Archive for July, 2017

Judges 2:16-23 (Part 2)
The Lord Rescues His People

Since the end of my second marriage in the summer of 2004, one of the things that I did was to really go overboard in re-establishing the relationship with my daughters, particularly with my youngest daughter, Taylor. My oldest daughter had come to live with me and my second wife in 2001 so we had begun reconstructing our relationship to a certain extent. However, my younger daughter had remained living with her mom and when she came to my home for visitations it was still almost like she wasn’t there and then I only did the bare minimum of communication, of support and so on. At least with my oldest daughter, she was living with us and by her mere presence demanded recognition. But even then, I was not the father to either one of them that I should have been while I was married to my second wife.

After my second marriage ended, I spent a great deal of time spoiling my girls to make up for what had happened to our relationship during my second marriage. Meghan, my oldest, was already starting her sophomore year at Clemson but Taylor was a sophomore in high school by this time so there were the every other weekend visitations still with her. Taylor got to experience a lot of spoiling on these weekends. Whatever she wanted she got. Being the only child that chose to stay with her mother, she also got very spoiled on a day to day basis at home with her mom. She took full advantage as any child would. Taylor had no incentive to work as she was handed everything by her mother at home and by me as her non-custodial dad. In fact, Taylor did not get a job until her senior year in high school and even then it was part time. She was so spoiled that she decided to quit her seeking of a post-high school education after one brief semester at a local technical school near her home. It was too much work. Although Taylor is almost brilliant in the ease at which school came to her, she never wanted to work too hard at it. After working several years part time she finally got a full-time job as a customer service rep at a regional pest control company. All the while, I continued to spoil her in certain ways. One of which was keeping her on my cellular telephone plan without asking her to pay her share and I continued to give her money any time she asked for it.

Finally, I began to see that she was abusing the privilege of the phone and running up these huge data usage amounts that would often send me over my data limit. We began having arguments about it and I warned her repeatedly that I was going to cut her off my plan. This was the beginning of the disaster that has become our relationship. I had raised what had become a child that meets the classic definitions of the millennial crowd – the generations of American youth who had a sense of entitlement because they had never been forced to work or do without or sacrifice.

In the midst of all this brewing discord between me and my youngest daughter, her mother, my first wife, passed away at one month shy of turning 55 years old in July 2015. Within a month of her mother’s death, Taylor had quit her job and she has not returned to the workforce (at least not that I know of). Within a few months after her quitting her job, she and I got into a big argument about when she was going to be ready to start working again. Since that time I have barely seen her. Since that time, the only time that she begins conversations with me is when she has a financial crisis. She and her boyfriend live this hand to mouth existence but yet when things get out of hand financially she starts talking to me. So tired of this cycle of silence and awakening of our relationship when she needed something after over a year of saying that I would finally cut the final apron string of her cell phone in November 2016. After that, I did not here from her again until February 2017 when she needed money again. The tears flowed like a river that day and I paid to a four figure sum to get the power and water turned back on at the house she inheritied from her mom. She promised to have a relationship again at that point and she promised to pay me back for the assistance and she said she was looking for a job. It was another con job. I have not heard from her since. She has returned to incommunicado mode. Because of the ongoing war about (1) moving on from her mother’s death, (2) getting a full-time job, (3) living a responsible life (4) going to college, and (5) having a normal relationship with me, the last two years of this rift between Taylor and me, she has not been around any family events in the life of our family including the birth and first birthday party of her niece and my granddaughter, Ralyn. Birthdays of her sister, her granddad, Thanksgiving, Christmas, you name the family event, she has skipped it without even as much as a phone call. As of this writing, though I have texted and asked her to get in touch with me on numerous occasions and even went by her house about six weeks ago, I have not heard from my youngest child in five and half months. Nothing. No communications. She got what she wanted and returned to the veil of silence. For all the teary-eyed talk back in February at the Pizza Inn in Duncan, SC, and the taking of the assistance that I gave her to get her out of a jam with her utilities, I have heard nothing. Silence.

It was my relationship with my youngest daughter that I thought of this morning and how it is similar to the way that Israel is portrayed in this passage. Let’s read through it and I will connect dots after we do. Let’s read it together now:

16 Then the Lord raised up judges,[a] who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands. 18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

20 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 22 I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” 23 The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.

In this passage, we see that despite Israel’s disobedience, God showed them great mercy by raising up judges to save the people from their oppressors. Mercy can be defined as “not giving a person what they deserve.” This is exactly what God did for Israel and what He does for us as His children. Our disobedience demands judgment. But God shows mercy toward us by providing an escape from the final judgment of our sins in Jesus Christ. He alone can save us from the real and final consequences of our sins when we meet our judgment. When we earnestly come to Jesus realizing that we are painfully aware of our sins and the judgment that they will bring us and ask for forgiveness and the intervention of the covering of our sins by Jesus Christ we are asking for that which we do not even come close to deserving. Yet, when we come to Christ with an humbled heart and ask Him to be our Savior from our sins and to be the Lord over our life, we experience release from judgment by grace through faith.

The reason that I thought about Taylor when I read this passage is that because of this situation with her that I really have come to understand the love that God has for us and the grace that He gives us that is undeserved. I understand God’s love for us because of my love for my daughter, Taylor. No matter what she does to thumb her nose up at me and no matter how she blames me for her problems, I still love her. If she walked in my door right now, I would hug her and tell her that I love her. This fight she has with me is because she has created it in her mind. It is not because I do not love her. I do love her. I love her no less now than I did when our relationship was good and when I was showering her with blessings. I do allow her to suffer the consequences of her own actions now, but I do nonetheless love her. That’s a view of God’s grace to Israel and to us. No matter how distant my daughter becomes from me, I still love her and still would exchange my life for hers if it ever came to that. That’s the grace she, by all rights, does not deserve. She uses me to get what she wants and then she ignores me. Sounds like Israel. Sounds like us when it comes to God. Grace means love despite actions that deserve something other than love. Grace means deserving condemnation but getting love.

Through my yearning for having a normal relationship again with my youngest daughter, but her shaking her fist at me in defiance, I know can begin to understand the love of God for us. We shake our fist at him in defiance and we do not deserve His love. We deserve His judgment. We deserve anything but love. But He loves us anyway. He gives us Jesus. Through Jesus, through God’s love for us, we can restore our relationship with Him. Just as if Taylor walked through my door right now, she would be loved and accepted and no condemnation would be given for barely speaking to me these past two years. It is because of love that God remained faithful to Israel despite her defiance. That’s a parent’s love for a child. That’s God’s love for us.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 2:16-23 (Part 1 of 3)
The Lord Rescues His People

It is not very popular these days to take a stand against that which is in opposition to the Bible’s commands. Christians are considered “they” in our society today. We are no longer considered the “we” of our society. Recently, I was watching CNN, that bastion of objective reporting that it has become (LOL!), where they had a panel of “experts” dissecting and, of course crucifying Trump for his decision today to ban transgenders from military service, and one thing that struck me was that one of the panelists talked about how Christians saw this as a hot button issue since this more than any other issue involves personal choice. The reporter even went as far as saying that even if Christians gave some leeway to the argument that gay people may be born that way, transgender issues represent a cut and dried issue for Christians involving a choice to go against nature. Although that statement is false as we Christians do also see homosexuality as a lifestyle choice rather than a genetic issue. The general liberalism on that issue of some Christian denominations may have skewed that thought. The true Christian view of these issues are that they are all wrong in the sight of God and that just like any other sin, we must repent from them and return to God through Jesus Christ. The falsehood of her statements was not what struck me. The thing that struck me the most, was the fact that she referred to Christians as “they” and not “we”.

