Settling on This Side of Jordan

By

Most of my thoughts today find themselves in orbit around a concept seen throughout the Bible. Unfortunately, it’s leapt out of the pages and into my own life as well.

It started when studying Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians, urging them to focus on eternity and not to be distracted by the temporary things that can dissuade and distract. It’s a beautiful piece (and a familiar one) where Paul resolves that the once profitable things in life he now considers “loss for the sake of Christ.” Of course, that’s easier said than done.

The issue is that the things that “dissuade and distract” seem so nice. And they do, in fact, satisfy us for a bit. We know they will feel good, quench the thirst and appease the hunger in that moment. And when we are desperate or undisciplined, it’s the quick and easy choice. Esau needed to eat. And in a moment of poverty, a birthright wasn’t going to satisfy the need.

The Israelites were in a similar position when entering the Promised Land. The book of Numbers details a story where two (and a half) of the famous twelve tribes decided that the land on the wrong side of the Jordan River was suitable for their livestock. Lush with grass, waterfront property so to speak, and a noticeable lack of Canaanites to fight made for a spot even Baby Bear could love (it was just right).

I’m sure it was just fine. I’m sure it looked great. And it was probably was okay. But it wasn’t the Promised Land. It wasn’t the place that God had called them to inhabit. It was a good, temporarily satisfying place on the way to what God had intended and that was just fine for them.

And sometimes that’s just fine for me as well.

I’m tempted all the time to turn the stones around me into bread – to use my own power or abilities to make my own way and feed my own hunger for various things. Waiting on God to provide or doing the diligent work to get to my final destination are things that don’t come naturally to me. My own inclination, as an only child (and human), is toward the immediate solution.

I’m drawn toward this, I think, because not only do I have the tendency to settle, but I’m watching this tendency all around me. Husbands and wives settling on the wrong side of their marriage and choosing the easy way to satisfy their frustrations in the arms of another. Leaders settling on the wrong side of their calling and giving up because the river seems too wide. All of us are so grateful for any “Get Out of Jail Free” card that we’ll snatch it the moment the “chance” comes.

But that’s not the calling. And we know it. We know that even as artists there is a deep work to be done to pursue excellence.

We all have rivers to cross and lands to inhabit. And part of me wishes I still had my birthright.

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, heโ€™s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


14 Comments

  1. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    When Moses sent in the twelve spies, only one came back and said, “Let’s take the land, for we are well able to overcome it.” Caleb knew that God had promised them the land, and trusted God would perform His promise. Ten of the spies knew the promise of God, but went with the sight of their eyes rather than their spiritual vision.

    Many Christians are in the same situation. God has called us to a much deeper life filled with abundance – but we go with the sight of our eyes. We’re told we have “everything we need for life and godliness in Christ” and yet we pray for patience and purity rather than thanking God that infinite Patience and Purity lives in us. God says we are a royal priesthood, sons of God, holy, one spirit with the Lord – and yet we look in the mirror and see “sinner” written on our foreheads.

    We’ve got to make a choice – the same choice Caleb and the others had to make.

    Is God a liar?

    If it’s true that He cannot lie, then we’ve got a problem. He says we’re royal, holy saints, sons of God, indwelt by Christ, but our lives aren’t matching up with the facts.

    Why?

    We don’t rely on God’s facts. Instead we go with the sight of our eyes. By doing so we call God a liar.

    Is God a liar, or is He telling the truth?

    Double vision. If our eye is single, if we stick to God’s Facts, our whole body will be full of light. If our eye is evil, if we are double-minded, we are unstable in all our ways.

    Kings. Priests. Holy. Blameless before God. One spirit with the Lord. Dead to sin. Dead to the Law (self-effort holiness). Alive to God. Friends of God. Sons of God. Complete in Christ. We no longer live, but Christ lives in us – but are we now living by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us?

    That kind of faith crosses the Jordan and relies solely on God’s stated Facts. We have got to wake up to God’s Reality.

