Thursday, August 16, 2018

EmmDev 2018-08-16 [Celebrating Creation] Ex Nihilo #2


Ex Nihilo #2

Yesterday we saw that the Latin phrase "ex nihilo" means "out of nothing." The idea of "Creation ex nihilo" is not only found in Genesis, but the writer of the letter to the Hebrews talks about this idea too.

Human beings can transform things: we take ore and make jewellery, we take clay and make pots, we cut down trees and make furniture. We can transform, but we can't create "ex nihilo".   The passage makes it clear: The universe was not "made" (the greek implies "generated" or "born") out of anything seen. The only building block was the command or will of God. (Hold on to this thought...)

Look around you. Look at the awesome beauty of creation, the abundance of variety and the vastness of space. The scientists tell us that the universe is still expanding. That's not transformation, that's creation.

I often hold my hand in front of my face and take my fingers through the various grips, gestures and movements that they are capable of. I think of touching my newborn son with these hands and thrusting these hands towards the tarmac to protect my face when I took a fall off my bicycle. I think of the fingerprints on each finger and the way each finger helps me type this dev and I know that I am looking at a miracle.

I look at all the vastness and majesty in creation and I feel faith rise up in me. When I contemplate creation with open eyes and a ready heart, faith springs up in me.

All that I see around me wasn't transformed. It was not made out of what was visible. It takes too much faith to believe that this was all by accident. It's more obvious and explicable to believe in a Creator.

Creation is too big, too magnificent: I can't figure it out - I can't understand by myself. But by faith I look and by faith I see not only creatION but I see the CreatOR. And then I understand.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.      (Hebrews11:1-3)


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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

EmmDev 2018-08-15 [Celebrating Creation] Ex Nihilo

Celebrating Creation

Ex Nihilo

Here in the Southern Hemisphere, Spring is beginning to unfold (the photo is of some cabbage plants in my garden) and so I thought we could spend a bit of time on the doctrine of Creation. We'll look at the accounts of creation, some of the principles of creation, what creation teaches us and what our responsibilities around creation are. (Some of this material is re-worked from a series I did on Genesis 1 & 2 five years ago, but I'll be digging quite a bit deeper.)
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The Hebrew word that is used for "created" is "bara". The scholars tell us that this implies creation out of nothing. When we take clay and make a pot we merely transforming while God created.

It is significant that God created "Ex Nihilo" (out of nothing). It makes it clear that EVERYTHING comes from Him. Some would go as far as saying that if God was all there was, then He made space in Himself to create.

This speaks of God's greatness and uniqueness.

The humorous story is told that some scientists found a way to create life...
They triumphantly called a meeting with God and said:
"Well God, we're now able to create life - we don't need you anymore"
God answered: "Oh really? Show me..."
So the scientists got their test tubes and particle accelerators ready and said "OK so we start with some dirt and we put it into..."
And God interrupted and said: "Uh uh - you make your own dirt...!"

At first there was nothing but God, and then He created - out of nothing.

Take some time today to drink in the beauty of creation and recognise that all this majesty and beauty began in the mind of God and then He called it into being out of nothing. We, us, the world, and the cosmos, are the imagination of God become reality! He thought of the bonds between protons in the atom and poured the power in to make it possible. He designed quarks and He pictured the majesty of the cosmic nebula. He imagined a mother's love, the joy of laughter and the beauty of music and art - all squeezed into a fragile human soul. He didn't pick from a catalogue or work from a recipe. He imagined all of this and then made it happen!

What a great and awesome God!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.       (Genesis1:1-5)


Friday, August 10, 2018

EmmDev 2018-08-10 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Remember! (X7)


Remember! (X7)

After Joshua makes the wonderful declaration: "As for me an my house, we will serve the Lord." The Israelites respond with great enthusiasm. They declare that they will follow the Lord too. Joshua warns them not to commit rashly or lightly: He challenges them in the negative: "You're not able to serve the Lord - He's holy and you're not... Will your faith persevere?"

It's an important question.

The Israelites are positive. They believe they can. Joshua's response is to build another memorial - another reminder that they should be faithful to God.

The ESV Study Bible notes that there are seven of these stone "memorials" in the book of Joshua:

  1. When they cross the Jordan and commit themselves to the Lord through circumcision (4:20)
  2. Over the body Achan who sinned against the Lord - a reminder that obedience is better than sacrifice (7:26)
  3. Over the King of Ai (The only king to ever defeat them) A sober reminder about the disaster that a wrong turn can bring but also the wonder of a second chance. (8:28-29)
  4. When Joshua reviews the Law(8:30-32)
  5. Over the five Amorite Kings that they defeated when God made the sun stand still. (10:27)
  6. A covenant of loyalty with the the tribes on the East of the Jordan. (22:34)
  7. And here with covenant renewal (24:26-27)

We easily forget the major milestones, lessons and rescues that God performs in our lives. Recently a friend took us out to lunch to celebrate his spiritual birthday - the day he gave his life to the Lord. It was profound and beautiful to share that moment with him.

Here's your homework challenge after you've read this last passage in our Joshua series: Can you write down seven key moments in your life where God did something profound in your life or where you learned an important lesson?

Maybe you can share your list (or parts of it) with those who shared those moments with you.

We're told that the remainder of Joshua's generation remained faithful to the Lord. May this be true of us!

On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD.
27 "See!" he said to all the people. "This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God."
28 Then Joshua sent the people away, each to his own inheritance.
29 After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 30 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
31 Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.      (Joshua24:25-31)

This brings us to the end of our series on Joshua. Hope you've found it very meaningful! I'll take a break for a day or two before starting the next series. Any suggestions for the next series?
God bless, Theo

EmmDev 2018-08-10 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Remember! (X7)


Remember! (X7)

After Joshua makes the wonderful declaration: "As for me an my house, we will serve the Lord." The Israelites respond with great enthusiasm. They declare that they will follow the Lord too. Joshua warns them not to commit rashly or lightly: He challenges them in the negative: "You're not able to serve the Lord - He's holy and you're not... Will your faith persevere?"

It's an important question.

The Israelites are positive. They believe they can. Joshua's response is to build another memorial - another reminder that they are should be faithful to God.

