Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ruth 3 - Seeking a Husband

In today's culture, marriage has been attacked and many deceive themselves into believing that marriage is either a burden to be avoided or an unnecessary institution. In Ruth's time, they recognized that the man does more for the woman than merely provide children. The man provided for the woman a security and as a kinsman-redeemer, Boaz would also provide a service to Elimilech by standing in his place to carry on the family legacy. Boaz would provide lasting comfort and security for Naomi and Ruth. 

Naomi instructs Ruth on the customs of Israel and what to do. She goes to Boaz After he has bedded for the night and lays at his feet as a sign of submission. When he wakes in the middle of the night and notices her there, she informs him that he is her kinsman-redeemer and asks him to take her as his wife. Boaz is amazed at Ruth's submission to the customs of Israel. She could have sought a much younger man, but Ruth honored tradition and she demonstrated remarkable integrity. Ruth's character would make her attractive to the man. Boaz also had demonstrated piety and  grace to Ruth, traits that would make for an excellent husband. 

In seeking a mate, the character of the person should supersede appearances. Character lasts but looks can change or lose their influence. The character traits of the person will be the glue to keep the relationship successful. 

Our methods of finding a mate and entering into the covenant of marriage often don't prepare us for the commitment required or lead us to people of godly character. We are instructed to focus on character and our own development of the character of Christ in our lives. When Christ is in us and is allowed to be preeminent, our mate will have the confidence that he/she has someone who is of great worth in their lives. 

I believe that if we in our culture held marriage high and offered training for our young to know how to select a mate that we would certainly see a rise in contented couples but also a rise in security for families as parents demonstrate committed love for their children. We have far too many children who do not have the involvement of their fathers on their lives and far too many mothers working hard to provide what the father has not. It skews our view of marriage and of roles of the husband and wife. 

Ruth finds a man of godly character and we can help our children to recognize the value of character in every relationship they have. We too can be that model of godly character in each relationship we are in; mother, wife, employee, Christ member, sister, etc. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ruth 2 - Caring for the Poor

In our days, there is a lot of discussion and even contention about how to properly care for the poor in our society. People see abuses of the public provisions and draw conclusions that all receipients are fraudulent and lazy. Others see victims of a society that has not provided the same opportunities for the marginalized. 

Scripture gives us a picture of providing for the poor on Ruth 2. Ruth, a foreigner who has committed herself to Naomi a widow from Bethlehem finds that there is no provision from their immediate family (because they have all died) and now needs to look for provision through the social welfare system. 

At that time gleaning was a means of providing for the poor who had no other means to eat. The widows, the destitute, the ill and the handicapped would be provided for as not all the field's harvest would be gathered. The corners were left for the poor to gather for their provision. If I had no land to farm and had no ability to work, then the gleaning would assure that I didn't starve. 

Note that the poor were not robbed of dignity through hand outs but they gathered for themselves in the harvest. Boaz knowing that Ruth was associated with a relative of his was especially gracious toward Ruth and made sure she had both food and protection. 

While Ruth had to gather the grain, God was providing for her needs by ordering her steps and leading her to Boaz's field as He was about to unfold her story in a beautiful way. At the time, she may not have seen God's hand, but she was humble and hard working and respectful. Those qualities I am sure endeared her to Boaz. There was no sense of entitlement or victimization. Her circumstances were what they were and she just needed to do the next right thing to secure provision for herself and Naomi. 

If we are faced with a need for provision, we should look to the Lord to order our steps and to open opportunities to receive; either through employment or the generosity of others. When poverty comes through no fault of our own as it had to Ruth, the provision from the hands of those who have sufficient provisions is God's means of sustaining. There is no place in scripture where idleness is rewarded, they are expected to be about working for their provision. God's system relies on families to care for their own before relying on public charity. 

The church is also to provide for the poor both individually and corporately. The poor are part of our world and we demonstrate God's love when we reach out to a brother or a sister in need. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ruth 1 - Gloom & Despair Not the End

If God were to write your story, what would He say?  Some people who are struggling might think that God has abandoned them or that He is treating them harshly. As we open the book of Ruth we see poverty, emigration to a foreign land, intermarriage to women out of the nation of Israel, death and more death. The story has a grim start. Naomi even changes her name to Mara because she has become bitter against God. He has taken her husbands and her sons and her only means of security. She returns to Bethlehem a broken woman. 

When hard times come for us it is easy in the moment to think that God is punishing or perhaps has removed His blessing from our life. It is far too easy to allow circumstances to overwhelm and to make us bitter. We call out to God, but rather than relief we see another anguish coming our way. 

There is no way I could get into the head of God, but I can look at how He has dealt with people from the pages of scripture and see that sometimes harshness is a result of correction for losing faith in God and placing it in ourselves or idols of the world. In the case of Naomi, I think that God is sustaining her through these hard times because he is in the middle of writing her story. It is a story where God will get the glory and be forever memorialized in the line of our Savior. They don't know it now, but Naomi and Ruth would become ancestors of David the King of Israel and the man after God's own heart. Through whom Messiah would come to save the nation. 

Our own trials and hardships may very well be the tools God uses to chisel us and to write His story in our lives. We are the clay, He is the Potter. In the middle of trials and hardship, don't give up and don't give into bitterness. We can't see the end, but that doesn't mean there isn't one. Our greatest hope is for the day when we are completely one in Heaven with no pain and no sorrow. Today we have sorrow and it may just serve a purpose. 

I believe that if Naomi could have seen the end of her story, she would have found the courage to bear up bravely under her conditions anticipating better things to come. We don't know what lies at then end of our journey even today. Let's keep our hope and trust in God that He will write a wonderful story with our lives. He loves us so, and His story created in us gives the world a glimpse of the hope they can have if they will just look to the Lord for their salvation as well. 

If you are enduring hardship, keep the faith and look to the source of your hppe. If your life is going smoothly, it is then when we can be an encouragement to others. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Judges 21 - Foolish Promises

Have you ever made a vow or a promise and then found yourself not able to live up to the thing?  In this chapter we find the tribes of Israel having wiped out all but a few Benjamites struggling with what to do to provide brides so the tribe is not wiped out altogether. It is one thing to discipline bad behavior and another thing to wipe your brother off the planet. 

Here we see the result of a vow they made; to curse any man who gave their daughter in marriage to anyone in Benjamin. It wasn't a promise to God but a promise to each other and now they have ended the war and feel compassion toward their brother. Their hasty words had them in a bind. How could they not break their vow but yet provide Israelite wives for the tribe of Benjamin?  

Honestly, it would have been better for them to break the vow than to wipe out the town that didn't come to battle and then turn their heads as Benjamin "kidnapped" brides from among the dancing virgin daughters. If they had only has been as passionate about honoring God's  authority as their own. One poor choice led to another and another. But so it goes when you have no king and everyone does what is right in his own eyes. 

In fact they did have a King. It was God himself. God is our ultimately authority whether we acknowledge Him or not. We all stand or fall before God alone, believers and unbelievers. When we speak out foolish words we are bound by our integrity to honor them. When they are foolish, they will no doubt cause pain and strife in their fulfillment and perhaps create a worse situation than existed prior to the vow. 

We need to check outselves before God and consider our words. It is better to be quiet before God than to speak rashly and create an awkward vow that leads us to more foolishness. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Judges 20 - Civil War

The tribes of Israel after receiving the gruesome token sent by the Levite after his concubine had been raped and died from the violence at Gibeon were incensed and gathered to hear the story first hand from the Levite and to determine a course of action. The tribes determined that 1/10th of their men would be selected for battle and they would confront their brother tribe Benjamin at Gibeah. First, they asked for the men who committed the crime, but they would not turn over the men, so they came in attack. 

After the first unsuccessful attack they decided to ask the Lord if it was right to go against their brother tribe. The Lord confirmed their way and so they repeated the unsuccessful attack the next day. So the army returned to fast and pray again receiving word that their next day would end in success. That day they decimated the tribe, killing men, women, children and even the animals. Only about 600 men escaped to live at a rock in the desert. The tribe of Benjamin facing extinction all together. 

This was a sad day in the history of Israel that they would have to make war against their own people. That the tribe of Benjamin had strayed so far from the Lord and refused to accept the escape clause offered when the army asked for the guilty. 

When God's people pursue wickedness God must judge. We are reminded not to protect the sinner but bring him into the light so that his deeds may be exposed. If we harbor sin ourselves or protect those who have gone astray, we will be accountable to God.  If he brings fellow Christians to confront us He is right to do so. 

