October 14, 2005

Crossing Jordan

This article was adapted from a sermon given by Sam Leonor during GODencounters on May 27-June 4 in Apopka, Florida. Many of the characteristics of the oral delivery have been retained.--Editors.

ET'S ENTER INTO JOSHUA 1. DID YOU bring your Bibles? Yeah, that's what I like to hear. You can't have an encounter with God without having your Bible. That's the revealed Word of God, friends. If you didn't bring one, then fake it. Take out a hymnal, or something. [Laughter.]

After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua, "Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them--to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates--all the Hittite country--to the Great Sea on the west" (Joshua 1:2-4).* This was the promise made to other people; now it's being made to the new generation.

The old generation is gone. They are dead. Moses is dead, along with all the people who wouldn't cross the Jordan. They came to the edge of the Jordan, and God said, "Across from this river is who you are. Across from this river is who I want you to be. The Semitic concept of land, Gan, is more than just a place that you occupy. The Semitic concept of land is who you are. The place that you inhabit is your identity" [see Deut. 32:47]. So what God Is really saying to the people of Israel is this: "You cross over into who you really are. The other side of the river is what I want you to do, who I want you to be, what I have called you to be. You have come from a very bad place, where your identity was really messed up. You have been told you are slaves. I want you to cross into a new land a new identity. Everything that I have prepared for you, everything that I have made you to be, if you cross, it will all be yours."

1542 story1 link

And what did the old generation do? They sent 12 spies in, and they came back with gigantic grapes. How many of you grew up with the Maxwell books? Remember the Maxwell books? With the two guys carrying the big old bunch of grapes the size of watermelons? Remember that? I used to stare at that stuff and think, Wow, those are huge grapes. How would a person eat them? And if those are big, imagine the ones in heaven. And if heaven has gigantic grapes like this, imagine what a mango would be like! [Laughter.] I mean, watermelons would be the size of this church. [Laughter.]

Anyway, the people of Israel probably looked at these gigantic grapes, thought about the size of the people who would eat those grapes, and heard the spies tell them, "No way; we'll be like roaches in there. I mean, they'll squash us up; it'll be disastrous. God isn't really meaning for us to cross there. You see, God has made it pretty comfortable here. We get manna every morning. We get that covering over the hot sun. Keeps us nice and cool during the day, and then at night there is a nice (pillar) of light. This system works pretty good! Why would we cross over to the other side where there is danger? The other side is an enigma. It's unknown. God can't really mean to cross [the Jordan]. Because look at the size of the people!" So the Israelites didn't. They went and walked around the wilderness for 40 years, until everyone who did not believe that it could be done was gone.

Maybe God sometimes waits until those who don't believe are out of the way, and there is a new generation. This has nothing to do with age; it's about people who say it can't be done. You know, the people who say that the risks haven't been evaluated they haven't called Risk Management to find out if this is approved by the boards. . . . It's the people who say, "we tried it before and it didn't work" or "the way we do it now works, why risk crossing?"

[The problem is] the people who just hold back and sit on the banks of the Jordan and say, "It's comfy here, and I don't want to cross over because over there it is hard. I don't have a sleeping bag. I don't have a portable stove. Or my blow dryer. Over there it looks rough."

Life across the Jordan is what God wants for us. We should fear the day we get so complacent that we become the generation that has to die before God can do great things again. I have often wondered when that day will come for me. I think I might have reached it several times in the past couple of years.

Where There Is Faith
The other day a student walked into my office and said, "We are going to raise $5,000 for ADRA here." This is during the tsunami thing. She said, "We are going to raise $5,000 from the students, and we are going to do it in one day."
I said, "That's sweet; that's so sweet. [Laughter.] Jesus loves you so much."

I'm thinking, You are going to try to extract $5,000 from students who are paying $3 million to go to school every year? [Laughter.] Good luck.
She saw it. She read the doubt in my eyes and actually said to me, "What's wrong with you? You don't believe. You watch; you watch."
I said, "No, no, I believe. Go do it."
She said, "No, you don't!"

She walked out and that day we raised $20,000! Not just $5,000. And guess who was humbled? Her [laughter] . . . no, me.

My friends on Flower Street called me about a year and a half ago in the middle of the night, fired up because [they heard a sermon] I had preached on how I had served God. They asked me to come over. They live around the corner from me, so I ran over.

1542 story1The guys on Flower Street are a bunch of bachelors living in a house together during their college years. Thumbs down on that, moms! Nutritionally bad. Hygienically bad . . .

