Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

 

Ruth 1:1-5

Elimelech Moves His Family to Moab

Recently, this past week, I had someone make a comment on a blog that I had written about two and a half years ago, yeah, that’s right. Two and a half years ago. So, the dude really must’ve been examining my blog space to find a blog from two years ago to take issue with me. This blog from two years ago was about the wonders of the grace offered us through Jesus Christ. I used myself as an example of the wonders of grace and how grace is superior to legalism. In that blog, I noted that according to Scripture that divorce is a sin. The only reason that God gave Moses rules about divorce was to regulate the way that it was handled. Since God’s people were stiff-necked sorts, God wanted to ensure that women were treated properly in this distasteful and sinful marriage breaker. Under the law, divorce is sin. Plain and simple. It is validated by Jesus himself. In Luke 16:16-18, Jesus says,

 

 

 

16 “Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in.[a] 17 But that doesn’t mean that the law has lost its force. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest point of God’s law to be overturned.

 

 

 

18 “For example, a man who divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery. And anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

 

 

 

Under the law, I stand condemned as does my wife of the past 7 ½ years, Elena. We both have been married twice before. However, both of our previous marriages (two for her and two for me) each began prior to each of accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord. That does not make divorce any less sinful, but it does go to our motivations for marriage. It does go to the fact that we did not have Christ at the center of our lives at the times that we were choosing our spouses during those years. We were not Christ followers during those years. I did not come to Christ as my Savior until near the end of my second marriage (which crumbled under the weight of her adultery, my mistakes with money, and the death of her oldest son). Elena came to know Christ as her Savior about six months before we got married (as we sat in the small group meeting at our pastor’s house when we lived in California). Under the law, we both stand condemned. Under the law, we are sinners because of our divorces even though the marriages began when we were rebels against God and we chose poorly as to who we should be married to. Under the law, we are condemned as should have no access to God or to worship in the temple. We should be excluded from the people of God because of just this one sin much less a lifetime of other sins committed. According to my commenter at my blog, my mention of how God can redeem a second or third marriage is giving him the thought that he could steal money from a bank, beg for forgiveness from God, and then say that because he begged for forgiveness that it validates the stolen money as OK to spend. I think this fellow missed the whole point of the blog which was that God is in the redeeming business. Elena and I did not steal anyone’s spouse when we met. We were already divorced when we began dating but that does not minimize the sin of divorce for us. We are condemned by this sin alone and, like I said, not mention that we have mountains of sin that convict us as well. On our own merits, we stand convicted before God for the sins that we have committed. We do deserve a sentence to hell on the merits of our divorces alone. We can’t pretty that up or make that right or go back and change. According to the law, yes, we should be excluded from the pleasures of God’s righteousness. We should be excluded from heaven. We should have no claim to enter the gates of heaven on just this one sin alone. Just this one sin. What are we to do? How can we fix this? How can two sinners who have these sordid, sinful pasts that we cannot undo before the Lord before we met one another. How do we reconcile our sinful past to the purity required before God?

 

 

 

Grace is the answer. It is through Jesus sacrifice on the cross for all sins of all time that we can now approach the throne of God. Jesus paid the price and the penalty for our sins, past, present and future. I get the commenter on my blog is afraid that people abuse grace. I get that. But you have to ask the question that if a person claims grace over his apparent and unrepentant practice of sin, then, you may have to question their salvation to begin with. However, those that are truly saved have the Holy Spirit come to dwell in us and changes us from the inside out. Through the Holy Spirit’s working in my soul, I know that my past divorces are sin and it is because of just the divorce sins alone that I stand convicted by God and condemned to hell on my own merits. In the absence of the Holy Spirit, I would see that my divorces were OK and find reasons to justify them just to make myself look good. It is through the Holy Spirit that I am convicted of that sin and it pushes and prods me to make this marriage my last no matter what comes at it. I will no longer duck and run when our marriage hits a rough space. I will work on it and get through it. It is through the grace of Jesus Christ on the cross that I stand pure before God and the everyday working of the Holy Spirit that we become more and more like Christ every day. So, just as Peter stood convicted before Jesus for something he could not go back and change, Jesus asked this obvious sinner to feed His sheep. Jesus redeemed Him. Jesus made him useful to the kingdom. Jesus does the same for us through the cross. We can have our marriages that are sinful in the sight of God be made clean and holy through repentance and through grace. That is what makes for the joy of salvation and sanctification. We made free from the penalty of our past. We are given new life. We are made children of God. He can make the foulest clean!

 

 

 

What does this have to do with the passage at hand today? It has everything to do with it. Let’s read Ruth 1:1-5 together now and then I will explain:

 

 

 

1 In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.

 

 

 

3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. 4 The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.

 

 

 

In this passage, we see that Moab was the land east of the Dead Sea. Moabites, who were related to Israel through Lot (Gen. 19:37), occupied parts of central Transjordan at various times. It was one of the nations that oppressed Israel during the period of the judges (see Judges 3:12 and following verses), so there were tensions between the two nations. The famine must have been quite severe in Israel for Elimelech to move his family there. It is a demonstration of how sometimes we compromise our beliefs to get what we want or think we need.

 

 

 

Marrying a Canaanite or anyone who previously occupied the Promised Land was against God’s law. Moabites were not allowed to worship at the Tabernacle because had not allowed the Israelites pass through their land. If an Israelite married a Moabite woman, they would have been prevented themselves, even though they were Israelite, from worshiping at the Tabernacle because of their marriage. Sometimes, when we are in desperate circumstances we compromise our beliefs and that is what we see here. Desperate times had come but as God’s chosen people, these Israelites, even in the land of Moab, should have set the standard for moral living for other nations. However, they mixed in with the culture and even married into it. How often do we compromise our values to just fit in with the culture around us? How many times have you and I stood quiet when people were Christ bashing and we should have stood up and said something? How many times do we commit sins that we try to justify later as being OK? How many times do we ignore God’s Word because we are in desperate circumstances? How often do we do an end around on God’s Word because that’s the easiest way from Point A to Point B. All of us stand convicted on this point. We have all sinned and grieved the Spirit of God. We have all made mistakes that somewhere down the road the Holy Spirit makes us want to throw up over the kind of person that we used to be.