Israel found that unity does not trump righteousness. God brought all the tribes low in this battle recognizing that they had all compromised their faith. In the end the relationship with the tribe of Benjamin was severed and would never again be the same. Likewise, God tells the church to offer an opportunity for the one living in sin to repent and turn back to unity of the brotherhood of believers, but if they refuse we must let them go. Our first relationship is to God and not to men, but our goal should be to bring men back to God and restore fellowship. 

Do you have a troubled relationship in your circle?  Begin as the Israelited did by fasting and praying for wisdom and then be courageous enough to confront sin, but where possible restore unity. If unity cannot be achieved it is better to break fellowship than to abide with division. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Judges 19 - Depravity of Man

If ever there was a chapter in scripture I would want to unread it is this one. It is a history of Israel most vile and one man is prone to repeat if our faith is placed in our own worth. Here we have a Levite, one of God's own, taking for himself a concubine. While there are a number of instances in scripture where concubines were taken, marriage has always been preferable and is blessed of God. 

We find out early on that the concubine has been unfaithful. Without the commitment of marriage there is no constraint and no commitment before God in the relationship. An unmarried couple is creating for themselves a dynamic of lust over sacrificial love. This dynamic leaves God out of the equation and the measure of success is left to the indicator to determine. Rarely will both in the relationship use the same measure.  This Levite raised my hopes however when he pursued her after her infidelity to her father's home and was welcomed. Persuaded by her father he linger there beyond the time he planned to leave with his "wife". 

Ultimately, he made a stand on the fifth day and left in the afternoon. Not willing to stay in an alien city they pressed on to a city in the territory of Benjamin and arrived at sunset. When no one offered them a place to stay they sat in the city square. Finally, an old man comes in from the fields and offers them lodging. He offers them food and shelter for them and their animals. 

As in the story of Lot living in Sodom, wicked men came and demanded that the Levite be given to them so they might abuse him sexually. The owner of the house negotiated for the Levites safety by offering one of his own virgin daughters and the Levite's concubine, saying they could take them and do as they wished. So the men raped and abused the Levite's concubine until sunrise and then abandoned her at the door. He tried to rouse her but she had died. The Levite cut her in pieces and sent a piece to each tribe of Israel to call attention to the injustice that had taken place. The Levite wanted the people of the land to consider the violence that had taken place. 

When events like this take place today, you hear cries of why was God not helping them. In reality it shows just how vile we humans can be when we do not stay in right relationship to God. This Levite was called of God but was willing to compromise for his pleasure and for his safety. He could have been the victim of violence, but he sent in a substitute to take the abuse meant for him. 

We are all in the same position at that concubine. We are doomed to suffering, terror and destruction. Ours comes as a result of our sin. We have no hope; our fate is sealed. But then Jesus steps into our story and offers to take our place and endure the suffering on our behalf so that we can have the hope of Heaven and escape from judgement we were due. Jesus doesn't sell us out for his security, but willingly takes on the judgment we deserve out of love and devotion to fallen man. God is active though the depravity of man continues to spiral downward. Mankind is doomed without the intervention of God. We have a great hope of life infused into our hardened hearts and the hope of eternity spent in heaven. 

Please if you must read his chapter, heed the warnings for us and for all who live without a relationship to the Savior. Seek the Lord and don't be deceived by sin. The Lord could return at any moment. Will we be ready?  

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Judges 18 - Self-Deception

In the last chapter we were introduced to Micah who was sure that creating idols with stolen funds would gain for him God's favor. Wealth combined with spiritual ignorance can lead our lives into ruin without our recognizing it. 

Now in Chapter 18, some bullies from the tribe of Dan are seeking out land for themselves. They didn't want to battle the inhabitants of the land apportioned to them so they come over to Ephriam to see if there is territory easily conquered. There they encounter the Levite hired by Micah and ask him to inquire of God regarding the success of their venture. Clearly the Levite didn't have discretion enough to know that what he himself was doing was an affront to God, so now he will ask God if they will be successful in conquering land that was not appointed to them. The Levite assures these men that their journey has the Lord's approval. 

So it is with our world. Sinful people seek God's endorsement of their lifestyle rather than allowing God to direct their life choices. Throughout our lives we battle the tendency we have to take control of our affairs and ask for God's blessing after we have already made our choices when God asks us to become living sacrifices at His disposal. God apportions for us an allotment and we demonstrate our dissatisfaction with what we have been given by longings for more and using debt to get what we want now rather than waiting for God's good time. The men of Dan longed for God to approve of their use of might to take what was not theirs to have. 

Later, the men return to the house of Micah and woo away his Levite with the promise of greater influence by serving them (this Levite already had demonstrated that he would tell them what they want to hear). They also steal the idols and the ephod from Micah so they can set up for themselves a type of religiousity. Micah was left without his possessions and returned home knowing he didn't have the might to overtake these bullies. 

This chapter underscores how society disintegrates when there is no leader who will stand for God and lead people in righteousness. Much of the disintegration we can see in our culture today can be directly tied to a disregard for God. On a personal level we can say the same for our lives when left unto else's to God will end in strife and chaos. In God's care there is peace even when the world around is in chaos. We can choose our leaders; will we go our own way or will we choose God's?

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Judges 17 - The Way of the Wayward

Micah demonstrates how character displays itself in the absence of leadership. He has stolen his mother's money (a lifetimes wages) but confesses and returns it. Judges 17:6 says, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit". Micah had no issue robbing from his own dear mother. 

His mother applauds him for his character when he returns the ill-gotten gain and returns it as a consecration to the Lord for her son to cast an idol. You can see his mother is even confused on her role as mother and as a child of God. God specifically warns against idols; it does not honor God to consecrate the idol to the Lord. She had an opportunity to influence her son for good but she chose to let him have his way instead. 

Micah not only casts idols and builds a shrine, but he then installs his son as priest making him a priestly ephod. He now leads the next generation into idolatry and away from serving God. The terrible thing is - in his mind he believes he is doing right. 

Now a young Levite comes by and Micah offers him a job as priest for a salary. Even the elite in God's service were able to be influenced against God. Swayed by the offer of security, the Levite accepts and Micah convinces himself that the Lord has blessed him by sending a Levite to be his priest. 

When people refuse the Lordship of God Almighty, they too go down a path where their estimation of right and wrong trump anyone else's. We too can lead ourselves to believe that sin is not so bad and even raise it up in our minds to count it good. God however, tells us that His ways are higher than our ways as high as the heavens are above the earth. That is how much separation there is between our ways and God's. Without regular worship, study and prayer we fall prey to our own ways. All around us we see people who do not know God's ways and how morality and justice become skewed when God is not at the center. 

Micah sat himself up against God and showed the life of the wayward in their character, influence on others and their defamation of God. Idols don't have to be formed out of silver. Anything that directs your heart from God is an idol. We have lots of them today...fame, power, leisure, sex, alcohol, drugs, games, movies, television and more. What idol has the potential of keeping you from serving God with everything?  Say goodbye to it while you can - otherwise it may deceive you into believing it is OK. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Judges 16 - Deception of Sin

Have you ever had to confront some besetting sin in your life?  If you haven't, you probably aren't walking closely with the Lord. Our sin is upon us from birth. Even as we recognize our sin and turn to the Lord, sin does not abandon us. In this chapter we see Samson, a man set apart for God's purpose, given supernatural strength fall victim to the lure of sin. 

Samson was God's chosen man to confront the Philistines, yet over and over he finds the women alluring. He literally sleeps with his enemy. We too may find ourselves way too comfortable with things of the world. Perhaps it isn't sex, maybe it is career, wealth, power, family that takes the seat of your heart and usurps God's rightful place. Compromise with sin may not always be clear, but compromise almost certainly leads us down the path to blatant sin as was the case with Samson. 

Samson had married a Philistine woman in chapter 14. His vengeance against the Philistines led to the death of her and her family. While I believe he was attracted to her, I don't believe their love ran particularly deep. He was looking to gratify himself with a beautiful woman. Though his ties to the women were deep enough that he would lose his senses and give into their pleadings. 

