This has been a pretty long week.
We’ve been up here at the building every day this week trying to get it all painted and installing the stage and the new TVs, and we’re not even done, yet. We’re most of the way there, but there are still a few things that have to happen.
We want to get some furniture for the entry way and make that into a sitting area for when people first come in. We want to continue with the artwork on the walls, so get on that all of you who paint. We also want to set tables up in this open area with information on them about opportunities for you to get involved in ministry right away.
We want you to be aware of what’s going on in the world and how you can help. We want you to make your life count.
Today I want to take you back to the moment you first met Jesus. I want to take you back on a trip through your past. I want to take you back to see what your life has been like. I want you to remember.
When I read through the Bible and I look at all the stories of great and terrible things that happened to the Hebrews and Israelites, something stands out. Anytime anything of significance occurred they built an altar. As we read through this story in Joshua, let’s just think about the history a bit. The Hebrews had escaped from Egypt and had already seen the Promised Land. In Numbers 13 we read that Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land. They brought back reports of how rich the land was and the abundance of food. It truly was a land that exceeded all of their expectations. Ten of the spies came back dismayed, saddened that the inhabitants looked like giants and thinking they could never conquer such a land. The land was awesome! It was more beautiful than any of them could have ever imagined. But they were afraid of what it would cost them to go in. Only two of their number thought that it was possible to take the land. Only two of them believe what God said. Only two of them were ready to take on the task of conquering the Promised Land. As a result, only two of them were allowed to enter it. The other ten would die in the wilderness.
Because of their unfaithfulness the Israelites wandered the desert for forty more years. An entire generation passed away before God would allow them to go in. What a tragedy! To come so close to achieving what they’d dreamed of for years only to have it taken away because they were afraid things would be more difficult than they’d planned. To come so close to what was promised. Don’t forget that. It was promised to them. God told them it was their land. All they had to do was take it. God promised it to them. It was theirs. But they didn’t take it because they were afraid.
How many times do we come to the precipice of what God has given to us but because we are afraid of the unknown we never take hold of it? Maybe it’s a particular ministry we wish we had. Perhaps it’s something we’ve always wanted to do. But we never realize it because we’re too afraid to take the first step. Maybe it looks different than we thought it might. Perhaps it turns out that it’s going to be harder than we expected it to be. So we go back home assuming God just didn’t want us to have it. Have you ever had a dream about something you think God wants you to do? Have you then ever had the opportunity to do it only to slink away because it’s going to take a lot of effort? Perhaps it’s going to cost more than you thought it was going to. Maybe you were going to have to give up something else you liked in order to achieve what God had given you to do. Maybe you were going to be uncomfortable. But it was right in front of you. I mean it was so close you could taste it, but you missed the opportunity because you were afraid of the cost.
This was the case with the Israelites. I think we sometimes get in this frame of mind that if God wants me to have something he’s going to serve it up to me on a plate. One of my favorite restaurants in the world is Ruth’s Chris. It’s a steakhouse that only served aged prime beef. If you’ve never had aged prime beef you are missing out. For starters only 2% of beef in the world is certified prime. Then on top of that this meat is dry-aged. What that means, if you don’t know, is that they take this beef to a cold room and just let it sit for a month. It’s in open air, so it starts to dry out. What happens to the beef, though, is that all that moisture gets sucked into the center of the meat. What they do then is they trim off all the meat that has dried out and throw it away so what’s left is this incredibly flavorful, incredibly tender piece of meat that they then cook in a double broiler that’s 1800 degrees and serve it on a 500 degree ceramic plate so your steak stays hot the entire time you’re eating it. My mouth is literally watering as I write this.
This is what I think we do with God. This hunk of meat is obscenely priced because of all the effort that’s gone into it, but it’s absolutely delicious. This is what we do with God, though. We think that if he’s promised us something, it’s going to be this wonderfully presented meal that we really have to do very little for and he’s going to present it to us on a 500 degree plate so it will stay hot the whole time we’re eating it. We never think that we might have to actually work for something. We don’t for a moment assume that it will be hard or even potentially dangerous.
