Broken Compass

Judges 19:1
“And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite staying in the remote mountains of Ephraim. He took for himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.”

The closing chapters of Judges paint a dark picture of life in ancient Israel. We read of drunkenness, murder, rape, idolatry, spiritual confusion and moral indifference. It seems  the people have lost their moral compass and are allowing their desires to determine right from wrong. This was never the way God intended for man to live. From the very beginning, God gave man an external code to guide him through life, and that code is the Word of God. When the Word of God is forgotten, ignored, hidden or altered, it always leads to spiritual confusion, immorality and suffering.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, if man is to be truly free, he must establish a standard outside of himself that will help guide him through life. He declared that allowing our emotions or desires to rule our life will never lead to true freedom. While he did not see the Bible as the standard, he did understand that man, left to himself, cannot rule himself well.

It seems that, today, we have ignored the warnings or Scripture and the counsel of the wise. It seems the world we live in today, is a lot more like the time of the judges, than anyone cares to admit. If we want to see a change, we must get back to the way God intended for man to live, not doing whatever is right in our own eyes, but allowing His Word to guide our lives.

Pastor Jim

 

Pride

Judges 9:53
“But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull.”

Not every story recorded in Scripture is a positive one. In this case, we find a self-centered man with a drive for power and a taste for blood, fight his way to the top, where he can rule over the people of God. Abimelech was a strong man with many gifts, but he was also an ungodly man who took things by force, and was responsible for the death of many innocent men and women. His ungodly passions and unrighteous principles got him what he wanted, but only for a very short season. He found that no matter who you are, your sins will surely find you out, and you will give an account before God.

Perhaps there are many lessons we could derive from his life, but one that seems to stand out, is the fact that it was pride that drove Abimelech, and ultimately pride that stopped him. He led an army to put down an uprising and his thirst for blood caused him to ignore a basic principle of warfare. His troops drove the enemy back into a city stronghold, where they huddled together in a tower. It would only be a matter of time before they were defeated, but pride drove Abimelech to come too close to the tower, where a woman saw him standing below, picked up a large stone and dropped it on his head. The great and mighty Abimelech was defeated, not by a giant, a mighty army, or a brilliant military strategist, but by a woman who happened upon a heavy stone, at just the right time.

Pride is like that, it will always lead us to think we can do more than we actually can. It will take our eyes of the Biblical principles of spiritual warfare that keep us from falling, and will cause us to compromise. Pride has been the downfall of some of the greatest men who ever lived. Pride led Samson to toy with Delilah, pride led David to let his guard down with Bathsheba, pride led Peter to ignore the warnings from Jesus, and deny him three times. We all need to realize, that apart from the Lord we have very little strength. We need to learn to look to Him, array ourselves in the armor of God, and trust in His ability not our own.

Proverbs 16:18
“Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Pastor Jim

 

He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins

Judges 8:21
“So Zebah and Zalmunna said, ‘Rise yourself, and kill us; for as a man is, so is his strength.’ . . .”

We live in an interesting time, when big philosophical ideas are compressed into quaint little sayings and scattered across social media. We are bombarded with these phrases that often express a worldview diametrically opposed to the teaching of Scripture.

We hear things like “follow your heart,” “yolo,” or some of us might remember “he who dies with the most toys wins.” These phrases become popular, and in some cases, even become the mantra by which people live their lives.

This is not a new phenomenon, this has been going on for thousands and thousands of years, and one such case is recorded here, in the book of Judges. As Gideon stood before the enemies of Israel, he was exhorted by some of the people with a quaint saying that would probably find its way, today, into most of our Facebook feeds. They said “as a man is so is his strength.” It would’ve been a good idea for Gideon and those around him to examine that statement to see what it was really saying, and to see it in light of what the Bible teaches. Had they done so, they would have realized, their philosophy was actually teaching that all the strength we ever need will be found within ourselves. A worldview that is clearly developed by avoiding reality. In fact, Israel had spent years oppressed by the Midianites because they had no strength in themselves to withstand the vast armies of their enemies.