We begin this chapter with Samson visiting the home of a prostitute. The Philistines believe they have him trapped and plan to capture him, but he cleverly escapes taking the city gate with him. Next he falls for Delilah. There is no record that he is married to this woman. He lives with her as she makes no pretense that she wants to learn the secret if his strength so that he can be overcome. At first Samson plays along with the game and feeds her false information. After Delilah escalates her desire to dominate him, he gives the information she desires. Samson so desired the company of a woman that he would betray God giving the secret to God's mark of separation. Sin will always lead us away from God; eventually God left him. What a sad condition for any person of God. 

We too should be careful to guard our heart and not take God's gifts for granted. We have a treasure within us that we should never fritter away. Samson's sin ultimately led to the end of his life. God did grant him one last stand against the Philistines. When you look at his life you think of all that could have been if only. Dear Christian, we bear the name of our Lord, let us fully live for him and carefully seek our opportunity to demonstrate our allegiance. 

We too may fall prey to sin if we treat it lightly and do not repent from it. The world is steeped in sin, but we, like Samson, are called to live apart from the world to accomplish God's purposes here. Let's be intentional about that as we go about our day today. Our Lord has already done so much to save us, how could we give him less than our best?

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Judges 15 - At Odds with All

There is no doubt that Samson lived a hard life and much of the strife resulted from the bad relationships he pursued in life, but Samson was ordained by God for conflict with the Philistines and to lead his people out of oppression. God takes the failed relationships and poor choices and still uses them for His purposes. 

We see Samson returning to his Philistine wife with the intent to visit her in her chambers. He is rebuffed by her father who believed that Samson hated his wife when she betrayed him at his wedding. It seems like a logical conclusion especially since it appears he didn't seem to return to her after settling his debt in the wedding bet. I am sure that knowing that Samson's best man now had taken up with his wife. You can sense the bitterness welling up in his heart. In his anger he ties foxes tails together with a torch between them and sets the fields of the Philistiens on fire destroying their source of food. 

Next he encounters strife among his fellow Israelite when he hides from the Philistines in the rocks.  The Philistines threaten them unless they turn Samson over to them.   The men of Israel had become so battered by the occupation of the Philistines that they don't give any opposition to the request. They dutifully seek out Samson and bind him to turn him over. Samson finds himself at odds with his own countrymen. The binds cannot hold Samson when the Spirit of God gives him supernatural strength.  Hey then slays the Philistines and demonstrates his valor among his countrymen. 

Finally, Samson finds himself at odds with Gid himself, complaining that God would give him victory only to let him die of thirst. There is no doubt that he had a need for drink, but his bitterness is evident even as he brings his need to God. God however is gracious and provides for his need even though Samson treats God less than friendly. 

In our own lives we will likely encounter conflict. The conflict might come as a result of our wrong choices, it might come from our own family, perhaps even from our own church members. When we encounter conflict, it is important that we seek God's direction and strength to endure the conflict and maintain a good witness. 

I am grateful for our pastor who challenges us to memorize scripture. This year we are memorizing Psalm 27. We get a good sense of a godly response to conflict. "Though armies encamp against me my heart will not the time of trouble the Lord will hide me in his pavilion". We can lean on the Lord to help us maintain our peace in the midst of conflict. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Judges 14 - Unholy Relationships

From my early years as a Christian, I had a desire to reach out to the lost. I really believed I could help them and influence them for good. It wasn't long before I saw that their lifestyle had impacted my life perhaps even more than I had impacted theirs. Samson was a man destined to begin a deliverance for his people, but in this chapter he demonstrates that even someone engaged in God's plan can be manipulated by unbelievers. 

We never learn the name of the young woman who caught the eye of Samson, but his desire for her was strong and he insisted that his parents arrange a marriage for him with a Philistine woman. She was a daughter of the enemy and soon would prove that her alliances were not with Samson, but with her own people. 

In this chapter, Samson after killing a lion with his own hand returns to find the dead carcass loaded with honey. He uses this as a riddle to challenge the young men at his wedding feast. Since no person can ever know the experiences of another fully, the riddle was sure to stump them. But the men turn to Samson's new wife and threaten her if she does not help them learn the secret of the riddle. She pleads and sobs before Samson throughout the week and finally he gives in to tell her the truth. 

Samson was set apart for God's service from birth and had been a Nazarite his whole life taking care to avoid strong drink and his hair was not to be cut. This was the outward mark of a man dedicating himself to God. While Samson had outward consecration to the Lord, his heart desired the forbidden. He was weak when it came to the love of a woman. His desires for love were used by God to overcome the Philistines, but they would ultimately be Samson's undoing. He would never truly know the unconditional love and support of a wife in this life. The women he pursued may have been beautiful, but they had allegiances to their own people. 

We too should be cautious when seeking our companions in this world. Whether it is a life mate, or a business partner, the relationships we forge can backfire if they are not ordained by God. Samson lived a sad life, never knowing true love but making the pursuit of it his top priority. We can find ourselves without the object of our desires when we take our eyes off the Lord and focus on the temporal. 

Dear Christian, guard your heart, guard your eyes and your ears so that your focus on the Lord can be pure and you can serve the Lord with gladness. Our father in Heaven loved us so very much that He offered us the gift of salvation from sin and a hope of eternity in Heaven. Let's be sure to keep our focus on Him. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Judges 13 - God's Response to Prayer

Prayer is vital to the Christian life. It is a privilege to speak to the Creator and offer our thanksgiving, our praise and our petitions. Prayer however is often neglected in the Christian life, perhaps because we lack discipline; perhaps because we are more focused on the temporal: perhaps because we don't see God's immediate response. In any case, we are the ones who forfeit the blessing of fellowship with our Lord. 

In the case of Manoah and his wife (unnamed woman of great faith) they had prayed. Doubly burdened:  they had lived under Philistine oppression and occupation for forty years and did not have the child they longed for. Unlike today where children are sometimes viewed as a burden to their parents forcing them into commitments they were not ready to make, in that day, children were considered a blessing from God. To be childless was a shame and a curse to a couple. God came in human form to deliver great news. 

Sometimes God does not answer our prayers immediately. Manoah and his wife had long been childless without answer to their prayers, but now they would have the child they prayed for and even more, this child of promise would begin to deliver the nation from the Philistines. A double shot answer to prayer; a child and the hope of deliverance!  God does not always immediately answer our prayers. When He does it gives him even greater glory to see that longing finally fulfilled. 

Manoah so startled by the news brought from his wife's encounter with the Angel of the Lord that he prays for a confirmation. God heard this prayer and promptly returns to Manoah's wife in the field. She comes to get him to see with his own eyes this messenger from God. Sometimes God hears our prayers and responds quickly. Our faith is confirmed and our resolve is strengthened.

God sometimes refuses to answer our prayers. In Judges 13:12, Manoah asks a question that is outside the boundary for him. He asks to know the future for this boy. God has already said that he will have a son and this son will begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines, but God offers no more information, He merely restates what has already been given. Sometimes God does not answer our prayers, because there is no good purpose served in their answer. Can we trust God even then?  

When the Lord ascends to heaven in a flame, Manoah realizes he has been in the presence of God Himself. Perhaps he remembered what God told Moses, that no one could see God's face and live. His wife demonstrating her great faith assures her husband that if God was going to kill them He would not have offered this message of promise. (Note to wives: we can be a tremendous blessing to our husbands by encouraging them when they are afraid. We can assure them of God's greatness in the midst of any situation). 

There is a fellowship we achieve in prayer that cannot be replicated in any other way. It is God's prerogative to choose when and how to answer, but we as His people have a wonderful promise: His Spirit is with us and we are not alone. We can wait in faith knowing that He loves us and has sacrificed so much already. This problem we face is small in comparison. Let's us regularly bring our praise, our worship, our confession of sin and our petitions for His mercy before the throne of grace. We can trust that whether the answer is delayed, refused or immediate, that God's answer is best. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Judges 12 - Confronting Entitlement

In every age there are the men and women who step up to the plate when there is work to be done and those who stand back to watch for results before choosing sides. In the case of Ephriam they consistently show up after the battle wanting a piece of the glory. Furthermore they are quick to point out how they have been offended by not being included in the battle. 

This chapter has a lot of good lessons for us today. The character that God requires is vastly different from our friends in Ephriam. You may see some of the same types of people in the places where you live, but hopefully you are not one of them. 

Victimization:  the people of Ephriam claim to be victims when they did not get a piece of the victory that belonged to the men who went to battle and served their country. They didn't get included. They were unfairly treated because they didn't have the same opportunity as those who fought. 

Twisting the truth: They claim they were victimized because they were not invited when in fact they were invited and chose not to take a risk. In fact they were the offenders because they jeopardized the lives of their fellow countrymen when they didn't defend them. 

