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.