God is with me

Tuesday – Judges 6-7

Judges Devotions-2

I could tell you the story of Gideon in my sleep, but probably only in Spanish. For the past couple years, I’ve told many groups of children in different cities throughout Peru the story of Gideon. Each time, we make torches like the ones Gideon’s men brought into battle. Whether we’re gathered at a local park, a giant school assembly, an alleyway on a busy street, or a kitchen table, we all shout enthusiastically, “Dios está conmigo!” which means, God is with me. The pure joy and conviction in the children’s echoing voices give me shivers each time. The God who was with Gideon, is with me, with you, and with hundreds of children in Peru.

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Reading the story of Gideon again today, I am amazed by how God defies human logic; His ways often seem mysterious to us, but they lead to victory. Of all the people to raise up an army to fight against the Midianites, God picks Gideon, a self-proclaimed runt of the litter from the weakest clan in the whole city. He looks at Gideon and says:

The LORD is with you, mighty warrior. (Judges 6:12)

Gideon’s response to God’s calling is laughable:

Pardon me, my lord. (Judges 6:13)

He talks to God’s angel like he just accidentally bumped into someone at the grocery store. Gideon’s hesitation continues, as he asks God for a handful of signs, involving a goat, bread, and fleece. When Gideon is finally sure that God is indeed with him, he assembles an army of 32,000 men. God, however has a very different plan. With just 300 men armed with trumpets, jars, and torches, God leads His people to victory, conquering the Midianite army of 135,000 well-equipped soldiers. The same God who triumphs over seemingly impossible circumstances is still at work today.

I, like many of you, entered the year 2020 with the word “vision” on the mind. To me, vision meant clarity and a plan. I was hopeful that this would be the year I would “figure everything out.” In these past few weeks, everything I thought I knew, everything I planned, has been thrown out of the window—all because of a virus I didn’t see coming.

Much like Gideon, I’m scared, uncertain, and don’t understand what God is doing (yet). So maybe 2020, the year of vision, wasn’t a promise for answers, but rather a challenge of your faith. Will you seek God’s provision and plan for your life? Will you cling to Him when everything else is shaky, foggy, and unknown? Will you trust that He is present even if His ways don’t make sense to you yet?

For the next few hours, I challenge you to not look at the latest news headlines or CDC guidelines; instead, rest assuredly in this simple truth:

God is with me.

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+6-7&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow’s reading will be Judges 8-9 as we continue seeking God in His Word on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Over and over and over

Monday – Judges 3-5

Judges Devotions (1)

Judges reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day”—the one where Bill Murray, the local weatherman, relives the same day over and over and over. While not a single groundhog makes an appearance in Judges, the book does repeat itself over and over and over. You see, the Israelites are in a downward spiral, stuck in a vicious cycle of sin. In the reading for today, Judges 3-5, we see this cycle play out three times, once under Othniel, again under Ehud, and finally under Deborah. Today, we’ll take a closer look at this cycle using the example of Othniel:

1. SIN – “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs” (Judges 3:7). The Israelites neglected to kick out all the bad people from the Promised Land, and they often find themselves tempted by the Canaanite’s sinful ways. Their temptation leads to habitual sin, tearing themselves further from God.

2. OPPRESSION – “The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathain king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years” (Judges 3:8). I think, perhaps, God uses oppression as a tool to bring His people to their knees. His people become so desperate with no other choice but to turn to Him.

3. REPENTANCE – “But when they cried out to the LORD…” (Judges 3:9a) In their newly humbled position, the Israelites cry out to God. They recognize their sin and run from it, towards a God whose arms are always open.

4. DELIVERANCE – “He raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war” (Judges 3:9b & 10a). God works for His people through His people. He fills people with His Holy Spirit to accomplish His work.

5. PEACE – “So the land had peace for forty years” (Judges 3:11a). With a newfound trust in God and a godly leader to follow, the Israelites find peace. Unfortunately, after Othniel passes, this peace leads to complacency which leads right back to sin.

