Coal Seam Gas

We are stewards of His creation under God

I believe God created the universe by Christ and for Him – all things hold together in Him (Colossians 1:15-17).  I therefore believe we should multiply, fill the earth and subdue it as stewards responsible before our Creator (Genesis 1:26-28).

This implies that I am not a greenie who worship creation over the Creator (Romans 1:25).  I am not a tree hugger.  I am not an environmentalist by the present day definition.

Yet, I was always uneasy about Coal Seam Gas drilling, more so in areas with rich, food producing soils.  The sheer scale by which big companies drill wells worry me. It is estimated that 40,000 wells will be drilled in Australia. (http://www.abc.net.au/news/specials/coal-seam-gas-by-the-numbers/)

The opportunity came up last night to attend an information night.  There were people with first hand knowledge and experience where drilling actually happened.

My fears were confirmed.  If only 20% of what I heard were true, we all need to dig in and resist coal seam gas drilling.

I’m writing this not because it is about the environment.  I’m writing because I believe God will hold us responsible if we remain silent while others destroy the good earth and the waterways which sustains our very livelihood.

A few things:

  • In spite of assurances that safe drilling methods will protect the waterways and subsurface water, 6%-7% of all wells turn out to be unsuccessful.  Not much? That could be 50-80 failed wells in our region, or more than 800 in Australia – most of them right on top of the Great Artesian Basin!
  • 400 new wells need to be drilled every year to justify the cost of infrastructure.
  • Farmers have to apply for every water well they need for the purposes of watering stock, domestic use and irrigation.  Santos have agree hand and can drill as many as they like – and they don’t even need the water!
  • Farmers are prohibited to clear land and remove trees.  Mining companies apparently have not restrictions.
  • Mining companies undisclosed use chemicals in their processes.  Why?
  • Farmers who “lease” the drilling pad, pressure pump and land for pipelines to mining companies.  All possible contamination happens on his property, for which he will be liable , even after the lease expired.
  • It is enough for several properties to be contaminated if only one farmer signs up.
  • The main speaker last nigh, an American, informed that the valuation of some farms dropped to 0% after only a few years after drilling started.

I strongly urge everyone who reads this, to get the facts – it is important.  Then spread the word.

If you research websites of the oil companies, or read their published brochures, look out for words and phrases like “usually”, “under normal circumstances”, “normally”,”not supposed to”, “mining practises”, “take care”, etc.  Take these words out of the sentence and read it again!  They are masters in “spin”.

(also check this out: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2013/03/12/factbox-csg-australia)

Unworthy servants

 Characteristics of Christ’s disciples

 Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 57
  • Luke 17:1-19

Introduction

Dear brother and sister in Christ,.

The idea of personal responsibility in our world has been replaced with playing the blame game:  I am making mistakes, but it is someone else or my circumstances which led me to do it.  It is never me.

To forgive is to show weakness.  Just this week there was a very interesting discussion on TV, and the person interviewed said exactly this.  Never forgive, but use spin to get you out of trouble and make it look that you do not need to ask forgiveness.

Self-esteem is highly regarded.  Depending on something other than yourself open you up for criticism of being weak and indecisive.

If you want to become the doormat of society, show that you are a servant.  To get to the top means that you should use whatever means, even it means that you purposely trample on others to get to the top.

The worse thing to do in climbing the present day corporate ladder is to thank others for helping you getting there.  You might sometime do it after you have reached the top, but you certainly do not show gratitude on the way there.

But things are so different in the Church of Christ. In following Christ and serving Him in his Church and in this world, members of his body must display opposite characteristics. They are looked upon as fools.  And yet, when these characteristics are genuine and sincere, the body of the Lord, his Church, indeed becomes very attractive.

Turning to Luke 17 we see Christ giving his disciples training for their task.

Watch yourselves

In the first three verses of chapter 17 Jesus teaches us that we live in a sinful world where temptations cannot be avoided.  “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come.”  It is only in a perfect world where temptations to sin do not exist.  It all started in paradise.  The only difference between Adam and Eve’s choice and ours, is that that had the capacity to say no; we don’t – sin is in our blood, our minds, our very nature is drenched in sin because of their disobedience.

In desperation one might say, well if I have no choice, then so be it.  Did Doris Day not sing:

Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

Someone will be a stumbling block for me and cause me to stumble, and I will be a stumbling block to others – this is just how it is.  Life happens, and life is not supposed to be easy!  I will always have someone else to blame for my problems.  If I get angry and swear, it’s just so because he or she provoked me; if a fail, it’s so because my father never succeeded in anything – he set a bad example.

Jesus has a complete different teaching than this world: “Woe to that person through whom they [the stumbling] come.”  Christians know they are responsible for their deeds and must own up to the consequence of their deeds. As disciples of the Lord we can act in such a way that we create stumbling blocks for fellow Christians.  In Psalm 69 David prays to God:

Lord, the Lord Almighty, may those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me; God of Israel, may those who seek You not be put to shame because of me. (Psalm 69:6, NIV)

The Corinthian church had many problems, one of them being that many of them were “puffed up” – they considered themselves spiritually advanced compared to others.  The boasted that they were free in Christ and that they could use their freedom as they wished.  In the process, those who were newly added to the fellowship stumbled by the behaviour of those who boasted in their freedom.  So Paul gave this warning:

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:9–13, NIV)

Our Lord in Luke 17 had a stern warning:

It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. (Luke 17:2, NIV)

There was a big and a small millstone in those days.  The big one had a hole in the middle though which the pole which was then strapped to a donkey.  The donkey walked around and around, making this stone to roll smaller ones on the wheat to mill it into flour.  Our Lord referred to that big heavy stone which already had a hole in the middle.  Let’s say what is in mind was to put this large stone over the head of someone and them dump them into the ocean – there is just no chance of survival.  It sounds unmerciful and cruel, but our Lord is weighing up the consequences for one of his disciples who carelessly put stumbling blocks before the rest of the Christian family, more so the little children.

That’s why He warned:  Watch yourselves. O, that we would develop a sensitivity for our actions.  David prays:

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3, NIV)

So, members of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ are, in the end and ultimately, one another’s keepers, but it is important to watch oneself.

Forgiveness

The sum of the Gospel lies in the fact that we are forgiven because of God’s love for sinners.  This then leads logically to the fact that those who are forgiven by God should forgive and love one another. John writes:

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:20–21, NIV)

Our Lord taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:4–6, NIV)

He who loves, forgives.  And there are no limits on how many times he needs to forgive.  It is no weakness to forgive, and it is no weakness to admit you are wrong and ask for forgiveness.

