Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Responding to God's Opportunities

Read 1 Samuel 9-10.

It is easy for those who know the Bible to jump to the end of Saul’s story.  However, we should not miss the moments here and the clear statements of the Scriptures.  This truly is a picture filled with contradictions.  Here are just a few:
Israel wanted a king.
But it was not God's timing.

Saul was from a wealthy family.  He was personally taller and more handsome than anyone else.
But he does not have any experience in leadership.

He was being looked to as a leader.
But he lacked self-confidence and displayed personal insecurities.

He was from the tribe of Benjamin.
But the kingly tribe was to be Judah (Genesis 49:10).

God answered the people's request.
But Samuel told them they had rejected God.

From the start Saul's selection appears to be a temporary appeasement until the real king is ready.  In the meantime, God did some wonderful things for Saul.  He gave him resources and opportunities to succeed, from the inside out.  The future would then be up to Saul and his responses to his God-given opportunities.

What did God do initially to help Saul?
1. "The Spirit of the LORD” rushed upon him (10:6).
2. "God gave him another heart" (10:9).
3. He was noticeably a changed man (10:11).

As Samuel prepared the nation for this leadership transition, he gave them a short history lesson and closed by charging them in writing (10:25).  In doing so, he reminded them of God goodness to them in a phrase in mid-sentence. "...who saves you from all you calamities and your distresses" (10:19b).

Consider all the God-given opportunities each of us has today.  "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises..." (2 Peter 1:3-4a).  Today, through personal faith in Jesus, the LORD has already provided all we need to live for Him.  Our life story is told in how we respond.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Timing can mean Everything

Read 1 Samuel 8.

Now, Israel wanted a king.

What prompted this?
Samuel was elderly and his two sons who would have succeeded him were corrupt.  Unlike the Elders in Eli's day, the national Elders here came to Samuel to make a change in leadership.  Instead of another Judge, the people wanted a king.  Samuel took it as a personal rejection. 

What was the real problem?
The LORD established them as a unique nation.  Under His authority, He raised up the leadership the nation needed at the time.  Moses served as a prophet leader.  Joshua was a military man.  The Judges made spiritual and ultimate decisions for Israel.

But the timing and spirit of the people was wrong.  God felt rejected also (v.7).  The people did not want to be different any longer.  They wanted to be “like all the nations” around them.

What did it cost them?
The request for a king was not out of the will of God.  In fact, God told the people back in Moses' day that once they settled into the land that He would establish a king for them (Deuteronomy 17:14-15).  According to Jacob’s prophesy in Genesis 49:10, out of the tribe of Judah would come Israel’s royalty.

In the ESV, six times in verses 10-17 the phrase "he will take" appears.  Israel will look good in battle with a royal leader arrayed in his finest, but the cost will be substantial.  The greatest cost would be when the people realize their mistake the LORD will not answer their prayer (v.18).

Someone once said, "Be careful what you ask for.  You might just get it."  There are never any regrets when we trust in God's timing to unfold His plan for us.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Addressing the true needs of the Nation

Read 1 Samuel 7.

Here we receive a sweeping overview of the ministry and spiritual impact of Samuel, the last Judge of Israel.  The nation lived in the defeat, fear and oppression of their neighbor Philistia.  What should they do?  Some would have concluded that at least they were alive and just keep peace.  Others would have launched into a massive military build up to go to war.  But instead Samuel called for a national repentance toward the LORD.

The root of the problem was spiritual.  Until the people acknowledged the real problem and dealt with it, God would continue to use the Philistines to gain their attention.

The call to the nation included the following elements.  By the way, these are the same for us today.
1. Returning to the LORD with all their heart.
The definition of repentance is not saying you are sorry.  It involves turning around from going one's own way and turning to God Himself.  It is not joining a church and engaging in religious activities.  It is first and foremost a wholehearted embracing of the One who loves us and gave Himself for us.

2. Putting away the false gods.
The proof of repentance and a love relationship with God is riddance of all that caused us to go our own way in the first place.  Certain people, places and things of pleasure, passion, and possessions can distract us from real life to one of sinful and empty pursuits.

3. Gathering publicly for repentance, prayer, fasting, offering and worship.
No one grows in their faith in a vacuum.  God's design for us to mature in our faith is to engage with other believers.  We all need to be taught the Word of God and be led in putting it into practice with others.  As believers we are part of a family of faith.  A Christian alone is contradiction.

The result is undeniable and powerful.  When God's people joined together with pure hearts for prayer and fasting, the enemy became energized to attack.  We should expect such opposition from Satan and his minions.  But in response to their repentance and prayer to God, the LORD answered (v.9).  He acted swiftly and powerfully on their behalf.  Israel was delivered.

Based on the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

Friday, October 27, 2017

When God came to Visit

Read 1 Samuel 5-7:2.

The Philistines beat Israel decisively and captured the Ark of the Covenant.  They placed it before their god, Dagon, as a spoil of war and probably as a sign of submission to their idol.  However, God allowed the Philistines to take the Ark in order to demonstrate His great power to them.

