Week of 8/18/19 - Pages 41 - 52

The period of the Judges marks a dark and difficult era of Israel’s history.  It covers the time between Joshua’s death to the time that Israel would later be ruled by a king (1 Samuel). There are several applicable themes within the book that are worth noting as you read Judges:

1.    Israel’s Disobedience and Forgetfulness of God leads to Disaster after Disaster.

Judges reveals a brutal cycle of disaster when God’s people fail to remember and adhere to His instructions.  So much of what God had shared with Israel in their covenant agreement was designed specifically for their own safety, protection, health, and prosperity.  But almost all these grace-filled parameters were ignored and replaced with selfish, motives and action – “in those days, everyone did what was right in his/her own eyes…” (Judges 21:25).

 2.    God’s Discipline is an Instrument of His Mercy.

 It’s amazing to consider that God at any point in these cycles of disobedience could have justifiably called it quits with a people prone to breaking their word, and embracing evil.  Instead, He uses each circumstance to underscore His faithfulness and love.  The Hebrew writer describes both this dynamic and its purpose well:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son…No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed (Hebrews 12:5-6, 11-13).

 3.    Even in Disaster, Faith Rises

 The author of Hebrews interestingly enough, lists several characters from Judges as models of Old-Testament characters who gained approval through faith (see Hebrews 11). Though Judges highlights the consequences of unbelief in its brutal cycle of destruction, one can also see that even in such periods of darkness, unbelief, and cultural digression, men and women of simple trust and obedience can be a powerful, positive light whose effects can move an entire nation.

The period of the Judges has remarkable application to our own cultural context – meaning You and Me.  By reading both how God’s mercy works through discipline, and the dramatic pitfalls of following one’s own counsel without the guidance of God’s Spirit, Judges has much to contribute to our own relationship and walk with God.

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Week of 8/11/19 - Pages 32 - 39

This week we come to the close of the book of Joshua and Joshua’s life. But before the death of Joshua, we see him encouraging Israel to remain faithful to God and to serve Him alone. In Chapters 23 and 24, Joshua summons all the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel and reminds them all that God has done for them. It was God who rescued them from slavery and brought them out of Egypt. It was God who performed mighty miracles as they traveled through the wilderness. It was God who fought against their enemies and who gave them possession of the land. God has been faithful to Israel and everything He has promised has come true. Joshua then implores the people to be strong and to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Joshua’s final words to the Israelites may be exactly what we need to hear as well. For like the Israelites, we, too, often need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness, His provision, and His power. We need to remember that whatever we are facing it is God who will rescue us and it is God who will fight our battles. We need to focus our eyes on the One we serve and not allow our circumstances to turn our eyes to the right or to the left.   We need to hold tightly to the truth that each and every one of God’s promises will come true. Not a single one will fail! May Joshua’s words encourage us and like him, may we be strong and serve the Lord wholeheartedly.

Week of 8/4/19 - Pages 21 - 32

God is faithful to fulfill His promises.  Do we trust Him?

In pages 22 - 30 in the Kingdoms book, we see the fulfillment of the promises God made to Abraham over a 1/2 century earlier. For generations in their oral tradition they have heard the stories and about the "promised land." This land of wealth and goodness that God has promised to the descendants of Abraham.

It is the beginning of a fantastic time for the people of God, a time where the scripture says there is rest from war. Where God gives them a bountiful land. A land that already is full of villages and towns, even fortified towns. They will enjoy great harvests, and long periods of peace and great wealth. 

But yet as they move in to claim these amazing promises, there are still the signs of the "human condition" that plague both the Israelites and plague us today.

One of the elements of the human condition that I think many of us can relate to, was fear.  All of these people (all except Joshua and Caleb that is) were 19 years old or younger when they started their 40 year wondering in the wilderness. God has been tangibly present for the majority of their lives. They have experienced God first hand providing miracles for daily provision & protection, stopping the Jorden river at flood stage, demolishing major walled cities like Jericho without Israel throwing a stone, and providing them tremendous victories over  the armies of the land. Yet, for some reason they have not taken full possession of the land. Why?  I wonder if it is fear. God has shown up so far, yes, but will He show up and give ME victory over the people in the land I am supposed to fight for? He has saved the armies of Israel, but will He save ME?

