Category Archives: Weekly Check-In

Chapter 16: The Beginning of the End of Israel

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For 209 years, the northern kingdom of Israel had endured one evil king after another. Their failure to keep God’s covenant meant they would be expelled from the covenant. They had been chosen to be a blessing to all other nations, but now they would be delivered over to those very nations.

Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, set up a puppet government for the northern tribes of Israel and
appointed Hoshea as king. Hoshea was as defiant of Shalmaneser as he was of God, the true King of Israel. He stopped paying tribute and as a result, the Assyrian army destroyed the capital city of Samaria and captured Hoshea. The king, along with many of his fellow Israelites, was deported by Shalmeneser’s successor, Sargon II. By resettling them throughout Assyria, God was settling His own accounts. Idolatry, disobedience, and stubbornness provoked God’s anger and led Him to expel the northern kingdom from His land.

Meanwhile, just to the south in the kingdom of Judah, godly King Hezekiah was nervously watching these world-shaking events on his northern border. Hezekiah stands out from all of the other kings of Judah for his efforts to remove every vestige of idolatry in the land. He rebelled against the new Assyrian King Sennacherib. The Assyrians sent envoys, claiming that they wanted to negotiate a peaceful surrender with Hezekiah in Jerusalem. Their reasoning was faultless: What other nation had been able to stand against the Assyrian might? Had not God Himself commissioned them for this task? Sennacherib’s commander appealed directly to the populace of Jerusalem, speaking to them in Hebrew.

King Hezekiah trusted in the LORD and prayed for deliverance. The prophet Isaiah promised that God would deliver them. What faith it must have taken to trust the prophet’s prediction! The angel of the LORD swept through the Assyrians army as they slept. The next morning Sennacherib’s camp was littered with 185,000 dead Assyrian soldiers. The army retreated and Judah was saved.

Isaiah had been called to be a prophet during the last year of King Uzziah’s life. In a majestic vision of the LORD, he was commissioned to speak for God to turn the people of Judah away from sin and toward their God. He warned that Judah was walking in her sister Israel’s footsteps and therefore would reap similar judgment. Unfortunately, he seldom found a listening audience.

The threat of foreign exile failed to curb the widespread social injustice, moral decay, and religious abandonment. Judah’s pride would be her downfall; God loved His people too much to allow their sin to go unchecked. And although He warned of judgment, He also promised a future restoration. When Israel perceived herself as forsaken and forgotten, her compassionate God would fully restore her. The whole world would know that the LORD is their Savior and Redeemer.

What a comfort Isaiah’s prophecies must have been to the faithful remnant of Judah: God’s Upper Story of redemption would triumph over the sin of His people. Even the godliest of kings could not overcome the sin nature of mankind. In his most memorable passage, Isaiah described a Suffering Servant, who was “pierced for our transgressions.” Looking down from the Upper Story, we can see that this was a description of the true King, who would suffer for all mankind.

What do you need to spread out before God just like King Hezekiah did with Sennacherib's letter?

Chapter 15: God's Messengers

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Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. Israel sank deeper and deeper into the cesspool of idolatry under the royal wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel. They led the people further into idolatry and disregarded the God who had made them a nation. The people of promise had broken their promises. But YHWH is a jealous God who would not sit idly on His heavenly throne and allow worthless non-gods and their followers to go unchecked. So He called prophets who would speak on His behalf and demonstrate that there is no God but Himself. Sounding the alarm, these prophets warned faithless Israel that her unbelief would march her right into captivity.

Elijah warned Ahab that Israel would experience a 3-year drought because of their worship of the pagan god, Baal. The shriveled up land seemed a fitting picture of Israel’s desiccated hearts and shrunken worship. Ahab had gone so far as to build a temple for Baal in the capital city of Samaria. Then, atop Mount Carmel, the supposed sacred dwelling place of Baal, Elijah challenged the idolaters to the ultimate smackdown—YHWH vs. Baal. Baal failed to show up but the LORD made a dramatic statement when He consumed the water-logged sacrifice with fire. Elijah then put to death the 450 prophets of Baal. Ahab’s wife Jezebel, the Queen of Mean, threatened to kill him so Elijah fled into the desert. Fatalistic, fearful and not without some Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Mount Horeb. God revealed Himself there to Elijah, much like He had done nearly 600 years earlier to Moses at Sinai. He told Elijah that he had kings and prophets to anoint – one of whom was his successor, Elisha. Once again, as with Moses and Joshua, God was passing the baton to the next generation of leaders who would speak for Him.

