The Land Between
- Wednesday, August 04, 2010
In a sentence we are ripped from normality and find ourselves in a new world, as if thrown from a moving train. We tumble into the world of the unemployed. We are hurled into the land of the suddenly single, the valley of the grieving, the new vocabulary of chemotherapy, or the weekly routine of nursing home visits. In our more confident, faith-filled moments, we know that we will regain our footing and find some kind of balance in a new normal, but for now we are simply and suddenly "between" and at a loss as to how to navigate the terrain.
While some enter the land shockingly, others experience a gradual, almost imperceptible entry, like Tom the real estate agent. A marriage suffers slow but constant erosion over the years before somebody walks out. The heart of a teenager drifts slowly away from her parents and from God. Key employees are released and assets are sold off as sales figures dip steadily quarter after quarter until the company is only a shadow of what it had been eight years earlier. A parent experiences gradual memory loss, and with it her independence fades little by little. Many of us entered the Land Between not with a sudden cataclysmic conversation but with the slow march of time. And yet regardless of how we enter this space, whether jarringly or gradually, the landscape is much the same.
Ada Bible Church
For more than twenty-five years, I have had the privilege of pastoring the people of Ada Bible Church in suburban Grand Rapids, Michigan. My core gifting and joy is that of digging deeply into the story of the Bible and then presenting this story, the journey of God and his people, in a way that I hope encourages life transformation. As I stand and open the Scriptures each weekend, I am often conscious of the array of chaos represented in the room. Weekly, I have the unspeakable privilege of bringing the story of God to the recently unemployed and to the terminally ill, to parents whose sons are in prison and to those who long to be parents but remain childless.
Unbelievably, my calling is to speak God's mercy into the lives of those whose engagements have just fallen through or whose homes refuse to sell, to offer hope to those who may have just lowered the casket of a husband, wife, brother, sister, or child into the soil.
I firmly believe that the Land Between — that space where we feel lost or lonely or deeply hurt — is fertile ground for our spiritual transformation and for God's grace to be revealed in magnificent ways. But in addition to being the bearer of mercy, I also have the privilege of challenging God's people to holiness, and while the Land Between is prime real estate for faith transformation, it is also the space where we can grow resentful, bitter, and caustic if our responses are unguarded.
The wilderness where faith can thrive is the very desert where it can dry up and die if we are not watchful.
The narrative in the Bible where we most clearly see this dynamic played out is in the desert wanderings of the Israelites.
The season in the wilderness occurs after the sons and daughters of Jacob have been released from slavery in Egypt and before they reach the Promised Land. The story is near the beginning of the Bible and chronicles some of the first fumbling steps of the Israelites as a people.
As we drop in to observe their distressing reaction to their desert conditions, we will glean insight into the unique challenges, temptations, and opportunities of the Land Between. As we move through the desert story together, I will pull in additional portions of Scripture that can provide added guidance as we make our way through these undesired transitions.
The drama that unfolds before us includes a leader at the point of emotional collapse, a rancorous people spewing disheartened complaint, God's gracious provision for the one, and his swift, harsh discipline — which is also his mercy — for the other. As we dive into the story, we will find ourselves encouraged and warned, comforted at some points and rebuked at others. It is my sincere hope that we emerge from the narrative desiring to be, as God intends, people of deeper faith. A faith worth having.
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