Numbers 13:25-33 (Part 1) – Remembering the 2008 Season As We Enter the 2016 Season (Letting Failure Haunt Us)

Posted: September 1, 2016 in 04-Numbers
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Numbers 13:25-33 (Part 1 of 2)

The Scouting Report

Today is Thursday, September 1, 2016. Two days from now my favorite college football team, the Clemson Tigers, begin a new football season. It is a season that many predict will be another very successful campaign that may end with another appearance in the national championship game. There is a significant amount of hype concerning my team this year. They begin the year ranked second (just behind Alabama) in the preseason polls. It should be a great year. They have virtually their entire offense back from last year, a team that averaged almost 40 points per game last year, and they are another year more experienced this year. The defense lost a lot to graduation and early departures to the NFL but Clemson’s defensive coordinator seems to just plug new players in and continue to excel. Clemson is expected to excel this year. The talent that they have demands it. I am proud that the Tigers have been given such great respect this year by all the prognosticators. The scouting report on the Tigers as we enter the season is that the sky is the limit for them. Clemson is one of the most successful college football programs over the past 5 years, winning 56 games while losing only 12 (and over the past four years they are 46-8). Since the end of Game 3 of the 2013 season, Clemson has rattled off a record of 23-2 (only losing to Georgia Tech and Alabama). It has been an amazing time to be a Tiger fan.


However, as we enter the new season, a season of great promise and of great preseason hype, I am fearfully reminded of the 2008 season. The Tigers, in the previous season, 2007, had underperformed compared to expectations but had finished out the year extremely strong and ended the season with a victory over a top 10 opponent in their bowl game. So coming into 2008, they had virtually the whole team back on both sides of the ball. Expectations were high. They were ranked 9th in the national preseason rankings. Then, they ran into an upstart SEC team, at the time, named Alabama under their relatively new coach Nick Saban. That is a game that my daughters and I call “the game we won’t talk about.” The wheels came off the program at that point and six games into the season of promise, Clemson was 3-3 and had just lost to Wake Forest, oh horrors of horrors. It was after that game that Tommy Bowden was either fired or resigned and a young dude who was the receivers coach named Dabo Swinney became the interim coach. Dabo has slowly but surely improved recruiting, conditioning, and general toughness of the team to the point that when Clemson got to play Alabama again last year in the national championship game, we see how far we have come since 2008. But one cannot help to think as a fan who saw the program fall into 20 years of mediocrity after the Danny Ford years ended that we could pull a Clemson this Saturday like we did in 2008. Circumstances are similar. We are hyped and highly ranked. We are playing an SEC team that is shooting to return to prominence after a few down years. Eerily similar circumstances. It makes you fearful that history will repeat itself.


My fears about repeating the fiasco of 2008 make me almost want not to proceed past this point, this September 1, 2016. Right now, Clemson is undefeated and we can live in the hype of the preseason prognosticators. Although Clemson has been amazingly consistent over the past five years and won as many big games as it has lost, I just want to sit in this moment where we are highly ranked and thought highly of. To move forward might see us fall flat on our face and repeat past Clemson failures so prevalent before Dabo Swinney took over as head coach. However, to be excellent and to continue to build the brand of Clemson football that Dabo wants to build, we must play these big games. We must take on the challenges that will make us a consistent national championship contender. We cannot let the fears of the past freeze us in our tracks. We must venture into this season and take it on and fight for every game and prove that we deserve the hype that we have been accorded in the preseason. If we want to arrive in the Promised Land of college football, the National Championship Game (this year in Tampa, FL), we must take on all challengers. We must take on the Auburns, the Louisvilles, the Florida States. We must believe that we can win the big games, make it to the conference championship game, make it to the national semi-finals and back to the national championship game for a second year in a row. As a fan, I must believe this as much as the team. Fear never won anything. Fear makes you believe that you cannot do something. Fear makes Clemson fans fear that the history of mediocrity of 1992-2009 will rear its ugly head again. Fear will not allow you to hear that the program is in the best shape it’s ever been in and that it is poised to be a consistent winner. Fear says “yeah, but…” Fear always has a “but…”


