The Book of Judges and the Christian Life

The book of Judges begins with the death of Joshua. The Israelites have settled in the land of Canaan and were a strong military force. However, as we will see, they became complacent and failed to complete the mission God gave to them. Instead of driving out all the inhabitants of the land they had conquered, they allowed some of the people to live among them as slaves. This was outright disobedience to the Lord’s commands, which resulted in severe consequences.

As you read the following study on Judges, think about how this story compares to the Christian life. What has God called Jesus followers to do? What is the mission of the church? How have we failed to complete this mission? And, what are the consequences of our disobedience to Christ’s commands?

Judges 1:28: When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.

Judges 2:1-3: “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”

In the land of Canaan at the time of the book of Judges, there was a common understanding that someone would typically have three different gods. There was a national god, which was passed down through generations and worshipped by the entire nation. This god was called upon in times of war or national crisis. There was a family god, which was passed down and worshipped through the family, and called upon in times of need among the family members. And then each person would choose their own god for themselves, who would be called upon for personal success. The way someone might choose a personal god would commonly be during a time of sickness or trouble. An individual would go to various shrines to make a food offering, and wait to be delivered. If deliverance wasn’t provided, he would go to the next shrine and offer a sacrifice to a different idol. If deliverance was experienced, he would assume this particular god found favour in the sacrifice, and so the individual would choose this idol as his personal god and continue to bring sacrifices to it.

Yahweh was viewed by the Israelites as their national God, but because of the influence of the other nations, the Israelites believed that they were free to choose for themselves a family and a personal god. The Israelites found idolatry attractive because it was guaranteed, it was materialistic, it was easy and convenient, it was socially acceptable among the other nations. It was strange for the other nations to think that the Israelites could worship an invisible God who was believed to be able to do everything, as they worshiped gods that were represented by images made of wood and stone, and they understood that each god performed a different task. Idolatry was also pleasing to the senses because of the use of iconography and craftsmanship, it was indulgent and it was erotic, satisfying their desire for a lifestyle of constant eating, drinking and sexual promiscuity. Idolatry became natural for the Israelites because they were surrounded by it. The warnings God provided prior to entering Canaan was coming true: they did not drive out the other nations, and so the Israelites were getting themselves into trouble through idol worship.

However, every time there was oppression from other nations, the Israelites called upon their national God, Yahweh, for deliverance. But, each time God delivered them, it wasn’t long before they slipped back into idol worship, conforming to the ways of the nations. Instead of relying on Yahweh for provision, they sacrificed to a Baal or a fertility-god. This caused God to again give the Israelites over to the surrounding nations, and thus we see a cycle among God’s people of idol worship and crying out for deliverance.

Judges 2:11-23 provides an overview of what happened among the Israelites during this time, and the following passages show how Israel was disobedience over and over again during the time of the Judges:

3:7: And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.

3:12: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord.

4:1: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died.

6:1: The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.

8:33: As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.

10:6: The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.

13:1: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.

21:22: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

As you can see, Israel failed to obey God. As you read earlier, God warned the Israelites that because they failed to complete the mission, the people of Canaan would become a thorn in their sides, and their gods would be a snare to them. God, of course, was right. The Israelites fell victim to the lures of the Canaanite idol worship. The constant exposure to the way of life in that land caused the Israelites to participate in these evil practices.

As I was studying the book of Judges, I realized that I am the same as the Israelites. When God called me out of a life of slavery to sin, he commanded me to drive everything out of my life that could become a snare to me as I follow Christ. But I have not obeyed God. I find that I constantly allow small, seemingly harmless, aspects of my old self to remain. The Israelites thought they had conquered the land, and keeping a few of the local people around as slaves would not be such a bad thing. But God knew that even a small population of idol worshippers could cause problems among the Israelites. God told them to get rid of every last one, but out of pride, they refused. And out of pride, I have refused to get rid of every last remnant of my old self. So, I ask, what is left of in your life that should be driven out?

God gave the Israelites plenty of chances to get rid of the Canaanites. He provided Judges to lead them out of bondage, but as soon as they had a sense of relief from oppression, they fell back into idol worship instead of pressing on to further victory.

