This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
A Fearsome People
Did you ever wonder why God told Joshua to send the spies into Jericho? Their information would not be needed because God would miraculously make the walls of Jericho fall down and the city would be defeated by God’s direct power. They didn’t even have a battle plan that new information would help. The only reason I can guess for sending the spies was so the Jews would know about Rahab. Rahab had become different from the others in the city who worshiped Molech, the god of infant sacrifice. Molech was a horrible god and his idea of good and evil had become the standard for the people of the land. That evil was so deeply ingrained in the people that God had order them destroyed so their evil would not be passed on to the Jews and others in the land. However, Rahab had come to believe in God and told the spies, “. . .the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” When Rahab came to believe that about God, the Lord sent spies from the Jews to find her and rescue her from the coming destruction.
The spies went into the land and went to her house. She told them how the people of Jericho had heard that the Jews had totally destroyed the tribes on the east side of the Jordan and how they had crossed the Jordan by God’s backing up the waters of the river. She said the people of Jericho were melting with fear because of the Jews and she asked to be spared when they conquered the land. The spies said that she and her household would be spared if she tied the scarlet cord she had used to help the spies escape. The spies required that Rahab also make an open response to God. She did as she was told to do and she and whole family were spared.
This is an amazing story of the love and special care of God. God went to all that trouble just to spare one prostitute who came to put her faith in Him and the story didn’t stop with just her being spared. The Gospel of Matthew lists the lineage of Jesus: four women are mentioned in that lineage and Rahab is one of them. The prostitute from Jericho who had once worshiped the horrible god of Molech was now in the lineage of Jesus. Not only was her life spared, but once she put her faith in God she became a different person. The story of Rahab shows us the tender caring of God. He found one person in a large city who wanted to turn from evil and spared her.
Another thing we can see when looking at these events is how openly the Jews are depending on God. They do not have clever or extensive plans as to how they will conquer the land. As far as I can see, they didn’t have much more of a plan than to go in and possess the land, depending completely on God’s guidance and power. They didn’t even have a plan as to how to cross the Jordan River. Yet, God not only got them across but did it in such a miraculous way that He struck fear into the hearts of the inhabitants of the land. God dried up the waters of the Jordan River just as He had done with the Red Sea so they could get out of Egypt. That plan showed how powerfully God was with the Jews. The basic plan of the Jews was to depend on God to show them what to do. The Jews did not have great military strength or large numbers that would cause the people of Jericho to be frightened of them. Yet, they struck fear into the hearts of their enemies because their enemies saw the power of God at work in them.
In today’s Church, I don’t think we depend on the power of God for much of anything. I often get phone calls from groups trying to sell programs they say are sure fire ways to get a church to grow. I don’t ever remember getting a word of encouragement that we should depend on God for our growth. We usually make our plans as to what we think will work and hope that God might bless what we plan to do. The plans we make are usually based on things that have already worked in the business world or other places in our world. They are not plans that have any real need for God. If those plans do work out, then those outside the Church admire our brilliance and leadership ability; however, they don’t notice anything about our Lord. Very seldom do people outside the Church look at what we have done and see the power of God at work in us as the people of Jericho did when they looked at the Jews. In the Church, we don’t usually even leave much room for God to work. We don’t want to take the chance that He might not be with us in what we are doing, so we don’t make plans for Him to work.
I can now look back on thirty-two years of ministry in one place. I see things that worked well and things that didn’t. I am amazed at how few things that worked well came from brainstorming sessions where we decided what we should do. A few weeks ago, I was eating at the Huddle House in Cullowhee and an older man who had been sitting near me came up to me and said, “Ask Bill, right?” I told him that he must have been around here for a while to remember my old radio show. I did the “Ask Bill” show on WRGC on Tuesday mornings from eight to eight-thirty. That was a good time because many would listen while driving to work or taking their kids to school. The show was on every week for eighteen years, until the new station owners wanted all religious programing on Sunday mornings. They also jacked up the rates so we could not afford them.
