“THE CANYON OF DOOM”
January 29, 2009
Hand in hand the two young girls looked down at the expansive chasm in front of them. The floor of the canyon was too deep to comprehend. To fall would mean certain destruction, yet they knew they couldn’t stay where they were. The opposite edge of the cliff was some ten feet away. How could they possibly jump that far?
“It’s too far; we’ll never make it!” they cried.
“Give it your best shot,” I replied. “Salvation is waiting for you across the canyon. Somehow you have to find a way to get to the other side.”
After taking a deep breath the two glanced at each other and then leaped out into space. Tragically, they failed to make it even halfway. Their bodies had barely slammed into the ground before one of girls groaned frustratingly and tossed a bitter complaint in my direction.
“See, I told you it was impossible!”
“No, it’s not,” I answered. “Look at me; I’m standing right in the middle of the canyon and I’m not falling. You have to know the secret; you have to know where the bridge is. Come back to your starting place and I’ll tell you the secret.”
We were in the midst of a very special gathering of one of our house churches. In a few minutes we would be baptizing three adults, but they had asked us if it would be okay to immerse their daughters as well. The girls were only nine years old but had been active in church for years and seemed to really be intent on surrendering to Christ that evening. I decided it would be advantageous to endeavor to present the Gospel to the girls in a way which would be easily understood in order to make sure they new what they were doing and had the right motives. I figured it also wouldn’t hurt for the girls’ parents to hear the story of grace one more time before they were buried with Jesus.
On the wooden floor of the family room where we were gathered I marked out an area which I called, with great dramatic flair and a fake echo, the “Canyon of Doom.” I described the abyss as being incredibly deep and made certain that the edges of the canyon were too far apart to jump across. Placing the girls on one edge of the gulf I pointed to the other side and explained…
“That is heaven, God’s home. He loves you more than you can possibly imagine and He desperately wants you to be with Him on the other side so you can live with Him forever. However, you are separated from Him by this canyon. The ‘Canyon of Doom’ isn’t His idea, it’s ours. We dig this great pit when we sssssssssssssin.” As I spoke that word I did my best imitation of a hissing snake.
“We sssssssin when we do something God has told us not to do, or when we don’t do something He has asked us to do,” I continued. “In fact, if we even think about sssssssinning the Bible says it’s the same as actually sssssssssinning. Have you ever done something you knew you shouldn’t have, or even just thought about doing something bad?”
The sheepish look on the girls’ faces told me they knew they were guilty. “Then you have both helped to dig out this canyon,” I declared dramatically. It was at this point that I asked the two to attempt to jump across the abyss. After they had failed miserably and been dashed to pieces upon the ground far below I explained what they had just learned.
“You were partially correct when you said this is impossible. There is no way we can get to the other side by ourselves. But fortunately, we don’t have to depend on our own abilities to get us there. God has made a way for us. He loves us so very much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to build a bridge across the ‘Canyon of Doom’ for all those who want to live forever with God in heaven. The Bible says that everyone who sssssssins must die. That was God’s rule which He set up when He first created man. And ever since then, from Adam and Eve all the way down to you and me, every single person has sssssssinned; everyone, that is, except Jesus.
“The ‘Canyon of Doom’ has existed almost from the very beginning of time and every one of us has done our part to dig it. We all deserve to die because we have broken God’s rule. Jesus is the only one who doesn’t deserve to die, but He died anyway, willingly. He was nailed to the cross and died, not for His own sins because He wasn’t guilty of anything, but for our sssssssins. The good news is He didn’t stay dead. He came back to life and now lives with Father God in heaven. Jesus died for our sssssssins so we would have a way to get across the ‘Canyon of Doom’ and live forever with Him in heaven.”
As I was speaking I grabbed a couple of large beach towels that had been brought out for the baptisms and placed them on the floor in the shape of a cross. I then instructed the girls to walk on the cross from one side of the canyon to the other. As they did so I quoted this Scripture. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6.
“There is no other way we can get to heaven,” I further explained. “You can be as good as you think you can possibly be, but just like you couldn’t jump across the canyon, you’ll never be good enough to earn a trip to heaven. The only way to get there is through the cross of Jesus. Passing through the cross of Jesus means passing through His death. Our old life which was filled with sssssssins must be done away with, put to death and buried, so that our new life with Jesus can begin. That is what baptism is meant to represent. Going under the water pictures our old self dying and being buried just like Jesus died and was placed in the tomb. When we come up out of the water it pictures our resurrection, just like Jesus came out of the tomb alive. Now, is this still what you both want to do?”