Regardless of the realities of life, there are many who hold that same view today. I recently came across this phrase on social media, “The task at hand is never greater than the strength within.” While this phrase, and others like it, might excite the emotions and stir us to action, they are simply untrue. If followed, they will even cause us to miss out on the true source of real strength; the Lord. There are plenty of tasks that are stronger than us individually, and there are plenty of tasks that are stronger than us collectively. There are things we will face in life which simply cannot be accomplished in the strength of man. We need to learn to lean upon the strength of the Lord. When I think I am strong enough on my own, I will neglect to seek the Lord for the strength, or I will try and fail, only to realize how weak I actually am. After a handful of attempts, that prove to be failures,  it won’t be long before I will neglect to venture out, because I realize my own weakness. On the other hand, if I realize my weakness and learn to trust in the strength of the Lord, then there is no task, no matter how great or seemingly impossible, that cannot be accomplished in the strength of the Lord. The Bible is filled with examples of people doing what they could never do on their own, because they trusted in the power of God.

Instead of clinging to things like, “as a man is so also is a strength,” I should cling to promises like, “man’s weakness doesn’t weaken God” or “my inabilities will never limit the ability of God.”

Perhaps we can learn even more from the statement that was made to Gideon. What if we learned to take any quote or phrase that represents an ideology and examine it? First, we could dissect it to see what it is really saying. Then we could examine what the Bible says about the statement.  Finally, we could counteract the statement with truths from Scripture that encourage us to live right and glorify the Lord. As you listen to music, watch TV, or peruse social media, keep a careful eye out for what is the truth behind the quotes, and always examine them in light of the teachings of the Word.

Pastor Jim

 

The Wrong Battle

Judges 20:14
“Instead, the children of Benjamin gathered together from their cities to Gibeah, to go to battle against the children of Israel.”

The book of Judges ends on a tragic note. Personal immorality, social chaos, and civil war mark the close of the book. This was certainly one of the darkest times in the history of the people of God. The rape and murder of a young woman led to a heated battle between the tribes of Israel. Instead of facing their true enemies, Israel was caught up in civil infighting that cost the lives of some of their most gifted men. When all is recorded, we find they were simply fighting all the wrong battles.

Instead of devoting herself to the Lord, the young woman who lost her life, spent her days in adulterous affairs. The Levite who reported the crime, was himself guilty of immorality. He was in a relationship with a woman with whom he was not married . She was his concubine, a practice acquired, not from the Word, but from the world. The night of the crime against his concubine, he was partying within the house. His drunkenness no doubt influenced his decision making. We read he is the one who sent her out to the mob of men, who eventually raped and murdered her. It is interesting to note, when he reports the crime, there is no mention of his own misdeeds, no repentance for his action, no mourning, no sackcloth, and no confession of sin.

As the story continues, the nation of Israel gathers for war, to avenge the crimes against this man and his concubine. The tribe of Benjamin, instead of realizing the immorality that was rampant within their tribe, stood up for the actions of these men, who raped and murdered the woman. Perhaps a spirit of freedom prevailed, and those who committed these deeds were only expressing their natural sexual inclinations. Whatever the case, Benjamin, instead of addressing a prevailing national sin, turned their anger against their brethren, and war broke out.

The lesson is clear. It is possible to spend a great deal of effort fighting the wrong battles. Instead of fighting to justify our own sins, or defending the sinful actions of others, we should be fighting for personal holiness and national righteousness. Because the people wandered from God, the nation lost sight of the holiness of God, and immorality spread like cancer throughout the land.

Pastor Jim


Pocket Size

Judges 18:24
“So he said, ‘You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and you have gone away. Now what more do I have? How can you say to me,’What ails you?'”

Israel had forsaken the Word of God and fallen into a place of spiritual confusion. We read of “homemade religions” with their own gods, priests and theology. As the story unfolds, we will see this spiritual confusion leads to social chaos and immorality.

