Who are we leading?

I created a post back in August talking about fear and how we represent the message of Christ, and upon a closer review realized that my thoughts didn’t quite make sense.  I was challenged by a friend & colleague to take another stab at articulating my thoughts.  Here are the reflections I had by the time my brain had stopped…

I picked up Craig Groeschel’s most recent book The Christian Atheist during the Leadership Summit.  Before you freak out at the title, let the subtext put the title into proper perspective for you: believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist. Reading it has reminded me of countless previous church experiences I’ve had where the church completely misrepresented the Gospel.  So often the church misses the whole point of knowing and sharing Christ and what it means to follow Him.

Don Cousins, the director of ministries at the church I work at, shared in a staff meeting recently how so many churches “take the gospel only so far.”  A pastor teaches about the spiritual gifts and how important it is for each and every person to find their gift and develop and cultivate it, and the congregation gets all excited about it and fired up and wants to find their gift and develop it, and then the pastor ends his message by saying, “… so go find out what your gift is and develop it.”  …  And that’s as far as the church leadership takes it.  No coaching, no assistance, not even a half-hearted point in the right direction.

Only a fraction of the people in church that day may actually go out and try pursuing what their gift is.  A few may even stick with it for more than just a few days.  But they’re expected to find their own way into a world that is strange and sometimes frightening because they’ve never been there before, and they don’t get any further because there is no one there to lead them, to help them.

So often I find I expect people to engage to a certain level during corporate worship.  I desire for the entire room to have their hands raised, fully immersed in the Spirit, voices raised so loud you can’t hear the band.  For a long time I talked about my desire for there to be a buzz of anticipation about what’s going to happen that day during service, a “what’s God gonna come and do” on the lips of every person who’s gathered at each venue.  I expect every person who’s shown up on that particular day to have experienced the incredible and undeniable mercies and miracles of God that week.  I expect to find people whose faith is like mine, people who are basically just like me…

Worship leaders and musicians, as passionate and emotive Christ followers, fall victim to this tendency pretty easily.  We’re driven by the emotion and passion in music, we feed off the energy and excitement in the room as we lead worship.  And, while there’s nothing wrong with that as long our hearts are leading from a place of authenticity and adoration of Jesus, we get frustrated when we don’t receive that feedback.  I know I do.  Having played major concerts in huge venues and been in edgy rock bands where everyone’s jumping around and “rocking out” to the music, I love getting caught up in the response to the vibe being created by the music.  But not everyone knows how or wants to plug into the musical experience that way.

Imagine you live next to a well with the clearest, purest and most revitalizing drinking water on earth, and it’s your job to tell all who pass by about it and provide it for them.  The only catch of this particular well is, you’re the only one in the area who knows how to use the machinery that lowers the bucket down to the water and then bring it back up.  You’re so excited about the well and about your job as the well’s official announcer that you walk around with a bullhorn telling all within hearing range about the well, pumping a big sign up and down in the air with the words “FREE WATER, TAKE AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE” painted in huge, bold letters, but you never actually set down the sign and work the bucket machinery or even take time to teach someone else how to work it…

I forget that people show up to church without knowing why they’re there or even how they got there.  I forget that people show up as they have for years and years because that’s what people are supposed to do every Sunday, and then they leave God in the parking lot as they drive to Panera Bread for lunch.  I forget that people only had enough gas in their car to get to church and have no idea how they’re going to get back home.  I forget that people show up with hearts that are hurt, angry, bored, shamed, bitter, full of sorrow and confusion and questions.  I forget that the church is made up of people who are completely different from me in every single way.  People with stories that would make my skin crawl and my heart snap in two.

I forget that I’ve been hurt, angry, bored, shamed, bitter, full of sorry and confusion and questions.  I forget that I’ve led worship from these same desolate places, I’ve had to guide a congregation to a place of joy when all I was feeling was painful sorrow.  But the beauty is, these are the places where so often God is able to work in us the most.  That’s been very true for me in the past.  When everything else falls away, I finally reach that place where He’s the only thing I have left, and then I realize that He’s really all I need.

