The Fly-over Books – Joel 2:28-32 – Our Only Real Refuge

Our Only Real Refuge

Joel 2:28-32


In their book The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner write, “Every organization, every social movement, begins with a dream. The dream or vision is the force that invents the future.” The following corporate vision statements, representing some of the dreams for various Fortune 500 companies, can challenge the church to ask, “What is Christ’s dream or vision for his people?”


Avon – “To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service, and self-fulfillment needs of women—globally.”


Amazon – “To be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”


Harley Davidson – “To fulfill dreams through the experiences of motorcycling.”


Starbucks – “To share great coffee with our friends and help make the world a little better.”


Hilton – “To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.”


J.C. Penny – “To be America’s shopping destination for discovering great styles at compelling prices.”


CVS Caremark – “To improve the quality of human life.”

Johnson & Johnson (for a department that designs & manufactures orthopedic implants) – “Restoring the joy of motion”


Kraft Foods – “To make today delicious.”


Weyerhaeuser Company – “To release the potential in trees to solve important problems for people and the planet.”[i]


It’s easy to lose the dreams God has for us when life gets tough, isn’t it? It’s easy to lose the dream when we’re doing everything we can just to get by. Dreams are great until they become nightmares, and 2020 has certainly been a nightmare so far. The goal of most of us in 2020 has been physical, emotional, and economic survival. And when we get in that state, that survival mode, we tend to lose sight of anything else.


The people of Judah, living in the time of the prophet Joel, were no different. They were in the midst of incredibly difficult, frightening times. A plague of locusts was destroying their crops, and to that was added a drought, a severe lack of rain. The land was producing no fruit, no grain, and sources of water were drying up. They were in crisis mode, trying to survive. And it is the prophet Joel who tells the people that God is actually using the plague and the drought to call out to them, to warn them to return to him, to stop placing their faith in the strength of their economy, the fertility of their land, in their human ingenuity. Their worship of God was all form and no substance. They went to worship on the Sabbath and then lived the rest of the time as if God didn’t exist at all. And so God took away everything that they were dependent on in his place, so that they had no place to turn but to him. There was no crop to feed their livestock and to make food. Life went very quickly from pretty good, seemingly secure, to bad and insecure almost in an instant.


Where do we seek refuge? From where do we seek our sense of security? Where do we find safety? Is it in the amount in our bank account? Is it in the strength of our economy? Is it in the power of our military or the police? Is it in our health and physical strength? What makes you feel safe? And what destroys that feeling for you? Disease? Illness? Injury? Loss of a business? Loss of a job?


In the midst of the chaos of life, and the insecurity of dangerous and confusing times, God, through his prophet Joel, speaks some incredibly powerful words of comfort and hope. Turn with me to Joel 2:28-32.


Verses 28-29 are among the most powerful words in the Old Testament, and are among the most commonly referred to in the New Testament. They served as the text for Peter’s sermon to the enormous crowds on the Day of Pentecost. Paul builds his arguments on them in Romans 10 and Galatians 3. When Joel wrote these words, the drought that he spoke of earlier had come to an end. Rain had begun to fall, out of season even. And he latches on to that refreshing image to paint a picture of what God is doing in the world. Look at Vv. 28-29. There will be a time when God pours out his Spirit not just on prophets and anointed leaders but on all of his people. And these verses, Peter tells us in Acts 2, were fulfilled at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the people of God once and for all. “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;’” (Acts 2:16-17), and then he quotes the rest of this passage in Joel.


Just as the land in the time of Joel was parched, barren, and thirsty, and the rain replenished the land, so the Holy Spirit would be sent, and now, has been sent, to replenish the parched, barren, and thirsty souls of God’s people. Life has a way of drying us out, of sucking the life out of us, doesn’t it. We get tired of all the bad news. We’re tired of hearing about COVID deaths, and the recent surge in cases in the southern states has disheartened us. We get tired of fighting the ongoing battle against blatant and hidden forms of racism while also supporting good police and security work. We get tired of hearing about acts of terrorism. We get tired of the ongoing battle against abortion, now in its 47th year.


And in the modern day of instant communication, we’re inundated with all of this in real time as its happening around the world. We hear about fires in Australia just as quickly as we do protests in Lansing. And it gets overwhelming. It’s easy to lose God’s dream for us in the midst of all of that. It’s easy to look at our human sources of safety and security and see them falling flat and failing us and wonder what in the world is going to happen next. It’s hard to keep caring. It’s hard to keep wanting to shine God’s light when the darkness seems so powerful and pervasive.