 

 

 

Here in this passage we see that something bad happened that was against God’s law for the people of ancient Israel – to marry outside God’s chosen people, to marry into cultures that did not worship God. And, that is something that Elimelech’s sons did. They marry the wrong kind of person according the law. They clearly did this. There was no hiding it or justifying it. They compromised because of conditions. They went against God’s own law because of their situation. Bottom line, they stand convicted. Bottom line, they broke the law. However, because of the redemptive nature of God’s love and because Naomi and Ruth had such great faith, they were eventually redeemed from the horrid life that they were going to have to live. Because of their faith, they were rewarded. Because of their faith, the bad situation that began with a sin of marriage to the wrong crowd, God actually redeemed it. God made Ruth, who was from the wrong side of the tracks…I mean….wrong side of the Dead Sea, into one of the great women of the Bible. God made Ruth into part of the lineage of King David. She was his great grandmother. She also became part of the earthly lineage of our Savior and our Lord, Jesus Christ. She became part of God’s family and the line through which Jesus’ earthly family came. Her marriage was born in sin but it was redeemed. She would not have come to know God had it not been for this apparent mistake or sin of marrying outside the people of Israel. God used this mistake of the past because of the faithful obedience of Ruth after she came to know God and turned it into something beautiful.

 

 

 

No matter where you are at right now in life. Murderer. Idolater. Adulterer. You name it. God can redeem it and make it part of His plan. Your past you can do nothing to change. All you must do is admit before God that you are a sinner and believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross as punishment for your sins that you personally deserve. And proclaim with your mouth that He is indeed the rightful one to do this because He is the Son of God and that as the Son of God He arose from the dead to give you victory over sin and death and you will be saved. You will be redeemed. Your sins are forgiven through your repentance and revulsion over your past sins. Your sins are forgiven through the grace that covers them at the cross. You are now redeemed. You are now made new. Through the Holy Spirit, you will come to repent and be grieved over each and every sin you commit from now on and you will be changed from the inside out by Him. Through the Holy Spirit, you can see how we really do deserve hell in the absence of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit process of sanctification, we are made useful to the kingdom. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, we see joy of our salvation as we stand at the precipice of what was our eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Through Jesus Christ, we are pulled back from the brink. Through Jesus Christ, we are made clean. By God’s grace, we are made into a part of the kingdom of priests. By God’s grace, we are made part of those who are useful to God in bringing about His kingdom here on earth.

 

 

 

Yes, I am a sinner. Yes, thank God, I am redeemed. Yes, thank God, he has made my marriage clean. Yes, thank God, He has made two mistake-makers into a couple that is useful to His kingdom. No cheap grace here. Changed lives here. Joy here at what God has redeemed, made clean, and made part of the fabric of His redemptive plan. Joy here at God taking filthy rags and clothing them in the embroidered cloak of grace.

 

 

 

Amen and Amen.

 

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The Book of Ruth: An Introduction (Part 4 of 4)
As we close out the introductory points about the Book of Ruth, we find that it teaches about God’s redemptive plan for man. As widows, Ruth and Naomi could only look forward to difficult times. Boaz took the responsibility of being the family redeemer. A family redeemer was a relative who volunteered to take responsibility for the extended family. When a woman’s husband died, the law (Deut. 25:5-10) provided that she could marry a brother of her dead husband. However, Naomi had no more sons. In such a case, the nearest relative of the deceased husband could become a family redeemer and marry the widow. The nearest relative did not have to marry the widow. If you chose not to, the next nearest relative could take his place. In no one chose to help the widow, she would probably live in poverty the rest of her life as, in Israelite and most ancient Middle Eastern cultures, inheritance was passed on to a son or nearest male relative not to the wife. The laws for gleaning and family redeemers helped take the sting out of these inheritance rules.

That Boaz went to all the trouble he did to redeem Ruth and take her as his bride is symbolic of what Jesus Christ did for us. He did not have to do what He did for us. He could have easily stayed in heaven and just allowed us to be judged and it would have been just and right for Him to do so. However, Jesus set aside His glory and came down to earth to redeem us from our poverty caused by our desperate state of sin. As John 3:16 famously states, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In the absence of Boaz’s redemption, Ruth would have faced a bleak future and may have had to resort to sinful behaviors such as prostitution to simply survive. It would have been a hellish existence. That is no less what Jesus does for us. He redeems us from our prostitution to sin. He redeems us from the penalty of sin. He redeems us from our bleak existence. He cleans us up. He took the penalty of our sin through his taking His Father’s wrath against sin on the cross. His blood shed on the cross is what makes us pure again in the sight of God as Jesus took the punishment for our sin instead of us having to do that ourselves. Therefore, we are made pure in the sight of God when we realize that Jesus died for our sins, that we were destined for hell in the absence of his sacrifice on our behalf, and that Jesus was the only one who could do that for us. He was the only one who could redeem us because He is God in the flesh and He was without sin. When we realize that He was God in the flesh and that He arose from the dead as victory over our sin and death, we are made His bride and we are presented to God as unblemished and spotless. We gain our right to new life through Him.

Boaz similarly redeems Ruth who was destined for hopelessness just as we are destined for the hopelessness of hell without intervention from Jesus. Boaz gave Ruth new life as His bride. Boaz gives her access to all his riches through his redemption act. Boaz gives her access to a new life that she would not have had otherwise. He did so willingly because of his love for Ruth. He gave her a new lease on life through His love for her. Jesus loves us that much too. He willingly made the trip to the cross for us because of His desire that we not spend eternity separated from God in hell. We are locked into a life destined for eternal misery without His redemptive love just as Ruth was destined for an earthly life of desperate poverty in the absence of Boaz’s redemptive love. Be sure that it was not lost on Ruth exactly what Boaz did for her. She knew what he was saving her from – a life of horrible poverty that could have led her to do things that poverty will cause a woman to do. She knew that Boaz’s love for her saved her from a horrid life. Jesus does the same thing for us. His love for us saves us from a life locked in the results and consequences of sin and has us sentenced to hell. Ruth most likely celebrated her husband in Boaz and was thankful every day for what He had done for her. As redeemed Christ followers, we should be thankful every day for Jesus, our bridegroom, has done for us. He has redeemed us from hell. He has redeemed us from our sin. He has redeemed us from our old life. He has redeemed us from our old sin self and has placed us in our spotless bride’s dress, all white and pure before God. He gives us a new life from the inside out. We should never forget and always celebrate the redemption by our bridegroom in Jesus Christ. As Christ followers, we should be the most joyous people on the planet. We know the eternal life that we were destined for and by all rights deserved. We know that hell is real and it is not a pretty place. We know that it is a place of eternal torment and anguish. We know that it is what we deserve for our sins as our just punishment before a sinless, pure and righteous God. That Jesus would redeem us from our deserved destiny should be a source of constant joy and contentment. No matter what we face on this side of eternity, it pales in comparison to the eternity of hell. No matter how bad our life gets, we know that Jesus has given us the keys to the eternal glory of heaven with God. Why then are we often the most morose people on the planet. We have joy unspeakable through Jesus Christ. We must celebrate it everyday. We must let it permeate our being every day. We must ooze out joy from the overflow in our soul. We must tell people the source of our inexplicable joy! We have been redeemed by Jesus Christ!

