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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

May 2014

Judges 13:1-16:31; The Faithful to Wayward Cycle Continues

Judges 13:1-16:31

samson  Unknown

Growing up as a child, when we read the Old Testament, next to David and Goliath, Samson was our favorite story.  But we didn’t like how the story ended with Samson dying.  The Commentator for the TNIV Version of Judges describes Samson’s life well.

“Samson from the tribe of Dan, was a loner, whose heroic exploits involved single-handed triumphs over powerful enemies.  This last of the judges typifies the nation of Israel.  Born by special divine provision to a barren women, consecrated to the Lord from birth and endowed by God’s Spirit with unique powers to overcome Israel’s enemies, he was forever drawn to Philistine women, which ultimately led to his destruction–just as God’s consecrated and especially empowered people, Israel, were continually drawn to the gods and ways of the Canaanites to their destruction.

The story of Samson is the story of Israel in [miniature].  The author provides a mirror image of Israel in the days of the judges-and of God’s unfailing mercies to his wayward people whom he would not abandon.”

It is often said that in the Old Testament, God is a God of judgement.  However, when we read the story we see the Lord reaching out over and over again to call his people back and to rescue them.  We see God exercising great patience over and over again, for many years, before there is any punishment.  Give thanks this day that God continues to reach out to his people to extend his grace and love and make himself known.

 

Just Do It Already! Judges 6:1-8:33

Judges 6:1-8:33

Anyone else get a little antsy reading these chapters? I caught myself thinking, “Just go get it done, already!” The Isrealites are just really dense in my book. How many times do they have to get punished after worshipping—no, PROSTITUTING!– themselves to idols? How many times does God have to tell Gideon what to do and how to do it?

Oh. Wait. Sounds like me. Us. Christians in general. Guess I really shouldn’t throw stones from my glass house…

After reading and re-reading these passages I gained some understanding of Gideon, I think. He tells the Angel that he’s the lowest of his family, and his family is from the weakest of the clans of Mennasah. So I guess he can be forgiven for second-guessing if God was really talking to him. Gideon wasn’t an important person. So Gideon asks God to prove himself again, just to make sure. That took some guts, but can you blame him? God wanted him to lead an army into enemy territory. Not something I’d be willing to do unless I was absolutely positive God was on my side and victory was guaranteed. At least Gideon had the grace to say, “Sorry God, even though you proved it to me once, I just gotta be sure…”

Then God takes his sweet time getting things moving, thinning out the army Gideon puts together, giving new criteria for who to keep, and reducing the numbers from 32,000 to 300. Not exactly a confidence builder when the number of Midianites and other Eastern peoples is described as being “like swarms of locusts.” Gideon is understandably afraid to move in and go to battle, but God acknowledges his fear and gives him confirmation that he’ll be victorious.   In the end, God is victorious through Gideon and the Easterners are run out of the country. Whew! And the Isrealites were thankful and worshipped God in obedience and lived happily ever after. Until Gideon died. Then they worshipped Baals again. Really? Didn’t we just go through this? So was all of that for nothing?

OK, we know the answer to that question. It wasn’t for nothing. Eventually God sends his son Jesus to be the savior and offers eternal redemption to this stubborn, disobedient lot (us). So what can we learn from Gideon’s story? Well, there’s a ton of material here so I’ll take a stab at just a few thoughts: 1. We continue to behave today like the Isrealites of old, straying from God, getting punished, repenting, living in spiritual peace, straying from God…you get the point. 2. God is willing to prove himself over and over again because he loves us and wants us to trust in him. He doesn’t have to do this, but he does. 3. God chooses people who are unimportant, small, from messed-up families, the wrong town, poor, etc., as some as his best and most effective messengers and warriors. Don’t be surprised if you find an angel waiting for you under a tree someday and he says, “just go do it, already!”

Anna

Judges 4 – Unlikely Heroes

Judges 4

School_Jael-And-Sisera (1)

For the sake of comprehension, let’s recap.  God rescued the Israelites from Egypt and they went to Sinai.  Instead of worshipping God, they built an idol.  God forgave them and gave them the Mosaic law including the Ten Commandments.  Then they went to take over the Promised Land. They lost faith and wandered in the desert for forty years, after which God told Joshua to be “strong and courageous.”  Then the Israelites conquered Jericho and the promised land.  After they had conquered the land, the Israelites started doing what they do best; sinning.  God would punish them for their sin and inevitably they would repent.  In those times God would send Judges to save and guide His people. Hence the book of “Judges”.

