How Dare You! (Judges 13-15)

I am bothered by what I read today in God’s Word. Samson killed a lion with his bare hands. Then later he saw that bees had built a nest and were producing honey in the rotting carcass of the lion. Samson reached in, snapped off part of the honeycomb, and tasted it. He gave some to his parents to taste, but he didn’t tell them where he’d gotten it.

Then at his wedding feast (where he was marrying a Philistine woman – a huge act of disobedience toward God’s commands) he told a riddle. “Out of the eater, something to eat. Out of the strong, something sweet.” He made a game of it. He promised a big reward if someone could figure out the answer to his riddle.

I’ve read this story many times. It marks the beginning of Samson’s war with the Philistines, and the rescue of the Jews from Philistine rule. But it is also the beginning of the end of Samson.

I think there is a very important lesson in this part of Samson’s story. As a man brought up as a Nazarite, he absolutely knew God’s Law. He absolutely knew touching a dead animal rendered him unclean, and he knew the steps required by God to address the uncleanness. Samson knew the truth, and ignored it.

It’s one thing to blatantly disobey, but how dare he make that decision for his parents! Eating that honey made them unclean. Didn’t they have a right to decide for themselves whether they were willing to be unclean in order to taste the honey? And shouldn’t they have been able to then take the steps required for cleansing? They didn’t even know they needed to take the steps.

Not only that, but Samson made a joke out of the situation. A joke! Did he think disobeying God was funny? Evidently he wasn’t taking his disobedience seriously.

Some of you were raised in a Christian home. You’ve heard the Gospel, probably memorized John 3:!6. But something happened along the way. Now Sundays are for sleeping in, making pancakes for the kids. You’ve gotten in the habit of using God’s Holy Name as a punctuation mark. And you laugh the hardest at jokes about sin.

You’re like Samson. You know better, and choose sin anyway. That’s on you. But how dare you make that choice for your children.

I’ve heard people say they are going to let their children choose for themselves whether or not to do the Christian thing. So they don’t take their kids to church. They don’t talk about Jesus in their homes. They don’t sing the hymns, or read the Bible. And somehow they think they are allowing their children to decide for themselves.

If that is your thinking, let me ask you something. Where do you think your children are going to hear the truth? TV? School? Their friends? Maybe you think they’ll get some supernatural visit or something. If you want your children to make an informed choice, you’d better be sure they are informed. YOU’D better be sure they are informed.

Samson’s parents needed to know they were unclean before they could decide whether or not they would take the steps to be clean. The fact that Samson didn’t tell them, didn’t negate their uncleanness. It did, however, prevent them from being clean again.

Your children need to know they are sinners before they decide whether or not to accept Jesus as their Savior.  If you aren’t telling them, it doesn’t make them less of a sinner, or negate their need of the Savior.

I’m praying for you parents. Yours is an important responsibility. I know many of you are living examples of Christ to your children. I thank God for you and pray with you that your children will choose Jesus at an early age.

All of you are raising eternal souls there in your home. Are you raising them to choose heaven? Or are you okay if they go to hell? Are you willing to make that choice for them? If you know the truth and aren’t teaching it to your children, you are making decisions for them that have eternal implications.

How dare you!

 

 

No Excuse (Joshua 8-9)

It’s devastating to see the lengths to which jealousy can take a person. Abimelech may not have been treated equally to his brothers. His mother was a slave. Maybe the seventy sons of Gideon’s legal wives bullied their half-brother. Maybe Gideon himself showed favoritism toward his legitimate sons. It’s possible Gideon’s seventy sons lived in luxury while Abimelech lived like a slave. We don’t know the details. But after Papa Gideon died, Abimelech showed his true colors.

He convinced the citizens of Shechem to make him ruler. Then his first order of business was to publicly execute his seventy brothers. I wonder if Abimelech felt vindicated after that, or if killing his brothers brought him a sense of peace. Let’s just say, I doubt it.

I wonder if any of us reading this today are harboring ill feelings about the way we were raised, the way we were treated by our middle school classmates, the fact we were overlooked for a promotion at work, or that our neighbor’s kid is captain of the football team, and ours is last chair saxophone in the high school band.

What do we do with those feeling of inequity, or jealousy, or resentment? Do we feed them? Grow them? Use them throughout the day to justify a bad temper or depression?

I’m projecting because the Bible doesn’t tell us Abimelech’s motivation behind the murder of his brothers. But common sense tells us he didn’t act the way he did out of love, or from a place of forgiveness.

There isn’t one of us reading this who hasn’t been mistreated or treated unfairly, who hasn’t been bullied or been made to feel inferior some time in our lives. Yet some of us still feel the anger, resentment, and jealousy years later. Some of us let our past justify our present, which causes even more ill feelings. Which can lead to destructive behavior.

The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to be mistreated. He knew what it was like to be homeless, penniless, hated and physically abused. Maybe in some people’s minds, he had a right to get even, or to feel anger or jealousy toward his abusers. But hear what Paul had to say about it all:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 8-9)

Paul didn’t have time for a pity party. He didn’t feel the need to get even. In fact, he called his abuse “treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God, and not from us.” (verse 7)

Your past may have been truly awful. Some people imagine childhood abuse, you may have really lived it. People may actually treat you unfairly, actually do mean things to you. But none of that is an excuse for you inflicting harm on anyone else, even those guilty of hurting you.

In fact, none of us has an excuse for hurting others. Not with the words we say or the things we do. And holding on to jealousy or anger or bitterness is only hurting you. You do that to you.

We who know Jesus can, with Paul, look at the inequities of our lives and say confidently that we are not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, or destroyed. Why? Because we have the Spirit of God living in us, and He is none of those things. In fact, the Spirit brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with Him.

The Bible tells us that “all things work together for good” for those of us who love God. Do you believe that? I believe with all my heart that the good God brings out of our difficult circumstances is Himself. And we as His children have the privilege of revealing His “all-surpassing power” when we love instead of hate, when we do good to those who harm us, when we forgive as we have been forgiven.

Those of us who have the Spirit of God living in us have no excuse to do otherwise.

 

You Don’t Have To Be Strong (Judges 6-7)

So many times you hear people say some situation is too hard for them to handle. The burden is too heavy to carry, the enemy too strong to defeat.

That’s what Gideon told God about the Midianites. But God, in 6:14 said:

“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.”

I know! It sounds like God is saying He’s not giving Gideon anything more than he can handle in the strength he already has. People, even many Christians, hang on to this idea like it comes straight from the Bible. And this verse certainly seems to indicate that is true. But please don’t stop reading at verse 14.

Gideon cries, “NO! I am too weak. My whole family is weak. The enemy is too strong!”

Gideon recognized that the task at hand was beyond his capabilities. And, friend, sometimes… always… that is the first step to victory.

God says something in verse 16 I don’t want you to miss. The Lord answered:

I!

“I will be with you. I will defeat your enemy.” In other words, “Go, Gideon, in the strength you have… WHICH IS ME!

Gideon was right to say he didn’t have what it took to defeat his enemy, and so are you when faced with that daunting mountain you’re facing, that sin you know you need to turn away from, that illness you’re fighting, that loved one who is going in a wrong direction, that toxic relationship you’re in.

But the good news, the really good news contrary from modern day thinking is: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE STRONG! So much harm is done when we tell each other we should be able to handle something, to conquer something. “Tell yourself you are strong.” “Tell yourself you are more than capable.” “Keep telling yourself.” “And when you find you really aren’t all that strong, feel guilty about it because you SHOULD be strong.”

“After all, God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

That is such a lie! That is Satan’s attempt to replace God with yourself. Here’s what the Bible says about that:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

My grace us sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. (Isaiah 40:29)

The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory… (Exodus 15:2)

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32:7-8)

Just Google “Bible verses about strength” and read what God wants you to know. Take the pressure of being some strong, capable, powerful person off your shoulders and run to the God of Strength. If you know God you don’t have to be strong, because…

HE IS!

And I promise, if you ask Him to be your strength, He will be your strength beyond what you can even imagine.

I’m going to leave you with something Paul said. Please notice what is missing in this verse. It doesn’t say be strong in your own power. It says:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10, emphasis mine)

 

 

 

Savior or Executioner (Judges 3-5)

Sisera was running from his enemies, the children of Israel. Jael gave him shelter, AND guarded the door. Sisera was thirsty and asked for water. Jael went one better, and gave him milk. I can only imagine how that sweet liquid felt to Sisera as it hit his tongue. Sisera was weary. Jael provided him with a warm bed.

Yet with all the kindness Sisera received at the hands of this Jewish woman, Sisera remained an enemy of God. He did not repent. And the one who had lavished him with grace and mercy became his executioner.

We must not take God’s grace and mercy for granted. The sun rose today on everyone. There is oxygen to breathe in every corner of the world. Working limbs, hearing ears, love and laughter are enjoyed by the vast majority. And to top it off, Jesus died for the sins of every individual. For God so loved the world!

Yet some who are enjoying the grace and mercy that is ours at the hand of a very patient and loving God, will one day meet Him as their executioner. Some who accept His blessings in this lifetime will die His enemy unless they accept what is their’s through the blood of Jesus.

Yes, God is a loving God. He is slow to anger. He is actively working in the hearts of people everywhere to come to Him, to love and obey Him, to repent of sin and know Him.

But one day we will look into those eyes and see our Savior, or our Executioner. There is no third option.

Choose Who and How Today (Joshua 22-24)

Choose today who you will serve.

My mother underlined Joshua 22:5 in her Bible. This is what it says:

But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you; to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.

We can choose to serve God, but we have to understand that we cannot serve Him on our own terms, by what makes us feel good, or what is easy. If we choose to serve God, we must also choose how we serve him. Because God does not accept unauthorized fire. (Leviticus 10)

According to Joshua, choosing to serve God means choosing to:

  1. Love God. Jesus Himself said this is the greatest commandment.
  2. Walk in His ways. Makes me think about the fruit of the spirit. Do I walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? It also reminds me that walking in the footsteps of Jesus means taking sin very seriously, in my life and in the lives of those around me.
  3. Obey His commands. The Ten Commandments are still the measure of holiness God expects of all of us. Yes, we are incapable of obeying not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law. Yet we are commanded to obey. To do otherwise is to sin.
  4. Hold fast to Him. As a Christian, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. But I must realize that my distance from Him is determined by sin in my life. If I want to hold fast to God, I need to recognize sin and repent of it.
  5. Serve Him with all our hearts and all our souls. God isn’t interested in servants that simply go through the motions, servants who are faithful on Sunday yet ignore Him on Monday. You can’t serve God if your loyalties are divided. When He says “all” our hearts and souls, He means it. 100%.

So with Joshua I am asking us to choose today who we will serve. Ourselves? Our families? A religion? A career? Or will we choose to serve God today?

Then, I am asking us all to consider how we will serve? Are you all in? Am I? I pray we can all answer that with a resounding YES!

 

What Am I Missing? (Joshua 16-18)

The thing that always hits me when I read these chapters is how the Jews allowed the enemy to survive, knowing God specifically said to destroy them completely. They not only allowed the enemy to survive, the enemy was allowed to co-exist with them in the towns God had given the Jews.

I am also struck when I read these chapters, and hear Joseph’s clan demand more land than what they’d been assigned. They said their numbers were too large to fit in that portion of land, so they needed more. Joshua called them out and, in effect, told them the problem wasn’t the amount of land. The problem was that Joseph’s clan was just too lazy, or too fearful to do what needed to be done. They had all the land they’d ever need – if they’d clear it.

Sure, the Canaanites were a formidable foe. But the Canaanites were no match for God’s army. Joseph’s clan just needed to quit whining and go to war.

God uses these chapters to ask me if I have allowed the enemy to co-exist in my life. Is there a sin I’ve gotten used to having around? Have I watched enough TV to be desensitized to the seriousness of sin? Do I turn my head and ignore sin in myself and/or in others close to me?

When I read these chapters God also reminds me there is land to clear. There are battles to be fought in order for me to enjoy the Promised Land of His Presence in my life; in order for me to embrace all of Him and receive everything He has in store for me. God reminds me I need to go to war.

It’s tempting to ask God for more of Himself, more blessings, more opportunity to serve Him, without even trying to defeat the enemy in our lives. People pray, “Heal our land,” when they should be praying, “Heal my heart.” People pray, “Send revival,” when our prayer should be, “Revive me.” The problem isn’t that we live in a sinful world. The problem is that we are sinful, living in this world.

When I read these chapters in the book of Joshua, I wonder what it is I am missing by not trusting God to help me take everything available to me through the blood of Jesus.  What blessings have I forfeited? What opportunities have I squandered? What joy have I missed?

Dear God, I want it all. I want everything a relationship with You can bring. I want to go to war against sin in my life. I want to clear my heart of any remnant of the enemy. Convict me. Break me. Strengthen me to win my battle over the enemy. Oh God, I don’t want to miss a thing.

It’s Time (Joshua 9-11)

God promised to give the land to the Israelites. But accepting that gift meant going to war. It required bloodshed and obedience. God went before them, fought for them, even miraculously brought victories on occasion. But the land wasn’t simply handed over to the Jews.

Scripture tells me Jesus died for the sins of the world. But that doesn’t mean the whole world is saved. Accepting God’s gift of redemption requires obedience.

God promises to never leave or forsake us, that He works all things together for our good. But to receive the blessing of these promises, we must obey.

I’ve heard it said in regard to this pandemic, “God’s got this.” That seems to be a common response when people go through difficult or uncertain circumstances. And absolutely our Sovereign God not only has got this, He’s already on the other side of it. Yes He’s got this. But do we?

Satan may have used his limited power to get this virus going, believing it would throw the world into a tailspin, that it would close church doors, and cause people to blame God. He’s not wrong, really.

But what if every quarantined Christian pulled out his or her Bible and began to read, to pray, to search, to get to know God again, to allow God to put a finger on sin in our lives, to break us, and heal us. What if during this forced isolation, Christians regained our first love, and were revived as we renew our faith through God’s own Words?

I know the temptation is to pick up a good commentary or study guide, or to read our favorite author. And I’m not telling us not to do that. But if you have time to read Josh McDowell or Joel Osteen or John Grisham, you have time to read the Bible. And, dear ones, we all have a lot more time than we did before this virus scare.

I know without a doubt that our world could experience the greatest revival of our history if Christians, if you and I, spent time reading the Bible, and asking God to do His thing in our lives as a result. Revival isn’t only possible, it’s a sure thing if we obey.

What Satan intended for evil, God can turn into something amazing. Think about it. When this time of isolation is over, can you imagine the impact revived Christians will make on our world? Can you picture what the Church will be when Christians are right with God? Can you even dream how our world would be changed if Christians change?

Is revival possible? I guess that depends on you and me. God’s giving us the land. Will we take it?

I think it’s time we did.