They have been given the land. The promise is fulfilled, but they have a role in receiving the promise. For this promise God expects them to be actively involved in its fulfillment.  They must drive the current occupants out of the land.  God promises that they will have victory, and God says he will be with them, BUT they must do their part and the thoughts of what "could" happen generate fear in their human condition, and I think in ours too.

I wonder how many times in my life I am not able to "fully" enjoy God's promises for me because "fear" enters in to my thinking.   I know He offers peace and I know He wants me to experience Joy in my life, but I wonder how many times being anxious about an unknown outcome or uncertain future keeps me from fully experiencing His promises. 

Can I truly be safe, can I be content with a life of trusting Him? Is it that simple, just trust Him.

Have a good work ethic, act justly, live generously, show mercy, and walk humbly with Jesus every day and fully trust Him for the outcome.  

I wonder if the solution to many of the ills of my human condition is to simply walk close to God each day, grabbing hold of all of the promises He offers, and simply trust Him for the outcome.

Week of 7/28/19 - Pages 10 - 21

Prayer is a powerful thing. We have learned a great deal about prayer this year. However, the power of prayer in this week’s reading is undeniable. Joshua, has led the people into the promised land and now are going village by village and city by city defeating king after king. God is delivering them without much opposition. 

This brings us to what might be the boldest prayer in history. Joshua prays that the sun would stand still so the Lord would give the Israelites the victory over the Amorites. The passage says that Joshua says the prayer in sight of the Israelites. So get this, Joshua, God’s chosen leader, prays that the sun and moon would stop so they can continue to be victorious in their war over the promised land. 

I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have tried to pray a prayer like this. It often seems that nothing quite as extraordinary happens. In fact there have been some times in my life where it seems like God isn’t listening and I am pleading for his comfort and provision. I often want to get to the end of the lesson I am learning by the fastest means possible. However, God often has other plans for my life. What I often fly right by in this story is the years and years of obedience by Joshua and his people. They have followed God day by day for generations. I often want God to provide me with the reply or answer instantly. 

God calls us to obedience first, then he blesses us with his provision. God wants us to actively seek him. If we do this in all we do, we will begin to see our prayer life increase with boldness and power. God is waiting for us to grow into the men and women that God calls us to be. This process is at times frustrating and debilitating but what God is teaching us and showing us is the power we have in and through him. 

Be bold in your prayers and pray with the same power of Joshua. 

Week of 7/21/19 - Pages 1 - 10

Joshua 4:4-7

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel.  He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”

Congratulations!  You’ve finished the Torah!  

Now we turn our attention to a new part of the journey.  Moses has died, along with almost all of his peers who left Egypt.  A new generation with a new hope has set their sights on the promised land as Joshua rises from the ranks as God’s anointed leader. In this first book of Kingdoms, the reader will experience the conquest of Canaan with all its challenges neutralized by God’s faithful presence and power.  Each victory increases the faith of the Israelites while melting the hearts of the inhabitants of these Canaanite city-states.

In this week’s reading I’m struck by the stone memorial built after Israel crosses the Jordan in flood-stage on dry ground.  The miraculous crossing was no doubt reminiscent for the people of this generation who had been either children at the time, or being born in the wilderness, had later heard about the incredible story of the Red Sea crossing.  But this time, Israel stops and takes the time to build a large stone structure – what we might call a testimony -- to remind them of God’s power, provision, and providence in their lives.

I encourage you to think about the moments in your life where God has honored His promises to you in an undeniable way.  Do you remember, or have the layers of busyness and struggle slowly eroded the details?  Have you built a testimony that not only reminds you of God’s faithfulness in times of future difficulties, but also testifies to others who might not have otherwise known of God’s works in your life?  

Such memorials come in many shapes and sizes.  I’ve come across necklaces, plaques, tattoos, songs, paintings, stories, and video testimonies – all of which follow Joshua’s pattern of reminding one that God is at work in one’s life…”an ever-present help,” and a faithful father who will never forsake us.  We need to regularly see these reminders from our own experiences, and from others who know and have tasted the goodness of God.  

