Joel 3

Not Choosing is also a Choice

Have you ever been caught betwixt two courses of action, both of which had profound implications morally, monetarily, socially, or physically, only to find yourself paralyzed? I’ve been there.

Recently I had the opportunity to purchase a barely used front-loading washing machine. This machine sold at retail for over $600. It was offered to me for $350.

I found myself paralyzed. I didn’t know what to do. I already had a perfectly functioning washing machine at home. True it is ancient, but it still works. I didn’t have $350 extra dollars laying around. However, I’m sure I could have come up with it if I had tried. I didn’t want to be seen as taking advantage of the seller. But then again, our washing machine isn’t going to last forever, parts will wear out, it will eventually leak or simply stop functioning…

I vacillated, and the machine was sold to someone else during the several-day period that I was trying to make up my mind. By not choosing, I had chosen. The message implied to the seller was that I was not interested enough to act. There is an old axiom that says;

“Better a bird in hand than two in the bush.”

The seller found a bird in his hand rather than chase the ones in the bushes – me.

You could describe my situation as a valley of decision. I say valley, because I needed to climb up and out in order to move on, before progress could be evidenced. Instead I sat there. The seller never saw my head clear the valley rim.

What other things am I in a valley of decision about?

Am I still vacillating about obeying traffic laws? Am I guarding my eyes like a savage warrior, or do I allow the occasional visual dalliance to cross my optic nerves? Do I invest regular time getting to know God, or is he a casual acquaintance who hopefully understands my busy schedule? Do I keep putting off work assignments hoping that they’ll eventually become irrelevant or forgotten?

Thousands upon thousands are waiting in the valley of decision. It is there that the day of the LORD will soon arrive. – Joel 3:14

Just like the washing machine deal, there is a day coming when it will be too late. And we don’t know when it is. But it is much closer than we think, it will soon arrive. Thousands upon thousands will feign surprise. But in reality they have already chosen. For you see, in the verse above, the Hebrew word translated as ‘decision’ is a past participle. It indicates that the decision has happened already. By going into the valley of decision, and staying there – waiting – the decision has been made. Not choosing is a choice.

Heavenly Father, may I have the courage to reject Adam’s blood-line curse of passivity. Please give me wisdom when needed, and a holy boldness to seize whatever opportunities are presented. Please grant to me the strength to choose that which brings you pleasure, not my enemy. Help me to love you better and to choose you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

We are to go through the valley, don’t stop. Jan

Joel 2

A Warning

Recently a friend and I visited a spiritual father, a true sage, in the hospital. I love to hear this man recount his exploits of how he shared the good news of Jesus around the world. He is a true missionary, a disciple. He’s been in prison, been in danger while behind the iron curtain of communism, experienced the intolerance of islam, seen the beauty of Jerusalem, and lived the life of one completely sold out to Jesus Christ. If there is any doubt, let me put it plainly, I respect and trust this man more than most I’ve ever known. So when he motioned for us to lean in a bit closer while he was talking, believe me we did. We did not want to miss any pearls of wisdom.

However, what he had to say were not words of encouragement, they were a prophetic warning. He warned that within the next 12 to 24 months we would start to see the persecution of Christianity. He predicted the loss of tax-exempt status for religious organizations. In short, he said that the time of the end is near.

Did he say this to frighten us. No, absolutely not. He told us so that we would be prepared, so that the times would not take us by surprise. And I believe that he told us so that we can try to do something about it.

That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time! Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief; instead, tear your hearts.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered. He is filled with kindness and is eager not to punish you. Who knows? Perhaps even yet he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this terrible curse. – Joel 2:12-14a

There are numerous incidents in scripture where the Lord announced destruction and a curse on his people, if they did not change. I believe that we still have a chance for a reprieve. Eventually the end will come, just as it has been foretold in the book of Revelation, the book of Daniel and others. However, that day does not have the be just yet.

Heavenly Father spare your people. They belong to you, so don’t let us become an object of mockery. Don’t let the name “Christian” become a proverb of unbelievers who say, ‘Where is their God? He must be helpless!'” Father please have mercy on us and our children. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Standing between the altar and the people. Jan

Joel 1

Ingrained Memory

I recall with some amusement how my aunt Lydie and uncle Jara would rinse, and hang to dry, used zip-lock bags and used paper towels. Their pantry was lined with neatly stacked and labeled coffee jars, re-purposed for holding anything from flour to peanuts. They kept their air-conditioner set at an uncomfortable 80 degrees or more Fahrenheit. And despite living solely off of Social Security in their retirement years they managed to pay all of their bills, send money to numerous charities, buy gifts for their relatives special occasions, and amass a sizable nest-egg in the bank. They were very frugal.