Here are a few insights:
If you have to keep helping your god stand up, maybe you need a new god.
If your god needs you to repair it, maybe you need a new god.
If your god keeps falling down before the presence of the God of Israel, perhaps someone is trying to tell you something.

Next, God caused physical discomfort by sending a plague of tumors among them.  There were five city-kingdoms among the Philistines ruled by five lords.  Moving the Ark from city to city only proved that the tumors came with it.  The false priests and so-called "diviners" came up with a plan to appease the God of Israel and to return the Ark.

Do not miss their statement in 6:6.  They knew the power of God.  They knew what He done to the Egyptians in the Exodus.  They even included as part of their plan "a guilt offering" (vv.3, 8).  Yet, instead of such knowledge and experience leading them to repentance of their sin and embracing the LORD, they only devised a plan to rid themselves of Him.

Once across the border, the men of Beth-shemesh celebrated in worship, making sacrificial offerings to the LORD.  Worship and offerings are inseparable in the scriptures.

Some of the men decided to look inside the Ark and make sure all the contents were still there.  This was directly against what God had instructed.  Such foolish action cost them their lives.  Unlike false gods, the LORD is able to take care of Himself.

The Ark remained there for the next twenty years; just enough time for Samuel to mature, reestablish true spiritual leadership in the nation, and prepare it for the next leader (7:2).

The people asked a great eternal question in 6:20- "Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God?"  On our own, the answer is no one.  "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  That is the bad news.  The good news is this-"And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24).

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Would anyone notice if God left?

Read 1 Samuel 4.

This chapter tells a tragic story in the history of Israel.  There was plenty of blame to go around.  Eli served as the High Priest and Judge of the nation for 40 years.  His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, used the privileges of their position to feed their own lusts.  Israel needed strong spiritual and judicial leadership.  Instead, they were led by sinful, evil men and no one held them accountable, except God.     

Throughout the Old Testament, when God disciplines or punishes a nation of people, He uses an opposing nation to do His work.  In this case He raised up the Philistines.  When Israel lost the first battle, they acknowledged that something was wrong spiritually.  However, they did not repent and take action against the sin among them.  No, they just wanted to do something religious.  Well, God is not a good luck charm!

They sent for the Ark of Covenant in Shiloh.  In the Tabernacle, the Ark was set behind a thick curtain.  The very presence of God hovered over the Ark.  Even the High Priest could only enter that holy place once a year and that with the annual blood of atonement.  So, unless God's presence moved they would have died on the spot.  They did not die because God was no longer there.  To be sure, the LORD would have protected the contents of the Ark with all His power, but the nation entered a life and death battle with their trust only in a gilded box.

Success would not be the result of going through the motions of ritual, but personal and national dependence on the presence and power of God.

What went wrong?
1. When the sin of the two in leadership became known, Eli should have relieved them of their positions immediately.
2. When Eli did nothing, the Elders should have stepped in and dealt with the issues.
3. When the Elders did nothing, the people should have kept up their protest (2:16) until the sinful men and practices had been removed, instead of accepting the evil and allowing it to continue.

As a result, everyone suffered.  34,000 men of Israel died in the war.  Hophni and Phinehas were killed by the Philistines.  Eli died.  Phinehas' wife died.

The summation is found in verse 21: Ichabod, "The glory has departed."  The real tragedy of this story is that because of the unchecked sin God's glory departed a long time ago and no one noticed.  It took God's intervention to shame and embarrass the people into submission and to replace the national leadership.

Two leadership models.
Godly leadership has purpose and clear direction.  It is characterized by self-sacrifice, strength, and willingness to say to "no" to what is wrong in order to say "yes" to what God wants done.  This creates a people with an attitude of service.

Corrupt leadership is characterized by the leader's self-indulgences and pride.  Therefore, they willingly give into whatever the people want.  This creates a people with an attitude of selfish entitlement.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

God is speaking. Are you listening?

Read 1 Samuel 3.

Hearing and responding to God's voice is not limited to age, experience, or position.  Samuel was very young.  Not only did God speak to him directly, but "came and stood" by Samuel to deliver the message (v.10).  The content of the message had to do with what God had already told Eli in chapter 2.

The important take away for us is found in verse 9: "Speak, LORD for your servant hears."
This is the goal of every person who wants to live wholeheartedly for God.

Four observations about Samuel's call:
1. The call came to Samuel while he was serving God.  Many want to know the will of God for their lives that are not doing anything in the way of ministry for Him.  Someone once said, "You cannot steer a vehicle that is not moving."

2. The call of God was personal.  The LORD had particular plans for Samuel's life.  The fulfillment of those plans only came as Samuel personalized what God wanted done in serving Him.

3. The call of God was an assignment.  There would be an overhaul of spiritual leadership for the nation.  God wanted Samuel ready to lead.

