Friday, April 16, 2021

April 16 - Judges 6, Acts 4

 Key verse: Judges 6:12

Big idea: We are who God says we are, not who our cycles say we are.

Sometimes God gets our attention easily. Our hearts are sensitive and a little bump in the road shakes away the sleep from our eyes and brings us back to where we belong. Other times, we need to be grabbed by the shoulders and shaken. In the days of Gideon, who we will meet today and look at again next week, Israel needed someone to scream, shake, and pour ice water on them. The Midianites came in judgment, so the Israelites had to hide in caves, could not reap from their fields, and were plunged into poverty. After six years of this, they cried out to God for mercy, and He raised up a judge.

This judge was no hero or warrior. He was hiding like everyone else, throwing wheat into the air in a pit. But the Angel of the Lord (an Old Testament appearance of Jesus) appeared to him and said: "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor." No one looking at Gideon would have called him valiant. He was not a warrior. For six years, he could have tried to stand up to the Midianites (and probably died in the process), but he was just hiding. Yet his past did not determine his identity or his future. God saw what Gideon could be and would be and so that is who he was.

God is a transformer. He promised Israel that he would give the nation a new name (Isaiah 62:4-6), no longer desolate and deserted but married and beloved. In the same way, He promises us individually a new name (Revelation 2:17). We, like Gideon, are not who we have been but who God has declared us to be. Gideon's weakness, sin, and failings were not the end of his story! And yours and mine are not ours. 

Discussion idea: What sin or weakness are you tempted to let define you? What does God call you in the gospel instead?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to bring my sin and shame to You to be forgiven, and to trust Your word about who You have called me to be. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

April 15 - Judges 4, Acts 3

 Special guest post: Bro Chris Meek

 Key Verse: Judges 4:21

Big Idea: God breaks our cycles in unexpected ways

Have you ever been right… even though you were wrong? If you’ve ever had to take a multiple choice, you know what I’m talking about: you don’t have a clue what the answer is, but you guess correctly; the teacher forgets to put the correct answer on the test, so everyone gets it right; or maybe your teacher marks yours right by accident! You didn’t know the answer, but you get credit for it anyway. You didn’t expect it, and yet, it happened. You didn’t earn it, and yet, you got it anyway. Who saw that coming?

When we meet Barak in Judges 4, Israel is caught in a cycle of sin, oppressed by Jabin, his commander Sisera, and his 900 iron chariots. Deborah reminds him: God has called him to take 10,000 men against Sisera, whom God has promised to deliver into his hands. Instead of obeying, Barak offers Deborah a deal: I’ll go, but only if you go, too. Deborah agrees, but warns him that if he does it his way, the honor will not be his: “...for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman” (vs.9). The outcome is still the same: Sisera is still defeated. But Barak doesn’t get to play the hero. If you thought it was Deborah, you’d be wrong. Instead, that honor goes to Jael, who in a final twist of irony, kills Siserah with a tent stake (working with tents was considered Women’s work at the time). Who saw that coming?

We can take comfort in the fact that God is in the business of doing the unexpected. When Sisera came to Jael, he didn’t expect his end. When the thief is on the cross, he doesn’t expect to be in paradise. When we sin, we don’t expect the forgiveness of God. And we don’t expect the King to trade His robes for torn garments, His crown for thorns, or His throne for a cross. We don’t expect God to trade His place for ours, but God does the unexpected.

We may remember another time God uses a woman to do the unexpected. When Jesus came to live among men, He did not come as a fully grown man, but as a newborn child born through Mary. Although Jesus, the Lion of Judah, could command legions of angels, He came into the world in the weakness of a child, the Lamb that would take away the sins of the world. If you are someone who often feels weak, know that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Find your strength in Jesus!

Discussion Idea: One of the major themes in this passage is the irony of a woman killing a man with an instrument primarily used for women’s work. Sometimes we fail to see what God is doing because of societal and cultural expectations. What are some legitimate ways that God might use us, which might go against our own culture?

Prayer Focus: Lord, help me to see life through your eyes, and not my own. Give me Your strength to be obedient to the unexpected things You are doing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

April 14 - Judges 2, Acts 2

 Key verse: Judges 2:10

Big idea: Cycles of sin begin with neglect.

