OCTOBER 18, 2009


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            It does not take much for directives, for information, to get garbled.  For example, a number of years ago, in 1986 to be exact, the president of a large corporation issued the following directive to his vice presidents: 


            Tomorrow at approximately 9:00 A.M., Halley’s comet will be visible in this area, an event that occurs only once every 75 years.  Have all the employees assemble in the company parking lot and I will explain this rare phenomenon to them.  In case of rain, we will not be able to see anything so assemble them in the cafeteria and I will show them films of it.


            The vice presidents sent the following message to division managers:


            By executive order of the company president, tomorrow at 9:00 A.M. Halley’s comet will appear above the company parking lot.  If it rains, assemble all personnel in the cafeteria where the phenomenon will take place, something that occurs only once every 75 years.


            The division managers passed along the directive to the department managers.


            By executive order of the company president, tomorrow at 9:00 A.M. the phenomenal Halley’s comet will appear in the cafeteria.  In case of rain in the parking lot, the president will give an order, something which takes place every 75 years.


            The department managers said to the section heads,


            Tomorrow at 9:00 A.M. the company president will appear in the cafeteria with Halley’s comet, something which occurs every 75 years.  If it rains, the president will order the comet into the parking lot.


            And finally, the section heads communicated the following to the employees:


            When it rains tomorrow at 9:00 A.M. the phenomenal 75 year old company president, accompanied by his girlfriend Halley, will drive his comet through the parking lot.


            If you think that message got garbled, you won’t believe what happened to the Israelites.  Everything was going so well.  The Promised Land was divided.  The tribes of Israel were taking ownership of their land, and then it happened.  A vicious rumor spread through the nation, bringing the newly-formed nation to the brink of a civil war.  It’s all contained in the 22nd chapter of Joshua.  The chapter is a story of transition, rumor and rumor control.  We’ll begin with the transition.

            Transitions can be easy or hard, welcomed or forced, expected or unexpected.  When we first moved here from California, that was an expected, but a difficult transition.  We had to make new friends, adopt to a little different culture (thankfully), to tell the truth, the first year or so here we got a little homesick.  We had some good days, what you might call “Praise God” days, and not so good days, what you might call “Oh, God!” days.  Now, we can’t imagine living anywhere else, but at first, it was a tough transition.

            A much easier transition, and much more welcomed transition, was moving into the grandparenting stage of life.  As you know, grandchildren are God’s reward to parents for not killing their children.  It’s a wonderful stage in life, a transition to welcome.

            So there are easy transitions, and hard transitions, welcomed transitions and dreaded transitions, and what we have in the 22nd chapter of Joshua is a happy transition.  The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, finally get to go home.


            Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and said to them, “You have observed all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed me in all that I have commanded you; you have not forsaken your kindred these many days, down to this day, but you have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God.  And now the Lord your God has given rest to your kindred, as he promised them; therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan.


            These three tribes have been away from home for seven years.  It took that long to clear out the Promised Land, and now they can go back to the east side of the Jordan River to be with their families.  You might recall from earlier in the series how these three tribes, two and a half tribes actually, had grown tired of wandering in the wilderness, and so they asked Moses for land on the east side of the Jordan so they could finally settle down, and Moses agreed to their request with one major condition.  When it came time to cross the Jordan and fight for the Promised Land, these three tribes needed to contribute fighting men to the campaign.  Well, they did, and now they can go home.  It was a welcomed transition.  Also, it was a bittersweet transition because they had fought alongside their Israeli brother for seven years, and it was tough to say good-bye, but all in all this is a proud moment for them.  They had served well, and now they get to go home.

            Unfortunately, this wonderful, celebrative transition quickly turns sour.  Let’s turn to the second part of the story - rumors.  Verse 10.


            When they came to the region near the Jordan that lies in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of great size.  The Israelites heard that the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh had built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region near the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the Israelites.  And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.


            Isn’t that something?  Just days before the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh were bosom buddies, honored war heroes, and in the space of a few days they are potential arch enemies.  What triggered the change?  Simple.  A rumor.  An inaccurate report had been passed along from person to person to person.

            The rumor centered around an altar built by the Eastern Israelites before they crossed back over the Jordan River.  They built this altar to the glory of God, so that people on the western side of the Jordan might not forget what the people on the east side of the Jordan had done for them.  It was more of a place of reminder rather than a place of worship, sort of like the World War II Memorial or the Vietnam War Memorial or the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C.  Unfortunately, a rumor spread that the altar was built in the honor of another God, not the God of Israel, and fearing a pollution of the land, and believing these Eastern Israelites were involved in false worship, the Western Israelites readied themselves to go to war against their brethren and sistern on the east side of the Jordan.  A false rumor set brother against brother and sister against sister.