4. The call of God took time to unfold.  Samuel needed time to mature both physically and spiritually before assuming national leadership.  Because Samuel's mind and conscience were sensitive to listening to God and obeying what He said, "the LORD was with Him as he grew" (v.19).  Note that this was in spite of the evil environment in which he was raised.  And, the LORD revealed Himself directly to Samuel later (v.21) and at other times in his leadership.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us today primarily through the Bible.  Often we understand an application of His word through sound teaching or wise counsel.  Throughout the day the Holy Spirit is speaking to us in the observations of life.

Sometimes His voice is loud and clear.  But most often, it is a still small voice.  "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left." (Isaiah 30:21)

God is speaking all the time.  Are you listening?

Monday, October 23, 2017

What does God want from us?

Read 1 Samuel 2:12-36.

The contrast in this chapter is unmistakable.  In the first part, we are told of a godly woman who worshipped, who prayed, who experienced the LORD's blessing.  In the second part, we find that the priests were spiritually and morally corrupt.

Eli was not only the High Priest but he was also the father of these two men.  Was Eli responsible for their sin?  No.  These were grown men and fully responsible for their own behaviors.  The root of the problem was “They did not know the LORD” (v.12).  Should Eli have confronted the sin and removed them from service?  Absolutely! High Priests served for life.  Eli was quite elderly.  He knew what was happening and only reprimanded them.  Sin is like a cancer.  Left unchecked it will only spread and become fatal.

We are not left in doubt as to what God was thinking and wanted said.  He sent an unnamed "man of God", a prophet, to deliver His message.  The message had its bases in the book of Exodus where the LORD chose the tribe of Levi to professionally serve Him.  These men had received a special and godly heritage to steward.  Instead, they treated what God had given them with "scorn" (v.29).  That root attitude of rebellion against the LORD and His plan for them is a key definition in the Bible of sin for which Jesus died (Isaiah 53:6).

What does God want from us?
There are two key verses here that answer that question.
1. "...for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed." (v.30)
Do my thoughts, my words and my actions moment by moment honor the LORD?
This requires self-awareness and self-discipline.
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)

2. "And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind..." (v.35)
Under the New Covenant (New Testament), believers in Jesus are His priests.  We have a heritage of faith and service to steward.
How can we honor Him if we do not know what is on His heart and on His mind?
This requires reading, meditating, and being taught the Word of God. 

"I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." (Psalm 119:11)

Friday, October 20, 2017

How great is our God!

Read 1 Samuel 2:1-11.

There is no joy that compares to a direct answer to a prayer from God.  When there is a specific, urgent need, and our dependence is cast solely upon Him, and we get to see the Hand of God move in our favor, we rejoice.

Hannah's prayer is one that expresses her clear view of who God is and how He has vindicated her.  Her thoughts were not about herself and what she received, but how great the LORD is.  Keep in mind that she lived in a time without a Bible and without a local church.  But she worshipped God, she had been taught, and God had revealed Himself to her.
"There is none holy like the LORD"
"There is none besides you"
"There is no rock like our God"
-The God of the Bible is the only God there is.  There are not multiple gods to believe in that humans can merely choose what they want to believe.  There is no one else but this One.
"The LORD is a God of knowledge"
"By him actions are weighed"
-The God of the Bible is omniscient.  He knows and is concerned with the details of every life.  He is the Judge of the universe.  One day, everyone will be held accountable before Him for their actions in this life.
-These are two examples in a series of God's control and power to reverse human thinking and situations.  Peninnah bore sons and daughters for Elkanah, but it was this one son of Hannah who influenced a nation.
"The LORD kills and brings to life"
-He holds the power of life and death.
"The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and exalts."
-He is the potter.  We are the clay.  As the owner of all things, He fashions each life as He desires.
"For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and on them he has set the world."
-Creation is not confined to the book of Genesis.  The God of the Bible is the Creator and Controller of all things.
"He will guard the feet of his faithful ones."
-His personal care is especially demonstrated in how He protects and provides for those who are good stewards of His stuff.
"The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces"
"The LORD will judge the ends of the earth"
-Those who choose to rebel against Him by their actions or by their apathy will one day pay an awful eternal price.  No one who rejects the LORD gets away with it.

How great is our God today!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A godly parent's perspective on Children

Read 1 Samuel 1.

The times of the Judges in Israel were repeatedly labeled as "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" (Judges 21:25).  Yet, the Bible provides occasional stories of those who stood in contrast to their culture and who followed the LORD wholeheartedly.  One was Ruth.  Now, we learn about the last Judge of Israel, Samuel.

Elkanah and his family worshipped God.  Hannah knew her husband loved her, but the emptiness she felt from having no children became excruciatingly painful.  To add insult to injury, the other wife proved fertile and used it to emotionally and verbally abuse Hannah.

As a godly woman, Hannah went to be alone with the Lord and pour out her heart to Him.  In her prayer, she made a vow.  If He would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to God's service with a Nazarite vow.  Samson was dedicated before birth with the same vow.  The High Priest, Eli, saw her in such distress but heard no sound.  He thought she was drunk.  When he realized his error, he gave assurance that she would receive the answer to her prayer.