The ESV Study Bible notes that there are seven of these stone "memorials" in the book of Joshua:

  1. When they cross the Jordan and commit themselves to the Lord through circumcision (4:20)
  2. Over the body Achan who sinned against the Lord - a reminder that obedience is better than sacrifice (7:26)
  3. Over the King of Ai (The only king to ever defeat them) A sober reminder about the disaster that a wrong turn can bring but also the wonder of a second chance. (8:28-29)
  4. When Joshua reviews the Law(8:30-32)
  5. Over the five Amorite Kings that they defeated when God made the sun stand still. (10:27)
  6. A covenant of loyalty with the the tribes on the East of the Jordan. (22:34)
  7. And here with covenant renewal (24:26-27)

We easily forget the major milestones, lessons and rescues that God performs in our lives. Recently a friend took us out to lunch to celebrate his spiritual birthday - the day he gave his life to the Lord. It was profound and beautiful to share that moment with him.

Here's your homework challenge after you've read this last passage in our Joshua series:Can you write down seven key moments in your life where God did something profound in your life or where you learned an important lesson?

Maybe you can share your list (or parts of it) with those who shared those moments with you.

We're told that the remainder of Joshua's generation remained faithful to the Lord. May this be true of us!

On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD.
27 "See!" he said to all the people. "This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God."
28 Then Joshua sent the people away, each to his own inheritance.
29 After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 30 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
31 Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.      (Joshua24:25-31)

This brings us to the end of our series on Joshua. Hope you've found it very meaningful! I'll take a break for a day or two before starting the next series. Any suggestions for the next series?
God bless, Theo

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

EmmDev 2018-08-08 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] As for me and my house


As for me and my house

We're at the end of the book of Joshua and reading Joshua's last sermon. They have settled in the land and defeated their enemies. The warriors from tribes that lived East of the Jordan have returned to their home towns and Joshua has advanced in years. He gathers the people together for one last "team talk".

In this beautiful passage Joshua does three things:

  1. He recounts the important moments of their history
  2. He names some of the role-players
  3. He calls the people to re-commitment

1. As he recounts their history he talks about Abraham coming to faith from worshipping other gods. He talks about God's covenant with Abraham and their bondage in Egypt. He remembers the Exodus as well as the wilderness years but draws attention to the bounty they now experience through God's grace and kindness.

Can you remember when you were saved? When you turned to God amidst all the other gods? Can you remember when God saved you from enemies and fed you in the wilderness? What about the bountiful (and mostly undeserved) life that you enjoy now? Have you given thanks? Have you honoured your Saviour, Deliverer, Provider and Blesser? Take a moment to do it now....

2. Joshua names a number of people. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron and even Baalam. We could do an in-depth study on each of these:
Abraham was a pioneer, but sometimes tried to do God's work his (Abraham's) way.
Isaac was quiet and in the background.
Jacob was a fixer - a manipulator - a schemer.
Moses doubted himself and sometimes led timidly.
Aaron made the golden calf because he was afraid of the people.
Baalam set out to curse God's people, but a talking donkey changed his mind.
The point is, no matter who we are, God can use us.

3. Joshua calls the people to re-commit. Joshua knew that the people's commitment would wane. He calls them to remain true to the Lord and creates a moment of rededication and re-commitment.
In essence he is is asking them for four things:

  1. Fear the Lord. The Hebrew Word for "fear" spans the semantic spectrum of awe and wonder on one side (that we tremble at His greatness and holiness) to being afraid to let go of Him on on the other side because we have realised that we are nothing without Him.
  2. Cast aside all foreign gods. Today our foreign gods are not baals and asherah poles, but wrong priorities, materialism, societal acceptance and such like. We easily get drawn in by these foreign gods.
  3. Choose this day. This is not the first time Joshua has asked the people to remember or choose for God. Following God is not a once-off, been-there-done-that-got-the-Tshirt affair, but an ongoing journey where we must regularly, if not daily, turn our wayward hearts back toward the Father's house.
  4. Do it with your family. Joshua talks about "me and my house." This gives us the challenge of keeping our family in the faith. We should do whatever we can to keep our families together and close to God.

Read this beautiful passage below and take time to re-commit yourself in these four dimensions...

Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.
2 Joshua said to all the people, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.
5 " 'Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. 6 When I brought your fathers out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. 7 But they cried to the LORD for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the desert for a long time.
8 "'I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. 9 When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
11 " 'Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. 12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you--also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. 13 So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.'
14 "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."      (Joshua24:1-15)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

EmmDev 2018-08-07 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] 85!


85!

After the conquest of the Southern powers when the sun stood still, the book of Joshua lists the conquests of the enemies in the North and then begins to explain how the land was distributed among the Israelites.

In the midst of these practical arrangements, we find the lovely story of Caleb... When the twelve spies went to check out the land 45 years previously, ten of the spies were fearful and pessimistic. It was only Joshua and Caleb who believed that God could help them overcome their enemies. Caleb was 40 years old then, he is 85 now.

One would think that Caleb would feel vindicated, but entitled. He could have sat back and said: "I knew God would be give us the land, now please give me a nice farm with a porch and a rocking chair."

But not Caleb! He is ready to claim and act on God's promises. He is filled with fire. He doesn't feel entitled, he is still ready to play his part. He is still vigorous and faith-full and asks Joshua to give him the hill country where the Anakites were. (The Anakites were reputed to be giants - the forefathers of the Goliath).

Now hill country is dangerous even when there aren't giants - whoever has the high ground has the advantage and whoever knows where the caves and gulleys are has the element of surprise. But Caleb is undaunted - he trusts God to give him victory over the enemy.

And so Joshua blesses Caleb who then achieves what he set out to do because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.

Many people in their fifties think their best years are behind them. Caleb at 85 paints a different picture. May we also be faith-full and wholehearted at 45, 55, 65, 75 and 85 and beyond!

Read the passage below to enjoy Caleb's feisty faith.

Now the men of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, "You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, 8 but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. 9 So on that day Moses swore to me, 'The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.'
10 "Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said."
13 Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. 14 So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the LORD, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly.      (Joshua14:6-14)

Friday, August 3, 2018

EmmDev 2018-08-03 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Sun! Stand still!


Sun! Stand still!

What can God do?
What
can't God do?

Various commentators try to explain what happened on the day of Joshua's battle against the Amorites. The text is plain: A man named Joshua, in the heat of a battle he was winning against dangerous enemies, asks God to make the sun stand still so that there would be sufficient daylight to complete the battle and bring it to definitive conclusion.

