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.

Nothing is Hidden

Joshua 5-8

Joshua 7 12 b NIV

Joshua chapters 5 and 6 recount the sacking of Jericho.  This is one of the most memorable stories in scripture.  Jericho was the first city the Israelites encountered after crossing the Jordan River, and it was a doozy, perched on a hill with large fortified walls.  And yet it was no problem for God, as recounted in these chapters.

 

I am a big fan of Biblical apologetics, including Biblical Creation and Biblical archaeology.  The Jericho site is a fantastic example of archaeology confirming what the Bible says.  Several key findings back up the Biblical narrative:  Jericho was a walled city that was destroyed  The walls were discovered to have fallen outwards, which is the opposite of what you would expect during a siege.  Also, one section of the wall was still intact, with housing inside of it, which would match up with the account of Rahab the prostitute.  Finally, the city had been burned afterwards, and burned containers full of grain were found, demonstrating that the siege would not have been a long siege, and it would have occurred not long after the harvest, all of which again backs up the Biblical account.

 

You can read about these findings here: https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-asia/walls-jericho-0012893  Findings like this should be exciting for Christians to hear about, and can always be used as a resource in developing the faith of others.

 

Chapters 7 and 8 recounts the sin of Achan and how it hindered God’s people in their ultimate success against Ai.  During the destruction of Jericho, Achan took some forbidden items for himself and hid them in his tent.  After the Israelites failed in their first attempt to take Ai, Achan’s sin was laid bare.  Many of us have regular hidden sin in our lives, such as addictions to narcotics, alcohol or pornography.  Greed, pride, envy and unrighteous anger are other examples.

 

Chapter 7, verse 12b says, “I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.”  When you are living in sin, God cannot be with you.  When you choose a life of sin, you are in effect turning your back to God.  You are choosing destruction instead of life.  Secret sins are the most likely to deceive us because we are not getting wise counsel from others.  Also, we somehow justify continuing in these secret sins, having been deceived, and making them much harder to break away from.  On the outside we seem fine.  But on the inside, we rot away.  And God knows.

 

If you are suffering from secret sin, do the best thing you can do, which is to repent of the sin and share the struggle with someone else who can hold you accountable and support you.  This is proven to be the most effective way to break those hidden chains.  Choose everlasting life, not destruction.

 

 

Greg Landry

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+5-8&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Joshua 9-11 as we continue searching God’s Word on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Jesus’ Target Audience

Luke Chapter Five – Jesus’ First Disciples

Luke 5 10 11

Soon after Jesus began his earthly ministry, Jesus went out to find some people who would follow him.  One would think that Jesus would choose his followers from among the elite scholars.  After all, shouldn’t the king of kings have an elite group of close followers?  However, Jesus did not go that route.  Instead, we see in Luke chapter five, that Jesus chose the likes of fishermen and tax collectors to be his select, close followers.  Fishermen had very little to no education, and they would have been close to no one’s first choice when starting a revolution.  Tax collectors, on the other hand, had a poor reputation, as they often tried to cheat people out of their money.  Therefore, tax collectors would have been close to no one’s first choice either.  For whatever reason, Jesus chose this group to be his followers and to take over when he was to ascend to heaven.

 

A big part of Jesus’ ministry revolved around healing people of their ailments.  In chapter five, Jesus heals both a leper and a paralytic.  One would think that after Jesus got done healing people, he would want them to go tell everybody of the great miracle.  However, the opposite is true.  Often after Jesus would heal somebody, he would tell them to tell no one!  We see this in verse 14, as Jesus told the leper to tell no one.  Now, why would Jesus not want others to share of the great wonders Jesus had done?  The answer is because Jesus’ time to die had not yet come.  Jesus still had much to accomplish before his death.  If word had spread too much, they would have had him killed sooner.

 

After Jesus had called Levi, a tax collector, to be one of his disciples, Jesus went to eat with the tax collectors.  This caused the Pharisees to grumble and ask Jesus why in the world he would eat with the sinful tax collectors. Jesus replies, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 5:31).  Here Jesus says that his target audience are the sinners rather than the righteous.

 

Too often in church, our focus is on the righteous rather than the sinners.  We design our services, classes, and events for those that are churched and not unchurched.  Perhaps we should consider the words of Jesus in Luke 5:31. Perhaps we should put our focus on the sinners, rather than the righteous.  It is those who are lost and sinners that really need the church!  Our churches should contain people who are not currently saved but are on the road to salvation.  Jesus says it is these kinds of people that he came to call to repentance.  Our target audience should reflect that of Jesus’ target audience.  At the same time, we do need strong Christians within the church to bring up the unchurched.  There is a healthy balance somewhere that we all must find.

