Great morning on campus @grovecitycollege. To speak to over 1,300 students and faculty on leadership was a huge honor. I wanted to share the message with you all as well:
The Place of the Presence is the Place of Leadership (Exodus 33:7-11)
You have been called to purpose. You and I have not been made to be people who wander through life without an understanding of who we are and what we are called to. You and I have been called to lead. Leadership takes many different forms and it will look different for each of us in this room, but the fact is that each and every one of us will lead in some way through our lives: it may be a small group of friends—it may be a single friend—it may be our families or our colleagues, it may be nations or companies, hospitals, businesses, universities, in culture and in justice. But the fact is that you sit among a community of leaders.
Many of you came to this place with an understanding of that. Many of you feel that you don’t have a bone of leadership in your entire body. Regardless, God wants to give you a vision for leadership because he has created you to be ministers of his Kingdom here on earth. He’s created you to be a person who uniquely displays his glory on this earth in a way where people come to know Jesus.
But you and I often struggle in the next steps: we see the destination—sometimes so vividly—but the question remains: what do I do to take the crucial and initial steps today to move toward those dreams? I see the end, you say. I have this passion inside of me and I know I’m called to something significant, something good, and something great. But how do I get there? What do I do today with what I’ve been given.
I’ve got a simple point for you today and it’s this: The place of worship is the place where God develops leaders. I want to take a moment this morning to look at a young Joshua because God prepared Joshua in the place of the presence, this place of worship, and ultimately made him a leader of a nation.
But before we do, Let’s pray…
We pick up on Joshua’s story at this place of the tent of meeting. First, Joshua is mentioned as one of the spies sent in to the Promised Land. There are a couple of points I see in the early Joshua that I think help us understand who is:
1.) He was passionate, tenacious, and uncertain of his destiny
- This was the man who entered the promised land which looked more like something out of a Marvel movie and said of the giants that he saw—we can take ‘em! When the majority said no, Joshua said yes, simply because God said yes. He cast his lot with guys like Caleb, a man who in his 80s asked for the land where the fight was the greatest as his inheritance.
- These were risk takers and they were zealous, but who they would be had not yet been revealed. They were in a state of becoming at this point in their lives
2) This is a man who has learned to follow
- Joshua is a man who checks his passions with Godly authority. He’s content to be the glory-less number 2.
Now the position of being No. 2 is one that every proven leader will ultimately carry. It’s a position where he or she has much of the responsibility but none of the honor. It’s where God galvanizes leaders and strips away so much of our false selves so that all that’s left is simple things like faith, hope and love—for God and people. We all love recognition for our leadership—we love to be affirmed in what we are doing and what we are sacrificing. The No. 2 receives little to none of this: None of the acclaim, but there is still work to be done. She leads primarily through her serving.
This is critical to understanding Joshua. He had seen the Promised Land! He had tasted and experienced this glorious inheritance that God had given his people, and He had even answered the questions correctly! Can you imagine that for a moment: to make the right decision and to lead in the minority? Joshua did everything right, and yet for the next 40 years, he was forced to walk with a wandering people who had made the wrong choice. He knew what his God had called his people to: he knew the inheritance that was theirs to receive. Yet he had to wait without the glory, he had to serve without the recognition, and he had to lead through his service. Joshua at this point in his life likely has a million questions of who he should be and what he should do, because this sort of leadership ultimately leads you to that place of self-awareness. You begin to ask the questions of identity: who am I? Why and I here? What is God calling me to be?
That brings us to a final observation I see in Joshua’s early life: Because you see,
3) Joshua knows where to get the answers
He may have those questions, but he knows that if anyone knows, that person is the God of the universe. Sometimes he probably had no strength at all to lead himself, let alone others, but he knew that there was a God who knew where they were going. There was this God who knew how to get out of the wilderness. There was this God who before the foundations of the world knew him and loved him.
For a number of you, you may be in a similar place, questioning your purpose or identity. Maybe you have these dreams of what your life will be and you can’t wait to set out to accomplish them. Maybe you have these passions in your heart that you just know will change the world, and I’m telling you that they will because those passions are seeds of eternity that God has put inside of you. Maybe you have a dream that is so big you’re not even sure where to begin, and so you try to contextualize it with your studies, and you change your major again and again, but it’s just not really you and your head is spinning and you’re crying out: God! What am I supposed to do with my life? Why on earth am I here???
I believe that God is the one who leads us to that place, first and foremost because he cares about us deeply. God is infinitely more concerned with who you are becoming as a person than what good things you can do for him. The entire message of Mercy in the Gospel is the simple truth that while we were powerless and stuck in our sins, Christ came and did what we could not do so that we could be called sons and daughters where we were once enemies. My best efforts to change the world did not impress God when he chose to save me from sin and from death. My most noble aspirations did not earn some deserved favor on my life. God chose to save me in the midst of my sin and to begin a work of making my life one of surrender and dependence on a Great Provider. More than what you do, God is concerned about who you are in Him. Some of you simply need to be reminded of that today.