The explanations are interesting: Some suggest that this is just poetic language indicating that the victory was so significant that it was as if time slowed down and the day felt unusually long. Others suggest that the original Hebrew could be interpreted to be describing an eclipse in which the moon partially obscured the sun so that the sun looked like a ring of fire. Another view is that there were clouds on the horizon which refracted the light of the setting sun to the extent that it made the day longer.

While each of these explanations is interesting, the simple question remains: "If God could create to entire universe by saying 'Let there be light!' and if He can make dead cells start to live again when He raised Jesus from the dead, then is this too hard for Him?" Is there anything too hard for God?

Now I won't be going to war over this issue and I won't push the story about NASA scientists who put the orbits of the sun and planets into a computer simulation and found a missing day when they ran the simulation backwards (This story is an unfortunate fabrication that has been around since the 1980's)

BUT what I am perfectly happy to believe is that God can and could have changed the earth's rotation speed so that the day was longer. My small brain and our limited understanding of the laws of physics and astrophysics are boggled by this, but we are talking about the One who created these laws....

So, whether it was poetry, eclipse, refraction or a miracle on a planetary scale, I really, really, really believe that God met Joshua and his troops on the battlefield and they experienced His might and power.

On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel:
"O sun, stand still over Gibeon,
O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon."
13 So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a man. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!
      (Joshua10:12-14)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

EmmDev 2018-08-02 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] God brings good out of brokeness. #2


God brings good out of brokeness. #2

Yesterday we saw how the Gibeonites deceived Israel. They were actually a nearby city and had strong warriors, but they secured a treaty with Israelites (by deception) because they feared Israel's God. Joshua and the leaders were duped because they didn't consult the Lord, but they had to keep to the terms of the treaty.

Ironically, the treaty between Israel and Gibeon posed a threat to the other five cities in the Southern part of the Promised Land who then formed a coalition and attacked Gibeon. Joshua was called to honour the treaty with the Gibeonites and God honoured Joshua and marched into battle with them. Our text tells how God rained hailstones on their five enemies and later we read that God even made the sun stand still so that the victory over their enemies could be complete.

The Gibeonites were deceptive and Joshua hadn't consulted God, but as they acknowledge their failures, God, in his mercy, brings good out of brokenness. (There is this beautiful moment where the Gibeonites explain their fearful faith to Joshua and surrender themselves: "They answered Joshua, "So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you." (Josh 9:24-25))

There are times when we rush ahead of God and times we act out of fear, but God's Providence isn't frustrated by our brokenness. The beautiful thing that happens here is how God uses the Gibeonite deception and resulting treaty to accomplish His purposes.

Joshua could have faced six battles: One with the Gibeonites and then with each of the five cities in the South of Palestine. Although the Gibeonites duped them, the duplicity led to the five city coalition and Joshua fights one battle instead of six and God fights for him. And now, in one event, the South of Palestine has been conquered.

In His great mercy, God uses brokenness and brings about good!

Then the five kings of the Amorites--the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon--joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.
6 The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: "Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us."
7 So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. 8 The LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you."
9 After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. 10 The LORD threw them into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the LORD hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.      (Joshua10:5-11)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

EmmDev 2018-08-01 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] God brings good out of brokeness. #1

(apologies for missed devotions yesterday and Friday... )

God brings good out of brokeness. #1

Our passage for today starts a chain of events and raises some very interesting questions but also some amazing insights. It's about the people of the city of Gibeon who deceive Joshua and the Israelites by pretending that they have come from a far-away land to make a peace treaty with the Israelites.

God had instructed the Israelites NOT to make treaties with the people of the land, but to destroy them, lest the people of the land tempt them into idolatry and the worship of false gods. (See Deut.7:1-5)

The ESV Study Bible points out that Israel's 'bending of the rules' with Rahab of Jericho and now the Gibeonites, could be justified because both groups express faith in the power of Israel's God and submit to Israel.

But the Gibeonite story is more complicated because they deceived the Israelites into thinking that they were from a far-away land. The deception is described in detail: worn out sacks and wine-skins with stale bread and cracked sandals. They present themselves a minor threat. There is an important lesson here: Things are seldom as they seem...

While we should not be negative and cynical about others, we should also not be too naive. The secret to getting the right balance between cynicism and naivety is to do what the Israelites didn't do, which was to ask God for guidance.

The Israelites enter into a treaty with the Gibeonites and when the ruse is revealed, the Gibeonites once again declare their faith in the power of God, and submit to a future of servanthood to Israel - they become "woodcutters and water-bearers" for the Israelites, but, in a divine 'twist of fate' they have the honour of providing wood and water for the tabernacle and the temple - a very elevated status for servants.

The Gibeon treaty sets off a fascinating chain of events which we'll look at tomorrow.

The three important lessons from today's reading are:

  • There will always be deceptive people in the world.
  • It's vital to listen to God when we make important decisions
  • God can use our mistakes and a little bit of faith and bring about great good (we'll see this more clearly tomorrow.)

However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. 6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, "We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us."
7 The men of Israel said to the Hivites, "But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?"
8 "We are your servants," they said to Joshua.
But Joshua asked, "Who are you and where do you come from?"
9 They answered: "Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan--Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. 11 And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, 'Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, "We are your servants; make a treaty with us." ' 12 This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and mouldy it is. 13 And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey."
14 The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.      (Joshua9:3-14)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

EmmDev 2018-07-26 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Re-commitment


Re-commitment

After He had addressed Joshua's petulance and revealed Achan's breaking of the covenant, the Lord gave Joshua instructions for the defeat of Ai. After Ai was defeated, Joshua gathered the people together for a covenant renewal.

It is a rich and beautiful passage that describes how Joshua gathers the people, builds an altar and inscribes the law on two standing stones in commemoration of the original giving of the Law to Moses.
Then he reads the law to the people again...

This covenant renewal is important. Joshua has learnt the tough lesson that success can go to our heads and we can charge headlong into failure. They had succeeded at Jericho because they had been completely dependant on God. They failed at Ai, because they had been presumptuous - they had assumed that God would bless their plans.

The covenant renewal was a reminder that their relationship with God was like walking on a pathway - it was all too easy to reach a fork in the path and choose the wrong path. And there were consequences to taking the wrong path...

