Crossing the Jordan, conquering Jericho: Where is God taking León de Judá - and what will it take to get there?

Posted in Doctrine, Sermons
[Samuel Acevedo]

Only a people willing to pay the price to become a Generation of Radical Obedience will ever plumb the world-transforming depths of God’s Amazing Mercy and Love. This is the most “Amazing Thing” about our God. And it is enough to destroy Satan’s grip over the Land beyond the Jordan. It is a Land that God has destined for freedom, and as the footstool for His Glory. And it is where God, in His Mercy, is taking us.

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.” Joshua 3:5

AMAZING THINGS AHEAD - BUT ARE WE READY?

He has been preaching about it for years, sharing a vision that God has been percolating in his heart for decades, it seems. But lately, there has been an urgency to Pastor Roberto’s call to “get ready”. On New Year’s Eve, Pastor Roberto christened this year a “Year of Definition”. A year to define the principles, the irreducible “Non-Negotiables”, that Leon de Juda stands on. There is a crescendo of urgency to the call that we become a people of integrity. An urgency to become a people of the Word, living in holiness and filled with the Holy Spirit. Why the urgency? “Get ready”, Pastor Roberto has implored us. But for what?

Perhaps the question should be, “what does ‘get ready’ mean for you?” How is the Lord translating this call to you, and your life?

In this Year of Definition, as I take this call to heart, I have heard the Spirit of God speak to me, almost incessantly, through this Scripture in the Book of Joshua. He haunts me through it, really. “Consecrate yourself, Sam”, I hear Him say, “for tomorrow , you will see God do amazing things before you – all of you.”

Increasingly, I have come to realize that this call (“Consecrate yourself; prepare yourself”) extends beyond any one of us, or any one thing we do. In my case, it is bigger than HERC, or Vale Esperar, or the church’s Social Transformation efforts for which I am responsible. God is taking us, meaning the Church of Jesus Christ, to a destiny that He has laid out for us for years. It is the reason He has created this specific church, Congregación León de Judá, and many churches like it. We have been experiencing not just a growing sense of urgency, but of expectation. A sense of impending Destiny. And we are hearing God’s summons to “consecrate ourselves” as preparation to assume a role in His Divine drama that He has reserved for a special people, and for a time such as this, perhaps since the beginning of time. “Tomorrow”, we are beginning to believe, may indeed be very close at hand. God is about to do amazing things, and show us His glory in amazing ways. “Maravillas”. But are we ready? And why us?

APPROACHING A SPIRITUAL BARRIER

Why us – and why now? We are a generation in some ways like this generation described here in this chapter of Joshua. This was a generation living in eager anticipation of a land they had never lived in or seen. But somehow they would know it was their destiny, their home, when they got there. Joshua’s generation awaited a physical “Promised Land”, and confronted a physical barrier separating them from their destiny – the Jordan River. In our case, both the destiny, and the barrier separating us from it, are invisible. Invisible, but nevertheless real. Especially in this “Year of Definition”, there is a sense that as a church we are drawing ever closer to this spiritual barrier, the shores of this “invisible Jordan”, and we will not inherit our destiny until we cross it. Question is: why would God call us here to begin with, and how do we cross this barrier?

By the way, we are certainly not perfect by any measure – but I believe it is ok to say that we are “chosen” and are “special”. Peter, after all, reminds a decidedly imperfect church, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,” – not to rest on our laurels, but for a specific Divine purpose – “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9 NIV1984) It is not boasting to believe that God may have chosen this generation for a special assignment. Quite the opposite: if we reject this calling, even out of a misguided sense of modesty, we may one day give account to the Lord for refusing to live up to our calling. “To whom much is given, much is required”. But why choose us – why choose this generation –at all?

BECOMING A ”GENERATION OF RADICAL FAITH”

Then and now, God seeks a generation that may not be “perfect” (Lord knows, we’re not) but that at least is willing to believe that God is capable of doing great things, and has come to expect God to do great things. What I will call a Generation of Radical Faith.

Neither we, nor Joshua’s generation, were born a “Generation of Radical Faith”. In both cases, God had to mentor us, and painfully and patiently mold us. In the case of Leon de Juda (and many churches like ours, I’m sure) the process took years. It literally took “a generation”.