God doesn’t play by our rules, though. God wrote the rule book and he does as he sees fit. Perhaps the thing he promised us is only going to come at great cost. When the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land, it came at the cost of them fighting for it.
I love this story because it paints such a clear picture of what’s going on with the Hebrew nation. The Israelites have been wandering in the desert for 40 years longer than they thought they would have to. They’ve come to the edge of the Promised Land only to be told they can’t go in. They’ve spent 40 more years living on manna in the desert. They’ve finally gotten the ok to cross the Jordan River and this is how it goes: They’re supposed to take the Ark of the Covenant, carried by the priests, and stand still in the River. Then the waters would stop and the Israelites would be able to cross on dry ground, similar to what happened with Moses and the Red Sea. What you need to understand is that the river is at flood stage at this point. The Jordan River steps down to its deepest point. What that means is that the priests on the front end of the Ark will basically be completely under water before the priests at the back end would ever step foot in the water. This would require some faith on the front priest’s part that the waters would really stop before they drowned. Often God’s plans require some faith on our part.
So the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. Then they did the first thing they always did. They did what God told them to do back in Exodus. Whenever he made his name known, they built an altar and worshipped. Then they left the altar there so they would always remember what God did at that spot. They built an altar. They worshipped. They remembered. When you look at the Jewish feast days and holidays, it seems there was a common theme: Remember. The theme repeats itself over and over. Remember, remember, remember. Why? Because sometimes we forget. Sometimes we lose sight of what it is God has done for us. Sometimes we forget everything he’s brought us through. Sometimes we only think about the pain we’re experiencing right now. Sometimes we’re only thinking about the next 5 minutes and not the big picture.
Jesus had been crucified just days before. He’d been laid in a tomb just before the Sabbath began. In Jewish life the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Sunday morning was the first time anyone could have gone to visit the tomb where Jesus was. Mary the mother of James and Mary Magdalene were the first two on the scene to tend to the body of Jesus. When they arrived, they found the stone that had covered the tomb rolled away and the body of Jesus gone. While they were looking for the body of Jesus, two men appeared in “dazzling apparel.” The men asked “why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” Scripture then says “And they remembered…”
At the point in time when all of Jesus’ followers accepted he was the Messiah, he was the one sent from God to restore the people of God, Jesus was killed and buried in a borrowed tomb. We even cry today, “how tragic and unfair!” It was tragic and unfair, but if Jesus hadn’t lived a sinless life and died a martyr’s death, we would have no hope of salvation. But he did. The two Marys were weeping because the body of their Lord had been taken. They had to be reminded of what Jesus had said would happen in the first place. Remember when he said…
So often we forget the words of Jesus. So often we choose to do our own thing. We lament the fact that Jesus died. We talk about the unfair nature and the illegality of Jesus’ trial as if we’re trying to prove his innocence. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need help understanding that Jesus was perfect and innocent. I get that part. In fact, I rejoice in Jesus death because it means I can have life. I understand that while completely unfair, if Jesus doesn’t die, I can’t live. That’s the plain truth behind it. Jesus died. I can live.
But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus didn’t simply die and get buried in a borrowed tomb. He rose from the grave. He defeated death itself, never to die again. The angels that appeared at his tomb reminded the two Marys that he told them he would rise from the grave. Jesus rose from the grave not only that we might have eternal life some day in the future, but that we might begin to experience that life right now, that we might join him in his plans for the Kingdom. The crucifixion of Jesus saves us from our sin. The resurrection of Jesus saves us to new life. It’s the picture of baptism. Descending into the water represents our death. Being raised out of the water represents new life. We don’t live the same way we used to. We live the life of Jesus.
So remember where you’ve come from. But remember that it’s not the end. The Israelites built an altar after they crossed the Jordan River so they would always remember what God had done for them. But that wasn’t the end of the journey. Their goal was to get to the Promised Land, but remember they had to take it. They actually had to work for it. The rest of the book of Joshua is about the conquering of the Promised Land. It came at a cost. Some of them died in order that the nation of Israel might be born. There was a price to pay. The altar showed them how far they had come, but it also reminded them of all that lay ahead.