Joshua's leadership is marked by these moments of commitment and rededication: Circumcision at Gilgal, the heap of stones at the Jordan, this covenant renewal and the one we see at the end of the book in ch 24 to mention a few.

Joshua realised a great truth: We need to be re-minded (things need to be brought to the front of our minds again) We need to re-dedicate ourselves. We need to re-commit. We have to re-fill our tanks, not only because of the mileage we do, but because we have leaks.

Brenda's mom used to put in little bits of petrol at a time. Then, one day, she filled the tank completely only to discover that the top of the tank had rusted and the petrol came spilling out. This is why moments of re-commitment are really important. They remind us what full tanks feel like and they sometimes show us where the unrealised leaks are.

When last did you do a full re-commitment?

Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law--the blessings and the curses--just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them.      (Joshua8:34-35)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

EmmDev 2018-07-25 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Presumption


Presumption

Joshua, after the wonderful victory at Jericho, had a much easier challenge with regard to the city of Ai which was smaller and less fortified. He followed the same human strategy as before. He sent in spies who brought back a very positive report. Their advice: "This is easy! You'll only need a small force and we can do it without breaking a sweat!"

What Joshua did not know is that Achan had disobeyed the Lord and brought God's anger against the people. (We dealt with this yesterday...) Now, if Joshua had sought the Lord in prayer before rushing in to Ai, the Lord would have revealed the problem to him. Unfortunately Joshua did the "practical" preparations but not the "spiritual" ones. He presumed that the Lord would help him.

When the people of Ai send them packing, the people's hearts melt in fear. Joshua is petulant. He and the elders prostrate themselves in dust and ashes and complain to God. He sounds scarily like the Israelites complaining to Moses "Why did you ever bring us here?" He even resorts to the tactic of saying "Lord, what will our enemies think of you?"

God is straight with Joshua - "Get up! Stop being so petulant. Israel have sinned and violated my covenant. (And if you'd prayed about Ai, I would have prompted you about all this.)"

It's very easy for us to rush ahead of God. It's very easy for us to pre-assume (presume) His blessing instead of listening and asking for it. Very often we make very human plans which, just before we put them into action, we ask God to bless. It's very often in the wake of our greatest successes that we make the mistakes that lead to our biggest failures.

Joshua learned a tough lesson about taking time to talk and listen to God. This is a lesson we must learn too.

Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, "Go up and spy out the region." So the men went up and spied out Ai.
3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, "Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there." 4 So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?"
10 The LORD said to Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep.      (Joshua7:2-10)


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

EmmDev 2018-07-24 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Harsh or Principled?


Harsh or Principled?

The Israelites were instructed to utterly destroy Jericho and devote the silver and gold to God's treasury. God warns them that there would be consequences in the wake of disobedience.

Unfortunately, a man named Achan, stole a beautiful ornate robe, some silver and some gold. He buried it in his tent - hoping, I imagine, that no-one would notice.

But the consequences were dire:
Israel's next enemy was the city of Ai, which was a minor obstacle compared to Jericho. Joshua rushed in presumptuously (more on this tomorrow...) and the city of Ai not only repelled Israel's attack but inflicted casualties and thus giving Joshua his first defeat.

Joshua is devastated and seeks the Lord's face. The Lord tells him that there has been disobedience and instructs Joshua to go through the Israelites tribe by tribe, clan by clan. When Joshua does this, Achan's sin is uncovered and he and his family are stoned.

This seems very harsh.
We have the same reaction to Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead in Acts 5. But it is when we consider these two accounts together that it all makes sense:

Both accounts take place at the formation of something new. Joshua is leading a "new" Israel into the promised land and the book of Acts is about the "newly born" church. In both cases the importance of integrity and obedience are highlighted. The devastating danger of greed is also highlighted. I believe the "harshness" of these two accounts is meant as a deterrent. Greed, corruption and dishonesty are being confronted right at the outset of the nation and the church. I also think the long term cost of unconfronted greed is even greater...

Our own country's history is blighted by the devastating consequences of greed in political and economic spheres.
Our incoming leaders could learn from Achan and Ananias-Sapphira.

The other aspect to consider is the shocking lack of respect shown by Achan, Ananias & Sapphira - they hide things from people and arrogantly assume that God doesn't see, doesn't care or won't do anything.

Blessing comes with responsibilities and we are called to keep our priorities right. When we flout responsibilities and priorities there are consequences. And we need to respect God...

18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. 19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury...
7:1 But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD's anger burned against Israel...
7:20 Achan replied, "It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath."   (Joshua6:18-7:20)

Friday, July 20, 2018

EmmDev 2018-07-20 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] A new beginning for Rahab


A new beginning for Rahab

In the account of the fall of Jericho there are three mentions of Rahab: First Joshua instructs that she should be spared while the city is destroyed. Then we hear that the young spies go and fetch Rahab and her family. Finally we're told that Rahab was spared and lives among the Israelites "to this day."

Twice in the this passage she is called a prostitute and yet she is treated with dignity and respect. The thrice mentioning of her in this short passage demonstrates Joshua's integrity and affirms her worth as a person who helped Israel.

The next nice surprise is that she pops up in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus as one of only 3 women mentioned. (Genealogies usually only mentioned men.) Rahab, along with Ruth, and Tamar are mentioned by Matthew and what makes them stand out is that they are all gentiles. So while Matthew doesn't clearly specify that this is Rahab the prostitute from the city of Jericho, it is fairly obvious that this is her.

So this is a beautiful story of redemption: Rahab not only becomes part of Israel, but it seems she embraced Israel's faith, found love, married into Israel and became a mother to Boaz and mother-in-law to Ruth and great great grandmother to David and was part of the line of Jesus.

God doesn't see who we were. He sees what we can be.

17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent.
... 23 So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel... 25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho--and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

      (Joshua6:17-25)



Thursday, July 19, 2018

EmmDev 2018-07-19 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Jericho - Would you have shouted?


Jericho - Would you have shouted?

When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in."
      (Joshua6:5)
So the Israelites walked around the city once a day for six days... We know that Jericho was "tightly shut up" for fear of the Israelites. I imagine that on day one the inhabitants of the city would have been as quiet as the Israelites. After all, they'd heard about the Egyptians and the Red Sea and how God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness. They had reason to be afraid - very afraid...