The book of Judges picks up around 1375 BC, roughly the same time as the reign of Tutankhamen in Egypt. It feels like a remarkable step backward: after wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the Israelites finally moved forward to victory and settled the land. But now, in the period of the Judges, the Israelites were stuck again.  For the next 200 years, they lived in the same basic cycle described in this chapter. The people sinned, God sent an enemy to judge them, the people cried out, God raised up a deliverer to rescue them, and the people sinned again but worse than their fathers. It was a slowly descending spiral, falling further and further from God's blessing. 

How did it start? Judges 2:10 is horrifying. The generation that knew Joshua died, and the next generation "knew not the LORD, not yet the world which he had done for Israel." They did not know God (personally) and did not know what He had done (intellectually and in faith). Their parents had neglected to carry out the instruction of Deuteronomy 6:4-7 of diligently teaching their children about who God was and what He had done, and so in a single generation the truth was lost and wicked behavior followed. God has no grandchildren, so each generation needed to come to trust Him anew personally, and they did not. 

There are probably almost no Christian parents who deliberately teach their children to live lives far from God. Instead, they neglect. They talk about sports and politics more than the Bible. They skip church for sporting events, show greater pride in grades than spiritual maturity, and make a career the supreme goal of life. Maybe they are too proud to admit their own failings and how God has helped them. And so they raise a generation that does not know the Lord. Should we be surprised when that generation lives in rebellion? Even in our own lives, no one sets out the wander (what people used to call backsliding). Instead, we neglect the truth, forget God's works, forget God, and then fall into sin. 

Discussion idea: What areas of your walk with God are you neglecting? How can you remind yourself of who He is and what He has done?

Prayer focus: Lord, start a cycle in my heart that will lead to growth and holiness: knowing You more deeply, obeying You, and coming to know You better.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

April 13 - Joshua 24, Acts 1

 Key verse: Joshua 24:15

Big idea: Victory is rooted in a choice.

About thirty years before our chapter Moses had given his farewell address to the nation. He had reiterated the covenant that God had made with them at Sinai, and had told them that he was setting before them life and death, calling on them to choose life. Now, Joshua was ready to be gathered to his fathers and to Moses, and it was time to give his own farewell speech. Israel was in a drastically different situation: rather than being nomads east of Jordan, they were now settled in the land which God had promised them. The great battles of their early history were behind them, and they had finally learned what it meant to experience victory. But in another sense, they were in the same position they had been all of those years before. Every generation chooses between life and death, victory and defeat. Indeed, every individual is faced with the same challenge that Moses and Joshua presented: God has shown Himself to be faithful, how will you respond?

Joshua made it clear that the people before him were faced with a choice. Who would they serve? Would they go to the gods of the pagan nations they had displaced? Would they follow the gods that Abram's family had worshipped before God called him out? They might do those things, but he and his family would not. They would serve the LORD, who had rescued them, blessed them, and would continue to do so. 

Like Moses before him, Joshua pled that the people would choose life. In 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah would confront another generation with the same challenge. Matthew 7:24-27 revealed that a life is either built on the foundation of obedience to Jesus or is built on sand and destined to collapse. It is a choice: life or death, faith or rebellion, victory or defeat.

Discussion idea: Why does God arrange the Old Testament so that Moses and Joshua's farewells were so similar? How does this same element of choice apply to our lives? Is the command to "choose this day whom you will serve" a one time choice or a repeated one?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to choose You. Help me to not be pulled to all of the temptations that compete for my loyalty but give my heart to you alone.

Monday, April 12, 2021

April 12 - Joshua 22, Luke 24

 Key verse: Joshua 22

Key verse: There is victory in unity. 

You have probably never heard a sermon on today's chapter. It is a little bit bizarre. It involves a misunderstanding, an altar that was never used, and a nation on the brink of Civil War. Recall that when Israel came into his land, they conquered the territory east of the Jordan River first. It was given to two and a half tribes, while the other nine and a half would inherit the land on the west side. The warriors of the  eastern tribes did not get to enjoy their territory until the work of conquering the remaining land was finished. But as we look at chapter 22, Joshua will soon die and the work is nearly complete. Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manassah were released to go home. There was joy and camraderie: they had worked together as a unified nation and were now resting in the land God had given them.

Surely, they were tired. Surely, they had no more appetite for war. Surely, they had made friends across tribal lines and did not want to see each other hurt. But when the western tribes saw that the eastern tribes had built a large altar, they were ready to go to war. They loved their brothers in arms and they loved peace, but they loved God more. There would be no idolatry in their land, and they were willing to go to war if that is what was needed to tear the altar down. 

