A Bad Relationship

Judges 16

March 2

If you have been in the dating world for any amount of time, there is a high chance that you have had a bad relationship at some point. We’ve all probably had a date go wrong, had someone cheat on us, or had a relationship just not go where we thought it would. This is so common that it shouldn’t surprise us to find an example (among many) within the Bible itself, and that’s what we see with Samson. Blessed with incredible strength by God, Samson sacrificed that gift because he thought he loved someone and paid for it with his life. However, as we look at the story, we see that this was avoidable, and it is a powerful lesson for all of us that bad relationships in general are usually avoidable too.

Looking at Samson’s life, we see that, although he was blessed by God from an early age, he was driven by passion and lust (v. 1). He was so driven by his lustful passions that he fell in love with a woman from the Philistines, who did not worship the same God as him. Not only that, but we learn nothing about how they related to each other’s families, or how quickly they got involved together (although, it can be assumed by his track record that they jumped into things quicker than most). Samson wasn’t aware that Delilah planned on betraying him and didn’t really love him back. Perhaps he would have known if he spent more time thinking it over before getting involved? 

How often do you hear stories about people who “loved” someone else, only to find out later that they weren’t the person they thought? How many of you, or people that you know, have stories about rushing into relationships too quickly, only to have it hurt you in the end? Have you ever been involved with someone else who didn’t share the same beliefs as you, causing you to sacrifice your morals and convictions to please them? This happens all the time, but God doesn’t want this for us. He has given us clear instructions to have healthy relationships in the Scriptures, because as our Father, He wants what is best for us. Patiently consider what God says about dating and marriage before you get too deep with someone else.

-Talon Paul

Questions to Consider

  1. If you are considering dating someone right now, have you taken your family’s and your church’s opinions to heart? Dating is intended to bring you towards marriage, and your family’s view of the person could be life-altering in the future.
  1. The apostle Paul encourages us to not be “unequally yoked” to unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). Their morals and views of the world do not always match up with your own. How important is your potential date’s faith to you, and is it a deciding factor in your relationship? Should it be?
  1. What guard-rails or boundaries have you set up in your relationship to maintain your faithfulness to God? Breaking these barriers can have life-defining consequences in the future.

When You Feel Inadequate and Overwhelmed

Judges 7

March 1

If you’re like me, you can definitely relate to the story of Gideon. He feels completely inadequate to carry out the commission that God has given him, to defeat the invading Midianites. He constantly asks God for a sign that He has really chosen him for this task (6:17, 36-40), and God responds each time. Then, the moment finally arrives for Gideon to do what God has commanded him, and God tests his faith even more. He takes the Israelite army and shrinks it from 32,000 men to 10,000, and then to just 300… and they didn’t even have real weapons! (v. 16) Gideon literally has no shot of destroying the large army of Midianites, about 120,000 men, at least from a human’s perspective. Yet, God does what He says He is going to do, and Gideon and his 300 men are successful in delivering the people from the Midianites.

How many of you have felt like Gideon did? God has called you to a pretty monumental task, one that you feel ill-prepared for, and yet He was faithful to get you through it? Especially as a pastor, I feel this deeply on a daily basis, as almost all pastors do. I feel this as a husband and father, called to take care of my family without much clear guidance on how to do just that. I feel this just as a Christian, called to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world, but not always knowing how that works. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by what God has called you to do, you’re not alone; and God is faithful to work with us.

-Talon Paul

Questions to Consider

  1. Is God calling you to something bigger that you think is impossible? Take a moment to pray for peace and the faith to believe that your Father will get you through it. Follow through with His plan and He will be with you.
  1. Are you overwhelmed by what is going on around you right now? Take comfort in Gideon’s story. God always takes care of His people, even if the answers aren’t immediately available.
  1. Do you feel inadequate? You’re not alone. Over and over again, God chooses the most inadequate people in the Bible for His mission, so that He gets all the glory. You are exactly the right person that God wants.

