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Monday, December 21, 2020

The Epochs of Israel - The Messianic Hope

This year, because of COVID, people may have to curtail many of their usual Christmas traditions.  Some are even forgoing visits with relatives that they may only see during Christmas.  Who would have thought last Christmas that this Christmas would be so strange?

And yet, Advent—the weeks leading up to Christmas—is a season of hope.  We hope that the number COVID cases will go back down.  We hope the new vaccines will be safe, effective, and available.  We hope that life will soon return to normal. 

Ultimate, as Christians, we have a great hope that Christ will soon come to bring His perfect Kingdom on earth—a kingdom where there will be no more suffering or sickness, no more tears of sorrow, and no more hurting or death.  For as Isaiah 9:6-7 says, “The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.”

This is the great hope of biblical Christianity.  It started way back with Israel in the Old Testament and developed through each epoch of Israel.  An epoch is a period in history, typically one marked by notable events or characteristics.  There were 4 major epochs in the history of Israel in the Bible.  Each stage was part of God’s ultimate plan to save humanity.  In my church congregation yesterday, we used a the following responsive reading to review the epochs of Israel. 

Responsive Reading Review
Pastor:  The Lord our God is mighty to save! His plan of salvation spans the whole course of human history.  The Lord rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. 

People: His faithful love endures forever!

Pastor:  In Epoch 1, the Lord He led the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land.

People: His faithful love endures forever!

Pastor:  In Epoch 2, the Lord raised up judges to rescue Israel from her enemies.

People: His faithful love endures forever!

Pastor:  In Epoch 3, the Lord established the house David to rule as kings of Israel.

People: His faithful love endures forever!

 Pastor:  But the people of Israel and their kings were not faithful to God. Finally, The Lord had to punish Israel.

People:  Babylon attacked and destroyed Jerusalem and took Israel away into exile.

Pastor:  But the Lord promised to bring Israel home.  A Messiah would come to save Israel.

People:  The Promised One would rule on David’s throne forever. This was Israel’s hope.

 All:  And so the Fourth Epoch of Israel begins—The Messianic Hope.

Isaiah 49:5-7

5 And now the Lord speaks—
    the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,
    who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.
The Lord has honored me,
    and my God has given me strength.
He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The Lord, the Redeemer
    and Holy One of Israel,
says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations,
    to the one who is the servant of rulers:
“Kings will stand at attention when you pass by.
    Princes will also bow low
because of the Lord, the faithful one,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Israel’s Hope
This Christmas, we remember the story of Christ’s birth.  Everything about the birth of Christ is soaked in the Israel’s hope for a Messiah.  Remember how the angels announced to the shepherds, “For behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [the Messiah], the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

By the time Jesus was born, Israel was a conquered nation.  The Roman empire occupied the land and extorting the people, forcing them to pay exorbitant taxes, to provide soldiers for the Roman army, to bring glory and success to Rome at the expense of Israel and her people. 

This was not how it was supposed to be.  Israel was God’s chosen people.  They were to be royal priests who enjoyed God’s special favor.  But the Romans treated them like dogs and there was nothing they could do.  Nothing but hope—hope for a Messiah to save them.  And it was into this great hope and longing that Jesus was born. 

God’s Hope
People usually can’t see beyond their own personal situation—their own hopes and dreams, their own suffering and pain.  God’s vision is infinite.  He sees the whole picture.  So while Israel only hoped for a Messiah to alleviate their personal suffering and political turmoil, God’s vision was to save the whole world.  In Isaiah 49:6 “He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.””

Imagine a Greater Hope
And so, as we draw nigh to Christmas, and as we hope for relief from COVID-19 (or whatever major struggle you face), I pray we will dare to tap more and more into God’s grander vision.  Can we go beyond our little hopes and dreams and embrace God’s greater hope?

Can we go further than merely hoping for healing from COVID-19?  Can we go further to hope for healing from all our brokenness?  Do we really want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic? Wouldn’t it be better to go forward to something new and better?

As for me, I hope for the coming of Christ and His great hope.  I join in the great Advent hymn with all my heart singing:

Come, thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee

Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring

By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By thine own sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne

Whatever worry or struggle with, I pray your hopes will be greater than to just "Go back to the way things were.  God's hopes for you--for all of us--are greater than to just "go back."  God hopes for us all to "go forward" into something new and better.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Epochs of Israel - The Epoch of the Kings

It is such a privilege to be a pastor.  I don’t know why God called me into ordained ministry, but I am so honored and thankful that He did.  And I am grateful to each person who allows me to speak God’s Word to them every week and to share in their important moments of life, to pray them, to encourage them, and to hope for God’s best for them.  Being a pastor has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

God chose me to be a pastor.  It feels good to be chosen for this special purpose.  Today, I want you all to know, God has chosen you for a special purpose too.  I want to share that with you today.  But to help you recognize just how special it is, we must first recall some important history.  I hope you will stick with me to the end, so you can fully appreciate how special God’s personal message is for you.  Will you try? 

To review that history of Israel, we used the following responsive reading at my church. 

Pastor:  The Lord our God is mighty to save! He rescued Israel from Egypt through 10 plagues that proved Egypt’s idols were nothing. 

People:  At Mount Sinai, The Lord gave 10 commandments and the Law to teach Israel how to live and worship.

Pastor:  The Lord led Israel to conquer Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.

People:  The Lord fought for Israel and they took possession of the Promised Land.

Pastor:  During the epoch of the Judges, Israel did not have a king like the other nations. God was Israel’s King.

People:  But the people sinned and did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

Pastor:  When Israel was unfaithful, their enemies oppressed them.  Then Israel would cry out to God for help.

People:  God showed mercy and raised up judges to fight and rescue Israel.

Pastor:  The people wanted a king like all the nations around them, but God was supposed to be Israel’s King.

People: “Anoint for us a king!” They cried. “Someone who is tall and mighty!”

Pastor:  So they anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel because he stood head and shoulders above the rest.

People:  But God was not pleased with Saul, because his heart was not right with God.

All:  And so the third Epoch of Israel begins—The Epoch of the Kings.

1 Samuel 16:1, 6-13

1Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse told his son Abinadab to step forward and walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “This is not the one the Lord has chosen.” Next Jesse summoned Shimea, but Samuel said, “Neither is this the one the Lord has chosen.” 10 In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.”

“Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.”

12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes.

And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.”

13 So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.

Israel’s Leadership Structure
There were three major roles in biblical Israel’s leadership structure.  First, there was the prophet.  The prophet's job was to speak to the people for God.  Usually when people think of a prophet, they think they were someone who told the future.  However, that wasn't the prophet's core function.  The prophet told people whatever God said.  Sometimes, God told prophets to tell people what was going to happen in the future.  But more often than not, God told the prophet to share commands, instructions, warnings, or consolations.  At any rate, the prophet's purpose was to ell people whatever God told the prophet to say.

The second role in Israel's leadership structure was the priest.  The priest's purpose was the opposite of the prophet.  The priest spoke to God for the people.  So for example, if someone had sinned as was sorry for it, they might go to a priest and the priest would make a sacrifice and speak to God on the person's behalf asking God to forgive them and heal them and restore them to a harmonious relationship with God.

The third role was the king. The king's purpose was to unite everyone in Israel in a common goal. In the beginning of Israel's history, they didn't have a earthly king because everyone accepted God was Israel’s King.  However, as Israel sunk deeper and deeper into sin, they followed God less and less as their King and they were more and more disunified in their common goal.  Israel's common goal was to bring light into the darkness of the world and healing into brokenness of our world. God told Israel's ancestor, Abraham, “All families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3). Israel was supposed to bless the whole world. The greatest blessing was that they would reveal the one, true God to a world who was lost in sin and worshiping false gods. Exodus 19:6 says of the nation of Israel, “You will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.”  As a holy nation of priests in a dark and broken world, Israel was to bring spiritual healing, reconciliation, and peace to the whole world.

