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


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


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....


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 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


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)