Publication: Pastoral Letter, December 2000
Dear Friend in Christ:
The Jordan River…3,500 years is a long time for one place to be of vital interest to the whole world. Yet this small river has been and still is of vital interest. Even as I write to you, this small river that flows approximately 120 miles North to South remains very significant to current events. It is a flash point that could cause a great fire throughout much of the world.
The Jordan River begins from springs that flow from the base of Mt. Hermon down through the Sea of Galilee and downward to the Dead Sea. In fact, the name Jordan means, “flowing downward.” It begins at about 1,700 feet above sea level and flows to approximately 1,300 feet below sea level. It begins with the fresh waters of melted snow and ends in the still salty waters of the “Dead Sea.” The Jordan is more than a river; it is a boundary between nations, tribes, a barrier to be crossed, a symbol of commitment, and a symbol of death.
WHICH SIDE OF JORDAN?
Moses led Israel out of Egypt through the wilderness right up to the southern part of Canaan to an area referred to as “Kadesh Barnea.” From Kadesh Barnea, spies were sent into Canaan to evaluate the land. Ten of the spies came back intimidated by the Canaanites and convinced that Israel should go back to Egypt. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, believed that they could take the land, but the opinion of the ten fearful spies prevailed. As a result, that entire generation of Israelites perished wandering in the wilderness. The only survivors were Joshua and Caleb and a few of the Levitical leaders.
Forty years later, Moses led a younger generation back to Canaan, this time arriving east of Jordan. On the way, Moses led Israel in numerous victories until they were poised to cross the Jordan. As they camped on the eastern side of the river, leaders of two tribes, Reuben and Gad, came to Moses requesting that they be allowed to receive their inheritance on the east side of the river. They reasoned that the land was good for livestock on the east side, and they had plenty of livestock.
The request troubled Moses, because this had not been the instruction of the Lord to him. Moses also understood their request as being a half-measure and a discouragement to their brothers, who would have to fight against enemies on the west side of the river. Finally, Moses persuaded them to fight alongside their brothers on the west side, and in exchange they could have their inheritance on the east side. This arrangement seemed to please everyone, but it proved to be a bad decision for Gad and Reuben.
Reuben and Gad chose a short-term benefit at the expense of God’s long-term purpose. As the years passed, their descendants on the east side of Jordan were more often defeated by their enemies, less integrated into Israel’s daily life, and more prone to back-sliding. The Jordan was always there to divide them from the rest of Israel. There came a time when Jerusalem’s temple – the place that bore Jehovah’s name, was “too far” for them to travel to offer sacrifices and to worship. At times, idolatry became more prevalent on the east side of Jordan, and their heirs were relegated to being an “outpost of spirituality.”
Moses had challenged Gad and Reuben in the beginning when they presented their request. He asked them, “Will you sit here while your brothers go to war?” (see Numbers 32:6). A friend asked me that same question more than 30 years ago. Costa Deir, a missionary who is now with the Lord, wrote a letter to me and suggested that I should go to a certain nation very far away and minister there. I was not inclined to go. However, soon after his letter, I received an invitation from Christian leaders in that country. I was still not inclined to go, and wrote to them so stating. But then Brother Costa sent another letter, which closed with that verse: “Will you sit here while your brothers go to war?”
The letter and the text struck me forcefully. I had found a comfortable place and was not inclined to “go to war.” There had been enough war for me, and I wanted no more of it. But I couldn’t resist the voice of the Spirit in the text. I prayed further and decided that indeed the Lord did want me to go to this country far away, and so I did. It was a rewarding decision and God met me in that place of ministry and spiritual warfare.
CHILDREN OF REUBEN AND GAD
I carry a deep concern for the emerging generations in North America and Europe, even more than I do for those emerging in other places who live under greater hardship. We have received a uniquely bountiful heritage, but have been removed from understanding the price of it. We have, by God’s grace, been in a land of milk and honey, but have lost our acquaintance with blood, sweat, and tears. We cannot fully appreciate the price of our prosperity.
I recently read Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation. The book relates the stories of men and women who endured the hardships of the “Great Depression,” World War II, and the subsequent rebuilding of the American economy. For the most part, it was a generation that was willing “to cross Jordan” because they wanted their children to enjoy the freedoms, the values, and the opportunities that were precious to them.