As a soon-to-be English teacher, this literary structure of the book of Judges is impressive. As a follower of God, this repetition is alarming. Why do the Israelites keep finding themselves back in a stage of sin? Why am I a repeat offender of the same sins?

Temptation and habit.

First, just like the Israelites were tempted by the corrupt and wicked ways of the Canaanites dwelling in the Promised Land, we, too, are surrounded by temptation. Set healthy boundaries from whatever may be luring you towards sin because the more distance we give between ourselves and temptation, the less likely we are to fall into sin.

Second, the Israelites were caught sinning over and over and over—their sin became their habit. Recognize the power of your habits and work diligently to set healthy rhythms that honor God. Ever since I read this quote, I’ve been convicted of the power of my own habits: “People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures” -F.M. Alexander

Let the boundaries and habits you set lead you away from sin and towards God.

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+3-5&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Judges 6-7 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.  Reading God’s Word daily is one healthy habit to pursue.  Keep at it!  It has the power to determine your future.

Thumbs, Big toes, & Fire—oh my!

Sunday – Judges 1-2

Judges Devotions

Joshua is dead. Ten thousand Canaanite men—also dead. The Israelites take revenge on a Canaanite king who was notorious for cutting off other kings’ thumbs and big toes by, of course, cutting off his very own thumbs and big toes. Jerusalem is set on fire. And that’s just the first 8 verses!

Judges if off to a whirl-wind of a start, but if you think the craziest part of Judges is over, you’re in for a ferocious ride, my friend. After a wild first chapter, the author of Judges (who is unknown, but some speculate it’s Samuel) steps back to give us an overview of this unprecedented time in history, this 340 year stretch of judges.

The book of Joshua ended with a rousing speech in which Joshua declared, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). The Israelite people gave a unified response, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:24). The generation who made that vow saw God work in incredible ways—making way for the Israelites to cross the Jordan River, crushing the walls of Jericho, and keeping the sun from setting during battle. This generation even calls themselves witnesses (Joshua 24:22), and they take time to remember all God has done for them—carrying the ark of the covenant with them, setting up twelve stones by the Jordan.

However, we’ve already established that Joshua dies, and with him the generation that calls themselves witnesses. Despite everything their parents did to help them remember, this new generation forgets, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).

As the Israelites occupied the Promised Land, God told them to remove all the idol-worshipping, morally-corrupt people from the land, but they forget.

I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’ (Judges 2:1-3)

They forgot who God is. They forgot what God had done. They forgot what God had told them to do.

While the events in Judges occurred over 3,000 years ago, their times seem eerily similar to our own. I’m at the age where I see a lot of my peers forgetting—forgetting who God is, what God has done, and what God has told them to do. We’ve all seen not only the statistics, but also the faces of people leaving the church. So what can we do to stop it?

Remember and remind.

Keep a list going: Who is God to you? What has God done for you? What has God told you to do? I encourage you to take some time during this quarantine to physically write a list so you can remember how present God is in your life. Also, support your brothers and sisters in the faith by reminding them of how real and near God is. Share your list with others, you never know how close someone in your life is to forgetting, just like the Israelites in Judges.

I can’t resist my strong urge to end this devotion with a joke: Who is the only person ever to not have any biological parents?

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Answer: Joshua son of Nun

 

Mackenzie McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading passage, Judges 1 & 2 can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+1-2&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Judges 3-5 as we continue the wild ride through God’s Word on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Renewal

 Joshua 22-24

Joshua 24 15 b NASB

Chapter 22 sees the return of the Eastern tribes to their allotted land across the Jordan river, after helping the rest of the tribes of Israel conquer the remainder of the Promised Land.  Verses 1-4 says, “Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, ‘You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. For a long time now -to this very day – you have not deserted your fellow Israelites but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. Now that the Lord your God has given them rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan.'”

 

I see a  parallel here between the Israelites serving God faithfully and being rewarded with their home in the Promised Land, and our own lives being measured, with the reward being a place in the Kingdom.