My wife’s mother, while not to the extremes of my aunt and uncle, would wash and reuse plastic ‘solo’ cups. She was careful about every penny that she spent.

Why did that generation live that way?

Because they remembered.

Hear this, you leaders of the people! Everyone listen! In all your history, has anything like this ever happened before? Tell your children about it in the years to come. Pass the awful story down from generation to generation. – Joel 1:2-3

They remembered what it was like to be in severe want. They lived through the world-wide great depression. Nothing like it had ever happened in their or their relatives memories. My aunt and uncle and my mother-in-law were just children when hunger and joblessness washed over the nations of the world like a flood. They knew what it was like to go to bed hungry. And they determined that with whatever power they had within them they would save and conserve for those days and times when they might be in need again. Interestingly, despite their thrifty ways, one thing that all of them shared was that anyone who came to their homes never left hungry.

Why do we know about their struggles? Because they did pass the awful story down from their generation to the next. They warned us. They showed us how they lived.

Sadly we did not listen well. It appears as though the world is slowly being swallowed up in another flood of hunger and joblessness. And we have not prepared for our rainy day as we should have, debt is at astonishing levels. Savings are abysmal. How bad does it have to get before we heed Joel’s warning?

Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Bring the leaders and all the people into the Temple of the LORD  your God, and cry out to him there. – Joel 1:14

He warned the people not to taunt them, but to show them the way out. God is not capricious, he truly desires the best for us. Even in the opening statement of Joel’s prophetic condemnation to the people there was hope. Or did you not notice that the people were told to “tell your children” and pass it down “from generation to generation”? If they were going to be wiped out by hunger, enemies and disease there would be no children or generations to which knowledge could be passed down.

Father, forgive us for our flagrant consumerism, our disregard for principles of saving and sharing which you clearly spell out in your word. Please heal our land, restore your hand of blessing once again. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

What was I writing about? Jan

Judges 21

And that’s where Hillbillies come from

Seriously? I was reading the last chapter of Judges and I was stunned by the “advice” given to the women-less men of the tribe of Benjamin.

Then they thought of the annual festival of the LORD held in Shiloh, between Lebonah and Bethel, along the east side of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem. They told the men of Benjamin who still needed wives, “Go and hide in the vineyards. When the women of Shiloh come out for their dances, rush out from the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to be your wife!

So the men of Benjamin did as they were told. They kidnapped the women who took part in the celebration and carried them off to the land of their own inheritance. Then they rebuilt their towns and lived in them. – Judges 21:19-21,23

Great advice, kidnap someone and make them your wife. Sounds just a tad cruel to me. But wait, there’s more! And here’s where it gets twilight zonish in my opinion. They did this 200 times!

Um, you’d think that word would spread rather quickly that women were disappearing on the Bethel -Shechem highway.

Shiloh must have had an overabundance of ugly and or stupid young women. Maybe it was something in the water. I can see the conversation now.

Jeddediah says to his daughter Hogolah. “Daughter, the Lord has not graced you with fair features, wisdom, or wealthy parents. But alas, the Lord knows why. I want you to go on a little trip to Shechem, take your time, loiter in the woods, dance a bit.”

Here comes the bride… two-hundred times. Gotcha!

In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. – Judges 21:25

Yeah, like that’s an excuse. You had the written law. You should have known better. As they saying goes, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” The entire episode with the near extermination of the tribe of Benjamin should have never happened. Once it did, Israel kept digging a pit for themselves that got deeper and deeper.

Father, may I not act rashly, especially when I feel I have justification. Please give me the grace to step back and listen for the voice of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I think they were dancing to the sound of Dueling Banjos. Jan

Judges 20

The Warriors of Israel

There are certain traits that we associate with masculinity. In the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Dr. John Gray, after extensive research, came up with a list of attributes, words, or values that are associated with men. They are;

  • Competence
  • Power
  • Efficiency
  • Achievement
  • Skills
  • Proving Oneself
  • Results
  • Accomplishment
  • Objects
  • Technology
  • Goal Oriented
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Success
  • Competition

I’d venture to say that nearly every boy has heard, “stop crying”, “grow up”, “be a man”, “just suck it up”, “quit being a baby about it”, “crying never changed anything”, and similar statements.

Men are expected to be able to accidentally cut off a limb, duct-tape it back on, use the blood for lubricant, and keep working without ever showing any outward indication of pain. And if it is not too much of an inconvenience they might seek medical attention when and only when the task they were working on is completed.

