Timing is everything. We are repeatedly reminded through scripture that God has a plan and we are to put our faith and trust in Him. Habakkuk was getting tired of waiting, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not save”. “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” The culture surrounding the time of Habakkuk was in a deep dark place far from God, they had once again forgotten who He was. From Habakkuk’s perspective things couldn’t get any worse and yet it did, God was going to use an unbelieving nation to destroy the people who turned away from God. In his prayer in chapter 3 Habakkuk calls on God to remember mercy in His wrath as He dealt with the people, Habakkuk was remembering the people who continued to follow God. Throughout this time in a culture of wickedness and unfaithfulness there were still those who stayed true to serving the Lord.
We read a similar message in the book of Zephaniah not just for a nation but also for judgment on the whole earth, “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the Lord… When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth”. Each time I read through these books I begin to understand a little bit more of the burden that this message would have had on the prophets. Yes, these were men of God, faithful and true to His word but they were still men, they had all the same pressures of the culture and society around them. Zephaniah writes in chapter two a big part of “making it through” was their hope and faith in God, it was an attitude of humility before Him that would see them saved from the day of the Lord’s anger.
The message we read through the last pages of the Minor Prophets is one of hope and continued restoration of the relationship of God and His people. We begin to see the process of rebuilding faith in loving and forgiving God. Zechariah chapter 8 outlines the Lords promises to bless Jerusalem, verses four and five picture two generations of believers that hold the key to a change in the culture. The picture is of the (old) faithful remnant watching as the next generation of boys and girls move forward in carrying on what they have brought so far. This is a picture of hope that we must be striving towards today as we pass on our faith to the generations behind us.
I enjoy reading the story of Jonah; there is something about this story that helps me understand that even a prophet like Jonah was still just human. Jonah had problems just like everyone else; his story reveals the real hardships and frustrations that we can face today in our own lives. God uses a reluctant servant to show us the power of His great love and mercy in a culture that deserved judgment for their sins. It took Jonah three days to walk through the city proclaiming judgment and right before his eyes he saw people turning towards God pleading for Him to save them. This story, like many others in scripture gives me hope for the culture we live in today.
Micah’s story in some ways is much like that of Jonah without much of the personal struggles that surrounded his ministry. Micah’s story was encouraging in the sense that his message to the faithful remnant was this: even though they were surrounded by a culture that would eventually be destroyed there was hope; they had the assurance of the promise given to Abraham from God. Micah’s message and the message of the other prophets was reaching into the lives of the Israelites, God’s message was being heard, His love was for everyone and that for today is an encouragement for us to continue reaching out into our own communities.
I think about Jonah when I read through the book of Nahum, I believe its my human nature that makes me think that if Jonah would have been around during the destruction of Nineveh there would have been some part of him that did a little “happy dance”. This “book ended” relationship we read about between the ministries of these two prophets surrounds a culture of people who were lost and openly disobedient to the standard of living that God set out for them. When Christ comes again, I pray that we are in a better place than the people of Nineveh; I pray that as believers we will have done all we could do to proclaim the name of Jesus into the cultures that surround us.
Hosea, Joel, Amos and Obadiah, each one of these men lived and served the Lord throughout different times and yet all dealt with many of the same cultural influences that continued to pull the people of Israel away from God. As I read through each of these books I begin to see a pattern that is similar to that of the Judges, a pattern that has its high and low points in the spiritual lives of the Israelites. Hosea describes what sounds like a time of depression or low point spiritually for the people. Joel and Amos tell us how the people become accustomed to living in sin and how it had become a way of life. During the time of Amos the people had come out of a time of depression and lived well, enjoying peace and prosperity all the while leaving God behind.
Gods timing and plan called for times of blessing and times of suffering, He wanted the people to know who He was and through His divine power He could alter their paths. When we get to Obadiah we begin to see a fall back into a place of fear and judgment as the people come up against the people of Edom. Through the words of Obadiah we read about the promise of restoration to the faithful remnant. Through the lives of these prophets God was calling His people back to Him, wanting them to turn away from the ways of other cultures and people.
What an amazing example again of God’s love and grace, He does not give up on His people when they turn away. We have assurances and promises today through Christ that when He comes again we will be with Him in heaven. Our culture today has a hard time understanding what this means. Our culture much like those in the days of the prophets pulls us in a different direction, opposite to that of our loving gracious God. As I work in a position of leadership I pray that I can effectively be “pulling” on God’s side helping people to know His love.
Culture: “The total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action; the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group.” (Collins English Dictionary).
Our lives are strongly influenced by the cultures we live in; my life has been a “one culture” experience growing up here in Canada. Reading through the book of Judges made me think about the variety of cultural influences that shaped the lives of the Israelites. The type of government or kingship that was in power then and in our current time has largely defined how the cultures behave. For the Israelites this was a big part of the problem, they were wandering around like lost sheep with out a shepherd. They had no one to help keep them aligned with their inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge. As we read in each account of Judges, God delivers the people from their problems by establishing a leader who calls them back to a shared understanding of God’s plan for them. The problem that resurfaces over and over again is once the leader is gone they fall back into their old ways and drift away from God, this is the repetitive action that follows their behaviour for many generations.
As I work to understand how culture plays a role in shaping who we are I know that as a leader in the church it is my responsibility to help people identify with beliefs and values that are counter to what our culture has defined. My lesson from Judges today calls me to be consistent; it calls me to be leading others to live a life that honours God through my actions and example of my own life. As I grow and learn I also realize that I need to be mentoring and training the next generation of leaders so that we don’t fall into a season of “wandering like lost sheep” like the Israelites.
The book of Judges introduces us to a 410-year history of Old Testament culture that surrounds the people of Israel. Chapter after chapter I read what became a familiar and somewhat discouraging statement: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” I was thinking to myself, what is wrong with these people and why do they keep falling away from the Lord, when will they learn? Then I looked in the mirror and thought about the day and age that I am living in and had to ask myself a similar question, are we still doing this today?
During the time of the Judges there were multiple generations of people that lived within the ebb and flow of obedience to God’s law. Generations of families that passed on both the good and bad patterns of living in and around other cultures. Judges 2:12 tells us that the other people (cultures) around them heavily influenced the people of Israel, “they followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them”. The last part of verse 12 provides us with God’s response to their disobedience; it reads, “They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him.” This anger resulted in God allowing them to suffer through turmoil, destruction and chaos. This brought them into a position of crying out to God for help resulting in the appointment a leader or judge that would help bring them back into the practices of His law.
We have to remember that all the stories of trials, temptations and restoration in Judges are real living examples of how life was for the Israelites. They are recorded for us so we can know the truth and reality of a loving and just God. In many ways today the diversity of cultures and people reflect the same dangers faced by the Israelites. We as Christ followers need to be continually pursuing a strong understanding of who our God is putting our faith and trust in Him. I am privileged and thankful that the generations that have passed down the living example of faith in Jesus Christ for my family and me. It is my prayer that I can continue to be bold and strong to continue that example for the next generation.
With much the same content, Paul writes this letter to Timothy with words of encouragement and instruction. Like he wrote to Titus we read about the instructions given to build and maintain a church and its leaders. Paul sets out to warn Timothy of the false teachers that are trying to draw people away from the truth of the gospel message, a similar yet different setting that shows us the widespread problem of disobedience to God.
Today, as I read through 1 Timothy, my focus was drawn to Paul’s charge to Timothy in Chapter 6:13, a charge that called him to live a life of integrity among a people and culture that practiced otherwise. Like any one of us Timothy was only human, he struggled with the pull of settling into the surrounding culture that could take the easier road. Paul’s charge to Timothy was to stand strong and live and act counter to what the culture was practicing, he was to be the counter-cultural model of a leader for the sake of advancing the gospel message. Timothy in his own strength could not accomplish this quest of true integrity on his own, he had men like Paul and others who walked beside him keeping him accountable to his faith and trust in God.
“Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (6:11).
Can you step outside the front door of your church and walk through your neighborhood and confidently say that each person is pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness? I know I can’t, my hope is that I can come across at least one or two that are striving toward that end. I think we should be asking these questions: Can our neighbors see us pursuing these things? Is the church a living example of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness in a culture that demands much less?
Thankful for the time I could spend working through the topic of humility I will be switching my focus to understanding how different cultures influenced how the gospel message was presented through the books of Titus, Judges, 1 Timothy and the Minor Prophets.
Imagine yourself in this scenario: your in a new church plant with fresh new leaders and you are left to your own devices along with a letter of instruction on an island with nowhere else to go. Titus was in a position that many of us as leaders would fear and maybe only a few of us that would thrive. We are introduced to the people of Crete in Titus 1:12, a culture of communities known as “liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons.” Titus, a friend of Paul and a disciple of Christ is called to help build and structure the leadership of the church. This letter from Paul to Titus involves instructions on how to work in a culture where false teachers were infiltrating the churches, teachers whose intentions were self focused rather than God focused. This pastoral letter of instruction is still as relevant to church leaders today as it was when Titus first received it.
We, like Titus are called to live a Godly life in a culture that pushes hard to promote self-reliance and “easy living”. Our life must reflect an attitude of saying “No to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self controlled, upright and godly lives”. (Titus 2:12) I have to wonder what it must have been like for Titus to receive this letter from Paul in that day. I read this same letter today as it is in the bible and I think how the culture of today is filled with the same “liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons”. The amazing thing about this is that I/we have the same promise of kindness and love of an unchanging God as Titus did. Paul uses some strong words (corrupt, detestable, disobedient) to describe a culture that opposes the way of truth and love. This letter is a reminder for me to be praying for the people in our communities, praying for opportunities to influence a culture that is far from God, opportunities that will draw them closer to knowing a loving heavenly father.