God gives us the power to overcome the oppression of sin in our lives. The Holy Spirit is with us and is able to strengthen us to victory. However, as soon as a small victory is won, we think we are safe. We think we can stop fighting, meanwhile small remnants of sin remain and grow in their influence over us. It isn’t long before we are calling out to God for deliverance once more.

Generous Sacrifices: Hebrews 13:12-16 – Sermon from March 23, 2014

Note in this passage that those who identify themselves with Christ are not at home in the world, and so we should live in a way that is generous to God and generous to others. If what we have and where we live are not permanent, then we have no need to hold on to them tightly. Listen for that theme in this passage.

10 We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. 12 So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. 13 So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. 14 For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. 15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. (Hebrews 13:10-16, NLT)

There are two sacrifices we are reminded to offer in response to our identification with Christ: proclamation sacrifice and sharing sacrifice.

Proclamation Sacrifice

One of the most profound revelations I encountered in studying this passage is that Jesus Christ is the worship leader in the church. This may not be new to you, but maybe this is a new way of thinking about it. Verse 15 says that through Jesus we offer a sacrifice of praise to God.

What does Hebrews 7:25 say about what Jesus does forever on our behalf?

…he [Jesus] is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

Look also at Hebrews 2:11-12:

So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. For he said to God, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.”

The only way we get to God is through Jesus, and Jesus is always interceding for us. Jesus is singing along with us! Not only that, Jesus is providing a way for us to praise God. Why is this such a big deal? Let’s look at the content of our proclamation…

What does it say in Hebrews 13:15? It says that we are to give thanks, or acknowledge or profess the name of God. What is really being said here is that our praise flows out of knowing God. When Scripture refers to someone’s name, it is usually encompassing all that makes up a person.

When we offer praise to God, we do it out of our knowledge of who He is. Implied here is a call to know God and out of that knowledge, through Jesus Christ, we praise Him. Proclamation sacrifice is not just the act of singing praise to God, but it also includes knowing God. This is not just knowing about God, it’s really knowing him.

Here’s an example. I love pie. The other day I was sitting in Country Cappuccino, and I overheard someone say that they really enjoyed the lemon meringue pie they just ate. In that moment, I knew that the pie was good. Why? Because someone said so. But, it’s not good enough to just hear that the pie is good. I want to experience the goodness of the pie. So, I did. I went and bought a piece of pie. I ate it. It was good. In fact, it was better than I expected. But, I unless I ate the pie, I would have never known just how good it was. And now that I have had a piece, I am overflowing with praise about how good that pie was.

You see? We can’t just know about God’s goodness. We need to taste it. Our praise of God will overflow out of the experience of God’s goodness, not just knowledge about God’s goodness, and not just out of our own experiences, but also the experiences of others. Let’s face it, if we base our praise of God only on our own experiences, we will fail to praise God continually, because our experiences are not continually good.

But if our praise is based on the goodness of God that we have tasted and seen within the community of his people, it will be continuous because God is always doing things in the community of his people that we can give him praise for, even if it is the hard things.

Let’s look at the second sacrifice mentioned in this passage…

Sharing Sacrifice

Imagine you are getting things packed up for a family vacation to Paris. Among the clothes, snacks and toiletries you pack, there is one thing you will not want to forget: your camera. Why is it that we feel the need to take pictures of our vacations? Think about it… if you want pictures of Paris, you can just go online and find millions of pictures, and the pictures you’ll find online will probably be much better quality than yours.

Most people would say that we take pictures because we want to remember our experiences. That’s true. But there is deeper reason, and this reason has become particularly evident in the last several years with the development and growth of online photo sharing networks. Prior to the development of digital cameras in the 90’s, approximately 2,500 photos were taken around the world per second. It is estimated that in 2011, we were taking about 11 thousand photos per second. By the fall of 2013, Facebook users had uploaded more than 250 billion photos to the site, and averaged about 350 million uploads per day, which is about 4000 photos each second. That is staggering!

Back to Paris. Why do we want to take pictures of Paris, when we can find millions of better pictures online? Here’s why: we love to share our experiences. God has created us to be sharing people. In fact, I’ve heard it said that no experience in life is complete until it has been shared with someone else. Of course, there are exceptions. But, it’s amazing how true it is! Think about the last time you saw a beautiful sunset. It is wonderful to just sit and watch the sun go down, but the experience is so much better when I can share it with someone else.