Expecting everyone in the room to have reached the exact same checkpoint in the race we’re running like the apostle Paul talks about is absolutely foolish.  We must remember that people from all walks and stages of life and faith come through our doors every single week.  Next to the person with closed eyes and raised hands who is singing words that have become as familiar to their heart as breathing, there stands someone whose eyes flicker around the room trying to figure out what’s going on, whose hands are buried deep in their pockets, and who hasn’t said a word other than “hello” to the usher who handed them their info guide.

We did the worship exercise a few weekends ago where our worship leaders encouraged the people in worship to try changing their posture, to try to experience something more, something deeper, to encourage the churchgoer who is nervous, or angry, or broken to take a baby step in a new direction toward the person of Christ.  Remembering those challenging times in our own stories and communicating the realities both of those challenges alongside the authority with which Jesus can conquer those challenges is what allows us to help that person who is nervous, angry, and broken find the high, wide, and deep love of Christ their Saviour.  Sometimes when all we see is a person standing completely still instead of “responding to the worship experience,” that person is in the midst of the deepest connection with their Creator that they’ve ever experienced.

We can only lead from a place where we’ve been ourselves, and that rings true both for where we are serving as leaders in our community as lead worshippers, and for all the valleys we’ve struggled through along the course of our journey.  If you’re a leader in your church, your community, wherever and whatever it is, remember that Christ created the church to serve all who are seeking to deepen their relationship with Him, from the ones who have devoted every waking moment of their lives to seeking and serving Him to the ones who have never before set foot inside a church.  Our role is to help usher them all into the presence of God, so let’s do it as a people who have experienced His saving grace and are daily in need of it.  Let’s know who we are in Him so we can come to Him in earnest, seeking His heart and His love and His promises.

Holy contradictions…

I’ve been writing a song over the course of the past year and a half that reflects on Jesus’s fascinatingly contradictory nature, the way He lived and demonstrated life by doing the exact opposite of society’s norms and expectations.  Touching the untouchable in the leper, loving the adulterous prostitute, breaking bread with crooked tax collectors.  His bold actions went against not only cultural taboos, but against many of the laws of the day.  After He ascended, His disciples, who became the first leaders of the “modern” church, discovered the reasoning behind and hope within why Christ lived like that while here on earth.

I’m reading through James again at the suggestion of a colleague and friend, and I just started writing what came to mind as I read.  Enjoy…

  • When faith is tested, endurance will grow.  When endurance grows, it will make me stronger.  Not on my own, but by His strength.
  • Is my loyalty divided between God and the things in this world?  Am I truly putting my faith in Him alone?  Where am I falling short when it comes to seeking and asking Him for wisdom?  How do I tell the difference between what I’m coming up with on my own and what He is inspiring?
  • The rich should show humility for their blessings, and the poor should boast of how God is honoring them.  They have all they need in Him, as long as they are making Him all they need.
  • God never tempts us, He never puts things in front of us to test our faith in such ways.  But He allows it so we may be blessed by enduring it!
  • In spite of how mankind has continued to abandon Him, His heart still beats for us.
  • There is a distinct difference between my anger and God’s righteous anger.  I need to defer to His anger when I’m angry or frustrated, and I need to be open to letting Him in to dispel it, including when it’s offered by a friend.
  • I need to not just read & listen to the Word, I need to live it.  I need to practice it!  Daily!  I need to have it on my mind so I truly know it.
  • James 2 is hitting home.  I find myself judgmental of people purely by their appearance, and I remember a time when I didn’t.  That’s the world’s influence on me.  I think this is one of the really tough areas for me to grasp.
  • The law that sets me free will also judge me, so I should live according to that law of freedom and enjoy the freedom I have in it!
  • James 3.  As a leader in the church, I will be judged more strictly.  I’ve already felt the sting of poor decisions, and it is the least important reason I need to guard my heart and mind.  The most important is the tremendous freedom in Him, as mentioned before.  Why do I need anything else?
  • Humility humility humility.  Draw close to God, He draws close back.
  • James 5… Prayer is powerful.  Prayer is conversation.  Prayer with others is uplifting and revealing.

Created for us…

I just started a “historical” read-through plan of the Bible at YouVersion.com. Essentially it goes through every book of the Bible in the order each book was written. I’m not exactly sure how different it will be from a chronological read-through (in the order which things occurred rather than when the book were written), so we’ll see how this goes. Either way, I’m excited.