Unrealistic Expectations: they expected to have equitable sharing of wealth without having to risk anything on their part. All the gain, none of the sacrifice. 

While there are class, race and other political parallels in the news almost everyday, I think we can look around within our own churches and see those like the Gileadites who actively sacrifice for the benefit of the church. There are those who work behind the scenes to cut the grass, clean the building, prepare the lessons, open the buildings and there are those who merely show up.  In Heaven one day there will be those who approach the Savior saying they should receive the reward He has promised to those who love Him. One day Jesus will look them in the face and say, I didn't know you. 

Now is the time for us to stand strong in the face of conflict. We should demonstrate our love for our fellow believers and for the Lord by actively taking part in the work to be done. There are people daily passing from this world and going into eternity because we did not share the truth with them. We didn't want to take the risk. All of us who have known the joy of salvation should be ready to give a testimony for the hope we have. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Judges 11 - Foolish Vows

Jephthah lived a God honoring life, but had a pitiful upbringing. As the son of a harlot he was effectively excluded from the ranks of his half brothers who assured him he would have no part in the family inheritance. He was an outcast from the society and became a leader of outcasts. Chapter 11 introduces him as a mighty warrior, and so when the Gileadites needed rescuing from the Ammonites the half brothers sought him out to help. 

Even though Jephthah was a mighty warrior, he also understood that all battles are not settled in bloody conflict. He first reaches out to the King of the Ammonites and asks why he is attacking the people. 

When the king breaks off negotiations, Jephthah turns to the Lord making a vow to sacrifice whatever come out of his house first on his return.  Now Jephthah was not generally a foolish man, he looked to God for his deliverance, but even believers can place themselves in careless dealings with God. Where Jephthah went wrong was in asking God to give him victory. He didn't ask God what to do but went to God with his plan in hand asking for God to give him success. The promise he made was foolish, as he had no way of knowing what might come from his house first.  When we come to God, we are merely participants in His grace. The story of our lives is His to direct and our mission should be to seek out His plan rather than presenting Him with our plans. Yet we do establish plans and we look to God for their fulfillment. 

Jephthah's story took a tragic turn after the victory over Ammon. The glory he sought was his, but on return to his home the first out of his house was his only child, his daughter. The one light of his life now would be sacrificed to God. Jephthah paid a terrible price to gain a place of stature among his people. 

Jephthah's daughter modeled a submission to God that is very rare. She tells her father to honor his vow, but to allow her an opportunity to mourn the fact that she would never know the joy of a family or the love of a husband.  She willingly accepted her lot though it was not what she would have wished and did not come without pain.  Some commentators speculate that rather than burning her as an offering that she would have been brought to the temple and placed in service there.  In either case the line of Jephthah ended because of careless words spoken before God. I believe that God would have settled the skirmish between the two nations without such a vow. 

If we consider our own prayers before God we may see that we too can fall prey to the temptation to ask God for something that benefits us rather than laying ourselves before God and asking His direction. Our goal should be to live out our lives walking in the Spirit, so closely connected to God thinking that we do not veer off course. We should willingly yield ourselves to God's plan even though it might result in sacrifice on our part. While salvation is a free gift of God, we are redeemed to be His people. Our lives are His to direct. 

Anything that has us in such desperate circumstances that we would make deals with God should cause us to consider whether we are on God's side or if we are asking Him to be on ours. Please be careful with your promises no matter who you give them to. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Judges 10 - Blessing of Affliction

XGod uses both the good and the bad events of our lives for His purpose. However, rarely do men attribute to God the times of ease and leisure. God blesses with abundance and men say, "look at what I did". But, when affliction comes, God is frequently brought into the mix; sometimes for blame but always for deliverance. 

In this chapter we have the story of two judges, who after leading 45 years left the nation of Israel in apostasy. God in his anger, allowed Israel to be oppressed for 18 years before their thoughts began to turn to God again. The Israelites finally agree with God about their sin of dabbling with various gods. In the Lord's reply you can hear the pain in His voice as He responds. He has saved them time and time again, yet they seem driven to offend the God who helps them so (Jud 10:11-13).  Our sin hurts our Creator. He is not dispassionately afflicting pain; He responds with affliction to correct our wrong thinking. God longs to have fellowship with His people and He doesn't want to judge their betrayal. 

There is something significant in verse 16 that I hope you will see. My text says, "And he could bear Israel's misery no longer."  God not only is the dispenser of affliction, He goes through it with His people. He could bear it no more. What a wonderful God we have that would endure so much for our love. 

God uses affliction to turn us away from our folly and to completely abandon it. Some might say that the affliction was the natural result of the sinful ways they chose; but it is also the mark of God removing His hand of provision. He longs for our allegiance but we must chose who we serve. 

The gods of our modern world don't always have altars, but our heart is diverted from our worship of God when we pursue the follies of this age as well.  Many Christians my say, "I don't engage in hateful acts, I attend church, I pray and I am not addicted to drugs or alcohol." We measure our hearts by comparing them to others. God sees the things that have control. Maybe it is Internet, TV, pursuit of sports or career advancement, but any activity that takes a place in our lives God should have is an idol and we should turn away. I am not suggesting that hard work, play, or leisure are necessarily evil, but we should be careful to evaluate the control they exert over us. 

God still longs for fellowship with His people and in His long suffering to bring us back to Him, He may use affliction. If you are enduring hardship, consider how God may be using this time to grow you into the likeness of His Son, Jesus so that we may be a bride well suited for our Lord. The wedding day is coming dear friend, now is the time of preparation. When the end arrives and we are joined forever with our Lord, it will be easy to thank Him for the times of affliction that allowed our faith and our character to grow. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Judges 9 - God Overthrows Evil

As we open this chapter, we see that Gideon's son Abimelech wanted to assume Gideon's position of leader but definitely didn't honor God or his family. In fact we open the chapter with him stirring up the people of his hometown to make him ruler and involving his followers in the murder of his 70 brothers. (Judges 9:1-5). Abimelech was nothing like his father who defended the honor of God and family. He was a respecter of none. 

God, however, is not a victim of the disgrace shown by men. He is Almighty and able to overcome any foe. In the case of Abimelech, God changed the hearts of the men of Shechem who originally placed him in power. (Judges 9:23). Note that it is God who sends the evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens. God can change the hearts of even men who are not his children and use them as His tools to accomplish His purposes. 

The men of Shechem chose another leader and though Abimelech learns of the treachery and combats his own people slaying many in battle and burning alive about 1000 who fled to the tower of Shechem for safety. Abimelech would do anything for power. 

As he moved to Thebez to capture it as well, a woman drops a piece of a millstone from the top of the tower and cracks his skull. Knowing he is going to die any way he has one of his men kill him with a sword for fear that a woman would get credit for taking his life. 

Please note that while it would appear to human eyes that this was a natural conflict and the result of men's efforts verse 56 and 57 clearly state that it was God's plan to repay the wickedness of Abimelech and the men do Shechem. God actively works his story into the natural events of life. An unbeliever would see nothing but men's effort, but God is behind it all seeing the evil and never allowing His name to be the object of ridicule. 

Dear Christian, if you have conflict in your life, commit it to God and look for His hand at work in the everyday affairs of men. While evil may show itself, it will not gain victory over God or his people. 

Children do not necessarily follow in the footsteps of their parents. Gideon was a noble man, but his son Abimelech was rotten to the core. God allows us each to choose who we will serve, and we cannot make the choices for another. , we can only set the example by honoring God in our own lives and encouraging our family to make their own choice  knowing the God has been a help to you through the years.  Let's make sure we set a God honoring example for those who are watching. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him  and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Judges 8 - When God is all You Have

Few of us would dare to ask God to remove all our resources so that we can experience a situation where God is all we have to rely on. But when God removes all our supports, we find God is all sufficient. Gideon had his faith stretched way beyond what most of us will ever experience. He was an unlikely leader who didn't enjoy confrontation, but God allowed confrontation to mold Gideon into a mighty leader of Israel. 

As we open this chapter, we find that after the victory over Midian, the men of Ephriam resented not being invited to the party. In Judges 6:35 we see Gideon did not call Ephriam to stand against the Midianites in battle. We aren't told why, but given God's parsing of the fighting men, there were likely few that would have made the cut anyway. We do see in Judges 7:24 that Gideon did call on Ephriam as the Midianites were fleeing. It was the men if Ephriam that killed the leaders Oreb and Zeeb. Gideon got nothing but strife from the men of Ephriam and so he responds that God delivered the army leaders into their hands. They do share in the greatest glory. You see Ephriam didn't care for service to God necessarily but they wanted glory and the spoils of war. 