I go over there. They are so excited. They are giddy.
"What's going on?" I ask.
"Well, we've got this idea. We are going to get a boat, a ship, a big ship, like a 50-passenger thing, and we are going to sail it from here all the way down to the South Pacific and we are going to spend the rest of our lives just floating around all of Micronesia. All the South Pacific, all these islands. Just serving people, and we'll have doctors and nurses, and all these people who will serve; and we'll build communities up and we'll have teachers and we'll build schools on every island. And we're just going to go there and minister to people."
"Wow! That's a really good idea." I'm thinking, If I go home right now I can still get six hours of sleep.
"We want you to come with us."
[Big sigh.] "Which one of you knows how to sail a ship?"
"What kind of question is that? Who cares? We'll figure it out. They have manuals at Barnes & Noble. We'll figure it out."

All these guys are on the edge of the Jordan. They see the other side; they know what God wants them to be. They are going to cross. Right? They are ready to charge, and here I am on the comfortable side of the Jordan thinking, Oh, brother, I have a mortgage payment. Is the ship going to cover that? [Laughter.]

I reply, "Have you noticed I have a wife and two kids?"
"They're coming too! We'll give them stuff to do on the boat."
"That's so sweet. Jesus loves you for having this vision." [Laughter.]

This past winter one of those guys finished the process of forming a non-profit organization and got the ship. And later this year it will be outfitted and they are going to start sailing it. Who is part of the old generation that wouldn't cross? Check out www.mahiinternational.com if you want to know more about their ministry.

Back to the Book
Wow, where were we? Back to Joshua. God says to the people, "Be the new generation. Be the people who God calls to cross. Go across. Don't be the old people, the old generation that died in the wilderness. Don't say it can't be done. Don't say that isn't where God wants us."

Verse 5. God says, "No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you."

If you are following along, verse 6, prepare to jump: "Be strong and courageous."

Verse 7: "Be strong and very courageous."

Verse 9: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

I can hear God talking to me: "What is wrong with you? Do you believe? Of course we can raise five grand in one day. Be strong and courageous. You aren't going to accomplish anything for Me if you aren't strong and courageous. Yeah, it's going to take some courage to cross that river. You want to sit here the rest of your life or cross to where I really want you to be? It's going to take some courage."

Let's get to the actual crossing. Chapter 3, verse 8. Something fascinating happens. You are probably wondering what this has to do with prayer [our topic this weekend].

Chapter 3, verse 8: "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.'"

One day, while wrestling with this text, an archaeologist friend of mine said, "You know, Sam, what you have to understand is that during the time the Israelites were about to cross, during spring, most archaeologists and scholars believe the Jordan was at flood level, at flood stages. This is not like going to the beach."

At flood stage the Jordan is this massive current of water with steep 10- to 15-foot drops in places. OK? So God says, "Step into the Jordan."

"As soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord--the Lord of all the earth--set foot in the Jordan, its water flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap" (verse 13).

1542 story1Here is a question I imagine Joshua was thinking: "Why don't You make the water stop first, God, and then we'll step in? Previously You did this shezam thing with the Red Sea. That was nifty. See, here is how it works. You're God--all-powerful, all-mighty. You go whoooo, and the water parts and then we cross. When it is safe, we cross. When it's good, when the life is obviously better for us than the one we have here, then we will cross. You first."

The rules change, though. From now on, as you read the Hebrew Bible, [you see that] the rules change for good. God says, "No, you first. From now on you will see the power of God demonstrated when you believe, when you step into the water. Then you will see stuff happening, but if you sit on the bank of the Jordan, nothing will ever happen. Sure, I'll care for you; I'll take care of you. You'll get your manna, you'll get your little light, your little cloud. Cool. Nothing else will happen. But you will never be what I want you to be.


We try to make a deal with God and say, "You take care of my problems, and then I'll be a better person." This is how we pray. We get through the stuff about God really quick. "God, You are great, awesome. Love You. Now here is my list. Fix my wife [laughter], and then I will love her. [Laughter.] Fix this relationship, do something to that person, and then I will fully give myself to him or her. Fix the quirks. They are so irritating. You fix my children. Make them behave, and then I will really be a good parent. [Laughter.] God, You make me financially able to give more, and then I'll give more. You can't expect poor people to give, God. I have nothing. When You open up the storehouses of heaven, and You bless me with money, then You better believe that I will give.

"You stop the water, and then I will have more time for my church, the community, for my family, my kids, for everything You want me to have time for right now. But obviously You can see that right now I don't have time God, You help me believe, and then I will believe. You take away all these doubts I have about You, and then You watch--I'm going to be an amazing evangelist. I'm going to be Yours. You first, God."