 

Verse 5 then says, “But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Soon after, the Eastern tribes set up an altar to God along the Jordan River as a reminder to the Western tribes that they worship the same God.  But the Western tribes were alarmed that they may have actually set up an altar to other false Gods.

 

Thankfully, at this time, they had not set up altars to other gods.  But maybe we have.  We are going through tough times in our world right now.  For most of us, this is the first time we have gone through really tough times.  Even though our country is and has been at war many times in our lifetimes, and even though the United States has endured terror attacks and financial low points, for the most part, we have had it easy.  Probably no one reading this lived through the Great Depression.  This isn’t to say that we have not endured tough times individually for any number of reasons, but for the most part, we have all lived charmed lives.  And that my friends, is poisonous.  When times are good, we don’t feel the need to turn to God.  When we hear about the Kingdom of God in church, and how we should be looking forward to it, we think, “I’ve got it pretty good right now, why would I want that to change to something else?” And yes, we allow things like careers, hobbies, future vacation plans, possessions, even our spouses and children, to become idols in our lives, taking our focus and gratitude away from our Heavenly Father.

 

We often look at all of those wonderful things as blessings from God, and certainly they may be!  But He doesn’t bless us in order for us to turn our backs on Him and others.  Instead, He blesses us and then expects us to be grateful every minute of the day for those great blessings, and in turn take the opportunity to bless someone else, as He has blessed us.  Our blessings should make us outward focused, but instead it is far too easy to allow them to keep us inward focused, and then allow those blessings to distance us from God.  We think that we did something ourselves to earn the blessings, or convince ourselves that we deserve this or that.  Wrong attitude.  Any blessing, including each breath you are taking as you read this, is solely a result of the grace of God.  We deserve nothing, due to our sin nature.

 

As we endure this Pandemic crisis, which means different negative effects for so many people, some of which are terrible to think about, I hope that if you have not yearned for the Kingdom of God before now, that you are finally doing so now.  In the Kingdom, there will be no pandemics, no viruses.  There will be no fear and no anxiety.  There will be no sickness and no death!  Praise God.   That is something to be yearned for.  That is something to be excited for.

 

With so much extra free time right now for so many of us, this is a perfect opportunity to rededicate our lives to Christ and to reconnect to God.  Will you do that?  Are you trusting Him right now?  You should be.  He keeps His promises.  As Joshua is about to die, in chapter 23, verse 14 he says, “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” That holds true today folks.  But read the next two verses as well.  Those also hold true today.

 

So what will you do?  Here is what Joshua decided he would do:  24: 14-15  “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

 

If you are choosing to make a renewal or re-dedication of your life today, I celebrate with you, but I also encourage you to mark the occasion in some way.  This period of difficulty and uncertainty will pass.  (And yes, that is a very good thing, but only as long as we are changed.)  So we need a reminder of the commitment we are making, and a reminder that God was with us through this, because as things get easier, we tend to return to our old ways.  So, make a note to yourself on your mirror, or change your smart phone wallpaper, or even stack some rocks up in your front yard, just like the Israelites did to remember things.  Just do something so that the renewal isn’t short lived.

 

Encouraging verse of the day:

Psalm 118:14

The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

 

Greg Landry

 

You can read or listen to today’s Bible passage at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+22-24&version=NIV

Tomorrow we begin a new week and a new book of the Bible as we jump into Judges 1-2 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Refuge

Joshua 19-21

Joshua 21 45 NIV

Chapter 20 instructed the Israelites to set aside six cities as Cities of Refuge that were to be used to protect an individual from retribution if they had accidentally killed someone.  The High Priest would hear their case, and allow them to be protected within one of the cities if it was clear that they fit the criteria.  This system will be reflected later when Jesus, our own High Priest, stands up to defend us and protect us from a punishment that we are due.  God is so good to have provided refuge for His people so long ago, and for all of us today.

