Have you ever had that sense that something big was coming; that God was preparing you to do or experience something incredible? As summer comes and a whole variety of experiences come with it, you just may have that sense in your own life. Here are some thoughts on how to respond to it so you can experience the full wonder of God’s plans unfolding in and through your life.
Stepping into the Current
A great many adventure movies all have one thing in common. They all involve a search for a MacGuffin. Now, if you’re an action movie fan, you might be wondering exactly which movies I’m talking about and whether you’ve missed something called a MacGuffin in all of them. Well, a MacGuffin isn’t a real thing. Rather, it’s a lot of different things depending on the plot. A MacGuffin is a plot device in a story that in the context of the story itself is of vital importance, but in the real world is meaningless. For instance, one of the most famous MacGuffins in film history is the little droid R2-D2. In the original Star Wars movie, R2-D2 represents the thing the characters need to find in order to achieve their goal. Specifically, it has the plans to the Death Star (loaded onto it thanks to the efforts of the Rogue One crew as we learned a few years ago), the Rebels need to destroy the planet-killing star base. BB-8 fulfilled this role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Well, one thing many MacGuffins have in common is that at some point along the way, the main characters have to sacrifice something in order to obtain it. The sacrifice helps to make the journey more meaningful. Essentially, what a MacGuffin does is give a story that is entirely made up and has no grounding in any kind of reality a significance that makes you want to engage with it. And, a good writer will create a MacGuffin about which the audience cares a great deal. Once again: R2-D2. There aren’t many film characters that have had as enduring a pop culture impact as that lovable little droid has.
In real life, though, we don’t need MacGuffins. In our lives, we do things that actually matter. We are called to things that actually matter. God calls us to things that actually matter. Now, no, not every single thing we do is filled to the brim with significance, but the choices we make have real world consequences. Those consequences may not involve the fate of the whole galaxy, but they just may effect a permanent change in our lives or in the life of a person around us. Where our lives do intersect with the stories we love so much, though, is that getting our hands on what matters most to see our stories advance to their next chapter is going to require us at some point to step out on some faith to receive what God has to give before we can actually see what that thing is.
Well, this morning we are preparing to send many of our students off to camp for a week. The days that lie ahead of them have all the potential of making an eternal difference in their lives. But, even if you’re not going to camp tomorrow—as is the case for the vast majority of folks in the room—there is nonetheless something in your future that God is calling you to do that matters. This morning, I want to spend a few minutes with you talking about how to get your hands on the things that matter most so you can experience the wonder of God’s plans.
We are going to talk about this through the lens of an experience the people of Israel faced on their journey into the Promised Land. This story comes out of the record of their military conquest of the land God had promised to give them all the way back during Abraham’s lifetime. The leader of the people during this season was Moses’ successor, Joshua, and so the document bears his name. If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way to Joshua with me this morning.
Joshua is at one and the same time one of the more exciting documents in the Old Testament as well as one of the more challenging. It’s one of the more exciting documents because it contains the stories of pretty phenomenal military conquests and those are always fun to read. It is one of the more challenging because it contains the stories of Israel’s military conquests against the peoples of Canaan in which they were the God-directed aggressors. That fact combined with the language we find in the narrative makes it really hard to grasp for modern readers unaccustomed to the culture of the day and rightly trying to make sense of it all through the lens of the New Testament.
I want you to know that if you’ve ever struggled with what you find in these pages…you’re not alone. This is tough stuff. Here are three things to know as we go forward. First, there’s a great deal more to the story than you can see right here, and when you understand some of that, it makes it a little bit easier to stomach. Second, none of this changes the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day meaning nothing you see here need stand in the way of your being in a relationship with Jesus. Third, we’re not going to talk about any of the emotionally tough parts this morning. I just wanted you to know that I know you’ve perhaps struggled with some of what comes next.