We no longer live in a society that is ruled by Christian principles. Christian principles are seen as an oppressive thing of the past where we are prevented from doing what we want and believing what we want to believe. Sexual morality as defined by the Bible is no longer seen as valid and that whatever your sexuality is, you should be free to pursue. We are own little islands in which we are own gods, free to determine what is right for us alone. We are own moral bubbles floating around freely. Homosexuality, transgenderism, unrestrained heterosexual freedom, baby mommas, baby daddies, it is all OK now since we have displaced the one true God with ourselves. With us as our own gods, we must only do no harm (like the Hypocratic Oath for doctors) or at least do more good than bad then we all go to heaven. No longer are we restrained by that archaic Christian concept that one sin condemns us to hell and that we must have a Savior. Jesus thus must be taken down from his place of singular deity because we don’t need saving now. Jesus is demoted to just another philosophy among those that you can choose from in life that fits your needs and your desired lifestyle. If you don’t like the parts of the Bible that are against how you want to live your lifestyle, you ignore them. You then must begin to see all religions as equal ways to heaven. Under this pantheistic view, we effectively eliminate hell. There is no need to talk of hell because that is old-fashioned and that our god is a loving, non-judgmental, all-tolerating god. He just loves us and lets us do what we want because our god just wants us to be happy to pursue what we define as right for our own moral little bubble. Our god today is like the old Lionel Ritchie song from 1977 (wow, really? That song’s 40 years old) where god is “easy like a Sunday morning!” The god we have now invented for ourselves is no longer the God of the Bible. The god we have invented for ourselves has caused true Christians to be considered “they”. We are “they” and we are roundly criticized, vilified, and marginalized at any point we go against the current trend toward pantheism and self-worship. If you buck the trend toward self-worship, you are considered an ogre with your knuckles dragging the ground. Some Christian denominations are so scared of being vilified by the majority of self-worship that pervades our society that they have adopted some of the self-worship concepts in contrast to the clear mandates of the Bible. In order to be seen as culturally with it and relevant some denominations have ignored the Bible and embraced the culture.
It is this idea of the self-worship as a form of idol worship that our country has fallen into was what came to mind this morning as I read through this passage, Judges 2:16-23, for the first of three times this morning. The same thing was happening to Israel. Let’s read about it now:

16 Then the Lord raised up judges,[a] who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands. 18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

20 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 22 I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” 23 The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.

In this passage, we see that God often delivered His harshest criticism and punishment to those who worshiped idols. Why were idols so bad in God’s sight? To worship an idol violated the first two of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-6). The Canaanites had gods for almost every season, activity, or place. To them, the Lord was just another god to add to their collection of gods. Israel, by contrast, was to worship only the Lord. They could not possibly believe that God was the one true God and at the same time bow to an idol. Idol worshipers could not see their god as their creator because they created it. These idols represented sensual, carnal, and immoral aspects of human nature. Adding the worship of idols to the worship of God could not be tolerated by Him.

Why would the people of Israel turn away so quickly from their faith in God? Simply put, the Canaanite religion appeared more attractive to the sensual nature and offered more short-range benefits (sexual permissiveness and the promise of increased fertility in sexual activity and in farming). One of its most attractive features was that people could remain selfish and yet fulfill what they thought were their religious requirements. They could do almost anything they wished and still be obeying at least one of the many Canaanite gods. Male and female prostitution was not only allowed but was encouraged as a form of worship. Faith in the one true God does not offer short-range benefits that appeal to our sinful human nature. The essence of sin is selfishness. The essence of following God’s ways is selflessness. We must seek Christ to live in God’s way.

Do you not see what America is becoming is just like the Israel of the Judges era? We have turned away from God and worship our own free expression of the desires of our hearts and it is that desire that we worship not God. We may feign belief in God in our nation now but only when it does not get in the way of our self-worship and pantheism of all roads lead to heaven. We no longer need a Savior. We are own gods. There is no real sin. There is no condemnation. God is our buddy. Jesus is our friend. We have elevated ourselves to being our own gods and we define what is right for ourselves not some higher external being known as the one true God.

Let us pray for revival. Let us pray for bold Christians. Let us pray for Christians who care enough about the reality of hell that we don’t want our worst enemies to go there. Let us pray for an evangelistic explosion where we relate the Word of God in ways that meet people where they are at in their self worship in today’s world. Let us quit being “they” and engage the culture of self-worship with the truth of the Word of God in loving ways but yet reveal the truth about sin. All of us are sinners who blind ourselves at times to our sins and call them good, until we encounter a pure, holy and just God who exposes our sins for what they really are. It is only then that we see that Jesus is necessary. Jesus not just a friend who tolerates anything we do but rather our only way to be saved from the condemnation of our sins to that very real place known as hell.

God give us that boldness and that caring. We pray for the day that we are no longer they!

Amen and Amen.

Judges 2:6-15
Israel Disobeys the Lord

There is an old axiom that says grandchildren are our chance to correct the mistakes that we made with our children. When we are young and have our children, we often make mistakes with them that impact them the rest of our lives. I know that is the case with my grown daughters. One of the biggest mistakes that I made with my kids is that God was never really part of conversations at home. I guess I expected them to catch the faith by taking them to church on Sundays. But we never read Bible stories to them. We never did family devotionals at the dinner table. And the little church that we went to that was my first wife’s family church was little more than social club that meet on Sundays between three local extended families. There was no discipleship, no Sunday school, just Sunday morning preaching and that was about it.

At home, there were two parents who were not anywhere closed to being saved by grace through faith. We claimed to be Christians but that was it, the claim. There was not even a Bible in our house that I can remember. Then there was all the marital discord and causes and effects that led our marriage to the courtroom. Then, our children were never really exposed to discipleship through us as parents after that. I am pretty sure that my oldest daughter, now 32 and a parent of a 1 year old daughter of her own, is saved simply by listening to her talk about God and faith and how she prays. My prayer for her is that she will find a local church that will energize her and deepen her faith through the fellowship with other believers. My youngest daughter, who and am going through relationship struggles right now may not be saved. She may be but the fruits of the spirit are not evident. I pray that she will come to the Lord. I pray that God will place people into her life that will lead her into the light of the Lord.

The thing that is striking to me about my grown children and I think it is true of all children is that it like the old saying about it being tough to get the horse back in the barn after leaving the barn door open. If we don’t teach our children the ways of the Lord when we have them at home, we leave the barn door open. Much of our lifelong behaviors are learned in those early first 5 years of life. If we do not make our faith evident to them and if we do not directly have time where we teach them about the Lord, we leave the barn door open. If we do not take life’s teachable moments and interweave the Christian faith into the teachable moments, we leave the barn door open. It is like trying to get the horse back in the barn after leaving the barn door open. The world is too ready to teach our children the ways of the Lord and trying to combat that when you have not taught them about God and His commands and His Word after say they are teenagers, you missed the golden opportunities. Those early formative years when our kids are little and moldable and teachable are an important window of opportunity to teach them the ways of the Lord from which they will never depart. I just pray that my children forgive me and that the Lord forgives me for missing that window of opportunity with my kids.

But I do have an opportunity at making up for the mistakes that I made with my kids. The granddaughter that just turned 1 this past week is that opportunity to make up for not seeing the importance of teaching the next generation about the Lord. I want young Miss Ralyn to know the Lord at an early age. I want her to be exposed to Bible stories. I want her to be exposed to Christian principles. I want her to be taught about who Jesus is and what He represents for us. And I want to do it in a way that is not preachy but such that she asks questions about Jesus and God and the church and use those moments to impart the gospel to her. I want it to be easy going and part of everyday conversation so that Jesus is fun and intriguing to her young mind. Grandkids are our opportunities to make up for how we screwed up our own kids. They are our second chance. I hope that I do well with my second chance.

That idea of imparting knowledge of God and the ways of God to our next generations was what I thought of this morning. How Israel failed at it. How I failed at and how my grandchild is my opportunity make up for the mistakes I made in teaching my kids about God. If we don’t teach our kids about God and about His love for us through Jesus Christ, there is a world out there too willing to ask them to join in the things that the world worships. We see it in Israel’s history in this passage, Judges 2:6-15:

6 After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to their own inheritance. 7 The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.

8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres[a] in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.

Here in this passage, we see that one generation died and the next did not follow God. Judges 2:10-3:7 is a brief preview of the cycle of sin, judgment, and repentance that Israel experienced again and again. Each generation failed to teach the next generation to love and follow God. Yet, this was the very center of the law (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). It is tempting to leave the job of teach the Christian faith to the church, Sunday school, or church-related organizations. Yet, God says the responsibility for this task primarily belongs to the family. Because children learn so much by our example, the home offers the most effective place to pass on the faith to the next generation.

Little Miss Rayln, my sweet grandchild, I want you not have to suffer through years and years of struggles and such a long and winding road to the cross. I want you to know the Lord, know what Jesus Christ did for you, and for you to know Jesus Christ as your Savior at a time that is right for you and hopefully that it is early in life. I want you not to have to get caught up in what the world worships and the struggles that it will cause you in life. I pray that your granddaddy here will be able to influence your through direct and indirect ways about our Christian faith and God’s Word. I pray I will be able to answer the tough questions that you will have about life and being a Christ follower. I pray all of that fervently.

Amen and Amen.

 

Judges 2:1-5
The Angel of the Lord at Bokim

I remember when I was married to my second wife, I lived with her and her three boys. Watching the way discipline was handled by the boys’ mom was an eye-opener to me. For all the faults there were with my first marriage, one thing we did right was being consistent with discipline. However, by the time that I got the boys in this second marriage, they were 9, 6, and 3. Discipline patterns and child behavior patterns had already been set. I came in expecting consistent discipline and support from this wife when it was time to dole it out. However, what I found out was that life was going to be quite different from what I had expected.

