So light a match, leave the past, burn the ships, And don't you look back
~ For King And Country
Our family has been studying the book of Judges. More broadly, we have been studying the history of the church. It is mind bending to see how strongly culture has impacted God's people since the beginning of time. God's word is clear as to how He instructs us to live, but there is always another voice. One seeks to save, love and protect us, but the other is unrelenting in it's desire to corrupt us, destroy us and ultimately separate us from God. We saw the first example of this in Eden with the serpent. Evil will always vie for our attention and is very creative in how to grab it. This week we have been looking at Gideon. Judges 6 is a really inspiring account. It opens with Gideon threshing wheat in a wine press in hopes of avoiding conflict. Israel had come under attack from the people of Midyan for seven years because they were chasing other Gods. Judges 6:10 and I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live.” But you have not obeyed Me." The Israelites lived in Egypt for hundreds of years. The worship of Baal caught fire there around 1400 B.C. which gave the Israelites a very long time to steep in this practice before the exodus. They adopted many of the Egyptian's customs, of which it seems Baal was one. As for Gideon, because of the persecution from Midyan, the Israelites were living in caves, mountains and other safe places. It seems he was just trying to do his job and stay safe as a wine press likely would have been somewhat out of sight. As he was working, an angel appeared to him and called him to save Israel from the hands of Midyan to which he informs the angel that he is the youngest person in the weakest clan in Manasseh. A.K.A. I am nothing, I have nothing, you have the wrong guy. I think many of us can relate to Gideon here. It would be a rare person who has never come up against a situation that felt bigger than their ability and resources. The encouragement? God has a habit of using ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Fast forward, after the angel's encouraging words that they will come out from under their oppression and physical proof of the authenticity of the angel, Gideon is in. Wasting no time The Lord spoke to him that night. He instructs him to destroy his father's alter for Baal and the Ashera pole beside it. Baal was considered the god of fertility and Ashera was the goddess of fertility. They were kind of peanut butter and jelly as far as paganism goes and as such were often worshiped together. What did Baal/Ashera worship look like??? Orgies, bisexuality, infant sacrifice by burning them alive and more performed at the alters to get good crops... Everything about this is an offense to God. Offense meaning, He hates it. Yet, it is prolific throughout the Bible. God keeps stamping it out and Israel keeps bringing it back. Sex sells and Baal worship offered every and any type of depravity, even to the priests who were very involved in the rituals. It is shocking to me that they were head scratching as to why God would not save them from their distress, but back to Gideon. Under cover of darkness Gideon does what God instructed him to do. He destroyed the alter to Baal, cut down the Ashera, built a proper alter to God, and offered a burnt offering to God using the Ashera as firewood. The next morning when the men of the city got up and found their shrine of debauchery destroyed, they sought out the culprit. After investigating they realized it was Gideon and gathered at his house to demand his father Joash hand him over to be killed. Joash refused saying let Baal revenge himself. "After all, somebody destroyed his alter." As you have likely guessed, Baal is silent. Gideon lives and goes on to do some pretty terrific things. Not surprising considering who was with him. Between 800 & 900 B.C. much of the influence of Baal was successfully rooted out from Israel by Jehu who tore down his temple and made a latrine of the remains. 2 Kings 10:27. Seems a fitting end-ish, as it does rear it's head again and continues around 70 years, but is then stamped out again under the rule of Josiah 2 Kings 22->. He rooted it out and "broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes which were in the house of the Lord." 2 Kings 23:7 In essence they had whore houses in God's Church.... In case you wondered what happens when sin goes unchecked. Idol worship and the way it upsets God is throughout the Bible and predates the Israelite's stint in Egypt. Genesis 31 is a great example of this. It is however stunning how they incorporated paganism into their worship of God. It is a slippery slope. You see growth from a set of ideas and ways of being, to a carved pole, to an alter, to a temple alongside, to alters, Ashera poles and whore houses inside of God's temple. Are we immune? Are we worshiping the God of the Bible or our own ideals. What forms our expectation of the "church experience?" Is it God's Holy Word or the surrounding culture? I am sure Christ's disciples are glad for Gideon, Jehu and Josiah's efforts to bring purity back to the worship of God. This tugging of peoples hearts back to the word has occurred since the beginning of time. As humans we get distracted and God says over here! Keep your eyes on my word. Why was Israel told in Deut 6 that the Lord is One and we are to love Him with all of our hearts, soul and strength. They were also told to tie these words on their hands, heads and write them on their door frames. God knew what was coming. He is God. His words would have safeguarded them, if they listened and thought about them. As Christians we are given a similar reminder from Christ. Like His Father He used simple elements. When ever you break this bread. Whenever you drink of this cup. Remember me. 