Boaz also made provision for her even before he married her through allowing her to glean the grain just as Jesus provides for us even before we come to salvation in Him. His death on the cross two millenia ago is the once and final sacrifice for all sin for all time. All we have to do is glean the grain. Jesus does not have to repeatedly be crucified. His act was the once and for all completion of the Old Testament sacrificial system for sin. Since Jesus was complete perfection and lived the perfect, sinless life there is no need for repeated sacrifices. There is no need for Jesus to do it over and over again. It was the ultimate one-and-done. He leaves the grain at the edge of the field. He leaves the grain on the threshing floor. All we have to do is pick it up and take the food that is necessary for our eternal salvation. It is there for the taking. All we must do is believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and proclaim it with our mouth that He died for our sins and that He arose from the dead to give us hope eternal. The grain has been left there for us to pick up and eat. It is up to us to reach for it.

The Book of Ruth is such a beautiful book and a real life example of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. So, let’s meet here at my next blog as we dive into the Book of Ruth.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 18:1-31 (Part 2 of 3)
Idolatry in the Tribe of Dan

Right now, I am working on a research paper for my D.Min. degree and the premise that I was assigned was “what does theology have to do with the everyday life of a Christian?” In that paper, I decided to approach it from the point of view, of course, that theology has everything to do with the everyday life of a Christian. After working with a few ideas, I decided to entitle my paper, “Let’s Bring Hell Back! (And Other Basic Doctrines of the Christian Faith)”. The title is intended for shock value and to get the readers of my paper to actually pick it up and read it. The shock value is that there is so much truth in that statement. In this post-modern world in which we live, the doctrine of hell is a forgotten but essential one. It is wrapped up and tied up with the doctrine of man. With these two doctrines of the Christian faith, it creates the basic difference between it and the rest of the religions, which are all man-made, of the world.

From the Bible we learn of these doctrines throughout. We come to learn from Genesis to Revelation that man has inherited its sin nature from Adam almost immediately from the creation of man. Christianity forces us to take an honest look at ourselves. We are sinful creatures just by our very nature. On the other hand, God is full of purity, justice and love. He has no sin in him. Sin cannot exist in his presence. He is truth, and light, and justice, and agape love. The sin nature that we have is a time bomb that goes off quickly. Just think of your two year old child or two year old niece or nephew or the 2 year old child of a friend. We learn quickly from birth to preserve ourselves. We learn to throw others under the bus to save our own skin at an early age. We learn to lie at any early age to preserve our rights to the things that we want and desire. We will be mean to our siblings at a very early age to get what we want at their expense. So, to think that man is ever in a pure state or that he can achieve it through a lifetime of effort is a laughable and unrealistic notion. Have you ever tried to go through a day without having a sinful thought – of anger, of lust, of greed, of theft, of … you name the sin. Even if we do not carry out our sins in a physical sense, we commit sins by the hour in our heart and mind. According to Jesus, our thoughts are sinful just as much as our actions are. That which has any tinge of sin in it cannot exist in the presence of God. Just one sin, even if it is a sinful thought, convicts us before the Righteous and Pure Judge that is God. That’s all it takes. Just one sin. No more. One sin committed in a lifetime taints us just as one little drop of ink in a glass of pure water permanently changes the water. It is no longer pure. It is now tainted with the ink. And there is nothing that we can do to remove the ink from the water. The water has been permanently changed. Add to that we keep dropping ink into our water every day with each additional sin that we commit after the first one. Our water is so black with the ink of sin that you no longer can see through. Our water is so black with the ink of sin that it no longer resembles water but rather the ink that was dropped into it.

For our lifetime of sins, we are right to be judged by God to be condemned to hell. Scripture tells us that hell is as the following:

Revelation 14:11 “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

II Thessalonians 1:9 “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

Revelation 21:8 “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Matthew 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Mark 9:47-48 “”And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

Revelation 20:10 “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Matthew 13:41-42 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Scripture is very clear that hell is where we will be conscious of our eternal torment forever is what we deserve on our own merits. Just think about that even our evil thoughts taint us from being in the presence of a pure and almighty God in heaven. Hell is what we deserve for our first sin much less the lifetime of sins that we commit. We deserve hell. We deserve eternal punishment. God does not sentence us to hell. He does not send us to hell. We do it to ourselves and that is what we deserve. Hell is what we deserve.

That my friends is why Jesus is so important. He is first and foremost above anything else our Savior. He saves us from what we deserve. He saves us from our just and correct sentence. A good judge in a courtroom today is considered a good judge because he carries out the punishment that we decide as a society that is fit and right for the crime committed. We would think that any judge who lets criminals off easy or did uphold the just punishment for a crime to be a lax judge and we would call for him to be removed from the bench if he did not execute the punishment that we as a society have deemed as appropriate. So, it is with God, He has commands that we must obey because He knows what is just and right and He is Justice And Rightness. So, we stand accused of violating God’s commands and that is called sin and we deserve the full weight of justice against us for our sins. However, even though God’s justice is there, He is also a loving God who expresses Himself in three ways, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.

He loves us so much that He sent the Son to come to earth to live the perfectly sinless life and to complete the Old Testament sacrificial system by becoming the sinless lamb that was to be slain for our sins. He took the punishment that we deserve for our lifetimes of sin – in deed and in thought. He makes us clean. He makes our glass of water pure again. He makes it so that we can exist in the presence of God in heaven by cleansing us of the tainted ink of our sin. We are clear and pure through Him. We cannot do any effort on our own to earn our salvation because of our tainted glass of water. Without Jesus, we deserve the sentence of a habitual sin criminal. We deserve hell. Hell is what we deserve.

Think about how much more we would value our salvation if we really thought about the truth and reality of hell. What if we brought hell back to our pulpits.

However in today’s world, we preach less and less about hell. We talk less and less about hell because it is offensive to our senses as post-modernists. We have a fear of preaching and teaching the truth of hell and what we deserve. We would rather preach and teach a gospel where there is no mention of hell. Jesus just saves us from ourselves. Jesus without hell is our self-help guru. Things going bad in your life. Jesus is the answer. Not having luck in your life. Jesus is the answer. Feeling bad about yourself. Jesus is the answer. Without hell, Jesus is our buddy that helps us live a better life. Without hell, Jesus doesn’t save us from all that much other than our bad mistakes in life.