The desire to share, however, is different when we believe that sharing means losing. When we think that sharing something means giving it up, we tend to hold back. Although we are created as sharing people, our desire to share vanishes upon the realization that sharing may mean losing what we love.

Every parent here knows that when you buy a child a toy, that toy is usually only enjoyed for a short time… That is, until another child is found to be enjoying it. Isn’t it true? Why do you think that is? A toy can quickly become boring, but as soon as another child finds it to be fun and interesting, it suddenly becomes fun and interesting to every other child in the room. This is a natural inclination we all have toward wanting what other people are enjoying. The sin known in the Ten Commandments as covetousness is a distorted version of a God-given human characteristic we all have.

There is something to be had in the act of sharing that is far more valuable to the well-being of our souls than keeping a prized possession to ourselves. Think again about our children with the toys. When a child wants a toy that another child is enjoying, what he is really desiring is not the toy, but the joy that the other child has. This is why TV commercials rarely tell you about the products they are selling. Rather, they show you how much another person is enjoying their product. They sell you on the positive experience of using the product, not the actual product itself.

Back to Paris one more time. You are not taking pictures to show people where you’ve been. Everyone has seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower. You are taking pictures because you want to share the experience of being there.  When we are sharing our pictures, we are not doing it with hopes that others will see what we have seen, but to enjoy what we have enjoyed. The God-given desire we all have that has been distorted by sin is the desire to share what our hearts find most fulfilling. And, the desire to have what gives others deep fulfillment.

Let’s take a moment and reflect back to the first part of the message. I said that praising God flows up out of our tasting the goodness of God. Bring that idea into this current idea. Remember how our experience of God is finally fulfilled… By sharing our joy with God himself in the act of praise. It is also experienced by sharing our joy with others.

But, without Christ, we can’t do either. So, see how significant our identity with Christ is?

Verse 15 says that it is through Christ that we can praise God. It is only through Christ that we can experience the full joy of the goodness of God. Amazing! And it is through Christ’s Spirit that we can praise God together, not only through singing, but through sharing in the blessings he has given us.

This brings me to the main point of verse 16. Let’s look at it again:

…don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Every one of us has something to offer other people, even if it is something seemingly insignificant.  This passage is telling us to not forget to share what we have with others. This is good not only because it will benefit others, but because in our act of sharing, we find a greater fulfilment than if we keep things to ourselves. God made us to be sharing people.

There is also a hard part to this command. We are not only meant to share the positive experiences and gifts in life, but we are also meant to share in the difficult times and the burdens of life. Look at verse 13: “let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore.”

Because we are identified with Christ as his followers, we must share in the shame that Christ experienced in his crucifixion. I’ve heard this same principle explained this way: when we have someone to share life with, our joys are increased and our burdens are decreased. This is usually stated in the context of a wedding, but I think it applies to the entire community of God’s people. We are meant to share our joys and burdens with one another, not in order to become more holy, but in order to have a deeper, more satisfying experience.

This message is kind of funny in a way. We all know that we are supposed to share; we learn this lesson as children. However, sometimes we need to hear a simple message, in a new way, so that this simple truth will grow deeper roots and bear more fruit in our lives together. I hope that is the case with this message.

I want to close by explaining how it’s possible to practice these acts of sacrifice. Because we all know that sacrifice is easier said than done.

The entire way of life for Christians is based on the fact that we are not permanent residents of earth. We have something better coming. Based on that, we really have nothing to lose on this planet. Verse 14 says that on earth we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Everything we are searching for on earth is ultimately found in heaven. We can have the strength to share in our joy and our pain, our celebrations and our burdens. We can empty ourselves of everything we have because we have something far better on the way.

While we are here, we share with one another our joy and our difficulties. We share our gifts, our abundance, and even what little we have. Not because we expect more in return here on earth, but because we have more than we can imagine coming our way when this life passes on and we make our move to our true home.

What is Your Hope?

From the sermon I preached at Linden Alliance Church on July 3.