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 Christ went through torment, a savage death and lived a selfless life to reform a very corrupt and broken church and make a way for everyone to be saved. One of the most powerful parts of the crucifixion story to me is when the temple curtain was torn in two. Guesstimates are that it was 60 feet long. Can you imagine what that looked like? The reactions of those there as it tore by an unseen force? At Christ's crucifixion the sky darkens for hours and upon His death the earth shakes and an enormous curtain meant to separate the people from God is torn in two...Mat 27:45-54 Checkmate. Judaism's tyrannical hold on God's people was no more for those who accepted Christ. You would imagine this would be met with reverence and fear, but instead they attempt the biggest cover up in the history of the world including, but not limited to, paying off the guards to say Christ's body was stolen. Mat 28:12-13 So, How are we doing? If you look at the first century church, does it seem in step with your worship? Out of respect for His sacrifice, let's take a large step back. What does this new church God established look like? First, the church is not a building, it is God's people wherever they gather. A building, though handy, does not designate a people of God. 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 Second, they should meet on the Sabbath. That is the seventh day, which is Saturday. The Catholic church changed it to Sunday. This is a historical fact and a place where culture has strongly impacted the church. God blessed and sanctified the seventh day. Gen 2:3 It was set aside for rest, fellowship and coming together as a church to worship God. The Catholic church states that they transferred that solemnity to Sunday. If you are Catholic you will be glad to roll with that, for those that are not ... Why adhere to a perversion of God's word established hundreds of years ago by a corrupt church? Third, the first church was not eating wafers and thimbles of juice at fellowship. That's communion for mice. They broke bread together. They spent hours together being taught, eating and talking. They were in each others lives. They were a family of believers, not just congregants. Fourth, men are pastors and deacons. 1 Tim 3 Deaconesses and female pastors do not exist in the Bible. They should not exist in churches. Women are a great blessing in God's church and there are many roles appropriate for them, but leading church is not one. Additionally, money corrupts. This has become abundantly evident in the church. A pastor wrote the other day on social media about a corrupt pastor saying "when will corruption in ministry end?" To which I wrote, "take away the salaries and I assure you that many of these corrupt teachers will fall away." Christ was a carpenter and Paul was a tent maker. 1 Thes 2:9 I am not saying that people should not give to those in ministry as they feel led to. We have given and continue to give, as we feel called, be it to missionaries, churches, people wanting to attend events geared at spiritual growth but finding themselves without means, or just brothers or sisters falling on challenging times. It is good and right to support God's work on this earth and care for His children. I do however believe a person becoming a pastor with "expectation" of compensation is a breeding ground for insincere people to take a job rather than a person following a sincere calling from the Lord to serve His people. This is in no way meant to discredit Pastors who love the Lord are truly following God's calling and are in full time ministry. We have been blessed to know some. It is just a recognition that pastoring for pay is a broken system and leaves a lot of room for corruption. It has let many wolves into the sheep pen. 2 Cor 2:17 So, what does a first century church look like? In the words of a great pastor, "it is easy to say what it didn't look like right?" It didn't look like smoke and lights worship with paid worship pastors. It didn't have a bookstore in the lobby or concession stand. I have sadly seen both. To our thoughts, it was and should be Col 3:16. Followers of God united in their love for Him. It should look like families gathering together on the Sabbath to "break bread" ie bagels, cinnamon rolls, etc, worship with song, the reading of scripture and exchanging of ideas... Additionally, it is a community in and of itself that purposes to find opportunities throughout the week to get together and encourage one another with prayer time, women's studies, men's studies and for us it also includes thoughtfully planned children's activities that demonstrate to children that they are treasured by God and a very special part of His Kingdom. It is a place where awesome Christ honoring friendships are commonplace. It is a place where God's word is looked to as the standard and not simply a guidebook. Does this describe