Dr. Phil Brassfield
2020 has already become a year for the record books. The COVID 19 Pandemic has left the world reeling. Never before in the history of the world has virtually every nation and economy been completely closed at the same time. People’s lives and patterns have been upended and left in shambles. During the day we wear masks and keep our distance. In the evening we watch for the latest news, which is dominated by political vitriol, economic uncertainty, infection rates and death tolls.
Then, with the senseless horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the fuse on the powder keg of racial injustice was ignited and set off flash points of protest and unrest around the nation. The world has been shaken.
Many are saying that they feel a sense that we have crossed over into something new, never to return to the comfortable and secure norms of yesterday. And if you’re a church leader, you probably feel the pressure to have an answer; I know I do. After all, leaders lead, right?
SEASONS OF TRANSITION
The book of Deuteronomy and Joshua chapters 1 through 4 are the record of an amazing story of transition and leadership. From the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy to the 4th chapter of Joshua is less than two months time (60 days).
The transition we see recorded in these two months is a major one and I believe holds lessons for us as we move through the disruption and transitions we are experiencing today.
Moses, who is 120 years old and nearing the end of his ministry, leads the Children of Israel on an eleven-day journey from Sinai to the plains of Moab. There he delivers a series of farewell addresses to the children of Israel who have survived the 40 years of wilderness wandering. Moses numbers the people; there are over 600 thousand men besides women and children, maybe 2 million in all. He renews the covenant between God and the people and says good-bye. He is then called to the top of the Mountain (Mt Nebo) to see into the Land of the Promise, one last time. There he will die.
After 30 days of mourning, God tells Joshua, ‘It’s time to possess the promise. Prepare to cross the Jordan.’ Imagine the feeling Joshua must have had! Forty years of “almost” followed by failure, fruitlessness, fatigue and frustration. Imagine the questions, the excitement, and the concerns. “Wait, Lord, it’s not really the best time… it’s the rainy season; the river is flooded. It is impassable. Normally only 100 feet across and there are multiple fords (shallow crossing points), it is now potentially a wide, raging river and 50 to 150 feet deep in places.”
God says, ‘Now!’ Have you ever felt like you were facing an insurmountable challenge at the worst possible time? And as the leader you are expected to lead into it, through it and out of it, with victory?
The people line up. They watch from a ½ mile away from an elevated position as the Priests carry the Ark toward the water.
When the priests step into the raging water, God stops the water at a city called Adam about 19 miles upstream. This was not like the previous miracle they had heard their parents talk about when God, with a mighty wind, parted the waters of the Red Sea. No, in this case God turned the water off. With a flow rate of 5 miles an hour, the priests are going to have to stand in the water for over 4 hours before there is a change in the water level. How would you like to have been there waiting for a miracle… ten minutes, 30 minutes, one hour… two… ?
Then the water level begins to change dramatically!
After the people and the priests came out of the riverbed and all had passed over, Joshua told the tribes to take a representative of each tribe and have them build two stone monuments/memorials of stones from the riverbed. Build one in the riverbed and one on the shore where Israel would camp the first night in the Promise Land, a village called Gilgal.
This is an amazing story of great transition, a crossing of epic proportion in the natural. But it also represents a crossing of more than geography. Let me pull out several stones from their crossing, lessons we learn during times of trauma and transition.
These are stones of the crossing:
1.LEAD WITH COURAGE AND BOLDNESS.
Bold Leadership is what it takes to move toward your destiny in times of transition. Joshua said, ‘we are crossing in three days.’ After 40 years of wandering, paralysis, and excuses that caused Israel to travel aimlessly in the same wilderness for years and years, it was going to take something pretty dramatic to get them to move on into the promise God had given them years before. Joshua said, ‘get ready because we are crossing in three days.’ Sometimes in seasons of trauma and transition, God can actually use the circumstances we are faced with to move us forward and break us out of patterns that aren’t productive and that hold us out of our promise.
2.TRUST GOD’S TIMING.
God always has a plan, and associated with that plan is a timeline. The scripture says that we make our plans, but God orders our steps. Ordering our steps certainly has to do with strategy, but it also has to do with timing. The “when we do something”, is as important as the “what we do”, every time. It’s not just good timing we need, it’s God’s timing. Great leaders learn to trust God’s timing. It’s a foundational stone of peace! The timing seemed bad because of the flooded Jordan River.