One of my things with my children (which I learned from my dad) was that discipline starts at the dinner table. In my first marriage, whatever Lisa put on the table was what we all ate. No questions asked. If you didn’t eat it. You went hungry. No negotiations. No mom being a short-order cook for the husband and the two girls. We ate what she cooked and that was it. This sometimes was really difficult with Meghan and Taylor, but we never gave in on it. To this day, my girls will eat a wide variety of foods and will try any type of food at least once. This is where discipline begins. When you sit down at my dinner table, young lady, you will eat what is put in front of you and you will go hungry if you don’t. This simple discipline taught my girls not only to eat more than chicken nuggets but it also taught them that you cant always get what you want. It taught them that you can negotiate your way out of things you don’t want to do. It also taught them that there are fixed boundaries with parents that you cannot cross over. It also taught them that you can’t pitch a temper tamtrum to get what you want or to get out of something you don’t want. It taught them sometimes in life you just have to grin and bear when there is no easy way out of a situation.

With my second wife, the dinner table was like watching a cook at McDonalds. She would fix one meal for me and up to three different things for the three boys. It used to blow my mind. By the time I came into the picture, this pattern of behavior had already been set. I used to try to get the boys to eat what Trena and I were eating but the cast was set. That was not the only place that the kids had established a pattern of negotiating their way out of what they did not like. When they got in trouble and Trena or I would dole out a punishment, they would come back an hour or so after the confrontation and would beg their mom to let them off the hook. They would do in this in hourly cycles all night long. They would keep the pressure up until she would relent somewhat. They would negotiate their way down to almost having no punishment at all. Within 24 hours of this incessant whining and Trena not being willing to pay the price herself for whatever punishment was doled out, there would be no punishment anymore. When a punishment is inconvenient for the parent, we must be willing to pay the price as well so as to teach our children lessons. But all this lack of effective discipline with built-in consequences for actions led to an unruly household that used to drive me insane. My first marriage was a living hell much of it but in some ways this second marriage was just as soul crushing. I had no authority in my own home and that made our home like living in the insane asylum where the patients were in charge of the hospital.

Reading today’s passage reminded me of the time I spent in my second marriage. Here, we see the Israelites being called out for their disobedience. They then do all the right things, say the right things. But as we see immediately in the next passage, they go right back to what they were doing. It reminded me of how the boys would do stuff that they knew was wrong and against my rules but they would plain out do it any way just to spite me. Then, when they got busted by me for the millionth time, they would do all the right things and say the right things in front of their mom and get their sentence reduced or eliminated. And dinner time was like that too. If they didn’t wanna eat what was proposed they would negotiate their way out of it. In all of their patterns of behavior of negotiating of putting on the right appearances, they then got way with pretty much anything they did. They had no discipline. They learned situational ethics from the beginning. Do what you want. Rationalize it away as not being bad. Then go back to doing what you want. The boys and the Israelites reminded me a lot of each other when I read that they were called out. Then they dance the dance they needed to dance. But then go right back to doing the very things they were called out for.

Let’s read Judges 2:1-4 right now and see if you can get that same vibe as I did:

CHAPTER 2 

1 The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3 And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’”

4 When the angel of the Lord had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, 5 and they called that place Bokim.[a] There they offered sacrifices to the Lord.

 

Here you see that the angel called out the Israelites for their disobedience. The angel explains why God has his requirements for His people. God knew that the idol-worshiping, evil, immoral people of Canaan had to be completely driven out and destroyed. Because otherwise, they would become temptations and snares for the Israelites. We find from the remainder of the Old Testament that this came true and had disastrous consequences for Israel over the centuries. All because way back here in Judges, they disobeyed and got lazy in obeying God.

I know that it sounds crazy but with your kids, discipline must start at the dinner table. If you lose that battle, they will use it as a prompt for negotiations in other areas of life. We, as parents, must require and enforce discipline at the dinner table. If they don’t eat what mom puts on the table, then they go hungry. Plain and simple. It will only take one time of there being a consequence. Going hungry is a pretty good punishment for disobedience. If you lose that battle, they will learn that they can negotiate over punishments, over curfews, over homework, over you name it. Never lose the battle of the dinner table. It is the beginning of a slippery slope if you do. Then you get kids who think they can do all the right things to your face and then do whatever they want behind your back.

Here you see the Israelites dancing the dance that needs dancing for the moment to get themselves out of trouble. However, they go right back to doing wrong. However, instead of being able to negotiate their way out of or rationalizing away their out of consequences, God allows the consequences to play themselves out in the Israelites lives. It is the same kind of thing that happens with our kids. When we release them out into the world (with a I can get away with pretty much anything mentality), they will soon crash and burn and get crushed by the realities of the fact that world is not mom and the world doesn’t negotiate consequences. It all starts at the dinner table. Win that battle. Win the war.

It is the same with us as children of God. If we obey the Lord and if we stay in His Word, we will learn that God has boundaries for us not because He is some mean, capricious God but because He loves us and does not want us to become ensnared in sin and its non-negotiable consequences. God wants what is best for us. That’s why He wants obedience from us.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 1:19-36
Israel Fails to Fully Conquer the Land

A few days ago, I wrote a blog in which I wondered where all the great leaders have gone. The decay in leadership of our country over the past generation has led us down the path where in the most recent presidential election our choices were limited to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. A few elections ago, we bemoaned our choice between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Back then, a lot of people called it the choice between the lesser of two evils. By 2016, we only wished that we could have had that choice compared to the real lesser of two evils, Trump vs. Clinton. The funny thing was that in this past election, particularly the Republicans, of which I am one, spent so much time trying to make Donald Trump a morally superior candidate to Clinton. They had to be very vociferous in this attempt. They were blasting all over Facebook about those who attempted to deride Trump. They would say that any dissent toward Trump would result in Clinton winning the White House. Any thought of voting third party would guarantee Clinton’s election. They were so afraid of a Clinton victory (and her liberal agenda, which of course frightened me as constitutional purist and Republican) and so enamored with the Trump mystique that they failed to see how completely amoral that Trump himself is. Trump’s ethics depend on the situation and what makes him look the best. His need for self-satisfaction is the whole reason that he ran for President to begin with. Trump has no external moral compass and will reverse position on any issue as long as it preserves the best possible image of himself. Trump, the dealmaker, will do, say, act whatever way that gets him the prize that he wants. I pray that he does not screw things up too badly while in office (which many people fear on both sides of the aisle) and I pray fervently that someone with principal will rise up in the Republican Party to take his place by 2020.

But the thing is, why it came to down to Trump as the “moral” alternative to Clinton. These two are simply the product of the society in which we live now. We are a nation that is descending into moral relativism and running away from God. We no longer are a nation that fears God. We are a nation of gods. Each one of us now determines what is right. Morality is a moving target. There are no moral absolutes. The reason that Trump is where he is today is that we glorify bullies. We may talk a good game about why bullying is wrong in schools but we elected Trump. We have glorified him since the 80s when we burst on the scene as a brash young real estate developer who made his fortune by bold moves and grabbing what he wanted based on the vagaries and loopholes in the tax system. He was bold, arrogant, and bragadocius. We loved him for it. We loved his arrogant bullying type of personality. Now in his seventies with all this adoration for his self-centered approach to life, we wonder why he is a person that would lie to your face to get what he wants. We wander why he is almost child-like his “I know you are but what am I” antics with those who disagree with him. He is simply a reflection of the society in which we live and we should be aghast at who we have become.

We have become a society that breeds Donald Trumps. We have become a society that is all about what I can get for myself. We have become a society where what I want is what I want and I have a right to my own way of doing things regardless of what that means for society. We have become a society that blockades the state of North Carolina for having the temerity to tell someone that they must use public restrooms that correspond with their God-designed and God-given sexual identity of birth. We have become a society that wants to change the nature of nature. We have become a society that says what has been morally wrong for eternity is now not wrong but rather that all of eternity was wrong. We are a society that produces teenagers that see that a man drowning is entertainment rather than a real person in need of assistance. We have become a nation that glorifies the objectification of women as sexual objects and then we wonder why our ten year old daughters dress like adult women going to a night club. We wonder why our children think now that having a baby out of wedlock is a badge of honor. Trump is not some aberration of society. The reason that Trump got elected is because Trump is us. We are Trump and he is us. He is the product of our state of society. Situational ethics, lack of moral absolutes, each of us being our gods and determining what is right and wrong for ourselves is who we are now.