    Without that vision of God’s reality being manifested through our lives by faith, the people, all those people in our lives – our unbelieving friends, loved ones, enemies – will perish. They will die eternally. We’ve got to wake up to that, wake up to Christ in us, who is willing and able to live through us, as us – but He will not do it if we do not trust Him. That is what George MacDonald called “Our willed share in our own making.”

    Unlimited power is ours, right here and now. That is unquestionably Biblical.

    Will we take it by faith, right here, right now, and cross over? God will subdue every last son of Anak, every last idol, every last besetting sin in us. He will perfect that which concerns us. Will we rely on His facts? All we need to do is thank Him for His Spirit in us, His power, and ask Him to work His will in our lives no matter what the cost. One day we will look Jesus Christ the King full in the face, and in that one moment we will see all. But He said to Thomas, “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe.”

    That’s what God is looking for – Caleb. The uncommon man. The uncommon woman. Taking God at His Word. This is not a prompt to self-effort or trying to be like Christ. It’s not a prompt to fear, or a condemnation. We’ve got to lay all that down; self-effort and striving humans can never be like Him. Self-condemnation has got to go. We’re Christ-indwelt people, spiritual billionaires but thinking we’ve got to live on $200 a week.

    That’s what choice is all about. It’s the same choice Eve, Abraham and Sarah, the twelve spies, David, and even Jesus Christ had to make. “Is God a liar, or is His view of reality truth? Is it true we are dead to sin, dead to Law (self-effort holiness), alive to God?

    I know some people jump to Romans 7. But Romans 7 is a stage we go through as we learn that self-effort is the cause of sin. It’s the hamster wheel, “try-sin-repent-try-sin-repent”; we go and go and go until our feet are bleeding, our legs are on fire, we’re totally gasping for air and feel like we’re dying. Then we cry out to God, “Oh wretched man that I am” and finally realize we can’t be like Christ by our effort. “No condemnation” is the doorway into Romans 8, life in and by the Holy Spirit, and Romans 8 is the door into Romans 9: “My earthly life, Christ living through me, expended for others.”

    But the choice to get off that wheel and into the Land. That’s rock-bottom. That’s calling God truthful. It takes inner frustration and desperation to get us there – and then it takes courage to take God at His Word no matter what we feel, think, see, hear, experience. God cannot lie. Everything else in this world can.

  2. Joy Carren

    Good stuff, guys.
    My current favorite verses (NLT):

    The summation of Hosea:
    Hos 14:8 O Israel, stay away from idols!
    I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.
    I am like a tree that is always green;
    all your fruit comes from me.

    Col 2:7a
    Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him.

  3. Chris Morris

    Ron, can you share an example of getting off the wheel? I think you’ve written a good picture of “where I need to be”, but I usually need more insight on “how do I get from here to there”. If I’m at a place where I don’t take God at his word, because of what I feel, what then?

  4. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Chris,

    Here’s a personal example.

    I’ve often had this bad reaction when my kids are willingly disobedient, or lie, or say, “I didn”t do anything” when it’s clear they did, especially when they get loud and rebellious. I would always have a flash-bang response in reaction to this, no choice point of “How am I going to respond” but just “stimulusresponse,” as if it was all one piece.

    Knowing that Christ is my life, and that the Father lives in me (the same Father who inspired Paul to write, “Fathers, do not be harsh with your children,” I prayed about this for a long time. But one day I prayed, “Lord, if there’s anything in me that is contrary to Your will, show it to me and I will forsake it.”

    I often call that, “The stupidest prayer I’ve ever prayed.” A day or two later we had a horrible morning with the kids. They were disobedient, fighting, angry – high stress morning. And I had that flash-bang reaction, got angry back without any real choice-point of my own.

    It didn’t last long; those episodes had been getting shorter as time and prayer went on, but not going away. I smoothed it over as best I could before they left for school. After they drove off I went downstairs, and as I went I asked, “Lord, what is the deal? What is that anger? Why don’t I seem to be able to choose?”

    And a word came up before my mind. I heard the still, small Voice say it, and I saw the word in my mind’s eye, spelled out: F E A R.

