“Break camp and advance… See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession…” Deuteronomy 1:7a,8a NIV
The opening chapter of Deuteronomy lifts a curtain on a scene in the land of Moab where the people of God are gathered before His servant, Moses. The day is memorialized in Scripture with pin-point precision: it was the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month.
That’s Day 1 of Month 11 in Year 40.
The stopwatch on this forty-year time frame took its first tick just as precisely. It was on the fourteenth day of the first month of the first year. The day carved out on God’s sovereign schedule for their massive exodus from Egypt.
That’s Day 14 of Month 1 in Year 1.
Endure the tedium of the dates for a moment because each set swells with significance. The first twelve months in the wilderness were calendared by God for the construction of a dwelling place for His glory. According to Numbers 10:11-13, in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud then lifted above the tabernacle of the testimony to advance the people of God toward the land He’d solemnly promised to their father Abraham.
That’s Day 20 of Month 2 in Year 2.
Thirty eight harrowing years had flown by at a sloth’s pace when Moses gathered the people of God on the damp edges of Canaan for the renewal of the covenant recorded in Deuteronomy. The skeletons of the faithless were scattered across the desert, picked clean by jackals, bleached white by a searing sun. Idolatry had fed gold to a bonfire and brought forth a graven calf in pangs of revelry to the tunes of slurring songs. Spies had returned from Canaan weighted down with the paradox of fruit and fear.
The delay had not come because the people disbelieved that God could do wonders. They’d seen Him split the sea, swallow their foes, shower down bread, and spit water from rocks. What they disbelieved was that God could do wonders through them.
We are not able…for they are stronger than us…The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants. Numbers 13:31,32
As it turned out, they were devoured not by their foes in their land of promise but by their faithlessness in a desert where, ironically, every dawn sprayed sunshine on a twinkling blanket of wonders. (Exodus 16:14-15)
But in the fortieth year and the eleventh month, something different happened. The sun rose bold and bright over Moab on a brand new day. Before Moses stood a new generation.
A generation ready to break camp and advance. We are not told that they were taller than their predecessors or that the giants across the river had shriveled and shrunk. In all their human frailty leaned against the gargantuan task, that new generation simply believed, broke camp, and advanced. Even without the leader who’d raised his staff to the Red Sea, rousing an east wind that made walls out of waters.
Fast forward thousands of years. Same God, looking for the same thing: people with bona fide faith who will swallow their fear and step out there into the unknown to make His praise glorious.
Every generation of Christ-followers is commissioned to advance the work of His kingdom across this globe, not to dispossess but to disciple, until a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages can cry out with a loud voice,
Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! (Revelation 7:9-10)
Many of the generations behind us stepped up to the challenge and did the work of the gospel, even if it killed them. We read about them. We marvel over them. We quote them. But we’re the ones dotting the landscape now. This is our tenure. They had nothing that we do not have. We have the same Savior, the same commissioning, the same Scriptures, and the same indwelling Spirit. We’re on.
But if we really want to advance, it’s probably time to break some camps.
Our camps are stalling us. They’re distracting us, dividing us, detouring us and detaining us. They are depleting the energy we need for the supreme task: to see people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ with a clock ticking so fast and furiously that our heads are spinning like tops.
God forbid in this metaphor that we’d confuse a camp with a community. Community is essential within the Body of Christ for individuals to flourish.We’d be hard-pressed to fulfill our callings apart from community. We can’t forsake meeting together. Nothing could be further from my mind than all of us out there on our own, unattached, unaccounted for, and unaccountable.
But camps are something else. They call for allegiance.
We’re all drawn to camps because they help satisfy our bone-deep desire to belong. But our pledge of allegiance to a camp will become a snare to us over and over. Our camp will eventually come into direct conflict with our allegiance to Christ because He will personally see to it. Jesus will systematically challenge every single confederation we hold dear in order to make sure that His authority stands completely alone and uncontested. Even good affiliations. Even godly ones. Those, in fact, can be the biggest competitors for authority in the lives of believers in Christ.
As a pen to the ink of the Spirit, Paul described the tendency of spiritual people to wrap a death grip around precepts and religious practices instead of “holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Colossians 2:19)
There is a growth that is not necessarily from God.
If we want the only kind that matters to Him, we’ve got to hold fast to the Head.
Not to the camp.
To the Head.
The camp does not equal the Head.
When our loyalty to Christ or camp is tested and the camp wins, we lose. Our advancements with the gospel work will eventually either brake to the pace of an inchworm, screech to a stop, or reverse directions entirely until we’re inadvertently working in opposition to the Holy Spirit. The bleakest part is that we could be the last to know. A camp vision can get so thick, cloudy, and all-encompassing that we don’t even realize we’re missing a move of God. A banner can become a blindfold.
One way we’ll know the difference between a camp and a community is how freely we can move within it, around it, and even out of it. A camp elicits adherence. If departure would feel like a break up and differing perceived as disloyalty, we’ve probably got ourselves a camp.
Any organization or system in Christendom becomes a camp when it holds sway in our spiritual identity. We are known, not so much for being Jesus-followers as for being a ___________________________________.
Camps have more flag bearers than cross-bearers.
Camps consider significant differences as one of two basic things: menacing threats or colossal signs of ignorance.
If you can go wholeheartedly with Jesus and still stay in a group and flourish, you’ve got yourself a fine community. Your calling and your community can peacefully coexist for years on end. But, if what you’ve got on your hands is a camp and you risk adjusting your doctrine according to what you’re learning right there on the pages of Scripture, you can count on a head-on collision. To decide exactly what we believe by the time we’re 30, choose our camp, and carefully reaffirm that exact line of belief till our dying breath will freeze our feet on the field. Getting people to come to us will eventually and invasively replace our *going to them. (*Mt. 28:19)
We can’t cram for life in the Spirit. It’s not a degree and the Bible’s not a diploma. We are summoned by the Spirit to study the Scriptures and seek Christ all our lives, increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10) A life-long disciple is a life-long learner. That means that we take the risk of realizing that maybe we were wrong about a strong stand we took. If we’re in a community, that can be okay. If we’re in a camp, that’s a cat fight.
Hold fast to the Head.
Not to the camp.
Look up from the huddle to fields white for harvest.
If we want to advance with the gospel of Jesus Christ on the battlefield of this globe where the carnage amounts to millions of souls, we are not called to keep camp.
We are not called to trade camps. (This will be the natural tendency of the long-term camper who feels the need for change. Simply hop on one foot to another one.)
We are called to break camp.
Break camp and advance.
Here we get to pledge our affection to every brother and sister but here we pledge our allegiance to Jesus Christ alone.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11 NIV