By the next year when Elkanah's family arrived for the annual sacrifice, God had given them a son.  It is believed that Samuel was probably three years of age by the time Hannah presented him to Eli.

While it is difficult for us to even think about giving up a child, especially at such a young age, Hannah's statement in verse 27 is on the hearts of every Christian parent.  "For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him."

1. Believing parents pray for their children even before they are born.

2. The LORD grants children to parents.  They are not biological accidents.  They belong to God.
Psalm 127:3-"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is his reward."

3. The LORD lends children to a mother and father as a stewardship.
Ephesians 6:4-"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Everyone Loves a Happy Ending

Read Ruth 4.

Boaz arrived early at the gate of the city where official business was conducted.  He obviously prepared what he would say.  He knew the man would be coming and waited for him.  At first, the deal was presented only as a real estate transaction.  But truly Boaz had only one thing in mind and that was Ruth.

This unnamed nearer kinsman became eager for Boaz to step in.  The reason had to do with the law.  To refuse outright would have meant public shame.  The custom was that one took possession of land by literally walking upon the soil.  Symbolically, by removing his shoe the man gave up his right to walk on that soil as the owner.  Because this was a friendly transaction, there was no spitting in his face, as Deuteronomy would have required.

The story of Ruth is an exception during the time of the Judges when "everyone did what was right in their own eyes".   Here we are told that not everyone rebelled against God.

Who does not love a happy ending?  This is one of the best in the Bible.

Boaz became a happy husband and father.

Naomi's bitterness was changed to praises to God for what He has done in providing for them. (v.14)

Ruth, the Moabite, embraced the LORD, the people of God, and now a husband who had redeemed her from the destitute situation of widowhood.  She became a mother.  Indeed, she was the great-grandmother of King David. 

By the way, this story took place in the city of Bethlehem and would become known as the city of David.  Over a thousand years later, the Roman government sent out a decree that all the world should be taxed (Luke 2).  Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem of Judea for the registration.  That is where Jesus was born.  Ruth is one of five women mentioned in Matthew 1 in the lineage of the Messiah.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

3 Lessons while waiting on God

Read Ruth 3.

God's plan began to unfold, but that does not mean those involved could see either when or how those plans would all be accomplished.

The attraction between Ruth and Boaz changed in this chapter to love and commitment to each other.  Naomi knew that Boaz was a relative of her late husband.  Under the law (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10), childless widow's had certain rights and claims on the rest of her deceased husband's family.  As a near kinsman, Boaz could legally buy back Ruth's deceased husband's property and marry her. 

Naomi's instructions to Ruth in verse 3 for this encounter were to get cleaned up, dressed up, fixed up and go meet him.  However, she was to wait until he had finished his dinner.  Good idea!

Nothing immoral is suggested here.  He is a godly man.  She has a virtuous reputation (v.10-11).  In this public place with plenty of people around, and as a servant, she warmed his feet as he slept.  No engagement ring was given.  However, spreading the corner of his garment over her symbolized his intent to care for her and protect her. 

The plot thickens.  Boaz revealed to her that there was a kinsman closer than he.  They would have to wait until morning to find out if there would be any future to their love relationship.  Then, Naomi also told her to wait (v.18).

When a friend noticed the great preacher of New England, Phillips Brooks, pacing the floor back and forth, he asked, "What is the trouble"?  To that Brooks replied, "The trouble is that I'm in a hurry, but God isn't!"

Lessons while you wait.
Lesson #1
Do all you can to make yourself ready to receive the answer to your request and then be prepared to wait for God's timing.
Lesson #2
While waiting, obey God completely and wait with confident faith in Him and His ultimate plan.
Lesson #3
Blessing follows obedience.
"I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see it and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.  Blessed is the man, who makes the LORD his trust..." (Psalm 40:1-4a)

The wait will be worth it.

Monday, October 16, 2017

There is hope for Tomorrow

Read Ruth 2.

One of the amazing characteristics of the LORD is His omnipresence.  He works in lives of each individual at the same time, fulfilling His plans.  In this chapter, we get to see God work in three people simultaneously.  Verse 3 uses the phrase "she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz."  It may have seemed to just "happen" to her, but it was no accident.  God was in full control, leading her to the exact spot at the exact time.

-He was a godly and wealthy bachelor.   
-He was kind.  Notice the way treated his employees with a blessing.
-He was respected.  Notice the response of his workers to him. 
-He was attentive.  He spotted Ruth immediately and wanted to know all about her.
-He was a caring and generous man.
-He became a protector for Ruth.

-We learned from chapter one how she felt God was against her (1:13).
-She was bitter because of her sufferings (1:20).
-She knew the LORD but could not process her pain with her faith.
-But notice her words in 2:20.  The light went on regarding God's care and possible plan for her.

-She was an alien in a new land.
-She was willing to work to support herself and her mother-in-law (vv.2, 18).
-She was an attractive woman, even as she worked in the field (v.6).
-She had the reputation of a hard worker (vv.7, 17).
-She was humble in her attitude (v.10).
-She listened and followed wise counsel (vv.22-23).