My Own Jordan
You want to know what my Jordan is? I'll tell you. It's where I live. I've always seen it as this temporary thing. I'm not really from there. The other day in the paper my neighborhood was called the methamphetamine capital of the world. [Laughter.] No, we aren't the citrus capital. We aren't the giant ball of yarn capital. We are the methamphetamine capital of the world. Awesome.

A friend of mine walks into a wedding I was at last Sunday. He has gashes all over his head. Beaten up. Bruises everywhere. "John, what happened to you?"
"I got beat up. Next to the grocery store."
"Really, what were you doing?"
"I was carrying my groceries to the car."

Immediately this was my thinking: Must get out of this place. Must get children away from this neighborhood. Not safe here.

I was at a gas station. I had had a long day, a long Sabbath. Sabbath school, sermon for church, afternoon funeral, wedding rehearsal in the evening, and I'm heading home at 9 or 10 o'clock in the evening. I stop to get gas, and a young woman named Clarissa comes up to the car and says, "Can you spare a dollar for food?"

And I told her what I say to these people, "No, but if you are hungry, I'll give you one of my grocery cards that I carry right here in my glove compartment." But there were none there. "I'll give you a granola bar, which I keep here for these occasions." Nothing there either.

1542 story1So I asked, "What would you like?"
"Well, Taco Bell would be nice."
"OK, I'll get you Taco Bell."
"Well, can you get some for my husband too over there? His name is Jeff."
"OK, I'll get Jeff some Taco Bell. What would you like?"
Then Jeff goes, "If you are going to buy Taco Bell, would you buy Carl's Jr.?"
"What would you like?"
"The $6 burger."
"Well, that sounds pricey, Jeff."
"It's only $4." I don't understand that whole $6 burger for $4 thing, but OK.
He says, "If you are willing to buy Carl's Jr., would you buy Denny's?"
"Jeff, it's your lucky night, because I'm feeling like maybe God wants me to cross this Jordan, and I'm going to sit with you and we are going to have Denny's."
So we walked across to Denny's, and we sat down and start talking. I get really bold, which I never do, really, and ask where they are from.
"What are you doing here?"
"It's cold in Colorado in the winter, so we come out here to Riverside."
"Why Riverside?"
"Because you can get drugs really easy here."
"Oh, really. Where do you get your drugs, exactly?"
"Five Points."
He said it halfway through a bite. Five Points--that's five blocks from where I live. I'm hoping it's not my Five Points, so I say to him, "Five Points where?"
So he describes the area. Yeah, that's the one. That's right where I live.
"So it's really easy?"
"Yeah, that's why there's a lot of homeless people there. Everyone knows that if you want help or drugs, that's where you go."
When they found out I'm a pastor, they told me they had been praying all day.
I said, "You've been praying all day? Because you are homeless, drug addicts, and you don't have your child with you? What's God doing for you, exactly?"
And Clarissa says to me, "We're eating, aren't we?"

They had been praying all day for food. Little steps, baby steps.

"Tomorrow we will pray for God to get us out of this addiction, and if that works, the next day we'll . . ."
What she's really saying is "We're eating. Because you crossed."

Be Faithful, Courageous. Cross
I don't know what your Jordan is, but everyone has one. All of us have a bank we are sitting on, and we are looking across to what God really wants us to do, to what He wants us to be, and we say, "Not right now, God. I'm comfortable here right now."

Some situations, some cycles that you just can't stop, some relationship that is just not working well, and you've always pointed over and said, "It's not my responsibility." And God is saying, "Yes, it's going to be scary, but you cross, and then you will see My power; then you will see what I can do."

God answers, "You want to see power, cross. Hand over this stuff. Surrender."

I was in the prayer room earlier and in huge words someone had written "Surrender." Surrender. Surrender to the leading of God and cross Jordan.

This is what we are going to do. Same thing we did last night. Sit up straight, sit comfortably. I would like to read a set of texts. Before I do that, with your eyes closed, why don't you think about this? What is the life that God wants for you, for me, for us? What is the life that God wants for me right now? What is the scary thing that you are looking at right now, that looks like what the Jordan had to have looked like to the people of Israel? What is that situation that looks scary? You know what it is. I know what mine is.

And with that in mind, meditate on these words: "I will never leave you nor forsake you." [Pause.] "Be strong and courageous." [Pause.] "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." [Pause.] "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

*Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.

Sam Leonor is the chaplain at La Sierra University in Riverside, California.