First revelation: when God was creating the universe, He created it just for us. The Earth wasn’t the last thing He made… it seems like it was the first. He didn’t even make the sun first! He said, “Let there be light,” and there it was. Where was it coming from? Or perhaps, Who was it coming from? According to Genesis 1:14-18, it wasn’t until the fourth day that he actually made the sun and moon and stars. They were merely the “governors” of day and night He put in place to keep a regular rhythm to things. Heck, He made seed- & fruit-bearing plants before He made the sun. I wonder if that was because He was planning on being so close to the earth that the sun and moon weren’t really going to be needed to yield life from the plants in the soil. It makes me sort of sad thinking about how His original idea was to be all we would ever need, but we chose poorly…

Second revelation, accompanied with a question: when God created us He said, “Let us make human beings in our own image, to be like us.” I’ve read this before. I’ve always thought I understood what this means. I thought I comprehended how in Heaven our bodies would become perfected, the way God originally intended. But to be in the exact image of God Himself, of Jesus Christ in all His glory, to be like His heavenly host of angels… was He talking to Jesus when He said “us,” or was He talking to all of Heaven’s realm?…

A question: why did God make the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Why was it necessary? Did God Himself eat from it? Was it there purely to demonstrate Adam & Eve’s obedience to Him in not partaking of its fruit?… and why did Adam & Even have to eat it? I don’t know whether it was a flaw in our design, most likely intentional since nothing is a surprise to God, or the pure deceiving power of the Enemy. Perhaps both.

God’s judgement on Adam & Eve and the rest of humankind makes me very sad. We had it made! Life and company at our fingertips, within our hands, beneath our feet, and we abandoned it in favor of something greater. Now we must work hard, and our days are numbered. Death scares me. The idea of just not being alive is frightening, because it’s all I know. All because we wanted to be greater than we were.

But the Enemy wanted to be greater, too. Which is precisely why he was cast down, he and his legions of followers. I wonder how many countless millennia the war has been going on between God and the enemy.

It seems we may have been cured of our new mortality if we’d eaten of the Tree of Life. But with our knowledge of what is good and what is evil, we would have been exactly like God instead of just being made in His image, in honor of His glory. I wonder what that would have been like… It’s possible that would have stirred up an entirely new war alongside the battle waged between Heaven and the darkness.

And since nothing is a surprise to God… He did it all anyway. I know His ways are so much higher than mine, but I wonder what He was thinking as He made all these things knowing full well what was going to happen next, in just a few days, or years, depending on how time was calculated at its beginning. Obviously, He knows something I don’t….

Well, okay. More than just a few somethings. More like… like… a really big number that I’d never be able to comprehend.

And that’s okay. I just want to live a life that says to Him, “All I need is You. And while I’ll keep screwing up and making the wrong choice, choosing from the wrong tree, I’ll keep trying because You keep forgiving.”

And maybe I won’t be so afraid anymore.

God, You’re my God, You’re my God…

This is the opening line to the worship anthem “God You Are My God” by Delirious. And that song makes me delirious. I feel like I can fully embrace who God is when I sing the words.

God, You’re my God, You’re my God…

And I will seek You, yes, I will seek You!

I discovered only today where Martin Smith received his inspiration for this song of declaration: Psalm 63 (The Message)…

God–You’re my God! I can’t get enough of You!
I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God,
traveling across dry and weary deserts….

This is exactly where I’ve been. The recurring theme of the Desert of Passivity. Continued…

So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open,
drinking in your strength and glory.
In your generous love I am really living at last!
My lips brim praises like fountains.
I bless you every time I take a breath;
My arms wave like banners of praise to you.

God, You are my God. Even during those times when I am not seeking You.

Help me to seek You, so I may praise You as long as I live!

Worship aerobics…

I returned this morning to a book I haven’t opened up and read in years: The Heart Of Worship Files by Matt Redman.  My previous foray through this compilation of insights and revelations Redman has realized over the years was, in a word, brief.  I’ve always been a quick reader, but as you can imagine, my retention level falls proportionally lower as the speed at which I read gets higher.  I was more interested in finishing this book than finishing a single thought from it.  This time, I opted for a different approach and took my sweet time going through the first four-and-a-half pages and was immediately marked with a revelation about what I just read.

