Thursday, August 1, 2013

“The Other Option” by Garris Elkins

Last Sunday, Ryan Rhoden was speaking to our church about the transition in leadership that will take place at Living Waters Church in Medford, Oregon in October of 2014. In his message he said, "It would be unhealthy for us to stay the way we are as a church...this doesn't mean we are unhealthy as a church the way we are."

All healthy organisms must grow and change in order to be defined as a living thing.  Churches fall under this definition, as does a business or an organization. Change is challenging, but needed if life is to be experienced and sustained. 

At the foundation of this kind of change is the individual response we each bring to the process. We cannot expect Living Waters Church to become all that God desires it to be if we, as the individuals who make up the church, are not willing to experience change on a personal level. Personal change always precedes the transformation of a group. We could rephrase Ryan’s comments to read, “It would be unhealthy for me to stay the way I am.”

In order to get an image of this kind of change, I want to take another look at the most famous of all spiritual crossings – Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea.

The salvation experience for a Christian is likened to this crossing of the Red Sea. It is a powerful image of a people moving from bondage to freedom.  God opened up a way for us through Jesus to come to the Father – a way that none of us could have opened up with the best of our self-effort. That original experience of salvation is a stand-alone event, yet it is repeated in various forms throughout the life of a follower of Christ when we come to challenging places where we need to make a crossing. These are the places, where, if God does not show up, we won’t get across.

Out of a long and weary 400 years of captivity the children of Israel marched away from Egypt into the desert under the leadership of Moses.  The years they spent in captivity spanned 10 generations.  As a people, they knew only bondage. Freedom was just a word Israeli historians would reference.

For Israel, this was not just a bad week, a tough day or a challenging season. It had been a habitual, generation-after-generation way of living within the constraints of a life in bondage - they knew nothing else. If God did not deliver Israel, they would continue to live in bondage.

When Israel fled Egypt an impassable barrier stood before them in the form of the Red Sea. Behind them was their past, pursuing them to recapture them and return them to slavery. This was an impossible place. Death surrounded them on all sides.

It was in this pressing situation that God would reveal a way when no way seemed possible.  God would show up with another option – a supernatural passage – a way never seen before.

“Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters – a pathway no one         knew was there!” Psalm 77:19

God is supernatural and He delights in making a way when no way seems possible. The Psalmist described this way as, “your road” and “your pathway”. These are ways to freedom only God knows about – they are His roads and His pathways.  He reveals these routes of rescue when it is not possible for us to create an exit solution.

God did this throughout the entire biblical record. When sick bodies were dying from disease, God made a way through physical healing.  When a marriage seemed doomed, God resurrected love. When someone’s future seemed bleak, God birthed a dream in a dreamless life. When a church needed to navigate into a new season, God showed up and led the way.

In Psalm 77:20, right after telling us that He will reveal the hidden way, the writer describes Israel as sheep needing a shepherd.

“You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep, with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.”

What we sometimes forget is that we are being led somewhere. God, the Shepherd of our soul, is always leading us to green pastures.  The destination of the green pasture is not a guarantee that there will not be some bleak and fearful places along the way to the promise.

Sometimes those green pastures will lie on the other side of what appears to be a personal Red Sea with our past and its mistakes pressing us from behind.  It is in these times that God loves to show up and affirm His love by revealing us a way what was previously hidden to the natural eye. In these supernatural passages our past is consumed and our future is revealed.

In these difficult places, before we hear the word of the Lord, we can find ourselves crying out to return to Egypt – a place that is known.  Israel did this and so can we from time-to-time. We value the known and familiar because we learned to make life work in those situations, but those choices are always at the expense of the promise. For Living Waters Church, and for each of you that make up a unique and local expression of the Church, we can find no value or security in returning to what is known.  God moves His people forward – not backwards.

What God has for His children always lies ahead of us. He never asks us return to bondage and He doesn’t want us to die on the shores of a personal Red Sea. With God we can live in the confident assurance that, “A pathway no one knew was there” will appear just when we need it the most if we continue to follow His leading no matter what is taking place around us.

Both options, going back to Egypt, or trying to swim the Red Sea, can get us killed unless God is doing the leading.  Only God, the other option, can show us the hidden way. In your personal and challenging situation, trust God. He is about to show up and reveal a way to you when no way seems possible. 

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