It is that idea of how we became a country whose presidential election choices have hit an all time low back last here with the choice between Trump and Clinton and how Trump is simply the product of our times is what I thought of this morning when I read this passage. In this passage, we see that once Joshua passes on, the Israelites begin to descend in to a relativistic attitude of life. They no longer are concerned with obeying God but rather with what was easiest for them, whatever made them feel good:

19 The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron. 20 As Moses had promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who drove from it the three sons of Anak. 21 The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.

22 Now the tribes of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them. 23 When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), 24 the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, “Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well.” 25 So he showed them, and they put the city to the sword but spared the man and his whole family. 26 He then went to the land of the Hittites, where he built a city and called it Luz, which is its name to this day.

27 But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. 28 When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. 29 Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. 30 Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, so these Canaanites lived among them, but Zebulun did subject them to forced labor. 31 Nor did Asher drive out those living in Akko or Sidon or Ahlab or Akzib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob. 32 The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out. 33 Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced laborers for them. 34 The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. 35 And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the tribes of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor. 36 The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion Pass to Sela and beyond.

In this passage, we see that tribe after tribe failed to drive the evil Canaanites from their land. Why didn’t they follow through and completely obey God’s commands? Reasons may have included:

• They had been fighting for a long time and were tired of war. Although the goal was in sight, they lacked the discipline and energy to reach it.
• They were afraid that the enemy was too strong
• After Joshua’s death, power and authority was decentralized to the various tribal leaders and the tribes were no long united and of a single purpose.
• Spiritual decay had infected them from within. They thought they could handle temptation and be more prosperous by doing business with rather annihilating the Canaanites.

We, too, often choose to tolerate sin rather than drive it out from our lives. We may know what to do but just don’t follow through. This state of affairs results in a gradual deterioration of our relationship with God. Victory comes from living according to His purpose and from being willing to fully obey Him.

So, we in America may want to complain about a man like Trump and Lord knows he is a doozy. He is about as morally bankrupt a man as we have ever had in the White House (and I say this as a person who believes in the fundamental ideas of the Republican Party). Trump makes Bill Clinton look like a boy scout. At least Slick Willie would spin his actions in the best possible light so as to align his actions with some sense of moral center. However, Trump just doesn’t care. He doesn’t know what a moral center is. He will do what he pleases and will denounce and detract those who do not get out of his way. The liberals that hate him are so much the same too. If you support Trump even in the slightest way, you are a bigot not to be listened to (think Samantha Bee and her nightly diatribes on her show on TBS – oh man I am so tired of her!). Trump and his detractors are all products of our society. We may hate Trump but he is what our society has become. There is no moral center to our nation anywhere and we are surprised and shocked when our choices for president are between two morally bankrupt candidates and we elect the one who shouted the loudest though saying nothing of value.

We must pray for our nation. We are becoming ancient Israel that descending into moral depravity and worshiping themselves and other gods rather than the one true God. We may look at the Bible and say we are a better nation than ancient Israel but we are headed down the same path.

I pray that our nation will return to God and that there will be revival in our nation. May we see that Donald Trump is not an aberration and that he is a reflection of who we have become and maybe awaken ourselves from our moral slumber. Maybe Trump is what we need to realize that our nation is adrift in self worship and needs to reclaim the moral absolutes of the Bible and realize that the Bible is not intended to hold us back. The Bible is there to reveal that God wants the best for us if we just obey Him. The Bible is there to let us know that we are not our own gods and evidence after evidence of every society is that when they turn from God that they ruin themselves.

May all believers pray for our nation to have new leaders rise up from among us and to provide the moral leadership that our country needs to lead us back to God. Then Trump will have served his purpose in God’s plan. To show us who we have become and we did not like what we saw in the mirror. May Trump chase our country back to God by his own ugliness that is a reflection of our own ugliness.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 1:1-18 (Part 3 of 3)
Judah and Simeon Conquer the Land

Last night, I was having a discussion with a friend who is a ministry leader in our church. He has calling to his ministry and honestly wants to do the right thing by it. However, right at the moment, he is feeling boxed in about how he is to lead the ministry after having a meeting with our discipleship associate pastor. One of the things that we discussed was about seems to have become my mantra of late. That mantra that has been laid on my heart constantly for the last few months is “to keep plowing the field in front of you!” Sometimes, we may get bitter or upset over the turn of events in our lives when we feel like we have done everything that God has asked of us but you seem to come up empty or you seem not to get what God has promised you.

As I have discussed here many times before about my desire to be in full-time ministry. I have done what God has led me to do – to go to seminary to get my Master of Christian Ministry (MCM) degree and am even now working on my Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) degree. My assumption was that right after graduation there would be my church or another church waiting on me after I stepped down from the stage with my MCM degree in hand ready to offer me a job or that he would make it immediately clear as to what I was supposed to do. However, here we are three years later, and I have only come close to being in full-time service to the Lord once. I thought I had a job in Wooster, OH at a church there in the bag. I had made it through three job interviews, one of which was on-site over a weekend. However, it did not turn out that way because they felt that I did not see the job “as my destination job!” Ever since then, and as I have begun working on my doctorate, that mantra that the Holy Spirit has drilled into my head is “to keep plowing the field in front of you!” In other words, God does not want me to worry about what may be happening around me (in the present) or in front of me (in the future). He just wants me to be faithful at what I am doing now.

What I am doing now is serving Him at my church as the director of finance and as a teacher in our discipleship stake of ministry. The Lord has taken away the bitterness that I have been feeling because of that idea being pounded into my head. It is an assurance that if I will trust the Lord even in the circumstances that don’t seem to exactly what I thought the calling would look like that it will be rewarded. I am having to learn to truly trust the Lord that He has a purpose for it all. I am having to trust that God is using what I am doing right now as rounding me out to prepare me for what He has in store for me after I finish plowing this field. I can easily think that God has abandoned the call He has placed on my life but the trust thing is the thing that I think that I am learning. God has a purpose for everything. He has no randomness and capriciousness in Him. He would not have made me feel as though I am called to full-time ministry and then say He was just kidding. Be faithful and plow the field and front of you and I will see if you really do trust your Father in heaven to know what is best for you and what you need right now and what you will need to be prepared after you finish plowing this field.

Another aspect of this too is this is one thing I wished I had shared last night with my friend and fellow ministry leader. Sometimes, God holds off on opening the gates to a ministry calling because there is some character flaw or something lacking in our leadership that we must deal with. Leaders should be held to a higher standard than the flock of believers that they lead. Is there something that is characteristic of a leader in the church that sets an example for the flock that I am not doing that I should be. Is there some character flaw that I need to identify and work on because in full-time ministry whatever our character flaws are, they will be magnified and exposed? I know that I need to work on my prayer life for example. I am weak in taking specific time to pray. I may be faithful here daily in writing my blog as my way of meditating upon Scripture, as we are supposed to do as Christ followers, but I know my prayer life, that time of intimacy with God with no distractions, is something I am lacking in. I need to ask my friend that same question. Which of the spiritual disciplines are you weak in? Another is examining what of my habits and behaviors could be create a stumbling block for others in their walk with the Lord. Maybe it is during this time of crisis in my friend’s ministry that He must take time to examine his spiritual weaknesses and potential stumbling block habits and behaviors.

While we are being faithful even the face of crisis circumstances or where circumstances are not playing out the way we want them to, we must remain faithful to the Lord and what He has called us to. It is during these times of crisis or times when nothing seems to be happening the way we envisioned that we must trust the Lord and keep plowing the field. We must learn faithfulness in adversity. We must learn faithfulness when there are no obvious results or payback. Maybe the Lord is testing me and my friend to see if we will remain faithful in a crisis (for my friend) and when you are waiting for something to happen (me). We must sometimes keep plowing the field when everything seems to be swirling around us and we don’t understand what is happening. We must keep plowing the field when nothing is happening or nothing is happening as fast as we want or in the way we want.

This passage made me think of “keep plowing the field in front of you” this morning as go through this passage one more time before we move on to the next one. What struck me this morning was the reference to Caleb in vv. 12-15 of this passage. Let’s read through this passage together now, Judges 1:1-18, with a special eye out for the verses 12-15:

1 After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?”

2 The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.”

3 The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, “Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.” So the Simeonites went with them.

4 When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.

7 Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

8 The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.

9 After that, Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. 10 They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. 11 From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher).

12 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.

14 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him[a] to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”

15 She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.

16 The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms[b] with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.

17 Then the men of Judah went with the Simeonites their fellow Israelites and attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they totally destroyed[c] the city. Therefore it was called Hormah.[d] 18 Judah also took[e] Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron—each city with its territory.