My concern for emerging generations is a simple one: Can we preserve the treasures bought with blood by taking mere half-measures? Can we live on the outskirts of commitment and enjoy the full benefits of God’s promises? Can we be anesthetized by entertainment and still arouse ourselves to the necessary struggles that face us? Will “Christianity-Lite” prevail in the face of the “Canaanite Revival”? The Canaanite Revival is a revival of those same deities and values that confronted Israel…Baal, Ashtaroth, Molech, and company. For those of you who are not familiar with those deities, they represent earth worship, sexual worship, feminism, goddess worship, and baby killing. A cursory study of those religions will tell you why God took the land from the Canaanites and gave it to Israel.
The condition that allowed the encroachment of those deities – and allowed them to return after they had been defeated – was the lack of courage on the part of those who should have known better. Temporary self-interest and self-service prevented people of higher values from “crossing Jordan” to confront evil.
The single characteristic of those in Tom Brokaw’s book was not their personal virtue. Rather, it was their courage and willingness to die for what was right. They didn’t “sit,” or run and hide while their brothers went to war. If history can still teach us anything at all, it is that evil forces eventually overrun those who lack courage.
How can we cross Jordan? It is really very simple; we must be willing to enter the battle. Crossing Jordan means that we have identified the purpose of God. We have made a commitment to it that does not allow us to turn back. It means that we have identified the place where the battle rages, and that we have taken a stand without regard to personal consequence. Crossing Jordan means that we have refused to be mere spectators to the conflict – we are involved. It means that we are marching with our brothers and sisters to take the land.
If we do not cross Jordan, then evil forces will overrun our children and our grandchildren. I am not talking here about mere secularism. Secularism is the silence before the storm. The storm is the unmitigated evil that waits to pounce on passive people. It is the abuse of our offspring and the mocking of righteousness. It is the ridicule and hatred of God. It is the elevation of depravity. It is calling good “evil” and evil “good.”
Where are the battles? Here are a few: the voting booth where many Christians do not go; the Church that has a politically-correct agenda instead of the purpose of God; educational institutions which ignore the Creator and absolute truth; family life, which is losing its covenant flavor; and materialism which absorbs so much of our time and resources.
In order to experience victory, we need to deepen our prayer lives, arm ourselves with the Word of God, strengthen our faith, become more personally involved with relational evangelism, and especially work together to represent Christ and His Kingdom to the world.
Numbers 13 and 14 tell us that Joshua and Caleb were of “another spirit” from the other ten spies. They were not intimidated or fearful; they were believers and had courage. And 45 years later, Joshua was Israel’s leader and 85-year-old Caleb was asking permission to take a mountain (Joshua 14).
These men were believers: they believed God and they believed in the purpose. Their faith caused them to endure the setbacks of their day, and finally to enter into the victory of the Lord. We can choose to be their sons and daughters, or we can be the descendants of the unbelieving spies and use our influence to cause people to wander. We can be descendants of Gad and Reuben and take half-measures. But we must decide whose descendants we will be.
Our Jordan is not a literal river; it is a worldwide current that we must cross.
Our enemies are not flesh and blood; they are spiritual forces, which we must understand, uncover, and defeat.
Our weapons are not carnal, natural, or of the flesh. Our anger will not work God’s righteousness.
Our hope is not the “triumph of the human spirit;” it is the covenant blood of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our decision is whether or not we will cross over Jordan into the conflict, or become bystanders while our brothers and sisters go to war.
Our time is now…the last generation is passing, and history looks down upon us.
As I write this letter, many Christians seem unaware that this is one of America’s most vital moments. But I am so grateful that you are willing to pray and act. Thank you for your diligence and faithfulness. I join you to pray that God will be merciful to us and help us to be courageously committed to His call…and that we can cross the river together!
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Thanks for your prayers for our ministry. Please continue to intercede for us, and to remember us in your giving. CSM is a faith ministry…we depend upon the faithfulness of God and His people in order to move forward in our mission each month. I pray that you and yours have a most blessed Christmas and New Year!
Scripture References: Numbers 32:6; Numbers 13, 14 ; Joshua 14