Intimacy is what God is after. It comes from that face to face encounter with a living God who knows you deeply. Joshua found intimacy with God in this place of the presence, this place of encounter. He stayed when others refused to enter in. Others wanted to arrive at the destination—the Promised Land. But Joshua knew that the only way to arrive in safety at the end of the line was by first knowing his God, the only one who could really tell him who he was. It was no doubt a painful place to be, this place of the presence, but it was also the place where raw leadership could be imparted.
If you’re in that place, you’re not alone. You’re in a place where countless leaders through the ages have been. And be assured that whether you feel it or not, God is calling you to lead. It may be your family or your community, it may be a country, it may be a company. But regardless, leadership is a part of the Kingdom. Think for a moment: why would it be called a kingdom if there weren’t governance and leadership? It’s not like we cash this stuff in at the end of our lives here on earth for a heavenly condo and harp. God is creating an eternal Kingdom and what you learn today, what you learn in this lifetime is truly preparation for eternity. Leadership is a fundamental part.
But some of you may be there right now, in this season on this wonderful campus, where you’re asking the questions of what am I supposed to do, and who am I supposed to be. How do I begin this adventure and what are the first steps?
For me, it began here in 2005 in the spring semester of my freshman year on an ICO to Italy. What I thought was essentially a 10-day service project in a beautiful country turned out to be a return trip less than 3 months later. I had grown up playing piano and guitar, but we had moved as a family when I was in late high school and I thought music for me was finished. I had actually only picked up guitar a few times in that freshman year. But when I got to Italy and I spent the summer with students who all loved music and wanted to start a band, I found myself teaching them Tomlin songs and surrounded by worship music. I fought it. I was a history major at the time, I wanted to be a professor one day. This wasn’t my plan, God! I thought music was finished for me! Why now with these kids?
That summer witnessed a profound spiritual awakening for those kids and also for me: I came back to Grove City with a huge vision of who God is and a desire to know Him intimately. It started with journalling in my dorm room, and just spending time with God in worship. I’d put music on or strum my guitar, and I’d write my prayers as I met with the God of the universe. It was that place that I can only really describe as the presence, where I could meet with God personally and intimately. And it happened in chapel too, and with friends, time to be with God together. But these times began to form and reform me.
I had changed my major to international business so that I could learn a language and go to the mission field with skills needed. And I loved my courses! But what I didn’t see was that the place of the presence was where God was training my heart and weaving these pieces together to lead in a way I hadn’t expected.
From the journaling came song ideas. From the song ideas came the opportunity to lead on campus and create a worship project. From the worship project came a worship pastor position at a church following college. Then another. Then opportunities at other churches. Then around the world with songwriters, artists, churches, festivals. God used every bit of it: I use my international business degree on a daily basis; but the reality is: I had no idea this was where my passions and my heart would be molded to God’s passions and heart in 2005. All I knew was that worship was the place where God met me, that place in His presence where He changed me, my dreams, and my vision.
Joshua didn’t know he was going to be the next leader of Israel when He sat in the tent of meeting. He didn’t know that He was going to be the one to see the Promised Land and to conquer. He simply knew that His God was near, and that was where He needed to stay.
Close: Some of you will be presidents of companies, leaders of churches and worshiping communities. Some of you may be adventurers and writers, artists creating at the forefront of a redemptive cultural revolution. Who knows? You may be the next attorney general of Virginia! But for most of you, the question today that is most pressing is this: God who really am I and what is my purpose? The place of the presence holds those answers because the place of the presence is where your Creator is, waiting for you to know Him.
I’d like to close with a point and a story. The point is that intimacy with God will fundamentally change your life. The story is this: My grandfather grew up in the river hollers of the Susquehanna river valley in Central Pennsylvania to a mennonite father who was also an alcoholic. At 21 he was drafted into the US army to serve with the occupational force in Europe in the city-state of Luxembourg. He came back to the states rough around the edges, and met and married my grandmother, and he worked as a logging man felling huge trees in the hills above the river. He wasn’t interested in spiritual things, but a year into their marriage, they started attending a home group with another couple who were planting a C&MA church in the their town. With his background, my grandfather rarely came into agreement easily, and he challenged everything. In terms of his faith, he resolved to not go forward for an altar call unless he knew it was God calling him. When he finally went forward in a small church on a commitment night, he fell on the altar so hard it broke. He never looked back.
The next 65 years were a story of faithfulness, leadership, servanthood, and redemption. Raising 4 kids on a farm above the river, this man led his family and community from a place of humility. He was generous in his dealings with people and showed the embodiment of love to those he met.
What kept this man strong for 65 years was a daily pursuit of God. His heart was captured by a gracious God that night on the altar and from that day onward, he chose to know this God deeply. Battling the final test of dementia ending this past August was a man who knew the God of the universe as the Lover of His soul. And it changed him. It showed him how to lead. By simply choosing intimacy every day he left a heritage of leadership that will echo through generations.
Friends, may we press in to fall in love with Jesus. May we be people who don’t simply wait outside our tents, but go into the place of the presence and find our purpose. May it be said of you and I that we were ones who took the time the know the Lord. Let’s pray…