Now, all three of them had a spark of hope for their futures.  Suffering and disappointment do not have to mark the end of our hope.  Indeed, our losses may be the very stepping stones that God will use to take us to His place of blessing.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Today Matters

Read Ruth 1.

In tough times people choose how they will respond.  Some become discouraged and even bitter.  Some throw up their hands and regress in life.  Others make good decisions that set the course for their future.  In this first chapter we see all three of these responses.

Chapter one is an introduction to three widows.
Naomi lost her husband and both her children.  She wanted to be known as Mara, which means "bitter".  She interpreted her sufferings to mean that God was punishing her.  Naomi knew the LORD but could not yet process her emotional losses.

Orpah's response to the death of her husband was to go back to her Moabite family.  This also meant that she would return to the worship of the false gods of Moab (v.15).  She married into a family of faith in the LORD but did not personally embrace Him as her own.

But then there was Ruth.  She suffered the loss of her husband and had no children.  Widows in that culture without other family members to support them were destitute.  However, Ruth's response to her circumstances was to make new commitments that would secure her future, indeed her eternity.

Verses 16-17 are among the most powerful statements of commitment in all of the scriptures.  This passage has often been used at weddings, but actually it is the vow of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law.
1. She committed herself to her mother-in-law.
"...where you go, I will go..."
2. She committed herself to the people of God.
"Your people shall be my people."
3. She committed herself to the LORD.
"...and your God my God."

Though not of Jewish descent, Ruth had no idea how these choices would bless her life, the life of her mother-in-law, and bring her into the very lineage of Messiah!

Dr. John Maxwell wrote a wonderful book entitled, "Today Matters."  In it he writes, "the way you live today impacts your tomorrow."  Ruth is a great example of that principle and provides an excellent model for our life decisions today...they matter.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The case for spiritual Leadership

Read Judges 19-21.

These closing chapters recount one of the saddest times in Israel's history.  The sexual immorality in the tribe of Benjamin at the time takes us back to the story of Sodom.  History is clear that homosexuality is the doom of a culture.  Verse 22 of chapter 19 calls them "worthless".  It is the last straw for God to execute judgment.

 Human life had lost its value.  A young girl was abusively murdered.  The actions of the Levite, though gruesome, accomplished its intent to rile a nation to do something about the sin.  They rallied in unity (20:11) to "purge evil from Israel" (20:13).  Everyone suffered.  In the end, 25,100 men of Benjamin died.

The tribe of Benjamin was the smallest of the twelve tribes.  With such great losses of men, in chapter 21 the nation had to agree to a plan to maintain the tribal heritage.

People need spiritual leadership.  God never intended for us to grow and live out our faith in Him by ourselves.  We all need to be taught, to be accountable, and to interact with others as we put the Word of God into practice.

When the book of Judges repeats the theme "in those days there was no king", it is the dangerous reminder that they had no spiritual leadership.  "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25).  In other words, left to ourselves, humans do not naturally lean toward God.  Even our faith is a work of the God, the Father.  Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44).

We all need the spiritual leadership of God's word, the Holy Spirit's control, and the accountability of a Bible teaching church.

Friday, October 13, 2017

In search of the God-factor

Read Judges 17-18.

Verse 6 of chapter 17 contains a recurring theme that characterizes the book of Judges and explains the 7 cycles.  "In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."  The statement should immediately alert us that the account here is historical to the writer and that the time of writing was later when Israel had a king.  The closing chapters of Judges are stories, providing specific examples, that fit into the previous cycles.

Micah was a thief.  He stole silver from his mother.  When she pronounced a curse on the one who took her money, Micah confessed and gave it back to her.  In her warped thinking, she decided to counter the stated curse she had put on her son with some sort of religious good work.  Obviously influenced by the pagan culture around her, she took part of the silver to make an idol to worship as her god.  Such an act was an abomination to the LORD.  If that were not enough, they hired their own private priest to lead their false worship.  Sadly, this was one of Moses' grandsons.

The situation is full of pride and rebellion against the LORD.  They had their own god, their own priest, their own way of worship.  All self-made and had nothing to do with the God of Heaven.

In chapter 18, even the tribe of Dan lost their spiritual bearings.  They forcibly took Micah's god and his priest as their own.  Then, they conquered the territory that Joshua had allotted to them in the north.  They set up the god they stole as their own and Dan became a center of idolatry.

Louis Giglio once said, "If you have to carry your god on your shoulder, you need a new god."

It is pride and rebellion in the heart and mind of finite human beings that think they are smarter than the Infinite Creator.  Humans left to themselves will always put their trust in something else to "bless" them.

Instead of worshipping and praying to nature, the stars, and man-made objects, let us worship the One who created and sustains all that we see, including ourselves.  As scientists in Europe are searching for the God-factor in the mass of the universe, the Apostle Paul knew the answer a long time ago.  Concerning Jesus, he wrote, "...all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together."  (Colossians 1:16b-17)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

5 Insights from the life of Samson

Read Judges 15-16.