    I said, “Well, ok, but fear of what?”

    And then into my mind came two close relatives. When I was growing up and for the past 20 years they have continued to get into trouble with the law. They both have sons as well, in their twenties now, sons that they did not parent well, in fact one of these relatives abandoned both his kids, and the other was more concerned with drinking and drugs. Their two sons are now in and out of trouble with the law.

    As God brought all these thoughts to my mind, he showed me the two main characteristics of all four of these men, the traits that keep them in trouble and wreck their lives:

    1. Refusal to submit to authority – not just the cops, but any authority. A rent agreement. A boss. A friend who tries to help them.

    2. Refusal to take responsibility for their actions.Whenever I get the “This is a collect call from the Washoe County Jail” call, the first thing this relative says to me is always, “I didn’t do anything.”

    And what do you suppose the two main triggers are for that inner reaction I have with my kids?

    So when I saw that my love for my children was infected with hidden fear for their future well-being, and that fear was instantly turning to anger in a flash-bang response, what did I do?

    I traded fear for faith. I said, “Well, Lord, I don’t want any part of that. That isn’t relying on You, and there are plenty of promises in the Word that say things like, “All your children shall be taught of Yahweh, and great shall be the peace of thy children.” So I printed out a list, traded the wilderness of self-effort parenting for the promised land of faith-based parenting, and my life with my kids has radically changed. My wife notices it. My kids notice it. And I especially notice it, because I was always torn up by it when I’d react like that.

    That’s how we move from Romans 7 in a particular area of our lives into Romans 8. We trade fear (I am not like Christ, I am a sinner, I just sinned and feel bad) for faith (I am indwelt by Christ Himself, and He is my life; I am a saint, holy, dearly beloved; there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus). We trade our earthly outlook for the eternal one.

    This is always – not sometimes – always the issue in our sinning. There is some way in which we are not trusting Christ as our life. If we blow our top, we’re not trusting Him as our Patience. If we lust sexually after someone who is not our wife or husband, we’re not trusting Him as our Purity. If we are living in anxiety and fear, we are not trusting Him as our Peace. So rather than “trying to get ahold of ourselves and stop sinning” or “trying to be like Christ” we stop trying, admit to God we are totally weak and helpless, and begin trusting Christ as our indwelling Strength, Wisdom, Understanding, Holiness, and all the rest.

    Paul said “Sin shall not have power over you, for you are not under the Law but under grace.” If we put ourselves under the Law, that is if we think self-effort is the way to achieve the experience of sanctification, we are just setting ourselves up for failure. The same thought of Paul could be expressed, “Sin shall have dominion over you if you put yourself under the Law.” Sin’s power comes through the Law, through that try-sin-repent-try-sin-repent hamster wheel of self-effort.

    I’ve made a choice now, in any area in myself that I can see, or that God shows me: I refuse to live in fear and hide out on the borders of the Promised Land. I’m diving in headfirst; whenever I see fear in myself I’m replacing it with faith. “Let us go up and possess the land, for we are well able to overcome it.” They weren’t well able in terms of physical strength. But they had the unstoppable power of God’s promise, the God who cannot lie. That God, by the Holy Spirit, lives in us and is “the power of God to us who believe.”

  5. Chris Morris

    That’s excellent. Thanks.

    I like that example because of the use of emotion as a diagnostic tool, for lack of a better term. I was taught to do introspection that way, and it’s been a tremendous help to me.

    It also demonstrates that sin is rarely (never?) the result of Evil, in and of itself — evil for evil’s sake. It’s always a twisting of something good. The sin was a corruption of your godly desire to raise your children to be submissive to authority.

    Not understanding this can lead to foregoing introspection, which can be a big problem. I’ve seen myself and others in patterns of skimming past the sin (claiming I’m ‘fleeing’ it just as I’m commanded), promise myself and God to do better next time, and foolishly wander into the same circumstances without having changed a thing. If I don’t believe my actions have some twisted goodness underlying them, then I don’t believe there’s any value in the painful act of digging into the sinful actions. I don’t dig, I skim, and lather-rinse-repeat.