We preach and teach nothing of hell these days because we like to think that if we do enough of the right things that it will outweigh the bad. We do not think of ourselves as inherent sinners. We think of ourselves as good people that occasionally do bad things. We think that if we do enough good things, read the right books, hang out with the right people, that we can compensate for the occasional bad things that we do. We also equate God’s blessings with how good we are doing in this life. We teach and often preach a prosperity gospel that if we do enough of the right things that we will be blessed and highly favored in this life and if we are not we must have some hidden sins that we must get rid of by reading the right books, doing enough public service at churchwide events, and hanging out with right people. This is not the truth and reality of God’s Word but it sells. Because we don’t like to hear that we are destined to hell on our own merits. We would rather hear about God’s love only and not His justice. Skipping over God’s justice is how you make a megachurch today.

That idea of creating a soft religion that suits our needs is what I thought about today when I read this passage once again. My thoughts were directed at the priest in this passage. He sold out to keep food on his table. He developed a religion personally designed by Micah that met Micah’s needs. The priest was his own personal priest so the religion was set Micah not by God. Real faith in God would have required Micah to change, to admit that he was not the center of the universe. The priest created a soft religion for Micah that would soothe his soul instead of teach Him of his real nature in the presence of God.

That’s the thing that I thought of today when I read through Judges 18 for the second of three reads today. Here, we see:

18 Now in those days Israel had no king. And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the men of Dan chose from their clans five capable warriors from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol to scout out a land for them to settle in.

When these warriors arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to Micah’s house and spent the night there. 3 While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” 4 He told them about his agreement with Micah and that he had been hired as Micah’s personal priest.

5 Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”

6 “Go in peace,” the priest replied. “For the Lord is watching over your journey.”

7 So the five men went on to the town of Laish, where they noticed the people living carefree lives, like the Sidonians; they were peaceful and secure.[a] The people were also wealthy because their land was very fertile. And they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby.

8 When the men returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their relatives asked them, “What did you find?”

9 The men replied, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. What are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate to go and take possession of it. 10 When you get there, you will find the people living carefree lives. God has given us a spacious and fertile land, lacking in nothing!”

11 So 600 men from the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 They camped at a place west of Kiriath-jearim in Judah, which is called Mahaneh-dan[b] to this day. 13 Then they went on from there into the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah.

14 The five men who had scouted out the land around Laish explained to the others, “These buildings contain a sacred ephod, as well as some household idols, a carved image, and a cast idol. What do you think you should do?” 15 Then the five men turned off the road and went over to Micah’s house, where the young Levite lived, and greeted him kindly. 16 As the 600 armed warriors from the tribe of Dan stood at the entrance of the gate, 17 the five scouts entered the shrine and removed the carved image, the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the cast idol. Meanwhile, the priest was standing at the gate with the 600 armed warriors.

18 When the priest saw the men carrying all the sacred objects out of Micah’s shrine, he said, “What are you doing?”

19 “Be quiet and come with us,” they said. “Be a father and priest to all of us. Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?”

20 The young priest was quite happy to go with them, so he took along the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the carved image. 21 They turned and started on their way again, placing their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them.

22 When the people from the tribe of Dan were quite a distance from Micah’s house, the people who lived near Micah came chasing after them. 23 They were shouting as they caught up with them. The men of Dan turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you called these men together and chased after us like this?”

24 “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter?’” Micah replied. “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left!”

25 The men of Dan said, “Watch what you say! There are some short-tempered men around here who might get angry and kill you and your family.” 26 So the men of Dan continued on their way. When Micah saw that there were too many of them for him to attack, he turned around and went home.

27 Then, with Micah’s idols and his priest, the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure. They attacked with swords and burned the town to the ground. 28 There was no one to rescue the people, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. This happened in the valley near Beth-rehob.

Then the people of the tribe of Dan rebuilt the town and lived there. 29 They renamed the town Dan after their ancestor, Israel’s son, but it had originally been called Laish.

30 Then they set up the carved image, and they appointed Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses,[c] as their priest. This family continued as priests for the tribe of Dan until the Exile. 31 So Micah’s carved image was worshiped by the tribe of Dan as long as the Tabernacle of God remained at Shiloh.

Here, in this passage, we see that Israel’s moral decay affected even the priests and the Levites. This man accepted money, idols, and position in a way that was inconsistent with God’s laws. He compromised the man that he was supposed to be so that he could have money and position. He gladly set aside his beliefs as a man of God to get what he wanted. Instead of preaching and teaching about the truths of God, he created a religion that suited Micah’s tastes. Are we not doing that today as Christian leaders, teachers, preachers, and witnesses?

Sure, a street corner preacher with a sign saying “You’re going to hell!” has never saved but a few souls, but we have forgotten the basic truth that we are sinners who cannot wrestle ourselves out of our just and right sentence which is, indeed, hell. We need to bring hell back to the conversation. We need to bring our sin nature that condemns us to hell in the absence of Jesus. We need to make Jesus essential to us again not just our self-help buddy. We must see ourselves as totally dependent on the grace of Jesus Christ again. When we take away hell, we might make our faith more palatable to the non-believer and even to ourselves, but when we do we cheapen grace. Grace is of such great value to us because exactly of the reality of hell. That is what Jesus saves us from when we submit our lives to His authority. He saves us from hell where there is gnashing of teeth and the burning of flesh…forever. That’s the reality of the doctrines of our faith that come from God’s Word. That’s the reality. Even if we quit talking about it, that’s the reality. If it were not for hell, Jesus becomes less of a Savior and more of good buddy. When I think of hell and know, know, know that’s what I deserve, it makes me so so so thankful to God for giving me the grace He has given me through Jesus Christ. In the light of hell, I see the wondrous glory of Jesus Christ. In the light of hell, I see the amazing love that He has for me. In the light of hell, I find it impossible to fathom the great love that He has for me. I don’t deserve it but I got it and that makes me giddy beyond belief. Thank God that Jesus saved me from hell!!!

Amen and Amen.

Judges 13:1-20 (Part 1 of 3)
The Birth of Samson

Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Manoah’s wife, among others in the Old Testament, and Elizabeth in the New Testament. All three are women who had been barren (unable to conceive a child though she was married) for many years. All become pregnant after years of barrenness.