While the two prophets were traveling together, Elijah parted the Jordan by striking the water with his cloak – another throwback to Moses. As they continued on, a whirlwind took Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire. The cloak fell to Elisha whose authority was confirmed when he too divided the Jordan.  Similar to Elijah before him, Elisha performed many miraculous feats for the benefit of the faithful remnant in Israel. He promised a barren Shunammite woman a son. When the boy suddenly died years later, Elisha brought him back to life. When the Aramean king sent his troops to capture the man of God, Elisha prayed. He asked God to open his servant’s eyes so he could see the angels who were standing guard around them and to blind the Arameans. The prophet then led his captives to Samaria where he asked the king of Israel to prepare a feast of friendship in lieu of execution. This unconventional act of grace established peace between Israel and Aram.

Even with the powerful ministries of Elijah and Elisha, the deeply embedded idolaters remained
powerful, numerous, and unrepentant in Israel. God sent Amos, a herdsman from the southern kingdom of Judah, to warn the northern kingdom of Israel that her prosperity, injustice, and sinful ways would soon be judged. He promised them that if Israel did not repent, they would be taken captive. God also sent Hosea to Israel as a living object lesson of His faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness. Israel refused to hear the pleas of God to return to Him.

God’s holiness demands judgment against rebellious men, but His redemptive love always provides a way of escape. Whether it’s a mountaintop showdown, a boy raised from the dead, a vision of guardian angels, or a prophet commanded to marry a woman who would become unfaithful, God is always telling His Upper Story of redemption and compassion through His messengers.

What are some different ways the Lord shows us his love and grace each day when we don't deserve it?

Chapter 14: A Kingdom Torn in Two

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Solomon, whose name means peace, found peace slipping away during the final years of his reign. His son Rehoboam was to take his place as ruler over the 12 tribes of Israel. A large party of disgruntled leaders led by Jeroboam showed up at Rehoboam’s coronation ceremony requesting that he grant relief from the heavy burden of taxation and forced labor that Solomon had placed on them. Rehoboam rejected the counsel of the experienced elders and took the advice of his immature peers who theorized that bullying and intimidation were better leadership tactics than servanthood. Rehoboam promised even heavier taxation and more forced labor. With one decision, the nation divided and its fate was sealed.

Only Rehoboam’s tribe of Judah remained loyal to him. The other 10 tribes to the north seceded, took the name of Israel and made Jeroboam their king. Instead of appreciating the gracious gift of God, Jeroboam, like Aaron centuries before, set up idols of counterfeit worship, leading Israel into idolatry. God sent a prophet who warned of judgment for their idolatry and predicted that someday a king named Josiah, a descendant of David, would destroy their pagan worship sites (this was fulfilled 290 years later). As a sign to authenticate his message, the pagan altar split in two and Jeroboam’s outstretched hand turned leprous.

This did little to curb Jeroboam’s pagan practices. When his son became ill, he sent his wife in disguise to the prophet Ahijah to inquire about their son’s fate. Though blind, Ahijah’s spiritual sight was 20-20.  He not only saw through the charade, but gave Jeroboam’s wife a message of doom predicting that her husband’s dynasty would soon end and Israel would one day be carried away into captivity. The message of doom was to be authenticated with the death of their son as soon as her footsteps crossed the entrance to the palace. And so it came to pass.

God’s chosen people were now committing the same idolatrous and immoral practices that compelled God to purge the land of its Canaanite inhabitants in the first place. God’s righteousness and covenant loyalty moved Him to jealous anger. Rehoboam allowed Judah to fall into the same idolatry as the North.  The golden years of peace faded further when God judged Judah by using Shishak, king of Egypt. He attacked Judah and carried off the all of the gold and silver treasures. Rehoboam replaced them with bronze, but the decline in moral and spiritual values was even sharper than the drop in value from gold to bronze.