In this first little blurb of a chapter, Redman explores the difference between the outward expressions worship leaders tend to search and prod for in their congregation: checking the ratio in the room of raised vs. unraised hands, the mental “Clap-O-Meter” worship leaders bust out at the end of a song to evaluate the crowd’s response, etc.  Being an extrovert and a musician, I’m much more prone to expressing myself outwardly than inwardly, so those types of responses tend to hold more value to me, and I often gauge my “performance” as a worship leader on those specific forms of feedback.  Did I really hit the intensity of that song and encourage people enough to shout aloud and clap their hands?  “C’mon, people, we cheer for our favorite sports teams louder than we cheer for our King, let’s give Him everything we’ve got!”  Good motivations, but I think I’m misguided in my execution of lead worshipping.

I recalled how stirred my spirit was just a few days ago during the Leadership Summit conference as we worshipped with the Willow Creek team via satellite.  I’ve found I tend to have a difficult time worshipping if I’m not a direct part of the team leading the worship.  Not sure if it’s deep-seated pride in the gifts & talents I’ve been blessed with in music, envy at not being on stage, distraction at the quality level of the worship being shared, or just my passion for being a part of the process.  Sadly, I also don’t believe the last of those four options is the most common one I hold in those moments.  But during the Summit, I experienced a different sort of response in my own heart, more of a revelation at what those words really mean.  And since I wasn’t concerned about making sure the band was in the right section of the song, or trying to keep my guitar in tune, or trying to evoke a response from a crowd of people, I was able to focus just on the words I was singing…

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
Holy, holy is He,
Sing a new song to Him who sits on
heaven’s mercy seat…

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,
Who Was and Is and Is To Come!
With all creation I sing: Praise to the King of kings,
You are my everything, and I will adore You!

I’m such a perfectionist when it comes to music that I often find the music takes hold of me more firmly than the thoughts & words that are only framed by the music.  God created music, there’s nothing wrong with it and with enjoying it, but the notes and chords and swells and rhythms are merely the vessel through which the messages of Christ’s hope, and love, and salvation and glory are proclaimed.  Instead of focusing on an outward response, I experienced an inward revelation of the glory of Jesus and the rest of me responded accordingly, lifting my hands to the heavens in adoration of my Savior as opposed to lifting my hands because that’s what you’re supposed to do when singing in a church service.  I want to sing not because it’s my job at my church to lead people in song, I want to sing because my heart can’t contain my joy and wonder at the One who is the Holy of holies, the One who loves me more than I could ever deserve.

So I will sing.

Some initial post-Leadership Summit thoughts…

What a remarkable past couple of days this has been.  I kept my laptop open for every single session, trying to capture as many bullets and poignant thoughts as possible, attempting to soak in as much as my sponge could hold.  God certainly had some specific things to share with me, and the common threads that wove throughout every single session from each different leader or revolutionary in their field…  I love how God continues to surprise me with how incredibly aware and detailed He is.

But even now I’m struggling for the right words to describe what I just experienced.  I would probably do myself a better service by allowing myself to decompress for a few days, then go back through my notes and find the recurring themes and reflect on them.  Twelve sessions in two days… that’s a lot to absorb in such a short time.

I do know one thing I can say with the utmost confidence right now.  My God loves me more than I could ever imagine, and He is right within my grasp.  All I have to do is reach out and take hold of Him, and all the worries, misgivings, poor habits, frustrations, passivity, all of it will pale in comparison to the hope and future I have in Him.  I am so much more encouraged to keep pressing through this desert, because it’s in this desert that I will experience the most growth, because it’s in this place where the only resource I can turn to is my Savior, and He is the only resource I really need.

The movement of God…

We’re in the midst of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, and I feel a stirring in my heart greater than I’ve felt in a while.  There’s a common thread of adoration that’s weaving its way through this auditorium right now, and I feel the vibrations from its strings.  My soul is aching to rise again, to take hold of the promises Christ has been constantly putting in my path.

I’ve been seeking renewal, motivation, inspiration, the innocent faith of a child that I seemed to have misplaced.  I’ve yearned to start over and made what I thought were valiant attempts.  But I realize that I’ve kept my feet planted still while He’s been in constant orbit around me, prodding me, trying to get my attention.  I need to reverse the equation, and as equally as He has pursued me, I must now pursue Him. I must pick up my feet and fall into orbit around Him.

In my weakness You make me strong
When I am helpless You come along
and move me, You move me right along
When I am drowning You take me high
Into Your shelter, back into life
my Savior divine.

You said the secret word!

A friend recommended I read a section from the book An Hour On Sunday by Nancy Beach, the former Arts Leader at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago.  It’s a great read for anyone who’s done any kind of arts ministry for a long time and needs some encouragement and guidance on surviving in the church arts world.

I went through Chapter Seven: Well-Ordered Hearts and Lives.  Some key thoughts I received right off the bat:

  • While the end result of ministry can move people in striking ways, beyond anything we possibly had in mind for it, it all comes at a tremendous cost to us: time, energy, interpersonal relationships, etc.
  • My talent isn’t the greatest gift I bring to the church, even as a staff member.  The greatest gift I bring is my very life.
  • Take the time to minister!  Don’t just hand it off to someone else because “they’re better equipped to handle it.”

Proverbs 4:23 – “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” We can’t serve from a heart that’s exhausted, embittered, distracted.  We also can’t serve from a heart that only comes to life on weekends.  There needs to be an influx of life happening throughout the week!  It’s an active and participatory process that requires practice and honing and repetition.

Many of us find it exceedingly difficult to do the work we are called to do and be the kind of people God asks us to be.  If we’re not careful, we begin to see ourselves as victims, to make excuses, to look for wiggle room so we can somehow be the exception to rules for godly character.  It’s not that we don’t long to be fully devoted to God, but too often we allow deadline pressures, relentless ministry demands, and overwhelming standards to become excuses for slippage.

-Nancy Beach

How true.  Excuses, no matter how valid, are still excuses.  My wife is going through a very difficult time right now in her job life, and it’s taken a substantial toll on her, and by proxy, me.  Right now she needs my strength to lean on, and if I’m not renewing my own strength, I will be utterly useless to her, and by default, I’ll be even more useless to myself and in my own job & causes.  I don’t blame her for it; I could never blame her.  I chose to partner with her through thick and thin when I asked her to marry me, so I will share the burden.  But Jesus never intended the burdens of this world to overtake us, because He said He would take it from us and give us a lighter one (Matthew 11:30).  And I can’t let the frustrations she’s experiencing rule the day for either of us.

Some responses to the chapter:

  1. I need to make sure I am taking care of myself.  God knit me together in my mother’s womb, my body is His temple, and I have to keep it properly maintained.  I’ve been eating better; I’ve been proactive about getting enough sleep; I’ve been exercising, albeit not as regularly as I want to be.  Discipline.  Sounds like the operative word for me right now.
  2. I need to make sure I’m always reconciled to those around me, whether it be my wife, my parents, her parents, my bosses, my coworkers, my cohorts, etc.  I don’t think right now I’m in a place where I’m at odds with anyone.  If and when I am, I have to make peace so it doesn’t spill over into other areas of my life.
  3. I have demonstrated a severe lack of discipline in spending quiet time with my King.  Severe.  Inexcusable, but forgivable.  Praise God for that.  This is probably the first major step in guiding me out of the desert of passivity I’ve been in.  (There’s that operative word again… discipline.)
  4. How do I feel coming into a weekend?  Sometimes I’m feeling good, other times I feel dread.  It comes down to preparedness.  It stands to reason that emotional & spiritual preparedness are just as important as musical & logistical preparedness, if not far more so!  If I’m more prepared emotionally and spiritually, I’m better equipped to deal with the rest.
  5. I know what it is to minister out of weakness.  I have led worship while being far down in the depths of sadness and despair.  I vividly remember what that was like.  The only way I made it through was by His grace.  How much deeper could I go with Him if I sought that grace week in and week out when I’m not in a deep and dark valley?
  6. I really, really don’t like the unexpected.  I’ve tried really hard to handle it well, to be patient, flexible, understanding.  Things happen, and there’s no way around them when they do.  But I need to demonstrate patience, flexibility, and understanding so my team and collaborators aren’t thrown off or made nervous by any mishandling of the situation.  As a leader, I am charged with being an example to my team.  If I lead well, they will follow.  If I suck at leading, they’ll go elsewhere.  I don’t want to risk that with our team, both for their sake as well as my own.