There was a time in our church’s recent history, when our working theology of the Holy Spirit, and our understanding of how He is capable of interacting with a New Testament church, was radically different from what we take for granted today. Over the last 20, even 30 years, God has exposed this “generation” to hair-raising trials. Our faith has been tested, and we have stepped on each other’s toes. Along the journey, in the sands of the desert, we have had to bury our notions of who we think God is or should be.

Not many of us remain from those early days 20 or 30 years ago – and those of us who have remained at Leon de Juda to this day are not the same people we were then. The few who have remained since those first days (most of us, anyway) have learned to know nothing but Christ crucified for our iniquity, and the power that emanates from the freedom we have in Christ. That faithful remnant has been rendered humble by God’s mercy, and by demonstration after demonstration of His power to save us. We have seen God do so much, free us from so much, pour out His grace so much, that we have come to believe, sincerely, that there is nothing God cannot do.

And we live convinced that there is more. There is much more. And after 20 years, we want a front-row seat to witness it.

And if you just got here, that is probably why you are here as well. It doesn’t matter whether you are Pentecostal, Evangelical, Catholic, or seldom step foot in a church. You, too, have been called here; drawn here by an invisible invitation of the Spirit of God – drawn to the shores of this invisible Jordan.

In some silent prayer, in some quiet moment, in some moment of crisis, the Spirit of God has visited your spirit, and said, “There is more to me. I am real. I am your Creator. Draw near to me. I want to show you my glory.” In His mercy, the Lord led you to this community, and to this time in history.

If I have just described you, let me tell you who you are: you are the “Joshua Generation”. You are the “Generation of Radical Faith”. A Generation . . .

  • that believes God has set them apart for a great purpose – He is not wasting our time; and,
  • is anxious for God to do something great among them – we live in expectation that God will do great things, and that we will witness great things.

GOD COULD USE A GENERATION OF RADICAL FAITH

God can use a generation like that. In the case of Joshua’s generation, as they approached the Jordan they could see the fruitful land God had promised them, for sure. But they could also see fortified cities, and armies standing between them and that promise. In our case, there are spiritual structures erected, entire walled cities, in the “Land beyond the Jordan”, that oppose the Lordship of Jesus Christ. These spiritual “walled cities” include “belief systems” that are either indifferent to, or openly hostile to, the notion of a Sovereign God ruling His Creation – systems that keep people enslaved to sin, destroy families and futures, and perpetuate injustice, poverty, and death throughout the mechanisms that educate our kids, that treat our sick and elderly, that govern our economy, and that enact our laws.

God seeks a people who will cross the Jordan and represent Him on the other side, no questions asked. Represent Him even when they are alone, despised, and surrounded by a world that seems to be going the other way – a world antagonistic to a God who means everything to this Generation of Radical Faith. He calls that Generation to cross the Jordan. To cross; to execute His purposes; to carry His Name forward and become conveyors of His greatness and His power. To us, to this Generation of Radical Faith, the Lord says, “I want you to go in my Name; be strong, be courageous.” God seeks a Generation of Radical Faith to confront, courageously, the strongholds that oppose Him, and bring them down.

WHAT IS BEYOND THE JORDAN? WHAT DOES GOD HAVE IN MIND FOR US? A VISITATION

God promises to equip, and reward, a Generation that crosses the Jordan to execute His purposes in His Name. But how? We can only imagine. We know that whatever God has in mind is greater than a 1,200-seat sanctuary (that merely serves as a staging area for His glory), or a flood of generous funding (that only serves to sustain whatever God has in mind for us to do). While we can only speculate, God promises that it will be “Amazing”. Whatever it is, we believe it will include a Visitation of God’s power like nothing we have ever witnessed before. A Divine outpouring that will include, at the very least (1) God investing His church with Authority and Influence, and (2) God covering His people with Blessing and Prosperity.

(1) Authority and Influence

In our spirit, we hear God saying, “I am giving you an authority and an influence that is irresistible.” People will come here and only wonder where this power, where this influence resides. We are already seeing forerunners of this promise – a new, horizontal dialogue with representatives of government, philanthropy, and the school system; increasing demonstrations of genuinely, miraculous healing and deliverance from demonic oppression – but nothing like what God is preparing to unleash.