In this passage, we see that the event with Caleb and his daughter Acsah and son-in-law Othniel is repeated once again from the book of Joshua (Joshua 15:16-19). Caleb was one of the original men sent out to scout out the Promised Land and with Joshua, encouraged the people to conquer it. For Caleb’s faithfulness all of those years, he was given the land of his choice.

In this passage, we know that Caleb was rewarded and given some choice lands that he shared with his daughter and son-in-law. What we don’t see is that Caleb was faithful to the Lord even when things didn’t seem to go his way. He felt like the Israelites could conquer the land but the whole nation decided that he was wrong and decided to follow the majority opinion that the land was not conquerable. The Israelites then spent forty years wandering in the barren wilderness of the Sinai peninsula. It would have been very easy for Caleb to become bitter while wandering in the desert even though he was one of the two who said the conquest could be done. He could have lost his way. He could have become bitter. He could have relinquished his leadership role and said “screw it! I am done!” But He didn’t. He apparently remained faithful to what the Lord had placed in front of him even when it was not turning out the way he had envisioned. This is not directly stated in Scripture, but he must have been faithful and trusting of the Lord through the wilderness wanderings because as soon as it’s time to dole out the Promised Land to the tribes, Caleb get rewarded for his faithfulness.

Just think of Joseph, one of Abraham’s sons, when in Egypt, he had made somewhat of a place for himself in the new land in which he found himself. He had worked his way up into being the head servant at Potiphar’s house. He had seemingly gained balance in his life and recovered, in a way, from being sold into slavery by his brothers. So he finds some equilibrium. Things get to be going OK. Then, bam, he gets accused of crime he did not commit. He’s thrown into prison. And…he remains there for 12 years. I am sure that Joseph had his bad days with it but in general Joseph trusted in the Lord that there was a purpose in him being there. He served faithfully there. He became so trusted by his jailors that he was placed as the head of the prisoners, the head trustee, kind of like the president of the workers union. It was while he was there that because of who some of the past prisoners had been that Joseph was brought before the Pharoah to interpret his troublesome dreams. From there, Joseph goes on to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. Without Joseph the Egyptian empire would have crumbled and His own family would have starved. If his family had starved, there would be no earthly lineage for Jesus. Joseph did not know that it would be through his people that Jesus Christ would come but he simply was a faithful servant of the Lord. He plowed the field in front of him even when it just did not seem right to him. He just plowed. He trusted that God had some purpose in the current events of his life and he kept plowing.

To my friend, I say keep plowing brother. Just keep trusting the Lord. Just keep doing what is in front of you. It may not be the way you like it or the way you envisioned it to be, but keep plowing. These are the times that God tests our faithfulness and our obedience to Him. When we trust Him and keep plowing, he will reward it down the line. Like He did with Caleb and Joseph.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 1:1-18 (Part 2 of 3)
Judah and Simeon Conquer the Land

Recently, I don’t know if it was the Supreme Court of Florida or the Supreme Court of our land that released a ruling that states in the absence of a law to the contrary, the Constitution does not require us to provide assistance to someone who is about to be harmed or to prevent harm that is about to befall them. The case in question is about Florida teens who watched, filmed, and made derogatory remarks as man drown in a retention pond. According to the court, we are not bound by the constitution to render aid to others when they are in peril. That is the scary thing here is there seems to be a disconnect now between what is moral in our country and what is legal. The boundaries the two, morality and legality, once reflected one another. Our society once had moral boundaries that were equivalently reflected in the laws of our states and country. Further, I think it used to be that the legal boundary of behavior was far beyond (as a final backstop) what we as our country’s citizens considered to be the moral boundaries of life.

This particular court ruling in a case is reflective of the fact that our nation has lost its inside-the-law moral boundary and now we depend strictly on the law to establish the bounds of our behavior. To film a man dying from drowning, making fun of him as it happens, and not offering assistance as he screams for help is not legally wrong according to the court ruling but man is not ever morally wrong? Establishing as a legal precedent that we have no legal obligation to assist others when they are in peril will be used going forward in a myriad of ways. Surely, many states will rush to pass Good Samaritan laws but the precedent in this case will be used to challenge every one of those laws. Since the constitution is silent even in an implied way through case history since the beginning of our nation under it, there is no constitution guarantee or requirement that we help others in peril. I bet that the framers of the constitution if asked this specific question, they would have said “are you kidding me?” Do we have to write something like that into the constitution? That’s a given. But we live in a different world now where we have to be legally spurred to do what is right and what is moral. There are no moral boundaries to our behavior any more.

We can blame the teenagers for failing to render aid and yes they should be roundly criticized. They were of old enough age to know the reality of the situation and yet they failed to render aid to another human being. That’s just wrong and though they may not be judged by the law, God will certainly judge their behavior. However, the teenagers actions are simply reflective of the moral drift of our society in which we have become a self-centered, self-seeking nation. We have guaranteed people’s rights to self-determine their sexual identity in contrast to what is right and natural. We have so taken our individual rights to do whatever we please that we no longer have moral boundaries. We are free to determine what our own morality is now. What is right for me is OK. It used to be that we had a right to self-determination as long as my exercise of my inalienable rights does not infringe upon the rights of others. No longer. We have taken to the extreme that my rights are valid even if they infringe upon your rights. Now, we have become our own legal bubbles. My reality is what I define it within my bubble. The fact is that we have taken that right away from God as the external force that defines for us what is right and what is moral. We have become our gods. Thus, these Florida teens have learned from the society in which they live that they can define for themselves what is right and what is not right for them do.

God is not a mean guy with a magnifying glass and we are ants. He does not without cause punish us. He executes His righteous judgment upon our sins by allowing the consequences of our sins to play out in our lives. He withdraws His blessings from nations that do not honor Him. He is in the process of withdrawing His hand from us. We have drifted so far away from Him that we now we have court cases about whether we should help someone in need or not. This moral drift reminds me of what this Book of Judges is a chronicle of. This passage is the just the beginning of the evident moral drift of Israel away from God.

This passage made me think of that recent court case because in both that case and in this passage, we see the beginnings of moral decay, the beginnings of the drift away from God. Let’s read through this passage together now, Judges 1:1-18:

1 After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?”

2 The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.”

3 The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, “Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.” So the Simeonites went with them.

4 When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.

7 Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

8 The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.

9 After that, Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. 10 They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. 11 From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher).

12 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.

14 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him[a] to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”

15 She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.

16 The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms[b] with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.

17 Then the men of Judah went with the Simeonites their fellow Israelites and attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they totally destroyed[c] the city. Therefore it was called Hormah.[d] 18 Judah also took[e] Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron—each city with its territory.

In this passage, we see that the Canaanites were all the people who lived in the land of Canaan (known the Israelites as the Promised Land). They lived in city-states where each city had its own government, army, and laws. One reason that Canaan was so difficult to fully conquer was that each city had to be defeated individually. There was no single king who could surrender the entire country into the hands of the Israelites. Combine that with the tendency of the Israelites to bend God’s commands to their own needs and taking the easy way out, we find that Israel would not fully realize its conquest.

For example, the maiming of Adoni-bezek was another example of taking a shortcut that demonstrated Israel’s partial obedience to the Lord. Enemy kings were supposed to be executed, not simply humiliated. This defeated king recognized God’s righteous punishment more clearly than God’s people acknowledged God’s commands. When we understand what God tells us to do, we run great danger if we don’t carry out both the letter and spirit of God’s commands.

God knew the greatest threat to Israel was not Canaan’s city-states’ armies but its religion and culture. Canaanite religion and culture idolized evil traits: cruelty in war, sexual immorality, selfish greed, and materialism. It was a “me first, anything goes” society. Obviously, the religions and cultures of Israel and Canaan could not coexist.

As we will see in the book of Judges going forward, Israel no longer was different from the lack of morality around them, they became just like the Canaanites and wondered why God had withdrawn His hand of blessing from them. Are we headed in that direction as a nation today? We have long thought in the American collective psyche that we are the New Israel. God’s people doing it God’s way and being blessed mightily for it. Israel thought that too. But we and the Israelites began defining for themselves what is right and what is moral. When we have to have a court case where we must define whether it legally wrong to not provide assistance to someone in peril, then, we as a nation have left our collective moral boundaries in the dust and we have become the nation of Israel found in the book of Judges.

Let us pray for our nation to return to God. Not just pay lip service prayers to that. But really, really, really, pray for it. Pray fervently. Don’t just say that “this is what the world is coming to!” and throw up your hands in a sort of Christian ivory tower kind of way. Let’s beg God to send a new Great Awakening to our nation. We need it. PRAY FOR IT!

Amen and Amen.