Ehud, the previous judge, had died.  So what did the Israelites do? Sin of course.  Due to their sin, God allowed the Canaanites to conquer them.  During this time a woman named Deborah was leading Israel.  She settled their disputes and essentially made peace among the Israelites during the time they were conquered by Canaan. Deborah wasn’t just an arbitor; she was also a prophet.  She prophesied to Barak and told him to take 10,000 men to battle against the king of Canaan.  Scripture doesn’t say how big the opposing army was, but its likely that the Israelites were vastly outnumbered considering that the Canaanites had 900 iron chariots; the ancient equivalent of a tank.

Deborah and Barak led the Israelites against the Canaanites.  God showed up and as a result the Israelites routed the Canaanites.  Now comes the interesting part.  Sisera, the Canaanite general, flees to the camp of one of his supposed allies.  He goes in and meets Jael, his allies wife.  He’s thirsty and famished from all the running he’s been doing.  Jael gives him a skin of milk, likely a yoghurt-ish meal.  He falls asleep and she prepares a tent-peg. Wait.. what?  Yep.. a tent peg.  Turns out she’s not much of an ally. She drives the tent-peg through his temple.

What does this story tell us about God? One things for sure; God can use anyone.  We don’t know much about Jael, but it hardly seems like she’s a soldier.  She’s just minding her business, doing her work in her tent.  Its not just Jael who is the unlikely hero, but also the Israelite army as a whole.  10,000 men didn’t take you far in this time.  For them to do what they did against 1,000 iron chariots and support troops, God had to be at work.  If we’re honest we know God doesn’t need us, but he still chooses to use dull, broken tools like you and I for His purposes in the world.

Jericho

Joshua 6

Jericho is very much a symbol of kept promises. God keeping his promise to Joshua, Joshua keeping his promise to Rahab. Jericho is seen as an impossible place to conquer but ultimately delivered because of the of the covenant that God has made first with Moses and then with Joshua.

God is a God of covenant, a God of kept promises and because of that we become people of covenant too. When we are to put that in our faith context we become people who live out our lives in accordance to the principles found in the Bible. Some of them might be easier to follow, like respect your parents, or show grace to others while others might be hard i.e. love your enemies, tithing, sacrifice and so on.

For me Jericho is a place of understanding my own promises to God and keeping those promises. Time and time again I found myself saying: God if you do this for me then…  You get the idea. When we are faced with crises, stress and things that just not going our way, we tend to make promises, promises that many times are just that. And at times we are good at following through and at times we fail really bad at it. I am not going to try to justify our behavior but encourage you to pause for a moment and remember your own Jericho, all those times that you faced adversity and ultimately made promises to God. For myself whenever I do that I understand again and again what grace, forgiveness and covenant means, and I am filled with thankfulness along the way.

Today I encourage you to be thankful for the way God has carried you so far, for his grace for his promises and his love.

Be blessed

Bo M.

Be Strong and Courageous…

lion

Today’s Passage:  Joshua 1:1-9 (NRSV)

This is one of those passages that contain many potential messages…taking over for one who has been greatly loved and extraordinarily successful…facing an uncertain future…the faithfulness of God…God’s formula for success…

Joshua is a book many believe to be a continuation of Deuteronomy – meaning they should be read together as a unit.  It’s a book that has a large presence of the priests which serve to put into perspective for us the balance of priest and military power.  Overall, the purpose of the Book of Joshua provides the account of fulfillment of God’s promise to the patriarchs to give Israel the land of Canaan.

Joshua, meaning “the Lord saves”, (the equivalent name in Greek is Jesus) is chosen by God to succeed Moses…in Joshua’s installation, Israel has a new leader which, if you decide to read the whole book, will provide a model for the anticipated Israelite kings to follow.