After the maneuvering with Ephriam, Gideon's 490 fighting men were exhausted and hungry. When Gideon asked for bread for his men at Succoth and Peniel, they were refused leaving These men in a weakened state as they pursued the kings of Midian. 

Upon capturing the Kings, Gideon called on his son to kill them as they had killed Gideon's brothers, but he wouldn't. The bible explains he was just a boy and afraid. So Gideon was left to finish the conflict himself.   Gideon was named ruler over Israel because of the great victory God gave over Midian. 

Perhaps if there had been help from any other source Israel might not have seen the hand of God at work. Because Gideon trusted God to save them from Midian, the story is recorded for all generations to know how faithful God is. We see evidence that he uses unlikely people to accomplish his work. We see that God can supply all the resources needed and it doesn't take might or wealth, but faith to see the victory. 

When we are deprived of our resources, it may just be that God is planning to use our situation to demonstrate to the world that he is real, he can be trusted, and he is Almighty to save from any foe. 
Our challenge is to be faithful with the strength we have and not to rely on it for the victory, but rely on God. He gets the glory, we are merely the children of his love. 

We serve a God who is writing His story right now in the midst of our lives with the direction and resources He supplies. There is no resource too small to be used and none so large that cannot be removed at God's discretion. He is all that is needed. When He is all we have we learn that truth in a very special way. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Judges 7 - God's Draft Picks

Have you ever noticed that God's ways are out of our ordinary?  Gideon had organized his army to fight against Midian knowing that he was outnumbered and out powered by the enemy. He wanted to trust God but didn't see how God could pull this one off, but he would throw all his might at it and look for God's favor. Yet, when God saw the army of Gideon, He said you have too many. If you win, you will think that it is because of your own efforts. God wanted both Israel and the enemy to be sure who won this one. 

God first removed those who did not have their heart in it. If they were afraid of battle or doubted God's victory, they could go home. More than 2/3rds of the army left him. That would have anyone a little on edge, but God goes further. Out of the 10,000 remaining select men who cupped water with their hands to drink (300) you will win. That would just shake your confidence if it were anyone other than God Almighty leading them. 

God is so kind to Gideon, He offers him and opportunity to hear the enemy speaking about their fears in fighting Gideon. Overhearing the conversation, he gains new confidence that God is at work. Gideon doesn't arm his men however. He puts a trumpet in one hand and a torch in the other. They are to blow their trumpet on command and break the jars surrounding their torches and say "the sword of the Lord and for Gideon". Odd, since there are no swords in their hands. But God turns the enemy swords on each other and wins the victory for the nation. He confused the Midianite minds with a dream so that they believed they were doomed and mixed them up about who their enemy was. No weapons, just faith and obedience won the day. 

When we look around us, our conflict may be great and we may even experience oppression, but we can rest in the knowledge that God takes care of his own. We can also trust that faithful obedience can yield results no man can accomplish in their human effort. Dear Christian, look to God for your help and faithfully serve Him. The rest will fall by the way if our priorities are straight. Our hope is not built on our own strength but on the power of God offered to us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God will see you through the darkest of days. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Judges 6c - Facing Doubt and Fear

Let's face it: God does not always call us to the easy life. Living for the Lord can be difficult. Certainly His calling on our lives is contrary to the world's ways, but sometimes it is contrary to our own. It seems God takes pleasure in using a weak vessel for mighty acts. So it is with Gideon. Gideon has shown himself to be very meek and afraid, the son of an idolater. He has been pitted against his own people, yet God protected him. Now God asks him to face off against a much stronger enemy, Midian. Gideon would have preferred a life without conflict, but God had another plan.  

Starting in Judges 6:33, we see the story of Gideon's fleece. Gideon wanted to be very sure he heard the voice of God correctly. We see that the Spirit of God comes upon Gideon almost immediately after the Israelites had gathered to kill him for destroying the altar to Baal. Gideon blows a trumpet telling the people to follow him. He also sends messenger throughout Manasseh, Zebulun, Naphtali and Asher calling them to battle. He sounds sure and in charge before the people, yet while in his private time with the Lord, he is unsure and afraid. 

Gideon asks God to perform a miracle to assuage his unbelief. He asked that God would wet the fleece he leaves on the floor and keep the ground dry. By that sign he would know that God intended to use him to save Israel. In the morning when God fulfills his request, Gideon doesn't just accept the miracle and take action. He requests a second miracle in which God would keep the ground wet but the fleece dry. 

God does not encourage us to seek signs of His presence or confirmation of His  word, but in this case God was gracious and gave Gideon his requests. God takes pleasure in using weak vessels because there is no doubt who should receive the glory in the end. A weak vessel in the hands of God is strong indeed. God gives us both His Word and His Spirit to guide and direct us as His vessels in the world increasingly hostile toward the gospel. We have specific commands however to shine our light before men so that they can know that God offers salvation to all and that you are His and therefore cannot stand with the worlds ways. We are on temporary assignment here on planet earth. Our true home is in Heaven. We are called to be bold and obedient to the Lord. When we have fears and doubts He is gracious, but we must not dwell in our fear because God has given us His Spirit to accomplish His mission here using weak vessels. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him  and as you serve Him. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Judges 6b - Standing for God

Making a stand against sin and for God has never been easy. The world's opposition is strong and the consequences can be severe. Recently in the news, a clerk went to jail because of her refusal to issue same sex marriage licenses. Taking such a Biblical view is often mocked in our culture that has largely rejected God's word. Even the Pope who recently visited said he didn't endorse her position but admired her courage to stand by her convictions. He had a chance to stand against sin and he refused it. She however stood against sin and endured the backlash. 

Gideon got a face to face encounter with the Lord who gave him a startling message. Gideon was very fearful of the enemy and now the Lord has told him he will lead Israel into battle against Midian and God will give victory. (Jud 6:16). Gideon asks for a sign that it is God himself issuing the command. So the angel of the Lord consumed his offering when fire flared out of a rock where the offering was laid. Again Gideon is struck with fear this time not because of Midian, but because he has just seen God face to face, but God assures him he will not die from the encounter. (Jud 6:23). 

Now God issues a test to Gideon. Gideon must take a bull from his father's herd and tear down his father's altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Note:  Sometimes the sin is within our own household making the stand against it much more personal. Gideon still fearful, does the deed in darkness, but was still found out. Gideon's sentence for breaking down the altar: death. Amazingly, though his father had just lost a bull and his altar to Baal, he comes to Gideon's defense and suggests that if Baal is really a god, he can take care of his own punishment. The stand Gideon took risked his life. He had good reason to fear, but God's hand was with him to protect. This was just a test for Gideon to be assured of God's presence. God knew Gideon's fear and showed him that he could take a stand. Now he was almost ready to face the real enemy: Midian. 

When standing against sin, Christians are frequently labeled as ignorant or intolerant. The stand we take could even risk our very lives. The mockers and haters cannot consider that God's thoughts may be higher than their own or that their choices may lead to destruction in this world, the next or both. Sinners cannot see their own son and repent on their own. As long as Christians do not stand against sin and the Holy Spirit does not convict, they remain in their terrible state. 

We are called to live in a world that embraces sin, but to live differently. We are called to give the gospel of peace, but sometimes that means standing against the sin that enslaves the hearer. We can rest assured that if God has called us to this task, He will be with us as we complete the task. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Judges 6a - What is God Doing?

Look around you. Consider the circumstances in which you have been placed. Do you know why God has allowed them to come to pass?  What is He doing in your life?  Is He correcting you and chastening you through some difficult situation?  Or is that situation brought about because He is going to use you as a player in a mighty victory He is about to unfold?  God does not always let us know in advance the reasons for our condition. In this chapter of Judges, we see Gideon struggling with these same issues. 

As a reader of scripture we are often given the benefit of God's purposes and plans and we see people either align themselves or stand against God. In our own life we don't always have a map to interpret our circumstances and at the time, neither did the Israelites unless God spoke directly to them. We have the benefit of the written word in full. They had just the foundations of the law to rely upon. 

