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It’s your call
Judges 2: That’s why God let those nations remain.
The Book of Judges is the story of God’s patiently developing a people he can call his very own. There’s a cycle of failure, repentance, grace, and deliverance that’s repeated again and again. When they fail to completely drive out the people of the land the Lord leaves that pagan culture there and uses it to develop the Israelites into the people he wants them to be. The remaining Canaanites become the “alternative choice” for the Israelites. I see a parallel in my own culture. I believe the Lord intends that the Church be the dominant force in society. Sadly, in many cases it fails. The result is that there’s a thriving alternative secular culture in the land. This culture has no place for God (or at least wants God to mind his own business). Every day God’s people are exposed to the values of this self-oriented, market-driven, materialistic society. As it was for the Israelites of the Book of Judges the people of God must decide “who I will serve.”
Take Away: No doubt the popular culture is, well, popular – sometimes God’s people have to journey the less traveled road.
A practical conversion
Joshua 2: They left and arrived at the house of a harlot named Rahab and stayed there.
As the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan two spies are sent to learn about their first target, Jericho. They slip into the walled city and take up residence in what was likely a common place of lodging. The commentators tell me that Rahab’s house was likely a tavern and inn. While some squirm around Rahab’s being called a “harlot” it’s likely that the scriptures are simply telling it as it is. We’re talking about a Canaanite women living in a Canaanite town here. When she acts to protect the spies it isn’t because she’s gotten saved in a revival meeting! She’s acting out of self-preservation. Still, her actions carry real weight. In spite of her questionable past and her lack of knowledge about the God of the Israelites she’s concluded that this God of theirs is powerful and will deliver Canaan to his people. She may not know the Ten Commandments or the Shema or the story of Abraham and Isaac, but she’s heard enough about this God that she’d rather be on his side than on the side of the people and gods of Canaan. In what might be considered a “practical conversion” she picks that God over all others. Hopefully, in the years to come her theology will mature and her relationship with God and his people will deepen. However, for all of us, our faith journey has to start somewhere. Deciding one would rather be on God’s side in the battle isn’t a bad place to start.
Take Away: All spiritual life begins with a simple decision concerning one’s relationship to the Lord.
Deuteronomy 28: God’s blessing in your coming in, God’s blessing in your going out.
After reading the curses listed in the previous chapter I’m ready to hear some words of blessing! All the curses are related to the intentional breaking of the Laws of God. Once I get past them, I find myself in showers of God’s blessings. Moses tells his people that when they live in an obedient relationship with their God that he delights in pouring good things into their lives, blessing them in the city and in the country; blessing their children, their land, and everything about them. As a people of God they’ll be the envy of all the peoples of the Earth. I’m happy to dwell here among the blessings because I know that Moses is about to turn things back around again and restate all these blessings as curses that will come if they turn their back on the Lord their God. As a Christian I want to lay claim on all the blessings that are given to the ancient Israelites. After all, Christians have been grafted into the vine that is God’s people. However, I’ve concluded that I need to bridle in my enthusiasm at this point. While I’m sure God wants to bless his people I also have the balance of the Bible to read. Being a devoted follower of God can, at times land me, covered with sores, in an ash heap or I might find myself in prison asking my friends to be sure to send me an overcoat before winter comes. My conclusion is that God does bless his people (even those of us who have merely been grafted in). He blesses us with his presence in our lives and sometimes in big, unbelievable, material ways. I also conclude that these “here and now” blessings are only the tip of the iceberg of God’s good intentions for us. Ask any believer a million years from now about God’s blessings and I think you’ll hear a list that makes this one from Moses sound rather minor in comparison.
Take Away: The greatest blessing is God’s presence in my life.
A humbling reminder
Deuteronomy 7: God wasn’t attracted to you…because you were big and important…he did it out of sheer love.
It’s a bit humbling. Moses is talking to the “chosen people” who are about to enter the “promised land.” Everything about this causes them to think of themselves as being somehow special. But Moses says “no” to this kind of thinking. Frankly, this shouldn’t be too hard. Their ancestors for ten generations were mere slaves in Egypt. Their parents were nomads without a land to call their own. Moses says to them, “You aren’t special – it’s God’s love that’s special.” Well, that’s kind of what he says, but the other side of this coin is that because God loved them and treasured them — because of that, they are special. As I read these words I find myself, rather than being a somewhat interested bystander, right at the heart of this story. I was on the outside looking in, unworthy and unwelcome. Then, I received an invitation to come in. That invitation was signed in blood, the signature: “Jesus Christ.” Now, I read these ancient words of Moses with new eyes and with a whole new level of respect. God wasn’t attracted to me because I was big and important. In sheer love he reached out to me. Today, I’m humbled by this reminder.
Take Away: I am who I am by the grace of God.
Living as a people of God
Deuteronomy 6: The next time your child asks you, “What do these requirements and regulations and rules that GOD, our God, has commanded mean?”
The people of God are different than other peoples. However, their difference isn’t just for the sake of difference. Rather, their uniqueness means something. They’re a unique people because they have a unique relationship with God. While there’s no question that God is worthy of worship, there’s more to it than worship. There’s a connection between them and their God and that connection impacts everything about them. Obviously, that includes moral behavior but it also impacts what they eat, how they cut their hair, and how they dress. Even their calendar is built around their relationship with God. It’s because of how their relationship with God saturates their lives that their own children and people from the outside are perplexed and ask questions. Moses tells them how to answer those questions: “We live this way because of God. He has rescued us from our past and he has impacted everything about us. Our lives are all about him. Everything about us is about the Lord God.” This sweeping relationship between God and people was unique in their world and it’s unique in my world too. For others, God (or the gods) has his place and when we enter his territory he is to be acknowledged. Otherwise, we won’t bother him if he doesn’t bother us. For a follower of God-Jehovah though, that approach never works. Our lives are connected to him at every level. We live as we live because of that relationship. This is the message we pass on to our children. In fact, it’s the message we have for all who observe and question our approach to living.