Yes, there will be times that we need to rebuke one another, as the Lord said. That’s when I don’t jump on my high horse and gallop off; that’s when I thank my brother that he has pointed me to repentance – or he will end up with the millstone around his neck.  But if does rebuke me and I stubbornly do not heed, I am the one with the millstone around my neck.  The true brother will rebuke, show the right way in all Christian humility, even pray with the other, and forgive – over and over again.  That’s is exactly what God does in Jesus Christ.  His Spirit rebukes us, we should repent and ask for forgiveness, and God forgives.  He loves, that’s why He forgives – and He requires the same of us.

Trust, obey, believe

By now the disciples of our Lord, as they listened to Him, probably said to themselves, “To do what the Lord requires, is calling for a lot of faith.”  So they asked, “Increase our faith!”

Have you heard that people sometimes say that they do not have a faith as big as others?  I always wonder what they mean by this.  If only they could see into my heart.

We don’t have faith in ourselves.  Faith is not what gets us do wonderful things.  Someone said that one thing he does not believe in is his faith; what he is sure of though, is God.  The faith that God puts in his heart is not a faith to believe in himself, but to believe in God.  Then, and only then, God can do the impossible, not becasue of us, but in spite of us.

Faith is not something abstract. Faith ultimately boils down to how I live.  The Christian lives in obedience to God, he trusts in God, and has no trust in himself.  It is only when he lays everything on the altar that God starts to work through him.  It is when we become fools in the eyes of the world by taking God on his word, that God start using us.

John Short, the Australian missionary which is presently detained in North Korea, went there with the purpose of spreading the Good News of the Gospel.  His wife is adamant about the fact that he was quite aware of the risks involved, even hard labour for the rest of his life.  We need to pray for this humble servant of the Lord, and we should follow his example of trusting and obeying God.  But someone wrote this about him:

John Short is a well-meaning fool. Nobody goes into a place like North Korea and starts handing out pamphlets espousing Christianity expecting to get away with it.  What possessed him to go to North Korea to spread the word of the Lord is something only he can explain. Sadly, it was always going to end in grief.There is every chance that, in a week or so, he will all but be forgotten by the Australian media – and public. But is it our fault or his? I argue he has to take the blame entirely. There are some things that are achievable in life. Going into North Korea hoping to convert its trampled citizens to Christianity is not one of them.

I admire Mr Short.  History is full of examples of men and women who did foolish things in the eyes of the world, but God used them mightily.  Paul went with the same Gospel as Mr Short to Rome and demanded to see the Caesar.  He got locked up where he wrote most of the letters we have in the New Testament today.  Was he a fool?  No, he was just a man with faith like a mustard seed: he trusted and obeyed God. The rest is history.

Be a servant

The world we live in might look at servanthood as a weakness.  In the Kingdom of God is a strength.  Paul understood that when he said:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10, NIV)

Our Lord tells of the man who had the servant who worked all day in the field. When his master then asked him to prepare supper and serve him, he did so even before he looked after himself.  And should he think by himself at least his master should thank him for his service?  No!  This all seem so unreasonable, but the Lord concluded this parable with these words:

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ” (Luke 17:10, NIV)

O, this spirit of duty would change the face of the church.  I give myself to the Lord, to his work and to his people, all the way watching over myself praying to God that I will not be a stumbling block to anyone, always forgiving because I am forgiven, loving because I am loved, therefore I am just doing my duty.

Paul writes in Galatians 6

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. (Galatians 6:1–5, NIV)

Why are we duty bound?

There were ten lepers.  It was a terrible thing to have leprosy.  You were kept from having communion with anyone else but lepers. You would never feel the touch of a loved one, and your food would delivered while you were at a distance.  All the while, chances are that you are going to get worse, even end up being disfigured and ugly.  From the verses in Luke 17 we learn that in this state Jews and Samaritans were counted as being on the same level, whereas healthy Jews and Samaritans despised one another.

Jesus healed them, becasue He had pity on them.  He restored their lives and they could go back into the community, back to their homes and loved ones. The Samaritan, he who understood what it meant to be despised, to be the outcast, to be nothing, turned around and thank Jesus.  Like a slave he threw himself at the feet of Jesus.  Our Lord said, “Your faith has made you well.”

The faith Jesus talked about his disciples should have, the forgiveness only He could give, the servanthood He talked about is displayed in the Samaritan.  The others were healed, but they understand nothing about being a servant of Him who healed them.  That’s why they did not thank Him.

Conclusion

Watching out how we live in the presence of fellow believers, rebuking and forgiving one another over and over again, trusting and obeying God in everything, serving Him with a heart that says, “I am only doing my duty” – all because we are made righteous and were cleansed by Him who had pity on us – these are the characteristics of disciples of the Lord Jesus.  When these things are evident in how we conduct our business in Christ’s Church, God is glorified.  Where He is glorified, his church grows.

May God be merciful to us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 February 2014

The Devastation of Disobedience

Lessons from Joshua

Scripture Readings

  • 2Corinthians 6:14-7:1
  • Joshua 23:1-16

Introduction

There was a man who sold his house. The buyer was somewhat surprised when the owner had one last request:  he wanted to have the hook behind the bathroom door.  “No problem”, the buyer said, “let’s go and get it for you.”  “No,” the owner said, “could you just leave it there.  I just want it there.”

It all sounded a bit strange, but the buyer was happy with the arrangement.  They signed the paper work and the previous owner got into his car, drove off, and for the next few years they did not hear from o him.

Then one day, he knocked, having a paper bag in his hand.  “I just thought I’d use my hook for a while.”  He was allowed into the bathroom where he pulled a piece of meat out of the bag and hung it over the hook. He then left.

He was not back for days.  The meat started to smell.  They rang him up and asked that he would remove the meat.  “It is my hook by arrangement.  I checked very carefully that the meat does not touch the paintwork on the door.  Thanks very much!”

Now, this is only an illustration – such thing will not stand up in court.  But it teaches us something we will learn from the Scriptures today.

Inheritance received

In chapter 23 Joshua called all the leaders of Israel, God’s covenant people, together. He was an old man at the time.  Joshua pointed three things out to the leaders:

The battle belongs to the Lord

You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. (Joshua 23:3, NIV)

The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you. (Joshua 23:5, NIV)

Yes, they were involved in it, they had to take up the armour and the arms and be there on the ground where the battles took place; they had to face the enemy and see the blood; they had to advance into the new territory, and they had to physically take possession of it.  But, before them the Lord went, behind them He followed, and when they rested of their campaigns He was above them, blessing them all the way.  He did so, because He promised the land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He did so for his glory.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors… (Deuteronomy 7:7–8, NIV)

Ultimately those who believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him as his disciples will inherit a new heaven and a new earth. The Israelites who believed in God and loved Him with all their hearts were saved by grace and they will also be in heaven.  But between heaven and being saved, God has a plan for us:  we need to conquer this world in the Name of Jesus.  We have his promise that He will be with us till the very end of this age.  He gave us his Sprit to empower us for our task.  Not all of us will have to do all things, but all of us need to do some things in this world-wide task of evangelism and mission.  We are not saved for the sake of being saved; we are saved for the glory of God.  In this task God says, “I am with you; I will give them in your hands.”