I believe that what God has in mind through this Visitation is a Divine “show-down”, a clear juxtaposition between the notions of “power” as the institutions of this world understand it, and the Power exhibited by a Living God over His creation. A “show-down” akin to Moses confronting Pharaoh, or Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. A people who have all but written God off will marvel at open demonstrations of God’s glory: astounding physical healing; lives transformed; every ministry – to the community, to children, to couples, to youth, to the unsaved – becomes a glowing conduit of God’s Power, an apparatus through which He executes His will.

Those “spiritual cities” tightly shut up like Jericho – government, school systems, the philanthropic community, the financial community – will hear what God is doing here, will come hat in hand, humbled by God’s open authority, and say, “Can that same anointing, can that same power, be used here? Can you please ask the Lord to visit us here, deliver us from our disgrace, and heal this land?”. Anointed representatives of this Generation of Radical Faith, vested with the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit, will rush into the “walled cities” of our community’s schools, government, and economic institutions. Walls opposing the Lordship of Jesus Christ will implode from the inside out.

(2) Blessing and Prosperity

And what is more: the Lord promises, “along the way, I will bless you; I will prosper you. Even as others around you wring their hands in fear – of an economic crisis or of a plague or of death on the streets – your house will prosper. You will have enough to be filled and to give away. If only one in four finish college, or land a good job, or has a stable home, or escapes the grip of poverty, that ONE will be your son, that ONE will be your daughter.”

This is not meant as self-centered, “pie in the sky” prosperity preaching. This is meant as the Lord’s Shalom – a further demonstration, to the people dwelling beyond the Jordan, of the power behind this God worshipped by this Generation of Radical Faith. It is a demonstration to those who oppose the Lordship of Christ, on the other side of the Jordan, that He blesses and prospers those who surrender to His Lordship.

In the midst of turmoil, confusion, and want, God will shelter His people in His Shalom. Insert here the menu of blessings cataloged in Deuteronomy 28: “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. . . . You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail.”

Despite the economic or social climate prevailing over the Land beyond the Jordan, a loving, powerful God will shelter His People in a bubble of wholeness and prosperity. Those who oppose Him will turn and wonder at the source of this shelter, this blessing. They will be “Amazed” – by a God capable of “Amazing Things”. And that is the point.

A future that exceeds what you can ask for and imagine – that is was God is preparing for this Generation of Radical Faith. Sounds wonderful. But there is a price. Before we can inherit that future, before we can claim that promise, there is a price that God expects from us still.

BECOMING A “GENERATION OF RADICAL OBEDIENCE”

God is indeed eager to show us “Amazing Things”, and use us for His purposes in the Land beyond the Jordan. But He is calling us to “Consecrate Ourselves”. This call to “consecration” is radical. It is not merely a call to “do something different”; it is a call “to become someone different” –a different kind of people – than we are now.

Perhaps we are a Generation of Radical Faith as a consequence of decades of the Lord’s patient work with us. But God is now calling us to become a Generation of Radical Obedience. It is here that the Year of Definition gets urgent – and personal. What does that Radical Obedience mean? The Joshua narrative gives us two symbols of this calling to Radical Consecration: (1) Crossing the Jordan; and (2) the Circumcision at Gilgal.

(1)Crossing the Jordan – Without Touching It (A Commitment to Never Compromise)

Israel did not need a miracle to cross the Jordan. The Jordan was, indeed, at flood stage. Drying it up required God’s intervention, for sure. But the Jordan was not the Red Sea. Israel could get across it (“ford” it), without God having to dry it up all together. Spies had already been crossing back and forth across the Jordan. Two spies had just come back from across the Jordan.

Getting across the Jordan did not require a miracle. The miracle was passing THROUGH the Jordan, without getting wet – passing through the waters without touching them.

God is looking for a people who will pass “through the waters” of this culture without touching them. And He has been looking for that people for quite some time. This has been the problem with His people, particularly His church. Throughout time, many movements, many churches, many organizations, begin well – all of them selected, anointed, chosen by God. The first-millennium Catholic Church gets a whiff of power, and becomes captured and corrupted by it. Reformists and protestants, rising in response to that corruption, would, within a couple of centuries, abandon their God and the orthodoxy of Scripture for a building, a salary, a little access to power. Good pastors, good churches, numberless victims of one of Satan’s oldest strategies, touch the corrupt waters of our cultural Jordan, and get wet.