God chose Israel to show all the nations around them how to be in a right relationship with God.  They were to be the model everyone should copy.  But instead, Israel wanted to copy all the nations around them.  And soon they wanted an earthly king to lead and united them and make them "great" like all the other nations around them.

To be fair, you can’t bring light and healing if you are constantly being dominated by your enemies. Or can you? Consider Jesus dying on the cross while his enemies taunting him.  Unless you are a history expert, you probably remember the names of very few kings.  But almost everyone knows the name Jesus.  Jesus changed the whole world by dying on a cross while his enemies cursed him.  Jesus changed the world.  What a strange way to change the world!

However, God allowed Israel to have an earthly king as part of their leadership structure; but the king was only a figurehead to represent God to the people.  God was to continue to be Israel's true King.  That is why God chose David.  Scripture says David was a "man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14).  So with David on the throne, it was as if God's own heart was on the throne of Israel.

The Chosen Ones
Have you ever been rejected for something you really wanted or needed?  Most people are familiar with the scene of kids gathered around on the school playground at PE.  Two team captains go the kids and pick people to be on their team.  They usually select the strongest, fastest, most athletic kids first and nobody wants to be the last kid picked.  Were you ever the last kid picked?  Or were you ever passed over for a job or a promotion?

When I first graduated from college with a degree in textile engineering, I was ready to begin my career and I really needed a good job.  You see, I'd just learned my wife was pregnant and we had no money and have no insurance.  I was getting a lot of job interviews for great companies, but no job offers were coming.  Then a company in North Carolina invited me up for an interview.  I thought it was really promising because they invited me and my wife up and even put us up in a hotel for the night.  And I though, "If they're going to all that trouble, they must really be interested" So we drove up and spent the night at the hotel and the next day I got up and went in for the interview.  I was talking to the manager and things seemed to be going well until another candidate arrived.  He was taller than me and he had played college football for Clemson and the manager was a huge Clemson fan.  And from that point on, I was just along for the ride.  The manager was obviously in love with the other job candidate and I was just chopped liver.  So I wasn't too surprised when I was notified a few days later that I didn't get the job.

I'm glad I didn't get that job; my life could have gone in a very different direction if I'd moved to North Carolina to work.  I eventually did get a good job in Griffin, GA so I could take care of my young family and that eventually led me down the path to be a United Methodist minister.  I am very happy with my life as it turned out. But at that moment as a young 23-year-old, soon-to-be father, it was irritating to be rejected for what seemed like very shallow reasons.

That's why I'm so glad God doesn't see us the way other people see us.  1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 

God chose Israel to represent Him to the world. God chose David to be their king. But I want to tell you something that’s critical to your life, right now, today. God chose you.

God chose to save you.  Imagine if you will a scene that probably happens in most family households at some time or another.  A husband and wife are decorating their Christmas tree for the holidays.  They've been together for 25 years of happy marriage and raise wonderful kids who have all left home.  As they decorate their tree, they find it is cluttered with too many ornaments.  Many of them are ornaments their kids made over the years at church and school.  They're not that impressive and they weren't made from the highest quality materials to start with.  One is made from popsicle sticks, another is macaroni art, one is just some construction paper with a child's illegible scribbles in crayon.  What made the ornaments special was who made them. It's been decades since some of these old ornaments were made and they are faded and torn, most of the macaroni is missing off the one.  The parents sigh and decided, "All the kids are grown and we have too many ornaments for the tree.  It's time to decided which ornaments we're going to save and which ones to throw away."  Even so, it will be a hard job to throw away that macaroni ornament little Johnny made at preschool when he was three.

This scene can serves as an illustration for the way God sees us.  We are all precious to God. Maybe you are a little broken or worn out. Most of us have lost a few noodles over the years.  And the fact is, we weren't made from the highest quality materials to start with.  What made us special was who made us.  God made us, but now we've got some serious flaws and imperfections.  

And then 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them… the Lord looks at the heart.”  We are all like God's Christmas ornaments.  We are precious to Him, even if we're broken or worn out.  And as God looks at each of us, He choses to save all of us.  He's not going to throw any of us away.  God chooses to save you if you will choose to stay with Him.