In the current chapter, we find one of the many follies of creating your own god based upon your experiences and imagination. Micah paid good money to have a silver image built, and his own priest on salary. When a large group from the tribe of Dan, passed through town and saw his priest and god, they decided to confiscate them for their own use. Because they outnumbered Micah, he had no choice but to comply with their demands. As he watched them parting, he unwittingly declared the folly of false religion,

“You have taken away my gods which I made…

Any god that can fit in the saddlebag of the enemy, is not the true and living God. Jehovah God demanded no images be made of Him. The reason for this is that no likeness could do Him justice, and He is infinite. To reduce Him to a silver statue that fits in your purse, is to lose sight of His very nature. Solomon described God as the One who “. . . the heavens cannot contain. . .” (2 Chronicles 6:18).

Sometimes, we reduce God to a manageable size so we can understand Him. I think it is much better to realize there are things about the nature of God which are too big for me to get my head around, than to reduce Him to fit into my limited knowledge. After broaching the subject of the sovereignty of God, Paul dropped to his knees and declared,

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33

Pastor Jim

 

Homemade Religion 

Judges 17:5
“The man Micah had a shrine, and made an ephod and household idols; and he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.”

The story of Micah is all too familiar. In a time when the Word of God was being neglected, Micah created his own “homemade religion.” He used terminology familiar to true religion, he had a priest and an ephod. However, his god, his worship, and his lifestyle, was really nothing more than a product of his own imagination. As time went on, his religion became even more organized. He established a priesthood consisting first of his own son, then of a wayward Levite, who pretended to be an expert on the things of God. Only in vocabulary, did this religion bear any similarity to a real relationship with the true and living God.

Sadly, though the Word of God is more accessible today than at any other time in history, we still find people creating their own god, and their own way of worship. It is common for these “homemade religions” to use terminology found in the pages of Scripture. They all include a god, some form of prayer and worship, and usually, a procedure to deal with misdeeds. The problem is, like Micah’s religion, they are nothing more than the product of someone’s imagination. While it is honorable to have a boat, a bookshelf, or even a home, that is the work of your own hands, it is not wise to build your own god.

The Bible declares, Jesus is the Faithful Witness. Everything we can know, and need to know, about God, is found in Christ. If you want to observe what God is like, and how to know Him, read the pages of the Bible. The best place to start is in the Gospel of John, where you will meet Jesus face to face.

Pastor Jim

 

Super Strength 

Judges 16:20
“And she said, ‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!’ So he awoke from his sleep, and said, ‘I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.”

The story of Samson is both fascinating and tragic. His feats of strength are paralleled only by legendary super heroes. He defeated lions, carried city walls, and fought off platoons of soldiers, with nothing more than skeleton bones. As far as Biblical characters go, he was the most gifted of all. Sadly, those gifts were never really used for the work of God. Each of his feats of strength was only used to get him out of difficult situations that his disobedience got himself into. Instead of reading of Samson leading the nation of Israel back to the Lord, we read only of his selfishness and continual compromise.

Samson had every opportunity to become a great man of God. He grew up in a family that encouraged him to commit himself to the Lord. I can only imagine that he was told over and over again about the visitation of the angel, and the great plans God had for his life. Samson was also uniquely gifted by the Lord. We never read of his physical stature, only that his great strength came from the Spirit of the Lord. Yet with all this opportunity, Samson chose to pursue the desires of his flesh and make relationship compromises that cost him his life, and Israel its deliverer.

It has always fascinated me that Samson is listed along with David, Joshua, and Moses in the record of Hebrew 11. A chapter devoted to men who accomplished great things by trusting the Lord, also includes a man who lived after the desires of his flesh. As far as I can tell, the only heroic act in Samson’s tragic life was his final one. After walking away from the Lord and losing everything, he finally surrenders all. We read that his hair began to grow again, and the strength of the Lord came upon him for one last accomplishment.

While his story is tragic, it ends with a declaration of the grace of God. We learn it is not too late to cry out to God. Perhaps your life has been marked with wandering from the ways of God. Instead of continuing down that path, take a page from Samson’s story and cry out for the mercy of God. Perhaps there remains in your future a great victory for the kingdom of Heaven.

Pastor Jim