How many of us have been in this situation of trying to fill really big shoes?  And from the very beginning of the book we see how the authority of Moses still overshadows Joshua. Joshua might be hearing phrases from the Israelites like, “Moses never did it that way!”; or, “You’e no Moses, Joshua!”; or, “Hey Joshua, it’s time to put up or shut up!”  Maybe…Joshua does hear encouragement from God…be strong and courageous!  Encouragement in what or for what?  A quick read might lead one to think it is about the things to come – the mission Joshua is on.  But if you read closely, you will see that it is encouragement to maintain faith and dependence on God first…in all things.

Be strong and courageous…helps me today.  Sunday I said that for some time now, the local church has not been the anchor of the community – it is not perceived as an important part of the culture by many.  We too, have some very big shoes to fill just like Joshua so let us “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  I really do believe something I heard Bill Hybels say 2 years ago, “the local church is the hope of the world”.  We’re on a mission from God…

Exodus 32:1-35, Idol Worship Diminishes Life

Exodus 32

The people of faith, newly freed from slavery, on their way to the promised land are getting farther and farther away from Egypt and all that they once knew.  And now, cut off from their leader, Moses, the people get restless and anxious and want something they can trust.  They desire security.  Perhaps, they long for a god they can control.

Aaron, who should have demonstrated better leadership caves into their desires and goes along with them and helps in making a golden calf, an idol.  It’s amazing how fast the people turned to an idol.   They had experienced the greatest act of redemption by God in the Old Testament, the liberation from Egypt.  They were rescued from Pharaoh out of slavery to freedom.  How soon they forget the God who brought them out of Egypt!

When life gets really tough and unpredictable people can turn to all kinds of things to try to relieve anxiety and uncertainty.  The temptation of the idol is that it’s something people understand and control.  There’s no mystery and awe there.

Pursuing the idol, the people become indulgent, corrupt, chaotic, and undisciplined.  They are not ready to enter the promised land let alone make the journey there.  God is angry and does not tolerate idol worship.  And look at the servant leadership of Moses.  He pleads to God on behalf of the people.  Unlike Aaron, Moses knows who he is and what he’s about as a leader and he asks God to forgive.

Making the idol undermined their relationship with God.  The idol called a “calf” is probably a bull idol that represented life, fertility, and power; the idols they knew in Egypt.  And they worshipped this idol forgetting who it was that brought them up out of the land of Egypt.

We might ask if we are ever tempted to make God over in our own image?  Do we ever try to reduce who God truly is and what God desires?  Is our God too small, compared to the God we see in the scriptures and revealed in Jesus Christ?

Let us, this day, seek out the one true, living God, the God we know most clearly in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Exodus 20 – The Ten Commandments

For hundreds of years, Roman Catholicism has viewed the general layout of Exodus allegorically as an example to the follower of Jesus. It goes something like the following…

Moses (signifies Christ) and the Jews (signifies the Church), Exodus (signifies slavery) Egypt (signifies the fallen world) led by Pharaoh (signifies Satan). The Jews are led through the Red Sea (signifies death), the wilderness (signifies purgatory – see Matt. 5:25-26, 1 Cor. 3:15, 1 Pet. 1:6-7), and arrive in the Promised Land (signifies heaven).

While I don’t wholly agree with the above, I must admit that I am attracted to most of it. Who am I to strike down hundreds of years of Catholic beliefs? I certainly am not the final word in Biblical interpretation. I would like to meet the person who is. One of the reasons Christ instituted the church was so that we might help one another grapple with these interpretative issues.

The Bible, in many passages, is speaking in several senses and areas of concern (John 14:26, 16:13-15, 1 Cor. 2:11-16, 2 Cor. 4:3-4, Eph. 4:10-13, 2 Tim. 2:24-26) all at the same time. If authors such as Kafka, Swift, Ellison, Shakespeare, Lindgren, and Twain can accomplish this task of writing in several senses at the same time, I assume that the Holy Spirit, which drove the writing of the Bible, can do the same.

Exodus has now progressed to its “Laws” section…Read: Exodus 19:1-8. This is where the Mosaic Covenant is introduced.   In it God expresses His will for the Israelites (Ex. 20:1-26); judgments concerning their social life (Ex. 21:1-24:11); and ordinances regarding their religious life (Ex. 24:12-31:18). All of this together formed the Jewish religion. It is a conditional system based on their works (Ex. 19:5). All of the Jews, at that time, attest (Ex. 19:8) to their readiness to fulfill the demands of God’s Laws. This strikes this interpreter of the Holy Writ as being rather arrogant (Prov. 16:18) in it’s scope.