your fellowship? If yes, huzzah for you, yours and the kingdom of God. That is a tremendous gift. If not, perhaps it is time to burn those poles. As a family, we have done this. A common military practice of long ago was burning the ships as an army disembarked giving them no hope of returning without victory. We have done that as we searched for a New Testament church and were found wanting. We found a church that had most on straight but a few things very off. The closer we got the more clear it became. We did the responsible thing and brought our observations up to the church leaders. A few acknowledged the dysfunction and inappropriateness of things that we drew attention to, but also stated this is how it has been done for many years and now was essentially ecclesiastical polity and so would not likely be changed. Wow. Yes, it is against the Bible. No we will not change it as it has been like this a very long time. I want to encourage anyone reading this to choose God. You may be in France and we may never meet on this side of eternity, but at some point, as a people of God, we need to stand up and say enough. Almost is not good enough. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord! Even if it is just my family. Maybe wherever you are it is just you. Seek out other believers. Use social media, meet up platforms, etc... Burn your ships, pray in earnest and find your tribe. God is faithful. If you need an ear to bend, we are here. Please reach out. We look forward to hearing from you. :)
But if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served, which were beyond the Euphrates River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Jonah has been on my heart lately. Our girls love this story. I think it takes a child's mind to fantastic places if you graze over the story without digging too deep. As a curious adult, I dig. Jonah opens with Jonah 1:1-3 The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry out against it, because their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship that was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and boarded it to go with them to Tarshish away from the presence of the Lord. This book jumps right in. The whole account is so short and has a don't blink or you'll miss it feeling, but I have been fed so much by this tiny book. So many life lessons. I also love the scriptures where you hear God speak conversationally. It really allows me to see God's heart. The book opens with Jonah running from God. He very clearly didn't want to go to Nineveh. It was a city full of a people known for their savage brutality. Skinning people alive and slicing open pregnant women to destroy both mother and child type brutal, so though some may say, "He tried to run from God!?!" (Lesson 1, you can't Psalm 139) many would have helped him tie his laces. You get a sense that he knew running away from God was futile in that as the ship hit a storm that threatened to break the ship apart, he went below deck and went to sleep. I have to believe alcohol was involved... Through a drawing of lots they found this calamity was because of him and after they found and woke him, they asked who he was and what he had done. He told them he was a Hebrew, he feared God and that they should throw him into the sea and the sea would become calm because it was his fault the storm had come. They prayed, threw him in and the sea became calm. Raging storm ripping your ship apart to calm seas in an instant = sailors so stunned and fearful of the Lord that they made vows and offered sacrifices. Jonah made a poor decision in disobeying God, but he impacted the lives of those sailors when he confessed and acted faithfully. Lesson 2, God can turn a mess into a message, no matter how messy the circumstances. This is good since this is about to get very messy. The Bible states in Jonah 1:17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Lesson 3, God always has a plan. There is so much speculation about what this "great fish was," but in reality, it's inconsequential to the message. It was a fish prepared by God for this purpose. It may not have even existed before that day. He is God. He can do things like that. Also may have been the first and last of it's kind. In the second chapter Jonah seems to chronicle his experience. As he prayed from the creatures insides, he summarized that he was thrown in the sea by God, though it was the sailors, followed by being tossed around and overcome by the waves, seaweed was wrapped around his head, but God rescued him from the deep. He seems to realize in his distress the peace and protection he has in knowing God and acknowledges that those who worship vain idols are turning from God. He also vows to do his duty to God as salvation is from the Lord. This is immediately followed by God speaking to the fish and having it vomit him up onto dry land. He was in that fish three days and three nights. That is a long time to be in a fish. I imagine at first he was in despair, but eventually he prayed that prayer and pop, out he came. I can imagine the fish swimming up and down along the shoreline of Nineveh waiting. God also seemed to be waiting for Jonah to recommit himself to following Him. Jonah's release was just one contrite spirit's prayer away. Lesson 4, prayer is powerful James 5:16 In chapter 3 Jonah walks through Nineveh proclaiming God's