Scripture Reading Challenge (#32)

Did you know that Israel was tempted in keeping up with the Joneses. They were still on the roller coaster of morality and obedience that we found in the book of Judges. Even Samuel, who was a great person, could not keep his children in the fear of the Lord. The people who had not given themselves over to other forms of worship asked Samuel for king. God was not pleased with this but gave them a king. He would eventually use the kingship of Israel in his plan of salvation beginning with the second king. However, God gave them the king they wanted. This is the beginning of Saul.

Read 1 Samuel 8:1-10:27

There is more to be said about wanting to be like someone else. As a nation, Israel wanted to be like the other nations that had kings. There is nothing wrong with being unique and not copying what others are doing. At this time Israel was a theocracy, meaning that God was understood as their sole ruler. They wanted a monarchy, a visible representative of God’s authority in human flesh. Samuel represented God’s holiness, and now Saul would represent God’s divine rule. We can look forward from this point to where the fullness of God was wholly invested in Jesus. In fact, the Greek title, “Christ,” or Hebrew title, “Messiah,” means the “anointed one.” Jesus was the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King.

Saul looked the part of a king. At least in everyone’s eyes. He was bigger than anyone else and God even gave Saul a heart to lead. Apparently, Saul could even preach, to the surprise of everyone. However, when it came time to announce him, we are given a hint about his true character and why God had to work in giving him a new heart. First Samuel 10:21-22, noted that after Samuel proclaimed Saul as king, they couldn’t find him. God answered their prayer and told them, “he heath hid himself among the stuff.” Deep inside this man who would be king, was major personality issues that would continue to surface. He did not have courage in several occasions when leading his army. He was jealous, angry, and conniving. He would even compromise his integrity and the Word of God by seeking help from a practitioner of the dark arts. God worked on his heart in the beginning and gave him a fresh start. It was hopeful, but, Saul would not always seek the Lord and it ended up costing him the kingdom.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#30)

This short book in the Old Testament is the first of two books named after women in the entire Bible.  One may wonder why she is included in the Scripture.  After all, she is not of Hebrew descent but was brought in through marriage.  However, through her story, we see the faithfulness to God and God’s grace.  We also learn that everyone is welcome to be part of God’s story.  Finally, we know how God works through families and salvation history.  Ruth would become the great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest king, David.

Read Ruth 1:1-4:22

Isn’t it amazing that such a sad beginning to this tale ends up with a beautiful love story?  And, all the way through it, we see God’s hand orchestrating events.  The Lord is present in the painful situations and the pleasant ones.  I am reminded of Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  You may have heard the cliche phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.”  People may even reference this verse.  I think that is a  wrong interpretation of Romans 8:28.  Instead, it seems to say that things can happen without reason, at least for those not seeking to live in the Lord.  Instead, we should say, “everything can have a holy purpose or else it happens in vain.”  Ruth demonstrated that even the death of her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law, could lead to God’s glory through faithfulness.  May we be found faithful and find handfuls of purpose along the way (Ruth 2:16).

Scripture Reading Challenge (#29)

The story of Samson is one of the incredible feats he performed by God’s Spirit.  However, at times, it is difficult to understand what we can gain from these passages in Scripture that apply to us today.  After reading about Samson’s life, we will be able to take away a better understanding of God’s work in time, and the frailty of even the best leaders.

Read Judges 13:1-16:31

The Lord is a mighty Deliverer.  However, He does it in His way and according to His schedule.  Throughout Scripture, we are reminded of that truth.  He also has much more patience than we do.  God took 400 years before delivering Israel out of Egypt.  God waited 40 years in our current passage before bringing Samson in the picture and then worked through Samson’s entire life from birth to death, to deliver Israel from the Philistine rule.  Furthermore, God worked through eternity past to the fall of man, through several millennia to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to bring us salvation.  Now, we have gone through almost 2,000 years of waiting for the second coming of Christ.  God works at His own pace, but we can be sure he is not slack concerning His promises (2 Peter 3:9).  God may take a decade or a millennia or two, but He will keep His word.  He makes things happen according to His divine plan.  We must remain faithful during the in-between times.

The second thing we learn from Samson’s story, and many others in the Bible, is that even good leaders fail.  There are undoubtedly toxic leaders who never seem to do good, but there those like Samson, Moses, David, and Peter, who are God’s people but still make mistakes or even fall into grave sin.  Moses worked with anger issues.  David was a man after God’s heart but yet was caught up in the act of adultery.   Peter liked to stick his foot in his mouth or could be hypocritical depending on who he was around.  When we do things on our own, we can be tempted and will fall.  Judges 16:20, noted that Samson did not even know the Lord had departed from him.  He had allowed the temptation to overtake him.  We need to pray for our leaders and ourselves to be vigilant in God’s Spirit.  Even the mighty can fall, and it only through the Lord’s grace we can keep standing tall against the tactics of Satan (Eph. 6:10-12).

Scripture Reading Challenge (#27)

Living in the war-torn ancient near eastern lands was brutal.  The daily life of an individual was undoubtedly harder than we have it today.  Uprisings and skirmishes between kingdoms and tribes were common.  God allowed these opponents of Israel to come against them when they failed to follow Him.  It was a way of disciplining them and centering their focus on God.  God would not leave them in oppression, as He would raise up a judge to deliver Israel and to lead them back to Him.  Deborah, a prophetess, was one of these judges.

Read Judges 4:1-5:31

Surprisingly, in the ancient near eastern cultures, women were valued in society.  In fact, a majority of cultures did not respect a woman at all.  However, this is one of the significant changes that God would work through Israel and the Church.  Men and women are both created in the image of God and are of the highest value (Galatians 3:26-29).  This passage highlights two powerful women, Deborah and Jael.  Later in the Old Testament, we will find two books named after women and regarded as Holy Scripture.  Israel’s treatment of women was counter-cultural for its day, and the Church’s inclusion of women caused greater changes within Roman culture.

Deborah’s song is recorded in Scripture, giving God thanks and praise.  It also serves to teach the people of Israel to continue their obedience to God.  Music is incredibly important in the Church?  Why?  For those two reason mentioned.  First, music is a fantastic expression of our heartfelt worship before God.  When we have trouble speaking our thoughts toward God, many times we are able to sing them.  Singing and music-making before God is a thread throughout Scripture.  The second reason is we can teach through song.  This is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of hymns, as they provide a structure that works with teaching doctrine.  I can’t remember who said it, but it is good to share, “every good theology needs to be accompanied with good hymnology.”

Scripture Reading Challenge (#26)

Have you ever been on a roller coaster?  If not, you are about to experience an emotional one.  The book of Judges is a series of ups and downs for Israel.  We go down when Israel would rebel, and God would allow an oppressor to rise up against them.  Then, we go up when God would raise up a “judge” to deliver them and lead them.  When the judge died, the process would start over again.   We are thankful this was not how God intended to keep humanity on the straight and narrow.  However, it is an essential part of the history of redemption as it will show the way of humanity when left to its own devices.

Read Judges 2:6-3:6

The first thing that jumps out is that there seems to be a breakdown in the family.   Deuteronomy 6:7-9, reminds us to diligently teach ourselves and our children about God with every opportunity we are given.  In our reading, we find out there came a generation that did not know the Lord (Judges 2:10).  There are only two plausible reasons for this breakdown.  First, they were not taught about the Lord.  Still, the previous generations we are told did follow the Lord, so maybe that is not the strongest of the reasons.  More likely, it means they had not personally experienced anything with God.  The Biblical use of the word “knew” typically carries the nuance of experiential knowledge.  Adam and Eve knew they were naked, not just mentally but by experience.  When Scripture talks about that a man knew his wife, it is not talking about a sudden revelation that he was actually married.  Instead, it notes the fact the couple had intimate knowledge of each by experience.   The lesson we learn in this book is that it is not only essential to disciple our children in God’s Word but to help them experience God’s presence.

Another critical point of the passage is the need for godly leaders.  There is indeed a dearth of leadership in both secular and religious groups.  Moral failures abound among those that lead others.  However, God is still able to raise up great leaders.  Yes, they are not perfect and are still men and women living in a broken world.  God is bigger than our imperfections and is able to lead us by His Spirit as we lead others.  Also, each one of us has available that same Spirit.  Before the birth of the Church at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit did not make himself readily open to anyone.  Now, He fills each believer to help them fulfill God’s will in their life.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#25)

I remember working for dad at his company as a teenage and my main job was to sweep the manufacturing floor. One time, dad came out and thought that my form was not productive and “showed me” the correct form for using a push broom. When he finished he said, “Got it?” With a smirk I replied, “Nope, can you do it again?” All I can remember was him smiling back and the rest of the workers laughing because I almost got him to sweep again for me. In our reading today, God is repeating a demonstration of fighting the battles for Israel. They did not trick him into doing it or complain so much that he wanted to teach them a lesson again. He did it because He already promised them He would. I am thankful when God repeatedly demonstrates His unbroken faithfulness to us.

Read Joshua 5:13-6:27

Jericho was a formidable opponent that awaited Israel on the other side of the Jordan River. For Israel, Jericho was a death match between former slaves and trained warriors. However, God’s plan was for the very walls that pro texted Jericho to become their own destruction. When Israel obeyed God, the Lord pushed the walls of Jericho down and Israel ran up the walls that were bridges into the city and overtook the city. They destroyed everything except one family that helped Israel and wanted to follow along with them. Rahab the harlot, who helped Israel’s spies would also become a key person in the lineage of Jesus. The remainder of the book of Joshua would account for Israel’s conquest of Canaan. They would overtake the middle, the north, and final the south. God truly gave this group of untrained former slaves the land. There is no other way of approach it.

What formidable object stands between you and God’s vision for your life? What do you fear? Why are you holding back in faith? The same God who parts waters and knocks down cities is the same God that we serve today. If we will obey the Lord, He will do glorious things. Again, we may not always understand what He is doing but He will do things beyond our capability.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#24)

Sometimes we just have to get our feet wet. Joshua was tasked as the new leader of Israel, to lead the people across the Jordan river and into the promised land. Everyone needed to be reassured that the Lord was still on their side. God was going to show Israel and all the dwellers of the new land (Canaan) His favor was still on Israel. He would drive out the resistance and fight their battles. But first, they need to cross the Jordan river when it was most likely overflowing its banks.

Read Joshua 3:1-4:24

I remember the first time people came to faith under my preaching. I knew that God had called me into ministry but it was encouraging when He validated that calling by producing fruit from it. God’s blessings reminds me that there is nothing special about me, it’s all about Him. Still, to know that the Lord is on our side is strength to our soul. What impossible task did the Lord call you too, only to reinforce your faith when He performed the task? The song still rings true, “Trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

Scripture Reading Challenge (#23)

Transitions from one part of life to another is never easy. People are resistant to change and are quick to defend against change. Israel went through such a transition. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, an entire generation passed away. God raised up a new leader, Joshua, to take over where Moses left off. It is intimidating to follow someone who has already been successful. Even though Joshua has proven himself already, this new challenge of leading the people of God to the Promise Land was not for the faint of heart.

Read Joshua1:1-18

There is not much to be said about this passage except, be strong and of good courage. This admonition is repeated four times. Three times by the Lord to Joshua and one by the people to him. Encouragement goes a long way in providing a safe an open environment for leaders and followers to be morally courageous. We must continually check ourself to see if our critiques provide positive reinforcement or are simply negative and hurtful to others. In our local churches, we need to create opportunities for people to lead without fear of others in the community attacking their ideas. Sharing leadership encourages others to take responsibility and to think creatively, something a lot of pastors long from a congregation.

How long has it been since you offered a word of encouragement to someone struggling with life? Have you complimented someone for doing a good job or being their for you? Taking notice of others and offering a kind word at just the right time can impact someone for a lifetime. We need to build each other up more instead of tearing down. First Corinthians 5:11 reminds us, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, evan as also ye do.” Scripture tells us to do everything we can to build up the Kingdom. We do that by building each other up.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#20)

Some people just have a hard time believing.  No matter what God has done before, they still lack faith.  The Israelites had recently witnessed ten plagues the Lord placed on the Egyptians but still murmured and complained that God and Moses led them into the wilderness to die.  God will perform another miracle before their eyes in our passage.  The parting of the Red Sea.

Read Exodus 13:17-14:31

The Lord led the people out of Egypt to the Red Sea with a visible presence.  Exodus 13:21 explains, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.”  That would be an awesome sight!  The beauty of this passage is that God will lead and protect His people.  The Lord leads His people by going before us and showing us the direction we must go.  As Psalm 23:2-3 reads, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  

However, there are times we lose sight of the Shepherd but still can trust, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:4-5).   For Israel, God moved from before their face to behind them.  Why?  He moved from the front to back to keep the enemy from jumping on them from behind.  We need to be more thankful of those times, that even when we can’t see God in front of us, to know that He is fighting our battles that are sneaking up on us.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#19)

Does your family have any traditions that are times of celebrations?  More than likely, you do.  It’s a way that we stay connected to our heritage.  There are some traditions that probably should be changed, but there are those traditions that are so rich in meaning that it would be detrimental to a groups history by bringing change.  To this day, Jews still observe Passover and the Feast of Unleavened bread.  What is significant about this celebrations?  In our reading today, we will learn about the historical event that is still celebrated even now.

Read Exodus 12:1-42

Blood was shed almost immediately after The Fall of humanity to make a covering (Genesis 3:21).  From then, we begin to see sacrifices given to God.  The first time we see this happen, God would not accept the half-hearted harvest gift of Cain but received the firstlings of Abels animal sacrifice (Gen. 4:3-5).  Now, God commands that the blood of each family’s lamb be placed on their doorpost.  God would pass over each house with the blood applied and the meal observed but would take the life of each firstborn in the homes that did not follow the command.  The house that was covered was saved from wrath.  It is also interesting to note at this point that the word atonement means, “covering.”  When Christ atoned for our sins, he shed his blood, covered us with God’s grace and saves us from wrath.   What an incredible foreshadowing of things to come that God painted for us in the Old Testament.

God had Moses tell the people, “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s Passover” (Ex. 12:11).  It sounds like God means business.  I take this statement as two-fold.  First, God is telling the people that the judgment on Egypt and the deliverance of the Israelites will be so complete, that the people will be quickly ushered out of the country.  Secondly, it was an act of faith to take in the meal with their running shoes on.  Do we have such confidence in God’s Word?  God said he would deliver them and so they should be ready to go at the exact moment He says, “Go!”  Is your life ready for an immediate act of obedience?

The reason given for making an annual tradition of the Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread was for the children, future generations.  Sometimes, when we start to change a tradition, we hear someone say, “But, this is the way we have always done it.”  That statement demonstrates a low understanding about the purpose of traditions.  Traditions are not about preserving the old paths as an end to themselves.  Instead, traditions keep history as a way to teach future generations.  In this particular case, it was to show the children about God’s deliverance and favor on Israel.  How many other traditions do we currently have that are kept for the wrong purpose rather than teaching future generations about what God has done in the past?  Traditions can show us what God has done and can still perform today.