Not What You Expected

Judges 4

February 28

I love this chapter of Judges, not just for the action, but that it lends credit to female leadership among God’s people. Although I could spend this devotion talking about that topic and the leading women through the New Testament, like Mary, Junia, and Phoebe, I have found something even more impactful from this chapter. I challenge you to look deeply into the issue of female leadership in Israel and in the Church, but for now, please read along.

We are introduced to a woman named Deborah, who is a prophetess and a judge (leader) of Israel at the time. A man named Barak wanted her to accompany him into battle to hunt down Jabin and Sisera of Canaan. She then tells him that if she goes, the honor of the battle will be given to a woman instead of him! He agrees, and as we continue reading, we are expecting Deborah to be the one who gets the honor and wins the fight. However, God had another plan in store for how this story would conclude.

In the tent of Heber the Kenite was his wife, Jael. She tricks Sisera into coming and relaxing in their tent, but kills him with a tent peg while he is sleeping! (The Bible is rarely appropriate for young children by the way) This is unexpected for us as a reader; we were never expecting another woman to be the one who gets the glory for this battle, but God made it happen that way. This happens all the time around us; we often have a vision for our lives, or our churches, and think that we have the best plan to make that vision come true. However, God knows much better than we do and works to make the best happen, even if it plays out differently than we thought it should. More often than not, what we think should happen rarely does.

-Talon Paul

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you ever had a plan or vision that didn’t work out the way you thought it would? Was God still faithful through it?
  1. When something doesn’t go the way you expected, do you get frustrated? Or are you willing to step back, breathe, and see what God is doing differently?
  1. Do you trust that God knows better than you do? Are you willing to take your hands off the wheel of your life and let Him take control?

Tell the Next Generation

Judges 2

February 27

As the book of Judges opens, we are very hopeful for the future of Israel. Joshua came after Moses and brought them into the Promised Land. The Israelites had become strong and were beginning to drive out the other nations from the land, a punishment from God on their deeds (see Genesis 15:6 and Deuteronomy 20:17-18). Unfortunately, as the generation after Joshua dies off, we find out that the Israelites are in serious trouble: they have not been listening to their God, and are doing things that were evil in His eyes, just like the people they were supposed to drive out.

One of the major reasons why they didn’t obey God is that this new generation did not know God or His ways (v. 10). How would an entire generation of Israelites not know the stories of the exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, or God’s faithfulness through the wilderness? This is probably baffling to us looking back on it; surely these stories from the past would have been enough to convince anyone to believe and obey God, right? But what if this story is the same as our own? What if we have forgotten God’s faithfulness and mercies over the years, or not talked about them with the next generation like we are commanded to do? (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Things around us in the United States and in our churches have changed dramatically over the last few decades. There are many who have been raised without any knowledge of God or Jesus, and one of the major reasons why is the lack of people passing down their stories and beliefs to the next generation (not the only reason, but a big one). In fact, I had a friend who didn’t know that we celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus until he was 21 years old! Former missionary fields, like Africa, are now sending their own missionaries back here because we have fallen so far away from the faith. Maybe the writer of Ecclesiastes had it right: “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

-Talon Paul

Questions to Consider

  1. Think about your life and story; are there ways that God has moved and worked to bring you to the place where you are now? Don’t forget these stories, like the Israelites before us. I encourage you to take time this week and reflect on how God has been faithful to you.
  1. To those who have been in the faith for many years: have you been telling your stories and testimonies to those who are younger? What can you pass along to the next generation to help them trust in God more?
  1. To this current, young generation: Israel was punished for their disobedience, but we don’t have to be. We can make a decision right now to be different from them and choose to worship the one true God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Will you make that decision today? Will you forsake the gods you have set up in your hearts and trust in the only One who can truly save?

