This summer, in our family, we had a couple of major life transitions happen. In the middle of the summer, our oldest, Brandon, got married to his new bride, Anissa, and in June, our youngest, Ben, graduated from high school and then began attending the University of the Fraser Valley in September. Both of those are life-changing transitions. And as I watched both Brandon and Ben go through these major changes, I noticed a pattern. First, there is a crisis of opportunity where a person needs to make a major decision that will put them on an irreversible path. Second, there is a cloud of anxiety where the person frets as they deliberate what to do. Third, a decision is made. Fourth, the decision is then carried out.
It can be scary when we face major-life changing decisions like this. Many of us like to have as many options as we can in life and the freedom to choose what we want from those various options. Yet there are times for all of us when we are confronted with a forced choice that will change our life dramatically regardless of what we choose. As Julius Caesar apparently said when he crossed the Rubicon River, “The die is cast!” when we make these life-changing decisions. In other words, there is no turning back.
What guides you when facing a no turning-back decision?
What guides you when you make a no-turning-back decision? The most honest answer is that we tend to make decisions based on what we think is in our best self-interest, and we do so hoping that the result will be a better life for us. However, because we are all flawed and broken, our well-intentioned decisions often lead to unintentional heartache. Is there a better way for us to live and make decisions?
There is. In the pages of the Bible, we find described for us a living God who wants to give us a new life lived in a new way. In that new life, we confidently make one major life-changing decision after another based on the relationship that we have with God.
To help us grow in living the new life that God has given us, we are continuing our series of posts called Faith Over Fear where we look at key events in the book of Joshua to help us have lives that are guided by faith instead of being driven by fear. The passage we are focusing on today is Joshua 3:7-17, and if you have a Bible or a Bible app, I invite you to turn there now.
As you do that, here is a bit of a review to set the stage for today’s passage. In the first post in this series, we were in chapter one of the book of Joshua and we saw how God’s presence helped Joshua to be strong and courageous in the calling that God had given to him. In the second, we were in chapter two and we met Rahab, a prostitute in the city of Jericho. As we saw how God had transformed Rahab and worked through her, we realized that God can use anyone to accomplish great things that will last forever.
Now, having heard the report from the two spies, Joshua gives the order for all the Israelites to leave Shittim and they march west until they stop at the east bank of the Jordan River. Now put yourself in the shoes of the Israelites for a moment. There they were, perhaps as many as two million people gathered in one place. They were all descendants of Jacob and his twelve sons. Their parents had endured slavery in Egypt, they had survived the forty-year journey through the wilderness, and now they were camped within sight of the land that God has promised to give to them centuries before.
But there was a problem. The Jordan River had flooded its banks. Normally the river was about 100 feet wide and anywhere from 3 to 10 feet deep. But now, in the spring of the year with the snow melting on Mount Hermon, that extra water caused the Jordan to flood its banks and there was no way that the vast Israelite nation of men, women and children could all safely cross.
The Israelites had a crisis of opportunity. They had the opportunity to cross into the Promised Land and they also had the crisis of how to get everyone safely across the Jordan River.
Can you imagine the cloud of anxiety that settled over Joshua and all the rest of the Israelites? Perhaps that is why they stayed where they were on the banks of the Jordan for three days.
But then, God spoke and, as always happens when God speaks, everything changed. Picking up the story in verse 7, we read:And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’” (Joshua 3:7-8). The Israelites were not on their own. As they faced their own major no-going back decision, God gave them direction. He told them to have the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-plated chest which symbolized the presence of God among his people, to go down into the river and as soon as those priests would step into the water, the water will pile up nearly 30 kilometers to the north giving the Israelites a vast span of dry ground on which to cross the river bed.
God works in partnership with people who move forward in faith
Now, if you take a careful look at our passage, you will see that the priests had to move forward in faith and step into the river before God would pile up the floodwaters of the Jordan several kilometers upriver. I don’t know about you, I often find myself wanting God to dam up the difficulties I face in life and give me a safe, dry passage through them before I step into them. But that is not how God works. Again and again in the Bible we see instances where God calls his people to act and when they, in faith, do as he tells them, then he does a miracle. God did not part the Red Sea until after Moses stretched out his staff as God had told him to do. The Israelites were not miraculously spared from the plague of the death of all first-born males until after they had put the blood of the Passover Lamb on the door frames of their home. And in our passage today, the waters of the Jordan did not stop until the priests stepped into the River.
In ways that we do not fully understand, God chooses to act in partnership with his people who move forward in faith. This building in which we worship is a prime example of that. Almost twenty years ago, the people of our church stepped out in faith and signed the papers to buy this building even though they didn’t have enough money in the bank for a down payment. But God provided and our church has its own building which we use for ministry and share with other churches so that they can do the same. Then, a few years after that, it was obvious that the building needed to be renovated to add bathrooms and space for classes and fellowship. So again, the people of WGLC, believing that this is where God was leading them, stepped out in faith and started the renovation without having all the money in place before they began, and look what God accomplished. When the pandemic started, the only renovations we were planning was to renovate our entryway. But now, 18 months later, that entryway renovation is complete, but also our Fellowship Hall has been refurbished, we have installed cameras, computers and lights so we can livestream our worship service and our sound board has been replaced with a new one. All these things have happened because God’s Spirit led God’s people to step out in faith in the direction that God was leading them.
God partners with us in the renovation of our soul
I chose this building to illustrate the importance of deciding and acting in faith because it is a tangible result of faith. We can see and touch this building.
