Wednesday, July 8, 2015

In the Middle of the Mess

This is a counting exercise so think back to The Count from Sesame Street and count how many sermons you have heard from the book of Judges. Do you have enough fingers for that? Now, how many devotional talks from the same book? What, you still have a few fingers and toes left over? When I was growing up this book was rarely high-lighted in the Sabbath School quarterly, but it was strongly featured for charades in the Ripley household. Guests were usually stumped by a vigorous showing of the story of Eglon. It was a lot of fun as a kid to act out as you were stabbed in the stomach, falling dramatically to the floor as you went through violent death rattles and then passed out. And yes, all of this came directly from the Bible. Now, does that convince you to read the Bible or censor your child's reading?

That was the beginning of my fascination with the book of Judges. Can you believe the first Robin Hood is found I the pages of the Bible? Featured prominently is Jephthah and his merry band of adventurers. The more I studied the book of Judges, the more questions I asked. Why would God include such horrible stories?

Case in point: A man was called to lead a band of men into battle. Feeling a bit hesitant to head into such a dangerous situation, he had a conversation with God. In this prudent conversation, he poured out his anxiety and decided to set a bargain before God. His bargain was that if God would give him victory in the battle, he would sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever came out to greet him when he returned from his victory. Feeling much better after this exchange, Jephthah got up from his knees, put on his polished and repaired armor, and headed off to do battle.

He fought gallantly and returned victorious, bursting with pride and good will. That is until he saw who was coming down the driveway to his house; the first thing to greet him was his one and only child—his daughter. Jephthah fell from dizzying heights of joy at his hard-won glory to the depths of despair at the thought of his child as a burnt offering. What is a man to do when he has made a deal with God? Does he renegotiate or does he follow through? And what lesson does a present-day reader take from this story? Are we to make deals like this when we find ourselves in a tough situation, or are we seeking to manipulate God when we make that kind of deal? Answer those questions for yourself and then, if you wonder what happens next in this story you’ll find it in the middle of the book of Judges, chapter 11:30-40.

The book of Judges is full of stories like this, and worse. There are stories of humans in terrible states, and messes of their own making, and yet God is there in the midst of it. He wants to connect with us. That is why I am so drawn to this book. God is always there. It doesn't matter how bad the mess is, God wades right into the middle of it and says, "I am God. I am here with you." That is a God who is worthy of my complete respect and worship.

Conversation starter with God: Talk with God about the places in your life that are less than ideal— where you think God might be less than inclined to be—then imagine Him in the middle of that very place.

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