After the defeat of Sisera by Deborah  we are told that the Israelites enjoyed peace for 40 years. During that time the Israelites went back to living their own way and sinning against God. As a result God allowed them to have a taste of His hand of protection being removed from them. God allowed Midian to overtake his people and oppress them. [Sidenote: notice that God allowed the nation to have victory. These difficult circumstances were the natural end of their sinful choices, but prior to this point (for 40 years) God protected the people from their enemies.]

The circumstances were so overwhelming that Israelites abandoned ther homes and farms and fled to caves for protection. Their crops were ruined by the enemy. The Midianites even destroyed the livestock. They had become completely impoverished because of them. While they lived in peace they did not cry out to the Lord, but now in their time of trouble they cry out. 

God sent a prophet to remind them of the ways God has intervened for his people in the past and explained that their condition is not because of the Midianites or due to God's failure, but because of the faithlessness of God's people. (Judges 6:10). This must have been a word of hope and conviction all in one. God had not changed, it was the people who had failed God. 

The angel of the Lord (preincarnate Jesus) came to Gideon who was threshing in a wine press to hide the grain from the enemy. He gets a word directly from the lips of God, "the Lord is with you, mighty warrior".   This is odd to Gideon because it doesn't seem like that. he isn't mighty and the Lord doesn't seem to be with anyone right now. 

Gideon asks the age old question that so many have asked. "If God is good and loving and stands with His people, why would He allow these circumstances to befall us?"  (Judges 6:13). He sees that God is Sovereign, but wrongly attributes his condition to God rather than the failure of the people. 

Our view of ourselves is usually higher than God's view. If we truly saw the reality and full measure of our sin, I don't know that we could bear it. God does send his Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, but I believe the Holy Spirit only gives us a glimpse - we just couldn't handle the full view. In the case of Gideon, He was viewing the circumstances as God acting on the people rather than seeing that the people had brought destruction on themselves. It didn't seem that the Lord was with them; he felt God's blessing had been removed from the people. Sometimes God brings chastisement to us to correct our view of our sin. Sin should never be minimized and God says it deserves death. Thank God that we are seen not for the merit we bring, but we have the grace of God because of the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.  We were condemned, but through Jesus finished work we have been redeemed. 

Notice that God never allowed His people to suffer for as long as they had rebelled. In the midst of the suffering, God is gracious. God never allows his people the full measure of their punishment because that would result in eternal separation. God is gracious even in suffering. 

Finally, though Gideon is doubtful, God has come to redeem His people from the enemy and end the oppression of Midian.   They are about to see a mighty victory of God delivered by one of the weakest men in the nation. Even though we may not have wisdom, strength, or leadership skills, in the hands of God, we can be a part of the victory God provides. The question is will we trust and obey. 

This chapter is full of so much rich treasure we need to continue this until next time. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Judges 5 - Giving Recognition

Recognition is a double-edged sword. When we have done rightly and have accomplished something of significance we love to receive recognition from among our friends and colleagues. We thrive when our counterparts see the good we have done. When we have done wrongly however, we hope and pray no one notices. To notice all the wrong we have done would ruin our reputation among our peers. 

This is one of the reasons unbelievers have such a hard time coming to faith. It is when we recognize that we are thoroughly sinful and God has seen it all and has pronounced judgement on that sin that we have to abandon any hope of maintaining our own reputation. Our only hope is based on the reputation of another. There is no room for pride at the foot of the cross. 

Deborah in her song presented in Judges 5 lists the source of her help and calls out those who chose not to stand with the nation in battle. First, she acknowledges that the source of victory is God himself. Verses 1-5 are a praise to God for the way he acted to secure Israel's victory. We should always take time to praise God for his hand in our lives. Not only does He offer salvation, but He is active and at work in the believers life.  It is God who gains the victory for His people. 

Secondly, she gives credit to the tribes who came to help and to all the willing volunteers who offered themselves to stand against the enemy who had treated the people so cruelly. 

She then calls out the tribes that chose not to engage the enemy in verses 15-17, forever having their reputations tarnished among the nation.  Why did they choose to stay home when their brothers were on the battlefield standing against an enemy vastly stronger than themselves? 

The heroine is recognized. Jael was thought to be a friend of Sisera. So many things could have prevented her mission. And the task was so brutal and violent. Not what you would expect from a woman, but in the last few chapters you see the men choosing not to stand up as leaders and leaving the tasks to the women. Not God's chosen plan, but in this case the women are lauded for their bold acts. 

We see in the final section another woman highlighted. Sisera's mother, looking for his return chooses to delude herself into thinking he is only delayed because of the great victory he must have won. The world relies on it own strength and even when it is not trustworthy it looks to delusions to help reinforce its thinking. One day all the delusions will be gone and Jesus will stand before the world in judgement. Ther will be no more opportunities to repent then. Our world view should be grounded in truth and our trust should be in the strength God supplies rather than our own. 

In the end, we can choose the path of Jael, taking on what might be hard and brutal tasks in obedience to the Lord or we can be like Sisera's mother placing all her faith in a man who could not save and deluding herself to assure herself that her faith was not misplaced. You can operate in the Lord's strength and wisdom or your own. 

In the end the nation enjoyed peace for forty years because of God's mighty victory for the people. We can enjoy peace for eternity because of God's victory over death and sin. All we have to do is accept the free offer of salvation. Will we give recognition to the source of our victory?

May God richly bless you as you seek Him  and as you serve Him. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Judges 4 - Justice

At first blush, this chapter would seem to scream for a commentary on girl power as we see the story of a woman judge and a woman warrior take center stage. There is no doubt that God can do mighty things with a woman when His Spirit is allowed to have control. We should all yield to the Holy Spirit and we would see God active and almighty in the circumstances we face. But that is not the topic of this devotion. 

I was struck by how God uses evil to bring justice while at the same time, overcoming evil. In Judges 4:1 after the death of Judge Ehud, Israelites again doing evil in the eyes of the Lord.  Here are God's selected people turning against God's leadership. They go their own way and once again disregard God. They prese that because they are Hos people that God will bless and bless without holding them accountable for sin. We could discuss some parallels for today among Christians, but there is no time for that. 

Enter the Canaanites. Remember in Chapter 1 how the Israelites did not annihilate the Canaanites, but allowed th to live in the land as well?  Now they have become more bold and have captured Israel. Note however, in Judges 4:2 that it was the Lord who initiated this action. This was not just their inclination or the natural result of their prior choices, but God is actively moving nations against His own people. Sisera, the commander of the armies was merely being used by God to execute justice against His people. God cannot be treated with such casual disregard by His own. He will defend himself and humble His people to bring them back to himself. 

Sisera cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 long years. When the Israelites had come to the end of themselves, they cried out to the Lord for help. It makes you wonder why they would wait so long but our sin nature is stubborn and headstrong. We resist yielding to God and resist doing our battle in prayer. We prefer our own efforts and it takes a while for us to realize again our efforts are nothing against the powers of God or the peers of Satan at work. Yet they did cry to God and He answered their prayer. 

Even though Sisera had a huge army and great power to oppress, even he was no match for even the most unlikely warrior, a woman who was aligned with him. God had a plan to defeat Sisera and there was nothing he could do to resist God. The armies of Israel didn't win the victory, but Sisera was taken out without a fight. 

God brought both Justice and victory to Israel all because one person led by the Spirit of God followed His leading. God seemingly allowed the pagan nations to overcome God's people and to reign for a time, but God will not let them escape Hos wrath. For those who do evil, God will not overlook. But for those who will turn to h in prayerful dependence He will offer great power to see victory over the enemy. Will we yield to God's Spirit at work in us?

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Judges 3 - We Need A Hero

As we look into the conditions of the hearts of men in Judges 3, we see a nation that had turned from God, embraced the worship of worthless idols and had engaged in the ways of the pagans living in the country. I can't help but thinking of the parallels between our own times and theirs. We also live in a culture that chooses doing their own thing without regard for others or God. As in the times of Israel, we also cry, "we need a Hero!"

Most of the nation didn't recognize their need until God allowed these other nations to dominate them and subject them to serving foreign nations. Then they cried out to the Lord. (Judges 3:8-9).  Note: prosperity and times without I strife and conflict often change our perspective and keep us from intense dependence on God. So it was with Israel and in our own time. 

They like us needed a hero to rescue them. They needed someone strong who was not afraid to take on the enemy. They needed someone who could guide the nation back to righteous living and point the way to their Father in Heaven.   As we in the United States are beginning to search for a leader I think how wonderful it would be to have one of the Judges in this chapter. They have earned a place in history because of their faithful service powered by the Holy Spirit. Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar were not afraid to stand up against wicked rulers and leading the people overcame the enemy. Each of them saved Israel. 