Without a King

Judges 19-21 and John 13

If you’ve not yet read today’s scriptures, especially Judges 19-21 you should read them now.  Right now!  Go ahead, I’ll wait patiently while you read this very disturbing story. (Be sure to read it in an easy to read version like the NIV or ESV and not KJV so you don’t get lost).  Did you read it?  How did you feel while reading it?  Disgusted?  Angry? Sick to your stomach?  To be honest I felt all of those things and I feel all of those things whenever I read it.  It is like watching a Netflix docuseries about horrible rapes and murders, only it gets much worse because it goes from rape and murder to all out warfare…a virtual bloodbath.  Made worse by the fact that these are cousins fighting each other.

How sick is it to see a bunch of thugs demanding to gang rape a houseguest?  How sick is it that a young woman is given to the sex-crazed angry mob who end up raping her and murdering her and leaving her body on the front door? How truly bizarre that the husband then cuts up her dead body and sends it all over the country?  How crazy is it that this results in war with thousands of cousins killing each other?  And how truly bizarre that the war is resolved by encouraging a bunch of warriors to kidnap virgins and drag them home and force them to be their wives?  You couldn’t make up this kind of sick, twisted, debauched behavior… and yet here it is in the Bible?  What on earth is going on?

Two verses stand out- the first verse and the last verse.  It begins with Judges 19:1: “In those days Israel had no king.”   The last verse is Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”   Those two verses essentially explain all of the chaos, vile and disgusting behavior that goes on throughout the story.  Human beings do not survive very well in situations of complete anarchy.  In school you may have read the book The Lord of the Flies.  It’s about a group of young boys during WWII in England who are taken away from the country for their own safety to protect them from the war.  Their plane crashes on an Island and the boys  survive with no adult supervision.  What happens when you have a bunch of schoolboys together with no adult supervision?  Absolute chaos.  What happens when you have a country where there is no leadership, no law and order?  Absolute chaos.  That is what was going on in Israel at the time of our story in Judges.  “Everyone did as they saw fit.”  That’s a recipe for lawlessness.

Those of you living in the United States have gotten a little taste of this during the past year.  In places where demonstrations and protests turned into riots, in places where all law and order broke down, and for a few minutes at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 we saw examples of what happens when “everyone did as they saw fit.”

After God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, one of the first things that he did to help form them as a community was give them 10 commandments for how they were to live.  He also gave them instructions for how to worship, what foods to eat and not eat, and instructions for how to respond to infectious diseases and how to properly dispose of human excrement and dead bodies.  He gave them rules about who you could and could not have sex with: you can have sex with your husband or wife of the opposite sex.  You cannot have sex with your sister, your mother, your aunt, your neighbor’s wife, people of your own gender or your animals.  God did His best as Israel’s king to create order and stability within their communities so that they could be healthy, have strong families and communities and live long and prosperous lives as His chosen people. 

Some people followed God’s instructions for their lives and prospered.  Others rejected God as King and His instructions.  By the time we get to Judges 19-21 we arrive at a place of near anarchy where “everyone did as they saw fit.”  And that is how we get the story of the tribe of Benjamin trying to gang rape a cousin, murdering his wife, the man cutting her to pieces and it leading to a civil war that ends only after a bunch of virgins are sex-trafficked (abducted and taken by force to be wives).  That’s how lawlessness worked then, and that’s how it still works today and if you don’t believe me just watch a Netflix documentary (or the news every day on tv.)

Jesus shows us a better way in John 13.  Jesus is God’s choice to be Israel’s king.  He is worthy to be king because he is both humble and loving and also obedient to His father and His God.  Jesus shows his humble love by kneeling down and washing the feet of the people over whom he will serve as King.  Jesus the king loves his servants enough to wash their dirty feet, and to die for them.  That is a king we can follow.  That is a king we can love.  That is a king who will one day restore order and bring a final end to lawlessness and chaos and make all things right.  This is a King whose words and example and life we can follow.