    To get into semantics for a bit – I don’t agree with your use of the term self-effort. I think I understand what you’re going for, options based on whatever my ‘self’ comes up with vs. options based on God’s teachings — but for myself, I find it too frustrating to think that the righteous path doesn’t involve any self-effort. I mean, I’ve got to do *something*, right? And probably something *different* – but if all I’m met with is ‘let go, let God’, I’m just left confused.

    Also I think it can also inadvertently encourage the skimming cycle. Introspection can sometimes be a huge and painful effort, involving all of my self. If I hang on too tight to ‘self-effort is not the way’ – I may wield that stick inappropriately.

    I dunno if I’m being clear, because I believe we agree in substance, I just wanted to raise the point on the terminology.

  6. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Chris,

    Regarding the term “self-effort”:

    In trusting God as per Matthew 6 (food, shelter, clothing) and the promises in Malachi, we do not sit on the couch waiting for money to drop from the sky. We step out in faith and look for the opportunities God sends, with a committal, faith-attitude, and the action of faith. Faith is not mere passive believing; it hangs everything on God’s truthfulness and willingness to perform His promises. I can believe intellectually that an airplane will get me to my destination, but it is not faith in the Biblical sense until we actually get on the airplane and start the trip.

    So, regarding self-effort, I engage in none, at least most of the time. That doesn’t mean I sit around and do nothing. It means I don’t burn out anymore. I have an inner fuel source that is limitless. So do you. We use that fuel by faith, and faith powers us to be and do everything God has for us.

    So, what do we “do”? We dig into the Word and find out who we really are in Christ. We make a faith stand, like me with my children. And we take a faith attitude, no longer letting fear in that area into the temple. Beyond that we take faith action; I parent my children with a totally different attitude now – a little more relaxed than I was before. So – I DO things. But I don’t do them in self-effort.

    Same with patience. I’m driving to the studio. I’m late. Some “moronic idiot” pulls out in front of me and goes 32mph. I’ve got a choice right there. I can try to self-effort my way through, angry, frustrated, trying to pass where it’s unsafe – or I can take a breather, thank Christ that He is my indwelling, unlimited patience, and have a total change of attitude. It doesn’t mean I cease acting. It means I cease acting in self-effort (and it just might be my pastor).

    Self-effort holiness is the enemy of the Christian life. We are to “labor to enter His rest,” and that is a faith-labor, not a works-labor. We cease from our own works, as God did from His, and enter in by faith. What I’m talking about, Chris, is more than options based on God’s teachings. We are to enter fully into the Person of Christ – to abide in Him. All the Biblical teachings are there to point us to Him as the source and ground of our new creation being.

    It comes down to “Who do I see in the mirror? Do I see what God sees? Or do I see what circumstances, world, flesh, devil tell me to see?” Since “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” is true, then we manifest out into our daily lives the inner choice we’re making – the same choice Eve had to make. Our perceptions of reality drive our actions. That’s why it’s crucial to have God’s view of reality, of Himself, of ourselves, of others. Without that vision, we perish – we live as though we are merely human, flesh people striving to make our lives work.

  7. Chris Morris

    Again, I think we agree on the substance here, the definitions of the terms – but, for what it’s worth, I don’t find ‘self-effort’ and ‘faith-labor’ to be clear representations of the definitions you give them. That’s just me.

    Thanks for your reply.

  8. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Chris:

    What terms would you suggest to delineate the difference between man’s strength and effort vs God’s power at work in and through us?

    Gal 3:3 in the NIV says, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” KJV says “”are you now made perfect by the flesh?” I think that’s where the term “self-effort” comes from. Fleshly effort exerting itself to “become holy”, which never works because it comes from an unbelieving attitude: “I am unholy and must become holy.” Or, the modern variety, “I am positionally holy, and I must work to make that experiential.” Rather than, “I am holy, and I’m going to trust that indwelling holiness, Christ Himself, and step out my door today in faith that He will do as He promised: “I will cause you to walk in My ways and keep My statutes.” Causing agent: God, not human effort. Holiness is the easiest thing in the world if we abide, as the Vine/branch idea illustrates.

    But “self-effort” may not be the best term – I don’t know. I’m constantly working to refine wording (and to become more concise – I think I’m the most long-winded writer on this site).

    I have introspected myself to death for years. I finally have gotten to the place where I’m not going to call something sin unless
    1. It clearly is
    2. If it isn’t clear, God can let me know

    A lot of what we call sin is really temptation.

    My main M.O. with God for a long time has been to pray, “Lord, work Your will in my life no matter what the cost.” That, and “If there’s anything in me that is contrary to Your will, show me.” Introspection can in fact lead us down many wrong paths if it is not illuminated by the Spirit. I have often been painfully introspective throughout my life; without the Holy Spirit illuminating, it’s all a dense fog that merely produced more self-consciousness, sin-consciousness, and other negatives. But done in the light of the Spirit, it is very freeing and sanctifying, as my episode with God and parenting showed.

    I’ve got an article on my site if I’ve not worn you out with words:
    http://www.ronblock.com/site.php?em2643=189890_-1__0_~0_-1_11_2007_0_0&content=writings&em2642= It’s about life change; if it isn’t happening, we’d better check what (Who) we’re trusting in.

    Best,
    Ron

  9. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    In these first few hours of Thanksgiving, among my first expressions of thanksgivng are for the words of Ron Block (and Matt Conner for the initial post). The words of this thread are wise indeed, and hold the key to Christian living.

    As a teenager, I read a little green paperback book–I think it’s called simply, “Rest,”–which influenced me greatly. I wish I could remember the author’s name. I know I still have that book, stored away in one of my book boxes in a closet somewhere. The essence of Ron’s words are also the heart of the truth contained in this little green book.

    I can’t say that I’ve lived (“rested”) in those words but on average maybe two minutes a day for the last thirty years. I have walked for days in this rest and gone months without it, but the ratio of striving vs. rest is way out of wack. So maybe that little book wasn’t as impactful as I seem to remember. But as I think about whatever time I’m truly “resting in Him,”–be it two minutes or twenty–because I truly am “in Him” and “He in me,” well those are the times when “peace that passes all understanding” comes creeping around my heart like a warm embrace (I don’t mean to imply that God’s presence is a “feeling”).

    The sad irony is that as I read the preceeding paragraph, it’s clear that I am defeated by my own thinking and my own choices. The abundant life is not without problems, not without pain, not without sadness. But when we rest in the peace of what is finished, we find that circumstance is largely irrelevant and our position in Christ is everything.

  10. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Curt,

    One of our main problems is thinking we are separate from God.

    Think of a human family. The father, the son. The father is in the son only genetically. The son is a separate person.

    But in Eternity the Father was in the Son, and the Son in the Father; the Trinity is one Being but three Persons. And so, now, because of God’s grace, we have the Father and Son in us by the Holy Spirit (“my Father and I will come to him, and make our abode with him”).

    Here, now, in this time and place, we are no longer separate from God; we are one with Him. This of course doesn’t mean we are God; the human is always at bottom a cup, a vessel, a branch. But now, the cup is filled with Wine, the branch is in the Vine, and by staying filled and remaining in the Vine we will bear much fruit for others to eat and drink. This ‘staying filled” and “remaining” is nothing but the life of inner reliance on an indwelling Person. We have to be transformed by renewing our minds; we have to begin agreeing with God about His statements of who He is and who we are in Him – and we are a royal priesthood, holy, saints, accepted in the Beloved, having everything we need for life and godliness, one spirit with the Lord, weak in our humanity but strong in Him and well able to overcome and possess the Land.

    That’s entering God’s rest. It is a faith-act. We committedly trust God’s statements of what reality is; we take a faith-attitude to not let fear or self-hatred or self-condemnation have any power over us; we stand in faith on God and His Facts no matter if the circumstances, world, flesh, devil say everything to the contrary. That’s entering His rest as we cease from our own works and enter into His. When we do this, He begins to live through us, as if it were us living.