With Sarah, God told her husband, Abraham, that he would father descendants who would outnumber the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). Sarah knew all about the prophecy and as she became old and still no baby arrived, she encouraged her husband to be with her maid, Hagar, so he could have children with her. Sarah utilized Hagar as a sort of surrogate, giving her the opportunity to bear children with Abraham. However rather than expressing gratitude to Sarah, Hagar taunted Sarah and demeaned her for her inability to conceive. “When [Hagar] saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes (Genesis 16:5). Three angels and one miracle later her son Isaac arrived (Genesis 21:1).

Sarah’s daughter-in-law Rebecca (Rivkah) faced a similar trial, she did not conceive for the first twenty years of her marriage to Isaac. Prayer worked for the couple, and Rebecca conceived. Though having to bear a difficult pregnancy, Rebecca was awarded with twin sons Jacob and Esau, who became patriarchs of the Jewish and Edomite nations, respectively.

In the next generation, the complexities of fertility vs. infertility were played out between two of Jacob’s four wives, the sisters Rachel and Leah. “And when God saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb and Rachel was barren.” During biblical times, generations after that and even in certain circles today, women were valued for their ability to bear children – especially boys. Leah gives birth to four boys, and Rachel is consumed with envy. She pleads with Jacob: “Give me children or else I die” (Genesis 30:2). To encourage Rachel to pray to God Jacob responds “Am I in the place of God who has withheld from you the fruit of your belly.” God does finally listen to Rachel beseeching prayers as she has to first bear the shame of not only her sister having more sons, but their respective maids as well. “God remembered Rachel and God heard her and God opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22). After giving birth, Rachel says: “God has taken away my shame.”

After years of prayer, an angel appears to Samson’s mother and says “Now you are barren and have not given birth. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son.” There are conditions and stipulations associated with this promise. The angel leaves explicit instructions on how this child is to be raised, as well as how the mother is to behave during the pregnancy, since that too would affect the growing fetus. The angel returns at Manoah’s request to verify what he had told his wife, and shortly thereafter the woman conceives and later bears a son she names Samson. “And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the child grew and the Lord blessed him. And the spirit of the Lord began to move him…” (Judges 13:24-25)

Why do you think that there is this theme of barrenness and then miraculous pregnancy among these important moms of the Bible? That was the question that struck me this morning. How these stories of barren women who became mothers of children of great promise each one. Let’s ponder on that issue as we read through today’s passage, Judges 13:
13 Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years.

2 In those days a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was unable to become pregnant, and they had no children. 3 The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 So be careful; you must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food.[a] 5 You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines.”

6 The woman ran and told her husband, “A man of God appeared to me! He looked like one of God’s angels, terrifying to see. I didn’t ask where he was from, and he didn’t tell me his name. 7 But he told me, ‘You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food. For your son will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from the moment of his birth until the day of his death.’”

8 Then Manoah prayed to the Lord, saying, “Lord, please let the man of God come back to us again and give us more instructions about this son who is to be born.”

9 God answered Manoah’s prayer, and the angel of God appeared once again to his wife as she was sitting in the field. But her husband, Manoah, was not with her. 10 So she quickly ran and told her husband, “The man who appeared to me the other day is here again!”

11 Manoah ran back with his wife and asked, “Are you the man who spoke to my wife the other day?”

“Yes,” he replied, “I am.”

12 So Manoah asked him, “When your words come true, what kind of rules should govern the boy’s life and work?”

13 The angel of the Lord replied, “Be sure your wife follows the instructions I gave her. 14 She must not eat grapes or raisins, drink wine or any other alcoholic drink, or eat any forbidden food.”

15 Then Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “Please stay here until we can prepare a young goat for you to eat.”

16 “I will stay,” the angel of the Lord replied, “but I will not eat anything. However, you may prepare a burnt offering as a sacrifice to the Lord.” (Manoah didn’t realize it was the angel of the Lord.)

17 Then Manoah asked the angel of the Lord, “What is your name? For when all this comes true, we want to honor you.”

18 “Why do you ask my name?” the angel of the Lord replied. “It is too wonderful for you to understand.”

19 Then Manoah took a young goat and a grain offering and offered it on a rock as a sacrifice to the Lord. And as Manoah and his wife watched, the Lord did an amazing thing. 20 As the flames from the altar shot up toward the sky, the angel of the Lord ascended in the fire. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell with their faces to the ground.

21 The angel did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Manoah finally realized it was the angel of the Lord, 22 and he said to his wife, “We will certainly die, for we have seen God!”

23 But his wife said, “If the Lord were going to kill us, he wouldn’t have accepted our burnt offering and grain offering. He wouldn’t have appeared to us and told us this wonderful thing and done these miracles.”

24 When her son was born, she named him Samson. And the Lord blessed him as he grew up. 25 And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he lived in Mahaneh-dan, which is located between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol.

When I think of these women and the shame felt in a society that measured women by their ability to bear children, I cannot help but think of that great song by Jars of Clay from their Grammy winning 2001 album, The Eleventh Hour, called “Something Beautiful” and the lyrics go like this:

If you put your arms around me
Could it change the way I feel
I guess I let myself believe
That the outside might just
Bleed it’s way in
Maybe stir the sleeping past
Lying under glass
Waiting for the kiss
That breaks this awful spell
Pull me out…of this lonely cell

[chorus]
Close my eyes and hold my heart
Cover me and make me something
Change this something normal
Into something beautiful

[verse]
What I get from my reflection
Isn’t what I thought I’d see
Give me reason to believe
Never leave me incomplete
Will you untie this loss of mine
It so easily defines me
Do you see it on my face?
And all I can think about
Is how long
I’ve been waiting to feel you move me

[chorus]
Into something beautiful
Into something beautiful

[bridge]
And I’m still fighting for the
Word to break these chains
And I still pray when I look
In your eyes, you’ll stare right
Back down into something beautiful

[chorus]
Into something beautiful
Into something beautiful
Into something beautiful

When we think of taking nothingness and making it into something beautiful, we must think first of God and his universe. There was nothing. I mean nothingness. Grasp that. There was no universe. Only God existing in His eternal trinity. There was nothing else. Blankness. Nothingness. And God did not need anything to be complete. He existed in community and among Himself with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They have co-existed in community since always. They trinity of God pre-exists everything including the universe. Thus external to God there was nothing. Nothing at all. But God created the universe out of nothing. He was the catylyst, the spark, the cause for the big bang. He spoke the universe into being. At that moment, the grand explosion that began the universe happened and SOMETHING was created out of NOTHING. Think about that. That is the miracle of the highest order. Think of the complexity of the universe. Think of how everything exploded outward from that finger of God and voice of God that created the spark that created the universe. Everything shoots out from that spark and the mass of energy from the finger of God that exploded into the massive universe that is so big that we don’t even know how big it is. It exploded forth and has created such a complex universe that we are just now beginning to understand it. Even our planet is so freaking complex that we understand more about outer space than we know about our oceans. We think we know so much but we know so little and what we know is only what God has allowed to be revealed so that we can handle it with our feeble minds. Amazing universe out of nothing. That’s my God!