Have you ever thought to yourself, if only…? If only I could have a different job, or have more vacation time. Or maybe you can’t wait for things to be over with so you can move on. Maybe you are in high school or college and things will just be better once you are done school. Maybe your kids are at an age that makes life difficult and you think it will get better once they get out of this stage.

What is it that you are putting your hope in? What is defining your sense of purpose and vision?

We all have something that gives us purpose. We all have a vision for what we would like to be doing. Some people’s visions and purposes are more elaborate than others, but we all have them. However, our vision and purpose for our lives is nothing compared to God’s vision and purpose for our lives. As C.S. Lewis put it, we are like children settling with making mud pies in the slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. (From his sermon, Weight of Glory).

We tend to look inside ourselves to find what will fulfill us most, when we should be looking into the heart of God to see the vision for how God wants to work in our lives. God is waiting for an opportunity to guide us in the path He has planned for us, and when we pray, we are giving God that opportunity.

Our hope needs to rest in a complete understanding of God and his inheritance. When we hope in God and what he has planned for us, our hope is placed in what will never fail. When our hope is placed in anything that is not God, our hope is misplaced. Everything but God will fail us at some point.

Faith that Works

What is the difference between faith that works and faith that doesn’t work?

Below is an outline to a sermon I prepared for my Introduction to Pastoral Ministry class last semester. Maybe I’ll preach it one day. I welcome your feedback.

James 2:14–17 (ESV):

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

 

Two kinds of faith

Faith that is dead: A claim to faith in God but is not life changing

When someone makes the statement, “I am a Christian.” What is our immediate response? If you’ve known him a while and have been praying for his salvation, you will likely rejoice with them. A few weeks goes by, and you start noticing that not much has changed in this his life. I’m hoping I’m not the only one here who would think to myself, “I wonder if he actually knows what it means to be a Christian?” If you have a good enough relationship with him, you might bring this to his attention. If he responds by getting defensive and telling you it’s none of your business, it might be clear at this point that he wants the title of Christian, but none of the responsibilities that comes with it. He may believe in God and knows that Christ died for his sins, but his life does not reflect a decision to make Christ his Lord.

Faith that works: Faith in God that brings change

Faith in God that brings change looks different than the previous example. Instead of your friend becoming defensive, he will welcome your discussion and respond by making changes in his life that reflect the Lordship of Christ in his life.

Two kinds of outcomes

Outcomes that bring death: Ignoring the call to help the needy

In the first example, I mentioned that within the first few weeks, you notice your friend not making any changes in his life. Just what are those changes supposed to look like? In the passage we read in James 2, the example given is that of helping the needy. When you know someone who has recently become a Christian, but they are ignoring the responsibilities we have as Christians to help the needy, or more practically for many of us, serve in the church and being kind to others, the faith they have is actually bringing death rather than life.

Outcomes that bring death: An attitude of negligence brings death

When you neglect something that requires your attention to live, it will die. Just like plants and pets need someone to provide water and food, if you don’t make the effort to keep your faith alive, it will whittle away and die.

Outcomes that bring life: Responding to the call to help the needy

Faith that is alive will bear fruit. The proper response to faith in God is to keep our eyes open for opportunities to serve others. It is our life-giving actions that will demonstrate that we are serious about our faith in God.

Outcomes that bring life: Making decisions that will strengthen personal faith and the faith of others

When we make decisions to serve others, we are taking action that will bring life and strength to the community around us.

Grace is a Gift

This last Sunday, I preached at Wimborne Alliance for the second time. This sermon was a continuation of the last sermon I preached there. Here is a small excerpt from the sermon I preached yesterday. This part is based on Romans 4:4, which helps to explain the concept of the grace mentioned in Romans 3:24.

When you work for someone, you don’t get grace, you get wages. When you work for someone you put them in your debt. Your employer owes you when you work for them. When you get paid for work, it is not grace, it is wages. Grace, however, is given to you by a person who owes you nothing. Therefore, it is an abomination to try to work for God. There is nothing you can do for God that will put Him in your debt.

You have two options: you can get nothing by working for God, or you can get everything by receiving grace from God.

When we trust these words, and we think about God as the giver of gifts rather than the payer of wages, our lives will be transformed. We are free to go through life enjoying the free gifts from God rather than trying to put Him in our debt.