    That is what George MacDonald called “God’s idea of us when He devised us.” Human sons and daughters, manifesting the love-life of the Trinity through these earthen forms.

  11. Chris Morris

    I was chewing on this conversation a bit more today, and part of me wants to be more firm in my position against the term ‘effort’.

    I’ve not been through a full 12-step program, but I did a lot of counseling work beside those who have. Some ruts run deep and it can require a great deal of daily effort to unlearn sinful behaviors and walk in new directions.

    Ideally, I’d rather not focus on effort at all, but simply on beliefs. Am I acting on beliefs that are godly or not?

    The Galatians verse gives me some pause, though. I’m not sure how to work that in. … Though, maybe the context from verse 2 helps me: “(2)I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? (3)Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

    We’re not saved by our works, but by our belief. Verse 6 says Abraham believed God. So, maybe this supports what I said above – am I acting on beliefs that are godly or not?

    Thx for the conversation so far – interesting stuff, no matter how many words have been involved. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Chris,

    You’re right about acting on beliefs – that’s faith. We can have all the right beliefs and never act on them. I can believe intellectually that Christ died for my sins – but if I don’t faithe in my heart, rely in my inner being on Christ Himself, I will be lost. I can also faithe in Christ for my salvation, and merely believe with my intellect that He is my positional righteousness; if so I will not see much of His life manifested through me to others, and I’ll likely live in my own effort.

    I think of faith as choosing inner reliance and then stepping out in faith on that reliance. I see a chair. I believe it will hold me. Then I sit down and I am truly trusting in the chair. I don’t trust it in an experiential, concrete way until I sit in it. That’s Biblical faith.

    Our human effort – our strength, our power – cannot perform good as God defines goodness; the flesh is weak. Yet we must do; we must act, because we’re created for action. The distinction in what I’m talking about between human effort-based righteousness and Christ’s righteousness through us starts in the very heart of our perception, before any action is done.

    God stated the Fact to Adam and Eve.
    Serpent came to Eve and contradicted God.
    Eve chose between God’s Word, and the Serpent’s word.
    Her actions followed accordingly. She stepped out in faith, but faith in the Serpent. That misplaced faith caused her to sin.

    We do the same everyday. We can believe God and act on those specific beliefs – or not. Our actions will flow accordingly. Let’s use the term effort as a neutral word here for a moment. If I trust Christ’s Spirit in me, if I rely on His righteousness, rely on God’s statements of reality, my effort, or doings, will be qualitatively different than if I do not rely on Christ. In fact, they will be so qualitatively different that 1Cor 3 says that the results of effort that does not flow from trusting Christ will be burned up as wood, hay, stubble. If we build Christ upon Christ, that is, if we trusted Him for salvation and now we rely on Him in the same way for sanctification, and step out on that trust and act as though what He says is true, then the works that spring from that Source will last eternally. That passage talks about people making it through into Heaven as refugees escaping through the flames, with nothing to show for a lifetime of toiling (even toiling “for God” in many cases).

    Our doings spring from one of two sources – the Tree of Life, or the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. One tree will last forever – the other will be burned.

    Abraham faithed God – he trusted God – he relied on God, and put legs to that reliance by doing what God said to do. He knew God cannot lie. With the command to kill Isaac, Abraham knew he had God cornered. The promised descendants were through Isaac, and Isaac had not had any children yet. God would have to raise him from the dead. Based on this trust that God cannot lie, Abraham acted.

    So – yes – the point is to first find out what the Truth is – the truth about God, about ourselves, about what pleases God (apart from faith it is impossible to please Him). And then, when we find the Truth, we must act on it. I found the truth about my children; God revealed it to me. Yet I still have choice. I can choose to continue to act from fear – or from faith. But I choose faith, every day, and my efforts in childrearing now are qualitatively different.

  13. Chris Morris

    “I can choose to continue to act from fear – or from faith. But I choose faith, every day, and my efforts in childrearing now are qualitatively different.”

    Sounds good. To my ears, that’s clearer. ๐Ÿ™‚

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