Be courageous and faithful

Joshua had something else to say to the elders and leaders:

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. (Joshua 23:6, NIV)

This is an echo of the words God spoke to Moses earlier while they were still in the wilderness:

You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt… The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear… Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. (Deuteronomy 7:17–21, NIV)

When Caleb saw the giants of the Anakites, he first of all saw this awesome God.  When Anakites saw Goliath, he first saw this awesome God.  When Jonathan and his armour-bearer faced the Philistines, he said, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, wether by many of by few.” (1Samuel 14:6)  It is because the disciples believed in this awesome God, revealed in Jesus Christ, that they could face the Jewish Council, kings and caesars.  And God helped them out and protected them miraculously.  If He didn’t, his Name was always glorified – and that is the point.

To be faithful and to be courageous is what the Lord still demand of his church today.  There is one verse in the Scriptures that really scares me.  In Revelation 21 John saw the new heaven and the new earth. And then this verse:

Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:7–8, NIV)

There is another:

Whoever is ashamed of Me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26, NIV)

Be holy

 “… be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. (Joshua 23:6, NIV)

These were the same words the Lord gave to Joshua at the beginning of his leadership. Now, in the evening of his life, most probably about 100 years of age, he could say as the apostle said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2Timothy 4:7)

King Saul was disobedient to the command of the Lord and spared the life of the king of the Amelikites.  Samuel said to him:

For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22–23, NIV)

Valiant acts of courage are not as useful in the eyes of God as obedience in the first place.  To “be careful to obey all that is written in the Book” equals holiness.  God delights in obedience and accomplishes his purposes through obedient holiness.

There is something else the Lord commanded his people.  Add to this the command to not intermarry and associate with the nations.  Why?

But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you. (Joshua 23:12–13, NIV)

The blessing of the Lord will disappear and the enemy will become more arrogant.  The same thing happened in the time of Ezekiel.  The people said:

You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.” But what you have in mind will never happen. (Ezekiel 20:32, NIV)

They thought if they would become like the nations they had a better chance on survival.  There are Christians and even churches who think that way too.  Becoming like this world is not a recipe for survival, but a sure formula for destruction.

John writes, “Do not love this world.”  Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2, NIV)  Worldliness is the death nail to the life of the Christian and a cyanide capsule to the church.  It makes us powerless, not becasue we follow the world in the first instance, but because God withdraws his presence and blessings. The Holy Spirit is not at work where the spirit of this world is at work.

God is faithful

Joshua concludes his instruction to the leaders reminding them of the faithfulness of God.

You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. (Joshua 23:14, NIV)

This would strengthen them enormously.  You look back to where God started his grace in your life, you know what He promised and how He fulfilled all his promises, how He is with you just now, and look into the future and you may know for sure He will be with you all the way until He reached his purposes.  So, when the Israelites understood that they should complete the task of driving out the rest of the enemy, they could count on God for his faithful help.

The same applies to the church in its mission charge: our Lord promised to be with us, He promised that when we pray He will give us what we need and have joy in Him.  Sometimes we ask wrongly, with the wrong motives, we do not wait, we follow our own heads, etc; the Lord then does not answer our prayers.  But when it is really his will and we follow in obedience, He is always faithful provide what we need.

The question is, Do we even pray? and, Do we indeed find ourselves on the road to do his will in bringing the Good News to the world around us?  Is what we keep ourselves busy with what God wants us to be busy with?

Inheritance cold-shouldered 

You have to turn to Judges the first chapter to read this recurring phrase, “they did not drive out”.  Let’s take one verse:

When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. (Judges 1:28, NIV)

What did they do with those they did not drive out?  They made them into forced labourers.  Just a little handy to have the foreigner in your midst as a labourer.  Nothing wrong with a hook behind The bathroom door! But what did lead to?  Turn to chapter 2:10:

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10, NIV)

What was the next step?

They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger (Judges 2:12, NIV)

What was the result?

In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. (Judges 2:14, NIV)

God sent his angel to the people with this message:

Yet you have disobeyed Me. Why have you done this? (Judges 2:2–3, NIV)

Is this not on average the state of affairs in the church of our Lord Jesus today?  There are scores of churches in the big cities and bigger towns who struggle for survival.  Yet worldliness has crept into the pulpits, the activities of the congregation and the personal lives of the members.  Large church buildings go on the market to become coffee houses and even pubs, while the church has become bankrupt.  Trace the ministry of such a church and one would most probably find a ministry which started out as an outward-looking church which gradually switched to an inward-looking church.  Vision on the big picture of God’s Kingdom is lost, and on what spot and on what pew people sit in church has now become its mission.  Such church has no place in God’s kingdom and it has lost its reason to exist in this world.  The world has no respect for such a church.  Such a church has shunned its inheritance.

We should learn from the letters to the churches in Revelation. Ephesus lost its first love, and they grew cold in their fervour for the work of God, became clinically inward-looking, and Christ warned them that their lampstand might be removed, that is that they run the risk of ceasing to be church in God’s eyes.

Smyrna on The other hand, was a small and poor church, but fervent for the Lord.  “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” (Revelation 2:10, NIV)

Conclusion

My dear friend, where do we stand with our task of conquering this world for Christ?  And in Wee Waa?  How do we stack up against the standard of holiness of Christ for his church?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV)

No, the true church of Christ is “the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” (2 Corinthians 6:16, NIV)

The disobedience leads to worldliness; worldliness leads to weak witness, weak witness leads to invoking God anger upon us, which leads to our destruction.  Disobedience is like the hook behind the bathroom door:  it provides the foothold for the devil. As disciples of Christ we need to leave everything behind and follow Him

May God help us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 February 2014

Caleb – He trusted God all the way

Lessons from Joshua

Scripture Readings

  • Numbers 13:26-14:9
  • Joshua 14:6-15

Introduction

Dear brother and sister in the Lord Jesus Christ,

As most of you know by now, I served for some time as padre in the Presbyterian Inland Mission.  When working in the area of Wedderburn and Charlton in Victoria, someone asked me if I had been to the birthplace of John Flynn.  It was not far away, west of Bendigo in Moliagul. I jumped into my car and made my way there.  To stand next to the monument of a mostly forgotten man who changed the face of outback Australia, was just something.  Up the road were the remains of a timber cottage, which most probably was his birthplace.  Then, over the bridge were the ruins of the school where his father was the teacher, and across the road what remained of the church were they worshipped.

Me, a migrant to Australia stood on almost holy ground:  it was the closest I would ever get to the human being I admire for this dedication to the Gospel, his love for the Lord and his love for the people of the outback.