They were both enthusiastically positive. We talked for awhile about what it means to trust fully in Jesus, to follow Him wherever He leads and to obey whatever He says. Then we prayed and both girls asked Jesus to be the Lord of their lives. A few minutes later we walked out to the backyard hot tub and witnessed five people being buried with Jesus in baptism. It was especially touching to watch a brand new Christian father whom I had just baptized, turn around and immerse his own daughter. A few moments later another family was likewise united in their new faith with the mother doing the task of laying her daughter beneath the water and raising her up again. The “Canyon of Doom” was robbed of five souls that evening, and heaven was surely rejoicing!
Since that glorious night it has occurred to me that other canyons of doom lie in wait to gobble up unwary pilgrims. These great chasms are also of our own making and, tragically, they separate us from one another. But unlike the canyon which separates us from God, we can actually do something in our own strength to cross this abyss. I’m talking about the gulf that exists between the Church and the unbelieving world.
Just beyond the reach of our media-enhanced sermons, just out of earshot of our professional praise bands, just outside the limits of our dynamic youth programs, in the shadows of our stained-glass temples, and next door to our house churches exists a world of people who, for whatever reason, will likely never attend our gatherings. They may be as close to us as the cubicle next to our own work station, or the customer across the check-out counter, or the coach of our children’s little league, or the fan sitting next to us at the ball game, or the neighbor on the other side of our fence. Yet a tremendous gulf exists between them and the body of Christ. It is a canyon partly of their own making, but also largely of our own doing. It is a canyon which must be bridged or else millions of souls will fall, perishing with their sssssssins and become forever shut out from heaven.
We have divided up the Church into tightly fused, homogeneous gatherings, both large and small, whose members seem to spend the bulk of their ministry time enjoying the rich fellowship we have in Jesus. In so doing we have acquired a habit of neglecting those outside the Church who are falling into the great “Canyon of Doom” at an alarming rate. We have a tendency to look upon our gatherings as a safe haven around which we manage to dig a culturally unique moat that effectively separates us from the ones who have not yet found the way to God through Jesus Christ. It’s not that our church culture is so terribly wrong; it’s just so terribly different from the world that it requires a translation in order for those on the other side to comprehend our message.
It is high time we lower the drawbridge, cross over the moat, and find ways of connecting with the lost community that surrounds us. If God so loved the world that He sent His Son to be the bridge across the “Canyon of Doom” shouldn’t we reflect that same sacrificial love and strive to build bridges across the chasms that have been created between the Church and our communities? If we are striving to be like Christ shouldn’t we, like Christ, be sacrificing our lives in order to reach out to those who are doomed to perish, who don’t know how to cross the gulf that separates them from salvation?
Six years ago when we began the transition from a traditional church into a home gathering I struggled over the loss of my identity as a Pastor and the loss of income I had relied upon for much of my life. I felt in my heart that we were being obedient to God but I often complained to Him about the sacrifices we were making. Forced to find a way to make a living I fell back on my earlier training as a musician and began teaching private music lessons. One day the parents of one of my piano students, a Singaporean couple, began asking questions about our house church. Intrigued, they asked if it would be possible to start a gathering in their home. We were, of course, delighted to help them and soon a new church was planted.
At the first gathering of this new church I met another couple and their young daughter, all friends of the host family who had invited them. Less than a year later this second family, a mom and dad and their daughter, and my piano student and her father, were all baptized into Christ in a hot tub in the backyard of the second family’s home. It is their story I shared with you earlier in this article, a story which would not have occurred if God had not forced me out of the comfort of our own church gathering and into the community, out of the familiarity of being a member of the professional clergy and into the risky, uncertain world of self employment.
Looking back at it all now I am amazed at the wisdom of God and feel wonderfully blessed to be a part of His plan to spread the Gospel to people from a completely different culture, people I would never have met had I not escaped the confines of our own church. As we were toweling off from those baptisms the other night, we prayed that they would be just the first fruits of many who would come to Jesus through this new church. Only God knows the legacy of fruit that will be born from bridging this cultural chasm.
God has also led us to begin a church gathering in the home of a Hispanic family which has led to several of them accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior. This new church is unique in that some of them speak no English and I speak no Spanish. Love, however, seems to be a universal language which is capable of bridging the widest gap. Love needs no translation! Again, these are people who never would have been reached had we not broken through the walls of our own church and crossed over a cultural divide.
The Master Bridge Builder has been teaching us to open our eyes and look at the other side of the chasm. It is filled with people yearning to find a way across, a massive harvest waiting to be brought to the Lord. Yet between us and all that potential fruit there exists a great gulf, a “Canyon of Doom.” It is a canyon because there is so much that separates the Church from the harvest, and it is doom because if we fail to bridge the gap the harvest will be lost. Even now people very near to us are falling into the great abyss. Even now the Lord of the harvest is begging us to pray for more workers to be sent out from the safety and comfort of the barn into the harvest field.
“Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” – John 4:35. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” – Luke 10:2. “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” – Matthew 22:8-10. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20.
Bill, a child of God bridging the canyon