 

Kyle McClain

Prepare the Way

Luke Chapter 3

Luke 3 4

Luke chapter three talks about a very important and specific job that John the Baptist had.  This job that John had was documented all the way back in the book of Isaiah and quoted in Luke 3:4: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John needed to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight.

 

Jesus’ public ministry only lasted about three years.  It was important that people were ready for his ministry, as he had a lot to accomplish in little time.  Therefore, John prepared the way, so Jesus could make the most out of his little time here on earth.  John did a number of things to help prepare the way for the Lord.

 

One way that John prepared the way for Jesus was to baptize people with water.  This baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” (Luke 3:3).  I’m sure that we all understand the importance of repentance and the forgiveness of our sins.  Therefore, we can see the importance of this baptism by water, as it was for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

 

John also spent time teaching and preaching to help prepare the way for Jesus.  The crowds asked John, “what then shall we do?”  John went on to describe the importance of being generous with our possessions and money (verses 10-14).  John also focused on preaching “good news” (verse 18) to the people.  That good news that John preached about focused on the message of the kingdom, as evidenced by Matthew 3:2.

 

Preparing the way for Jesus was the main responsibility that John had.  We also have that same responsibility that John had.  Right now, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, but one day Jesus is going to descend from heaven and return to earth.  He is going to establish his Father’s Kingdom.  We have to prepare the way for Jesus to come back to earth.

 

We have to prepare ourselves and others for Jesus to establish his Father’s Kingdom on earth.  You can’t prepare others if you yourself are not prepared for God’s coming Kingdom.  Therefore, if you aren’t ready yourself, then get ready!  If you find yourself ready, then it is paramount that you focus on getting those around you ready for Jesus’ return.  In essence, we have the same responsibility that John the Baptist had.

 

Kyle McClain

 

The Witnesses

Revelation 11

Revelation 11 3 NIV

Following our strange detail about John eating the Scroll that God gave to him, we are finally going to learn about what the Scroll says through what John tells us! Unfortunately, it is very detailed, also strange in some ways, and has been the cause of many interpretations over the past 2,000 years. However, we are going to do our best to humbly try and understand what John says in this passage, while focusing on his main point. I don’t assume that my interpretation is 100% correct, so I invite all of you to critique it by looking at the text itself and speaking with other Christian teachers that you trust.

 

We are introduced to two Witnesses, or two Martyrs, who are proclaiming to people “their testimony”. Now, throughout Revelation, we see that John testified to “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (1:2, 9) and that the Christian martyrs from chapter six also had a “testimony” that they proclaimed (6:9). We will learn later that Christians are able to overcome Satan using “their testimony” as well (12:11). Narratively speaking, it is likely that these two Witnesses have the same testimony as John and the Christians. That testimony is the gospel message about Jesus’ death, resurrection and eventual return to establish God’s kingdom, as can be seen throughout the whole letter. In other words, the two Witnesses are two individuals that are faithfully preaching the gospel to those around them.

 

There has been speculation as to whether these are literally two individual people that are to come in the future, or whether they represent what the churches are supposed to be doing, since they are described as lampstands like the churches (compare 1:20 and 11:4). I assume that these are representatives for what the churches, and us, are supposed to be doing, but also don’t believe that John’s main point is in their identity; John’s main point to this vision is what is produced by their faithful preaching of the gospel.

 

After the two Witnesses are killed, resurrected, and exalted to God’s space, the people actually repent of their evils! In 11:13, it states that people “gave glory to the God of heaven”, which is repentance language. As we saw in the previous seven seals and seven trumpets, and will see in the later seven bowls, God’s judgment actions are not enough to bring about repentance; but the faithful preaching of the gospel message is enough, even if Christians die for it!

 

My encouragement to you today is to behave like these two Witnesses; faithfully preach the gospel, even at the expense of your own life. Whatever the cost may be for you, the reward is going to be more than you ever imagined! And just like the story of Revelation states, that reward is coming soon, after the Church does her job of faithfully preaching to the nations. Are you ready for that day to come?

 

Talon Paul

Baptism – What is the Big Deal?

Matthew 3:13-17

Matt 3 17 (1)

Conversations abound over the importance of water baptism. Is it the baptism or simply a confession of faith? If baptism, then is it pouring, sprinkling or immersion? There is a semi-famous song about this. What about infant versus conscious baptism? What about those who do not have access to water? So many questions surround this topic. And these are just focusing on the methods and timing. What about what happens when we are baptized? What is the point or reason for being baptized? Why is it a public thing? It can be exhausting and at times confusing.

