Wednesday, September 18, 2013

When God Says, "Go Back There"



Imagine the scene, if you will.

Your name is Avram, perhaps, or something similar.  You're a middle-aged Hebrew wanderer, finally getting ready to enter the Promised Land.

All of your life you've heard about this land.  You've stared longingly across the forbidding Jordan at its verdant beauty...so far out of reach of your desert abode.

You've heard of your parents' rebellion against the Lord, which stopped your national progress and doomed you to decades of wandering.  You've heard about the miracles they saw, but you were so young when they happened that you don't remember them yourself.

You have experienced daily miracles yourself:  A pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night, each of which guides your nation in its wanderings.  You've seen bread fall from Heaven every day, without fail, except of course for the Sabbath...but the bread always fell in double portions on the day before the Sabbath, so you could gather extra then.

But these miracles have always been there, as far as you're concerned.  They're kind-of humdrum to you.

Now Moses, the great Man of God, has died, and Joshua is in charge.  And the 40-year exile has reached its end.  It's time to enter the Land of Promise.  That means, for starters, that it's time to do battle with the mighty city of Jericho.

But the even mightier Jordan River lies between, and to make matters worse, its currently in its flood stage.

Were the old stories of the Parting of the Red Sea really true?

Could it happen again, even without Moses?

You're almost ashamed to admit how amazed you are when it does happen again.  Your jaw drops at the sight of the turgid wall of water piling itself up.  That wall is trembling with unimaginable power, held back only by forces you cannot see or comprehend.

And you have to walk in front of it...you and a few million others.  Including your wife and your children.  You look at them now, so weak and vulnerable next to the forces that threaten them.

And you have to lead your whole tribe, because you've inherited (and risen to) a position of power in that tribe.  So, you square your shoulders, hide your fear from your wife and kids, and step onto the now dry river bed.

The water-wall beside you seems like a raging stallion, eager to break out of its restraints.  And yet you walk.  Your mouth is dry, and you hope the Almighty can forgive your fear.

He promised, and He's done this sort of thing before.  We will get safely through.  We will.

And, finally, you do.  You turn to look back at the hordes which are still coming, and at the priests who stand along the way as God's representatives, almost seeming to hold back the walls themselves (but you know they're not the ones who can do that).  There they stand, though, and you don't envy them.  You couldn't get through that trial fast enough.  It was a creepy place to be, and you're glad you came through it in one piece.

Finally, the last of the nation has crossed, except for the priests, who still stand their ground.  And then Joshua calls all of the tribal leaders together.  You go to him, expecting your orders to advance toward Jericho.

But no.

He says, "Go back."

What?

"Go back."

Go back into the danger zone, back into the place that so recently filled you with awe and fear, back into the trial you thought you were done with.

You can't believe your ears.  Why would we do that?

"This is what the Lord has commanded.  Go back into the heart of the Jordan and gather stones, one stone for each tribe, and bring them back to set them up as a memorial for future generations, so no one will forget what happened here."

You don't argue.  This is, after all, the man whose word had just parted the waters.  You don't play at dueling words with such a man.

So, you and eleven other men walk back into the place you just escaped from.  You feel even more vulnerable now, in such a small company of men. Just the other tribal leaders and, of course, the priests at their posts.

You don't rush.  You can't.  You know your job.  You've seen stone memorials before, and you've appreciated the skill that it takes to build one that will stand for generations to come.  You recognize that you have to get a rock that is not only very large and heavy, but also one that is suitably shaped for its purpose.

You have to spend a fair amount of time finding a good candidate, conferring with the other rock-gatherers until you all agree that the twelve stones you've found will work well together.

And all the while, the Jordan quivers against its restraints.

You hadn't wanted to be here once, and you still can't believe you're here again.

Why aren't we invading Jericho?  That's what we came across to do, right?  Why are we wasting time back here?

But finally, bending under your heavy load, you trudge back to where your family and tribe and nation await. You make eye contact with each priest as you pass him, and you nod.  His burden is greater than yours, and you know it.

At last you're back with your tribe, and you can drop your heavy burden on the ground.  You straighten up with some difficulty, and for some reason you can't stop yourself from looking back at the Jordan yet again.

I made it through.  Not once, but twice.  

And God held the water back each time.

You look back down at the stone you've carried. It's good that we have these stones.  It's good that our people will always remember.

And now, amazingly, you're glad that you were one of the few who had the privilege of walking that road again.


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Has God ever made you revisit a scary place that you thought you were through with?

Maybe it was a real, physical journey.  Or maybe it was a journey of remembrance, a journey of telling others, of setting up your own memorial.

What was that like for you?

Could it be that you're still standing on the banks, afraid to step in again?

If you've been called to revisit the painful place, please look again.  What...or rather whom do you see?

There is not a row of priests there, like there was in the Jordan.

No, there's something better. Someone better.  The Great High Priest.  Jesus.  The One who held back the waters the first time, saying "This far, and no further."  He is still holding the ground you gained.  He's also on the shore beside you, and also at the Jericho that awaits.

And He knows, dear brother or sister, that you can better face your Jericho if you remember your Jordan.  If you revisit His faithful deliverance through it.  If you look Him in the eye and nod as you bring back your memorial stones.

Do it.

Trust Him.

He's still there.

And finally, a word to those of you still in the middle of your first scary trek.  Those of you who can't even imagine getting through the first time, much less coming back for a stone.  My word for you is this:  Don't worry that you don't have a heavy stone on your shoulder right now.  The command to fetch it hasn't come yet.  It won't come until you're safely through.

Please don't hear this harshly.  Please hear it as gently as I mean to speak it.  You're not qualified to set up a memorial yet.  It's not that you have to prove your qualifications...oh no!  Your trials are never about you proving yourself to God, or even to yourself.  Your trials are about seeing God holding the waters back. Your trials are about seeing God's power and His deliverance.  So if you haven't yet seen the salvation of the Lord, how can you talk about it?

If you have no memorial stone with you yet, just keep walking and trusting Him.  The day will come when you'll be able to come back and get one.

And you'll be glad you did.



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