Judges 1:1-18 (Part 1 of 3)
Judah and Simeon Conquer the Land

When you think back on American history, who are the leaders that you think of? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan just to name a few. These are men who either guided us through times of crisis and/or who dared us to reclaim the greatness that once was our nation. Where have all the good men gone? There are men that are born for special times who have galvanized the American psyche and led it to do great things. Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to these great leaders of our country. Without them, our country either may have not survived or would be less influential in the world than it is now. All of them were not perfect for sure but without them where would our country be?

George Washington was the general who was more lucky than good on the battlefield but he was a great motivator of men and a country. He guided our country through the pains of its birth. He was respected throughout the colonies and if it were not for his consensus of respect where would our country be? It might not even exist. We may have been a short-lived revolt that was reconquered at a later date by Britain. He galvanized the country’s spirit. He was a war veteran. People trusted him and followed his leadership. Without him, there was no one else who commanded the respect of the entire nation. Without him there would have been no leadership.

Franklin Roosevelt was the man for the time. Who else could have led us through the crisis that was World War II. It was through his leadership that Americans were willing to sacrifice to support the war effort. His leadership converted the war effort from nation-state against nation-state into the noble effort to win freedom from tyranny. He made the war into the battle for freedom for mankind. He made it a morally righteous war. He made decisions that were necessary for the war effort that were not popular at home. He made the tough decisions that required him to think of what was the best end game for our country and not what was polling as the best course of action. Sometimes men are born and come along at the right time. FDR was certainly that.

John Kennedy awoke a nation in a rut into dreaming greater dreams that what wars we could get into. He dared us to dream that life was more than home in the suburbs. He dared us to pull back the covers of our nation and see the wrongs of centuries and correct them. In so doing, he dared us to dream the impossible dreams. In the land of Kennedy, if we can do the hard work of sending people to outer space and to the moon by the end of the decade then we can solve any problem that we have. He ignited a generation to do great things just as Roosevelt had done for their parents. He dared us to dream the dreams that had never been dreamed before. In his short presidency, that was his legacy – to dream the dreams that need dreaming, to fight the fights that need fighting, to right the wrongs that need righting. Sure, he may have not been the most effective President ever but that is not what we measure Kennedy by. We measure him by how he inspired our country to do great things.

Ronald Reagan was another President who came along at the right time. Between Kennedy and Reagan, our nation suffered through so much turmoil, economic crises, presidential scandals that threatened the very fabric of our constitution, bumbling presidents, a general malaise had crept into our country, our military was no longer seen as indefeatable, we had military blunders galore, economically stagnant, and along comes Ronald Reagan. He was the man for his time. He galvanized the country into believing that we were still the greatest nation on earth. He won victories on the battlefield that gave us confidence again. He instituted controversial economic policies that took some time to work but that re-energized our economy and made being a businessman cool again. For the drift of complacency brought on by the hipster generation, Reagan made us feel good again about making money and our economy took off. He also did not accept that we should fear the Soviet Union. He kept the pressure on the Soviets and people of the West, after a generation of fearing the unknown behemoth, were shocked that he would challenge them. We had accepted for a generation that we could not defeat the Soviets and that we just had to coexist in this uneasy détente. Reagan knew better that the Soviets were a bloated system that was propping itself up with smoke and mirrors. It was under Reagan’s pressure that the Soviet Union feel not from Reagan causing a nuclear war but from forcing them to match us. He brilliantly made the military pressure and weapons development strategy into an issue of freedom for the people of eastern Europe. Reagan picked us up, dusted us off, and said to us like a prize fighter, you’ve still got it in you, now get back in there and make your destiny!

These were all great Presidents of our country. For all their flaws that they may have had personally and politically, these are the Presidents that we remember. These are the presidents that led the nation well. History has been kind to these Presidents for when you look back at the whole of their time in office and have wiped away the emotions of the moment in which they served, you must stand amazed at the greatness of these men for the moments that they served. They came along just when our country needed visionary and passionate leadership.

Where are they now? Where are the great leaders of our country? The Bushes? Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump? These are the leaders we have chosen. And it is often because the one who won was a galvanizing leader that was needed for the times, it is because of a lack of options. In this past election, we had to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. These were our choices. Between two people who have at best situational ethics. Two people to whom the truth is a moving target based on what the latest polls have to say. Two people to who the truth is momentary depending on what makes me look the best. Between a cool, calculating career politician and a street corner bully that has made his fortune off of the loopholes of the tax law and not necessarily because he was good businessman. Between a champion of the new age of I am my own god and a man who thinks he is god. Between a pathological liar and a man who was so in love with himself that he has to put his name on every property he develops. These were our choices. Where have all the good men gone? Where is our leader who will lead us like Reagan, like Kennedy, like FDR, like Lincoln, like Washington. Where is the man who right for our times and needed for our times. We are awash in the lack of true leadership in our country.

Is it because we as a nation no longer honor greatness and sacrifice for the greater good. Is it because we are now a self-seeking people. We are like the Roman Empire in the days when Rome’s excesses caught up with it. We are like the Romans in Rome eating grapes and being fanned while the world that we conquered is being eaten away by invaders until the day that they are at the doorsteps of Rome. Are we so self-absorbed that we no longer can produce great men much less a great generation? Are we so concerned about entertaining ourselves that we cannot produce men of sacrifice? Are we so concerned about making ourselves feel good that there are no moral absolutes upon which to base a lifetime of service and to sacrifice for that which is morally right? Are we so wrapped up in how we feel and what gender we identify with and glorifying behaviors that historically and eternally have been immoral? Are we so wrapped up in seeking self and defining ourselves as our own personal gods, that this is what we get (H. Clinton vs. D. Trump)? Where have all the great leaders gone? We need you. If you are out there, heed God’s calling on your heart to begin working now to be that leader of a generation that comes along just when America needs it!

The past and present of America is what I thought of this morning as I begin reading Judges and its first passage, Judges 1:1-18, and how it is similar to the nation of Israel. There is this great gulf between the leadership of Moses and Joshua and the ascension of David to the throne of a united Israel. When we read through Judges, we must ask of Israel, where have all the great leaders gone?

1 After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?”

2 The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.”

3 The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, “Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.” So the Simeonites went with them.

4 When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. 5 It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. 6 Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes.

7 Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

8 The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.

9 After that, Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. 10 They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. 11 From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher).

12 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.

14 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him[a] to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”

15 She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.

16 The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms[b] with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.

17 Then the men of Judah went with the Simeonites their fellow Israelites and attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they totally destroyed[c] the city. Therefore it was called Hormah.[d] 18 Judah also took[e] Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron—each city with its territory.

In this passage, we see that soon after Joshua died, Israel began to lose its grip on the land and it can be directly attributed to a lack of galvanizing leadership. The people missed the spiritual leadership of Joshua. Joshua was the obvious successor to Moses but here we see that there was no obvious and no named successor to Joshua. During this crisis of leadership, Israel began to fragment and go on off their own tribal ways and to protect their own tribes interests. There was no spiritual leader that brought the whole nation together. And it would continue until David arrives on the scene. Israel with the book of Judges begins this descent into a fragmented, self serving, idol worshiping, morally bankrupt nation upon which God allows the judgement that results from sin come upon them.

Sound familiar? This is where America finds itself. No true leadership. Even our choice in leaders in this past Presidential election was about selfishness of the two candidates. They ran because it is the ultimate prize and not because they have some galvanizing vision for our country or no great moral center to which people are drawn. Where are the great leaders for America?

The takeaway this morning is for us to pray. We need to pray hard. We need to ask God to change our nation from the inside out. We need to pray that He will bring us that generational leader, that generational President that will truly lead us and be a President with a sense of moral rightness that comes from God so that they will make decisions based on what is best for our country in the long-run and not based on polling numbers. We need great leaders now. We must pray that God will raise them up!

 

Amen and Amen.

Personal Reflection
I think as we proceed today into the book of Judges, I want us today to think about our own spiritual journeys and about the larger picture of our nation. In the book of Judges, we see ourselves and we see our nation. I think for both myself and for our nation, the best opening illustration for all three (the book of Judges, my spiritual journey, and where we are at as nation right now) is to think back to college or high school when we were much younger and more foolish.