Take Away: The Lord isn’t distant and observing. Instead, he’s present and involved.
Sign me up
Numbers 10: If you come with us, we’ll make sure that you share in all the good things God will do for us.
What a sight it is! Banners are flying, the Ark of the Covenant is leading the way, and the Pillar of Cloud is overhead. It’s time for the Israelites break camp. Hundreds of thousands of people with all their possessions move forward with precision and purpose. In just a few months this nation of slaves has been transformed into an organized, decisive people of God. During the organizational process, Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses has kept company with the Israelites. Now, as they prepare to break camp he tells Moses that he’s going to leave for home. He’s not an Israelite and his family and neighbors are elsewhere. Moses, though, encourages him to cast his lot with God’s people. For one thing Hobab is an outdoorsman, familiar with this territory to the east of Egypt. His expertise will come in handy in the days to come. For another, he’s welcome to share in the blessing of these descendants of Abraham. If he stays, Moses promises, he’ll get a part of the blessing God has for them. Today, I’m drawn to this good man who, before we ever hear of the righteous Cornelius of the book of Acts, or follow Paul and Silas on that first missionary journey, connects himself to the people of God. That’s what I’ve done too. I don’t deserve it and should, instead, be forever an outsider. Instead, as Moses did long ago, God’s Son Jesus invites me to tag along. When I agree, he connects me to himself, making me a citizen of a country that will forever be blessed by the Lord.
Take Away: How wonderful it is to be invited to join God’s people on their journey!
Loving the people of God
1John 5: The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.
Before moving to other things John says a bit more about love in action. He’s already insisted that to be a follower of God requires more than words or even sincere desire. Again, “love,” to him is an “action” word rather than a “feelings” word. To love God is to love the Son and to love the Son is to love those he’s brought into the family of God. So what does it mean to love the children of God? Immediately, John takes us back to action. I love God’s people, not by feeling a certain way about them but, rather, by treating them in a certain way. John reminds me that God has given me some commandments concerning how I’m to treat my brothers and sisters. If I love God, I’ll keep those commandments and in doing so I’ll “love” those who are part of this great family of God. If I want proof of my love of God I’ll find it in how I treat his people. John adds that this isn’t that big a deal because this “love in action” that’s required of me isn’t all that troubling. I’m to love people as I love myself. That is, I’m to care about the needs of their lives, their comfort, and their security. Loving self isn’t about feeling a certain way about myself but is, rather, about the action I take on my own behalf. That’s exactly how I’m to love God’s people.
Take Away: To learn about your relationship with God, take a good look at your relationship to his people.
God’s people need to go easy on one another
1 Samuel 26: God forbid that I should lay a finger on God’s anointed.
Saul can’t seem to help himself. David has already spared his life once, at the cave in En Gedi, but when he receives word that David is at Hakilah Hill he gathers 3000 of his best soldiers and goes out to get him. David’s sentries spot this large unit as they enter the area and he and his men track their every movement. Saul sets up camp as night falls. Once more David decides on dramatic action to prove to Saul that he’s not a threat to his kingdom. Accompanied by brave Abishai, David slips into the camp and takes the spear from beside where Saul is sleeping. Abishai sees this as the opportunity to pin Saul to the ground with his own spear, but David refuses, saying he won’t lay a finger on God’s anointed. David believes that God put Saul in office and, even though Saul is a shadow of the man he was then, God will deal with removing him from office. So what do I learn from this? As a pastor, I’m tempted to talk about pastor/congregation relationships. However, I think it goes beyond that. To a great extent all of God’s people are his “anointed.” God has chosen each of us to be his very own. I’d better be careful that my words don’t wound one of God’s people. He considers each of us to be his own and anoints us with his presence. I don’t have to always like what you say or do, but I’d better treat you with the respect due to God’s servants. Otherwise, I risk following Abishai’s route rather than David’s.
Take Away: The Lord is quite interested in how his people treat one another.
1 Samuel 12: And neither will I walk off and leave you. That would be a sin against God! I’m staying right here at my post….
Samuel’s an old man but he has plenty of life left. If these people had trusted God with the future Samuel would have kept them on the right track for years to come. Then, at the right time, the Lord would have raised up another national and spiritual leader to guide them even as he gave them Samuel. It isn’t going to be that way though. They insisted on having a king and God has given them one. Still, there’s evidence of God’s grace here. The Lord won’t forsake them. If they and their king cooperate things will be just fine. Now, Samuel adds a personal note. Even as God promises to remain faithful, so does he. Really, Samuel can do nothing else. As God’s man his actions must reflect God’s character. It would be unthinkable for him to say, “I represent God, and God is going to stand by you; but as for me, I’m out of here!” People who represent God, those who claim to be his people, reflect God in all their lives. Samuel could have gotten his feelings hurt and just “handed them over to God” but he doesn’t do that. As a man of God I must allow my life to reflect his character even when people treat me unfairly or misunderstand me or hurt my feelings. It’s simply a part of being a man of God.
Take Away: The people of God reflect him in all they do and say – on both good days and bad.