Monday, April 27, 2015

A Thought for Monday 27 April 2015

“Again the Israelites did evil in the sight of The Lord, and The Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.”  Judges 13:1

In our continuing Sunday evening study of the book of Judges, we find a redundant cycle of behavior of a people who forget from generation to generation who they really are.  They go rogue from The Lord, they get into trouble and find themselves oppressed, they cry out to The Lord to be rescued, The Lord comes to their aid by raising up a judge to lead them, there is a period of peace until the judge dies, and Israel “again” does evil in the sight of The Lord.

There are a couple of items worth noting.  (1) Toward the end of the Exodus journey and prior to taking possession of the Promised Land, Moses admonished the people of Israel to teach their children from generation to generation about the bondage in Egypt and The Lord’s mighty acts in freeing them lest they forget.  And remember: this practice is as much about the adults who are teaching as it is about the children who need to learn!  (2) During the Exodus journey The Lord taught Israel about proper worship by giving them a particular order of worship, a liturgy to follow.  Each commandment has a purpose beyond the simple establishment of what constitutes “proper” worship.

Israel would be taking possession of a strange land of strange people with strange gods and detestable worship practices, including human sacrifice.  So what The Lord had been teaching His people during the journey would be important for them to learn, embrace, and teach so they remember who they are and where they came from.  Both practices, corporate worship and family devotional time, are necessary so that the people remember their place in a much broader context.

Somewhere along the way, after the death of Joshua, Israel lost sight of all this.  It seems unlikely anyone remembered these practices, and they only turned to The Lord when things got tough.  They took advantage of The Lord’s benevolent nature but turned away time and again once the danger passed.  They neglected these simple practices and thus neglected a necessary, ongoing relationship with The Lord.

It is foolish and dangerous to believe Jesus overcame this reality and removed us from the necessity of corporate worship, study of the Scripture, and family devotional time.  Each component has meaning beyond the moment even if those practices sometimes seem repetitive, even boring.  We are not being “legalistic” when we adhere to a particular standard of worship; we are being faithful in trusting that we will learn more and more about The Lord so we may emulate Him to the wider world.

Israel came to believe, it seems, that simply being among the “chosen” would somehow magically protect them from all harm.  In their failure to adhere to an established worship standard (doing evil and following other gods and worship practices) and teach their children as Moses had commanded, they became completely cut off from their heritage.  Maybe they convinced themselves they were “too busy” or that they would get around to it later.  Maybe they dropped their children off at a local synagogue and expected the religion teachers to do their thing, failing to understand the fullness of all their forebears had learned in the wilderness: that it is not an either/or decision to teach at home or just “go to worship”.  It is necessarily both/and – not simply because it is commanded but because every component has meaning worthy of being taught and learned again just as every commandment has meaning beyond its own words.  We must never come to believe we have “outgrown” Sunday school, group Bible study, and worship.  One is never “saved” enough to remove oneself from the Holy Presence and from the support of the faith community.  Our children and our grandchildren learn from what we DO, not what we say.

If we are not faithful to The Lord and His established practices, we will simply make something up that seems good to us – the very curse that followed the people of Israel during the time of the Judges – and ultimately cutting ourselves off from “The Vine” from which we come (“Apart from Me you can do nothing”).

There is a third component of Israel’s failure: “each did what seemed right in his own eyes”.  Some may have convinced themselves they were being faithful in their own way, but the context and the harsh lessons learned seem to indicate very clearly that their own way was in no way, shape, or form The Lord’s established way.  Often we try some short cuts or add some new and trendy thing to try and convince a godless culture that we’re hip and relevant.  They only see us as fools trying to be popular with them rather than being faithful to The God we claim to serve.  Those earnestly seeking The Lord see through the façade.

There is much to learn from Israel’s past, much that is completely relevant to us today.  We might like to convince ourselves we are much more enlightened, much more “saved” than they were; but a more careful and closer look would say we are as stiff-necked and stubborn as Israel ever thought about being.  The only thing that has changed over the centuries has been technology; people are still pretty much the same.

If we are to ever find our way as a people, as The Church, we must believe everything we have been taught from the very beginning has meaning for us even these thousands of years beyond.  None of it will be magically imparted; we have to reach for it, search for it, ask for it.  Only then, Jesus teaches, will we receive what we ask for.  Otherwise we are turned over to ourselves and our own practices – and then we will really get exactly what we ask for!

Let us learn to ask for right things, proper things, good and fulfilling worship.  And let us always remember it isn’t about “me”.  It is always about The Lord, His Eternal Covenant, and His Eternal Kingdom.  Believe this, and we will find our place.



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