God’s Ways or My Ways (Judges 19)

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In today’s chapter we really see how low the morality of Israel became without a Judge or a king. We know that Israel had gotten bad in the past, but we weren’t shown exactly how much. Here we meet another Levite that left his home to find a new place to live and landed in the hill country of Ephraim. This man had taken a woman to be his concubine. She was unfaithful to him and ran away to her father’s house in Judah. After four months had passed, the Levite traveled to get his concubine back. He stayed in his father-in-law’s house for three days, and decided to leave on the fourth. He was convinced to stay another day. So on the fifth day he finally left. When night was approaching, the Levite’s servant suggested staying in Jerusalem until morning. The Levite said no, because Jerusalem was not an Israelite city; so they continued on to Gibeah (which was an Israelite city). They took refuge with an elder man, who was also from the region of Ephraim. Then the story turns into one that reads like the story of Lot and his family during the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-29). The  men of Gibeah came to the man’s house and demanded that he give them the Levite so they could have sexual relations with him. The man refused, but offered his own daughter and the Levite’s concubine. The men refused them and insisted on the Levite. The Levite then forced his concubine out into the crowd, and they took her and abused her throughout the rest of the night. In the morning she was released, but when she reached the house, she died.

The last two chapters start with the same phrase, “Now in those days Israel had no king.” (18:1, 19:1, NLT). This phrase can be taken in two different ways. At first, you can take it at face value. When it says “Israel had no king” it could literally mean there was no king, no central governing body to rule over the people. The second way you can take it is that Israel did not follow any sort of king. If you remember from a few chapters ago, Gideon told the Israelites, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!” (Judges 8:22, NLT). This would mean that the Israelites were not even listening or obeying God.

As terrible and tragic as this chapter is, I think it paints a very good picture of what our lives can be like without God. When we remain in sin, we run our lives into the mud. We ruin them because we are looking out for ourselves, with little or no care for the cost. But Jesus changes this for us. He gives us the opportunity to be reconnected with God, and learn to live good, godly lives.

We read in John’s letters, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-10, NASB). Since we know God, we know how to love, and Jesus calls us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:23, NASB). This love that we share will not let us step on or hurt others to keep us in a better place. Rather it forces us to humble ourselves beneath all others in order to serve them, and build them up into a better place.

So I ask you a simple question. Are we more likely to act like the men of Gibeah and serve our own wants and desires, or do we put ourselves aside in order to help others? We all know what the right answer is, but try to be honest about it. I know that there are times the mantra “Gotta look out for #1” pops into my thoughts. It’s also the way the world teaches us to be. But this is a time where we must question, do we do what the world teaches us, or Christ?

Also in this series

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 84-87

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The Spirit Inside

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There is a Scripture that I’ve been wrestling with this week. It all started while I was preparing my heart for worship on Sunday, and watching a sermon video. I think I’ve gotten what it has been saying to me, so I thought I would share. The passage is found in Ezekiel, right before one of my favorite stories in the Bible (the Valley of Dry Bones). God is talking to the people of Israel, for after they have been exiled from the Promised Land:

“For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. The I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” –Ezekiel 36:24-27, NLT

This passage floored me when I read it that morning! I couldn’t believe I had ever missed this section before (during the other times I’ve read through Ezekiel).

As I was saying yesterday, sin makes us dirty and filthy. It’s not a place you, or God, want to find yourself in. So God is saying to the people of  Israel that He knows what they have gone through, but He wants to make them clean. He will take their sin from them, so that they may learn to live a clean life. This new life that He wants to give them is by taking away their selfish desires and giving them a heart to care for others. He then says that He will put His own spirit within them so they will know what it means to follow God.

God makes this same offer to you and me. The difference between them and us is that we understand God fulfilling this promise through Jesus Christ. While he was on earth, Jesus taught us what it meant to follow God and live godly lives. It wasn’t all about the religiosity of the Pharisees (and even the same as many Christians today), instead it was about loving God and loving one another. To love God means to help others and love them. John writes this, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17, NASB). So knowing the love of God, compels us to love and care for others. This is the problem that the ancient Israelites were facing. They knew God, but they cared more about the rules then what it meant to be the Children of God.