Back in those days, there would be parties where the booze was plentiful and there was no one to hold you accountable for how much you drank. Back in those days we had lower tolerances because of less experience and less understanding of how to pace yourself and we would simply drink too much to the point of being nauseated and ending up in the bathroom. You know the drill, you start with the dry heaves. You want to throw up but you can’t. You are feeling like your stomach is about jump out of your body. You sit by the toilet waiting for the volcanic eruptions to begin. You are sitting on the floor leaning against the toilet, bathtub or wall, whatever is easiest to keep you near the toilet. Your head is spinning and somebody keeps knocking at the door but there is NO way you are leaving. Because things are so bad, you can barely understand what they are saying. You simply mumble that there is somebody in here. You are just hoping and praying that they will leave and just stop talking to you. Having to formulate thoughts for even the most rudimentary conversation is a monumental experience. Finally, after what seems like has been a half hour of trying to throw up but can’t, it finally begins. The eruptions of whatever you may have had to eat that entire day plus whatever you have had to drink at the party. It is ugly and putrid smelling and it is at this point while in the middle of the body’s attempt to purge itself of alcohol beyond the level it can stand that the negotiations begin.

God please make it stop. God please make it stop. With each eruption, our body becomes weaker and more tired. What had been a fun ride up the alcohol mountain was now this whole body gut-wrenching descent down the mountain. We promise the Lord that we will quick this sinful behavior of excess if He will just make the nausea stop. We may think the nausea is over after about 5 or 10 minutes of non-pukeage. So, you go lay down on in the host teen’s bedroom and try to rest, regain your composure, and regain your strength. Then it hits again. Rushing back to the bathroom for the final battle with your stomach (and the stomach wins every time). Finally, you begin to feel better and your promise yourself that you will never do this again. Your body weak. Your mind a little foggy, but you have a sense of happiness that the convulsions are done and you are on the other side of what may be the worst few hours of your life to that point. You have joy that you made it through it. You make promises to God that you will do better. You may even promise to not drink anymore. You may even promise God that you will try to live a better life. You may even promise to start going to church or, if you go to church already, you promise to be more attentive and to read the Bible more. Just deliver me Lord from making offerings to the porcelain God! She is a cruel god who wants your guts and then leaves you empty and limp like a dishrag on the side of a kitchen sink. Just deliver me God from this and I promise I will honor you better!

That’s kind of symbolic of my own spiritual journey to the cross. I would only recognize God’s existence in times of trouble and then it was a negotiation as if I was equal to God. I would pull out my God card when it was needed. Although I grew up in a preacher’s parsonage (kind of like Israel being God’s people), I strayed far from God. Although I have had only a few periods in my life that I did not go to church somewhere, I did not find Jesus as my Savior until I was 39 years old. God and Jesus and all the following Jesus stuff and all this talk about how Jesus would change my life. I paid lip service to it. But all that changed lifestyle stuff was just too inconvenient for me. I wanted what I wanted. I wanted to live like I wanted to live. I developed my own theology of Jesus prior to salvation. I made him not the Son of God. I made him my revolutionary dude wailing against the status quo and the establishment. My Jesus was the one who dressed down the Pharisees and the one who cleansed the Temple. He was my anti-establishment hero that paid the ultimate price for being too anti-government for the wimpy leaders of the Jews and the Romans to handle. Great ideals and philosophy is what I thought of Jesus. But Him being God in the flesh and resurrected and all that stuff. Just couldn’t fully buy off on it. Jesus changing my lifestyle? I didn’t want any part of that. Unless of course, something went wrong or didn’t go my way or something happen to knock me off my feet, I would pray then. You betcha. If this whole God thing was as real as my saved family members and saved friends said it was, then I would recognize God’s existence and whomever this Jesus really was and pray, pray, pray. I was like ancient Israel. Short periods of obedience and recognition of God’s existence and control over my life followed by long periods of going my own way, making my own religion, and doing things the way I wanted to do them.

The same thing I think could be said of our nation. We are so much like ancient Israel that it is not even funny. We started out with great spiritual leadership that led us as a nation to be God-fearing nation and there were uncounted blessings bestowed upon our nation because of its overall and general obedience to the Lord. We were a biblically literate nation. We were a nation that wanted to follow God’s way. We incorporated God into everything we did as a nation. Even our currency was imbued with the idea that we had full and complete trust in the Lord. Sure, we had pockets of things about our nation that was ungodly and ugly and wrong but generally as a nation there was this overriding allegiance to God and that God would guide our nation. However, as we have been blessed, we began to think that we were our own gods and that we could choose what is right and what is wrong. We could define for ourselves what is right not God – if he even existed to begin with. God became inconvenient. We removed Him from the public square and our schools and our homes. Whatever feels good, do it. That became the mantra of our nation. No longer would we be bound by fixed morality as stated in the Bible. We want it to be OK to live as we wish. We want it to be OK for us to live in whatever manner we please. Sex in whatever form you like and whenever you like with whomever you like is what we want. We have gone as far de-emphasizing the existence of the hardcoded and obvious differences between men and women. We can be whatever sex we set in our mind. We call it freedom from oppression of the past. We call it personal expression. All of the sins of the Bible are now glorified in the public square. Sure, there are pockets of what is of the virtues of God in our nation now as there was in the time of ancient Israel, but the overriding and general flow of our nation is away from God and toward the god that we have made of ourselves – saying that God is an opiate of the past and that we are our own gods now. We know best. Just as with ancient Israel, who acted the very same way, God’s judgement will come through the events and the consequences of us turning away from Him play themselves out. Sin, whether we say it is no longer sin or not, is still sin and sin has its consequences. We may have periods of spiritual revival as a nation (just look at the spike in church attendance and concern over spiritual matters after 09/11) but we return to making ourselves gods in short order. Kid of like the teenager promising to never drink again after a john-hugging night but is then right back at the party at the next kids house the next Friday. Our nation is that kid.

It is true for my spiritual journey story. It is true for our nation’s spiritual journey story. It was true for ancient Israel’s spiritual journey story. It is true that God will allow us to suffer the consequences of the sins we commit. Yet, as in Judges, and as in our own spiritual journeys, God will forgive us if we repent and turn to Him. For it is through our humbly coming before Him and begging forgiveness through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice that we are restored. When we fully understand that our way of doing things is ungodly and leads to self-destruction, He will forgive. He will restore. He will allow our sin results play themselves out but we are restored.

Are you tired of being sick and tired? How’s that life of doing things your own way working out for you? If you want to really see the ugly side of what sin does to people and what collective turning away from God does to a nation. Just join me today in reading the book of Judges and see where it all leads. Then, let’s talk about the faithfulness of God who sent His Son to give you away to walk away from sin and be restored to a right relationship with God Almighty.

Amen and Amen.

Now, here’s a summary of key information about the Book of Judges to keep in mind as we walk through it beginning tomorrow. Thank you to http://www.gotquestions.com for this following synopsis of the book of Judges:

Author:
The Book of Judges does not specifically name its author. The tradition is that the Prophet Samuel was the author of Judges. Internal evidence indicates that the author of Judges lived shortly after the period of the Judges. Samuel fits this qualification.

Date of Writing:
The Book of Judges was likely written between 1045 and 1000 B.C.

Purpose of Writing:
The Book of Judges can be divided into two sections:
1) Chapters 1-16 which gives an account of the wars of deliverance beginning with the Israelites’ defeat of the Canaanites and ending with the defeat of the Philistines and the death of Samson;
2) Chapters 17-21 which is referred to as an appendix and does not relate to the previous chapters. These chapters are noted as a time “when there was no king in Israel (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).” The Book of Ruth was originally a part of the Book of Judges, but in A.D. 450 it was removed to become a book of its own.

Key Verses:
Judges 2:16-19: “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD’s commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.”

Judges 10:15: “But the Israelites said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’”

Judges 21:25: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Brief Summary:
The Book of Judges is a tragic account of how Yahweh [God] was taken for granted by His children year after year, century after century. Judges is a sad contrast to the book of Joshua which chronicles the blessings God bestowed on the Israelites for their obedience in conquering the land. In Judges, they were disobedient and idolatrous, leading to their many defeats. Yet God has never failed to open His arms in love to His people whenever they repent from their wicked ways and call upon His name. (Judges 2:18) Through the 15 judges of Israel, God honored His promise to Abraham to protect and bless his offspring (Genesis 12:2-3).

After the death of Joshua and his contemporaries, the Israelites returned to serving Baal and Ashtaroth. God allowed the Israelites to suffer the consequences of worshiping false gods. It was then that the people of God would cry out to Yahweh for help. God sent His children judges to lead them in righteous living. But time after time they would turn their backs on God and return to their lives of wickedness. However, keeping His part of the covenant with Abraham, God would save His people from their oppressors throughout the 480-year span of the Book of Judges.

Probably the most notable judge was the 12th judge, Samson, who came to lead the Israelites after a 40-year captivity under the rule of the ruthless Philistines. Samson led God’s people to victory over the Philistines where he lost his own life after 20 years as judge of Israel.

