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.
The God of Second Chances
Judges 16: But his hair, though cut off, began to grow again.
Samson, lacking both self-control and common sense, has ruined everything. His undisciplined behavior with women and specifically his inability recognize Delilah for the traitor she is has cost him everything. His pride, strength, freedom, and eyesight are gone. The phrase “his hair began to grow again” is powerfully symbolic of what’s happening in Samson’s heart. As he does the work of an animal, grinding out grain, somehow, through his darkness, he begins to see God. However, a word of clarification is needed here. This isn’t a Samson story; rather, it’s a God story. We aren’t to focus on Samson’s strength or his stupidity, but on the marvelous grace of God. Samson had been raised up to be a deliverer of his people and even in his miserable state the Lord’s still willing to work in his life to that end. “His hair began to grow again” is a hopeful word in a terrible situation. This is a picture of our God of Second Chances at work. Samson’s end is not the conclusion to the glorious story as it could have been. In the exercise of his free will Samson sabotages his own life. However, even when everything’s messed up we find God at work salvaging even this destroyed life. That’s the kind of God I serve.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances, full of grace and mercy, offering us undeserved restoration.
Putting out a fleece
Judges 6: Let me say one more thing. I want to try another time with the fleece.
Here we are reading about Gideon and his fleece of wool. Actually, Gideon asks for, and receives, three signs from God. First, the angel of the Lord causes a fire to miraculously appear and consume his offering. Second, his fleece of wool gets wet from the dew while everything else stays dry. Third, the situation is reversed and the fleece stays dry while everything else gets wet from the dew. This is interesting reading, but it isn’t a lesson in how we’re supposed to deal with God. We’re to be people of faith, trusting in the Lord and learning to hear his voice. We’re not supposed to be sign-seekers and deal-makers. The star of this story isn’t Gideon, a near heathen who keeps getting signs from God confirming what he’s clearly already been told. The Star is God, who is patient even when Gideon keeps asking him to prove his own words. I’m thankful for a patient God who puts up with my shallowness even as he works to produce in me a more mature relationship with himself. Generally speaking though, I need to just do whatever it is God has made clear to me without “putting out a fleece.”
Take Away: Don’t press God’s patience – just obey in the first place.
Asking God hard questions
Judges: 6: If God is with us, why has all this happened to us?
The startling honesty of Gideon arrests my attention today. Even as he has an extraordinary encounter with the Lord he’s brutally honest about how things are going. Of course, the answer to his question has already been given. God didn’t leave the people. Rather, they left him: they “went back to doing evil.” God isn’t going to stay where he’s unwelcome. The Lord departs and they’re quickly dominated by Midian. Still, God doesn’t forget them. When the time is right, the Lord appears to Gideon and calls this unlikely person a “mighty warrior.” More on Gideon’s leadership later on, but, again, my attention is drawn to his honesty before God. If God is so good, if he’s on our side, if he’s our deliverer then why are things so bad? There’s power in asking hard questions to God. In this case Gideon need only look to the pagan practices he and his fellow Israelites have incorporated into their lives for his answer. God’s grace is clearly evidenced by, first, the fact that they haven’t been wiped off the face of the earth, and second, the fact that God is right there carrying on a conversation with him. The truth is, though, that God isn’t offended by our asking hard questions. We aren’t to take up permanent residence in that house of questions but we almost have to pass through that neighborhood to ever arrive at a meaningful faith.
Take Away: It is okay to ask the Lord hard, honest questions.
Generation to generation
Judges 5: God chose new leaders, who then fought at the gates.
Following the defeat of the oppressor Sisera we hear a duet being sung by Deborah and Barak, the two people instrumental in the victory that has been won. It’s a war song, all about how God fought for them and how he empowered them to do what needed to be done. The book of Judges gives us history in 40 year or so chunks, so, while I earlier walked with Abraham year by year and traveled with the children of Israel in their wilderness journey at a much slower pace, each page of the book of Judges represents the rise and fall of an entire generation. In this song, I find a description of how “God chose new leaders” to fight for him in their generation. While there’s a lot of ugly stuff in this book of the Bible, I’m reminded that God continues to be active in Israel. Even though it’s sometimes hard to spot, I see the golden thread of God’s grace here. A set of leaders fail and Israel plunges into the darkness of sin. Then, the Lord graciously reaches down into that darkness and lifts a new leader to call his people back from the brink. This is far from ideal. It could and should be so much better. Still, the grace and faithfulness of God shines like a beacon against this bleak backdrop of sin and failure.
Take Away: God’s grace is seen in dark places. It fact, it shines there, bringing both light and hope.
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.
Live long and prosper
Deuteronomy 4: Obediently live by his rules and commands which I’m giving you today so that you’ll live well and your children after you.
So how does it work? Is it that God has given me these rules and regulations and will pay me back with blessings if I keep them? I don’t think so. God doesn’t lay down arbitrary rules just for the purpose of keeping me in line and he doesn’t treat me like a little child who’s rewarded with a stick of candy if I’m good. His purposes for me are filled with grace and mercy. If God says, “Don’t” I can be sure that it’s for my benefit and not his. My Creator, who knows me better than I know myself says, “When I created you I hardwired some very specific things about you. If you want your life to function at its best, here’s how you’re to live.” Following these guidelines doesn’t mean life will be trouble free (after all, there’s that ugly business of the fall in the opening pages of my Bible) but it does mean that I’ll live the best, most satisfying and fulfilled life possible. Not only that, but by living according to God’s plan, I’ll be teaching my children the best way to live. The result will be that my kids will be more likely to adopt my approach to living in a relationship with God and their lives will also be better lived.
Take Away: When I live God’s way, not only is my life better, but I also influence my children to live for God, resulting in their lives also being better.
There’s a remedy
Deuteronomy 4: If you seek God…you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul.
Again, Moses is no stranger to spiritual failure. As the leader of this people he’s seen repeated failure. Even as he warns them against trifling with God, even as he cautions them about having wandering hearts — even then, he knows that they’ll mess up again. The thing is, not only is Moses familiar with spiritual failure, he’s also familiar with God’s grace. Time after time he’s seen God reach out to these people in mercy, love, and forgiveness. In this, Moses has learned some important things about the God who called to him from the burning bush decades earlier. He tells them, “Before anything else, God is a compassionate God.” Even if his warnings to these people go unheeded, God’s character will be unchanged. People, even people who have miserably failed, who seek God whole-heartedly, find God. There’s so much hope here that it takes our breath away. There’s a remedy for spiritual failure. There’s hope for the fallen. There’s a God of Second Chances and if we seek him with all our hearts we’ll find him…and in finding him we’ll find hope and restoration.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Intimacy with God
Deuteronomy 4: What other great nation has gods that are intimate with them the way God, our God, is with us?
I’m tempted to focus on “national gods” here. In this distant day each nation has its own gods and it’s unthinkable for anyone to imagine a nation kicking out its gods to worship those of another nation. I’m pretty sure a case could be made that we still have “national gods.” In the instance of my country those gods are named “Materialism” and “Pleasure.” However, instead of pursuing that line of thought (come to think of it, I guess I already did!) I’ll focus on what it’s like to worship the true God. Humans don’t make this God out of some precious metal. Rather, this God makes human beings out of the dust of the ground. This God makes no demand of those who serve him that he doesn’t first make of himself. For instance, before he calls people to love him he first loves them. In fact, this God always acts first, moving in grace-full ways in the lives of people. And, as Moses says, this God seeks intimacy with his Creation. Moses wants his congregation to realize how blessed they are. Of all the nations of the earth, they have the God who willingly involves himself at every level of their lives. Today, this Almighty Being invites me to experience that same level of intimacy, that personal day-to-day relationship with him.
Take Away: What a privilege it is for the creature to have intimate fellowship with the Creator.
Numbers 14: In this wilderness they will come to their end. There they will die.
It sounds unfair, doesn’t it? God brings them out of Egypt, cares for them and leads them to the land he’s promised. Then, when they’re afraid of the giants of Canaan he dumps them. It sounds unfair; but it isn’t. Here’s what’s happening: he’s giving them their own way. They don’t want to listen to the pleading and encouraging word of Caleb and Joshua, they don’t want to follow the lead of Moses, and they don’t want to trust God. So God says, “Okay.” If they prefer to go back into the wilderness he’ll let them go. The result will be tragic, their bones scattered across the desert. But if they insist, he’ll let them have it their way. Even here there’s grace. Manna will continue to fall, their clothes won’t wear out, and God will still be their God. The words quoted above aren’t a death sentence. Rather, they’re a statement of reality. The Lord will patiently wait until these decision-makers have died off and then give the same command and make the same offer to their children. Passages like this define both free will and grace. On one hand, God won’t force us to obey him. On the other, he’ll never stop working in our lives, patiently calling us to himself and to his purposes for us.
Take Away: The Lord won’t negate our free will, even for our own good.