So what are my next steps?  Well, the operative word DISCIPLINE comes to mind once again:

  • Discipline not only in setting aside the time to spend in reflection and reading scripture and books, but in actually using that time for that purpose and not getting distracted.
  • Discipline in finding resources to glean from on my own, not just going on what’s left on my desk by dear friends (although it’s always welcome, I just can’t rely solely on that, they’re walking my walk for me if that’s the case).
  • Discipline in not looking at the time, to “clock in and clock out” of my quiet time.  I don’t think heaven has a punch-clock.
  • Discipline in looking for ways to interact with others outside of the musical sense, reaching out to those in need, being aware of what’s happening underneath it all.

I’m sure there are more, and I’ll most likely be adding to this list in the future.

What’s your list look like?

Two sides to every story…

What a powerful weekend.  A fervent plunge into waging our side of the battle in spiritual warfare.  Not only did we have an incredibly motivating and freeing message brought by our lead pastor, our worship set was finely crafted around the entire idea of life change and Christ’s intervening power.  So many people were moved…

And yet I’m quietly reminded that I’m not yet where I need to be.  That the “me” that most people see on a weekend is, well… incomplete.  A work in progress.

I receive the honest & authentic compliments from churchgoers, both veteran and brand new.  “Great job on that feature!”  “What a powerful set of songs!”  “The presence of Jesus was moving so strongly through the worship and the entire rest of the service today!”  All positive, many offering direct accolades at my contributions.  Even today, running into other staff members, “Great job this weekend!”

It feels slightly and strangely uncomfortable to receive these words of kindness and encouragement.  Not that I don’t appreciate the words; musicians in particular often have a nearly tangible need for positive reinforcement, to know that their efforts are not just seen, but enjoyed and appreciated.  It’s as if the creative spirit that fuels them requires a fuel of its own: the need for its efforts and end results, knowing that its services are desired or, at the very least, required.  But knowing where I am right now, still in a hazy fog with a compass that doesn’t quite point north, my soul not fully lining up with what’s going on around me, what I can sense God is trying to show me… Even as I type this post, I almost feel I’m trying to come up with what to say and how to say it on my own instead of being fully and divinely inspired…  or am I?  Maybe my desert of passivity is illuminated by the baking sun of the inability to know when it’s Christ speaking through me, or when it’s just me.  What would the difference feel like?  When will I know I’ve crossed the threshold between my own mind and the mind of my Father, speaking to and through me by His Spirit?

Between services on Sunday I met Nate, a tall and lanky twenty-something who, in his own words, “just moved to Orlando 48 hours ago” from Denver.  He said he’d been a searcher or churches for a long time, looking high and low for a group of believers who actually understood and practiced community.  His eyes lit up as he continued, “… I think this place has gotten it right.”  There was a child-like excitement in his face, a yearning for the days to quicken so he could experience as much of this Christ-focused community he’s discovered as fast as possible.  But my mind was trying to divert my attention to the streusel muffin in my hands.  Put your own needs first, then meet others where they are.  How can you carry on a conversation while you’re hungry?

Not only do I yearn for Nate’s anticipation, I yearn to have the discipline to know when and how I should prioritize.  When I’m hungry, I go get something to eat.  But what if there’s something really important that requires my attention?  Do I eat first so I’m fully equipped and not distracted and capable of addressing it, or is the situation critical enough that I need to rely on His strength to get through, like a mini-fast?  I think I often expect everything to be in its place, to happen a certain way because that way makes the most sense!  The fact is, there’s nothing that explicitly says that’s how it ought to be, no matter what the IT is.  Sometimes the shadow on the ground isn’t from the sun, it’s from the streetlamp.

Find me in the river…

I’m a worship pastor in central Florida, and our lead pastor, recently returned from his annual summer vacation (thought that was just for teachers, didn’t you?), opened the room up to stories about recent wins within our community.  To hear stories of young kids accepting Christ, ministries partnering together to pursue life change in our community, volunteers flying to South Africa to minister to the impoverished and needy… it’s inspiring, but also overwhelming.

I turn flush with embarrassment and jealousy on the inside.  What have I done lately that’s been a change-the-world kind of action?  How have I fulfilled anything other than my own little agendas and goals?  “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with having goals,” you say, but these little goals pale in comparison to the ones I had even just a year or two ago. It’s as if my walk with Christ over the past several months has been an exercise in passivity, seeing challenges but viewing them from afar, saying to myself, “God will take care of that, as long as I pray.”  If I even pray at all.