Foreshadowings:
The announcement to Samson’s mother that she would bear a son to lead Israel is a foreshadowing of the announcement to Mary of the birth of the Messiah. God sent His Angel to both women and told them they would “conceive and bear a son” (Judges 13:7; Luke 1:31) who would lead God’s people.

God’s compassionate delivery of His people despite their sin and rejection of Him presents a picture of Christ on the cross. Jesus died to deliver His people—all who would ever believe in Him—from their sin. Although most of those who followed Him during His ministry would eventually fall away and reject Him, still He remained faithful to His promise and went to the cross to die for us.

Practical Application:
Disobedience always brings judgment. The Israelites present a perfect example of what we are not to do. Instead of learning from experience that God will always punish rebellion against Him, they continued to disobey and suffer God’s displeasure and discipline. If we continue in disobedience, we invite God’s discipline, not because He enjoys our suffering, but “because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6).

The Book of Judges is a testament to God’s faithfulness. Even “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13). Though we may be unfaithful to Him, as the Israelites were, still He is faithful to save us and preserve us (1 Thessalonians 5:24) and to forgive us when we seek forgiveness (1 John 1:9). “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Joshua 24:29-33
Leaders Buried in the Promised Land

In this final passage of the Book of Joshua, the first thing that strikes you is that this the end of an era. The wandering nation is now at rest. Here, we read that Joshua dies and is buried in the land that was given to Him by the Lord. We see the fulfillment of God’s promise to the patriachs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Joseph’s bones are laid to rest in land that is now owned rather than have to buy his burial plot in this land like Abraham did. Joshua is the last of leaders of mobile Israel. They have the Promised Land in their grasp. Though there are still pagan remnants to drive out of the land, control of the Promised Land is now theirs. It is now time to conclude one period of the history of Israel and begin another. Being a small rag-tag family is over. Going down into Egypt is over. Being saved from starvation by God’s placement of Joseph in Egypt is over. Becoming a large group of people under slavery is over. Being delivered by God through Moses is over. Failing the Lord and wandering in the desert for a generation is over. No longer is Israel a nation of people without a nation. They no longer are nomads. They are home in the Promised Land. Now they must act like a nation with defined lands and boundaries. They must take on the mantle of being God’s chosen people living in the land that God promised them. So, we stand here at the end of an era. Rest is found. No longer wondering when they will find rest from their wandering. The promise is now fulfilled.

The second thing that I noticed about this end of the Book of Joshua is that its ending is kind of abrupt. At the end of other books of the Bible there is often a summarization of what the writer wants you to take away, or some grand salutation, or some type of fitting wrap-up statement. However, here at the end of Joshua we do not have that. It simply ends with a sentence about Eleazar, the priest, dying. It says in the last passage, Joshua dies and is buried, the bones of Joseph that the nation of Israel has been hauling around for almost 5 decades are finally buried, and then Eleazar dies and is buried. To me as a 21st century student of years of cinema and hundreds of years of literature, the ending of Joshua is almost like, “whaattt? I want a better ending!” Why does it end with this bland ending about death and no great summarization of what happened, no wrap-up, just a coupla dudes dying and being buried. I guess that tells us a couple of things. First, maybe Joshua did not want some grand glorification of himself at the end of the book. Second, death is often an abrupt end even when we see it coming. We are breathing, even if labored from old age, one minute and the flash of life from God that keeps our heart beating disappears and the next moment our bodies are lifeless. Here one minute; gone the next. Third, the abrupt ending means that the story is not over. This is an end of an era. This is the end of that great succession of leaders of Israel that went from a small band of a father and his twelve sons to a nation of people settling a land. The story does not end here. We have more to come. The story of God’s people and the whole purpose of their existence is yet to come.

Those two groups of thoughts came to mind when I read this final passage of Joshua this morning. Tomorrow, we transition in the Book of Judges, but for today, we conclude our look at Joshua. We started this journey 70 days ago and we conclude it here today. Let’s read through the passage now:

29 After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 30 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah[a] in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

31 Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

32 And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver[b] from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants.

33 And Eleazar son of Aaron died and was buried at Gibeah, which had been allotted to his son Phinehas in the hill country of Ephraim.

In this final passage of the Book of Joshua, we can remember that it opens with a new leader, Joshua, being handed a seemingly impossible task – to lead what a roaming, nomadic nation of people in taking over the land of Canaan. By following God closely, Joshua lead the people through military victories and faithful spiritual obedience. In Joshua 24:16, we ready that the people were sure that they would never forsake the Lord. The response of the whole nation during these many years is a tribute to both Joshua’s leadership and to the God he faithfully served. Before Joshua and Eleazar died, they layed before the people the fundamentals of what it means to have faith in God. This is what we learned:

1. We are to honor and serve God alone (Joshua 24:14)
2. We are incapable of properly worship God because of our rebellious sin nature (Joshua 24:19)
3. When we forsake other gods (Joshua 24:15) and choose to worship God as our Lord, we enter into a covenant relationship with God (Joshua 24:25).
4. Through His covenant relationship with us, God will forgive us and love us.
5. Through His covenant relationship with us, God will enable us by His Spirit to do His work here on earth.
6. As His subjects under His covenant with us, we must renounce the principles and practices of the culture(s) around us that are hostile to God’s plan (Joshua 24:23).
7. When we collectively subject ourselves to God under His covenant relationship with us, we become a part of God’s chosen people such that we are bound together with others who have faith in God.
8. Our legacy, our epitaph, what we pass on to our children and grandchildren can be nothing better than to have been known as a man who loved God and faithfully served Him in every aspect of our lives.

From Joshua we see the end of the cycle. We see Israel get what God had promised them. That, in and of itself, is the ending. The last thing we see before this final passage is the tribes leaving this final gathering before Joshua and going each tribe to take up its inheritance. That’s the ending of the Book of Joshua. The tribes going off into the sunset like a great western movie where the central character grabs the pretty girl swings her up onto his horse and set her behind him and they ride off into the sunset as the classic from old movies “The End” appears on the screen (why do movies not do that anymore, I wonder?). What a conclusion that would be for a Hollywood production. A great speech from Joshua. A loving response from the nation of people (who had been through thick and thin together – wandering in the desert, for this generation, since they were born, fighting battles for 5 or more years to conquer the promised land) and now the rest that they deserve in the Promised Land. They all go to their respective lands. Hugging each other as they part ways toward the lands promised to their respective tribes. Promise made. Promise kept. Promise fulfilled. And there is rest. There is time now to develop a nation, an economy, and all that stuff. It is the promise of rest after the long hard fight. The race has been run and the race has been won. That’s the story. That’s the ending. Just as God promised and kept His promise to Israel to bring them into their inheritance in the Promised Land, it gives us great hope for the promises that He has made to us. We, too, will find our rest. We, too, will find our Promised Land at the end of our journey, our wandering, our wars. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord and begin our life beyond the cross our future is secured and we know that one day we will be in heaven with Jesus. That’s the promise of salvation. From this taking up of their inheritance in the Promised Land, we know that God keeps His promises to His people. Jesus said He has prepared a mansion for us in heaven. That’s a promise and God doesn’t break any promise He ever makes. We can trust, from this example, with the people of ancient Israel that God’s promise to us through our salvation in Jesus Christ that we will have heaven, our Promised Land, as our reward.

But for now, we have an abrupt ending to the story this side of heaven when we accept Christ as our Savior. It is a moment to savor and we ride off into the sunset but the “The End” does not roll now. Not yet. Our future is secured but heaven is a not yet thing. We still have a life to live beyond the cross. The story is not over yet. We cannot write the grand finale to the book yet. Stories are yet to be told. A new era begins at our salvation at the cross. We have still much to do. We have a story to write for Jesus through our lives as Christ followers. We have a legacy of faith to build. We have a legacy of chasing after God’s own heart to demonstrate to our children and grandchildren. When I think of what I learned from Joshua, as much as anything, is that what is the legacy that I will pass on to my children and grandchildren. What stories am I, by my life, going to write in their hearts. What will my life speak to them? What will the first thing that they say about me? Will they say, “he was a man who loved Jesus first and foremost in his life” That’s the legacy that I want. Sure, I am not perfect, and they will well know my faults and failures but will they know of my love for Jesus just by knowing me. That’s the legacy of Joshua. He was not perfect by any means but there was no doubt that he was a man of God. That’s what Joshua is remembered for – not his imperfections but His love of God and His obedience to Him. That’s the story I want to write with the phase of my life that began the day of my salvation. That’s the next phase. That’s the new era. That’s the story that is being written now. The story is not over until God decides my story is over and I make that sudden transition from life to death to my eternal life and my eternal home in the Promised Land of heaven with Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.

Amen and Amen.