My internal fears about the upcoming super-hyped season for the Clemson Tigers is what came to mind when I read through this passage, Numbers 13:25-33, for the first time this morning. Let’s read it together now:


25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land. 26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”


30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”


31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”


That debilitating fear that keeps us from moving forward into the next phase of life because it just might be challenging is what I see here in this passage. There was a lack of trust in a God who has proven Himself trustworthy over and over again to the Israelites. It is similar to my fears about this upcoming football season. Even though the coaching staff has been putting a consistently hard-nosed and tough team on the field that has won many big games, fears of past failures dominate my thoughts about this season of great promise. In the same way, though God has proven that He has delivered on every promise He ever made, the people would rather focus on themselves and their fears of failure. In order to be the best football team, you have to beat the best football teams. You have to play the games. You have to fight the fight.


God told the Israelites that the Promised Land was rich and fertile. Not only that, He promised them that this land would be theirs. When the scouts reported back to Moses, they gave plenty of good reasons for entering the land, but they could not stop focusing on their fears. Talk of giants and fortified cities made it easy to forget about God’s promise of victory and forget about what God had already done. Sure, it was going to be a fight. The land was not uninhabited and the people already living there were not going to just lie down and give up their land. It was going to be a mighty struggle. Just like every football game is a struggle because both teams come to win the game, so it was for the Israelites. They had a season of promise ahead of them. God had promised them their own homeland that was rich and fertile. But the other team was not just going to hand it to them. They were going to have to fight for it game by game, battle by battle.


Anything worth having is worth fighting for as the old saying goes. Another old saying is that any long journey begins with the first step. One might modify that say any long journey begins by starting your car. I think the takeaway for me today is that fear is pure and simple lack of trust in God and placing trust in ourselves. Fear is pride inverted. Whereas pride says that I can do all things on my own without God’s help, fear is not realizing that we have God’s help and not counting on that and just seeing all that scares us to death.


God may call us to step boldly into the future that He has called us toward. Many of us balk at God’s calling on our lives because when it gets right down to it, we don’t trust in His provision and protection. What if God calls you to leave your home and move to say Budapest, Hungary to spread the gospel in a former Soviet state where religion was quashed for 80 plus years. What if God calls you to a Middle Eastern country to spread the gospel in a predominantly Muslim country where being a Christian can cost you your livelihood and sometimes your life. What if God calls you to the inner streets of a large Asian or Indian city where people have never heard of Jesus and where He has called you to fight sex trafficking one girl at a time. What if God has called to leave your comfortable profession of 30 plus years to become a preacher. What if he calls you away from a big church where you are comfortable and calls you to a small dying church or a small church plant that is a 1,000 miles away.


What if God calls you to simply share the gospel with the neighbors in your neighborhood? Are you, am I, going to let the fears of rejection, of not having what it takes, of not being able to do what God has called us to do? The scouting report is in. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to a tough season ahead. But how big is your God? Is He not worthy of our trust? Is He not the Creator of the entire, vast, gi-normous universe? If He calls us to leave our comfort zone, He will provide. He will be with us as we fight for our championship service to Him. He will never call us to do something and then abandon us in the process. Yes, there will be hard times but the hard times are to teach us to depend on Him even more with each and every seemingly insurmountable battle. When we trust the Lord, we begin to see His miracles in our lives more clearly. How big is your God? What is He calling you to do that seems too big for you to do? It is too big for you to do…alone! God will be with us in what He calls us to do!


Now, go, go, play the game. Get the season started. The championship is there for the taking but we must fight for it. We must enter the stadium and play the games to get there. Each game, each battle, will be tough but God will be with us every step of the way when we step out and step on to the fields that He has called us to step out onto!


Amen and Amen.

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