But into the dry, wretched, barren wasteland that life sometimes is, God has sent the rain of his Holy Spirit. And it isn’t a sprinkle. It isn’t a shower. It’s a deluge. It is a downpour, and there is no limit to the source, because the downpour IS the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the infinite God himself. The source is infinite. It will not dry up. It will not run out. And there is enough to fully quench the thirst and fill everyone. It knows no boundaries. Old and young alike will have their thirst quenched by the Holy Spirit. Men and women alike will have their thirst quenched by the Holy Spirit. Even slaves and servants will have their thirst for life quenched by the Holy Spirit. No one left out because of their ages, their gender, or their social status. And then God uses the all-encompassing word – “ALL.” All flesh. No racial barrier. No cultural barrier. No economic barrier. No social barrier will come between the Spirit of God and his people, and his people will represent all of the above.


In a world that divides people by every trait and characteristic imaginable, the church, the people of God, followers of Christ, will have none of it. We will look different, and uniquely peculiar. In Galatians 3:28 Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We aren’t one because we look alike, or talk alike, or think alike. We’re one in Christ, and in Christ alone.


Now, there’s something we need to understand here. God does not pour out his Spirit on us for our own personal satisfaction and comfort, or for our national recovery and security. He pours out his Spirit upon us so that his people will be strengthened to be his people, to take a position of prophetic leadership among all the nations of the world even as we represent all the nations of the world. He fills us with his Spirit, pours out his Spirit upon us, so that we may live as his people in this world, lighting up the darkness through both our personal witness and our social action, inviting those who do not yet know of God’s goodness into a relationship with him, into citizenship in God’s kingdom.


And the Holy Spirit will be poured out on them too. The Holy Spirit empowers us to prophecy, to dreams, and to visions. Now, remember, prophecy is much more forthtelling the Word of God, speaking and applying the Word of God, than it is foretelling the future. God pours his Spirit out upon us and we are empowered to hear his voice, so sense and know his will, and to proclaim his word. Not just pastors. All of God’s people. We proclaim the character of God, the justice and righteousness of God, the grace and mercy of God, the love and compassion of God, and his character in action in history, and in our current situation. Proclaiming the word of God may be encouraging. Or comforting. Or challenging. Or it may involve words of judgment. Not our judgment. God’s judgment. Wake up! Turn around! Pay attention!


And we do that because the day of the Lord is coming. Look at Vv. 30-31. God says, “If you think my warning is rough, wait until you see my judgment.” Now, the imagery here, imagery of the sun darkened and the moon appearing red points to the time of Christ on the cross, when the sun was darkened in an eclipse and the moon became visible in the haze, appearing red. That day of judgment has already happened for those who are in Christ. God’s judgment on sin, on our sin, came on Christ, and so Joel proclaims, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But if we haven’t, do not, and will not call on the name of the Lord to be saved, that day of judgment is still to come. We must find our refuge in Christ, for he is the only one in whom real refuge is to be found. When God’s warning turns to God’s judgment, and it will, our refuge is to be found in Christ alone. But ALL, ALL, ALL who call upon his name will be saved, and upon ALL, ALL, ALL who call on his name God will pour out his Holy Spirit in abundance, filling us, over filling us, so that we can live as citizens of HIS kingdom in THIS world, people who carry his light in us and with us, people who do not grow weary of telling our own stories of grace and mercy and living lives of grace and mercy, fighting for peace and for justice. People who live in the promise of God given by another prophet, Isaiah, who said, “ but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (40:31).


Are you feeling physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained by all that has happened in the first half of 2020, both here at home in Michigan, in the United States, and also around the world? Remember, the infinite God has poured out HIS Holy Spirit upon you, and the Holy Spirit is a source that will not dry up or run out.


Prophecy – the ability to know and speak the Word of God. God-sized dreams and visions. For ALL of God’s people. “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” Do you think those dreams and visions will be man-sized, or God-sized? Most people, when they think about massive, God-sized dreams for the people of God, think of spectacular, enormous, state-of-the-art buildings overflowing with people. We think of BIG churches. But what about BIG ministry? What about BIG impact? What about small groups of people who do big, God-sized things. Politically speaking, the people of God in the Old Testament, even at their peak under Solomon, weren’t much to shake a stick at. The land is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey. They weren’t BIG. Why are we so obsessed with getting BIG? The assumption, of course, is that if we’re really shining the light, we’ll grow, and there’s some truth to that. But we’ll also send out. The light will spread. We cannot hoard it. We don’t exist for ourselves. We exist because of and for Christ. May we not grow wearing in carrying the light of Christ into this world. For he has given us himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, and that is a source of spiritual water that will not, indeed cannot, run dry. Let us pray.

[i] James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge (Jossey-Bass, 2008), p. 18; Purposeful/Identity, “Vision,” accessed on 3-27-12