Like Israel, take the time to build memorials – so that when your children, or your friends, or your Life Together family asks – “Why is that necklace so special to you?” or “What does that tattoo mean?” or “What a lovely song, what’s it about?” you can share how God carried you across a river of adversity, and your feet didn’t even get wet.

Week of 7/14/19 - Pages 313-327

This is it. After the years of waiting and wandering, the Israelites are poised to enter the promised land, the land God has provided. 

Our reading this week starts in the middle of all the curses—all the consequences God vows will befall the Jews if they break their covenant with him. This was a surprise to me. I didn’t recall that there were specific curses outlined as part of the covenant relationship. I’m so much more comfortable with the word “consequence” than the word “curse.” I recalled that God vowed the Israelites would be conquered and taken into exile if they forsook him and worshipped other gods. But I wasn’t aware of the variety and specificity of the curses detailed for them. To be honest, I found it rather disturbing, and was a little rocked by “Just as the Lord has found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply, the Lord will find pleasure in destroying you” (315). 

Wait, what? 

The Bible bears testimony to the justice of God, to his longsuffering, and to his allowing and even using difficult circumstances to test, shape, shepherd, discipline, and fight for his people. He’s clearly a God of tough love and letting his children experience the consequence of their choices. But finding pleasure in destroying them? That does not sit easy with me. That’s a scary God that harkens back to fire and brimstone sermons that I frankly see as alienating people from knowing God’s grace, love, and forgiveness. But there it is in the Bible in black and white. What are we to do with it? 

Reading through the curses, it made me wonder if anyone had second thoughts about entering into this agreement. But human nature being what it is, we tend to only look at the upside, don’t we? Picture it: a couple of million people, amassed on the border of the land their forefathers were promised. A land large enough and lush enough to provide for all of them. A land they’ve endured a forty-year detour to enter. How closely did they listen to the fine print? And how could they turn back now or decide to strike out on their own because the contract was too onerous? I have to keep in mind that they have seen God’s presence and provision day in and day out. They are in a sweet period of relationship with him—how easy it would be to downplay the punishment clause that would certainly never need to be invoked.

How smart was God to have the warning put to music and taught to them all in a song, “so that it may serve as a witness for me against them” (319). God knew that the people would break their covenant, and he planned ahead for that day: “and when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them” (319).

God certainly knows human nature. And not only does he have blessings in store for his people when they keep his covenant, and curses for when they don’t, he even has a contingency for when they come back to him: “If at that time you and your children return to the Lord your God, and if you obey with all your heart and all your soul all the commands I have given you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes. He will have mercy on you and gather you back from all the nations where he has scattered you” (317). There’s his mercy and grace. 

I have to note that in the middle of all of this—the covenant details and prophecy about their exile and return—God slips a little detail of his mysterious plan into the song: “I will rouse their jealously through people who are not even a people; I will provoke their anger through the foolish Gentiles” (321). If I’m not mistaken, I think that’s a little foreshadowing of how God’s plan will go on to provide for the Gentiles when the Jews largely reject Jesus as their messiah, without his forsaking his original covenant with the Jews.

He’s definitely the God of the long game. 

Week of 7/7/19 - Pages 298-312

The fifth commandment (honoring one’s parents) is expanded with discussions of other authority structures, including judges and courts, a future king, priests and Levites, prohibited occultist professions, and prophets.

The sixth commandment (prohibiting murder) is also leveraged by addressing cities of refuge, importance of honest testimony, rules of warfare, and how to deal with unsolved murders.

Several miscellaneous laws are discussed relating to primarily two issues: 1) everyone has the responsibility for caring for the welfare of others, and 2) the concept of keeping clean and unclean things separate.  Sexual offenses are also discussed.  All of these, and a variety of other laws, are for the well-being of everyone.

Ancient treaty agreements usually had a section containing blessings and curses, blessings for keeping the treaty and curses for breaking it, Deuteronomy follows this ancient form.  Once Israel (God’s people) was to enter the Promised Land, Moses warns of the two contrasting consequences of the covenant.  On the one hand, if the people truly obey God, they will be blessed.  On the other hand, if they do not obey God, terrible curses will come upon them.