The circumstance of the flooded river was a great obstacle for so many. It would have been for all of us. It was scary and the future beyond it was uncertain. But, the Jordan river only floods in the rainy season. The rainy season meant that it was about to be harvest time in the Promise Land. What seemed like an ill-advised action taken in the face of a great obstacle was actually perfect timing, although Israel didn’t know it until sometime later. The manna of a previous season of God’s provision was about to cease (without food they would have starved that first year, even in their promise). God commanded the people to prepare themselves for the crossing while God prepared the Promise Land for the people. On one side of the river, it was stupid; on the other side, it made perfect sense and was the difference between life and death.
3. MAKE A LEADERSHIP COMMITMENT.
When we are totally committed, our heart responds with the courage to act.
It takes commitment to march into a flooded river. Joshua commanded the people to follow the Ark of the Covenant into the water. The Ark represented the people’s agreement with God and His presence with them. When we agree with God and commit to God’s purpose, He always joins us in the effort. There are times when we have to follow God into the impossible.
Andy Andrews said, “When confronted with a challenge, the committed heart will search for a solution. The undecided heart searches for an escape.”
During this season the world has been experiencing because of the virus and social unrest, the body of Christ has had to practice what we have preached. For so long we have said that the church is not the building, it is the people. We have said that God has made of all nations one race in Christ. Now our theological declarations have had to become our practical reality. While our buildings have been empty, and our parking lots largely vacant, Christian leaders have preached to unseen people in distant locations and began to lead conversations on racial reconciliation. The Church has been the Church despite social pressure or empty buildings. And we are better for it!
We have had to choose to follow God and rely on our covenant with Him and His faithfulness rather than depend on what we could see in the natural. We used our teams, buildings and stages to preach to people who were not in them. We held meetings in empty rooms that were actually attended by more people than would fit if they were actually present. We’ve had bold conversations on the topics of racial relations and unjust realities. We have marched for justice alongside our black brothers and sisters.
Because of it, God has joined us!!! God has visited us!!! God has helped us!!! It’s been a flooded river for sure, but it’s harvest time in the Promise Land!
The fourth stone is the understanding that sometimes miracles take a while. Every miracle is not like a microwave; sometimes it’s more like a crock-pot. In Joshua’s story, the priests had to stand in faith while waiting for a change in the water level. It took hours and hours. But from the moment they stepped into the water, they stood in the water of a miracle. Sometimes, it takes time for miracles to manifest. Sometimes, we are forced into steps of faith by our circumstances and it takes a while for the miracle to show up. Patience helps us learn to expect and anticipate what God is going to do. Patience is a rock built into every great achievement.
5. REMEMBER WHAT GOD HAS ALREADY DONE!
Learn from History. Joshua commanded the people to never forget to remember, tell your children when they see these stones and they ask, “what do they mean?” These stones represent what we learned as a people when God called us into a promise in the face of a desperate obstacle and worked a miracle in the process. I have always told leaders, “You cannot be faithful and not become fruitful.” When you enjoy the fruits of the harvest, don’t forget to remember it was God all along. Tell future generations they can trust God!
I challenge everyone who has crossed through the difficulties our nation has experienced: when the Lord has fulfilled His promise on the other side, tell your children to never forget to remember. Tell them, ‘I remember a moment in history when the world stopped, but the Church didn’t, when the Church reinvented itself and carried on.’ Tell them of a day when the Lord sent provision in abundance when, by all accounts, there should have been lack. Talk to them about a season when new lands were taken for the glory of God, and of a moment when you witnessed the greatest single day of church planting in history when local churches moved to cyberspace. Tell them about how the Church led the way to racial equity and declared that love and peace through Christ is the answer. Tell them these are the things you learned when the Church changed forever, an epic day when the Church was faced with disaster, but instead of being destroyed, grew BIGGER, BETTER and STRONGER.
Together we are crossing. And we will come through and out of this. As you pass through, grab a stone, pick up a souvenir. Take something with you as you move through and out, and with what you take, build a memorial for future generations.