Thursday, February 19, 2015

Heroes, Judges, and Dweebs

Well  February is practically over, and I'm still reeling from Christmas. Is it just me, or are the years passing by faster every year?
All my married friends keeping telling me, "Your wedding will be here in no time, and you'll wonder where all the time went."
At the current rate of acceleration, I should be getting married in about... two carry the four, divided by three, plus seven... two and half weeks. Crap. Haylee's going to be mad.

Anywho, in the youth ministry world, we're just wrapping up a series that I put together out of the book of Judges called Heroes Like Me: The Heroes Looking Back at Us in the Mirror.

I tend to have a flair for the dramatic. I blame George Lucas. On a side note, while we're talking about dramatic names and Star Wars, did you ever wonder how the Death Star was named and how that ever got approved? This is an imperial government entity, not a high school metal band.

Long long ago, in a conference room far far way...

"So the galactic peace initiative is in full swing with our transorbital assault battle station almost ready for christening. Phil, do you guys have a name that the constituents will really stand behind?"

"Um ya, we've been taking some surveys in some sample audiences, and our top choices are the Galactic Liberator, the Freedom Nova and.... the Death Star..."

"What was that last one?"

                       "The Freedom Nova?"

"No, the last one."

                        "... the Death Star..."

"The Death Star? Really? Was Lord Vader one of your sample audiences?

                        "... and Boba Fett."

"Danggit, Phil... We should have hired the Gungan."

These are the things I think about when I'm trying to sleep at night.

Anyways, Heroes Like Me  has been an awesome adventure for all of us in Ridge Uth. I don't know about you guys, but I'd never spent a lot of time in Judges unless we're trying to remember the name of the chick who spiked that dude's head with a tent peg.

Jael. Her name was Jael. I learned something.

For the past two months,I've had my nose in the book of Judges nonstop, dissecting these tragic tales of failure and victory, love and loss, war and peace, obedience and apostasy. As far as biblical screen plays go, the book of Judges is riddled with them.

Really Darren Aronofsky? Noah? C'mon. I liked the book wayyyyy better.

The book of Judges captures some of the darkest times in Jewish history. Judges takes place after the Israelites claim the Promised Land from the Canaanites and are struggling with their identity in God's Lordship. With the surrounding cultures having kings and false Gods, the pressure to conform and adopt their practices are too enticing and easy to pass up.

Over and over again, Israel falls in to sin, rejecting the God who led them out of Egypt in to the Promised Land and submitting to cruel rulings of tangible false gods and pagan practice.

As always, sin grows until it encompasses all aspects of life and enslaves them. They are slaves to their sin and to the godless cultures around them; the Midianites, Sidonians, Ammonites, Ammorites, Maonites, Philistines, all enslave and oppress the Israelites.

Israel, seeing its sin and disobedience, repents and calls out to God for salvation.

Our God is a God of salvation. As always, God is faithful and delivers His people.

  1. Sin
  2. Slavery
  3. Supplication
  4. Salvation
  5. Repeat

But the vehicle of God's salvation was always different and sort of..... broken. Was God wrong in His method of salvation. Not at all, but were the people God chose to deliver Israel broken? Yup.

Let's take a look at some of the Judges God used as the vessels of His will:

  • Deborah: the only Judge whose life is not recorded to end in vile failure. Unequipped to lead as a military leader, mother, wife, and voice of God to Barak, the chosen savior of Israel whose cowardice and lack of faith cost him his reputation.
  • Gideon: the weakest member of the weakest family of the weakest tribe of one of the weakest nations in whole Middle East. Unbelieving, skeptical, jaded, fearful, and doubtful. The perfect candidate.
  • Jephthah: son of a gentile prostitute, raised in a broken home, dejected from his family, bandit leader turned commander of Gilead, rash, immature, prideful, emotional, violent. 
  • Samson: Oh Samson... Nazirite from birth, given superhuman strength through the Holy Spirit, cocky, insecure, fickle, selfish, prone to fits of rage, did not begin his salvation of Israel until the day of his death.
What the heck? These guys are a pack of dweebs. Sinful, broken, distracted, selfish, hypocritical... Oh.
They're just like me. Just like us. God picked the broken, unqualified person to do His will. Why? because God came to save sinners, not the righteous.

The tragedy of the Judges does nothing but exponentially magnify the relentless and gracious pursuit of our God. If he can look on the nation of Israel and repeatedly say "I love you, I choose you, and I forgive you" then why the heck can't I? God pursues us relentlessly. He never stops because His love is greater than our illusion of independence. It's not until you realize that you are utterly helpless and screwed that you realize your need for a savior.

I think I'm getting off topic.

An observation I made while reading through Judges was the way in which God used His Judges. It wasn't until they were humbled and full reliant on God that God used them. Try to keep up with me:

Deborah was a thumpin' good prophet. She was humble and relied on the leading of God before she lead the army to crush Sisera and his cavalry.

Gideon's army was too big, and Gideon felt he could rely on the army to save them. God wanted Israel to rely on Him and realize their true savior: not Gideon, the great I AM. He shrank Gideon's army until Gideon was weak and made small and forced to rely on God's lead.

Jephthah was brought low by his own family, dejected and rejected, living a humble dangerous life. Even his own rash decision had a part in humbling him before God.

Samson's life was a laundry list of pride and disobedience and rage. He left a heap of women and bodies in his wake,  but it wasn't until he was brought low, blinded, his strength gone, enslaved, that he began the salvation of Israel from their oppression. God gave him the strength Samson needed to destroy the Philistine leaders. Samson gave his own life to deliver Israel.

As we begin to study the biblical heroes, we see this trend of humility and reliance on God, Moses, John the baptist, Paul, Peter, the prophet Elijah, God brings uses the humble and small to do His will.

1 Corinthians gives a glimpse in to God's M.O.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." 
1 Corinthians 1:27-31

In a culture that promotes the edification of self and independence, I have to ask, are we putting ourselves in a position to be used by God? 
Does our insatiable hunger for praise and glorification harden our hearts from our reliance on our heavenly father? We live in a world so resourceful and rich, we can live comfortable, safe lives focused on our own successes easily.

But there's something so eerily uncomfortable about being too comfortable. When we focus purely on our own successes, life looks easy, and often we lean that way because the mission of the Kingdom of God looks so impossible. 

We see our limited abilities and say "I can't", and God replies, "I know."   

The burden of human limitation magnifies the beauty of the sovereignty of the living almighty God.

There was a man named Jesus Christ, who is God in human form. He is one with the creator of the universe. He once said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

So these are a few of my thoughts that I've gathered from our studies in Judges. 

Judges shows me that God is relentless in His love for me. He won't ever stop chasing after me and saving me everyday, removing sin from my heart and becoming more like Christ.

Judges shows me that God uses the broken and flawed to do His will. He empowers us and transforms us, guiding us patiently to the promised better future, the future God always intended for us.

The book of Judges shows me the perfect metaphor of the human condition, and our desperate constant need for a savior. Everyday I need Jesus to rescue me out of the mess I've made myself.

This coming Wednesday will be the grand finale of Heroes Like Me when we look at one more Judge who came and saved Israel from the oppression of godlessness. It's so cool to look at the life and teachings of Jesus and see how Jesus fulfilled the whole Law, he was the better Moses, the better High priest, the better Judge, the better prophet.

I don't have quite a loyal following as Oprah, but I would love to put the book of Judges on my "Nathan's Choice" book list.

 Nate TB