judgement is coming in 40 days. The whole city repents, fasts, and wears sackcloth in hope that God would change His mind. He does. These were a vicious people. In fact the kings decree to all the people in hope of being forgiven included turning from their evil ways and violence they practiced. Lesson 5, God is a loving Father and possesses an incredible capacity for mercy and forgiveness. The Ninevites did atrocious things, but God forgave them. This angered Jonah. In the fourth chapter we get down to brass tacks and see Jonah explain that he knew God is compassionate, merciful, slow to anger, rich in grace and that He relents from inflicting punishment. For this reason he fled to Tarshish and then basically explained that he would rather be dead than see the city go unpunished.... God asked Him if it was right for him to be so angry to which there is no recorded response. He simply left the city, made himself a shelter and sat under it to see what happened to Nineveh. God made a plant grow to comfort him and Jonah was pleased, but at dawn God sent a worm that attacked it so it dried up. Jonah gets so angry he is once again asking to die to which God points out he is upset about a plant but expects Him not to be upset about the over 120,000 people of Nineveh, who don't know their left hand from their right. Showing His grace and recognition of their ignorance. He also mentions concern for the animals. Do you see Him? That is our Father. Our amazing, loving and abounding in grace Father. Jonah ends abruptly. Maybe Jonah had his prayer answered and left this world that day. Maybe. This book is entitled Jonah, but to me, this is more a portrait of God and His wondrous love for His people. It also offers the challenge to love like God seeing people who are acting wrongly as broken and lost, not enemies.
There were those who lived in darkness and in the shadow of death, Prisoners in misery and chains, Because they had rebelled against the words of God And rejected the plan of the Most High. Therefore He humbled their heart with labor; They stumbled and there was no one to help. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them from their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death And broke their bands apart. They shall give thanks to the Lord for His mercy, And for His wonders to the sons of mankind! For He has shattered gates of bronze And cut off bars of iron. Fools, because of their rebellious way, And because of their guilty deeds, were afflicted.Their souls loathed all kinds of food,And they came close to the gates of death. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them from their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, And saved them from their destruction. They shall give thanks to the Lord for His mercy, And for His wonders to the sons of mankind! They shall also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, And tell of His works with joyful singing.
I met my beloved about 32 years ago when I was 14. I am so glad we met as teens. We were old enough to know ourselves, but young enough that the world and it's leanings stayed far outside our circle of influence. I think as you get older things can get in the way of knowing if you are a good match. Priorities shift. Many marry for wrong reasons. Status, finances, social pressure, career, convenience, etc. can steer you in the wrong direction. My husband showed me a post the other day. An acquaintance of ours announced she's getting a divorce. They have been married two years and after a period of separation they have found they are happier apart. She still loves him very much and wishes him well. I don't know the details, but this scenario has become pretty common. Couples even throw divorce parties? It makes me sad. I feel like marriage is being embraced with a disposable mentality. Rob is a realtor and there is a palpable difference between renters and buyers. When he has shared stories about showing rentals most people know what their basic needs are. In today's market it has become, okay, this meets us where we are. It's clean. It serves the function and the area looks good. Then they toss out an ap to see if the owner feels the same about them. If so, they are in until they move on to something different. People looking to buy? Different animal. What is the neighborhood like? Do people take care of their properties? What are the schools like? Do they treat the kids well? We don't have kids, but some day.. Also, what about the house? What are it's needs? What is under that carpet? They most often pay someone to inspect it top to bottom. They carefully look to find the best person to do this to prevent headaches in the future. Very often they will have a trusted relative like Dad look it over with them... I feel like now a days many people approach marriage with a renters mentality. It wasn't designed to be that way. It is meant to be a forever relationship met with similar scrutiny of buying a house. For those considering marriage, neighborhood can easily be equated to your intended's family. You will conceivably be spending a lot of time with them. Your children too. Be aware of that. It can also equate to personality. So many people go into relationships with intentions of changing the other person. This is disastrous. I spoke to a girl weeks before her wedding. She was exasperated because her guy needed to be picked up from the bar... again. I asked her, do you really want this to be your life? I was about 18, but I could see the book before it was written. It was all over her face when she got the phone call from the bar keeper. "He will change..." He did. Not soon enough to avoid divorce. Another friend married someone mentally unstable assuming a change of environment would fix the psychological issues. It did not. Do not marry someone for who you can change them into. Marry someone for who they are. Any other approach is unrealistic and unfair to the other individual. Marriage is not signing up for a makeover. Imagine those vows... I will love, honor you and make you over into the person I require you to become in order for me to be content. It would be a rare wedding that would make it to the reception. Just be honest, before you get engaged. I have two of the cutest cats. I bathe them often and if you came over to our home you would want to pet them and maybe take them home. They are sweethearts, but what visitors don't see is the occasional hairball... They will likely never step on that wet, slimy, hairy ball of mess with a bare foot as they rub sleep out of their eye on the way to the powder room early in the morning. So gross. There is just not enough soap. Or experience cleaning up said pile of filth. They also don't see them sleeping with their heads on my pillow, which sounds super adorable, unless you have allergies, like me. They will certainly never change the litter box. They will likely not experience the occasional dodge out the front door that leaves me looking like a fruitcake calling for them throughout the neighborhood and hanging up signs. Still we love them. They are mostly amazing kittens with the usual amount of disagreeable habits and needs. This is like getting married. Forgive the comparison, but once the honeymoon is over and you begin the wondrous journey of doing life together, there will be stuff. On both sides. Have a good baseline. Marry someone mostly amazing then working past differences is much less of a struggle because you truly love them and appreciate them for who God created them to be. Kids. You might have some. Discuss how you will raise them, acceptable steps for correction and simple things like how many. My mother was engaged a few weeks before finding out her intended wanted at least a dozen children. She offered to have the first two. That put the kibosh on that. How are they with children? Offer to watch someones children. How do they interact? My son once dated a girl that as she walked in the door drew her hands up and recoiled when his little sister, around 2, came over to say hi. She was not covered with food or paint, just a friendly little girl being reacted to as a vicious dog. It was wildly weird, but super revealing. Finances. Do you have the same goals? What do they need to be content? Financially, emotionally, etc... Talk with a Pastor, Mom and Dad. They may pick up on things you don't. Most importantly, make sure you are equally yoked. 2 Cor 6:14 Once you have taken your vows, you are in it to win it. You are a team. Make sure you are pulling in the same direction in all the ways that count. Imagine walking down the road attached to someone constantly yanking you in different directions. Some of them bad. Straining against this would be exhausting. This is a life long decision. Choose wisely. God meant marriage to be forever.
Mat 19 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no person is to separate.” This is the unique and divine nature of marriage. There is no other human relationship like it. When you marry you become one with your spouse. In 19 the only reason given for divorce is sexual immorality, if the couple cannot reconcile. Marriage is an adventure. It is a journey like no other. When you stand before God and family you are making a commitment to love, support, protect and stay with that person. Even when it is hard. In the most trying cases, if a soul is willing, even when they don't deserve it. It is looking on that person every day with the love you felt when you said I do, but stronger. If you are in Christ you are loving them right down to their toes, soul and all. Marriage is Holy. It is beautiful. It is a relationship set apart by God and designed by God. Like all journeys it will have ups and downs. It's a fact. In over thirty years we have walked through many valleys, but most often we were hand in hand. There were times when I have not liked my husband very much, they were few, but I have always loved him with all that I am and I always will. Love is of God. Like is subjective. Every marriage has windows that at times you may want to jump through, but hang in there because as long as you are in Christ you will find the beauty in the mess. Romans 8:28 Rob was most often conscientious, but I did meet him at 17 and he is not Christ. On our journey I have watched him walk, run, fall on his face, find his feet and get back up again with redefined purpose. He has watched me do the same. We are just two ordinary people who fell in love, but we serve an extraordinary God and that has made all the difference. If you are blessed with a great marriage, please share about it. If you are walking on coals and need someones hand to hold while you brave the heat, we are here. ~ Dagney
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails