Waiting in the Riverbed

THREE YEARS This month marks 3 years since Kaleo Church called me to be a minister of the gospel. I had served in many different aspects of ministry until then, but never had the official title of “pastor/elder.” The last 3 years have been simultaneously joyful and pressing. There is no other “job” I would rather do, while at the same time, I can often daydream of going back to the work force and not have to bear such weighty burdens. As I was thinking about the last 3 years, a text in Joshua came to mind. In Joshua chapter 4, Israel is crossing from darkness and void of the wilderness (thou wabohu) and into the Promised Land of Sabbath rest. As Israel passes through the dangerous riverbed of the Jordan River, the Lord commands the priests to stay in the middle of the river until all the people have crossed and a monument of 12 stones symbolizing the 12 nations of Israel was erected. The Lord had dried up the Jordan River so that Israel could safely cross. Joshua 4:10 says,

For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the Lord had commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua.

You may ask, “Why did this text come to mind in regards to 3 years of ministry?”  The primary lesson I have learned in the last 3 years is that ministry is one that involves bearing the burdens of others who are making their way on this pilgrimage we call life. Whether it is the labor of administrative duties, preaching, counseling, etc., the ministry can often feel like you are in the dry riverbed waiting for the waters to break loose and sweep you away; all while others quickly pass through the dangers of life and onto solid ground. It is a life that grabs the shoulders of those passing by, looks them in the eyes, and assures them that the Lord is faithful and to keep their eyes on the Sabbath rest ahead. It is also warning those who want to turn back through the dangers of life, back into the darkness and void, and calling them to turn around and walk into rest. Nevertheless, it often concludes with the great joy of seeing others come through the drylands to rest, as they often look back to you with a nod of gratitude.

WHAT ABOUT THE PRIESTS?

In Joshua 4:10, I often wonder what were the thought going through the minds of the priests? As they were called into the drylands and waited for all the people of God to walk through, what were they thinking? As men, women, and children stepped safely into the Promised Land, did they wonder how much longer until they made it to safety? Did they have the external look of piety as they had the ark of the covenant lifted up high for all to see, while inside grumbling to God, “Why me?” When I was in the Army, I served in Korea for a year. When monsoon season would come, the ditches (“turtle ditches” would flow with 2-3 feet of water at times. The newly enlisted soldiers would often get “volunteered” to stand in these ditches and make sure they didn’t get clogged and overflow into the barracks. I remember standing in the middle of these ditches, monsoon rain pouring on me for hours, all while watching others walk by to go get a warm meal. At times, most times, I would envy them. In the same way also, ministry can sometimes create a desire to be one of the crowd who isn’t watching over the souls of people as they make it onto solid ground.

THE GOSPEL FOR PRIESTS (AND PASTORS)

Up until now you might be thinking, “You sure complain a lot!” Trust me, I know. Being a pastor actually has a ton of joy in it. But that joy cannot be found in the call to be a pastor. The joy has to be found in the one who called you. This joy is found in the one we raise up for all to see. Like the priests who help the ark of the covenant up to remind the people of Israel that the God who rescued them out of Egypt was with them, so the minister of the Gospel is one who points people to gaze at Jesus. Yet, it is the pastor’s own need that daily reminds him to ponder the good news of Jesus, himself. Jesus is the eternal priest who took on flesh and tabernacled among his creation (John 1:14). He was the perfect priest who always did what was pleasing to his Father. Yet, it was on the cross that Jesus was lifted up for all to see. But unlike the priests in Joshua who safely stood on the riverbed while God kept the tumult of the waters at bay (Joshua 4:18), God the Father poured out the tumult of his wrath and judgment on his Son. In doing so he was standing in our defense. He was freeing needy priests and pastors from being perfect and giving them safe passage from darkness into the Promised Land of Sabbath Rest. It has been the Gospel that has sustained me and given me so much joy these last 3 years. If God allows, I will keep proclaiming this Gospel to my family and Kaleo Church for another 30 years.

WHAT ELSE HAVE I LEARNED?

I have learned so much about God, myself, and others the last 3 years. However, these are some of the biggest lessons I have learned:

  • God calls a plurality of elders to lead his church, the same way he called the priests (plural) to go through the Jordan together. Laboring side by side with my friend and fellow pastor, Tim Cain, has been a true joy. To have someone that will stand by your side, celebrate with you, do hard meetings with you, and call you out when necessary has given me a true brother I can count on.
  • My family is a gift. It is a natural result of being a minister of the gospel that sometimes your family has to sacrifice for you. This can be really hard. Late night meetings, traveling, etc. I have learned that there will always be demands in the ministry and it will never be worth it to sacrifice my family for the sake of the sheep. My girls are my primary ministry. They are my primary disciples. Thank you Jenn, Olivia, and Hadley for loving me so well, loving the church, and letting me point you to Jesus.
  • The Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4) allows me to shepherd his sheep but I myself am just as needy of a sheep whom he often has to correct and carry.
  • There is so much joy when people come to put their trust in Christ alone for salvation. There is also so much joy in the long, hard, discipline of walking disciples through the Jordan and into the Promised Land.

Thank you, Kaleo Church, for allowing me to serve as one of your pastors for the last 3 years!

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