The Spirit of God lives within us. This means God lives within us. He is not some bearded man in the clouds watching the world from his throne. He lives within you and I, by our acceptance of Christ’s saving death. The Cross not only saved us from our sins, but allowed us to have the closest relationship with God no one before him was able to have. We are able to know God in this way because of the Spirit. Paul writes, “For to us God revealed [the things of God] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depth of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by humans wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13, NASB). This knowledge of God helps us to see and know what it means to follow him!

Everything Else Is Worthless

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So yesterday, I had a Scripture on my mind all day. I woke up early and read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. There is a statement he makes, that just floored me.

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become on with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” — Philippans 3:8-9, NLT

It took me awhile to wrap my head around such a statement. So I dug around Scripture for some time, really trying to understand this issue. To me, my family is a rather large priority. At times I can get my priorities messed up, and place them before God. So I started to question how they could be worthless in comparison to Christ, and God lead me to another passage from Paul.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body to be burned; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” — 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLT

But I do love others. I honestly could do a better job loving you, if you aren’t my wife or children. So I didn’t quite understand yet what God was trying to piece together for me. So He lead me yet to one final place.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” — 1 John 3:16, NLT

There it was! The only reason I know how to love my family is because of Jesus! There are so many other things that come from a relationship with Christ, like salvation from my sins. But yesterday, I discovered that it is only because of my relationship with Christ, that I have the life I do, and I am so thankful for it. I can now see that it is worthless when standing next to Jesus. He is my God and my Savior. There is no higher relation to me! This doesn’t mean my family is no longer important. It just means that I have a higher priority than them.

The way Paul says it in Philippians shows us that we must keep Christ at the center of our lives. He must have the highest place in our hearts for worship. Everything must pale in comparison to Christ! If this isn’t true for you, I encourage you to seek Scripture and pray for God to show you how you have given Him a lower priority than He deserves, and how to change that. Our lives are meant to be Christ-centeric, not anything else.

We Must Love (1 John)

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I decided that it is time to do another Bible study. However, this one will be quick. Over the next three days I will cover the three epistles of John. So grab your Bible, and start reading.

Today we are reading 1 John. In this letter John discusses two major themes. First, he combats a heresy that has arisen that says Jesus never came in bodily form. The second is to love and care for one another.

The heresy that John writes against is teaching that Jesus never came to earth, the apostles never saw him, spent time with him, or touched him. Basically, that it was all a spiritual experience. This is obviously counter to the entire gospel message! John writes, “And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross — not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth confirms it with his testimony. So we have these three witnesses — the Spirit, the water, and the blood — all three agree.” (5:6-8 NLT). John is showing that Jesus was God’s Son, as proof from his baptism (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). He is also showing that the Spirit came because of Jesus’ promise (Acts 2). And also showing that Jesus had a fleshly body, since he was crucified on a cross and his death is our salvation.

To me however, the biggest point in John’s first letter is that the defining attribute of a Christ follower is love. He says, “Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment — to love one another — is the same message you heard before.” (2:7 NLT).  John is referring to the message that Jesus shared all throughout the his ministry, and most likely the same message all the apostle took as they started new churches.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (3:18 NLT). This goes along with what James writes in his letter, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead…” (James 2:14-17 NASB). It seems counter to Paul’s argument that works cannot save you (pretty much most of Paul’s letter to the Romans). The difference here is that Paul is saying that you can’t do enough things to earn your salvation. James and John are both saying that if we have faith, we can’t help but do good deeds for the glory of God.

As Christians, we must love one another. “If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead.” (3:14 NLT). If we cross from sin into eternal life, it is because we have the Spirit inside of us, and that Spirit can’t help but love. So if you are still in sin, you cannot love the way Jesus, and the Christian lifestyle demands. However, I feel I should mention that this doesn’t mean we have to like everyone. There are people, even in my church, that I cannot stand. I still love them, but the moment that turns to hate, we’ve got a problem.

So love others. Christ loved everyone. God loves everyone. The Spirit compels us to love. This is the way it is for us. The most basic thing we can do on our Christian journey’s is to love others, unconditionally. Yes, people sin and that wrong. It’s ok to hate what they do, especially if it is a sin (we’re actually called to hate what evil and sin [Psalm 97:10]), but we can still love the person. Jesus showed his love to sinners and outcasts all throughout his ministry. So think about the words you say, and the things you do. Be certain that you are showing love to all people, especially fellow Christians.