Second, God chose to save you for eternal life.  He says, "I'm never going to throw this one away.  I will always keep and cherish this one, because he or she is precious to me."  And so, if you put your faith in Jesus Christ, God will save you and you will be with Him for all eternity.

Third, God chooses to to make you whole.  If He finds we are worn out, He revives.  If we are broken, He mends.  When we realize we weren't made from the highest quality material to start with, God transforms us to pure gold. 

Lastly, God God chose you to represent Him. As an ornament is placed upon a Christmas tree to represent something special, God placed you in His world to represent Him to everyone.  1 Peter 2:9 says, “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light."  

Notice the words this Scripture uses to describe you.  You are holy.  That means you are set apart for God's very special purposes.  You are royalty--kings and queens in God's eternal Kingdom.  You are priests.  Remember, a priest helps bring spiritual healing, reconciliation, and peace to the whole world. 

Listen, you are so special to God, He was already thinking of you when He led the Israelites out of Egypt. He delivered them from slavery so you could be delivered from slavery to sin and death. God was thinking of you when He chose David to be the king of Israel.  Jesus, the Savior of the world, came from the royal lineage of David. This is why I had to go through all the history of Israel, so you can see just how much forethought, preparation, and work has gone into God’s choice. God has been working for your salvation and restoration for thousands upon thousands of years.  That's how special you are to Him.

And now, the choice is yours. God has chosen you. Will you choose God?

Monday, December 7, 2020

Epochs of Israel - The Judges

Christmas is the celebration of the long-awaited birth of the Messiah.  The Jewish people 2,000 years ago yearned for the Messiah to come save them from their oppression.  God intended Israel to be His chosen people to represent Him to the whole world.  Unfortunately, Israel broke their covenant with God again and again leading to their downfall and disgrace.  The Kingdom of God did not stand because the citizens of Israel were unfaithful to God.  Foreign empires took over Israel and subjected God’s people to foreign rule.  Yet God promised to send a Messiah to save them from the consequences of their sin and restore the Kingdom of God on earth. 

In this message series, we are getting an overview of 4 major periods in Israel’s history—4 epochs—that led to Israel’s downfall and their deep longing for God’s Messiah.  As we go through, I hope you will recognize some of Israel’s story in your own life.  For we are also waiting for the Messiah to come.  Jesus, the Messiah, came as a baby born in a manger 2,000 years ago.  However, Jesus promised he would return in the clouds to finally establish God's Kingdom on Earth.  And so as we prepare for Christmas, we prepare for the second coming of Christ. 

In my church this Sunday, we reviewed the history of Israel with this responsive reading. 

Pastor:  The Lord our God is mighty to save! He rescued Israel from Egyptian Empire. 

People:  Through 10 plagues, God judged Egypt’s idols and proved they were nothing. 

Pastor:  At Mount Sinai, God made a sacred covenant with Israel.

People:  The Lord gave 10 commandments and the Law about how to live and worship.

Pastor:  The Lord led Israel to Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. He appointed Joshua to lead Israel in battle.

People:  The Lord fought for Israel.  They defeated the kings of Canaan and took possession of the land.

 Pastor:  The Lord granted land to all 12 tribes of Israel.

People:  Every family and clan had their own place to live in peace.

Pastor:  Joshua warned Israel, “Do not become like the Canaanites they had conquered or worship their gods,

People:  Or else the God of Israel will visit the same judgment on you that fell upon the Canaanites.”

Pastor:  The people promised to be faithful and settled in the Promised Land,

People:  But they did not completely drive out the Canaanites.

 All:  And so the second Epoch of Israel begins—The Epoch of the Judges.

Judges 2:1-3
The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said to the Israelites, “I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you. For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this? So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you.”

The Epoch of the Judges
The epoch of judges last about 350 years, from the death of Joshua until the death of Samuel.

During this time, Israel did not have a central government.  Israel functioned as a loose confederation of 12 tribes who believed God was their king.  