Each of these Judges was just a man, but they are a type of Christ. Israel failed to honor God and the result was bondage to nations they thought were their friends. Just as Christ redeemed mankind from the enemy, the judges released their brothers and sisters from the bondage of the enemy nations. Just as Christ asked us to come to Him and embrace right living, the Judges did the same for Israel.  Note that the judges did not do these mighty things in their own power, but they had the Spirit of God upon them to empower them. All of us lining for Christ are weak in our own flesh but with God's Spirit in us, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished. 

We too had once dabbled in sin and found that one day sin was our Master and no longer a playful companion. In our sin, we saw our need for a Savior. If you happen to be reading this and do not have the Spirit of God living within you, you can have this assurance too. Just cry out to God and agree with him about the matter of sin. Confess your sins and ask for Jesus the redeemer to save you and give you peace with God. You can know forgiveness. God in turn will give His Spirit to empower you to turn from sin and to live boldly for Him. 

Our nation surely needs a righteous leader who will look to God for his/her strength. We need a leader who will guide the nation back to God and help them to know that forgiveness is available for those who will agree with God about the sin in our nation and yield to His leadership, abandoning our own way. Only then will we know the victory and the fellowship of God. 

One last challenge for you today. You may never lead a nation, but each of us has an number of people who are influenced by our life. Let's be the one in our area of influence to stand for right and to encourage our friends to do the same. We may not lead a nation, but with the Spirit of God in is there is no telling how we may be used to bring God glory. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Judges 2 - Discarding God

We live in a nation and in a culture that toys with sin on a regular basis. We have even gone so far as to embrace the activities the God has said, "You shall not".  As we look back over our history, it seems each succeeding decade has gone just a bit deeper into the abyss, so that sin is now normalized and those who cling to God's principles are ostracized and maligned. Oh, how far we have come. 

They say that those who don't learn the lessons from history are doomed to repeat them. In Judges chapter 2 we have a very similar scenario played out before us and we see God's response. The nation of Israel followed God's ways when they were under the leadership of Joshua, (though we did see some cracks in the foundation). Once Joshua and the elders who served with him passed on to their reward, the nation began to slide further and further away from God. 

We saw in the last chapter, that many of the tribes of Israel had not taken full control of the land but they cohabitated in it with the Canaanites. They allowed them to continue their idol worship and their perverted ways. Israelite children growing up in that time would see idols as normal and would live side by side with pagans. It is no wonder then that after a generation that they began to practice idolatry with the pagans and saw nothing wrong with it. 

In Judges 2, the Angel of the Lord comes and shares God's heart with the people. he brought them out of Egypt and gave th a place of honor with Him. He made a covenant with them yet Israel violated that covenant. Rather than correcting them and separating the pagans from them as He had in the past, God gives them over to their sin and allows it to grow. Instead He uses these pagans to test the people to see if they will remain loyal to God and follow in His ways or if they will embrace the sinful practices around them. 

God does not abide sin. In Judges 2:20, we see God is angry with the nation. Just because the people didn't see immediate correction from God doesn't mean that  judgement is not being stored up. In fact their fate was all that much worse because God allowed them to deceive themselves that they were in good standing with God though they dabbled in sin. 

It is a warning and a challenge to us now. Will we take a close look at our lives and clearly see where we have allowed sin in and thus deceived ourselves. Will we take the test that God has left before or nation to turn from ungodly idols and activities?  Will we embrace God's ways though they are unpopular and may bring the world's mocking? Will we endure the taunting and ostracism in order to align ourselves with our Lord?  

How much have you been helped by our God?  How much sin has He forgiven?  What sacrifice did He offer to save you from the sin that enslaved you?  Will we not also endure hardship to stay pure and turn from worldly ways?  

Our nation should not be deceived. Just because God has not offered immediate correction does not indicate that He is pleased. We know the Lord's return is sooner today than it was yesterday. He could come at any moment and with Him being judgement for the careless disregard we have shown Him. We should confess our sins and turn from them while there is still time. Our Lord longs for us to seek Him and promises peace, redemption, and eternal rewards for those who will. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Judges 1 - Friends and Enemies

As we open the book of Judges the stage is being set. Joshua has passed and now the nations are left without clear leadership. What will they do?  In verse 1 we are encouraged to learn that the Israelites sought God and received His  council.   But not all tribes of Israel executed that council. 

Judah receives orders to drive the Canaanites out of the land and occupy it for themselves. They turn to their friends and brother nation Simeon and together the conquer the land. 

Caleb offers his daughter Acsah, to them valiant enough to capture the City of Debir. He later received his daughters request for expanded territory to include springs of water to nourish the land and animals. 

The men of Judah saw great victory operating on Gods commands. Oh that it would be true of us as well. 

Midway through this first chapter (Judges 1:22) we learn that the story is not as rosey as we initially thought. There were tribes if Israel that chose not to drive the enemy out of the land and chose to let them remain. As a result they had ongoing conflict with the former peoples. God had clearly instructed the Israelites to completely remove the former inhabitants, but we are about to see that the results of half-hearted obedience.   The enemy continued to live in the land stirring strife and influencing generations away from faithful obedience. 

When I consider my own testimony, I can see that when I seek the Lord and ask for His direction, I have greater victory and ultimately sleep better at night with less conflict. I enjoy the fellowship of fellow Christians who encourage me and pray for me and keep me in the way I have commited to God. 

But when I determine my own boundaries and follow God with less  than my full effort, I find that the easier way I may have chosen is full of strife and conflict. I have unbelievers embedded into life in such a way as to sway me from whole-hearted yielding to the Spirit residing in me. I am tempted to go the way of the world rather than influencing the world for Christ. 

We have these two examples of obedience before us in this chapter. We must choose to serve God fully or go our own way. Each have difficulties and consequences, but only one gives us victory. Which will you choose today?

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Joshua 24 - Everyone Serves

No matter who we are, we serve under a leader. Some may choose to serve self, some serve materialism, some serve fame and some serve other gods with a variety of names. We are all driven to serve the God of our choosing. Joshua challenges Israel to "choose this day who you will serve". 

Israel had not always been faithful to God, but Joshua outlines the many ways God has been faithful to His people from the time He called Abraham out of the land of his fathers.  Joshua calls Israel to remember their history. God watches over Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

When they were in Egypt, God saw the oppression and delivered them by afflicting the Egyptians and protecting them by miraculous interventions. When they arrived East of the Jordan, God himself fought on their behalf and overcame the Amorites.  

God has demonstrated His faithfulness through the ages. As I think back one own life I know that to be true. Like the Israelites I have not always been faithful. Each day I am challenged as I open my Bible  to choose this day who I will serve. I am challenged to make a memorial of my commitment to remind me to whom I belong. 

God longs for his people to did contentment in Him. Will we be headstrong and defiantly go our own way or will we choose to make our life count and live in faithful service?  Josh 24:14 should be the challenge we all take. "Fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods you used to worship and serve the Lord". A good word for us all. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Joshua 23 - Last Words

Words are powerful. They can break a person or build them up. They can chastise or encourage. But final words have a special significance. They reveal what is important to the speaker knowing they may never have an opportunity to communicate this way again. 

Joshua, being advanced in years and having accomplished his mission to bring the Israelites into the promised land and settle them realizes his time has come. He passes on to the nation a challenge that could be passed down to every generation... "Be careful to love the Lord your God" Josh 23:11. 

Joshua reminds the people of how the Lord has fought for the people allowing them to take possession of the land, but he also reminds them of God's promise to punish them and remove them from the land of they were not faithful. Joshua reminds the people that the Lord will bring evil upon the people if they do not honor their covenant with God. (Josh 23:15). God has the ability and discretion to bless or to curse. Joshua encourages his brethren to choose the way of blessing. 

You and I could read ourselves into this story. I know the pull the world and sin have in my life and that daily I make a choice to trust God or to follow another way. I know that taking a stand for the Lord in our generation leaves a person exposed to all kinds of mockery and criticism. But we are called to be Gods children and stand strong in our faith even when the world is not hospitable.  We are to witness of God's greatness even among those who scoff. 

We who belong to the Lord know our eternal position is secure, but God will judge our witness among the world and may even bring disaster here to bring us back to dependence on Him alone. 