Caleb, the foreigner

A very interesting fact about Caleb is that he comes from a line of people who were not originally Israelites. Caleb is known as the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite.  Some time up the family tree of Caleb a son was born to Esau whose name was Kenaz, whose descendants became know as Kenizzites. During the course of history they occupied some parts of the south land, maybe in the southern districts of what eventually become known as the portion of Judah.  Some of Caleb’s family identified with the Jews and worshipped the God of Israel.  When exactly they ended up in Egypt during their 430 years sojourn there, we do not know, but the Bible tells about this young man, Caleb, who was amongst those who were now on their way back to the Promised Land.  About very time his name is mentioned in the Bible, it refers to the way in which he followed the Lord:  “with his whole heart”

He had heard of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It was somewhere there back in land of his forefathers that this Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried.  The place was Hebron.  Abraham has bought a piece of land there as a family burial plot in the cave of Machpelah.  There Abraham buried Sarah.  Later, his son Joseph, then governor of Egypt, brought the remains of Abraham to the same place to be buried.  It was the place where Isaac, Rebekah and Joseph were buried.  Still, with them the Israelites had the bones of Joseph whose wish it was to be buried there.

It is not impossible that Caleb, from his early years, had heard from his parents about the Anakites, a boorish and brute group of people, physically strong, almost gaintlike.  They at some stage occupied the town of Hebron and renamed it Kiriath Arba, after Arba, the greatest hero of the Anakites.  I think it was quite possible that Caleb had it in his mind, that if God would give the land to the Israelites as He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he wanted to reclaim it for God, and in the process he would go back to his roots:  as his father who turned away from idols to worship the true God, so Caleb would go back to the land of his forefathers in the southland of Judah to conquer it for the worship of the true God; but he would go back as member of a new family, that of the Covenant family of God, where the father of all who believe was buried.  He wanted to reclaim God’s land, he wanted to reclaim the honour of the One he serves wholeheartedly.

One of the scouts

Forty five years earlier he stood with Joshua before Moses to report on the Promised Land.  Moses had sent 12 scouts out to come back with an exploration report.  There was a minority report.  Ten reported about the land and how good it was, but they also reported about the people, specially the brutal, barbarous Anakites.

And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:32–33, NIV)

The minority report:

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:7–9, NIV)

What was the difference between these two reports.  Let’s hear the Lord’s own evaluation:

The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat Me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (Numbers 14:11–12, NIV)

Unbelief.  Contempt.  The of the Hebrew word translated here as contempt  root signifies the attitude whereby someone who provide a service is consciously treated with disdain.  There are verse in the Bible where this word is translated as blasphemy.

Some comments on the majority report and says, “Preachers can sometimes proclaim the truth, lying all the way and as such lead the church of God to unbelief.  Truth can sometimes be presented in such a way that believers begin to turn away from the truth.”  This is what happened here.

Last week we stood before the miracle of the sun stopping mid-air for about a whole day while the people of God routed the enemy and God fought for them.  Now, if for some reason I did not believe that God is omnipotent, that He does not hold the stars, the sun and moon in his hand to control it as He sees fit, and tried to present what happened there in such a way that it does not say what the Word of God explicitly says, I would have sown into your heart seeds of disbelief.  You would then very quickly down the track find yourself asking if God can indeed do what the Bible says.  And thousands of people walked away from the faith exactly because of that.

Two men who were once very close fiends got together and began Christian crusades which rocked the world.  Both of them were extremely talented people, and thousands came to hear them speak, many became Christians as a result of it.  One died 13 years ago – a complete and utter atheist.  The other, now also an old man, still stands firm in the faith.  The one who became and atheist wrote a book Farewell to God, wrote about a discussion he had with his good friend in which he said,

“… it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world was not created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a demonstrable fact.”

His friend replied:

“I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. I’ve discovered something in my ministry: When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘The Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me.”

His friend replied:

“You cannot do that. You don’t dare stop thinking about the most important question in life. Do it and you begin to die. It’s intellectual suicide.”

The truthful Bible preacher answered:

“I don’t know about anybody else,’ he said, ‘but I’ve decided that that’s the path for me.”

The man who became an atheist though he won the intellectual argument, but he lost his soul and died without God.  He was Charles Templeton.  His good friend is Billy Graham.

Caleb and Joshua, as one commentator puts it, saw little giants but believed in a great God and their hearts were strong in Him; the others knew a little God, saw giants, and their hearts melted in the face of the enemy.  In this they disdained God, blasphemed against Him, and displayed their unbelief.

Caleb, in the language of faith, said, “Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:9, NIV)

Something of the attitude and faith of Abraham lived in the heart of Caleb and Joshua.  Hear the what God said about Caleb,

Because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows Me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

The majority of the people listened to the majority report and never saw the Promised Land.

The Lord promised

Then, forty five years later, Caleb stood before his leader and good friend, Joshua.  They had fought the good fight, even after the Israelites crossed the Jordan and by the grace of God pulled of the impossible:

Joshua took the the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions.  Then the land had rest from war. (Joshua 11:23)

For more that five years Caleb fought with the other tribes to secure the land and depose their rulers.  But there was so much more to do.  But it seems that every tribe had to continue in each of the portions of land the Lord had given them to complete the task of utterly displace the enemy and instate the rule of god over the entire land.

Caleb was by now about the oldest male in Israel; the others died in the desert because of their rebellion, disbelieve and disdain with God.  He was with the men of Judah, because he was now reckoned to be one of that tribe.

He stood on the promises of God.  In his heart there was a living faith, the flame was still burning because God proved to be faithful to be with them and give them the ability to conquer the enemy.  So he stood there with this testimony:

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.’ (Joshua 14:9, NIV)

Because of the faithfulness of God he claimed:

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.” (Joshua 14:12, NIV)

By God’s appointment

It is so marvellous to see how God worked behind the scenes in all of this.  Each tribe got their allotment not be choice, but by God’s choosing.  God ordained that the bigger tribes would receive bigger areas.  But God would give them their inheritance as He would make it clear by lot.

So, although there might have been a personal desire of Caleb to inherit Hebron, or Kiriath Arba, it had to be confirmed by God’s choice. As from the tribe of Judah they indeed got that potion of land, but then for Caleb, he stood on the promises of God.

Why did he seek this?  God said so.  Caleb, you’re and old man now, maybe you should just look for a place to with a giant fig tree to sit under and enjoy the last days of your life reflecting on the goodness of God.  The fight is over.

