The End of the Beginning
June 1 saw us start another church year at Central. It’s hard to believe that I am now starting my sixth year at Central. Sixth!
In some senses so much has changed since 2014. For starters I’ll hitting the big 5-0 later this year. We’re all a lot older than we were then for sure. We’re also a lot wiser as to what God is doing.
Back in 2014 there was so much uncertainty around our future. Central was in a huge transition period and we were all so dependent upon the Spirit to show us where the Lord was leading. I’m so thankful to the elders I have had the privilege of leading with over the years at Central. Their diligence to seeking the Lord, their willingness to be indifferent to anything but the Lord’s will has enabled us to venture into uncharted territory.
First, there was the matter of the upgrades to our technology that enabled us to step into the online campus arena.
Second, there was the matter of a fresh vision for multi-site ministry, which we called the Water’s Edge Vision, that has seen us move from one church in one location to being a family scattered throughout our state, across the nation, and around the world.
Third, there was the Stronger Challenge that sought to retool our facility and launch us into making an impact through an additional campus in Grand Rapids.
The last few years have seen us try to get Stronger home and away as we seek to make constant inroads into our world with the Gospel.
As I write, we’re wrapping up our annual audit. In early August we’ll publish our Annual Report which will show us to have had yet another incredible year with both income and attendance up by 18%. Yes, 18%!
I’ve never had to contend with data like I’m seeing right now. The first time I ever had to consider numbers in the 000’s was in Tampa in 2008. The church I had just started pastoring had a debt of approximately $7m on a brand-new building and the economy was in the throes of collapsing. The church I left had a budget of under two hundred thousand euros – about a quarter of a million dollars. I couldn’t get my head around the numbers in Tampa. As I shared in a message given on September 10, 2017, an area of growth for me in that season was recognizing that I could not limit God to a scale and to a size of movement that was conditioned by my experience. Back then I shared that God leads us as far as we are willing to go. The more willing we are to follow, the bigger God gets, and the smaller the challenge, and even the numbers, become. I shared that the very moment we think we can’t go any further, that we’ve reached the end, that something is too big or too much, we remember how big God is and we’re forced to change our perspective.
When I saw the year developing, I realized that the 2018-19 church year was going to be another head-scratching year where the range of our ministry went far further and had a much bigger impact than anything we’ve ever experienced in Central's 125 plus year history. For example, when we started the Water’s Edge Network in 2016, the name given to our multi-site family, under $20,000 of income was received from our campuses . This year it was just under $1 million from our Michigan campuses alone!
All of this takes me back to the very promises I sensed God giving to us as we launched our journey back on May 3, 2015. Based on the story found in Joshua chapter 3, I sensed God telling us to get ready for a new beginning. When God led his people to the Jordan river at flood stage, many thought they’d reached the end of the road. They thought this was the beginning of the end. God had other ideas. Joshua came to the Jordan knowing that this was neither the end, nor the beginning of the end. Rather, Joshua knew that this was the end of the beginning.
This play on words was made famous by the wartime British prime minister, Winston Churchill. In 1942, after a long series of defeats, Britain finally had a victory with General Montgomery beating Rommel. Churchill’s speech pointed out that the time of mostly experiencing defeat was over. Careful not to promise too much, Churchill declared, that this was not the end and not even the beginning of the end, but was, perhaps, “the end of the beginning.” A decisive moment that would lead them to more challenges along the road to ultimate victory.
I think that’s where we find ourselves today. We’ve reached a decisive moment - a moment in our history that we’ve never experienced before. The first three phases of our Water’s Edge Vision are complete, the Stronger Challenge has ended, but the journey hasn’t finished. This isn’t even the beginning of the end. There is so much more to be done and there is so much more to celebrate.
I am convinced that where we find ourselves now, the end of our Stronger Challenge season, is merely the end of the beginning. There’s so much more to do. But right now, it’s time to celebrate arriving at the end of the beginning. We’ll be doing that specifically on June 30 in our Sunday services. You won’t want to miss that Sunday believe me! If you are away, join our online campus that morning!
In advance of that day, here are a few reminders of the promises from Joshua 4:10-18 that we sensed God giving us as we started this journey.