How does this happen? Like Achan (the poor fellow who cost Israel a humiliating defeat to Ai in Joshua chapter 7), we may cross the Jordan, and we may witness the defeat of Jericho – but along the way you see something that catches your eye, and cling to it, without realizing that Satan now has a claim on you, your home, and ultimately your community.

And there are many opportunities to compromise once we cross the Jordan. As we saw earlier, people in leadership of institutions of influence over the school system, or government, or philanthropy – people used to trading in power, money, and influence – will be intrigued by the power of the Holy Spirit, and will invite the church to use its Divine Authority to bless their institutions. We should expect this, this needs to happen – but it has its dangers. Even as we enter the halls of power and influence, we can become enamored with power, flattered by it. And we can forget that we must pass THROUGH without touching the waters of this fallen culture. If we are not vigilant, we can get wet. We accept their bribe of privilege or money; we say, and perhaps earnestly believe, that nothing has changed and that we continue to work for God; but in fact everything has changed – we now have a different master, and have chosen a different reward. We will have forgotten that we are not “of this world”. We are in it, but not of it.

God has left us models of those who were able to infiltrate the corrupt governing systems of this world, vested with the authority of the Holy Spirit, and were able to exercise their Divine authority over these systems, from within these systems, without being corrupted by them. These include Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Esther. Each of them were inside the system, serving as a prophetic influence, transforming it from the inside out, but separate from it. Not co-opted by it. They were “God’s man”, “God’s woman”, “God’s servant” there. And to each of them – to each of us – God promises, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” [Isaiah 43: 2(a) NIV1984].

A God of definition

How were the waters of the Jordan divided? The Levites descended into the waters carrying the Ark of God. As we must: the Ark was symbolic of the very presence of God going before them, descending into the waters of the Jordan ahead of them. The moment the waters came in contact with God’s Shekinah Glory, they fled from before His Presence. As the priests stood on the dry river bed, a wall of water behind them, the People then passed through the river. Dry.

God’s Presence amid the waters, divided the waters. God has always been a “defining” influence. Jesus called Himself a “dividing sword” – not a sword of war, but a “dividing sword”, a sword of Definition. People take sides over Jesus Christ. And we must be very clear whose side we are on, and whose interests we represent. This call to cross the Jordan without touching its waters is about definition and clarity in a world that has lost Christ, one compromise at a time. Once Israel entered this new land, crossing the Jordan without touching it, the Lord commanded Joshua to do something that would bring this important lesson home. Joshua ordered, “Each tribe take a stone from the river bed of the Jordan, and erect an altar to remember YOU are DIFFERENT. You passed through that river without touching it.” And we must continue do the same.

(2) Circumcision at Gilgal (A Commitment to Internal Holiness)

After crossing the Jordan, without touching its waters, God had an additional requirement of Israel. Most of the men of fighting age, this Generation of Radical Faith that God had prepared to take down Jericho and inherit the land, had been born during Israel’s 40-year desert journey. As a consequence, they never participated in an important ritual that set them apart as “belonging to God’s people”: Circumcision. At a place called Gilgal, God ordered all the men of fighting age to be circumcised.

Circumcision is a radical symbol of belonging to God. Which is what “Consecration” means. Consecration says, “All that I have is God’s, and I will admit no other owner; no other God can claim me.” How radical a symbol is Circumcision? So radical that even to this day we are squeamish to talk about it in church circles, much less preach about it. Although it is a surgical procedure now practiced hundreds of times a day in maternity wards everywhere, as an act of spiritual surrender it is hard to contemplate.

Why? Particularly if you are a man, the depth of surrender symbolized by circumcision is almost unfathomable. In a physical sense, as a man, you are literally giving God a piece of yourself that you will never recover or take back. Once you have given it to God, you can no longer lay claim to it. It is God’s forever.

And not just any piece. God honed in on a region that defines us as men; it is so near that place that defines our manhood, our strength, our pleasure, our pride, and our boasting. We keep it hidden, but it is very much a part of us. We bleed and ache when we lose it.

CIRCUMCISING OUR HEARTS

Even this radical symbol of consecration lost its power over time, as with all physical symbols whose practice becomes commonplace. Over the centuries, circumcision came to mean nothing. But God was never really after our “Loins”; God’s true target was our Hearts. Circumcision was meant as a symbol of true radical obedience for all of us: men and women, Jews and Gentiles. As Paul explains to the Romans, a community struggling to understand the place of circumcision in light of the cross of Jesus Christ, “. . . Circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code . . . “(Romans 2:29 NIV1984).

How do you circumcise a heart? It requires a commitment to Radical Obedience. True radical obedience is costly and never without pain. By now, more than likely, we may be grateful, justifiably, that God has delivered us from Big Sins. Sins we would like to never admit we practiced. The kinds of sins you would never want to see published on the front page of the Boston Globe.

But there are areas of our hearts that we have never surrendered to God. There are areas of our hearts that will bleed and ache when we surrender them. And until we do, we cannot claim that we fully belong to Him. Until we surrender them, the Spirit of God will continue to encounter an obstruction in His work in us, and the Enemy will always have some claim to us.

These areas are difficult to surrender because they do not represent something we do; they represent something we are. These areas define us. “Rend your heart,” says the prophet Joel, “not your garments.” These areas are not garments we can simply shed. They are pieces of us that the Spirit of God must surgically remove, cutting them free of our identity. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but they could include:

  • Our rights and privileges and debts (not just financial, but debts of honor or of privilege or of apology) others owe us.
  • Our capacity to cheat each other, lie, be less than completely honest with one another to get what we believe we want, need, or deserve.
  • Our resentments we carry for years against one another.

We commit these sins without thinking, because they do not require conscious thought, any more than breathing does. We carry these sins as part of us; we are these sins. These practices are enmeshed in how we conduct our marriages, how we conduct our affairs with our neighbor and colleagues, how we do business. Unchecked, they define the world we create around us. And they reflect upon the God we claim to serve.

A Holy God says to a people He has marked for greatness, “before I can show you my Glory, you must lose your claim to this thing. You cannot enter your inheritance and cling to that.”

And here we discover the depths of a Merciful God. Unless we are willing to pay the price of Radical Obedience, we will never understand or participate in God’s Radical Mercy. Radical Obedience requires that we allow the Spirit of God to scan our spiritual make-up, chromosome by spiritual chromosome. Areas out of sync with God’s holiness will surface in this life-long process. And when they do, rather than fight this process, or put up a protest, or complain “God, not that – are you kidding?” , when they do surface, we grieve, cutting off another piece of ourselves, offering it to a merciful God. We do the surrendering – we yield to the Holy Spirit’s flint knife on our bleeding hearts.

What is ahead is a life-long process of surrender. In the process, God bathes us in His Mercy. In the process, it becomes obvious how lop-sided this relationship with Him really is. How hopelessly short of the mark we are and always will be. And how Amazing – Amazingly good, Amazingly patient, Amazingly generous, Amazingly humble – this God of ours really is. A God who chooses us out of oblivion, despite our yawning imperfections and indelible sinfulness, and calls us His “People”. His “Children”. How could you not love a God like that?

He has promised us, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow I will show you Amazing Things.” If the Lord should raise the dead among us (and I believe He will), or give sight to the blind (and I believe He will), or bring the proud hearts of the rulers of this earth to bow before His Greatness (and I believe He will), all of these demonstrations of His power and dominion pale in comparison to discovering His Amazing Love, His Amazing Mercy, His Amazing Grace.

Only a people willing to pay the price to become a Generation of Radical Obedience will ever plumb the world-transforming depths of God’s Amazing Mercy and Love. This is the most “Amazing Thing” about our God. And it is enough to destroy Satan’s grip over the Land beyond the Jordan. It is a Land that God has destined for freedom, and as the footstool for His Glory. And it is where God, in His Mercy, is taking us.

Author: Pastor Samuel Acevedo ( Congregación León de Judá | 68 Northampton St. | Boston, MA 02118 )

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