 

Chapter 21 ends with, “So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands.  Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”

 

In addition to the refuge that God has provided, we see here that He is a promise-keeper as well.  So much of Joshua contains the details of the land areas that were given to each tribe, which seems kind of boring.  But this meant everything to the people of that time, and to modern Israelites today.  This not only shows that God keeps His promises, but also shows that this particular area is INDEED set aside for the nation of Israel forever.  The Promised Land doesn’t have an expiration date.  And neither does God’s love and care for all of His people, including you.

 

I hope you can take comfort in knowing that God keeps his promises, He cares for His people, and that includes you.  He provides a place of refuge for us today, in His arms, and has set aside a Promised Land of refuge for us in the future, the Kingdom.

 

 

Encouraging verse of the day:

 

1 John 4:16

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

 

 

Greg Landry

 

You can read or listen to today’s Bible passage at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+19-21&version=NIV

Tomorrow we will finish the book of Joshua with chapters 22-24 on our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

 

Father Knows Best

Joshua 16-18

why God gives

Both in Chapters 16 and 17, once again the Israelites did not expel all the peoples in the land that they took, which would again cause trouble down the road.  Oh how much better our lives would be if we always did what God wanted us to do.

 

Our good, good Father has very wise reasons for the things He asks us to do and asks us not to do. As a parent myself, I have had to put certain rules in place for our boys that they did not understand as being beneficial to them at the time.  But later they understood.  For example, in Leviticus, God outlined a number of regulations for His people.  I am confident many of those regulations did not make complete sense at the time, namely the regulations dealing with unclean foods, dealing with mildew, etc.  We know now that those regulations have enormous benefits for people.  The only explanation for those regulations being recorded at that time, long before scientists understood the “why” behind them, was an all knowing God who was loving enough to pass them on to His people.

 

Scripture is filled with great Fatherly expectations for how we can best lead our lives.  This is both for our own benefit, as well as for the benefit of others.  And of course it honors God as well.  Such expectations include honoring our parents, keeping our marriages pure, and helping others.

 

What an amazing God we serve.  A God that not only created us, but also provided us a guide that helps us to know the best way to live our lives, in ways that we maybe would have never even considered.  And certainly in ways that go against culture, and even our own nature at times.

 

 

Encouraging verse of the day:

Psalm 29:11

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

 

Greg Landry

 

You can read or listen to today’s Bible passage at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+16-18&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s passage will be Joshua 19-21 on our adventure through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Blessings

Joshua 12-15

Joshua 14 8 NIV

Chapter 12 records all of the Kings the Israelites defeated in taking back the Promised Land to this point.  They did it with God’s help of course. Chapter 13 then describes the land that was still left to be taken.  But they would not need to fight for some of that remaining land.  God would do it for them.

 

A commentary on easyenglish.bible.com says, “This is like the Christian life. Jesus has defeated the enemy for us. He did this when he took the punishment for our sins on the cross. God still has other good things for us. He wants to give them to us. God promises all these things to us, my dear friends. So we must keep ourselves morally good. We must keep away from things that make our bodies or our thoughts morally bad.”

 

Thank goodness that Jesus removed the enemy of sin, so that we may be forgiven.  And he will ultimately defeat the enemy of death once and for all as well.  That will permit his followers to live forever with him.  But we need to be free of a lifestyle of sin in order to inherent that gift.

 

Verse 13 of Chapter 13 says, “But the Israelites did not send away the people from Geshur and Maacah. And so these people still live there among the Israelites.”  We know that God’s people had trouble down the road because they allowed traditions and religious symbols of other peoples to mix with their own.  They did not completely eradicate the things God had wanted them to, and paid the price later.  Similarly, we as Christians must defeat all of our enemies, namely sin in its many forms, in order to enjoy the full blessings of God.  Strive every day to do just that.

 

Encouraging verse of the day:

Isaiah 12:2

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.

 

 

Greg Landry

 

 

You can read or listen to today’s Bible passage at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+12-15&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s passage will be Joshua 16-18 as we continue seeking God on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan