Saturday, April 05, 2008


April 5, 2008

Old-timers talk of standing at the south rim and, if conditions were right and the river was swollen with the spring thaw, being able to hear the thunder of the cascading water some three miles distant and one mile beneath them. But that was before the construction of Glen Canyon Dam. These days the flow of the Colorado River has been drastically reduced, a tiny trickle compared to the powerful force that used to tear through the Grand Canyon. At the south rim today, other than the whistling wind and an occasional chirping of a bird, you will experience a deathly silence, an eerie stillness that grips the soul and makes one long for any sign of life. It is not unlike standing over a deceased loved one and straining to hear once again the sound of their voice. Even so, the canyon remains a vast testimony to the unfathomable forces which created it over past eons when the river flowed unfettered by human engineering.
Today it is difficult to believe how such an insignificant stream could have caused so much devastating change to the landscape. Yet when the river flowed free and unhindered it carried an average of 500,000 tons of silt and sand past a single point every day. It has been estimated that the river in full flood would carry a total of about 55 million tons of material a day past a given point, either suspended in the water or rolling along the bottom. Boulders the size of small houses would bounce along the riverbed crushing other rocks, widening the chasm, and gouging out new channels for the powerful, incessant flow. Sandbanks, boulders, and fishing holes which one graced one area would vanish and reappear somewhere downstream. As an excavator the river could rival any manmade machinery.
The pulverized rock, boulders and sand are washed down from a watershed that spans five states and about 150,000 square miles. Before man sought to control its power the Colorado River was the life-blood for much of the Southwest. It filled the Imperial Valley of California, left enormous deposits of nutrient-rich soil, and created a huge delta at its mouth in the Gulf of California. The mighty flow meant life to every living creature abiding near the river. Today, tragically, much of that natural life is threatened with extinction.
In his rush to control the river and make it his servant, man has drastically altered the ecology of the region. The debate over the benefits versus the harm caused by damming the flow will likely continue for generations. One side of the argument points to the power that is being generated which lights up the homes of millions of residents and provides energy for industry and commerce throughout the southwest. The dams allow us the luxury of controlling the rate of flow and reducing the destruction caused by yearly flooding. The reservoirs provide recreation (swimming, fishing, camping, and boating) and water to irrigate farmland. Some would even claim that we have added to the beauty of the natural landscape. Yet in the process we have also endangered several forms of life which depend upon the river’s natural yearly cycle of high and low flow for their wellbeing. Indeed, engineers now periodically release a larger flow of water creating a mini-flood in order to help maintain the vibrancy of certain species. But it’s not just animal life that is being adversely affected by our attempts to improve on nature. Today, by the time the water reaches the southern end of its migration toward the sea, the flow is so minimal and laden with salt that it is virtually useless for drinking or farming. For those who live near the southern end of the river, life has become frustratingly difficult.
It is interesting to note that over the course of time earthquakes and landslides have caused several natural dams to obstruct the river’s flow. With each such occurrence, however, the river has either forced its way over the barrier or found a new way around the obstruction. Nothing has been able to permanently stop the flow. The same is holding true for manmade barriers. The reservoirs behind our dams are rapidly filling up with debris washed down from above. Eventually they, too, will be breached by the unstoppable force of nature and we will discover that, despite our ingenuity and cleverness, we are only the servants of that which we seek to control.
Why am I offering up this lesson in hydro-geology? I believe the Colorado River is an apt metaphor for the kingdom of God. Indeed the kingdom flows like a mighty river through the church and through God’s people. When the waterway is unobstructed and left free for channeling periodic floods, enormous quantities of resources flow through the church to others downstream who are suffering from intolerable thirst in a spiritual desert. To those who are fortunate enough to be touched by the flow, the river means life.
Isaiah prophesied about the river. “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.” – Isaiah 35:6-7. Ezekiel was given a vision of the river while an angel described its benefits. “Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.” – Ezekiel 47:9. Jesus spoke of the river. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” – John 7:38. John the Apostle was given a vision of the river after which he issued an invitation. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” – Revelation 22:1,17.
All the resources of the kingdom flow down through the river. Grace, mercy, peace, love, joy, wisdom, knowledge, along with more tangible benefits like food, clothing, shelter, and money, all tumble down the riverbed and flow out to those with pressing needs. People resources, those individuals specially gifted with navigating skills, ones who are able to direct the flow through them to those with specific needs, are also suspended in the river as it flows downstream. At times the river will flow at flood stage depositing resources high up on the banks and overflowing onto the thirsty plains. During these times the quantity of the flow is unimaginable. Material the size of houses will bounce along the riverbed widening the stream and gouging out new channels for the powerful current.
Tragically, this is a picture of the way the river used to be, before man sought to control the flow. These days the powerful currents and resource-laden floods have been backed up behind manmade dams. The mighty flow has been reduced to a tiny trickle compared to the powerful force that once cascaded down the riverbed. And much of the life downstream is dying of thirst.
The debate over the benefits of gathering the kingdom resources into large churches as opposed to allowing the river to flow freely downstream will likely continue for generations. Christian “reservoirs” allow us the luxury of storing the power and directing the flow to areas where we feel the greatest need exists. They provide for marvelous educational programs and quality ministries which can meet specific needs and attract those who are thirsting for “safe waters.” Beautiful facilities can actually add to the value of a community and serve as a continual invitation for those who desire to check out the rich nutrients in these placid pools. And who could argue with the benefit of having a vast amount of resources available in one location?
I am convinced that God will continue to use the “reservoir church” to accomplish significant advances for the kingdom as He has done so for generations. But I would like to take this opportunity to lobby on behalf of those who are living downstream from these manmade dams, those who will likely never be attracted to take a dip in the reservoir, those who are in danger of spiritual extinction. Please stop hording all the water! No, I am not advocating that we do away with the institutional church. Reservoirs have their place in the kingdom. And I am not saying that house churches have all the answers. Unfortunately many house churches remain plugged up behind their own dams and have merely substituted a large reservoir for a smaller one. I am just suggesting that we release the flow. Release the love, mercy and grace. Release the material blessings. Release the people resources. Let them spill over the dam to be used as God intends. Open the floodgates and let the life-giving resources flow downstream.
As institutional churches, as simple churches, or even as individuals, we have a tendency to store up treasures for ourselves. The resources of the kingdom may swirl around from person to person but they usually remain behind the dam. Those who live downstream, those who are perishing without the “water of life,” those who most often stand in the greatest need, are suffering through an unbearable drought. In the meantime we are splashing around in our pools of abundance. I would like to remind you that nature has a way of taking care of obstructions in the river. Eventually pressure from behind the dam will grow so intense that either the dam will burst or the river will find a way around the obstruction. Perhaps the recent exodus from the “reservoir church” is a sign that this phenomenon is already taking place.
If your own church is experiencing a decreased flow of resources into its coffers, or if your personal finances are taking a downturn, perhaps God is directing the river around the dam. My advice is to release the flow downstream before God causes the dam to burst and all of your hard work washes away. The river belongs to God; we are only servants of that which we seek to tame. Despite our ingenuity and cleverness, we cannot control it for long without having our dams breached and His precious resources released. Yes, every flood that occurs along the river will change the landscape. Sandbanks, boulders, and fishing holes which once graced our domain will move on down the river to grace someone else. But take courage; another flood is on its way and more resources will soon pile up along our shores.
These Scriptures, which we often use as a message to promote financial giving, can be applied to all of the resources God sends down the river. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38. “…‘Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” – Malachi 3:10. Listen! It is time for the spring thaw and the river is running at flood stage. Can you hear it?

Bill, a child of God releasing the flow


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