I need to hastily add that the Christian is not under the Mosaic Covenant but is under the unconditional New Covenant (Rom. 3:21-27, Heb. 10:11-17).

Read Exodus 20

So, there you have the 10 Commandments. Their origin and source is from God (Acts 7:53). They came through Moses and angels (Jn. 1:17, Gal. 3:19). They declare all men guilty (Rom. 3:19-20, Gal. 3:21). The Christian cannot be saved by these laws (Gal. 2:21) or live under them (Rom. 6:14, 8:4). The laws were given to Israel alone (Ex. 20:2). Not only are these laws the basis of order in a civil society, they have been written in and on the hearts of all men universally from the beginning of time.

What have I missed?

Craig Randolph

Exodus 14 – Pressure Makes Diamonds

TenCommand3_034Pyxurz

Exodus 14

Two chapters ago the Israelites were on cloud 9.  Not only did they gain their freedom, but chapter 12 says they “plundered the Egyptians.”  They walked out with their freedom and a good chunk of the wealth of Egypt as well.  In this chapter things get a little dicey.  I won’t tell the story but from the story I want to draw 4 similarities between the hardships in our lives and what the Israelites are going through.

Similarity #1: Life seems tank in a minute.
The Israelites are freely marching away from Egypt with arm-loads of Egyptian gold.  They’re getting really close to the Red Sea when someone turns around and sees the Egyptian army chasing them down.  The most feared fighting force in the world is after them.  The situation goes from celebration to panic in moments.

Similarity #2: We don’t always respond well.
No matter what how strong we think we are, when we lose that loved one, relationship, job, house etc. its easy to look to heaven with accusing eyes like the Israelites did.  I love their sarcasm in verse 11: “were there no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” At least they had sense of humor about it.  The part that bothers me about this one is that just like us, the Israelites had no reason to doubt God.  God had just performed 10 miracles to get them out of Egypt!  They had seen Him work.  In the same way we’ve seen God provide time and time again and we still doubt.

Similarity #3: It looks hopeless.
The Israelites are between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea.  That’s almost the definition of hopeless. The only thing that could have made it worse is if the Israelites would have been unarmed and the Egyptians would have had chariots. Oh wait…

Similarity #4: God provides
For the Israelites, it was God confusing the Egyptians.  For us it might healing over time or encouragement from His Spirit, His people or His Word.  No matter what the response we know with confidence that God works all things for the God of those who love Him.  In that way God is a little like the instructor at the gym, He’s willing to give us what’s best for us even if it doesn’t feel good.

Whether your stuck between the Egyptians and the Red Sea or not, read Romans 8:28 this morning and take comfort.  Pray that God continues to work in you, even if its not always easy.

Freedom comes at a price

Exodus 12:31-51

What a day for the people of Israel! Can you imagine the joy they experience as the news of their release start spreading through their camp? Can you put yourself in the throne room, with the one that has power over you and receiving the news that all you have been fighting for has become reality?

But there is something that Pharaoh  add to the deal:

“Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”

And also BLESS ME! Now that’s a tall order! How can Moses or Aaron speaks words of blessings, words of forgiveness, ask for God to come and be present with the person that for so long has persecuted them?

Freedom comes at a price. Whenever we are to move from one place in our lives to a new one there is a price. There is a price every time when we look at all the things that we have experience, the people that we made an impression on our lives. There is a price we need to pay every time when a relationship comes to an end and a new one comes our way. There is a price to pay every time we ask God to go before us, and make a way in the desert. There is a price.

To forgive, to let go of your past, to move forward without holding a grudge that is a high price. But it is a price worth paying.

If there is a lesson to learn from the exile, is about God’s teaching his people to move on. Move on from a mentality of slavery, a mentality of can’t, a victim mentality, from a place where anger and unforgiveness run  wild. Freedom comes at a price.

Are you willing to pay that price today? Did you walk this road before? And if you did can you share some of that journey?

I pray that we all can experience forgiveness and able to extend it to those than need it.

Be blessed

Bo M.

 

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