When we think of barrenness and making it into something beautiful, we must think of what these women being renewed and giving forth new life. Just as God created a miracle of a universe, God miraculously gave life to a barren desert of a female womb and caused it to become fertile ground that gave forth life. This reminds us as well that there will be dry seasons in our lives. There will be barrenness. There will be times on our lives where we think nothing good will ever come of the desert in which we find ourselves. We are parched and weary and just want some water. We are dry. We are crawling on the ground. And by all indications there is no relief in sight. These barren woman were given fertile wombs by God after much prayer and supplication. They humbled themselves before the Lord. These women remind us of the power of prayer. These women remind us that even in the toughest times, God will give us the miracle we need in His timing. He listens to the prayers of those who seek Him. God will deliver us from our desert dryness. He will deliver us from our shame and oppression. He will deliver us when we seek Him, especially in the difficult times. We must remember that it is in the hard times, our barren times, that we can learn the greatest lesson of all – dependence on God. We can learn thanksgiving as well. Without the desert, dry and barren times, how can we ever adequately appreciate the mountaintops that God sets us upon when He delivers us. These women remind us that God never fails.
Finally, these women remind us of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Man’s greatest purpose for why he is here is to give God glory. We are designed by God to give Him glory. We are wired that way. That is why we seek to fill our souls with something, we know not what, until we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. That emptiness that we try to fill with things, people, idols, lusts, sensual pleasures, as our reason for being, but none of it works in the end. Only God fills the God hole in our lives. We call it something else, our yearning for meaning of life. God put that yearning there to make us want Him. But the fall distorted it such that we try to fill the hole in our soul with anything and everything other than God – the purpose for the hole in our soul. It is meant to be filled by God. We are barren without God in the womb of our soul. We are barren because sin is the endometriosis of the womb of our soul. Sin makes us barren an unable to find life. Sin makes us barren and empty inside. We are barren and empty. We are nothingness. We are a wasteland and there is no life. We are nothing but decay and death with sin. It is only through the miracle of salvation that we are changed. Jesus dresses our womb in new life. Jesus makes our womb be capable of fulfilling its purpose. Jesus gives us new life. After salvation, the womb is made clean and holy. After salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell. Through the Holy Spirit, our womb comes alive to bring forth fruit. Through the Holy Spirit’s work, we bear fruit and our womb gives forth life to the world around us. We are made whole and complete. We are now fulfilling our purpose – to give God glory. We were once barren and lifeless and now through the miracle of God through the covering of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are full of life. We bring forth the promise of God to the world around. Instead of nothingness there is something beautiful in the saved soul. Turning nothing into something beautiful. That is a mighty miracle of God.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 10:6-18
The Ammonites Oppress Israel

How many times is too many times? That is the question that I struggle with today. As you may know, if you have been a consistent reader of my blog, my relationship with my youngest daughter has been, to say the least, strained over the past two years. Until this past Saturday, we had not spoken in six months even though I had tried to communicate with her on several occasions. The last time that she spoke to me before Saturday was in early February of this year. At that time, she asked me for help with her power bill and water bill since both services had been cut off. Because of my fear that she would blow the money on something other than what she asked it for, I told her that I would pay up her utilities. It cost me over a thousand dollars to do so (as she had not paid those bills in about six months). During the last two years, she rarely spoke to me after I cut her off from her car insurance, her cell phone, and any “daddy I need money” money. So that February experience, I was in hopes that she would renew her relationship with me and with her sister and my oldest daughter. During the past two years, she has missed every family event that you can name, including the birth of and first birthday of her niece and my granddaughter.

However, last Friday afternoon, she sent me this very lengthy email coming clean about what has been going on in her life for the last two years and asking that I forgive her. For once in one of her emails to me or phone calls to me over the last 15 years, she did not ask for money. She admitted to her addictions. She admitted that she has made bad choices and used the death of her mother, my ex-wife, two years ago as an excuse to fall deeper into her addictions. She apologized for all the rejection that she has shown over the past few years, and particularly the last two. She said she realized that everything that she blamed me for was really problems of her own making. She apologized for February where she just used me to get her utilities back on, even though she put on the water works and promised to do better and to find a job. She then proceeded to not talk to me again for another six months until her email Friday and our phone conversation on Saturday morning.

This time, with her honesty both in her email and her phone, things just seemed different. She seems to be different. She seemed less child-like and more mature. She did not seem like a child in a grown up body anymore. She did not ask for money even once in our conversation which was unusual (as the only time she would call me (instead of me calling her) was when she needed money for this or money for that and it was always an emergency). This time, she was just wanting to apologize for the past and ask for a chance to start our relationship over again. The crux of the matter was that she said that a car accident she had a month ago where she ended up inside her car upside down in a ditch that totaled her car that made her realize that she had to change. She admitted that she had an addiction problem that made itself the most important thing in her life. It included not caring for her car and tires and such which contributed to her car accident. So, this phone call had a different tenor than any previous conversation I had had with my youngest child in, well, ever.

After the conversation, it was apparent to my wife and I that Taylor, even though she seems to want to reclaim her life, was going to be in a catch-22 situation where she can’t find a job unless she has a car. The other side of that is that she can’t get a car unless she has a job. With her credit history and lack of a job, getting any kind of car was going to be impossible for her. My wife came up with the idea of giving Taylor her car (a 2008 Mazda 3) and then us buying her another car from a local used car dealer who goes to our church. We would get her a used by in good shape Mazda 6. Since our Mazda 3 was paid for, we could give it away without any problems. I will have to admit that without my wife coming up with this idea, I may have not done anything this major to help my daughter. But with her influence and the influence of the Holy Spirit, I was led to approve the plan. My wife spent all afternoon with Taylor day before yesterday getting the car insured in Taylor’s name, getting the taxes in Taylor’s name, and getting the title in Taylor’s name. Prior to that, on Wednesday morning, I had a long conversation with Taylor about what we were going to do for. Amazingly, at first, Taylor did not want to accept the car because, as she said, “I don’t want you to think that’s why I initiated contact with you again for the first time in six months! I told her that she needed this but I did not want her to think that this was the start of me giving her financial support all the time, again. I told her that the utilities at her home, the taxes that are due on it, everything about this car (taxes, insurance, and so on were on her). I am so in hopes that this time she is going to get her life turned around (and that this car will help that). I am also fearful that this is just another hose job where she really played it cool this time and worked an angle that she knew I would fall for – a Taylor who is honest about her mistakes and her willingness to get her life started over again.