No, the fight is not over, the battle lies ahead.  God’s glory and honour must be seen by the brutal, barbaric Anakites who though the were invincible.  Like a David in the face of the giant Goliath, Caleb stood for the glory of God.  No rest till that is done.  He got what he claimed in the Name of God and went head.  The Bible says:

In accordance with the Lord’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai, the sons of Anak. From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). (Joshua 15:13–15, NIV)

It is more than possible that under Caleb, once the Anakite giants were defeated, that the original name of Hebron was restored.  The Bible does not tell who buried the bones of Joseph, but one can only think that in some way Caleb was involved.  And I can only in my mind’s eye see Caleb at the cave of Machpelah recounting the words of Joseph, “God surely came to our aid.” (Genesis 50:25)

Conclusion

Lessons

Serve God wholeheartedly
  • trust and obey
  • with God’s help
  • no retirement
God puts a limit to the ability of our enemy
There’s a world to conquer

Conclusion

I stood at the birthplace of John Flynn and thanked God for a man who served Him wholeheartedly – he took the command of our Lord seriously and made it his business to claim the inland of Australia for his Lord.

In faith I also stand at the open grave of my Lord and Saviour who overcame hell and death.  And I can say, “God surely came to our aid.” I look up to see Him disappear into the clouds with the command to go to all nations.  And He called me into ministry to prepare his people for their task of evangelism and missions.

The question now is, do we follow Him like a Caleb, always wholeheartedly, faithfully, trusting in Him, single-mindedly, focused, never resting till we draw our last breath?  Blessed are those won the Master finds busy when He returns. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 February 2014

 

 

What would I say to gay people?

Good day!  You might have heard the song “Amazing Grace” a few times at funerals or on the radio.  Every time I hear the words, “… that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see” I thank God for his saving grace in my life.  I was lost, dead in my sin, on my way to eternal destruction, but God saved me in Jesus Christ.  I owe my life to Him, and I promised to tell others of his grace.

You say you are gay, and you feel Christians come down on you to condemn you.  I think I can understand where you are coming from, but I think there is a side of the story you need to understand, as much as I needed to quiet my mind and heart before God to hear his voice before I could be saved.

You see, we need to understand that we all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  The good news of the Bible is that although we are all born sinners (Ephesians 2:1-3), God provided a way out.  There is a wonderful verse in the Bible which says, “God id not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so whether we are awake [alive] of sleep [have died] we may live together with Him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)

We don’t need to feel rejected and alone; God made it possible to have fellowship with Him – and have joy and fullness of life (Joh 10:10).

Allow me to start at the beginning.

God created the universe perfectly and good according to His eternal plan. He did it for his glory (Psalm 19:1, Isaiah 40:12-26).  Everything was created for and through Jesus Christ, who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15-20)

In his holiness, righteousness and perfect design, God ordained living creatures to multiply and bring forth offspring to fill the earth (Genesis1:22, 28).  He therefore created mankind and animals as male and female (Genesis 1:27)

God’s command to multiply and fill the earth came before the rebellion and fall of man.  Man’s fall was not the result of sex, but the result of his rebellion against God’s explicit command.

What amazes me is that God, in some sense, made man to be “under creator”;  Adam also had sons “in his likeness” (Genesis 5:3).  We understand from the Bible that the act of sex is therefore not exclusively and primarily for man’s enjoyment; it was God’s design to continue his creation of the human race on earth.

When the Bible refers to sexual immorality (and this phrase occurs a lot of times in the Bible!) it describes sex, but practiced not for the purpose for which God ordained it.  He designed it to be enjoyed within the confines of God ordained marriage between a man and a woman. It is only when we do not keep this in mind, that some want to redefine marriage, or see sex as something we may practice at will, with whom we will.  But decisions like these, as any other way we may try to make our sins look like good choices, always bear fruit – bad fruit ultimately.

The story continues.  Man rebelled and sinned against God and had to hide from God (Genesis 3:8).  This is the first description of fear, loneliness and anxiety in history.  Sin separates from God, from another, and it alienates us from our environment – we now battle with thorns and thistles.  This is not what God originally had in mind for us.

Because God is holy, just and righteous He cursed man and the earth, but also left them with the promise that He will one day put things right again (Genesis 3:15).  He chased them out of paradise.  One can only imagine how lonely and rejected they felt.  Every sinner outside of the grace of Christ sometime or another feels this rejection.  We feel rejected by others who also feel rejected; loneliness leads to loneliness – it’s a vicious circle.

But there is the promise to make thing right again!

Adam and Eve, now under curse of sin, had to wear the consequences. To be fruitful and multiply bore the scar of sin:  children would still be born, but now with pain “greatly increased” (Genesis 3:16); the rest of creation would experience extreme difficulty in producing offspring (Genesis 3:17-19).

The first recorded sin after Adam and Eve seems to express sinful man’s fallen nature to try to reverse God’s command to multiply:  Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4). Only two chapters further is recorded gross sexual abuse, which led God to feel sorry that He had man or earth.  This led to the Flood which killed everything on earth, apart from Noah and his family (Genesis 6-8).

You would think that man would have learned from this experience.  No!  In the days of Abraham the people who lived in Sodom and Gomorrah became so sexually perverse that God’s wrath fell upon the cities, wiping them out (Genesis 19).  I think we should learn from these experiences.

As history unfolded God’s Church in the Old Testament, Israel, were constantly called to refrain from sexual immorality, as the surrounding heathen nations practiced (i.e. Leviticus 18).  God also declared sex with another man a sin (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Deuteronomy 23:18, etc).  This practice was not only sinful in the time of Israel, but is always contrary to the plan of God for giving man the privilege of sex as “under-creator” (Romans 1:24-27, 1Corinthians 6:9).

In fact, all forms of sexual immorality is forbidden, because “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body”. (1Corinthians 6:13)

But do you remember the promise God gave to Adam and Eve before they left paradise? Well, that happened. God always keeps his word!

In his mercy, love and grace God gave his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal live (John 3:16).

Whoever?  That includes me, and it includes you.  You might ask why.  I can’t really explain, other than to say, God loves sinners.

I have the privilege to tell you that those who receives Jesus Christ as the Saviour sent by God, receives life and can see the Kingdom of God, and can understand the things of the Kingdom (John 3).

Just as Mark wrote down the Gospel call of Christ then, I proclaim the saving words of Christ to you too: “‘The Time has come,’ He said, ‘The Kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:15)

So, there is just one way to come to God, and that is through Jesus Christ.  To repent is to confess your sin before Him, to turn away from what is not pleasing to God, to accept his grace in Jesus Christ, and to follow Christ, and to dedicate your life to Him. He came to take away darkness, to dispel loneliness and rejection, and to give sinners life to the full (John 10:10).

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, speaks of heaven as the New Jerusalem.  All those who heard the message of free grace in Christ will have a place in heaven.  However, those who do not repent from their sins, “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers and the sexually immoral, their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

Between that day and now all sinners, including the sexually immoral, are now called to repentance.  “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they might have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14)

If you think I come down on you, I ‘m not; I am concerned about your well-being for this world and the one to come.  If you think I single you out because you are gay, you are making a mistake.

