Just realized I hadn’t gotten around to posting the rest of the Joshua introduction…
“Take the land” can sound a bit militant and unsavory. We don’t even popularly in our culture view the pilgrims and explorers who came to this country and “took the land” as heroes to be lauded. They’re more like distant relatives from our past for whom have to apologize, at best.
The call to “take the land” is not a call to a new jihad for Jesus, a militant uprising in which we evict our neighbors and take over the world like some predictable James Bond villain (fiendish laugh included, preferably with waxed black mustache, a nervous twitch, and, of course, a nerfarious white cat in his lap). Let us recall that the primary image of the kingdom of God presented by Jesus (our Joshua) was not a giant nail pounded into the earth by a cosmic hammer, but rather that of a farmer sowing seed in the field. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of small seeds extravangantly, scandalously cast about in the midst of scavenging birds, weeds, and thorns. It is the tiniest bit of yeast hidden in the mother of all lumps of dough. It is the smallest of all seeds (commonly so regarded in Jesus’ culture) – the mustard seed – issuing in a plant large enough for birds to nest in.
“The good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom,” Jesus said in one of his kingdom parables (see Matthew 13:38).
As good seed, we don’t root out or evict anyone. We grow where we are planted, right along with tares. God harvests. The kingdom challenge – the challenge ultimately from both Joshuas – is two-fold: to be planted, to find where in his world you are meant to be rooted and then to grow where you are planted.
So what does this look like in practical terms?
Landa Cope in her book The Old Testament Template tells of channel surfing one day and coming upon a program featuring a British journalist who was testing the proposition that if many Christians live in the same community they will significantly impact that community for good. The greater the Christian presence, the greater the benefit to the society at large. He then proposed to look a the most “Christianized” city in America to see how the influence works out practically. Defining “Christianized” as largest percentage of the community being self-identified believers who regularly attend church, he came up with Dallas, Texas. He then looked at statistics and studies on crime, safety on the streets, the justice and penal systems, health care, infant mortality rate, education, jobs, housing, economics, homelessness, etc.
The resulting profile was appalling.
Cope was devastated by the conclusions. As she states, “No one would want to live in a city in that condition. The crime, the decrepit social systems, the disease, the economic discrepancies, the racial injustice, all disqualified this community from having an adequate quality of life. And this was the ‘most Christianized’ city in America. I wanted to weep.”
And for Cope the worst was yet to come.
The journalist then took this devastating picture of a broken community to well-known pastors and Christian leaders and simply asked them, “As a Christian leader, what is your response to the condition of your community?” To a man they gave the same essential answer: “This is not my concern. I am a spiritual leader.”
She doesn’t quote the verse at this point, but it’s what leaps out at me as I read this: “You are the salt of the earth (land). But if the salt has lost its saltiness with what can it be salted? It is then good for nothing except to be thrown outside and trampled underfoot by men (at least it can perhaps serve as rock salt on slippery winter landscapes – see Matthew 5:13).”
The challenge of Joshua, if we have ears to hear, is to take the land; to be the “salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this land” (Matthew 5:13, Message) – salt that actually makes it out of the shaker; to be the light “bringing out the God-colors in the world” (Matthew 5:14, Message). As the Message version goes on to say, “God is not a secret to be kept; we’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives.”
That is taking the land.