How many times is too many times to help your child? I am so fearful that now that she has transportation again that she will fall off the face of the earth again. I am fearful that she will begin using again at some point. I am fearful that if that happens the next time I hear from her will be about her – from the coroner’s office. I am fearful of Taylor just continuing to exist and living in poverty and not fulfilling her God given potential. I am fearful. But the Lord is trying to comfort me that this gesture is hand up and not a hand out. He is saying to me that I can say no to her just as began two years ago and without this one gesture she may end up in the ditch dead because she had no way out of the cycle she was in no matter if she stopped using or not. Her sister and step-sister are less hopeful. They both warned us of what could be happening here. It is easier to write off a sibling than it is a child I guess. I don’t blame either one of them for their feelings. Each one, my oldest daughter and my stepdaughter, is a productive citizen and have good jobs. Each one has worked since their teen years. Whereas they have seen Taylor not really work but for about four years in her life (and she is now almost 27 years old and hasn’t worked in 2 years). I understand all that. There question is how many times is too many times. I get it. I have been asking that question myself even before telling my oldest daughter and my stepdaughter about what we were doing for their sister.

It was this idea of how many times is too many times when it comes to our kids that came to mind when I read through today’s passage, Judges 10:6-18, this morning. Let’s read it together now:

 

6 Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the Lord and did not serve Him. 7 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the sons of Ammon. 8 They [a]afflicted and crushed the sons of Israel [b]that year; for eighteen years they afflicted all the sons of Israel who were beyond the Jordan [c]in Gilead in the land of the Amorites. 9 The sons of Ammon crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was greatly distressed.

10 Then the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against You, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals.” 11 The Lord said to the sons of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines? 12 Also when the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hands. 13 Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” 15 The sons of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord; and [d]He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.

17 Then the sons of Ammon were summoned and they camped in Gilead. And the sons of Israel gathered together and camped in Mizpah. 18 The people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the sons of Ammon? He shall become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

Here, in this passage, we see that the Israelites suffered for many years before they gave up their sinful ways and called out to the Lord for help. Notice that when they were at the end of their rope, they finally looked to the One who was really able to help, not their pagan gods. But despite being rejected by His own chosen people, God never failed to rescue them when they cried out to Him with repentant hearts. Likewise, God never fails to rescue us. We often act like the Israelites, when we put God on hold, put God outside our daily lives, go underground from him, avoid him, until we need Him for something or something bad happens. Just as a loving parent feels rejected when their child rebels, so God feels the same way when we ignore or reject Him. In His pursuit of us though, He so loves us that no matter what we have done, we can have relationship with Him through the grace offered to us through Jesus Christ. He loved us so much that He forgives us when we repent from our sins. He throws them as far as the east is from the west. Through accepting the sacrificial and atoning work of Jesus on the cross and making Him the Lord of our lives, we are made whole with our Father once again.

He wants us to be family with Him. No matter what we have done. No matter how many times we have rejected Him, God still loves us and still pursues us. Are you awaking one morning foraging for husks of corn with the pigs when you realize that there has to be something better than the riotous life you are living? You realize that coming home to the Father is what you should do? He is waiting. He will run to you and put a robe of righteousness on you and accept you into the banquet hall for the feast at which He will seat you in the place of honor beside Him. But you first must come clean and come home. Once there, you will be made part of God’s family. No matter how many times you have rejected and abused God in the past, He is there waiting for you to realize how much He loves you. No matter how many times before. No matter. He will still pursue you. The only wait it is too late is if you go to your grave having not come home to Him. Only then is it too late. Come home, prodigal son. Come home prodigal daughter.

How many times is too many times? That is the question for me and my daughter. How many times is too many times? That is the question between you and God.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 5:1-31 (Part 1 of 3)
The Song of Deborah

Why is it that songs are so important to us as the people of God? Here, in this passage, we see a scene almost out of High School Musical or Grease or something like that where Israel breaks out into song after a battle victory. I always find musicals somewhat silly in that people just all of a sudden break out into song as if it is like the most normal thing in the world to do. Deborah, in Glee fashion, breaks out into song here in celebration of a mighty victory that ends 20 years of oppression of certain of the tribes of Israel.

It got me to thinking about the purpose of songs in musicals and in the Judeo/Christian tradition. In musicals, besides giving songwriters an avenue to get paid, songs break out to emphasize a point in the pathos of the story of the musical. A key issue in the life of one of the characters is brought to the forefront of the audience’s mind through song. It is the same with song in our faith. Songs were sung in the Old Testament to emphasize and memorialize what God had done for Israel. It was a way to preserve the oral traditions concerning the historical highlights of Israel’s history. It is the same today.

We have many great songs today that remind us of the greatness of our God and why we should believe in and trust Him. I have been a big Jesus Culture fan for much of this decade but here lately I have tended toward Elevation Worship. The album they released awhile back, “There Is a Cloud”, is my favorite album right now. The songs on the album are all great and I can listen to the whole album at least twice back to back as Elena and I take long trips in the car. The album title and the basic tenor of all the songs is based on the story of Elijah and his prayers for rain after it had been dry in Israel for three years and then he sees a cloud forming in the distance. That cloud is the hope of God. The idea of the songs is with God we can conquer any circumstances and as well that there are dry seasons in life and we must trust in the Lord to deliver us.

One of my favorite songs from that album is the song entitled, “Overcome”. The lyrics go something like this:

Now the darkness fades
Into new beginnings
As we lift our eyes to a hope beyond

All creation waits
With an expectation
To declare the reign of the Lord our God

We will not be moved
When the earth gives way
For the risen One has overcome

And for every fear
There’s an empty grave
For the risen One has overcome

Now the silence breaks
In the name of Jesus
As the heavens cry let the earth respond

All creation shouts
With a voice of triumph
To declare the reign of the Lord our God

We will not be moved
When the earth gives way
For the risen One has overcome

And for every fear
There’s an empty grave
For the risen One has overcome

He shall reign forever
Strongholds now surrender
For the Lord our God has overcome

Who can be against us?
Jesus our Defender
He is Lord and He has overcome

He shall reign forever
Strongholds now surrender
For the Lord our God has overcome

Who can be against us?
Jesus our Defender
He is Lord and He has overcome!

