January 7, 2001
One of things that some of you are beginning to know about me is my love of American Civil War history. Ken Burns’ wonderful multi-part series that appeared over a decade ago on PBS rekindled an interest in that period of history.
One of the things about the Civil war, and really any military conflict, is the ground upon which war is fought. In the movie Gettysburg, one of the frequently asked questions by the Union leaders as the battle was developing was “Is this good ground to fight a battle?” “Yes, this is very good ground.”
The ground also presented a concern to the Confederate side who failed to push the Union troops off the high ground which included a place called “Little Round Top.”
But what is true in military history is also true about biblical history. For just as geography has played an important role in the history of warfare, it has also played a role in God’s interaction with people and His plan of redemption throughout the history of humankind.
Some of these locations have through the centuries taken on spiritually symbolic meanings because they have to come represent certain types of life moments and choices.
This morning I want to highlight one such place with not just the hope and prayer that you will be encouraged to both imagine and realize the dream, the plan, that God has for you, and for us, but also with the goal of preparing us for the next eight weeks of study as we examine ways of overcoming barriers that keep you and I from experiencing the future God has for us.
This geographical feature is the Jordan River. It is not only an important life-giving feature as well as a past and present geographical boundary; it is also a place of spiritual significance at important moments in Biblical history.
One very important moment is Joshua 3. Now I am not going to read the entire chapter but will refer to certain segments today. As we walk through chapter 3, I will share three important facts that we need to remember about God’s purposes and plans for you and me.
In Joshua 1: 2-3, God says to Joshua, “Now that my servant Moses is dead, you must lead my people across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘everywhere you go, you will be on land I have given you.”
Fact #1- When people in the Bible encountered God they did so at a place of significance in their lives.
The book of Joshua opens with a note of significance. Moses is dead. He had been Israel’s leader for many years. Israel is in transition. A new leader is needed to take Moses’ position as leader. Joshua is that person.
But, it is also another significant time for the Israelites. 40 years had passed since their lack of trust and belief in God’s ability had kept them from entering the Promised Land across the Jordan that was now in their line of sight.
But, the Jordan River is not just Israelites’ entryway into the Promised Land; it is the doorstep into the future that God has for the them.
Let’s return to Gettysburg and those hot July days in 1863 for a moment. Those men in blue and gray, while influenced by geography, still had to make choices as the battle developed over those hot July days in 1863 as to how they would conduct the battle.
One of the key choices made was 20th Maine’s bayonet charge in a desperate attempt to defend the extreme left of the Union line. They were running out of ammunition, and there were more and more confederate soldiers readying to attack. The commanding officer, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, made the decision to fix bayonets and charge the two Alabamian regiments that were attacking him.
The gallant charge is credited with saving the Union lines on July 2nd and made Chamberlain a civil war legend. For if Little Round Top had fallen, the confederate forces could have entered the rear of the Union lines and the outcome could have been much different.
Fact #2 – People make history. But, history is also made as people encounter God at key places.
As we move into Joshua 3, a historical event of spiritual significance occurs for the Israelites because they are now obediently following God’s plan and ready to take possession of not just the land that they have been promised but also the future they had been promised.
We read in verse 5 of chapter three, ‘Make yourselves acceptable to worship the Lord, because he is going to do some amazing things for us.” And God did those amazing things right before their eyes.
For as we read in verses 15 – 17, the priests who were carrying the ark, stepped into the river, it stopped flowing to create dry ground. And they stood there in the middle of the Jordan until everyone had crossed over on dry ground.
As they walked across the Jordan, I wonder if any of them recalled the parting of the Red Sea which had occurred years before when their family members, with the Egyptian army hot on their trail, walked to freedom and deliverance on a dry seabed?
They had heard the story many times – it was a critical part of their history, their relationship with God, but they had never personally experienced anything like that – until now.
But, there was more history to be made, experienced, and written because God’s plan for humanity was involved in this crossing of the Jordan River.
Fact #3 – Our encounters, our history with God, have but one purpose – to become the people of God and to advance the Kingdom of God.
The crossing of the Jordan River was the completion of one chapter and the beginning of a new one – the book that was being written is God’s plan of redemption for you and me. Every person, every church, which proclaims the gospel is a part of this ongoing purpose.
This year, each one of us will have some rivers to cross. Each one of us will have points of significance, points of decision to make. Some of those points have to do with our relationship with God.
Some of those rivers will be ones that we have no control over. Some of them will be ones that we do have control over.
Some of those rivers will require us to make some sacrifices. It will require us to be inconvenienced.
Some of those rivers will involve our families, our jobs, our finances, and a whole host of other things that are important to us. Things that we will not have control over.
But some of those rivers will come as we walk with God and serve Him. They too will require some sacrifices, maybe big ones. They may involve our families, our friends, our finances, our work, our values, and our priorities. Things that we do have control over. They will require us to choose, as Joshua would challenge the Israelites, whom we will serve.
Rivers can be barriers or highways. It all depends your perspective and your values.
This was not the first time that the Israelites had stood on the threshold of the future that God had for them. 40 years earlier, they had had the opportunity to possess the Promised Land as we read in Numbers 13 – 15. But, they did not! They allowed fear and anxiety to grip them and they lost faith in God’s ability to do what He said He would do for them. God was grieved, God was angry with them and would not let them go in for another 40 years.
That was not God’s plan for them. He wanted them to possess that which He had already given to them – a home and a future as His people!
God has a plan for you! A good plan! A great plan! A plan that goes beyond your wildest dreams and hopes!
But, sometimes quite frankly we get afraid or we let sin into our lives and God’s plan for us is out of reach because there are barriers between God and us. Barriers that must be broken down before you can experience the great and glorious future that God has for you.
Breaking down those barriers requires joint participation with God. They require us to admit to their existence and surrender them to God. They require God’s help in overcoming them because they deal with our priorities, attitudes, belief, and habits. Barriers that require an inner change only God, with our cooperation, can make happen.
“How?” you might ask.
For some, letting go of a painful past is a way to break through to the future.
For another person, is to track or ‘see’ God at work in the everyday events of life.
For still another, it is to break out of a comfort zone, those safe places that often become walls and keep us from experience God’s great future.
Empowering our activities, all of our activities, with prayer is another way to break through the barriers that prevent us from having and experience God’s best.
Making God’s dreams our dreams is yet another way to overcome those barriers that have kept us from, as Jesus said, ‘having life more abundant.’
But, each of these barriers, and a few others we will look at, require a personal choice part. A choice to let go or a choice to give up that only you can make.
Do you want to experience the great future that God has for you? Do you want to be free from the burdens that God wants to take off and you keep hanging on to? Are you ready to cross your Jordan River and take possession of that which God wants you to have and experience and has already given to you?
It requires one thing – a willingness to let go and let God have his way. If you have willingness, even a willing to be willing willingness, then you have made the first step. God is with you and will help you.
(Tell Dave story and focus on the willingness to let go.)