The show had a very simple format. I just started talking about the Lord and people would call in and ask me questions. It was surprisingly popular and I still have people who never had a connection with our church or any other church tell me they regularly listened to the show. You might wonder how we came up with the idea to do that show. You might think we did research as to what was needed in the community and then laid groundwork for how to start a radio show. The beginning really wasn’t that complicated.
Livingston Kelley, David Schulman and I used to meet for breakfast every Friday morning at the Parkway Restaurant. David is Jewish, but curious about the Christian faith. He asked me many questions and I would do my best to honestly answer what he wanted to know. He liked my answers and said I should do something like that on the radio. David had a clothing store and did a lot of radio advertising. I had never done radio before but it seemed like a good idea to try, especially since there was only one radio station that most of the people in the community could get on their radios. We had a captive audience. A member in the church gave some money to help get it started and the session agreed that it was a good idea. That was the beginning of an eighteen-year-long radio show that has been off the air for several years; yet, it is still remembered. I’m not sure how it all happened, but most likely it was God who put that together. I know I didn’t come up with the idea to do it.
As I look back over my years here, I don’t see great goals being set and then being met. Even the building expansion just sort of happened. All I did was to make a chart of our morning attendance and on the graph project when the sanctuary would be full. People who had good organizational skills thought about that and began to make plans to expand the building. More and more people talked about it and the congregation soon formed a building committee that got us started; then, another committee finished the building. I’m not very good at administering things like that but others who were good did a great job and we now not only have a larger and more attractive building, but it was also paid for well ahead of schedule. The real person responsible for that was also God because He was the one who put it all together.
Another area where God did His work was in bringing more young families into the church. A few years ago, there were hardly any children coming up for the children’s sermonette. We discussed and tried all sorts of things to attract more young couples and didn’t really come up with anything that worked. It was almost like God was waiting for us to stop trying and then He started bringing young couples with small children. A couple of months ago, I added up the number of young children in our church. We now have 148 members in our church and 24 children under the age of seven. That is an amazing work of God. If someone asked me how we attracted so many young couples I would just have to say that God did it. He is the one who always does the important things.
When I look back over my time here, I see that the most important things we did, did not come from ourselves or from my leadership but those things simply came from God. The things we do that really make a difference in people’s lives always come from God. We need to learn to trust Him to be at work in our midst. When we are simply going about the business of helping people come to know Jesus and to know Him better, we then see where God is working and simply join in with what He is already doing. The people of Israel were not that strong on their own. Jericho had incredibly fortified walls. The Jews should not have had any fear of being conquered by the Jews. However, the people of Jericho saw the power of God at work among the Jews and that terrified them.
Today some denominations make pronouncements about what they think governments should do and no one outside the Church pays any attention because no one sees the power of God at work in the Church. They are right to ignore us because we don’t have much money or other power that comes from this world. We should have the power of God, but we don’t want to use it. It is only when people see that power that they begin to notice us, and then notice God. The people of Israel depended on God’s power for what they did and they were not only noticed, but they struck terror into the hearts of the evil followers of Molech. They were a fearsome people to the evil people of this world.
As we put together what we do as a Church of Jesus Christ today, we need to make sure we don’t leave out the need for the power of God. If we aren’t dependent on God’s power, no one care what we do. We may need to leave so much room for God to work that we will look stupid if He doesn’t do what we are depending on Him to do. Next week, we plan to look at the attack on Jericho. From the world’s perspective, I can’t imagine a much more stupid plan for attacking a city than marching around it and then blowing a horn. If God hadn’t been in that plan, the Jews would have looked ridiculous. Maybe we need to trust God’s work in our midst so much that if He isn’t there we will also look stupid. At any rate, we need to make our plans expecting God to work in us. If we don’t see Him in our plans, then we really can’t expect anyone else to see Him.