A common warning used throughout this section, “purge evil from among you.”  We too should heed this warning.  God is merciful, loving, patient and slow to anger but He is also holy and just.  His principles are for our protection, He desires that we choose to obey so we can be blessed and experience His goodness.

Week of 6/30/19 - Pages 283-297

The definition of the word must is; expressing necessity. I wanted to look this word up simply because the word “must” was used 54 times during this weeks reading. During this week’s reading  we find Moses reexplaining the importance of the message the Lord God ask him to share. Did it catch your attention? What did it mean to you? Did the words make you feel uncomfortable? Were you reassured by any passages? Why?

Moses continues to address the Israelites before they enter the promise land of Canaan. He tells them “You MUST be careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God, following his instructions in every detail.” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33)  He continues on in detail as to the commands the Lord has given. These issues are some that stand out to me: 

·      “You MUST love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all you strength”. (Deuteronomy 6:5) How many times do I use these words and undermine them by having my job be my biggest love, or my family, or?, or?, or?…  and put my Lord on the back burner?  

 ·       The Lord wants us to tell the children about all that we know of Him. Teach the children by example and by words. (Deuteronomy 6:20)  I ask myself, “how do I feed into my grown children or the children in my sphere of influence about the Grace of God?”

 ·      “People do not live by bread alone; rather we live by every word that comes from mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3z)  How regimented am I in being in the word daily?

 ·      “You have been set apart as holy to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure” (Deuteronomy 14:2)   Do we consider ourselves a special treasure and holy? 

. We are commanded to “Celebrate” and “ be joyful” in Deuteronomy 16. We know that fellowship is important for us but God finds it important for us too!

 In this weeks reading I find an understanding of how the Old Testament does have credence to my life. The commandments from God on what food to eat, how to treat servants, and canceling debts are foreign to me yet, true nuggets of divine inspiration and direction on how God wants me to live my life and what I MUST do to achieve His will are found throughout this week’s reading.

May you be blessed by this week’s reading!

Week of 6/23/19 - Pages 270-282

I admit to reading this with a bit of confusion.   Moses relates how he was forbidden by the Lord from entering the promised land because of the Israelites’ unwillingness to trust God’s protection and take over the land they had been promised.   In Numbers 14:29-34, God tells Moses that everyone over 20 years old, including Moses, will perish before the Israelites can enter the promised land.  Moses reminds them of this in Deuteronomy 1:36-37.

But remembering Moses’ history with the rock, I looked up Numbers 20:10-12, where Moses is told by the Lord to command the rock to produce water for the thirsty people, but instead he strikes the rock with his staff, and the Lord tells him he will not lead the community into the land the Lord is giving them.

So, it looks like Moses is doubly excluded.  Regardless, it no doubt was a crushing disappointment for Moses to not be able to set foot on and enjoy the promised land, after all he had been through over the years.  But, when the judgement had been passed down from God, it wasn’t like Moses could appeal it to a higher court.

Moses accepts God’s ruling and went on to do his duty and honor God, as he had done for the majority of his life.  He reminds the people of their history together and everything that had transpired to get them to where they were at the present, all the high points when they received God’s blessings and the low points when they suffered God’s punishments.

This was especially important, as the older generation that had experienced most of those highs and lows and had received God’s guidance had all died off and Moses was soon to join them.  Moses accepted God’s judgement and remained a faithful servant of God.  Quite an example for us, can we play the hand dealt us and continue to trust in God’s goodness, or are we only on board when dealt the “good” hand?  Hmm……

Week of 6/16/19 - Pages 255-269

As I read about the intricate sacrifices that were required to receive forgiveness from God.  I came to realize why Jesus was the only one who could ultimately redeem us. 

The animals that were used for offerings were all pure and without blemish. We are not without sin,  not pure on our own.  Without the sacrifice of someone who is pure and without blemish (sin).  I could not spend eternity with God.  He made a way for me,  because he loves me that much. What a humbling thought.