The Lower Story is primarily a list of idolatrous kings who lead both Judah and Israel further and further away from God. Abijah son of Rehoboam became the next king of Judah. His tenure was short and sinful like his father’s. No good kings reigned in Israel after the split of the kingdom. Things went from bad to worse with the house of Omri. His evil son King Ahab and her royal wickedness Queen Jezebel drove Israel to new lows in idolatry.

But in the Upper Story, we see two things: First, those who reject the LORD will reap His grim judgment. But second, this judgment is always designed to redirect His people and produce repentance back toward the God who still relentlessly pursues His people, through prophets like Ahijah and kings like Asa who forged a path for people to find their way back to Him. The era of the kings, despite their terrible freedom, inaugurates a path to the King of Kings, who would redeem not just this era of division and strife, but every age from everlasting to everlasting.

What is the standard used in this chapter for a good king? What kind of standards are YOU setting for the generations that will follow YOU?

To watch this week's services, click here: https://wesleyonline.org/sermons/a-kingdom-torn-in-two/

Chapter 13: The King Who Had It All

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The “man after God’s own heart” had known seasons of triumph and tragedy, yet his legacy is marked by overall faithfulness and trust that God would keep His word. David’s story closes with instruction and warning for his son, Solomon, who was already poised to carry on the heritage. David charged the new king with the divinely appointed task of leading God’s chosen nation and urged him to “walk in His ways,” so their family would “never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel,” as God had promised.

Solomon’s reign began with a series of defining events. He married the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and ironically, the nation that had once enslaved Israel now sought the good graces of God’s people. Then God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered to grant his heart’s desire. Solomon asked for wisdom to lead and God was pleased to grant this request and gave him wealth and honor as well. His wisdom was quickly tested when two prostitute mothers fought over a son. Solomon correctly judged in favor of the true mother and his people held him in awe. Solomon’s keen wisdom became the hallmark of his reign and gave him insight into human nature. He penned thousands of proverbs that gained him an international reputation. People from around the world sought him out and Abraham’s descendants became a blessing to the whole world as Solomon demonstrated that the cornerstone of all wisdom is a holy fear of God.

During Solomon’s reign, peace prevailed in the Promised Land. The time had come to build a temple for God. The construction project was massive and followed the pattern of the tabernacle that had been used since the days of Moses. The end result was as majestic as one could imagine. With great reverence, Solomon had the ark placed in the Most Holy Place. The temple was filled with a cloud of God’s glory and Solomon humbly realized that even a magnificent temple could not sufficiently contain Him. Still, the temple would become the enduring focal point of worship and life for God’s people.

Following the dedication of the temple, God appeared to Solomon and warned him of the consequences Israel would face if they turned away from Him. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land” (p. 188). He also promised Solomon a royal dynasty in Israel if the king remained faithful. But if Israel followed other gods, God’s people would be cut off from the land.

King Solomon experienced phenomenal success. His wealth and wisdom were legendary. His reign was marked by peace and prosperity. But all of Solomon’s insight and riches could not make up for his choice to collect wives like gold. He married hundreds of women, many of them foreigners. Just like God had said, his foreign wives “turned his heart after other gods.” This single decision shaped the future of his descendants and of the nation of Israel.

Solomon’s story began with great promise, incomparable wisdom and magnificent achievement. His father and grandfather had also started out well, but the way each of them ended was disappointing. There are no final words of wisdom recorded for the wisest king of all time. Instead, his closing chapter reveals that the kingdom would be torn in two. Solomon spent his last days fighting off enemies and rebels. His splendor and his legacy were tarnished by disobedience and idolatry. What a sad ending for the king who had it all, but ultimately failed in the only thing that really mattered: finishing well.

How can you avoid pride in your life?

To watching this week's sermon, click here: https://wesleyonline.org/sermons/the-king-who-had-it-all/

Chapter 12: The Trials of a King

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David was voted least likely among his brothers to be anointed king. He was the last person on the battlefront you’d pick to play the hero’s part, but David was the underdog who overcame. He confronted lions, giants and kings with bare hands and bold faith. At last, the man after God’s own heart became the man on Israel’s throne.

But kings who stay home from battle are seldom at rest. David’s eyes wandered and so did his heart. He summoned the very lovely and very married Bathsheba to his palace and then into his bed. When Bathsheba sent word she was pregnant, David turned his strategy tactics toward her husband, Uriah.