Where we are going to start this morning is before Israel begins doing any conquering. Before they can tackle that particular task, they have to actually move into the land. That meant crossing the land’s formal eastern border: the Jordan River. You can find this particular story in Joshua 3. It’s really hard to overemphasize how significant of a moment this was for the people of Israel. They were about to enter into the land they had been aiming to receive from God for more than a generation. They had left Egypt under Moses’ leadership to start over from scratch in this very land 40 years before. About 38 years before they had actually been standing right where they were on the eastern side of the Jordan. Wanting to get a sense of what was waiting for them, the people had sent in 12 spies to scope out the land and report back about all the great things God had in store for them. Unfortunately, all but two of the spies (with their current leader, Joshua, being one of the exceptions) came back and gave a terrible report about how the people were just going to get mowed down by the inhabitants if they tried to go forward in this grand adventure. The people who had personally witnessed God do all kinds of miraculous things to bring them to this point, including decisively winning a face-off against the most powerful ruler in the world at that historical moment, chickened out in the worst way possible and insisted they go back to Egypt. God…didn’t take that very well. He sent them to wander through the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula for forty years as punishment for their cowardly faithlessness. Now they were back and ready to try again.
Before they got started, though, there was still the problem of that river. Look at Joshua 3 with me. “Joshua started early the next morning and left the Acacia Grove with all the Israelites. They went as far as the Jordan and stayed there before crossing. After three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God carried by the Levitical priests, you are to break camp and follow it. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between yourselves and the ark. Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.’” In other words: get ready. We’re going to move soon.
Sometimes in life, we have those get ready moments. I don’t really know how to explain how to recognize them except to say that you’ll know one when you’re in it. There’s just a sense to life that something momentous is coming. It may not come right away, but it is coming. The Israelites were told to wait for three more days. You may have to wait a few weeks or months…or just until tomorrow…but there is a moment of significance coming your way when you will have to step out and follow the Lord. Can I tell you something? Let Him lead you in those times. This will be new territory. He knows the way, and you don’t. If you try and run out ahead of Him, things aren’t going to go well for you.
For the Israelites, running out ahead of God would have meant drowning in a flood-swollen river. You’ve perhaps driven over the Rocky River after a few days of heavy rain. You’ve seen the water rushing and raging down its track. You’ve seen it when it has spilled over its banks. Some of you have participated in rescues of folks who thought that would be a great time to try and get in the water. There are times to get on the river, and times to leave it alone. The Jordan was in a season when wise folks left it alone. So, naturally, God called them into it.
Verse 8: “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant: When you reach the edge of the water, stand in the Jordan. Then Joshua told the Israelites, ‘Come closer and listen to the words of the Lord your God.’ He said: ‘You will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly dispossess before you the Canaanites, Hethites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites when the ark of the covenant of the Lord of the whole earth goes ahead of you into the Jordan. Now choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe. When the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the Lord, the Lord of the whole earth, come to rest in the Jordan’s water, its water will be cut off. The water flowing downstream will stand up in a mass.’”
The people were in that moment of significance. And they knew it. It was time to act or else miss out on what the Lord had planned for them. Perhaps He would give them yet another chance if they failed here the way their ancestors had failed a generation earlier, but it would likely have meant another whole generation lost to the wilderness. God had called the people to move…so they moved. “When the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carried the ark of the covenant ahead of the people. Now the Jordan overflows its banks throughout the harvest season.” In other words, their walking toward the water was no small task. It was scary, and everything they could see about the situation told them to turn around and try again later. But I love this next part: “But as soon as the priests carrying the ark reached the Jordan, their feet touched the water at its edge and the water flowing downstream stood still, rising up in a mass that extended as far as Adam, a city next to Zarethan. The water flowing downstream into the Sea of Arabah—the Dead Sea—was completely cut off, and the people crossed opposite Jericho. The priests carrying the ark of the Lord’s covenant stood firmly on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground until the entire nation had finished crossing the Jordan.”
Have you ever put your hand in a flow of water to block it? What happens to the water? It walls up at your hand and looks for a way around it. If you don’t want the water to progress, you have to put up a bigger wall to block it. We don’t know exactly what it looked like when God parted the Red Sea. We’re given a fair bit of detail here. The water suddenly stopped as if a giant, clear, glass wall had been stuck in the middle of it, perfectly fitted to the river’s bed. It was large enough to hold back the water at its flood level. I’m trying to get my mind around how utterly incredible this would have looked. The closest thing I can think of would be when Elsa stops the giant wall of water with her ice powers at the end of Frozen 2. This was even more incredible than that, though. And this wasn’t a mostly complete job. God cut off the waters entirely. The repetition of the phrase “dry ground” helps make that point. But none of this started to unfold until the feet of the priests were in the water. Until they were willing to step out beyond the point of no return, God didn’t act. But once they did, He was right there with them. He made them able to do the thing to which He had called them.