He also pours out blessing to the faithful. For those who are rich in the Lord know that God provides all our needs according to His riches in glory. The riches may not be temporal but they are greater than anything we could think to ask for. 

So, today we are challenged to be careful to love the Lord our God. Let's make our love known to the world around us today. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Joshua 22 - Getting it Right

The nation of Israel is not known for getting a lot of "Atta-boys". For years they struggled with obedience and their fickle hearts left them wandering for forty years in the desert. But here in this chapter, we have a great story about getting things right. 

If you remember for earlier chapters (see Num 32), at the first battle where land was conquered the Reubenites and Gadites saw all the rich pastureland on the east bank of the Jordan and asked Moses for their inheritance right there. Moses commanded them to go across and continue the claim of land for their brother tribes and they would not rest in their land until all the tribes had their portion. Now many years later, Joshua is commending them for their service and releasing them to return to their land. They received their portion of the spoils of war including livestock, gold, bronze and iron they could take to enrich their people. 

When the Reubenites, Gadites and the 1/2 tribe of Manasseh built a large altar on the bank of the Jordan (Josh 22:10) their brother tribes were alarmed and fearful that the tribes easy of the Jordan had given into idol worship and rightly sent the priests to confront them. As Christians we have a responsibility to our fellow believers to encourage them in holy living and to redirect when they have gone astray (in love). 

The priests noted (Josh 22:18) that the entire nation might suffer as a result of their sin. We do not sin in isolation.  Just as Adam's one sin has been passed down through the ages, so our sin impacts others. When I consider our own nation and the way we have treated God, I am fearful like the western nations at this time were. God must judge sin; He won't continue to allow His name to be defamed. 

The Reubenites, the Gadites and the 1/2 tribe of Manasseh clarified the purpose of the altar was a holy one to assure the tribes on both sides of the Jordan that there was one God who united them and who is Sovreign over the affairs of the nations. They saw the how the boundary of the Jordan might one day be seen as a divider of the nation and they wanted to be sure that their descendants had a reference point they could look to and be reminded of who they were. Not only had they done well they had taken a proactive effort to preserve the unity they had as God's people. 

There is so much for us to take from this passage.  

1.  Like the Eastern tribes we should faithfully serve for the benefit of all. As Christians we are called to look out for the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

2.  Like the western tribes and the priests we should be ready to quickly address sin in our midst and confront it in love when we see a brother or sister straying from their walk with the Lord. We are not independent believers, but the body of Christ. Note: when confronting sin we should use the utmost care and humility to ensure we do not allow this sin to divide us but to use our common faith to unite us and direct us. 

3.  We should proactively establish guards in our lives that will keep us from straying from the faith. If we evaluate our lives we can see the places we have strayed and anticipate ways we might be tempted in the future and establish guards for ourselves and our family. We should make every effort to protect the faith. When we are in good spaces - in right relationship to God - we are in the best place to establish protections for the future. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Joshua 21 - Final Inheritance

God is faithful in all his dealings with his people.  Just as he promised Moses, the Levites would not have a land of their own, but they would be interspersed throughout the territories of Israel. 

They were selected for special service to the Lord so they were not first in receiving their portion, but last. They would be among the people and they would take command of the sanctuary cities mentioned in the last chapter. 

As Christians, God has placed us throughout the world without a permanent possession, but our full inheritance is in Heaven and we are placed here for the Lord's service. God places people in every station of life that there would be no one who would not have access to a Christian and benefit fro the gospel we share. We are specially chosen by God and placed in his service. 

Just as the Levites were given charge of the sanctuary cities, we too are charged with caring for the needs of the vulnerable. We have been blessed to be a blessing. Our inheritance is not here so there is nothing that we need to greedily guard.  But God protects his children nonetheless. Look to Joshua 21:44; "the Lord gave them rest on every side". There were no enemies who could overtake them; they were secure in the place where God provides.  There is evil in the world and Satan dominates the wills of those who are lost, but God protects his own and they are secure. 

Joshua 21:45 is such a beautiful verse that each of us should keep close to us. Not one of God's promises failed. Everyone fulfilled. Dear Christian, like the Israelites, we have been delivered from the land of slavery (sin) where we are oppressed from within, but we have not arrived at our promised land. We are placed in the middle of conflict and corruption to influence the world and to stand firm in our faith. The One who is Faithful and True will see us through and will lavish our inheritance upon us that includes peace and absolute security. 

We need to remember that God keeps his promises. We have the hope of his return for us and we can know that every promise God made will be fulfilled. Don't give up when the circumstances seem dark. God is not hindered in honoring his promise.  He will deliver right on time and his fulfillment could be any day. Look up dear Christian. God is on his throne and we have a great inheritance in store!

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Joshua 20 - Help in Time of Trouble

In the days of Joshua, there was an established practice that if someone is killed, a representative from that person's family is to avenge the victim by bringing the killer to the authorities to be executed. The avenger would help to organize the witnesses so that their loved one would have vindication. God had established capital punishment as early as the time of Noah (Gen 9:6). 

If the death was accidental, a person could fall prey to the avenger and not have protection. God overcame that by establishing cities of refuge interspersed throughout the land so that there was safety nearby any area of Israel. As long as the person stayed within the walls of the city and the high priest was living, they would be safe from the avenger. 

This is a wonderful picture of the security we have in Christ. Anyone, Jew or Gentile is welcome to find sanctuary. He is called our Refuge. There are a number of Psalms that mention this but Psalm 9:o says, "The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble."  What an encouragement for us who live in a world filled with anger and wickedness. We can find refuge in the arms of our Lord. 

Like the sanctuary cities, the Lord is never far off. He welcomes all who come and offers security to those who remain inside his walls of protection. The distinction between the cities and our Lord is that the cities were offered to those who were not guilty, but we know that our sin makes us overwhelmingly guilty; yet our Lord paid out debt and allows us freedom even though we are worthy of judgement. 

Our penalty like that of the murderer was death. Eternal damnation with the demons, yet we can flee to Jesus and find security. He gives us a new life and new hope within His protection. 

Our reward is greater than anything we could purchase with money here. We get the promise of eternal life and even more, God's Spirit comes to reside in our hearts to guide us and to comfort us, but also to give us the measure of love and grace to be applied to others.  The same grace we received when we found sanctuary. 

I hope you know that security we have in Christ. If you don't, it isn't too late to find it. Confess that you know that God has every right to execute justice over your sin. Confess your sins and ask His forgiveness. Accept the offer of eternal life provided through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and find life in Him. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Joshua 19 - Land of Promise

Chapters 14 - 19 are difficult to read for us. The distribution of land and establishment of borders just seem like endless names to us who are not familiar with the land. I had to take out some Bible maps just to get a sense of where the boundaries were. But for the people of Israel this distribution was great celebration. They had never known a place of their own and now by God's power they were settling into that land of promise. The land that Abraham and Isaac had once called home was now theirs to inhabit. 

There is something so satisfying about having a place of your own to call home. No more would they travel about in tents, but they could now build permanent houses and farm the land. They could establish businesses and trade. They finally had a place of rest. They would pass their portion down to their children and they would continue this legacy that God established in his promise to Abraham. 

There would be future events that would take place in this promised land. Some hard; like the destruction of the temple and the occupation of Assyria and Babylon. There would also be some monumentous occasions like the birth of our Lord Jesus and His glorious resurrection. The first Christian church would meet here and the Jewish people would forever see this land as their true home. 

The Israelites were smack dab in the middle of their story. So much had transpired, but so much was yet to come. We too look forward to our inheritance as saints of God. Our home is not here. We like the Isrealites for so many years wander about in a foreign land where we really don't fit. We look forward to the time when our Lord returns and gives to us our inheritance. 

Our story, God's story, is in the middle of being told. So much has transpired, yet there is so much yet to come. I am sure that the Israelites had lost hope wandering in the wilderness and waiting for something that seemed so remote, so unattainable. We too wait in our own desert of God's making. Looking forward to the return of our Lord to take us to be with Him, but in the meantime we are being molded and shaped into the bride of Christ showing His character and His beauty. We are getting ready for that inheritance though it seems we have been waiting all our lives. Our promised land will one day fill us with gladness and joy but we can anticipate it now as we look forward to the greates celebration man has ever known. That is when we will receive the good and lasting inheritance being stored up for us as we serve the Lord here in waiting. 

Be faithful in service and look upward as you anticipate your rich reward. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him.