We’re the same way. Cornerstone is in the same situation. I look around at this room that we’re in and it looks absolutely amazing to me. The walls, the ceiling, the artwork, the new technology we’ve got, everything looks amazing. I’m so excited about what has happened so far. God has brought us a long way in 20 weeks. That’s how old we are officially, by the way. Cornerstone is officially 20 weeks old and we’ve come a very long way in 20 weeks, but the vision began more than 10 years ago, really, with it becoming clearer 2 years ago.
I remember my first real conversation with Tim. I remember Disciple Now 2 years ago when I had a host home cancel on Thursday (the day we started) because of an illness in the family and Tim and Angie stepping up and volunteering their house. This began a relationship between our two families that has culminated in what you see right now. I remember countless conversations with Amanda about what it might look like if we started a church from scratch with no traditions or pre-conceived ideas. I remember the first time I shared those thoughts with anyone outside myself and Amanda.
I remember almost a year ago when there were five of us on the floor of Tim and Angie’s living room praying for God’s direction and will. I remember when there were 8-10 of us meeting at Gabriel Jordan in their conference room talking about what a new church might look like. I remember when we first brought a group of people into this room. Over the summer we would meet on Tuesday or Thursday nights simply to study the Bible, sing some songs, and pray. We would sometimes meet for an hour, sometimes for two hours, but we worshipped. I remember September 5th, the Sunday before Labor Day, what most church planting experts would call the absolute worst day in the entire year to begin a church (maybe 2nd worst behind the first Sunday of summer…). We had 80 people here that morning.
Why am I walking you through all of this?
I want you to remember. I want you to realize not only where God has brought us as a church, but where he has brought you as an individual. We’ve talked about this before. I’ve had conversations with several of you about your Ebenezers, your landmarks of faith, the milestones that represent different levels of growth. I want to go a step further with it now. I want you to remember those, but for a different reason now. They have made you who you are, but they call you to greater action.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River they built an altar, but it was only the beginning. They still had to take the Promised Land for their own. Today is a day we should remember in the life of our church. Look at what God has done for us so far. Let’s celebrate that. But let’s not forget what it is we’re called to do. Let’s not come the point of great joy and celebration only to miss the greater calling. Let’s not cross the Jordan River only to be satisfied and take a break. This is an amazing space for us to use for worship, but that’s all it is, an amazing space. There’s still a task to be done, still people that are hurting, still people that need a Savior. Let us not stop at the edge of the River and be done. We’ve been promised the Kingdom of God. It’s ours for the taking. But we have to make the effort to go get it. It’s right before us. But it’s costly. We can’t for a moment assume that God is presenting it to us on a 500 degree plate so it stays hot the whole meal. We can’t assume that it’s not going to cost us anything. We can’t for a moment think that it’s going to be painless or even safe.
One of my favorite thoughts about God comes from the children’s book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis is probably my favorite author of all time. He’s a genius with the English language. I love to read his books. Anyway, in this book four children from our world find their way into the fantastic land of Narnia. This is a land full of talking animals, magic, and of course, evil. There is this mysterious lion named Aslan who is supposed to save all of Narnia from the curse of the White Witch. There have been prophecies made about it since before time. Naturally, all of this is amazing to these four children from our world. In all the discussion about Aslan, one of the children asks a talking beaver “Is this Aslan safe?” The beaver answers her “of course he’s not safe, but he’s good.”
If you’re looking for a safe god, a god who isn’t going to cost you anything, I urge you to look someplace else. Jesus isn’t a safe one to follow. In fact, you might lose your life. I seem to remember, though, a time when Jesus said “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Following Jesus may cost you all you have. It may even cost you your life. Just because the Promised Land was promised to the Israelites didn’t mean they didn’t have to work for it. It just meant it was theirs.
What’s waiting for you on the other side of the River? Are you ready to take your Promised Land?