My lead pastor changes gears and opens Joshua 3:13-17.  The quick version: the Israelites are on their way to the land God promised them, and the priests are carrying the Ark of the Lord.  They reach the Jordan River, which was at its flood stage, and at God’s command, as soon as their feet touch the water, the waters stop flowing and bunched up far upriver, and the entire nation of Israel crosses the Jordan on dry land.

Okay, so they cross a river.  No big surprise there as far as biblical history goes.  Heckm, Moses led the Hebrews across the Red Sea when God held back those waters.  Something else had to be going on here, so I Google’d the Jordan River to see what I could find…

The River Jordan is derived from the Hebrew word yar-dane, meaning “descender.” The “Descender” is a very appropriate name for the river because it flows in a virtually perfect north-south line on a map from its source near Mount Hermon (about 10 miles north of Lake Huleh) to it’s terminus at the Dead Sea, the lowest point of any lake on earth.

The elevation of the river drops virtually 2,368 feet from its source to where the river flows into the great salt sea. The length of its meanders over the same two points measures approximately [nearly 197 miles], over twice its direct distance….

Source: The Jordan – River of the Rising Sun

Think about this for a moment.  The Jordan is the lowest river in the world relative to sea level.  It is also a fairly narrow river.  Not only are the Israelites coming out of the desert through one of the only clear openings between the mountains surrounding the desert to actually reach the river near its end where the water flows the strongest, according to the Hebrew calendar they’re also arriving there during the peak of the flood season.  This is the place where God has instructed the Israelites to cross.  A speeding, raging river, swollen with rushing currents flowing over its banks.  This was the final obstacle between them and the promised land.

God then tells the priests to put their feet in the water, for once they do, the water will immediately stop.  But not one moment before….  That water is moving fast.  Really fast.  God promises the water will stop, but the priests have to take the first step.  I wonder… how many seconds, or even minutes, passed between the time God issued the command to step into the water and the actual moment their toes felt the frigid currents rush around their feet?  This monumental moment in their journey, to be confronted with a seemingly impossible task… would their trust in God allow them to step forward?

But eventually in verse 15, they step in, and the waters bunch up further upriver, allowing them to cross on dry land.  I wonder which priest was the first to step in.  I wonder what was going through his mind, what finally prompted him to put all his cards on the table and take that first step.  The physical aspect of the challenge was fully covered by His divine control over all things, so the real challenge wasn’t the river… it was trusting God’s promise.

It’s the same reason Jesus Christ taught in parables.  The things of the Kingdom are so mysterious that God gives us a natural picture first, then the spiritual will be revealed to us as we begin to comprehend.  The Israelites didn’t reach a barrier of a rushing river, they reached a barrier comprised of their own fear and resistance to trust God with their all, no matter the circumstances.  The point wasn’t to cross the Jordan; it was to step into their calling in boldness, and faith, and trust in He who had led them safe thus far.

The barriers we face aren’t physical.  They’re spiritual.  How incredibly true is that for me, for each of us?  But physical barriers are what we encounter first, that’s what we know, that’s all we’re capable of wrapping our heads around.  If we take the time to ask, to listen and seek and knock, God wants to show us what those barriers are indicators of, to show us what the real issues are, what the real barriers are.

What’s my barrier?  My insurmountable block?  What is causing me to hold back, be indecisive?  My passiveness about my walk with God, my lack of enthusiasm at all times to reach out to the heart of God and embrace the promises He has for me.  My lack of passion, which would be a hard thing for anyone who knows me to believe.  Maybe it’s improperly directed passion, passion that’s not flowing in the right direction.  Either way, it’s not there, not the way it should be.  How can I begin to trust in Him in new ways, instead of responding how the enemy would have me respond, i.e. by not responding at all?

My pastor closed by having us write down a few questions to be pondering:

  • God, how are you calling me to trust in Your power?
  • What’s the next part of your promised land you’ve called me to enter, where I must depend on your power and not my own resources?
  • Where am I not content with what I have but wanting more of what You are offering?
  • Where do I need to bless others more?

I’ve been given a challenge.  The gauntlet has been cast down, and it’s time for me to step up.  No more passivity, no more doldrums, no more inaction.