But I have to honest in warning you, if you continue in your ways and to not repent and follow Jesus Christ, the Bible is clear, God is holy and He hates sin.

I leave you with this last thought.  Jesus did “not come into this world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned.” (John 3:17-18).

I pray that you will understand and accept God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

So by the way, always feel free to come to church. You will find a bunch of saved sinners there.  At least, this is what the church is supposed to be.  Like the others, till you have come to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, you will however not be able to enjoy full membership.  I’m sure will understand that.

 

The day the Lord listened to a man (2)

Lessons from Joshua

Scripture Readings

  • Luke 24:36-29
  • Joshua 10:1-15

Introduction

The Bible is not meant to be understood as a book with two separate major sections, the Old Testament dealing with Israel, and the New Testament dealing with the church, as if these sections have not much in common.  If read this way, what happened to Israel then remains in the past and becomes outdated.  Some people actually don’t read the Old Testament anymore for this reason.  The Bible is the book in which God reveals Himself right through history and is therefore one book with one central message.  We see Christ in the first book of the Bible, and what follows is a progressive revelation of God’s unfolding plan of redemption in Christ.  Israel is God’s church in the Old Testament; how God dealt with them has lessons for us.  The difference lies in the yet-to-be-revealed complete obedience of Christ, seen in glory when He was born, lived on earth and was taken to reign with God in heaven until He comes back again.  This is what we read about this morning:

Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, (Luke 24:45–46, NIV)

Our study of the book of Joshua helps us to understand the purpose of God for his church.  We read from Luke 24 this morning:

… and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:47–48, NIV)

God gave Israel the Promised Land from which they would then proclaim the great deeds of God and make known his great Name to all nations.  Joshua was the man God ordained to lead them in this conquest.  In the same way, but inexhaustibly more glorious and powerful, Jesus Christ led us into his Promised Land to provide for us the base for our operation as church.  He did so, because the Bible declares,

“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, (Luke 24:46, NIV)

He also fulfilled the promise to give to his church the Holy Spirit to give affect to their ministry of the message of Jesus Christ to all nations.

The conquest of Canaan under Joshua serves as an essential, yet limited, example for the church of Christ of how God leads his church to claim this world for Christ.  It contains so many lessons the church must learn from so it will not repeat the mistakes of Israel, and will benefit from the good things Israel did, and constantly look forward to the fulfilment of all the promises in Christ.

Leading up to the great day

I just want to briefly take you back to some of the first chapters of Joshua:

A gift from God

Canaan, the Promised Land, was a gift from God.  He had promised it to Abraham hundreds of years before they crossed the Jordan.  In the same way salvation, and the benefits of it, is a gift from God through Jesus Christ to all who believe.

An act of obedient faith

The crossing of the Jordan was a miracle which only God could perform; the only act on the side of Israel was to trust God, believe that He would keep his Word powerfully and save them.  In the same way, Jesus Christ is the only door through which we can go to enter eternal life.  It is an act of obedient faith to follow Him.

The battle belongs to God

Jericho stood as a sign to them that the battle is actually God’s: the powerful hand of God to crumbled the city walls, overshadowed the seeming foolishness of marching around the city for seven days, doing nothing apart from shouting and blowing their trumpets. Never are the attempts of the church to conquer this world with the Gospel something of its own business.  It remains the business of God t through Jesus Christ.

Unlimited grace of God

God’s grace is extended to sinners, even from other nations, who bows under his Kingship to worship Him.  This is exemplified in Rahab. The commander of the army of the Lord met Joshua in chapter 5:13-15 and Joshua asked him if he came for the Israelites or for the people of Jericho, he answered, “Neither”. God is on the side of those He wants to save; Israel happened to be in covenant with God and as such God would show his mercy to them to show mercy to others He would save.

It’s about the holiness of God

God’s holiness shines in the the episode with Ai.  Achan might have thought that the robe, silver and gold under his tent would have gone unnoticed – and who would have noticed, except that God knew! They lost the battle.  Why?  It had to do with God’s glory.  Joshua in his prayer in chapter 7:9 was only thinking about the “great name” of the Lord.  When he met with Achan the next day he said:

My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honour Him. (Joshua 7:19, NIV)

What follows in chapter 8 is to further stress the holiness of God, demanding full obedience.  The phrase “the Law of God” and other phrases referring to it occurs over and over again.  Also, twice there is reference to Israel, aliens and citizens:  God clearly includes into his plan of salvation those He wants.  That is the impetus for the conquest.  It is the driving force of missionary work.

The nations hear about God and He causes them to tremble

Like a refrain through the first chapters we hear how the enemy of God heard about his greatness and trembled before Him.  Today this message is still true.  We have to quote this verse to them:

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your  destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him. (Psalm 2:10–12, NIV)

Some errors of judgment might have immediate negative ramifications, but God can turn it into eternal blessing

The Gibeonites were saved by hook or by crook:  They got in be deception, the Israelites were deceived and they had to pay the price for it, but God used the whole episode to disclose his glory in the day of which it is written,

There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:14, NIV)

Outright offensive attack

At Jericho and Ai it seemed the leaders of the enemy were somewhat defensive:  they did not start the battle.  At Gibeon the situation is reversed.  Not always will the church find itself out there, leading the offence; no, more often than not it will be our enemy out attacking.

It was the five kings who heard about God, his commander, and his army marching forward, seemingly unstoppable.  They thought to draw al one in the sand.  The Gibeonites decided to break ranks and join the Israelites, which made them enemy number one of the rest of the coalition.  When in strife, they called upon Joshua for help, who marched all night up against the mountain range from the Jordan valley to attack the enemy at day break the next morning.

Victory was on Joshua’s side, but it did not come about because of Joshua.  God intervened for his people.

God causes confusion

And we now hear the word “confuse” used in reference to God’s way to secure delivery for his people and destruction for their enemy. God confused the enemy.  This is a typical word to describe God’s favour for his people and punishment on his enemy.  It is used for the Egyptian army trying to overcome the Israelites after they had left Egypt:

During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. (Exodus 14:24)

We also read in Exodus 23:27 about the promise of God as He sent his people into the Promised Land.

I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run.

We also come across this word in Deuteronomy 28:20.  Here the Lord promises his blessings upon the obedience of his people if they keep the covenant with their God.

But the LORD your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. (Deuteronomy 7:23)

This is what happened further down the history of Israel.

Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. 1 Samuel 14:20 (NIV)

However, if God’s people would turn away from Him and forget their covenant with Him, listen to what would happen:  God would become their enemy.

The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. (Deut 28)

The term “destruction” is nothing less than an action of God based on his covenant promises:  positively it meant that God would intervene for the salvation of his people; negatively, it describes God wrath on his enemies – all based on the faithfulness of God to his word and promises.