            I’m reminded of a rumor started here in Nebraska a number of years ago involving Proctor and Gamble.  The rumor appeared in an Omaha World Herald article 25 years ago, and the headline read, “Company Fights ‘Devil-Trademark’ Rumor.”  I want to read the first few paragraphs of the article.


            Proctor and Gamble Co. has started a campaign in Nebraska and several other areas to put down a recurring rumor that the company’s corporate trademark is a symbol of devil worship, a company spokesperson said Wednesday.

            Milli Richardson, spokesperson at the company’s Cincinnati, Ohio, headquarters, said the company has received 203 telephone calls through September from people in Nebraska who say they have heard the rumor.

            Ms. Richardson said the company has been troubled since early 1981 with the rumor that its moon-and-stars trademark is the devil’s symbol and that one of its executives said on national television talk show that the company’s profits were going to Satan.


            By the way, no executive ever made such a statement, and the trademark, which included 13 stars and the man in the moon, was a patriotic representation of the original 13 colonies with the man in the moon being added in 1851.  Let me finish.


            The rumor-mongering hit a peak in 1982, she said, when the company received nearly 72,000 calls from people asking about the report.


            Thirteen years later in 1995 when my daughter was in college at Florida State, I received an e-mail from her.  She asked in the e-mail if I had heard that Proctor and Gamble was promoting devil worship? 

            If the person next to you has fallen asleep will you wake him or her up?  I don’t want them to miss what I am going to say next.  Wake them up.  OK, here’s what I want to say.  One of the hot button issues in churches today is the issue of the ordination of gays to ministry.  Now, that I’ve got your attention listen to these facts.  The bible mentions homosexuality five times.  The bible mentions it two times in the Old Testament and three times in the New Testament.  Five times.  That’s all.  The improper use of one’s tongue, however, is mentioned twelve times in the Book of Proverbs alone, and five times in the Book of James, and nine times in the Book of Psalms.  And I only researched those three books.  I didn’t have time to check out the entire bible.  In other words, gossip, the improper use of one’s tongue was a much bigger concern to biblical writer’s than homosexuality.  Hopefully, it is to us as well.

            Then thirdly, this is not only a story of transition and rumor, but it is also a story about rumor control.  Verse 13.


            Then the Israelites sent the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and with him the ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel.  They came to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half tribe of Manasseh and they said to them, “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this treachery that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away today from following the Lord, by building yourselves an altar today in rebellion against the Lord?’”


            That’s the accusation the question.  Now listen to their response.  Verse 21.


            Then the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, “The Lord, God of gods!  The Lord, God of gods!  He knows; and let Israel know!  If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith toward the Lord, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord; or if we did so to offer burnt offerings of well-being on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance.  No!  We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?  For the Lord has made the boundary between us and you, the Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the Lord.’  So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord.”


            The Israeli leaders did a terrific thing here.  Before acting on the rumor, they checked it out.  They went to the source and clarified the purpose of the altar.  In light of this story, let’s close with two quick guidelines for dealing with rumors in our time.

            Number one, when we hear a story, a rumor, I hope we check it out.  I hope we go to the source, to the person or group it’s about.  I had this happen a number of years ago while in Florida.  We had two worship services and we decided to add a third worship service and make one of the three services a praise service or contemporary service.  Just one of the three.  Someone heard a rumor related to the change and came to me to check it out.  They asked, “I heard that we are going to make all three of our services praise services.  Is that true?”  I told him, “No, it’s not true.  We are just going to make one of the three a praise service,” and I appreciated that man coming to me to check out the rumor, to see if it was true.  Remember that old saying, “Any faucet can turn on water on -- only a good one can turn it off?”  Well, that guy turned off the faucet.

            Number two, warn rumor spreaders.  Tell them, “Don’t tell me this unless you know for sure it’s true, because I’m going to check with the source, and tell him or her who told me this rumor.”  If we named our sources, a lot of rumors would stop.

            In closing I am reminded of something Maxey Jarman did. Jarman built a company from 75 to 75,000 employees, and he was a lover of Christ, and a man of great spiritual insight, and whenever a gossiper would whisper to him, “Maxey, I don’t want you to breathe this to another soul,” Maxey would say, “Then don’t tell it to me.  It loads up my memory to remember what I’m not supposed to say!”

            Maxey refused to play the gossip game.  Let’s refuse to play it as well.