Setting the Scene
While some came to that river believing that this was the end of the line or the beginning of the end, that what awaited them on the other side was more than they could handle, the miraculous way God gets them across evokes memories of the Red Sea crossing. The crossing unfolded this way because God wanted them to view this crossing as a dynamic new phase emerging before their very eyes. That’s what God wants us to see right now. This phase of Central’s history is a dynamic new phase emerging before our very eyes.
Our willingness to jump in has seen three promises fulfilled.
Promise #1: Those who trust God enough to step in and wait will witness a movement of the masses that defies logic (vv10-11).
vv10-11: “Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the LORD had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the LORD and the priests came to the other side while the people watched.”
The priests had to wait in the water while everyone passed them by. The most important people in a movement of God are the ones who make the movement of the masses possible. It’s the people who stand in the trenches, not those who rally the troops, who lay the foundation for every movement of God.
On June 30, and throughout the summer leading up to the Annual Report, we’ll show how all of what we have to celebrate is due to the people we never see, in places we’ll never be, making the movement of the masses possible. It’s those in the trenches who lay the foundation for every movement of God – including the one we’ve been privileged to experience. Those of you in that number, thank you for jumping in to the water and waiting in faith. God promised a movement of the masses to those who did it and this movement is unfolding right now before our very eyes.
Promise #2: Those who are faithful before God, will receive God’s approval (vv12-13)
Read vv12-13. “The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the LORD to the plains of Jericho for war. That day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses.”
These verses highlight the Transjordan tribes for the sole purpose of drawing attention to their faithfulness. On three separate occasions before the crossing, these tribes are challenged to lead the way during the crossing. In Deuteronomy 3:16-20 and Numbers 32:20-22 Moses challenged them to cross ahead of the others. Joshua repeats the challenge in Joshua 1:12-18. Here’s their response: “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you.” Joshua 1:16-17
What these people said they’d do, they did. Verses 12 and 13 are God’s affirmation of their actions. They made a commitment, they honored that commitment and God gave His commendation. The same applies to Joshua. Joshua honored God and was honored by God in the presence of the people. Those who honor God, by obeying God’s leading will be honored by God.
When our Stronger journey began, we gathered people together, explained the journey before us and asked for them to lead the way. And lead they did. At the end of the Stronger Challenge we have experienced so many blessings as a result of people doing what the Lord called them to do. Today I want to recognize those of you who have made where we are today possible. You made a promise and you have honored that promise. You have honored God and I have thanked God for you. It is always the willingness of the brave few that pave the way for the rest.
Promise #3: What starts with God, will always end with God (vv15-18)
Let’s read verses 15-18: “Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.” So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.”
There is not a single step that we take that is taken without God. If God brought them to it, He would also bring them through it! They began with the help of God, crossed with the help of God, and would occupy with the help of God. The movement of God’s people is always at God’s bidding. This crossing was not the beginning of the end, it was the end of the beginning.
I was thinking about this I was wondering whether there is a word, an idea, that means both beginning and end. I thought of the word, “Aloha” – which means hello and goodbye. But the best example of all, is God Himself. The Bible says that God is the “Alpha and Omega” the first and the last; the beginning and the end. In Hebrew, it was common to use the first and last letters of the alphabet to denote the whole of anything. God being the beginning and the end speaks of God being the author and finisher of all things. It tells us that He is in control of the past, the present, and the future. God was, is, and is to come.
The difference between the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning depends on your location in the movement that is unfolding. That’s a good question for us all, isn’t it? Where do you find yourself as this movement is unfolding? Do you view the world in a negative light, the giants in the land too big, so that you view things with a beginning of the end mentality? At this stage of our journey at Central, we believe that we are at the end of the beginning. This season is a great season, but we have not arrived. Our journey still continues. There’s lots to do and a world to reach. We want you to be a part in this move and encourage you all to start with us.
In your prayers please do pray for our Water’s Edge Network conference happening next week. Right here at Central, we will host campus pastors and leaders from all our network churches. We’ll gather for teaching, to be inspired and challenged to continue working together to amplify the hope and life of Jesus to all people. I’d appreciate your prayers for that time.
Thank you for your co-labor together with us.
Serving with you…