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here Judges 19-21 and John 13

Everything or Nothing: A tale of two women

John 12

In Judges 17 we meet Micah’s mother. She promises a certain amount of money to God but holds back most (17:3). She built an altar and disgraces herself by not giving everything to God. Fast forward to the New Testament where we meet a woman who meets Jesus and takes her most treasured possession, her perfume, and pours it on Jesus’ feet. The comparison is stark. On one hand, you have Micah’s mother who holds back and on the other hand, you have a woman who lavishly gives everything at Jesus’s feet.

We all have things that we value and take great care to keep. At the beginning of John 12, we see the thing Mary considered precious — a bottle of expensive perfume. This perfume was not just a fragrance to Mary. It was worth nearly a year’s wages. Mary wasn’t just saving this perfume for a special day. This bottle was her financial security.

“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).

In an act of love, Mary poured her perfume onto Jesus’ feet. She knelt to the ground and washed His feet, ignoring the opinions of others. Mary gave radically. She gave not knowing if she would be able to live through the day but trusting Jesus anyway. She gave with such extravagance that the disciples told her she had given too much.

To put Mary’s situation in today’s terms, it would be like going to church next Sunday, feeling called to give, and tithing your entire year’s salary! Yet, this is the same way God gave to us. He gave His best when He gave us Jesus. God not only calls us to radical faith, but He also calls us to radical giving.

What woman are you like? Are you giving everything to the Lord? Ask yourself how you can be more extravagant in your giving. What’s holding you back from pouring your security out at Jesus’ feet? How do these verses show us that we can trust Him with what’s most precious to us?

Is there anything in your life you have not given to God?

-Andy Cisneros

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Judges 17-18 and John 12

How, Who, What?

John 10

How can we live a full life? We all want our lives to be fulfilled. We all want to know that answer, don’t we? Well, we can’t answer how until we focus on the more important question: What or who is the source of abundant life?

Jesus compares Himself to a good shepherd who feeds and cares for His sheep. Tired of Jesus’ metaphors, religious leaders corner Jesus at the temple and ask Him directly: Are you the Christ?

Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” What is Jesus saying here? Chasing anything other than Jesus will steal what God has blessed you with, kill your dreams, and destroy your purpose in life. Only Jesus can restore the blessings that have been stolen, bring life to dreams that have died, and give our lives purpose. Possessions come and go, as does the enjoyment they bring. The only way to experience joy that never leaves is to have something that cannot fail. An abundant life comes from Jesus, who never fails.

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

When a reporter asked John D. Rockefeller how much money was enough to make him happy, the millionaire replied, “Just one dollar more.” Nothing on Earth is ever going to satisfy us. But if you ask anyone who has made Jesus the Lord of their life, they will tell you that they are blessed beyond anything they could have ever asked or imagined. A life apart from Jesus will always leave you lacking, but a life centered on Jesus is full of abundance.

• What do you strive for in life? Is what you strive for different from what Jesus strived for?

• What are some common traps that keep us from living the life Jesus wants for us?

-Andy Cisneros

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Judges 13-14 and John 10

Compare and Contrast

Judges 9-10 and John 8

The people wanted Gideon as king. He declined but Gideon named his son Abimelech (Judges 8:31), literally “my father is king.” So while Gideon had refused the crown (8:23), he had also subtlely claimed it by having a son whose name was “my father is king.” This Abimelech, no doubt exalted by the experience, further exalts himself and betrays his father’s legacy at the insistence of the people of Shechem (9:1-6), killing seventy brothers on one stone (9:5). One brother, Jotham, is not killed, and Jotham curses Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem for their betrayal (9:7-21). 

Abimelech only reigns three years (9:22), and God causes “bad blood” to grow up between him and the leaders of Shechem (9:23-25). They find another leader to betray Abimelech now, Gaal son of Ebed (9:26). Zebul, the ruler of the city, hears of the plot, warns Abimelech, and Abimelech sets an ambush (9:30-45) and ends up burning to death 1,000 men and women of Shechem shut in a tower (9:46-49). 

He tries the same thing again at Thebez (9:50-52), but now aware of his tactic, a woman drops a millstone on his head, mortally wounding him (9:53), so he calls his armor bearer to kill him so that people would not say he was killed by a woman (9:54).

