Relationships matter…

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Scripture: Judges 9:22 Abimelech (who killed his 70 half brothers in his rise to power) ruled over Israel three years. 23 But God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem (who initially supported Abimelech); and the lords of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech. 24 This happened so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be avenged and their blood be laid on their brother Abimelech, who killed them, and on the lords of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers.

Observation: The bible says you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7). This was certainly the case with Abimelech. He ascended the throne via treachery and was killed in a similar manner only three years later.

Application: It matters how we treat others. When we treat people badly, it usually comes back to bite us. This morning I’m thinking of how I relate with people, especially those closest to me. I have my bad days when I’m not much fun to be around, but those are relatively few. At least that’s how I see myself. Others may see me differently.

I wonder what God thinks of the way I treat those around me. Secondly, I wonder what God thinks of my relationship with Him. Am I doing my part? Do I make it a priority?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, people are a precious thing. It’s easy to take people for granted, especially those who are closest to us. Give us grace to be a blessing to others, even when we’re having a bad day. And mostly, give us grace to invest in our relationship with you. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Truth hurts…

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Scripture: Luke 20:Jesus began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. 10 When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed… 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him… they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!” 17 But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean:

‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

 19 When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

Observation: Jesus chose a clever way to call out the scribes and chief priests. They would regret their decision to reject Jesus. And how did the scribes and chief priests respond? Did they repent and turn from their evil thoughts? No. “They wanted to lay hands on him that very hour…”.

Application: Two points strike me this morning. First, sometimes the truth hurts. But it’s important to have people in your life who love you enough to tell you the truth – even when it hurts. I can count such people in my life on one hand. And I thank God for them. How many such people do you have in your life?

Secondly, we aren’t only meant to receive truth but to offer it to others. Even when it hurts. Is there an important truth you need to share, but you’ve been putting it off because it might be painful?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, though you loved many people, you weren’t afraid to challenge them with difficult truth. Give us grace to both receive and give truth to those we love. Amen.

Doing the dishes…

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Scripture: Judges 7:The Lord said to Gideon, “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’ Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.’ ” Thus Gideon sifted them out; twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there… The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” So he took the jars of the troops from their hands, and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

Observation: Later in the chapter we’re told the Midianites were so many, they were like “sand on the seashore”. God gave Gideon only 300 men. And these 300 men had no weapons! Why did God do this? Verse 2 tells us. If it were a fair fight, the people would take credit for the victory rather than give glory to God.

Application: When I was in seminary, some 20+ years ago, we lived in a house with no dishwasher, so we would do dishes every night by hand – and our very young children LOVED it. Mostly they loved playing with the bubbles and splashing around in the water. I remember one evening our son Nick, maybe 1 or 2 years old at the time, was “helping” my wife Jana wash dishes. Jana would hold a dish in one hand, then take Nick’s hand in hers and run his hand across the plate. The process was VERY slow, but Nick was having the time of his life. When I came into the kitchen Nick looked at me and said, “Look daddy, I do dishes!” with a great big grin on his face. Mom just smiled. Yes, Nick was doing the dishes. Of course, Nick was doing no such thing. Truth is, it took three times as long to do dishes with his “help”. But the time between mother and child was priceless.

I expect I do a similar thing with my heavenly Father on a regular basis. Things happen by the grace of God and my temptation is to take credit for it. I’m tempted to say, “Look, I’m doing the dishes!” when I’m doing no such thing. When I fail to give God his due, I miss the chance to express gratitude to the Lord. For the truth is, I can do very little of consequence without God guiding me all the way.

Prayer: Lord, this morning I give you thanks and praise for all the ways you allow me the privilege of participating in wonderful things you are doing. Give me grace to avoid taking credit for things. Give me a heart of gratitude that seeks to give you the glory. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Mighty warrior?

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Scripture: Judges 6:11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites (who were invading Israel). 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” 13 Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?…” 14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” 15 He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”

Observation: This is a funny passage if you read it a certain way. In verse 12 the angel of the Lord referred to Gideon as “mighty warrior” when he was obviously neither. Someone who is “mighty” would not be hiding in the wine press. And a “warrior” would be fighting, not beating out wheat. Nevertheless, the Lord called Gideon to be a mighty warrior, which is exactly what he became as he led Israel from the oppression of the Midianites. God does this sort of thing all the time. He picks unlikely people to do important works for God’s Kingdom.

Application: There have been many, many times when God has chosen me to do things which seemed impossible at the time. My initial response has almost always been the same. No way! No way I can do this! And then it happened anyway. They key to being used by God for his purposes is understanding that our shortcomings don’t matter. If God is behind it, it will succeed – despite us. Our job is to say yes and trust God to move mountains.

Question: How is God asking you to do what you know is beyond you? What would it look like for you to say “yes” to God, then trust him to lead the way? 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are continually asking people to do what is impossible. In fact, you’re asking some of us right now. In fear, our temptation is to run the other way. Give us grace to trust you. And say “yes”. Amen.

Locked out of heaven…

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Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred?”

We often think of Jesus as being meek and mild, but not here. He basically goes off on the “scribes and Pharisees” – the clergy of his day. Why? Because they made rules and rules and more rules for people to follow, though they often failed to keep the rules themselves. Jesus said they “lock people out of the kingdom of heaven”.

Have you ever felt locked out of heaven, separated from God? I know I have. What kind of image or memory comes to mind? (Take 60 seconds and reflect on this)

People loved Jesus because, instead of heaping burdens on them like the scribes and Pharisees, he set them free from guilt and shame. Are you carrying around guilt and shame today? Let’s take the opportunity to be released from this burden through confession and forgiveness.

Lord Jesus, you indeed came into this world to set sinners free. Sinners like us. Because we all make mistakes, our sins can begin to pile up. They can be very heavy indeed. This morning we confess to you our sins. (Take 60 seconds and tell Jesus your sins. Be specific.) We repent, dear Lord, and ask your forgiveness once and for all. Give us grace to change our minds and our hearts to be more like you. We ask in your precious name. Amen.

Women leaders… YES!

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Scripture: Judges 4:At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment.

Observation: We are told that Deborah was both a prophetess and a judge (v.4). A prophet is one who hears from God and speaks to God’s people on his behalf. A judge is essentially what is sounds like – one who settles disputes among people. What is striking in this instance is that Deborah is… a woman. To be more specific, Deborah is a woman whom God himself chose to function in these critical roles among the Israelites.

Application: It’s hard to believe there are still Christian bodies in which women are not afforded the same opportunities to lead as men. God himself has appointed women to function as leaders in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Granted, even in the tribe to which I belong (ELCA Lutheran), women leaders will tell you the opportunities for leadership are not exactly equal. I spent some years working in a bishop’s office and participating in the “call process”. This is the process of connecting pastors with congregations to serve. While not a common occurrence, there were congregations who essentially refused to interview females for service as pastor.

That said, our presiding bishop is Bishop Elizabeth Eaton (pic above). I’ve had the opportunity to meet her and chat with her a bit. A little bit. And I am very impressed. I believe she is precisely what our church needs at this time and I thank God for her. What a shame were she not able to serve as presiding bishop because of her gender.

Today I’m reflecting on my own heart condition. Do I hold a bias against females? Am I affording women the same opportunities to exercise their leadership gifts as men?

Prayer: Lord God in heaven, both men and women can be effective leaders in your church and in the community as a whole. Reveal our blindspots where they may be. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Excuses, excuses…

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Scripture: Judges 3:1 Now these are the nations that the Lord left to test all those in Israel who had no experience of any war in Canaan (it was only that successive generations of Israelites might know war, to teach those who had no experience of it before): the five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their ancestors by Moses. So the Israelites lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters as wives for themselves, and their own daughters they gave to their sons; and they worshiped their gods. The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, forgetting the Lord their God, and worshiping the Baals and the Asherahs.

Observation: Well, this was predictable. God had given strict command to the Israelites to completely eliminate the peoples living in the Promised Land. Why? Because if they were allowed to live, God’s people would be tempted to worship their pagan gods (see verse 7). Yet what is surprising here is the explanation given in verse 4. The writer suggests it was God’s plan to leave some alive in order to test Israel. If I’m honest, it sounds like spin to me. The more likely reality is that God’s people failed in accomplishing the task, so this explanation is given to justify that failure. Which was then repeated until Israel was completely subjugated under foreign rule.

Application: I do it. You do it. We all do it. Instead of facing a failure, we try to justify it. We make excuses. We blame other people. We blame God. We blame the devil. We blame politics. We blame ________ (fill in the blank). Now, I understand it’s human nature to do this. The problem is, when we don’t take responsibility for our shortcomings and mistakes, we tend to repeat them. The hole just gets deeper. This morning I’m taking a bit of time for self examination. Where am I making excuses instead of owning up to my shortcomings? What about you?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, in a culture that is obsessed with success, it can be hard to admit failure. Which only leads to more failure. In fact, some of us are in a hole of our own making right now. Give us grace to own up to our mistakes so that we might get our lives back on track. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.