my face and TURN FROM THEIR WICKED WAYS, THEN I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Note that this verse doesn’t pertain to ALL people; this verse is directed completely at those who call themselves followers of God – or “God’s people.” And here’s what the verse tells Christians they need to do:

  • Pray and Seek God’s Face – What are the ways God displayed for followers of a godly-mindset to act? Does the Bible actually say for us to be the religious/politically partnered people we’ve become, or is there something different about the meekness and peacemaking commanded in the Bible?
  • Humble Themselves – Romans 12:2 tells God-followers to not be trapped by the mindset in which we live, but to be transformed by the “renewing of our minds.” This generation will have to be open to hearing something different than what it’s always known.
  • Turn from Their Wicked Ways – This means to repent. “Repent” means to “change your mind and go a different direction.” As our minds are renewed, we will have to allow the plans and purposes laid out by God – and modeled by Jesus – to become the reality of our living.
  • Lay Down Their Weapons – Repentance also means we will have to follow God’s plans to change the world and that will likely look very different than our strategies of laws and bans to change the world. He is calling us to die to our purposes and pick up his. After all, how did Jesus impact the world? He served it, and died for it.
  • Trust God and God’s Ways to Heal Culture – We just don’t get to do it our way anymore. And God will require us to rejoice if goodness and justice comes from a source we don’t like or in a way of which we don’t approve.

These are hard things to ask, but the Psalmist declared the one to attain God’s holy hill would be the one with “clean hands and a pure heart.” It’s crazy to think we can demand God change our culture, without first the Church asking God if our motives are pure and if our actions are in line with godly guidance. This question has been missing for some time in this age of Christian “thoughts and prayers.” Without actions in line with God’s plan, our efforts only serve to harden our hearts and to blind our eyes and stop up our ears.

I pray Christians can change. I pray the spirit of Caleb – a mindset in partnership with God – will ignite a generation. In the meantime, I root on our next generation that they can see where previous generations have failed to partner with God’s mindset and learn to be the generation of Joshua and Caleb, a generation that truly gets to see God’s ways bring peace and healing to the world.

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