First, I am a Christian. Most reading this know that. I have a mix of family who believe very similar to me and some who do not believe in a God at all. My story is inherently biased toward my faith journey. I hope you’ll take some time to read this. It is from my heart.
My pastor has a way of taking a message from the Bible that could easily be conveyed as “don’t do that”, and turning into a message which my heard reminds me “I might do that too.” Such was the case for this morning’s message, a walk through Judges 19-21, a horrendous story of a people of God who had gone so far away from their roots of faith, obedience, and a strong moral compass and committed heinous acts. Our pastor could have avoided this section or simply put a nice little spin on “the world is bad… let’s try to be good”. Instead, he plowed into it and God is using this to convict my heart and prompt me to really dig deep in my faith journey.
In Judges, we see the people of God had all but abandoned their adherence to any commandments from God. They had gotten into a cycle of sin, consequence, crying out to God, God bringing a “deliverer”… then doing the whole thing all over again. And the statement that probably sums it all up is the last verse of Judges v21:25, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Far too often these days, I look at world events, such as yet one more shooting of police officers today (this time in Baton Rouge), and I get angry and want to see justice done over the senseless violence and hatred happening in this world. But the message being revealed in my heart is that deep down, I had a seed of racism that is inherent in my heart. This is not just a white/black racism. I am inherently selfish and will develop opinions on people based on race, age, social/financial status, job… you name it. And though we don’t want to admit it, we all are… to some degree. Everyone is “doing what is right in their own eyes.” We are a world of people choosing our own morality… our own “right way.”
After the message this morning , I found myself thinking about what God is calling me to do in response. I came up with a few things:
Recognize that this could be me… It IS me!
The people of Israel at the time of Judges had strayed away from God’s law. They had become a “shame culture”, where the most important pursuit was the approval of man. So, when family members did something they perceived as bringing shame on their own life, they would seek justice, retribution, or “honor killing”. And sadly, this kind of culture still exists today. Just this week, a news story out of Pakistan of a so-called “honor killing” has brought us face-to-face with the depravity of man. They say that over 1,000 “honor killings” happen in Pakistan annually. But what about us, here in cozy America. Do we live with this same kind of retribution-oriented culture, living out of shame over what people think? Spend a few minutes on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media platform. If you’re not saying what the community wants you to say, you are condemned, mocked, and character-assassinated by people you don’t even know.
I am capable of horrific things. My heart is deceptive and inherently wicked. The more time I spend in my marriage, with my children, and in the workplace, the more I see how my sin affects others. This story in Judges could easily have been me.
See what God has done.
God’s love for the world has overcome the wickedness of man. While we sometimes turn our attention to “trying to be good”, we must know that we can never be good enough. Ever. Some people hold to a belief that most people are inherently good. That they want to do good. How do we reconcile then the evil deeds done in this world? Do we say “that is the exception.”? Perhaps it is. But then, when I’m in relationship with someone, as soon as they do something I don’t like or that infringes on my independence, I get really angry. People say that God could not judge people… that he is Love, and that He wouldn’t judge/condemn people who are not deserving of eternal life. But… we would be ready to do the same thing… if the crime were great enough. Is there anyone out there willing to let this guy go had he survived the terror attack? What if your spouse, child, or best friend had just been killed by him? What then? We all have our limits to grace.
Fortunately, God does not see humanity as divided up between good guys and bad guys (at least in terms of our behaviors). God sees it in terms of His great plan and the story He is making. While the story in Judges 19-21 demonstrates the wickedness and how far man would go in his depravity, God demonstrated his love for us by Christ dying in our place. (Romans 5:6-8) It is through Christ that I can see the hopelessness fade away and the new direction and life of hope, faith, and resurrected love be put to a new and grand purpose. This is the life I have today. And I am very thankful for.
Respond with repentance
How far did God go to provide us salvation in Jesus? Pretty doggone far. How far must I go in turning to Jesus? Pretty far. True repentance, my pastor said, is “turning from the ‘self-life’ (the life focus on gaining for myself), and turning to Jesus”. I must really focus on and be honest about what I’m really being saved from, and what it took to save me. Honesty in repentance is not an easy thing. But I must. My life… my joy… my heart depends on it.
My prayer… my need… and my commitment, is to devote a daily time of prayer of confession and repentance, accepting the grace of God my Father, and the Lordship of Jesus in my life. Each day. I need that. I too will stray.
I hope you’ll take a minute to listen to the sermon. It was very helpful for me today.