He called Uriah home from the battlefield to visit his wife, expecting a night together would position Uriah as the father-to-be. The plan failed, so David concocted a surefire Plan B. He sent Uriah back to the frontlines carrying his own death warrant: an order for General Joab to engineer a battlefield “accident” and guarantee Uriah’s death. The plan worked. David married Bathsheba and went back to the business of the kingdom.

Then Nathan, the prophet, came to the palace. Guilty kings never fare well when prophets arrive for a visit. Nathan told a parable and pointed the finger of blame squarely in David’s face. He asserted, “You are the man!” and David knew he’d met his match. The man after God’s own heart had become the man with blood on his hands. David and Bathsheba’s marriage feasting turned quickly into mourning the death of their son. David repented of his sin and God forgave him. They had a second son named Solomon, which means peace.

Sadly, David was a better king than father. David’s sin was forgiven, but its aftermath was calamitous.  His son, Absalom, attempted to usurp the throne and his rise to power resulted in a rebellion. David instructed his troops to be gentle with his proud son, perhaps because he connected the dots between Absalom’s behavior and his own failures as a father. But the clash between David’s army and Absalom’s rebels was brutal. When Absalom was found hanging from a tree limb, Joab seized the moment and killed the conspirator. King David mourned in anguish when he heard the news.

David’s closing chapter turns the page from battles to building. He knew that his son, Solomon, would build a house for God, so he did all he could to prepare the way. From the overflow of David’s heart came the emptying of his bank account. Others followed the king’s example and gave willingly to build God’s temple. King David’s story draws to a close with poetic psalms of praise, reminders of faithfulness to Solomon, and his sights set on living “in the house of the LORD forever.”

David’s Lower Story places the spotlight on one man’s sin and its tragic consequences. Yet it also beams with the offer of forgiveness and redemption. God’s grand Upper Story reminds us that no one is righteous on their own. God’s promise to David (p.159) pointed across a millennium to a sinless King of Kings; no end of righteousness, no end of peace, and the redemption of all things.

How do we seek forgiveness in our relationship with God and in our relationships with others?

To watch this week's services, click here: https://wesleyonline.org/sermons/the-trials-of-a-king/

Chapter 11: From Shepherd to King

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Saul was a man’s man. He was tall, handsome, kingly and impressive…a likely choice for a king. He was just what Israel wanted. Trouble was, Saul was not God’s man. King Saul cut corners on God’s commands, so God cut Saul out of the picture and set His sights on a king who was, at the moment, singing songs and tending flocks in a nearby pasture.

God’s ordination began in the unlikeliest of places: the humble house of Jesse in a less than notable village called Bethlehem. Seven of Jesse’s sons were paraded before Samuel, but none were chosen. The youngest brother, David, had not been invited but was easily found with  the sheep. After being summoned from the fields, the choice was immediate: David was anointed by Samuel to replace King Saul. The boy then did what any responsible shepherd would do: he returned to tending his sheep.

Life was quiet for the newly anointed boy king until he was once again called from the fields, this time to supply his brothers on the frontlines of battle against the Philistine army. When he arrived, David saw what everyone else did not: an opportunity for God’s power to be displayed. Armed with a slingshot, five pebbles, and an extraordinary faith, he faced down Goliath…and won. The Philistine’s superhero lost his head while his army lost their courage and ran!

David’s days in the pastures were over. Saul brought him into the king’s court and assigned him a high rank over military operations. David was well liked and successful in all his pursuits. He eventually married Saul’s daughter, Michal, and became best of friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan. But his success planted an irreversible seed of jealousy in Saul, to the point where he tried repeatedly to murder David.

David fled for his life and days in the palace came to a close. Still, his popularity grew. Unfortunately, so did Saul’s fear and irrational behavior. His thirst for David’s blood quickly turned to obsession. Saul and his army pursued David and killed 85 Levite priests in the process because they had fed and sheltered the fugitive. On one occasion, David had an opportunity to kill Saul, but he refused out of respect for the man whom God had anointed king. He chose, instead, to extend mercy and grace to Saul who tearfully confessed, “You are more righteous than I…I know that you will surely be king” (p. 154). Saul’s new lease on life was as short as his fuse and the chase quickly resumed.

David found consolation by journaling his fears and his faith in his psalms. Saul’s obsessive pursuit of David blinded him to the fact that the Philistine armies were once again on the attack. They prevailed and Saul and his sons were killed. Israel was defeated and David was left to mourn the staggering losses.

It was another seven years before David was recognized as king over all Israel. He became the military, civil, and spiritual leader. He conquered the city of Jerusalem, made it his capital city, and then brought the Ark of the Covenant there with great fanfare. All Israel joined him except his wife Michal, whose empty heart left her with an empty womb.

David was home at last. His first desire was to build a house, a temple, for God. Instead, God told David, “The LORD will build a house for you” (p. 159). God made a covenant with David and promised him a house (an eternal dynasty), a throne (royal authority), and a kingdom (rule on earth). David responded as usual with awestruck worship and gratitude, knowing that distant generations of his own family would welcome the King whose reign would never end. Though David may not have fully recognized it at the time, he had indeed built a house for God…the temple of his heart.

What giants do you need to face with God's help?

To watch this week's services, click here: https://wesleyonline.org/sermons/when-you-face-a-giant/

Chapter 10: Standing Tall, Falling Hard

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Blessing. This was meant to be the distinguishing mark of the people of God. God’s covenant with Israel required obedience and promised ultimate blessing. Yet, the period of the judges is anything but a time of obedience and blessing in Israel. More fitting descriptions are: Barrenness. Blindness. Battles. Bereavement. Blessing was hard to come by in those days. God’s people had abandoned God Himself, and “everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Few remembered God’s commands. Even fewer obeyed.

But God always has a few. One was a woman named Hannah. She had long endured the grief of being barren accompanied by the taunts of her husband’s other wife. On one of her visits to worship at God’s house in Shiloh, Eli, the priest, mistook her devotion for drunkenness. She had poured out her heart first in desperate prayer and then to Eli and vowed that she would dedicate her son to the LORD. Eli assured her that her prayer would be heard. God did give Hannah a son and she kept her word. She named the boy Samuel and took him to serve in the tabernacle under the High Priest, Eli.

God spoke to Samuel one night when he was still a boy. God told Samuel that Eli and his sons would be judged and his priestly line would soon end. And as it always does, God’s word came true, this time through the Philistines. Israel lost their first battle with the Philistines at Aphek and blamed their loss on the absence of the ark of covenant. Their own absence of obedience went unnoticed. They faced the Philistine army again, this time with the ark as their good luck charm and lost both the battle and the ark. Eli had grown old and blind, and the devastating news of Israel’s defeat, the death of his sons, and the loss of the ark of covenant left Eli dead on the spot.

Samuel took Eli’s place, but Israel was dissatisfied and asked for a king. Samuel knew better and expressed his opposition. God knew He’d been rejected. Israel knew only that they wanted to be like their pagan neighbors, the very people they were not to emulate. God warned that their demand for a king would be costly; that he would exploit them to the point of slavery. The people ignored God’s warnings and still insisted on having an earthly king to fight their battles. Saul was anointed by Samuel and began well. He was affirmed by miraculous signs from God. He fought the Ammonites and gave God credit for their victory. Samuel reminded the people that God had not rejected them, even though they had turned away from Him. He encouraged them again to follow God and serve him from the heart and God affirmed Samuel’s words with unheard of thunder and rain during harvest.

Saul’s honeymoon as king was short-lived. During another battle with the Philistines, Saul got nervous; Samuel was late. So Saul took his authority too far and took matters—and offerings—into his own hands, violating the role God had reserved for the priests. Samuel confronted Saul; he backpedaled, made excuses, and tried to justify his sin, but wound up losing a dynasty. Saul’s path of half-hearted obedience and fear-based leadership grew longer by the year and more twisted with every step.

God rejected Saul as king. Saul’s reign was Israel’s opportunity to see that monarchy is no better than anarchy when a man after God’s own heart is not on the throne. God had already chosen such a man, an unlikely shepherd boy who would one day become Saul’s successor. His throne would endure and would point God’s people again to the Shepherd King who was yet to come.

Samuel is hurt when he sees that the Israelites want a king like other nations, instead of recognizing God as their king. Do you ever struggle with a desire to be like the culture around you, instead of letting God rule your life?

To watch this week's services, click here: https://wesleyonline.org/sermons/when-god-calls/

Chapter 9: The Faith of a Foreign Woman

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The story of Israel’s judges closes with a line that could just as well be the opening for the story of Ruth: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). God’s chosen ones looked more like a reality show gone wrong than a holy beacon of hope. They had abandoned God’s plan (again) and had become moral misfits and spiritual adulterers. The light had gone out on God’s people. Then a foreigner stepped onto the stage and a candle of hope flickered once again.

The story of Ruth is a literary and redemptive gem that glimmers against a backdrop of blackness. In the opening scene, Naomi’s family caravanned away from the Promised Land where famine had left them hungry for food and for hope. They settled in Moab where idol worship was the prevailing ritual and God seemed far away. Naomi’s two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The weddings were too quickly followed by funerals—three of them. Naomi’s husband died first. Soon after, both of her sons died too. And all that was left were three widows, no children, and no prospects. The prospects were indeed grim.

Naomi heard the famine had lifted and decided to return to Bethlehem. She sent her daughters-in-law back to their homes where they might find new husbands. Ruth expressed her strong will and even stronger faith by refusing to leave. Her poetic declaration of loyalty and commitment offers the first sign of hope: “Where you go, I will go; your people will be my people and your God my God” (p. 122). The duo of widows made the journey back to the Land of Promise where the only hope was mere survival.

Once there, Ruth exercised a widow’s right to gather the extra grain from the fields. Her field of choice just happened to be the farmstead of a godly man named Boaz. He also happened to be a family guardian who could carry on the heritage of Naomi’s deceased husband and sons. He noticed Ruth from the start and admired the way she worked to provide for her aging mother-in-law. Boaz offered his help and protection; Ruth noticed him too.

Jewish law required a family guardian to redeem both a widow and her land to preserve the family line. So, as was the custom, Naomi told Ruth to offer herself in marriage to Boaz. He was delighted, but also knew of a closer relative who had the right of first refusal. That man chose to forfeit Naomi’s land since it also meant he would have to marry Ruth, which might threaten the inheritance he would pass along to his own children. Neither Boaz nor Ruth was disappointed by his choice since his refusal paved the way for Boaz to fulfill his role as a family guardian or “kinsman redeemer.” Boaz gladly married Ruth and redeemed the family’s land. God cheerfully restored Naomi and planted a family tree: Ruth and Boaz to Obed to  Jesse to King David and eventually, Jesus.

There’s no denying this story as a great romance. But even more, it brings us to a defining episode in the greatest love story ever told. Boaz’s love for Ruth is a mirror image of the heart of God. Boaz steps in as a willing kinsmen redeemer and foreshadows One who would step in as the Redeemer for all people. So, it turns out that even the “not so chosen” are chosen after all. God’s plan will overwhelm every obstacle, overturn every injustice and overcome completely in the end. Soon, we’ll see that God is writing a happily ever after for this story after all.

How can you see God's fingerprints in some of the ways he provides for you?

To watch this week's services, click here: https://wesleyonline.org/sermons/how-different-is-too-different/

Chapter 8: A Few Good Men....and Women

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The nation of Israel had a place to call home at last. Settling into the Promised Land enabled them to leave behind their wandering ways and fulfill one of the key promises to Abraham: a land for God’s people to occupy. But, failing to evict the Canaanites from the land, these pagan neighbors became a toxic influence on a nation called to be different.

After the death of Joshua, God’s people felt this pull of worldly culture and a destructive pattern emerged:

  • Israel turned again and again to the worship of pagan gods.
  • God brought divine judgment.
  • Israel cried out for God’s help.
  • God raised up a judge to save them.

This cycle of sin became the pattern of life in Israel for the next 300 years.

Early on, Israel was conquered by the Canaanite king, Jabin. God appointed Deborah, a prophet, judge, and strong leader to deliver her people. She and her military leader, Barak, defeated the powerful Canaanite army led by Sisera. He escaped and took refuge in the tent of a woman named Jael, who killed him while he slept. Israel had been delivered for now, but the cycle would continue.

Israel was later oppressed by the Midianites. God called Gideon out of nowhere to deliver His people. Gideon was pretty sure that God has mistaken him for some well-built four-star Israelite commander and asked twice for a miraculous sign. God confirmed His intentions and Gideon gathered 32,000 troops to take on the vast Midianite army. God, however, trimmed their forces to just 300 men. He used them to rout the Midianites and the people enjoyed freedom…for a while.

The cycle continued and Israel was soon dominated by the Philistines. This time God prepared a deliverer by promising a child to a barren woman. This child, Samson, was to be raised as a Nazirite, who was set apart to God.  His hair was not to be cut and he was to drink no wine. He was well known for his superhuman strength and less than super character, especially in the company of beautiful women.  His second wife, Delilah, betrayed him by cutting his hair so he would forfeit his advantage and God’s favor.  Samson himself embodied this insidious cycle that had enslaved Israel, with his saw-tooth history of indiscretions and victories.

As a result, the Philistines took him captive and gouged out his eyes. But his hair grew back, and his strength returned. Samson’s last day was his best one. He was brought into the Philistine temple to entertain their leaders. He prayed to the LORD, collapsed the pillars of the temple and defeated the Philistines at last.

God is never bashful about His intentions for His people. He never tolerates sin and, at the same time, never breaks His covenant with His people. Israel may not have fully understood God’s discipline, but over and over He had to bring them to their knees in order to bring them to Himself.

False gods trigger a cycle: a web of sin, God’s judgments, crying out for help, and God providing deliverance. What are some destructive cycles you have seen in your own life?

To watch this week's services, click here: https://wesleyonline.org/sermons/what-can-we-learn-from-samson/

Chapter 7: The Battle Begins

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Israel had spent the last 40 years on a road to nowhere. A lot can change in 40 years. All of the people who were slaves in Egypt had died, except for two, Joshua and Caleb. Moses had died too. Joshua had been his right-hand man and he was Israel’s new leader. The wilderness of disobedience and defeat was behind them now and a new generation camped at Canaan’s edge.

A lot had changed during the wilderness years, but God had not. The promise He’d made to Abraham over 600 years before was about to turn into reality. The LORD spoke to Joshua saying, “Be strong and courageous, for I am with you. Be careful to obey my law” (p. 89). Joshua listened well. He had spied out the land as a young man and trusted God to give it to them as He’d promised. Now he sent two spies into Jericho to appraise the land. They were hidden in the house of Rahab, a prostitute who protected them from the king of Jericho. She boldly confessed her faith in the LORD as the one true God who had given the land to Israel. The spies responded to her faith by agreeing to save her whole family when they attacked Jericho.

This new generation of Israelites had heard the stories about crossing the Red Sea on dry land; now, their first steps into the Promised Land were taken across another patch of dry land when God parted the Jordan River – another highway leading into God’s promise.

When they reached Jericho, the military strategy was unorthodox. The priests marched the Ark of the Covenant around Jericho’s walls each day for six days. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times. Their parade concluded with the sound of trumpets and shouts as they completed a seventh circle around the city. Amazingly, the walls of Jericho collapsed! Jericho was destroyed and Rahab and her family were saved.

The land of Canaan was a place of conquest and victory for Israel. When Israel obeyed, God faithfully delivered her enemies into her hands. When they failed to trust Him, they missed out on the fulfillment of those promises. Even the temporary defeat at Ai caused by disobedience was later turned to victory when the people followed God’s command. In the annihilation of entire cities, we see God’s holy intolerance of sin. In the account of Gibeon, we see God’s mercy extended to a people who were willing to follow the true God. After taking the entire region by force, Joshua divided up the land by tribe as Israel’s inheritance.

The chapter closes with Joshua’s final words as he recounts the stories of God’s faithfulness and deliverance. God will keep His promises. He will also let us choose whether or not we will participate in the blessings of His promises. These stories of God’s people are our stories too and, like Joshua, we must “choose this day whom [we] will serve.” Joshua stated he and his “household [would] serve the LORD” (p. 101). What will you choose?

The Israelites needed 3 things to succeed in taking possession of the Promised Land. They needed to be people:

  1. Of the Word
  2. Of prayer
  3. Identified with God

Which of these things do you think you need to put more focus on in your life this week? 

To watch this week's services click here: https://wesleyonline.org/sermons/the-battle-begins-possessing-your-future/