But here's what I imagine happened... On day 1 there were no fireworks but you could probably have heard a pin drop. The same on day 2. And on day 3, but now the spectators are fidgety and whispering. Still nothing on day 4. And so I imagine on day 4 or 5 someone on the walls of Jericho shouted down "Is that all you've got?" And then the deluge of trash-talking and derision would begin. "Is your strategy to put us to sleep?"

The Israelites would have had to clench their jaws to stay silent. And so day 4, day 5, day 6. All the Israelites had was sheer obedience. "Can't we attack now?" "What are we waiting for?" But they waited. Day 7 was different. It would have impacted everyone. The Jericho residents would have been on top form, maybe even a bit bored. "Here they come again, ho-hum." But the minute they started the second circuit, there would be a stir in the city and people would rush to the walls to look. But but the fourth of fifth circuit boredom would set in and the mocking would begin again.

Now, if you were an Israelite, and if you had just completed the seventh circuit and the people of Jericho are standing on the wall jeering and mocking, and you heard the ram's horns, would you shout?

Would you shout tentatively? Would you wait for others to start shouting first? Or would you roar with confidence and faith? Remember that you hadn't been born when the Red Sea parted. You've known manna and quails and seen one or two battles in the desert, but nothing like this. On the other hand, you've come through the Jordaan, you've been part of the preparations, the circumcisions for the men and the eating of the produce of the land.

Would you shout?

I'd have to admit, I think I would shout, but I'm not sure I would start shouting with full confidence... The shouting of those around me would help though. I think by the end of it I would be shouting my lungs out. My shouting would be a venting of all the tension, all the waiting, all the hope and all the fears. I would shout it all out. It would all be "out there" for God to see and know. "O Lord I believe - help my unbelief".

There have been moments in my life when I have shouted like that. I've been out in veld, out on my bike, or alone at home. I've shouted with joy and victory. I've shouted out pain and heartache. I've shouted in the uncertainty of waiting and doubt.

And God hears!


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

EmmDev 2018-07-18 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Jericho - Sevens


Jericho - Sevens

In our passage for today, the number seven abounds: Seven priests, each carrying a ram's horn, who lead the walk around the city for seven days and on the seventh day they walk around seven times.

In the Old Testament (also in Revelation in the New Testament) the number seven is significant. It would be safe to say that seven is pretty much God's number in the symbolism of Israel. It points to the week of creation and to the Sabbath - a day of rest - not so much for God to rest, but for people to find their rest in Him.

To a great degree this week was a new start - a new creation for Israel. (Although the text doesn't say that the seventh day was a Sabbath, there is no reason to imagine it wasn't.) As they reflected on what they had done, the Israelites would recognise that on the six days of "work" they marched around the city, but on the Seventh Day, the day of rest, all they had to do was walk a bit more and give a mighty shout, and God's power did the rest.

The NIV Study Bible points out that the ram's horn was not a musical instrument but a signal that was used in war and also to summon people to the Sabbath (sounding at dusk on a Friday night to call Israelites to the Shabbat meal.) When an Israelite heard the ram's horn on a Friday evening he/she knew that this was the start of the Lord's day. This is an important aspect to the conquest of the Promised Land. This was not the Israelite's day, but God's, this was not their victory, but His.

The NT book Hebrews describes the victory Jesus obtained by His death and resurrection as the "Sabbath Day Rest" that remains for God's people. The Cross and Grave are the Jericho that Jesus defeated so that we have access to the ultimate Promised Land. We must recognise that He is the One who accomplished this.

But more than that, when we face "Jericho-obstacles" in our lives, we will have to learn to walk with God on our "work days". We might need to be quiet, enduring the doubts that assail us and the mockery of others. But the time will come, when the trumpets will blow and we will see God's victory.

Then the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in."      (Joshua6:2-5)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

EmmDev 2018-07-17 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Jericho - The Plan


Jericho - The Plan

It seems like just yesterday when I wrote an EmmDev on my son Caleb's first day of grade 1. (Interestingly, I wrote on Joshua chapter 1 in a series called "Starting Orders") Now, eleven and a half years later, he begins his final term of teaching which is only a few weeks and then Prelims begin and then it is the Final Exams. Then, in the background, are all the deliberations, applications and registrations for next year. For him, and many other matrics, this is Jericho.

For many folk the start of the third term marks the end of the winter hibernation and the helter-skelter of July-August-September before the year end chaos of October, November and December. This, for many of us, is Jericho too.

Behind the Israelites is the Wilderness, a time of dryness, subsistence and drudgery. Ahead of them is the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. Between the Wilderness and the Promised Land is Jericho - a fortified city with walls so thick that chariots rode on top. As nation coming out of years of wilderness wandering Israel didn't have siege ladders or catapults. They seemed hardly equipped for this imposing obstacle.

Many of us are trapped between the Wilderness and the Promised Land with imposing Jericho-obstacles in our way. We might face unemployment, relationship failure, a tough medical diagnosis, a time of testing, insecurity, and the bullies of doubt, depression, cynicism and death (physical, spiritual, emotional).

God has a plan for Joshua. It is unorthodox and requires, above all things, trust. Joshua will have to prepare and pray. He will have to reflect and wait. He will have to grow in trust. He will have to face his doubts and persevere.

We can dissect the plan God gave Joshua. We can look at the seven days. We can reflect on the priestly worship team in front. We can consider the reaction of the people of Jericho: Apprehensive on day one, arrogant and derisive on day six. All these things (and many more) are interesting and worth looking into. But for today, just these thoughts:

  • God has a plan for Joshua, and, as we face our Jericho obstacles, He has a plan for us.
  • God often has us doing things differently - His ways are not always what everyone else will do.
  • Part of overcoming obstacles is learning to trust God.
Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. 2 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in."      (Joshua6:1-5)


EmmDev 2018-07-17 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Jericho - The Plan


Jericho - The Plan

It seems like just yesterday when I wrote an EmmDev on my son Caleb's first day of grade 1. (Interestingly, I wrote on Joshua chapter 1 in a series called "Starting Orders") Now, eleven and a half years later, he begins his final term of teaching which is only a few weeks and then Prelims begin and then it is the Final Exams. Then, in the background, are all the deliberations, applications and registrations for next year. For him, and many other matrics, this is Jericho.

