Confronted by a totally new experience, Joshua made an expression which fits our current situation. Telling Israel how to proceed, the newly minted leader said to his tribe, “You have never passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4). I am sure every person reading these words can identify with that assessment. Just as Israel had never confronted the circumstances in which they found themselves, we also are walking in a new dimension.
The church is rethinking what it means to be an effective church. No one, not the best prognosticator on the planet, not to mention all the prophets, had the slightest idea a year ago we would be facing shutdowns, reduced crowds, and deadly pestilence. Now, we are being confronted with new realities. We have not passed this way before.
Our culture is being rapidly divided to the point one wonders if there will ever be a reintroduction of basic civility. Class warfare, racial warfare, political warfare is all one sees or hears about on the newscasts. The church is not exempt from the strife. We have not passed this way before.
Even technology, the darling of so many, is witnessing the tightening of free speech in America. If trends continue, anyone who dares proclaim the truths of Scripture will find themselves evicted from popular platforms of the techno crowd. We have not passed this way before.
Like Israel on the cusp of entering a new era of victory and blessing, you and I are walking into a new era and we are facing new circumstances. One thing which has not changed, however, is the God who walks with us. He is forever the same and just as He brought Israel through a place alien to them, He will guide us through our unknown terrain.
I suggest there are a couple of things contained in the story of Joshua which are applicable to you and me. These are, like our Eternal Father, principles which will never change. In fact, I suspect if we are going to successfully navigate the uncharted waters before us, these two bedrock principles will become essentials.
First, we must have a fresh revelation of God. When the priests took the Ark out of the coverings which hid it from view (Numbers 4:5) they exposed the glory of His presence to people who had never caught a glimpse of His holiness. The common man, far removed from the Holy of Holies, suddenly saw for himself the awesome revelation of the God of heaven.
The day has arrived when our accustomed order of things must be reversed. Indeed, if we hope to survive and flourish in the years to come, we need to make this change today. Instead of concentrating, as I did for the majority of my time as a pastor, on having God show up “in here,” that is, in the church, and hoping those “out there” would come inside with us, we are now in a time when we must learn to allow those “out there” to have a revelation of His glory in their domain. We are in a day unlike any we have seen, and it will require taking the glory from behind the curtain of the church and exposing it for men “out there” to see the greatness of our God.
Read the Acts and see how many times the glory was revealed “out there.” Beginning with Pentecost, which obviously became a public event, all the way through Paul’s snakebite incident and revival on Malta (Acts 28), the glory was not hidden away behind church walls but revealed for all to see. (I counted a total of 17 occurrences where a fresh and open revelation of God was presented outside the setting of a local church.) Since we have not passed this way before, perhaps we need to employ the playbook of those who have successfully navigated the wilderness. The day has come for His church in America to begin to seek His gifts, not for exclusive use in the church, but for the purpose of a fresh revelation of His glory “out there.”
Second, we must recapture a respect for the glory of God. I find it interesting that God allowed His glory to be publicly displayed but demanded respect for that display. They were to witness His glory but had to remain almost a mile away from the ark (Joshua 3:4). The holy was not allowed to become common. Perhaps we have allowed Jesus to become too common, too “us-like” in our attempt to make Him palatable for sinners. Remember, the last guy who caught a real glimpse of the Risen Lord, at least the last one we call trust, hit the floor like a sack of rocks (Revelation 1:17). I suspect our King of Kings is a tad more regal in glory than many of us suspect.
One thing is for sure. When Israel walked in a place unlike any they had ever traversed, a public revelation of His glory, coupled with a respect for His power, made them an invincible force. As long as these two items were present in their midst, no enemy could withstand them. You can say the same about the early church. His revealed presence, bonded with their respect for His awesome power, kept them through unimaginable difficulties. Jericho and Jerusalem both fell before pilgrims who knew their God and were willing to allow Him to fashion them in His likeness.
You and I, as already noted, are in a place unlike any heretofore encountered. Perhaps embracing the models which worked wonders in the past will provide us with the needed roadmap for our unique journey.