I’m not afraid of heights—not in the least. As a child, my brother would torture me. He’d try to hit me, give me wet willies, tease me. My only defense was to scream like a girl with my legs in the air kicking him away, or run toward, climb, and then sway on the smallest twig at the top of the tallest tree in the neighborhood. My brother would yell, “You can’t stay up there forever, you little turd.” He’d throw rocks at me in an unfeasible attempt to remove me from the safety of my twig. Like a coon dog who had wearied with his quarry, my brother would retreat to the comfort of our home. I’d wait, swaying in the wind, and then descend from my retreat and sneak in through the back door.
On hikes, I love crossing rivers on fallen logs, traversing canyons upon the smallest ledges, free-climbing, bouldering, and scaling arduous mountains. I’m getting older, and my body doesn’t like this as much, but my mind and fears of the dangers involved with these activities never come into play. In high school, I’d jump from any bridge or trestle my friends dared me to jump. My friends knew that I’d do just about anything if they double-dog-dared me to do it. My proclivities to give in to a dare have long passed, so don’t try anything. Even though I’m not afraid of crossing a shaky bridge or hanging off the side of a cliff, I recognize that I probably should be—at least a little bit. Crossings can and have ended in imminent death. I watched Everest with my kids Tuesday night. When they were traversing the side of a cliff in the middle of a blizzard, I leaned over to Micah and said, “These people are just plain nuts. I will NEVER do that!” Crossings are dangerous, important, and life changing. In fact, crossings are great metaphors to illustrate important events in someone’s life.
Motion pictures often use crossing a bridge or a river to illustrate a moment of enlightenment, a passage into newfound maturity in our journey of life, an aha moment, an event of strength, freedom, and awareness. Crossings illustrate a movement from the way we were to the way God intended us to be. In my friend Brian’s favorite movie, White Water Summer, a young city boy named Alan (played by Sean Astin) is encouraged to face his fears head-on while going on an adventure with his three friends and a super-crazy guide, Vic (played by acting genius Kevin Bacon). Alan is cowardly and unable to face his fears until he crosses a bridge at the beginning of the film. This bridge crossing illustrates Alan’s coming of age. From the point of the crossing on, Alan embraces his true calling as a man and lives out his adventurous spirit. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo embraces his purpose and grasps the understanding that it is his task—and his task alone—to bring the ring to Mordor only after he crosses the Bridge of Khazad Dum. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I promise.
When the people of Israel came to the shores of the Red Sea—and the dust from the chariots of the Egyptian army in pursuit could be seen along the horizon—they didn’t trust Moses or their God. They were afraid of who they were without the overshadowing presence of Egypt and the Pharaohs. They felt trapped…and they were—physically, spiritually, mentally, and psychologically. They were infants and they had no law to guide them, no military skills to protect them, and no government to oversee them. They were lost sheep about to enter a wilderness where the weak, aimless, and confused died almost instantaneously.
After crossing the Red Sea, God spent 40 years training, preparing, conditioning, and refining His people so they would be ready for everything He had prepared for them. They were infants prior to crossing the Red Sea, teenagers in the Wilderness, and now they were ready for adulthood. By crossing the Jordan River, God’s people were entering a new and revitalizing stage of their spiritual journey. Everything God had in mind for them was about to come to fruition. Their fears, hesitations, and doubts were about to blow away with the sands of the dessert and it was time to embrace their destiny…God’s promise of redemption was about to become a reality.
It isn’t a coincidence that after Jesus’ baptism, He crossed the Jordan River, entered the same wilderness where his ancestors wandered for forty years, and spent forty days preparing, conditioning, and refining his mind, heart, and soul for his purpose—to make God’s promise of ultimate redemption a reality.
It also isn’t a coincidence when we face years in the wilderness after our baptism where God prepares, conditions, and refines us. A former girlfriend once told me that I had it easy—that I really didn’t have any problems. Where this isn’t entirely true—and a tad mean—if I honestly contemplate my own life in comparison to others, I have to admit that I don’t have it too bad. Sometimes, however, I think my faith in Christ and my attitude about life would be better if I did. I know when I was unemployed my faith increased and matured; I loved more and showed others more mercy. Tough times are blessings in disguise. It’s easy to view these trials and hardships as negative events in our life. It is also logical to gain a positive perspective in hindsight. Trials and crossings are God’s way to prepare us for His promises. God intends to provide us with redemption, maturity, and purpose on the other side. I can face those difficulties in the wilderness and during that crossing with a little more courage knowing that God has my back and has amazing things waiting for me on the other side of the river.
“What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.”
—1 Peter 1:3–7, The Message