We will not be moved
When the earth gives way
For the risen One has overcome

And for every fear
There’s an empty grave
For the risen One has overcome

We will not be moved
When the earth gives way
For the risen One has overcome

And for every fear
There’s an empty grave
For the risen One has overcome…

Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the greatness of our God. We get so wrapped up in our own problems. We get so wrapped up in our tunnel vision. We get so wrapped up in trying to control our own lives, even as Christ followers. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of what we believe about God and who He is and who we are in Him through Jesus Christ. This is the God that raised Jesus from the dead. In that fact, we have hope eternal. There is nothing so great that we face that when we trust it to the Lord that we cannot overcome it. What’s the worst that could happen to us? We die and go to heaven. We can overcome through Christ, the victor over sin and death. God’s resolution of our situations may not always look like the way WE want them to but God is greater than we are. His plans are greater than ours. When we trust in the Lord who overcame the grave, we are trusting that His outcome is the one that will benefit us the most. Songs like this remind us that even in our darkest moments, God is working to give us His victory over that which oppresses us.

I could go on and on with songs of hope that have been written in the Christian tradition since the dawn of our faith. The great theological centerpieces of worship that the songs of what we call traditional church music now written back in the 1700’s and 1800’s. These are songs of great hope and wonder at who God is and expound upon why we believe what we believe. The great Negro spirituals of the 1800’s are amazing in their depth and richness of faith in the face of seemingly insurmountable persecution. The camp meeting songs of the 1930’s-1950’s. The campfire songs of the church youth movement of the 1960s. All have evolved now into the music we call modern contemporary Christian music. All of it is the rich tradition of song as the uplifter of the Christian soul. I love modern Christian music and how it reaches people in the music style of our day. All Christian music is adapted to age in which it is written. What we consider traditional church music now was considered radical back in its day. Some of the greatest hymns from the 18th and 19th century were amazing theological treatises set to the music of the day just so as to capture people’s attention with familiar kinds of music so that they would sit and listen to the words and be moved by them. One of the tragedies of modern worship though is that we don’t use these great hymns in their entirety. We may “modern them out” by borrowing lyrics from these as bridges in otherwise modern lyrics of currently written contemporary songs. But we as the modern church do not use these great hymns in whole. It’s just not who we are and would not fit in too well with the style of worship that we have in modern church.

However, that does not stop me from appreciating some of the great hymns of the past. My favorite old, traditional hymn is “How Great Thou Art!” I have already told my wife that although my funeral should have a thoroughly modern worship flare to it, I do want this one traditional hymn sung in its entirety and not modified. You can play it with drums and guitars but the tune and the lyrics are to be left as written. These lyrics are beautiful and I have the version by Carrie Underwood on my playlist. Just love the power of this song and its lyrics:

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

And when I think of God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
[Album version:] Then I shall bow with humble adoration,
[Live version:] Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And then proclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Aren’t those lyrics just totally powerful. I am drawn to these words. When sung with power and belief in the words, it is an amazingly moving song. This is why we sing. To move the soul. To honor God for the amazing God that He is. That though He is pure and wondrous and great, He still loves us lowly sinning human beings enough to save us from ourselves through Jesus Christ and through His intervening guidance in our lives. My God, how great you are! We must sing your praises in the temple courts for you are great and you have saved your people. We owe You so much!

Song inspires us to remember what God has done for His people. That’s what Deborah is doing here. Reminding us that it is God who is great not us. It would come across more lyrical I am sure in the original Hebrew, but the feeling is still there. Let’s read her lyrics now as presented in English in Judges 5:1-31:

5 On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

2
“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves—
praise the Lord!

3
“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
I, even I, will sing to[a] the Lord;
I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

4
“When you, Lord, went out from Seir,
when you marched from the land of Edom,
the earth shook, the heavens poured,
the clouds poured down water.
5
The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,
before the Lord, the God of Israel.

6
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
travelers took to winding paths.
7
Villagers in Israel would not fight;
they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8
God chose new leaders
when war came to the city gates,
but not a shield or spear was seen
among forty thousand in Israel.
9
My heart is with Israel’s princes,
with the willing volunteers among the people.
Praise the Lord!

10
“You who ride on white donkeys,
sitting on your saddle blankets,
and you who walk along the road,
consider 11 the voice of the singers[b] at the watering places.
They recite the victories of the Lord,
the victories of his villagers in Israel.

“Then the people of the Lord
went down to the city gates.
12
‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, break out in song!
Arise, Barak!
Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.’

13
“The remnant of the nobles came down;
the people of the Lord came down to me against the mighty.
14
Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek;
Benjamin was with the people who followed you.
From Makir captains came down,
from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s[c] staff.
15
The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
yes, Issachar was with Barak,
sent under his command into the valley.
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
16
Why did you stay among the sheep pens[d]
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
17
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.
And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?
Asher remained on the coast
and stayed in his coves.
18
The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;
so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.

19
“Kings came, they fought,
the kings of Canaan fought.
At Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo,
they took no plunder of silver.
20
From the heavens the stars fought,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21
The river Kishon swept them away,
the age-old river, the river Kishon.
March on, my soul; be strong!
22
Then thundered the horses’ hooves—
galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.
23
‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord.
‘Curse its people bitterly,
because they did not come to help the Lord,
to help the Lord against the mighty.’

24
“Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
25
He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
26
Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27
At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead.

28
“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
29
The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
30
‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’

31
“So may all your enemies perish, Lord!
But may all who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength.”

Then the land had peace forty years.

Music and singing were an integral part of the Israelite culture. It helped preserve the history of Israel so as to pass it along to the next generation but the main point of it all was to give glory to God. This is a victory song of God’s deliverance.

May we all just break out into song when we think of what God has done for us. He has delivered us from many dangers, toils, and snares. He has given us eternal security through our acceptance of the grace of Jesus Christ. We can overcome all things in Christ. We can do all things in Christ who strengthens our every step in times of trouble. Up from the grave He arose with the mighty triumph o’er his foes. He arose! He arose! What can hurt us if God is with us! For whatever you are going through He is Lord and He will overcome. I end with part of the song, Do It Again, by Elevation Worship:

I know the night won’t last
Your Word will come to pass
My heart will sing Your praise again
Jesus You’re still enough
Keep me within Your love
My heart will sing Your praise again

Amen and Amen.

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.