Fast forward to the beginning of John 8 and you have a woman caught in adultery. The scribes and Pharisees bring this woman to Jesus and ask him what they should do. He says anyone who is without sins let him cast the first stone. All of them dropped their stone and walk away. Leaves only Jesus left with the woman. He says go and sin no more.

There is a lot of similarities in these stories. The principle that I took out of both is that stones wound! Silly I know but true. Arrogance hurts too. There is a lot of arrogance in both of these stories. Arrogance tends to start when we think we have more power than someone else. Do you feel you have more power than someone today? How do you use that power? That influence. We all struggle with that desire to be above someone. To want to control someone. But the one person that could control us, overpower us, bring us low – chose to die for us instead. What does that tell us? How can you give up some of your power this week? How can you be a servant to someone else? It takes losing some power, control and it takes time. But Jesus calls us to that. Are you up to the challenge?

-Andy Cisneros

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Judges 9-10 and John 8

Questions for Me

From His Stories

Joshua 5-6 and John 6

When you read the Bible, what do you read it for? Is it merely a collection of stories? Great history? Interesting information? Or are these stories more than that? Do they give us something that will open us up to the Creator of the universe? Will it speak to our thought and memories and give us understanding? We can and should live our lives and order our memories not only historically but theologically, not simply recollecting what happened or what we did but searching out what God was doing. This keeps us from over honoring ourselves in success or despairing in our struggles. Part of the key to enjoying peace is to be continually praising the Lord for what he has done and is doing for us because the stories we read and tell of our lives are not so much about us but about Him. Are you reading to find the principles in the story? Or reading it like a homework assignment?

Today’s devotion is taken from John 6 and Judges 5-6. Some of the greatest stories and life lessons ever written about are in these chapters. Did you read the story of the feeding of the 5000 and see Jesus bring his disciples into responsibility when he asks them, “Where shall we find bread for these people to eat?”. What does that say to you? Or how about when Jesus walks across the lake! Can you imagine the disciples’ fear, amazement and awe? Who is this Jesus? Matthew even records that Peter walks out to see him. What faith! What courage! And then to sink and have Jesus say, “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” Or how about in the Old Testament when Gideon lays out a fleece and gets an answer and asks again? Did he not like the first answer? Did he doubt? Was he afraid?

So many questions arise from these stories. So many principles to glean from them. Are you wrestling with them? Do you search for God in them? Do you see what God wants you to know? Don’t rush reading these stories but find God in them and use that to understand him more. Happy reading and may you draw closer to God as you work through all that God has to say to you.

-Andy Cisneros

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Joshua 5-6 and John 6

How Did They Forget?

Judges 3-4 and John 5

As I was reading through Judges chapters 3 and 4 I had visions of Chuck Norris. If he was armed with just one wooden pole with a metal tip (an oxgoad) could he take down 600 men like Shamgar did to save Israel? (Judges 3:31)

And, have you ever seen Forged in Fire, a competition between craftsmen who make handcrafted weapons and then put them through various tests to see which will be judged the best? I bet the judges would be impressed with the 18 inch double edged sword left-handed Ehud made that sliced through King Eglon’s belly until even the handle sank in surrounded by fat and the blade came out the back. A pity to have to leave such an impressive sword behind as Ehud cleverly escapes with his life and then leads an impressive rebellion against Eglon’s Moabites. 10,000 Moabites were killed that day and Israel victoriously rules over them for the next 80 years. (Judges 3:15-30)

And it’s hard to decide who should get the Wonder Woman award of the Bible. Both Deborah and Jael are incredibly strong and worthy candidates. Deborah, the wise judge of Israel who is bolder than Barak. She agrees to ride into battle alongside the captain of the army who wouldn’t go without her. And when the exhausted commander of the enemy army thinks he’s found safe haven in the tent of Jael, he sleeps, and she drives a tent stake through his temple and into the ground. Those, are some strong, brave ladies! (Judges 4:8-22)

God did indeed provide some very tough, courageous, wise, strong and capable men and women to fight for Israel when they were in need, surrounded and afflicted by their enemies, if they called out to Him. But, what got the Israelites into these messes over and over again? Hadn’t Joshua helped them clear the land and give them rest? The problem is – they didn’t stay faithful to the Lord. “They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.” (Judges 3:7b NIV).

How could they forget God? After all that God had done for them, over and over again through the generations. What caused their falling away, over and over again? The verse immediately preceding explains what happened. Judges 3:6 says (with my added pronoun descriptions), “They (the Israelites) took their (the unbelievers they lived amongst) daughters in marriage and gave their own (Israelite) daughters to their (the unbelievers they lived amongst) sons, and served their (the unbelievers they lived amongst) gods.” They forgot God because of who they chose to marry. Their spouses brought false and foreign gods into their marriage, into their homes, and before long into their hearts and minds and children and future generations, too. You can’t become one with an unbeliever, or a false god worshiper, and have it not negatively impact the way you love and serve the One True God. And when they served false gods it wasn’t long before God’s anger brought devastation, invaders and great trials upon them.

We all know what to look for in the perfect mate – we’ve watched the Hallmark Channel, too! She/he makes me feel special and happy, has a great sense of humor, would make a fantastic mom/dad, loves all the things I love, makes me want to be a better person, has a lot of social media friends, is super polite and friendly, has a great shoulder to cry on, shares my political and moral persuasions, even my parents like this one, has a great work ethic, we agree on the correct number and kinds of kids and pets, is so much fun to be around, is talented and smart, is quite romantic, will be a great provider, is kind to the earth, speaks my love language, is a fabulous cook and likes to clean toilets, is even good-looking, doesn’t mind my (fill-in-the-blank), and we are madly in love soul-mates.

Nope. Not a good match. Don’t tie the knot. Try again.

This time, first and foremost look for and insist upon one who loves and serves the One True God, just like you.

Period. That’s the most important. It is not a negotiable. It is not a character trait you just hope develops with more time. It is not worth the risk when the wrong spouse so easily leads to forgetting and falling away from God. It’s not worth the risk of falling into God’s wrath. “Don’t be unequally yoked with believers”, Paul said (2 Corinthians 6:14). Moses said, “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughter for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). If she/he isn’t serving the One True God they are serving false gods, even if you don’t know what those gods are named, just yet. It will leak unto you and your children and the generations that follow. Save yourself the heartache. Don’t even look at, date or consider as a mate one who doesn’t make the grade in God’s number one trait for your soul-mate spouse – he/she most love the Lord your God first and most.

I want to end today with a quick look back at what we started with today…God sending some very tough, courageous, wise, strong and capable men and women to lead and save His people. I suggest that the toughest, most courageous, wisest, strongest and most capable of them all is Jesus. These are not the adjectives most often associated with Jesus. We first think of him as a gentle, loving, humble, innocent, accepting, nice, merciful, meek, forgiving, helpful servant, a king who rides on a donkey and is crucified. And while those are not wrong, they don’t reveal his full character. Jesus was tough. We have only read the first few chapters of John and we have already seen him make a whip (impressive skill to have), overturn the moneychangers’ tables and forcefully clear the temple courtyard of the dirty animals and greedy, irreverent men. He wasn’t a wimp! He has questioned Israel’s teachers (and will use some pretty rough descriptions for them). He was wise and discerning and told it like it was. He has called out the Samaritan woman by pointing out how many husbands she has had. He wasn’t blind to sin and sinful lifestyles. And in today’s reading of John 5, after he heals the invalid of 38 years, he says, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14). He didn’t accept sin. He called people to repent and leave behind their sinful ways. And, when they did, he was full of forgiveness. Jesus is tough on sin and chosen by God to offer salvation to God’s children. But not all will receive it. Jesus is no gentle push-over. Are you ready to meet the real Jesus?

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Judges 3-4 and John 5 .

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