Drawing Conclusions

Experience has taught me that during most of our lives we will automatically draw conclusions about what is happening around us. Our natural tendency is to decide if a certain fact or principle is true (or false) according to the information that we have been given. We often hear or read “facts” from a blender of outlets today. Whether it is social media feeds, radio, television, internet news sites or printed media, they all contribute to the mixed blend of facts that guide our own personal response or conclusion of them.  

We all have a responsibility as followers of Jesus to discern these facts through the lens of our Christian worldview. As one of Christ’s followers I believe that the Bible was inspired by the Spirit of God and is completely free from error. My faith is built on its authority and truth found in it pages from beginning to end. 

So, when I read from books like Judges (which I have been doing now for several months) it challenged me to consider the facts (the truths) found within its words. As I read through these inspired words, I often found myself wondering “why?” Why were these various accounts of “the good, the bad and the ugly” included for us to read today? 

Well, based on what I have read and with some careful examination I have drawn (as we all do) some conclusions. 

First, it is as evident today as it was then that sin has an incredible hold over the lives of all mankind. One of the common threads we see in the lives of the people during the time of the judges was the continuous cycle of sin, punishment, repentance, and rescue. Unfortunately, this is a trend that continues to play out in our lives today. 

Secondly, and in my humble opinion, the book of Judges reminds us of the incredible grace, mercy, and forgiveness that God has for all his people. The book of Judges points forward to the coming of the one true Judge and king that will overcome the hold of sin and death over us. 

Jesus is that one true king. John 18:37 records Jesus’ interactions with Pilate, “Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king? Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) given to us by God. Through his death and resurrection Christ overcame sin and death on our behalf because of his incredible love for us. 

Judges lays out for us the truth of failure that comes by living without the rule of God in our lives. All throughout scripture and plainly written for us in The New Testament we read how a life “in the world”, that is, “not in Christ” continues to bring disorder, immorality, corruption, and destruction into our daily lives. 

Just because I follow Jesus doesn’t automatically make me a perfect person. I, like every other follower of Jesus fail at living according to his perfect will. The incredible part of the truth (who Jesus is) written in scripture is that no matter who we are or what we have done he can and will forgive us. 

Some will disagree with my conclusions and that is ok. It is my hope and prayer that this truth becomes real in their lives one day. What truth are you holding onto today? 

Supporting Roles

One of my all-time favorite movies is Sahara, an action-packed film that follows the life and adventures of two characters named Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino. Originally written by Clive Cussler the book features Dirk as the main character and Al as the supporting character. There is a strong bond between characters as one supports the other, sometimes we overlook the importance of one over the other. 

The story of Samson found in the book of Judges is a well-known Sunday school story that has captured the attention of young and old minds alike. Samson of course, is the main character of the story and while we often focus on his story there are others that contributed to his development as a character in a supporting role. As I read through these verses my attention was drawn to the role his father played in what I would call a supporting role. 

Chapter 13 of Judges records for us the events that led up to the birth of Samson. An angel of the Lord appears to the wife of Manoah (Samson’s father) to tell her that she will give birth to a son and that he will one day lead the Israelites out from under the hands of the Philistines. When Manoah hears of this news, he doesn’t fall face down and laugh as Abraham did, He turns to God and says,” Pardon your servant Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.”

When I read these words, I thought about what my response would have been, I do think I would have had some other questions. “An angel of the Lord, are you sure? “Or “How is this possible, you are unable to have children?” Or [Insert your question here]. We do not know a lot about Manoah but by his response I do believe he was a man of great faith. He accepted what was happening and desired to do his best with the news they received.

In the context of this story Manoah exemplifies what it means to have a true and faithful commitment to the call of the Lord. His faith in God should be an inspiration for all of us. His commitment to want to do what is right in raising Samson is commendable. 

God calls each one of his children into a supporting role (He is the main character) as we live our lives as his disciples. In the book of Matthew when the Pharisees asked Jesus “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”, he replied by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

As we grow in our faith and experience the incredible love of God, our prayer should reflect that of Manoah’s prayer, “teach us Lord how to love our neighbor as ourselves.”  Our role as supporting characters in the kingdom of God (his story) is to continue the work Jesus started when he was here among his people. 

Manoah means “rest”. This short account of time in his life points us to him finding his rest in the Lord. Faith in the Lord fueled his calling to raise his son into the leader he was created to be. How is God calling you today? Have you found your rest in him? Pray about how you can be a supporting character in the biggest and best story that continues to unfold from the beginning of time. 

One Little Part

The other day a good friend of mine was having some troubles with his vehicle. After some investigation, he found it was one small electronic component that was causing the problem. Now, he could have lived with the inconvenience of connecting and dis-connecting the battery every time he used his vehicle, but he chose to order the part and fix the problem. It is amazing how just one little part affected the whole operation of his vehicle. 

As I continue to read through the book of Judges, I realized just how many parts made up its whole. The “judges” chosen by God were all picked for a specific reason. While some only receive a quick mention in a verse or two, others have a couple of chapters dedicated to telling their story. Gideon was one part (one judge) out of many who God chose to lead his people back to him.

As we are introduced to Gideon (chapters 6-8), we learn a few things about him that help us understand who was as a person, a person most of us can relate to. While I cannot imagine what a face-to-face encounter with an angel of the Lord might be like, I can connect with his response to his greeting. Here is how it played out: “he said, “The LORD is with you mighty warrior.” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?”