But there is a much, much, much more important way that God partners with us as we move forward in faith, and that greater way happens within the invisible realm of our soul. That’s where fear rises up, threatens to paralyze us and pull us away from the good things that God has for us in the future. That’s where our anxieties try to steer us away from the crisis of opportunity that we face and back to calmer waters that we think are safer. But here is the thing, a calm situation does not equal a safe situation.
In Biosphere 2, a self-contained environment in Arizona, the trees within the Biosphere began falling over at some point because their root system was not strong enough to support their weight. In Biosphere 1, which is the earth, that strengthening of the root system happens as winds buffet the trees back and forth. Inside Biosphere 2, there was no wind. It was perfectly calm. We need to have some resistance and challenge in life for us to grow in becoming the people that God knows we can be.
The safest place for us to be is in a loving relationship with the living God, following him wherever he leads us. We were created by God to live in relationship with him. Only God knows all the things that can truly harm us and only he keeps us forever safe from those dangers. Only God knows the fullness of all the goodness he has for us in the future and only he can lead us into that future. So, like the Israelites, we follow wherever God leads us and we live with expectant hope, knowing that, on the other side of whatever crisis we face are the great opportunities that God wants to give to us.
In a practical sense, what does living with faith over fear look like? What do we do when we are faced with a crisis of confidence that comes with a cloud of anxiety? We do exactly what Joshua and the Israelites did.
We listen to God speak.
Hard decisions are always made based on two things: knowledge and vision. When we have to make a tough choice, we try to gather as much information as we can so that we can make an informed choice.
But we can never know everything, and we certainly do not know the future, so having a compelling vision of how things will be in the future motivates us to do hard things now so that things will be better later on. The reason that we need to hear God speak to us is so our knowledge and our vision for our lives is based on what he tells us, and not something that we have imagined up for ourselves.
With respect to knowledge, how do we know that God is powerful enough to help us? Creation itself gives testimony to the power, intelligence, creativity and wisdom of God. Some have looked at all that exists and said that, in this particular version of the universe, it all came together by random chance. But, without any evidence that there are multiple universes, it seems to me that the most likely explanation is that a great, powerful and personal God created all things just as the Bible tells us.
But how do we know that this powerful God loves us? We see God’s love for us that in the way that he provides for us through the food grown in nature and the people he puts around us, like doctors, nurses, teachers, farmers, accountants, police officers, fire fighters, and so on, to care for us.
But we see God’s love for us most clearly in the face of Jesus, God the Son, who came into this world and became one of us in order to save us. Jesus chose to do his Father’s will, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane,
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:39) Even though that cup of suffering led Jesus to the cross, Jesus willingly went to the cross because he loves you. There Jesus took all of your sin and mine, and all the sins of everyone in the whole world throughout all of time, and suffered the punishment that we deserve in order to set us free. Jesus gave up his life and died, but in doing so he opened the door for anyone to have total forgiveness for all their sins, a new life with him that will last forever, and healing from the inside-out that begins the moment we believe and is brought to completion in the new heaven and earth to come.
We know all these things are true because Jesus rose from the dead on the third day that followed his crucifixion.
Jesus’ resurrection not only supplies us with important knowledge that we need when making tough choices in difficult times, it also gives us a vision for the future. By coming into this world, living a perfect human life, then dying and rising again, Jesus started a new creation that is hidden within the old fallen and broken creation. This new creation is invisible, for it exists in people’s hearts and we cannot see it. But the new creation is advancing on the old creation both individually, as the Holy Spirit transforms us more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ each day, and corporately, as more and more people come to know Jesus and trust in him, and universally, as this tired and groaning old creation moves ever closer to the day when Jesus will come to make us and all things new. We see a picture of how things will be in the future in Revelation 21:1-4:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4)
With Jesus, we have the knowledge that the all-powerful Creator of the universe is with us, and loves us and is for us. With Jesus, we have the vision that all things are in the process of being restored and renewed by Jesus and he will one day usher us into the Promised Land of live with him forever in the new heaven and earth.
So how do we know that we can “cross the Jordan River” when a crisis of opportunity rises up before us in our life? We let God speak to us through the words of the Bible. The knowledge that God has always been faithful in the past is our assurance of his performance for us in the future. The vision of new creation life now and forever through Jesus is what compels us to follow Jesus in bringing more of that new creation life to more hearts and more corners of this broken and hurting world.
Can you imagine what your life could be like if your heart did not waver from the knowledge that Jesus loves you and is always with you? Can you picture how courageous you would be if Jesus’ vision of new creation life for you and the world was always the main thing in your view? Now multiply that by the number of people in this room and online, or the number of Jesus followers in the Lower Mainland, in Canada, or around the world. Can you imagine how much of God’s healing, transforming love we could reflect into this world if we based our decisions and actions on the knowledge and vision God has given to us through Jesus?
So the challenge that I want to leave you with today is to make a habit now of letting God speak vision and knowledge into your life for your life. Take a few minutes each day to immerse yourself in God’s Word, the Bible. Read a passage and then think about how it applies to your life. Daily devotionals like Portals of Prayer and Our Daily Bread are really good for helping us to hear what God is saying to us. You could use those if you like, or read the Bible and meditate on what you read. Making a habit of letting God speak into our lives now is important because the vision and knowledge he gives us now will help prepare us for when we face a crisis of opportunity in the future. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on October 10, 2021. For more info, go to wglc.org.)