The lesson here is simple and it’s one we dare not miss. God had called the people to an incredible future, but they were going to have to step out in faith in order to receive it. They didn’t have to go all the way. They didn’t cross the Jordan and march straight on to Jericho. They crossed and regrouped and prepared thoroughly before God called them to take the next step. But they did take this first step. They were more willing to trust in God’s ability to fulfill His promise than the apparent ability of the obstacles in their path to stop them. And friends, this trust is the real prize. It is the MacGuffin, if you will. Except, it’s not meaningless outside the context of our circumstances. It matters in every situation we are facing. That’s why God gives us the opportunity to grab hold of it before He gives us a fuller picture of what is coming down the pipe at us. God wants our trust. At the end of the day, this is the thing God is calling us to develop: trust in Him. The other things we do matter, but this is the one that matters most. This is why receiving what God has to give takes stepping out into the current just like the Israelites did.
Is the challenge for us here not obvious? For the students who are preparing to go to camp, your moment to trust is just around the corner. God has planned to do something in your lives in the next several days that will absolutely blow your mind. It will fill your heart to beyond capacity so that you can share it with someone else. But it is going to take your willingness to trust in Him and receive what He has to give. Receiving what God has to give takes stepping out into the current.
Again, though, most of us aren’t going to camp. That does not, however, by any stretch of the imagination mean God isn’t still calling you to something. It may be that you already have on your mind and heart the thing to which God is calling you. You may need to go and have a conversation with someone that won’t be easy. You’ve been putting it off for weeks, months, even years, but the time has come. There’s no going any further in the journey God is leading on until you have this conversation. You need to step out into the current. Receiving what God has to give takes stepping out into the current.
For some others of you, there is a habit you need to break and replace with something new. The habit itself may not be sinful, but it is something that has captured your heart and is taking up time and attention you need to be giving to the things of your heavenly Father. Breaking it won’t be easy, though, because you’ve invested a lot of yourself in it. But until you are willing to put it down—and replace it with something else because if you don’t, you’ll just go back to it, and it’ll own even more of your heart than it did before—you can’t go any further in your journey. Receiving what God has to give takes stepping into the current.
Still others of you have other things to which God has called you. It may be that you need to offer someone forgiveness. You need to seek forgiveness yourself. You need to recommit yourself to the path of Christ. You need to deepen your involvement in the church body. You need to make an employment change. You need to reach out with an offer of help and friendship to a neighbor. The callings vary wildly, but your need to live out a radical trust in Jesus does not. Receiving what God has to give takes stepping out into the current.
There’s one more thing. Joshua 4:1: “After the entire nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord spoke to Joshua: ‘Choose twelve men from the people, one man for each tribe, and command them: Take twelve stones from this place in the middle of the Jordan where the priests are standing, carry them with you, and set them down at the place where you spend the night.’” Now v. 19: “The people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and camped at Gilgal on the eastern limits of Jericho. Then Joshua set up in Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan, and he said to the Israelites: ‘In the future, when your children ask their fathers, “What is the meaning of these stones?” you should tell your children, “Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.”’” That is, the people were to mark the occasion of their stepping out in trust of God’s faithfulness and His incredible actions on their behalf. They were to mark them so they would remember them; so they could go back in the future when facing another situation that demanded their trust in Him and more easily take the step because of the confidence they had from His faithfulness in the past. When you step out and experience the wonder of God’s activity on your behalf, make sure to mark the occasion. Receiving what God has to give takes stepping out into the current.
So, where is God calling you to step out? What action is He calling you to take? How is He calling you forward on the journey toward His kingdom? Whatever it is probably won’t be easy. At some point, you’ll have to step out before you can see where your foot is going to land. Worse, the only options for your landing don’t look good from where you are now. Receiving what God has to give takes stepping out into the current. This is no blind step because you have a long record of God’s faithfulness on which you can confidently rely. But step out you must. There’s no other way forward. Receiving what God has to give takes stepping out into the current. Move forward and see what the future holds.