Well, it happened that day under the leadership of Joshua.  God intervened for his people in a fantastic way. God hurled stones upon the enemy and more were killed because of that than were killed by Joshua’s men. Stones?  Were they hailstones?  Some translations put it that way, but there is nothing in the Hebrew text to say it was hailstones. All the other places in the Scriptures were this word is used it does not describe hailstones, but just stones.  It is not unrealistic to think of a massive hailstorm because that is what usually falls out of the air in the form of stones.

But within the context of this chapter where God steered all the elements, including the sun on a course for his glory, would it be impossible to think that God opened the heavens and hurled down upon them meteorites or some other form of celestial debris, from heaven.  I think so.  Just further down the chapter we read about another “impossibility”:  the sun stopped for about 12 hours.  Were God’s people not witness to a fantastic and extraordinary display of God’s confusing power over his enemy while He kept his people safe from harm under his protection?  The blocking of the waters of the Dead Sea, and also the blocking off of the waters of the Jordan were similar “impossibilities” designed for the display of God’s almighty power for the salvation of his people.

Even more spectacular about this event is this:  All of this came about because Joshua dared to bow down to the living God and humbly asked for the Lord to hold back the sun and moon in their ways.

Is it possible?

Is all of this possible?  Can we believe it?  It is scientifically possible to prove it?  What does it tell us about our march upon our Promised Land, to have victory upon victory because we have another Joshua, now another Saviour, Jesus.  He who declared that all power on heaven and on earth belongs to Him!

There are as possible “solutions” for the stopping of the sun and moon as there are commentaries about this paragraph.  Some say God answered Joshua’s prayer by sending thick cloud to cover the sun from heat so that the Israelites could continue in battle.  But why is the moon included in this event if it only means covering up?  Others think that the mention of both the moon and the sun might have had an impact on the enemy who for some reason were superstitious about seeing both the moon and the sun in the same skies.  Others, and maybe there could be value in the argument, argues that the reference to the sun and moon in verse 12-13 actually comes from a poem, and therefore the reference might by poetic.  Sometimes the Bible uses these expression to personify trees and mountains:  the trees clap their hands, and the mountains walks into the seas.  It might be true, but what was the prayer of Joshua then, what did he ask for if he had some poetic phrase in mind?  Besides, the last half of verse 14 does not come from the book of Jashar in poetic form.  It just states, “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.” What a remarkable day!

There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:14, NIV)

If you had the forces of nature in your hand, and you could do anything to answer the prayer of your people whom you love, would you not just command the sun to stop?  God did.  And I believe this with all my heart. Science does not need to be able to proof the impossibilities for me.

Jesus Christ, our Saviour

Does it need to be scientifically proven before it can be believed?

His miraculous birth

What about his conception?  A man born from a woman without another man’s intervention?  Where does faith come in?  And if we don’t believe one part of the Scriptures (like the part in Joshua) what then about the rest.  If we don’t believe this part about our salvation and Saviour, what then does the future hold for us?

His crucifixion 

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. …  And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Mat 27:45-53)

Has this ever happened before?  Can it be scientifically proven? His cry on the cross to forgive, his life which made the temple sacrifice obsolete, his death and his resurrection from the dead, are all “impossibilities” to those who do not believe; for those who believe in Him it unlocks eternity as it unlocks the padlocks which hold the chains of sin – they know what is impossible for man is possible for God.

His coming again

“Immediately after the distress of those days ”‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’  “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:29-30)

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev 6:12-17)

Conclusion

We are soldiers in God’s army.  We have a mighty Saviour.  We can take Him on his Word.  His Word is infallible; He is omnipotent.  He saved us.  To Him belong all power and might.  He commands you to become involved in the spiritual warfare.  Trust Him, the new Joshua, to save and to help. Follow Him in the train of his victory.  Take up the full armour of Christ.

Next time we will look at the life of a man who took God on his word, faced the enemy, conquered them, and died in peace.

AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 February 2014

 

 

 

 

Saved by hook or by crook

Lessons from Joshua

Scripture Readings

  • Joshua 9:1-27
  • John 16:17-24

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

In preparing a series from the book of Joshua I am forced to preach the Word of God about the Gibeonites.  I really wanted to get to the glories of God’s triumphal victory over the kings of Canaan in chapter 10, while I had, and maybe still have, questions about the place of the Gibeonites in this story.  But point is, the triumphant battle over the kings of Canaan was ignited by the Gibeonites.  It was the Gibeonites who got into trouble with the rest of the Canaanite kings because of their treaty with the Israelites, and Joshua’s decision to protect them from destruction by these kings which led to the Bible declaring, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man.” (Joshua 10:14)

So before we can get to this day, and what it means for the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, let’s ponder the Word of God from Joshua 9.  I apologise for announcing different readings for today.

Let’s pray for the Spirit’s illumination of our minds.

The title for this sermon is, “Saved, by hook or by crook!

Not the norm

If anyone would deduce from this passage in the Word of God that the Gibeonites is the norm for getting saved, he would make a real mistake.  What happened here in Joshua 9 is not the description of the ordinary way of being included into the Kingdom of God.  The lesson, I think, we should take from this chapter in the Word of God is not how the Gibeonites got into the sphere of God’s saving grace, but more to learn from the mistakes from Israel.  I’ll explain.

Before the forces of Israel marched on to Jericho the spies met Rahab.  Her past was chequered, having been a Canaanite prostitute,  but the Bible records a marvellous verse.  Rahab confessed:

The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Joshua 2:11, NIV)

This describes the conversion of Rahab to worship God and Him alone.  Because of this fact the men of Israel made an oath to spare her and her family when God would destroy the city.

Up to this point Israel acted in good faith with the command of the Lord:

… and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. (Deuteronomy 7:1–2, NIV)

Visitors from “afar”

Now Israel one day received some visitors. Arriving with their clothes in tatters, their footwear worn out, and what was left of their food, mouldy and dry.  They looked like coming from afar.  This was all a facade to fool the Israelites. They were actually neighbours who have travelled less than a day.

Under false pretences they acted like helpless strangers in need of protection.  What actually happened is that they were in some sort of alliance with other kings, most probably to stick together when one of them was attacked by some foreign army.  Gibeon was part of that coalition, but they figured out that they would be the next in line for destruction by the army of Israel.  They also did their sums and came to the conclusion that the forces of the alliance combined will not withstand the army of the Lord.  They were correct.  Their plan was to seek refuge with Israel:  if you can’t beat them, join them!

They indeed heard about the wondrous deeds of salvation of God, but there is no evidence of worship of this God of Israel – not like Rahab.  They were merely looking for a way to save their skins.

The leaders of Israel raised the possibility that they were indeed actually Hivites and would therefore be neighbours – to make a treaty with them would be to disobey the commandment of the Lord. “No, we are your servants!”, was their reply.  They were saved, by hook or by crook.