Samson was an answer to prayer and prophecy at his birth.  Godly parents raised him.  Even before his birth, he had been dedicated to the LORD in a Nazarite vow for life.  God used him to avenge and overthrow the oppression of the Philistines.  Indeed, he "judged Israel twenty years" (16:31).  Yet, his lack of self-discipline, his pride, and his view of women cost him dearly.

Physically, no man or any group of men could match him.  But he was totally oblivious to the cunning of immoral women.  He used women, toyed with them, and gave into them.

Many have missed the fact that the blessing of his strength came from God, not muscle oor long hair.  Time and time again, he neglected his spiritual health and strength.  The saddest words concerning Samson is found in 16:20-"...he did not know that the LORD had left him." 

Here are five insights for all to learn from Samson's life.
1. Godly parents do not guarantee godly children.  We all, as individuals, must give an account to the LORD for our own responses to Him.  "So then each of us will give an account of himself to God." (Romans 14:12)

2. We all were designed for a life dedicated to God.  "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."  (Ephesians 2:10)

3. We all need protection from our vulnerabilities.  "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."  (1 Corinthians 10:12)
4. God will get glory from a life-one way or another.  "So, whether you eat of drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  (1 Corinthians 10:31)

5. Life is about fulfilling the purposes of God in our generation.  "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption."  (Acts 13:36)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

It's my life. I'll do what I want.

Read Judges 14.

During this time the nation of Israel lived under the oppressive rule of the Philistines.  In response, God chose a man named Samson to liberate His people.  From Samson's early years, "the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him" (13:25).  The angel of the LORD gave his parents instructions on how to raise him.  Samson would be under the commitments of a Nazarite (not Nazarene).  He was not to drink any alcohol, be strict about what he ate, and not to cut his hair.  In the teaching from Moses, this was a voluntary vow for a period time to separate oneself for a special service to God.  The Bible provides instances where such a vow was made by the parents for the life of their child.  Such was the case with Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist.

Samson is renowned for his physical strength.  But he was a man who violated his vow repeatedly with moral weaknesses.  Instead of seeking a godly woman for a wife from Israel, he lusted after a Philistine woman who did not worship the LORD.  The Mosaic Law prohibited such a union.  He would not listen to God's word, nor the wisdom and objections of his parents.  Why?  Because "she is right in my eyes" (14:3).

Samson's physical strength caused him to believe he was invincible.  This type of pride always leads to a downfall.  At the celebration leading up the marriage, his wife-to-be demonstrated her loyalty to her own people, not Samson.  Her heart was full of deceit.  It cost thirty men their lives and the woman was given to another.  Verse 4 is not an endorsement by God of Samson's sin.  Rather, God had a bigger plan to unfold and overthrow the Philistines.  He would use this occasion to begin the process.

Insights from a bad example:
1. Concerning Parents.
"Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise) that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." (Ephesians 6:1-3)  When a child grows to be an adult, they are responsible for their own behavior before the Lord.  While they may not be under the obedience of parents, for all-time they are to honor their parents.

2. Concerning Temptations.
The first sin was one prompted by the lust of the eyes.  Eve "saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes..." (Genesis 3:6).  1 John 2:16 warns us, "For all that is in the world-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions-is not from the Father but is from the world."

3. Concerning Sin.
The desire to live life according to one's own wishes is rebellion against God's ownership.  It is this very sin that sent Jesus to die on the cross.  "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6)

4. Concerning God.
The LORD is in control, even when a person sins.  No matter what, He uses every situation in our lives for His glory and His purposes.  "Surely the wrath of man shall praise you" (Psalm 76:10.  "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

5 evidences of godly Character

Read Judges 13.

The sixth cycle began when the next generation "did what was evil in the sight of the LORD".  This time God used the Philistines to oppress them for forty years.

Yet, even in the worst of times, there were always those who did love and serve the LORD.  Such were Manoah and his wife.  Though most of the tribe of Dan had moved north, these two remained in the inherited land allotted to their family by Joshua.  They were a faithful couple who had no children.  Then, the angel of the LORD appeared and foretold the birth of their son.

This is at least the fourth appearance of the angel of the LORD in first thirteen chapters of Judges.  Who is this "angel"?  Though he looks like a man (v.6 and v.10) and Manoah did not realize at first that he was the angel of the LORD (v.16), the identity is obvious from previous mentions from Genesis to here.  Nowhere is it more clear than here.
1. Very awesome appearance (v.6).  The word awesome is so overused in American slang that it has lost its meaning.  To stand in awe involves the emotions of fear and reverence.  It is a rightful response to God and His word.
2. His name is "secret" (KJV), "wonderful" (ESV) (v.18).  
3. They had seen God (v.22).  This was no one else than a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Himself.

We learn much about the spiritual character of Manoah and his wife.
1. They recognized the presence of God.
2. They believed the message from God.
3. They prayed to God for more understanding of His word, especially His teaching to raise their child. (v.8 and v.12)
4. They offered sacrifices to "the one who works wonders." (v.19)
5. The LORD blessed them. (v.24)

May those five things be true of us today.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Hope for marginalized People

Read Judges 10:6-12.

The sixth cycle of the book began as the next generation of people turned from the LORD to serve all the false gods of the cultures around them.  As a result, the LORD "sold them" to the Philistines and Ammonites for eighteen years.  In their distress, Israel cried out to God for help, confessing their sin.  God gave them a bit of a history lesson of His faithfulness and what He had done for them in the past.  He even mocked them by saying, "Why don't you go ask those other gods to help you?"  The people responded by getting rid of the vain things they had worshipped.

Notice that the LORD did not immediately overthrow their enemies.  Instead, the Ammonites decided to fight against Gilead.  The people needed a man to lead them in battle.  Now we meet Jephthah.

Jephthah was evidently from a prominent family.  The city was named after his father, Gilead.  But his mother was a prostitute and so the rest of the family rejected him.  Even the leaders of the city hated him (v.7).  As an outcast, he left town.  Jephthah was also a leader.  Other marginalized and outcast men followed him.  However, the most important note about him was that he had a personal relationship with the LORD (v.11).

The reason the Ammonites gave for the invasion was that Israel had taken their land.  Jephthah knew the history and retold it to them.  Their forefathers had mistreated the nation of Israel and God gave them the land.  As a steward, Jephthah proclaimed, "All that the LORD our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess." (11:24)  He fully depended on the LORD as he entered into battle (11:27).  That truly was all he needed to win, but, in the emotion of the moment, Jephthah made a foolish vow.  With his daughter being an only child, this meant he would have no descendants.  If that heartbreak was not enough, the tribe of Ephraim angrily expressed their offense that they were not included in the fight against the Ammonites.  So, a small civil war broke out.

Jephthah served as Israel's judge for six years.  Three minor judges followed him.  Ibzan led the nation for seven years; Elon for ten, and Abdon for eight.  So, Israel experienced a total of thirty-one years of peace.

Personal insights for us all:
1. It does not matter where you came from.  What matters is where you are going.  My friend Dr. Crawford Loritts often says, "Don't let your past define you."

2. We are responsible for our own reputation.  Our character and conduct, good or bad, is no one else's fault or responsibility.

3. Our future is determined by our personal relationship with the Living God and our stewardship of all that He has given to us.

4. If we are faithful, there will come a time when we will be needed for an opportunity God had planned for us all along.

5. We must guard our hearts and minds when we are at an emotional extreme, high or low.  That is when most people make their worst decisions.

6. Whenever a person serves God's purpose faithfully, there will always be those who are offended.  Our goal is not to strive for the impossible task of pleasing everyone.  There is One is heaven we absolutely must please.  "And whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him." (1 John 3:22)    

Thursday, October 5, 2017

God's response to evil Leaders

Read Judges 9-10:5.

Cycle number five describes a national implosion.  There were no outside nations oppressing them in this time period.  They fought against each other.

As good as Gideon was, he left a terrible legacy.  He had many wives who gave birth to seventy sons.  Then, there was at least one concubine with whom he fathered another son.  That son's name was Abimelech.  When Gideon died, it appears that he left a family and a nation with neither defined nor spiritual leadership.

This next generation did not remember the LORD and what He had done for them.  In this void, Abimelech, with selfish ambition, rose to take power and control of Israel.  He first killed all but one of Gideon's sons and ruled for three years.  Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, escaped.  He then went to Shechem to preach a prophetic message to the city leaders.

When challenged by what seems to be an even more godless man, Gaal, civil war broke out.  Abimelech proved to be ruthless in putting down all those who opposed him.  He must have thought himself to be invincible in personally leading the attacks.    Any warrior in those days would know the dangers of rushing a wall or tower.  No king would have been fighting on the front line.  It cost him his life.

A couple of minor judges followed, providing national leadership and peace for a total of forty-five years.

1. When a people have an evil leader, everyone suffers.
2. In the worst of times, God has His people who can and will deliver His word.
3. The dissension was instigated by God in order to overthrow Abimelech. (9:23)
4. Though an unnamed woman was credited with mortally wounding him, it was God who "returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers." (9:56)
5. "And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads." (9:57)

God's justice may seem slow to us but in His time He will right every wrong.  No one gets away with sin.

God's hand is at work; even using evil people do accomplish His will.

God's goal is to bring people back to worship Him so they may experience righteousness and peace.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

When things look Impossible

Read Judges 7-8.

Cycle number four continues as Gideon had now become a leader of an army that would deliver Israel from the Midianites.  In what seems to be a strange assessment, God told Gideon he had too many soldiers for the battle.  The reason the LORD gave was that with so many the army could take the credit and glory for the victory.

In the winnowing process, Gideon's army was reduced from 32,000 to just 300 men.  It was a humanly impossible assignment.  So, when these few men conquered Midian, everyone would know it was God's power and give glory only Him.