For the past seven years the people of Israel had fallen into a pattern of sin and had been living under the oppression of the Midian nation. Life was hard, they lived in the mountains to hide as best they could from the power of the Midianites. Gideon lived through seven years of oppression along with the other people and, as most normal person would, he had doubts about where God was. Can you relate to the place Gideon was in his heart and mind? Do you sometimes have doubts that God is near to you?

Today we have the privilege of seeing the larger picture of God’s incredible provision of grace, mercy, and love as we read through the book of Judges. Each time the people fall into the pattern of “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord”, God is always near and provides a way back to him. God used Gideon (one small part) in incredible ways (more details in chapters 6-8) and led the people through 40 years of peace. 

Like Gideon, our faith in God can ride through valleys and hills. We all want to live on the “mountain tops” in our faith and life but inevitably there are times when we fall into the valley. The same God that heard the cries of the Israelites so many times is the same God today that hears our cries and gives us strength and power to climb out of the valley back to the top of the mountain.

God provided the judges in Gideons day to help bring them back to himself but today we have an even more powerful way back to him and that is through his son Jesus Christ. He died for our sins and is the one who presents us are pure and holy before our father in heaven. 

Gideon played his part in helping the people find their way back to God; we too are called to be a witness (one little part) in leading others to Christ. Where are you today? Are you walking through a valley or are you standing on the top of a mountain? No matter where you are, you are not alone, God is with you. Pray about how you can be a “part” used by him?

Yo-Yo’s, Life & Faith

I have never been able to master the skills of tossing a yoyo, in fact, I gave up the practice many years ago after sustaining some self-inflicted bruises and having to sweep up some freshly broken pottery. This seemingly simple toy, when placed in the hands of a skilled yoyo master can both mesmerize and inspire the inner child in all of us.

As I started reading through the book of Judges, I felt a bit like a yoyo spinning and moving in what seems like an unpredictable direction. Following the death of Joshua, the nation of Israel was without a leader, someone who could keep them focused on moving forward in their life and faith in God. The absence of a leader set into motion an up and down cycle of sin, punishment, repentance, and ensuing rescue. Their rescue came when God chose for them a “judge” or leader who led them back into knowing who God is and into his endless grace and mercy for them. 

Chapter by chapter as we read from a distance about the lives of the Israelite people, we find ourselves spinning through this yoyo like cycle of ups and downs with them. The final words of Judges lay out for us the cause of all that happens through the rest of its narrative, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit”. (21:25)

Judges chapter 2 highlights the foundation of why “everyone did as they saw fit”. The generations of people who followed that of Joshua had lost sight of who God was and what he had done for the nation of Israel in the past. Chapter 2:11-12 recounts what happened next, “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them”. This, as we see throughout the book is the beginning of the cycle (sin) that leads into punishment, repentance and rescue of a God who continued to love them. 

The seemingly unpredictable direction I mentioned earlier becomes more and more predictable as we read along. God himself was always in the picture. The people may have been blinded to his presence at times, but God never left them. Each time the nation cried out for help, he rescued them by providing a judge, a leader to draw them back toward him and live in peace once again. 

As believers today we live and serve the same God that was looking over the nation of Israel, a God who loves and cares for every created being. At times, the lives that we live today fall into a similar cycle lived out in the pages of Judges. When we do as we see fit for our own lives, when we let the heart of the world overtake the heart of Christ in us, we draw ourselves further away from God our Father. What do we do when things come crashing down around us? Well, as the cycle continues, we cry out to God (who has never left us in the first place) and He restores our heart, our soul and mind through his incredible mercy and grace. 

Our rescue is forgiveness and restoration through Christ’s love, a love that has no limits. Life will sometimes become tangled and spin out of control like a yo-yo, but in the hands of a master (our Father in heaven) comes beauty and inspiration. Do you need to cry out to God today? He is near to you; He will answer the call from your heart with love and forgiveness.

The Wash Cycle

LaundryHave you ever wondered what goes on inside a washing machine? Probably not. If you’re like me you throw the clothes in, put a bit of soap in and let the machine do the rest. Some of these machines can be complicated if you look at all the settings and cycles that are available. Each cycle (regular, permanent press, knit, delicates, light, medium and heavy, extra rinse, extra spin) have a purpose. Ultimately, if the machine is working as designed, when you reach the end of the cycle you have clean clothes.

When you read through the book of Judges you will find a pattern of events related to Israel’s continuous cycle of sin and restoration. If we were to label this cycle we could describe it like this: relapse, ruin, repentance, restoration, rest, relapse. God raises up 13 unique judges to bring his justice into the lives of the Israelites, 13 different cycles. Some of these cycles varied with intensity, in verses 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 8:33-34, 10:6, 13:1 (seven instances) we are introduced to the cycles of relapse and ruin with the words “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord”. If we were to run these stories through the wash cycle we would choose “heavy, extra rinse and extra spin”. There were also times when you could categorize this cycle of life for the Israelites as “light” or “delicate”, a time when scripture does not record much about the actions of God’s people, presumably these could be the times of rest.

One of the highlights of reading through Judges is the picture of hope that we can see in God’s faithfulness, to forgive and provide for his people, a truth that still holds today. We see over and over the significance of the people coming before God (repentance) seeking his forgiveness and the power of God to forgive and restore them as a nation. Today we often fall into the same patterns of life like the Israelites, we tend to run amuck on our own, forgetting how God has complete control in the happenings of our lives. The illustration of the wash cycle always ends with fresh smelling clothes, clean and ready for work and play. When we put our hope and trust in God, when we come to Him in faith and ask for forgiveness, we are washed of those sins.

 

Leadership… It is Important.

Leadership-PegsCulture: “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.

Over and Over Again.

continuousThe 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.