The “mistake” of Israel

It seems, as I said earlier, that this episode was included into the book of Joshua not to first of all tell us about the deception of the enemy; rather, this episode is included to point out where Israel went wrong so that they would not repeat the same mistakes.  We as the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ in our task in taking the message of salvation to the nations can learn from them.  We’ll get to that later.

We read in verse 14:

The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. (Joshua 9:14, NIV)

Collectively the leaders and Joshua believed the story of the Gibeonites and disobeyed the command of the Lord to not make a treatise with a godless nation. It was all ratified by binding oath.  But strangely enough there is not a direct indication in the Word that God condemned this action. In favour of Israel one could say that they entered the treaty not because they were looking for it, but because they were deceived.  Besides, the covenant between them and the Gibeonites was not one between two equal partners; it was an agreement where Israel could dictate the rules and conditions.  If the Gibeonites broke covenant they would be destroyed like all the other nations. They were not openly and darlingly compromising their relation with God as his covenant people.

With the luxury of hind site one can ask, “Was this really a mistake?”  Well, yes and no.  If they did not do it God would still have given them victory as He promised; there was no need for them to do it.  But fact is it was risky, exposing them to the very reason why God commanded them to not do such a thing:

“… for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices … they will lead your sons to do the same. (Exodus 34:15–16, NIV)

The result of this “mistake”

When three days later they found out that they were deceived, they sent a delegation, but they did not attack them.  Being men of God, they kept their word and did not violate the treaty.  However, they did call them to account, but it certainly compromised their position as the people of God who needed to obey Him more and above all things and everything.  There was disunity between the Israelites as to how they should handle the issue.  Some wanted them dead, and they were right – that was the command of the Lord.  But what about their arrangement with the Gibeonites – those who call themselves children of God do not come back on their word!  How do you get out of this predicament?

It calls for a man with principles to keep direction in times like these.  Joshua was such man.  The deceivers were called in and Joshua gave the verdict: grace not to kill them; faithfulness not to brake covenant with them; righteousness to apply the Word of God; commitment to subdue them to the service of the Lord.  So verse 26 states:

So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. (Joshua 9:26–27, NIV)

Joshua stood, as a type of Christ, between the righteousness of God and the demand of the Law.  But the existence of the Gibeonites would only be secured for as long as they served the Lord at his altar by cutting the wood for the sacrifice and carrying the water for the purification of the altar.

The outcome of this “mistake”

Chapter 10 starts with a verse which is actually the same as chapter 9.  The only difference between those verses is that the kings mentioned here understood that Gibeon walked out of the alliance to join Israel.  The purpose of their meeting now was not to join forces to fight against their actual enemy, Israel, but to punish their former ally, which was an important member of their group:  a royal city bigger than Ai has broken allegiance to join the enemy.  From our perspective, that was a good thing: their eyes were taken off the ball to prevent the advance of their adversary and they became a house divided.

Gibeon, now in alliance with Israel, seems to understand the implication of siding with the people of God:  when on God’s side, one becomes enemy number one of the forces of evil.

What now?  You can trust those who had all reason to kill you but kept word and let you live.  So they sent word to Joshua:

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. (Joshua 10:6, NIV)

After receiving assurance from God that he would have success, Joshua marched up against the kings and after an all night trek he attacked them at dawn.  This turned out to be a fantastic outcome for the Lord and Joshua, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:14, NIV)

We will look at that next week in more detail.  When they went to Israel to deceive them into a covenant with them, their knowledge of God was what they had heard of Him of the past, but now, here in their own city, they experienced exactly how wonderful and powerful the mighty hand of God can save.  They saw how God took over, led the army of Israel and even hurled thunder and stones from the skies to destroy His enemy – all while He did not turn his anger at them for their deception!

In other words:  they experienced first hand both the power and the grace of God. This experience would make them later discover the holiness of God as they served around the holy place of God as see the demand of God to save them from their sins.

What do we learn from this a Church of Christ?

We need to be diligent in doing God’s command

One of the lessons from Joshua here is that God’s command should and must be our priority.  It seems to have been a mistake of Joshua to take the word of the Gibeonites over the word of God.  They did not enquire of God.

How do we enquire of the Lord?  Two things:  by reading and obeying his Word, and by being diligent in prayer.  Now, when we mention these things we understand that it should be true of each of us as members of the Church of Christ, but it surely means that it should be true as a body of believers:  together we should study the Word, be under the discipline of the Word and be guided by the Word; together we should be praying for God’s direction and guidance.  We are not a bunch of individuals here, we are members of the body of our Lord.  In this we should be united, of one spirit and mind, aimed at the same targets and aims.  Paul writes:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, (Philippians 1:27–29, NIV)

We should be diligent in keeping guard

We all know that not everyone who walks in the door of a church or who wants join the membership does so because of the purest of intensions. We cannot always see the hart of such a person, but we should always be on our guard to keep the church of our Lord pure.  Never should anyone with his own ideas be allowed to become part of our membership.  Never must the church of Christ compromise it Gospel of redemption in Christ.  Never must the church of Christ ally itself with the world.  Our survival does not lie in seeking to comply with the standards of this world, but to remain faithful to the Word of God.

Our faithfulness should be known to the world

There are many stories and examples of how the church of our Lord in the past stuck to its principles, and yet it was honoured for its faithfulness.  Once we give our word, and that word is in alignment with the Bible, we should stick to it.  There is nothing as distasteful to the world as Christians who do not keep their word, or a church that cannot be trusted.  Joshua could easily have turned his back on the Gibeonites because of their deceit, but he kept his world and helped when they were in need.

God can use our seeming mistakes to the glory of his Name

There would be some Gibeonites who for selfish and short-sighted gain entered into the treaty with Israel, but surely, there would be others who got to know the Lord, not by hearing only, but by experience.  They would never after this episode dream of worshipping another God or entering into a treaty with the enemy.  In the same way, may we pray that whoever join the worship of God, for whatever reason, will come to know Him on the basis of what He has done in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, that they would meet Him at the altar of his holiness, maybe first as slaves,  but later on as saved sinners – may it be true of all of us.

Jesus, our Joshua

Not only did Joshua save the Gibeonites from the Israelites in their pursuit of righteousness, but our Joshua, Christ, the son of God, stood in our place to save us for that all-demanding righteousness by becoming our righteousness.  Were it not for Him, all of us deserve to be woodcutters and water carriers at the altar of God, but He became the wood, the water, the sacrifice, the altar, the priest – everything so that we may go free to serve our Lord to his glory.

When in need we can also now cry out, “Come quickly and save us.  Help us, the forces of hell hell have joined forces against us.”  We have the answer of our Lord such a prayer, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24, NIV)

 

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 January 2014