Today we were privileged to hear from a man who has been a spiritual mentor for Pastor Miles for many years, staff Chaplain at Azusa Pacific University, Kevin Mannoia. Before Kevin began his message today, he implored us all to pray for Pastor Miles and the church staff and their families, as prayer makes a huge difference when people lift the arms of their spiritual shepherds.
Today’s scripture comes from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, who wrote about his vision of a river and the experience he had following the direction of his guide:
The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.
As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”
Notice that river in Ezekiel’s vision begins in the temple. In Biblical times, the temple was built as a place to symbolize the presence and work of God in the world. In modern times, God’s presence and work in the world is in God’s people, the church.
The river of God’s holiness flows through your life, your church, your work, and your actions are flowing and transformational.
This river of God begins in the heart of God, not a class or a book or a building. It is God’s passion and overflowing love that causes him to call us back into wholeness. The river of God’s holiness flows through your life, your church, your work, and your actions are flowing and transformational.
Three things are always true about rivers:
1. A river always moves.
Every river has a current. If a river stops moving, it’s no longer a river. It becomes like a swamp, mossy and stagnant. It attracts mosquitos and flies and it starts to stink. The same is true with the church; when the church stops moving forward in the flow of God’s impulsive love, we become stagnant and stinky and are only good for drawing flies.
2. A river is always changing.
Kevin shared an experience he had with his son while exploring Happy Isles in the Merced River in Yosemite National Park. One year Kevin and his son Corey went exploring upstream, jumping across from boulder to boulder to see how far they could go. When they had gone as far upstream as they could, they found a large boulder where they sat and watched the water rushing by, taking particular notice of a tree hanging overhead nearby. But the next year, when they went exploring once again, they once more went upstream as far as they could, but could not find their boulder or the tree. The banks had adapted and changed to the new form of the river. When they finally did spot the boulder they sought, they realized they could no longer reach it because the river was so markedly different.
The river of God is always changing, too, adapting to the culture and learning how to best bring God’s love and the Gospel of Jesus into our communities. God’s river engages with its surroundings and changes as it's surroundings change.
3. A river is always life-giving.
If you’ve ever seen satellite images of the African continent, you’ve noticed that the northern third looks very brown and dry. Nothing can live in the Sahara Desert - it’s all sand. But on the eastern side there is a twisty green line, the Nile River running south to north and ending in the Mediterranean Sea. Wherever the Nile flows, there are green trees growing on either side. Cities have been established all along its banks because people are drawn to the water.
Life flourishes where the river of God - the church - flows. It starts in the heart of God, flows through the desert land, and brings life wherever it goes. When you go to your cubicle tomorrow and encounter a coworker who doesn’t like you, you can bring life by bringing a word or forgiveness and long-suffering. When you welcome a new neighbor in your complex or stop to help someone, when you are the person who refuses to cut corners, or you refuse to cheat clients in your business, you’re bringing life wherever you go.
The question for you is: are you in the river?
Imagine you are Ezekiel, watching the river go by from the bank where it’s safe and you’re self-reliant and in control. The tour guide taps you on the shoulder and asks you to get in the water. You step in to wet your feet, but your feet are firmly planted. At this point, you can still control the basis on which you are in the river.
You may have said your initial “yes” to Jesus, stepping into the shallow waters of His river. But maybe you still want to control how you follow Him. As long as God fits into your plans and doesn’t ask you to do anything too uncomfortable, you’ll keep following. You want to make sure you keep your friends, your job, your belongings, and your agenda on your terms.
But the guide taps you on the shoulder and asks you to wade in deeper. Maybe now you’ve committed to attending church every Sunday or joining a Life Group. If you’ve ever stood stood in a fast river or the ocean, you’ll know that the sand under your feet begins to wash out from under you and you have to move to regain your footing. This is like the Holy Spirit challenging your notion of self-assurance and pursuing your own agenda. Our human nature tells us to move our feet to a new foundation where we can feel secure again, yet God beckons us to release that control.
When the water is waist deep, maybe you've started to tithe and serve in ministry. Now the current is a factor as it pushes against your side. The Holy Spirit is prompting you to surrender to the the flow of God to carry you. In your uncertainty, you may separate your feet, trying to remain locked in where you are as best you can.
God, your guide, taps your shoulder to invite you in even deeper. The waters become a river you cannot cross. Your toes may barely touch the bottom and you may need to tilt your head back to protect your airways. At this point, you want it both ways: you want to be deep in the river with God, but you still want to touch the bottom to have some semblance of control.
Are you going to trust God’s river that is too deep for you to control or go back to the shallow part where you can do things your own way and control your own destiny?
Yet God calls you deeper still - where your toes can’t touch. This is a difficult choice. Are you going to trust God’s river that is too deep for you to control or go back to the shallow part where you can do things your own way and control your own destiny? This is one of the most important decisions you can make!
God is calling you into those deep waters, in over your head. Let go of your ideas of security. Trust the flow of God’s river and you’ll find that it will carry you. Kevin assures us that there is no experience he’s ever had where the river has not been faithful to carry him in fulfilling what God had for him.
Up until now in the water, you’ve been stationary, but the moment your feet come off the ground, all that pressure, resistance, fighting, and splashing all goes away and the fullness of God’s peace fills you as you simply move with the flow of God, watching as the world goes by. It’s a complete transformation of perspective; you’ll start seeing your spouse, your children, your job, opportunities, and painful experiences differently. Everything changes when you’re in the flow of God’s river, bringing life wherever you go.
Are you in the river yet? How deep are you?
If you’ve never put your foot in the water, today is the day to follow the beckoning of the Holy Spirit! Or maybe you are in the river but you’ve been playing around in shallow water for many years. God is tapping you on the shoulder and asking you to trust Him, to trust more of your heart, your time, your resources, and your plans and dreams. It’s time to let go and be carried in the flow that originates from His heart.