The term judge in the Bible can be misleading to the modern reader. We think of a judge as a person who hears a legal case in court.  That is not the kind of judge the Bible means in the book of Judges.  A judge in ancient Israel was a tribal leader God chose to consolidate tribal support.  Since there was not a king unite the Israelites into one army, God would raise an important tribal leader to consolidate support to tackle a national threat when it arose.

Although all the Canaanite kings had been defeated, there were still Canaanites living in the land and God was willing to welcome the remaining Canaanites into His Kingdom if they would convert.  God even gave stipulations in His Law about how to treat foreigners like the Canaanites fairly.

Exodus 12:48, “If there are foreigners living among you who want to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, let all their males be circumcised. Only then may they celebrate the Passover with you like any native-born Israelite. But no uncircumcised male may ever eat the Passover meal."

Leviticus 19:33-34, “Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Several famous people in Israel were not native-born Israelites.  Caleb was one of only two peole God allowed to survive all the way from the Exodus out of Egypt to the entrance into the Promised Land.  One was Joshua.  The other was Caleb.  Caleb was not a native born Israelite.  Caleb was a Kenezzite. 

Rahab was a Canaanite convert from Jericho. She’s the great-grandmother of King David and one of only 5 women listed in the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah.

God is gracious and willing to welcome all the table in His Kingdom.  God doesn’t care about your nationality or ethnicity.  What God cares about is your heart.  If you leave behind your idols and false gods and repent of your sinful behavior, God welcomes you.  God welcomed any Canaanite who rejected Canaan and turned to Israel. 

God's plan was for the Israelites to take over Canaan little-by-little—allowing time and space to win the hearts and minds of the Canaanites.  God’s hope was those who were willing would repent and turn to God.  The Israelites were supposed to represent the light of God to the heathen Canaanites (and to all the world). If Israel had done their job and worshiped God faithfully, they could have converted all Canaan into one glorious Kingdom of God.

Unfortunately, God’s vision was corrupted.  Once the Israelites entered the land and got a little peace and prosperity, they got comfortable and lazy.  Instead of “driving out” Canaanite religion, the began to mix their religion with Canaan’s.  And so they diluted pure faith in God with false gods and idols.

The Cycle of Judges
Throughout the Epoch of the Judges, we see a cyclical, downward spiral of morality in Israel.
First, Israel will be living in peace and prosperity, which leads to complacency.  Second, Israel will sin and compromise their faith in God and worship the gods of the Canaanites.  Third, Israel will experience great distress from foreign oppression. Next, Israel will cry out to God for help.  Finally, God will raise up a judge to deliver Israel leading them back into a period of peace and prosperity.  And Israel went around and around this cycle throughout the Book of Judges.  

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a cycle.  It’s a downward spiral (look wanted being flushed down a toilet). Each cycle of sin, destress, crying out, and salvation leaves Israel in greater darkness.  So by the end of the book of Judges, the Israelites are so morally depraved, one can hardly tell a difference between them and the Canaanites they replaced.  Even the judges listed in at end of the book are not very good people.  For example, the last judge Samson, is incredibly strong, but he's not a good person.  He's an idiot who gets drunk and sleeps with the wrong women and goes on murderous rages.  Apparently, Israel has fallen so far into darkness by the end of the Epoch of the Judges that Samson is all God has left to work with o save Israel. 

Implications for Us
Well, so what? What does this have to do with us today?  One great lesson from Judges is the danger of syncretism.  Syncretism is the blending together of different religions.  Syncretism is rampant in America today.  It is so pervasive, most people don’t even recognize syncretism when they see it.  

One example is the "Coexist" movement.  Perhaps you have seen the bumper stickers some people put on their cars that incorporate the religious symbols of the all the major world religions and world-views to spell the word "coexist".  It's a nice gesture on the surface.  People of different religions have been fighting and killing each other for thousands of years.  I'm sure it saddens God greatly and we do all need to earn how to live together in peace.  