So let us look at the example set by Jesus. He travels from Nazareth in Galilee to the Jordan River where his cousin John is baptizing people in droves. Baptism itself was commonplace but it was a simple cleansing ritual. It was not too deep or meaningful and was certainly not a public spectacle. The people had never seen anything like what John was doing. In addition to the large masses of people coming to him he was telling them that this baptism was for the repentance of their sins. John was the precursor to Jesus, the keynote speaker if you will. He was highlighting the points that would be vital to Jesus’ ministry – repentance and the coming kingdom.

Jesus came to John to be baptized. John however recognized Jesus as the Messiah and understood that it was Jesus who should be baptizing John. He tried to argue with Jesus because he understood that among them only Jesus was righteous and sinless. Jesus was the only one who did not need this baptism.

Jesus’ response was that he must be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. In doing so he was consecrated by God and officially approved by Him. His baptism had nothing to do with Levitical Law though. John’s message of repentance and the coming kingdom pointed to a Messiah who would be righteous and bring righteousness to the sinner. Jesus was identifying with the sinful world even though he himself was without sin. His baptism also marked the arrival of the long expected Messiah and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. And finally his baptism was symbolic of his death, burial, and resurrection and was an example for his followers to come.

Upon being baptized the spirit of God rested upon him. This is the moment when God gave Jesus all authority and power to carry out his Father’s perfect will here on earth. Jesus later told his disciples that this same spirit, a portion only however, would come upon them. It is the same spirit received by all who come to God through Jesus and the waters of baptism. This spirit strengthened and encouraged Jesus when he needed it most, as it does for each of those who faithfully follow his example.

So he comes up out of the water and the Spirit of God comes upon him and then it happens! Something incredible! Something amazing! Something that has not happened for four hundred years. Man hears the first words from God since the close of the Old Testament. His silence is broken so that He can confirm Jesus is His son, “Whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” This statement in itself is timeless. God was not simply pleased that Jesus was beginning his ministry. It is the culmination of a millennia old plan to bring all people back to Him. The fulfillment of His covenant with Abram is realized in this moment. All people will be blessed through Jesus if they choose Yahweh as their God and Jesus as the way to Him. Past, present and future balanced on this man’s obedience to God.

John was baptizing in a river and most examples of baptism in the New Testament appear to be in or around large bodies of water so immersion in water makes the most sense for how we ought to be baptized. There are biblical examples of baptism of the spirit alone, a confession of faith without involvement of water. These examples however appear to be the exception and not the rule. People without access to water or without time to get to water are exceptions.

If someone has the means and opportunity to go through the waters of baptism and does not are they saved by confession of sin and repentance alone? I do not know just as I do not know if someone who confesses, repents, and is baptized is saved. We have biblical and personal examples of people being baptized and living in a way that is completely opposed to God’s will. God alone knows our hearts. He knows where we stand.

One of the radical things about what John was doing is that those who came to him to be baptized were obeying God from their heart. It is a conscious decision to be baptized. I was “baptized” as an infant but it meant nothing to me. I had not made the choice to change my life. I had not chosen God or His son until I was a grown man. That has been the point from the beginning, back when Adam and Eve were in the Garden. They had a choice to choose God or not, trust Him or not. They chose not. Jesus presents to the whole world that very same choice.

In this moment when Jesus was baptized God’s confirmation of Jesus was both for his assurance and for a witness to others. This is the same reason for us to publicly surrender and commit to God through Jesus. We need the inner confirmation of His great blessing upon us, and the world needs the testimony of a life committed to His will through Jesus.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

How to Gain a Beloved Brother – Forgive

Philemon

Philemon 16 a

This a personal letter from Paul to Philemon. Philemon was a slave owner that came to know Christ. In the past he had a slave named Onesimus. When given the opportunity, Onesimus found a way to escape.

Onesimus, in his freedom, ran into Paul. After hearing Paul, he also gave his life to Christ and wanted to make right his wrong doings of the past. He told Paul about being a run away slave and it just worked out that Paul knew his master. He convinces Onesimus to go back to Philemon.

This letter is preparing Philemon for Onesimus’ arrival.

In verse 17-19 is one of the finest illustrations of substitution.

“So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!”

Onesimus, the unprofitable runaway slave, was to be received as Paul, the great apostle, in the home of Philemon.

Sounds a lot like Christ agreeing to take our place and having all our sins put on him. He took our place in death but he offers us the life only he deserves. Because of this, we have the standing of Christ before God.

The letter also shares how we are to love other people. (Friends and enemies, masters and servants alike)

Paul spoke of the new relationship between master and servant in his other letters. Here he demonstrates how it should work. These men belong to two different classes in the Roman empire hating each other and hurting each other but are now brothers in Christ and they are to act like it.

We see the desire for repentance and urging for forgiveness.

Wouldn’t our world be a better place if people owned their mistakes, sought forgiveness — and then the offended actually forgave!

You have been forgiven and you need to forgive others.

-John Wincapaw