When Gideon's army blew the trumpets and flashed their lamps, the army of Midian that could not be numbered (7:12) thought they were surrounded!  120,000 of the enemy died (8:10).  Though exhausted, Gideon and his men chased the Midianites clear across the Jordan.  Those who refused to support them along the way paid so with their lives.  Thus, God relieved the nation of its oppression and established Gideon's national leadership.

The nation asked him to "rule over us" (8:22).  Notice his humility and submission to the LORD.  Truly, God was the ultimate ruler over the nation.  Gideon provided a leadership of peace for the next forty years.

Two insights for today:
1. God wants to work in situations thought impossible so He alone will get the credit.
Jesus said, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." (Luke 18:27)

2. God wants to use people who know they do not have what it takes to get the job done but are willing to trust God to accomplish His work through them.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." (2Corinthians 4:7)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

When God does not answer our Questions

Read Judges 6.

Cycle number four begins in the first verse.  The next generation of Israelites "did what was evil" and "the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years."  The people then cried out for help.  But this time we are given much more detail of what took place.  First, God sent an unnamed prophet to point out the sin of the nation.  Second, "the angel of the LORD" appeared.  From the previous reference in Judges 2:1, this is none other than a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God Himself.  We are told He sat under a tree, waiting for the encounter with Gideon.

Commentators have stated that since Gideon was beating out the wheat in a winepress that meant he was hiding from the enemy and that the harvest must have been very small.  Yet, in a bit of prophetic humor the LORD called him a mighty man of valor.  Truthfully, Gideon was anything but such a man.

Gideon's questions show either a lack of understanding or the common responses of one who is suffering.  Why has this happened to us?  Where is God when we need Him?

Notice that the LORD answered neither question.  He simply called Gideon to go save Israel from the Midianites.  In response, Gideon poured out his inadequacies.  Then, the LORD said, "But I will be with you." (v.16)  One person with God is a majority every time.  The LORD chose to demonstrate His power to Gideon as proof of who He was and assurance of the victory ahead.

There were no more questions from Gideon at this point.  Once he realized God's call on his life, God's presence with him, and God's power available to him, Gideon worshipped and obeyed.  When he personally took the bold step of destroying the false gods that had been erected, God protected him and clothed his leadership with the Spirit of God (v.34).

The fleece test Gideon used was not to determine God's will.  He already knew that.  But in his timidity and lack of faith, he wanted the reassurance that the power and presence of God was with him. 

Insights not to miss:
1. When we are suffering loss or harm, rather than seek answers to the questions "why" or "where is God when I need Him", instead seek what God wants you to do.  Seeking answers can be enlightening but all too often drown us in the past and self-pity.  Knowing what God wants us to do and taking right actions will move our lives forward.
2. If it is God's will, then we can count on God's presence and power to go before us.
3. God wants our willingness to obey and worship Him alone.  Nothing will build our faith like doing the will of God.
4. Our future is assured.

Monday, October 2, 2017

How God works for our Success

Read Judges 4-5.

Cycle number three begins with the very first verse.  After 80 years of peace, Ehud, the judge who delivered them, died, the new generation left the God who loves them to go their own evil way.  This time the LORD raised up King Jabin of Canaan to conquer and enslave Israel for 20 years.  Then, the people cried out to God for help.  God responded by using Deborah, a prophetess and judge.

Deborah chose Barak to lead Israel's army in the overthrow of the Canaanites.  Barak's insistence on Deborah going with him was probably for her wise counsel and reassurance of the presence of God.  Barak exercised great faith in taking this assignment and completing it.  He is listed in Faith's Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11:32).

In her prophecy statement to Barak, she said, "Up!  For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand." (4:14)  The scripture makes it clear that the LORD went before them and caused the Canaanite army to flee.  Sisera escaped and was killed by a woman, Jael.  "So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel." (4:23)

The victory was followed by a long, narrative duet by Deborah and Barak.  Then, the nation enjoyed peace again for 40 years.

The lessons of the repeating cycles are the same.  God will not allow people to go on indefinitely in sin.  Sin has devastating consequences.  Yet, when sinners abandon their sin to obey the LORD, He faithfully responds with forgiveness and deliverance.  In freeing His people, God has a plan for them and a time for the plan (4:14).  God even goes before His people to clear the way ahead.  But notice they still must do the fighting and pursuing.  God will not do it for them.

In the duet, we learn some additional take away principles of success.
1. "Leaders took the lead." (5:2a)
Dr. Lee Roberson originally coined the phrase, "Everything rises and falls on leadership."
Olan Hendrix asked, "Have you ever noticed that the bottle neck is always at the top?"
Every nation, organization, church, and family needs godly and/or good leadership to survive.  But leadership is not a position.  It is an active endeavor.  People never achieve all their potential as a group unless someone takes the lead.

2. "The people offered themselves willingly." (5:2b)
No person can lead anything alone.  A person is not a leader unless someone is following them.  The people within a nation, organization, church, or family have the responsibility to follow godly and/or good leadership.  Concerning the Macedonian believers Paul wrote, "...they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us." (2 Corinthians 8:5)