However there is a notion among many people in America that is very prevalent and very misguided.  Many people believe all the major world religions are really just different ways of saying the same thing.  One cliché you may hear is "All religions lead to Heaven, they just take you there by a different road."  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Christianity is fundamentally different from all the other major world religions--Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and even Judaism.  There may be some things in common, but only on the surface.  If you dig even a little bit deeper, the similarities evaporate.  Other world religions don't even have the same concept of Heaven as the Bible; how can they lead to the same place?

The only way for the different religions to be considered similar is if you practice them in an extremely shallow way.  Don't dig very deep at all.  Don't seek to be very devout in your religion and you may do fine.  But if you seek to truly give yourself to your faith, you will find it leads you to very different views about the world, about God, about the afterlife, and about how we should live and why than other religions.  (For a much deeper examination of the essential differences between Christianity and other world religions, I highly recommend the author Ravi Zachariah who has written several great and easily understandable books on the topic.

Another way syncretism shows up in our culture is our extreme emphasis on tolerance.  We are a very diverse culture and so our society doesn't tolerate anyone who isn't tolerant.  It's almost as if you aren't allowed to claim that your views are right and someone else's are wrong.  To do so is deemed intolerant and it is almost a cardinal sin in America today.  

God calls us to be kind and respectful of people with whom we disagree, but God also strictly forbids us to compromise our faith and values.  The dilution of our faith is offensive to God and destroys our relationship with Him.   

In order to avoid diluting authentic faith in the One True God, we have to know what that authentic faith is.  Unfortunately, we are so synchronistic we have a really hard time telling the difference between authentic Christian faith and the popularized religion of the world around us.  Just as an example, ask the average person what it means to be a Christian.  They may say it is following a bunch of rules and if you are good enough, God will reward you with heaven.  That's the popular, syncretistic image of Heaven and it is an absolutely contradiction to biblical Christian faith.  Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly teaches, "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."

So we often have to start with a keen examination of what we believe and how we live to see if it is tre Christianity.  Thankfully, God has preserved for us perfectly true, unadulterated Christianity in the Holy Bible.  Right here in the sacred, unchanging pages of God’s Word are the principles by which we need to live.  Every Christian in our community has incredible access to this Book.  But how many will open the pages to learn the right way to live?  It is so much easier to learn from the world around us and follow a popular religion that takes a little bit of this and little bit of that throws it all into a blender to make a sweet, synchronistic religion that’s easy to swallow, but doesn’t really require much of you and isn’t really the Lord’s perfect plan for you; and it has no power to save you or change your life.

During the Epoch of the Judges, God was to be Israel’s King.  They were to faithfully obey Him.  But whenever life got easy, they forgot about God.  Judges 17:6 says, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” 

The writer of Judges is doing something sneaky that you might miss if you aren't paying attention.  You see, Israel didn't have a king.  We already said that. No man served as the king because God was supposed to be Israel's King.  So when the writer says, "In those days, Israel had no king..." he is really saying two things.  Israel had no king and they didn't really accept God as their king either.  "All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

In our day, for most people, God is not really our King either.   Most people just do whatever seems right in their own eyes.  When life is pretty good, we forget about God.  I mean, who wants a king telling them what to do and how to live?  Not most people in America.  It’s only when troubles come (cancer, unemployment, the COVID-19 pandemic) that people tend to turn to God—just like in the days of the Judges in Israel.  And when we cry out, God hears our cries and comes to rescue.  

But here’s the thing people do realize.  Every cycle of sin, distress, and repentance is a downward spiral that leaves you more and more broken and worse off than before.  What we really need is true repentance where we surrender unconditionally to God through Jesus Christ. 

Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).  This is not a half-hearted endeavor.  This is complete surrender.  It is laying down your life so that God can give you a new one.  And when we do, God will give us a new heart and eternal life.  He will fill us with His Holy Spirit and right His Law upon our hearts. 

Won’t you turn to Jesus today and let him save you?  Not just from your current situation, but from you entire broken, sinful life.  In doing so, you allow god to begin a brand new epoch in your life—the epoch of eternal life as a citizen in the Kingdom of God.