For many folk the start of the third term marks the end of the winter hibernation and the helter-skelter of July-August-September before the year end chaos of October, November and December. This, for many of us, is Jericho too.

Behind the Israelites is the Wilderness, a time of dryness, subsistence and drudgery. Ahead of them is the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. Between the Wilderness and the Promised Land is Jericho - a fortified city with walls so thick that chariots rode on top. As nation coming out of years of wilderness wandering Israel didn't have siege ladders or catapults. They seemed hardly equipped for this imposing obstacle.

Many of us are trapped between the Wilderness and the Promised Land with imposing Jericho-obstacles in our way. We might face unemployment, relationship failure, a tough medical diagnosis, a time of testing, insecurity, and the bullies of doubt, depression, cynicism and death (physical, spiritual, emotional).

God has a plan for Joshua. It is unorthodox and requires, above all things, trust. Joshua will have to prepare and pray. He will have to reflect and wait. He will have to grow in trust. He will have to face his doubts and persevere.

We can dissect the plan God gave Joshua. We can look at the seven days. We can reflect on the priestly worship team in front. We can consider the reaction of the people of Jericho: Apprehensive on day one, arrogant and derisive on day six. All these things (and many more) are interesting and worth looking into. But for today, just these thoughts:

  • God has a plan for Joshua, and, as we face our Jericho obstacles, He has a plan for us.
  • God often has us doing things differently - His ways are not always what everyone else will do.
  • Part of overcoming obstacles is learning to trust God.
Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. 2 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in."      (Joshua6:1-5)


Friday, June 22, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-22 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Our Commander


Our Commander

Our reading today gives us the full and glorious picture of the Commander of the Lord's Armies. In the Revelation John sees a bigger and clearer picture than Joshua did.

Jesus' appearance to Joshua is understated. The glory is muted. Joshua has the room to ask "Are you for us or our enemies?" The vision John has is of Christ who has overcome sin, death and Satan and who is leading heaven's army in final victory.

Joshua's battles are still ahead of him - he still has to face Jericho and subdue their enemies in the promised land. In Revelation, the greatest battles have been fought and it is only the final judgement that awaits.

We find ourselves somewhere between Joshua and John's Revelation. Joshua still has to fully understand and discover God's saving power. He still has to experience Jericho. We've seen Jericho and we've seen the Cross and we've seen the Empty Tomb. BUT there are still days that we are like the two on the road to Emmaus and like Joshua staring at Jericho - Jesus is with us, but we don't recognise Him.

This is where John's picture is so helpful - He takes the scales from our eyes and opens our hearts. He depicts Christ as glorious and victorious. His name is Faithful and True. He is just and majestic and has a name that no-one else knows (to name something is to have power over it...). He leads Heaven's armies and judges this broken world with authority and finality.

He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and He is the One we worship!

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.      (Revelation19:11-16)

(EmmDevs will take a break for the school hols...)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-21 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Chain of Command


Chain of Command

This encounter is a critical moment in Joshua's personal development. He's standing alone, looking at Jericho. Maybe he's playing a dozen military strategies through his head. Maybe he's paralysed with fear. Maybe he's quietly humming a psalm of trust.

But in this moment God appears to him. It is an interesting encounter because it involves a physical appearance and it doesn't seem to be an angel. Joshua sees a man with a drawn sword who identifies himself as the "commander of the armies of the Lord" and Joshua falls down and worships and the man tells him that he is on holy ground. (An angel would never allow himself to be worshipped.)

This leaves us with two possibilities. The first is that God is appearing in human form and the second is that this is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ who, in the book of Revelation, is depicted as leading the army of the Lord in the final battle (Rev19:11-16).

This is a critical moment.
Joshua asks "Are you for us or our enemies?"
Jesus' answer shows us that Joshua's thinking is wrong.
It is not God who is with us, but us who are with God.

This fits in beautifully with view of Mission that David Bosch brought to the world's attention in the 1980's: It not us who take God to the peoples in the far corners of the earth, but we go to the far corners of the earth to discover what God is already doing.

We don't "take God to the world", God takes us to the world.

So often we're asking God to bless our plans.

Like Joshua, we have to learn the chain of command.
We're not in a position to ask Him to join us.
We must join Him.

It's about surrender...

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"
14 "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"
15 The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.      (Joshua5:13-15)


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-20 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Dedication and Trust


Dedication and Trust

Our reading today is about two significant practices that were resumed now that the Israelites were in the promised land: Circumcision and Passover.

When God called Abram, He instructed him to be circumcised and to circumcise their baby boys on the eighth day. This differentiated them from surrounding nations who circumcised at puberty. This early circumcision (which would have been noticed by boys from surrounding nations when they swam at waterholes) was a sign that the Israelites belonged to God. Our passage tells us that all boys born during the Exodus and desert wandering had not been circumcised. This points to a loss of identity and purpose.

Circumcision represented their belonging to God, but it was also an act that symbolised the Israelites being set apart and dedicating themselves to God.

The Passover was the Feast that celebrated deliverance from Egypt. Sadly it was only celebrated during their actual escape, and then a year later at Mount Sinai. Then, unfortunately, the spies went into the land and the people, overtaken by the "grasshopper mentality", rebelled and God sentenced them to wander the desert until that faithless generation passed away. It seems that they did not celebrate the Passover during these forty years.

Now, as they enter the Promised Land, these two rituals, which speak of belonging and deliverance are celebrated.

There was considerable risk in both these rituals. Circumcision incapacitated the men for a couple of days. Historically, Jacob's sons used this to their advantage when they convinced Hamor and Shechem and their village to be circumcised, and, while the men were still in pain, they attacked the village. (Gen.34) During Passover, the festivities would have distracted the people and they would have been easy to attack. But this risk is mitigated by verse 1 which explains that the inhabitants of the land are paralysed with fear because of the Israelites' miraculous crossing of the Jordan River.

When we take significant steps for the Kingdom of God, it is good for us to make sure that we take stock. Have we neglected practices of dedication? Have we lost identity and purpose? It might be good to take a moment and dedicate ourselves fully to God. Have we neglected to praise and give thanks for God's faithfulness in the past? It would be good to pick these up again...

1 Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.
2 At that time the LORD said to Joshua, "Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again." 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.
4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt--all the men of military age--died in the desert on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the desert during the journey from Egypt had not. 6 The Israelites had moved about in the desert forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the LORD. For the LORD had sworn to them that they would not see the land that he had solemnly promised their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.
9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.
10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.      (Joshua 5:1-8)


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-19 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Remember


Remember

Our reading for today is part of a bigger section (4:1-9) which deals with a fairly simple matter: That God wanted a representative from each of the twelve tribes to pick up a big stone from the middle of the Jordan and they were to place these stones in a memorial pile at their first camp site.

The passage describes it in three parts: God giving Joshua instructions, Joshua giving the people instructions and then the people actually doing it. (Our reading is the middle part)

This repetition gives a fairly simple action a lot of gravity. It is important to remember what God has done. It is important to be able to pass these significant events on to the next generation.

The number twelve is important because it signifies the whole nation by their ancestral tribes and also reminds us that this was the fulfilment of God's promise to Jacob, the father of the twelve.

It's also important that these stones come from the river-bed - their smoothed shape would make it clear where they came from. This pile of unusual stones would signify the miraculous nature of the event.

Placing the pile of stones at their first camp site was helpful too. Previously their camp sites had been marked by the pillar of fire/cloud, but their journey through the wilderness was a transition and so no permanent record was kept. Now they are here to stay and so this stone pillar was their first building, the first sign of permanence.

Remembering is important. We do well to document important moments, to take photos and to set up plaques and memorials. The "pillars" aren't the important thing though, what's important is that we tell our children and their children what the Lord has done.

Parents, have you told your children about how you came to faith and why you love the the Lord? Grandparents, have you told your grandchildren how you came to faith and why you love the Lord? Don't assume they'll get it by some kind of osmosis - show them your Bible (many of us have underlined verses or have a date written in the front or the back), tell them about that Youth camp where you prayed that special prayer, share with them why you've been going to church for so long. Talk about prayers that were answered and how you have been witness to God's faithfulness.

It's important!

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever."      (Joshua4:4-7)


Friday, June 15, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-15 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Timing


Timing

So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea ) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.      (Joshua3:14-17)
When we watch movies like "Mission Impossible" where the heroes plan their intricate capers, there's always that moment where they have to "synchronise their watches", because each person has a part to play and each part needs to play out with split-second timing.

There are a couple of elements to the crossing miracle:

  • There's a place called Adam (some 20 km upstream) where scholars note that as recently as 1927 the clay banks collapsed and the water stopped flowing for 20 hours.
  • There's the people and the priests packing up camp and gathering getting themselves together and starting walking towards the river. (And if you've ever been camping you know how frenetic and chaotic packing up becomes - and you hardly ever leave on time...!)
  • There's the unspecified distance between where they started walking from and the water's edge
  • There's the speed at which they walked.
  • There's the speed at which the water flowed and would slow down as the back pressure decreased.

This would require precise timing. If we had the data and a supercomputer we could work it out: If the people started walking at a certain time and covered a specified distance at a fixed speed then we'd know what time the the priests' feet would hit the river's edge. Working back from that time, if we had a good fluid dynamics engineer, we could figure out at what time we'd need to cut the water off upstream so that the riverbed would be dry at just the right time.

Of course we're assuming that the priests walked at a constant speed and that the water flowed at a constant speed (which would need a straight river course and a fairly constant gradient). None of these assumptions are true and so our supercomputer calculations would be very hit and miss.

But God times it perfectly!

Someone once said - "God isn't always there when I want Him, but He's always right on time!"



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Thursday, June 14, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-14 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Consecration


My apologies for the missed devotions of yesterday and the day before....


Consecration

Before they can cross the Jordan...
Before they can attack Jericho...
Before they undertake any major task...
God asks Israel to consecrate themselves.

What did "consecration" involve?
The English words we use to translate the original Hebrew word are interesting: "Purify", "Set apart", "Sanctify", "Consecrate", "Set yourself apart", "Dedicate yourself", "Keep yourselves holy", and "Separate yourselves".

Acts and rituals of Consecration included washing, cleansing, with-holding, abstaining and preparing.

One could probably summarise it in four movements:

  1. Reflection on one's life, priorities and values.
  2. Dealing with sin: Confession, Repentance & Receiving forgiveness (often symbolised by washing)
  3. Resolve to belong to God: This could be demonstrated by abstaining from food or practices that distract us. Or by wearing priestly garments or adopting symbols and practices that pointed away from earthly things toward heaven.
  4. Whole-hearted devotion to God: The rituals mean nothing if this is not the final state of our hearts.

When one analyses this, it really involves two things: turning away from temporary things (the world, our desires and ambitions) and turning towards God. (The latter part is the ultimate point, but we can't turn to God without turning away from other things.)

Even though we find ourselves in a covenant of Grace, consecration is something we do, not to earn God's love, but because we are much loved.

Ultimately it's about being filled with the Spirit.
And being filled with the Spirit is not so much asking how much of the Spirit I have,
but how much of me the Spirit has.

(Imagine the significance of going through the four movements described above before beginning a day or week or starting an important activity.)

Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you."      (Joshua3:5)


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--
Theo Groeneveld
Emmanuel Presby Church
theo@emmanuel.org.za Cell: 082-5510752

Friday, June 8, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-08 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] God vindicates Joshua


God vindicates Joshua

God vindicated Joshua.
So often leaders have to prove themselves, but, as they go into the Promised Land, Joshua doesn't have to prove himself. God establishes him as the leader.

Our passage for today tells the story...
It's an interesting passage, it reads as though the narrator has ADHD! It's an excited and exciting narrative that jumps around between events and speakers and indicates the significance and momentousness of the events...

It starts on the previous day with Joshua telling the people to prepare themselves. Then it jumps to the next day with Joshua giving the priests instructions to go ahead of the people with the Ark of the Covenant. Then God gives Joshua the promise that He will exalt him, and then, in the same breath, He instructs the priests to stand in the river, but he doesn't say what will happen. Then Joshua is speaking to the Israelites giving them a William-Wallace-speech about how God will defeat the Canaanites, Hittites and all-the-other-ites before them. Then Joshua sends representatives of all the tribes to follow the priests and the ark and only then explains that the waters of the Jordan will be cut off so that they stand up in a heap.

If one reads on, there is a fairly orderly narrative of how it all happens...

But I love the chaotic excitement of the preparation. One gets a sense of the newness, the breathlessness and the importance of the events that are coming.

What God did for Moses and the Israelites by opening the Red Sea, He now does for Joshua by opening the Jordan River. It is a significant transition.

Sometimes we are involved in exciting endeavours that come to significant moments and important transitions. Whether we are leaders or supporters, we should allow ourselves to be excited about these moments.

Last Sunday I participated in the one year celebration of our Pretoria North Congregation. It is a unique congregation, and after a year of services, it moved from 2 services per month to 3. A significant moment that we celebrated with joy, pomp & ceremony, photographs and (of course) food!

It's vital that we get excited about these moments...

Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you."
Joshua said to the priests, "Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people." So they took it up and went ahead of them.
And the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: 'When you reach the edge of the Jordan's waters, go and stand in the river.' "
Joshua said to the Israelites, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD--the Lord of all the earth--set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap."      (Joshua2:5-13)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-07 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Faith despite danger


Faith despite danger

Forty years previously twelve spies went into the land. They came back carrying samples of the produce of the land. We have no indication that their lives were in danger at any point, and, if they had engaged any of the people of the land, I think they would have encountered the same fear of Israel's God, because the events of the Exodus would have been fresh in everyone's mind.

But only two of the spies were positive, the remaining ten were fearful. They were still slaves in their hearts.

Joshua's two spies are a stark contrast to the fearful ten. They go into the heart of an enemy city. They engage the people and experience great danger. They have to lie under the flax stalks on Rahab's roof for a day and then they have to hide in the hills for three days before they can make the dangerous trip back to Joshua and the people.

After four days of life-threatening danger the spies return to Joshua. One might expect them to say: "Wow. We were barely there for a day when the city's intelligence caught on to us. We nearly didn't make it. We need to be very careful about this."

But this is not their language. Despite the personal risks they have had to take, they are able to see the bigger picture of what God is doing. They are able to see the gift that God has given, even though it comes in dangerous packaging. They understand that God's promises sometimes require taking some risks. They understand the leap of faith.

So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 Now she had said to them, "Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way." ...
22 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. 23 Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, "The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us."      (Joshua1:15-24)


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-06 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Faith in unexpected places


Faith in unexpected places

Joshua sent two spies in to Jericho. They went to stay at the house of a prostitute named Rahab. Somehow word of their presence in the city leaked to the King of Jericho who sent soldiers to capture the men, but Rahab misdirected the soldiers leading them to believe that the men had already left, while she had hidden them on the roof of her house.

It was good spycraft for the men to go to the house of prostitute. It was a likely place for strangers to go and it was not unexpected to find strange visitors there. It was also a good place to pick up gossip and look for inside information. Unfortunately this cut both ways, because it is likely that one of the "regular" customers might have been a palace official who noticed the two strangers with strange accents who they identified as Israelites. This is probably how the king heard about them...

What is interesting about this passage is the role that Rahab plays. She is obviously an influential woman as the soldiers don't doubt her word or dare to search her place. Very often people in Rahab's position have a lot of influence because of the secrets they know. Many of her "customers" would prefer their connection to her not to be revealed. Also, people in Rahab's profession often develop a tough cynical exterior because they see men at their most unfaithful.

But Rahab surprises us. She protects the men and reveals great spiritual sensitivity. She reveals to the spies that God has already gone ahead of Joshua, placing fear and dread in the hearts of the citizens of Jericho. She also reveals a sophisticated theology. Whereas local religion depicted pagan gods as localised and shadowy, Rahab uses the covenant name of the Lord ("LORD") three times and she identifies him as "God in heaven above and on the earth below."

This is God's first word to Joshua. Here, unexpectedly, in a brothel of all places, the spies find a woman of faith and they find that God has already conquered the hearts of their enemies.

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don't know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them." 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.      (Joshua2:4-11)


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-05 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Presence


Presence

While they were wandering in the wilderness under Moses' leadership God was present with Israel through the fiery and cloudy pillar. He was present in the tabernacle and in a very powerful way on Mount Sinai. The Israelites felt God's caring presence in the arrival of manna in the mornings and quail in the evenings.

In the transition into the Promised Land things would change. The manna and quail stopped and the fiery cloudy pillar ceased. As we journey with Joshua, we will discover that God is present with him in a number different ways:
- He speaks to Joshua in the tabernacle
- He appears to Joshua as a commander overlooking Jericho
- He speaks through people like Rahab in Jericho
- He speaks in His absence too

Over the next few weeks we'll see how Joshua grows and journeys in his relationship with God. What is significant for now is to realise that God deals with each person uniquely.

So when God promises "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you," He is not promising to keep doing things the same way, but He is promising that His presence will be intimate and personal.

Today God still remains present personally and intimately in our lives. He follows no recipes. He treats each person uniquely and handles each circumstance distinctively. But He promises to be with us.

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
... Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."      (Joshua1:5-9)


Friday, June 1, 2018

EmmDev 2018-06-01 [Faith among grasshopper hearts] Presence in the overwhelming and overbearing


Presence in the overwhelming and overbearing

All of God's instructions to be strong and courageous and to build a just and Godly community are bracketed by God's promise to be with Joshua.

Right at the outset God promises Joshua: "As I was with Moses, I will be with you." And after numerous exhortations to Joshua to be strong and courageous, God says: Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

"Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged..."
These two "do nots" need thinking about...

Terror is something that happens in a moment. We experience terror when something unexpected or overwhelming happens. Terror is the emotion that goes with being out of control. It is a moment that pushes rationality into the corner and gets our fight-or-flight endorphins pumping. Terror can cause paralysis, bad decisions and fear-driven behaviour. It swallows trust and hope and in a few moments of terror we can tear down things that took months and years to build. In moments of terror we must think of Jesus asleep in the boat on the stormy sea of Galilee and know and believe that He will calm the storm. (Mark 4:35-41)

Discouragement is a war of attrition. It takes time and is a relentless series of little setbacks, doubts and tough obstacles that tire us physically, deplete us emotionally and diminish our store of faith. Discouragement robs our joy, reduces our rest and fills our mental radar screen with so much noise that we struggle to make sense of the bigger picture. Discouragement is overbearing - it makes us bear too much. We must remember the One who calls us to Him. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt.11:28-30)

God promises Joshua that, when life becomes overwhelming or overbearing, he will not be alone.

He promises us the same!

5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."      (Joshua1:5-9)