But before acting rashly, they sent a delegation to talk. It is a model of biblical relationship: they were ready to have an uncomfortable confrontation and they were also willing to listen and be proven wrong. And they were! The eastern tribes explained that the altar they built was not for sacrifice: it was just a replica of the true altar, where God was worshipped as the tabernacle, to serve as a memorial to their kinship with the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan. They took the question with humility, and everyone went home in a unified peace. Victory without war: victory from a united desire to serve God together. 

Discussion idea: Why were the people of the OT so quick to build memorials, such as this replica altar or the pile of stones at the Jordan River? What part should reminders of our past play in our lives?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to be willing to confront sin, willing to listen, and most of all: willing to be corrected. Give me a teachable heart, ever being made more like Yours. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

April 9 - Joshua , Luke 23

 Key verse: Joshua 14:12

Big idea: Victory is not about who we are but who God is.

It has been some time now since we read about the spies going into Canaan before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. Perhaps you remember that there were 12 spies, 10 of whom convinced the Israelites that the land was too dangerous and thereby condemning that whole generation to die in the wilderness. The two faithful spies were the only ones over the age of forty who were allowed to enter the Promised Land. One of those spies, Joshua, has been a key figure in the narrative so far. The other has faded into the background (he is mentioned only a dozen or so places in the whole Bible) but comes back to the top here. Caleb, now eighty-five years old, comes to Joshua to request a specific city as his inheritance. Hebron, where the giants lived that had scared the nation away before, remained unconquered.

Caleb was either the eldest or second-eldest Israelite (depending on how old Joshua was). He was at an age where, even today, many people have hung up their work boots and decided that they have done their share and it is someone else's turn. Not Caleb! He told Joshua that God had maintained his strength all these long years so that he could do something. He said "Now, therefore, give me this mountain."

It is simple enough, isn't it? If God has kept the strength to breathe in your lungs and the strength to beat in your heart, it is not because He is ready for you to quit. We may be tired sometimes, we may be discouraged sometimes, we may think that others are not doing their share. But God has given us our strength as a stewardship. It does not belong to us, but has been entrusted to us for investment. Let's do it.

Discussion idea: Caleb refused to say that he couldn't serve God because he was too old, and 45 years earlier, he had refused to say he couldn't stand up for what was right because he was too young. What excuses do we give for not serving God? What should we say instead?

Prayer focus: Lord, remove my excuses. Strip away the pride that makes me think I can do things on my own or uses my condition as an excuse for why I can't. Use me for Your glory. Give me that mountain.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

April 8 - Joshua 7, Luke 22

 Key verse: Joshua 7:13

Big idea: To receive God's victory, we must follow God's Word.

The victory at Jericho was not untarnished. Although no Israelites died in the assault on the fortress, they were defeated in their very next assault on the small village of Ai (pronounced "aye" or like the letters A. I.). 36 people died and the army was chased away and forced to retreat for a staggering 16 miles.  The people's hearts "melted like water," and Joshua fell down in mourning. What had happened? How could victory turn to destruction so quickly? Remember that the conquest of Jericho was a sacred event. God had set apart all of Jericho as holy - it was exclusively His property and was to be destroyed in sacrifice. Nothing was to be taken for their own personal gain, it all belonged to God. 

One Israelite, Achan, had violated this commandment by taking a cloak, some silver, and some gold. He hid them beneath his tent (where his family surely would have known what he was doing) and thought that he had succeeded in robbing God. The parallels to the Fall in Genesis 3 are stunning: he saw, he desired, he took, and brought death on the whole community. Israel had taken the things devoted to destruction and become devoted to destruction themselves (much like those who worship useless idols would become useless themselves, as described by the later prophets). Only when Achan was found and punished would God give the Israelites victory over their enemies once again.

Unfortunately, we often want God to bless one part of our life and stay out of the others. Help me with my job or my schoolwork, Lord, but stay away from my temper. I am so stressed out God, give me some peace while letting me keep all of the relationships and behaviors that stress me. Give us victory over Ai while we cherish the things You have called to be destroyed from Jericho. Maybe the greatest tragedy is that God allowed the people to keep the spoils of Ai (Joshua 8:27), but it was too late for Achan. God will give us greater blessings than we could want in His time, but our rebellion will rob us of our blessings.

Discussion idea: Read James 1:14-15 and compare it to the cycle that Achan and Eve fell into (see - covet - take - die). What do you notice? How should this principle affect our lives?

Prayer focus: Ask God for forgiveness for any sin you are holding onto and for His strrength to serve Him.