I noticed something in scripture today about the warriors of Israel that directly contradicts the current culture’s lunacy.

The Israelites in Judges chapter twenty are on a righteous mission to exact justice for great evil. Most unexpectedly they are severely beaten by the bad-guys in the first encounter – 22,000 died.

But the Israelites took courage and assembled at the same place they had fought the previous day. (For they had gone up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the LORD until evening. Then they asked the LORD, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again?” And the LORD said, “Go out and fight against them.”) – Judges 20:22-23

So they went out to fight again, and got severely beaten again – another 18,000 dead.

Then all the Israelites went up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the LORD and fasted until evening. They also brought burnt offerings and peace offerings to the LORD. – Judges 20:26

These battle-hardened warriors, experts in inflicting destruction and death, were openly weeping in front of each other and God – all day until evening!

The word wept is the Hebrew word bakah, which means to weep bitterly, to wail. This was no quiet affair of tears softly falling on the ground. The men were in anguish over their defeat and the loss of their friends’ and relatives’ lives.

Also notice that in verse twenty-three they are fighting against their relatives from Benjamin. And they succeeded, only 600 men of Benjamin survived.

Did they rejoice, suppress familial feelings, and act macho, grunting and pawing at the ground about their success?

And the people went to Bethel and sat in the presence of God until evening, raising their voices and weeping bitterly. “O LORD, God of Israel,” they cried out, “why has this happened? Now one of our tribes is missing!” – Judges 21:2-3

Again they wept – bitterly. It would appear to me that weeping is not solely reserved for the Venusian race. It is a most definitely manly in the appropriate circumstance.

Father, may I live my life, may I allow my emotions, to be dictated by you and how you fashioned me. Please forgive me for how much I allow the culture to influence who I am. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice.
Peace, Jan

Judges 19

The Concubine

What is a concubine? I’d never really thought much about that word until I saw a movie version of the Dune book series. In it, one of the characters talked about how wives inherited the name and created alliances by being married amongst the royal houses, but concubines were the woman that the man chose to bear his children and receive his love.

Dictionary.com defined the word concubine as – a female conjugally united to a man, but in a relation inferior to that of a wife. Among the early Jews, from various causes, the difference between a wife and a concubine was less marked than it would be amongst us. The concubine was a wife of secondary rank. There are various laws recorded providing for their protection (Ex. 21:7; Deut. 21:10-14), and setting limits to the relation they sustained to the household to which they belonged (Gen. 21:14; 25:6). They had no authority in the family, nor could they share in the household government.

Now in those days Israel had no king. There was a man from the tribe of Levi living in a remote area of the hill country of Ephraim. One day he brought home a woman from Bethlehem in Judah to be his concubine. – Judges 19:1

For whatever reason, the Levite man described in the verse above chose to add a woman to his life.  But he did not bestow the right of “wife” on her. Maybe he was just horny. Maybe his parents had already picked out a different woman to create a strategic alliance between two households. Whatever the reason, she knew she was viewed as lesser rank.

But she was unfaithful to him and returned to her father’s home in Bethlehem. – Judges 19:2

Say what? Unfaithful to him and returned to her father’s home? No, I don’t think so. “Unfaithful to him” would have resulted in the death-penalty for her. Something is amiss here.

The New Living Translation Second Edition words verse two a bit differently.

But she became angry with him and returned to her father’s home in Bethlehem. – Judges 19:2 (NLTse)

This makes a lot more sense, especially in light of what the man did in response – nothing at first. He stewed for quite some time, and then, four months later, he went to win her back.

After about four months, her husband took a servant and an extra donkey to Bethlehem to persuade her to come back. When he arrived at her father’s house, she took him inside, and her father welcomed him. – Judges 19:2b-3

If she had been unfaithful to him he would have had her executed. He would have never spoken kindly to her (as some translations read), she would not have willingly took him into her father’s home, and her father would not have welcomed him. He even brought along an extra donkey for her to ride on.

And after this things turn tragic. She eventually leaves with him. We then learn why the woman became angry with him and left in the first place. He did not deserve her love or respect. He was all about himself. He did not defend her when it was his duty to do so. He treated her as disposable, as mere property. He allowed her to be brutalized and to die of the injuries; all to save his own skin. (Judges 19:25-27)

Pathetic excuse for a man.

It is so easy to judge him from this side of the keyboard. But as my wife says on occasion, “Our insecurities reduce us to lunatics.” I wonder how deep my depravity, my self-preserving cowardly flesh would take me if I was truly tested? How pathetic would I be?

Oh, I pray that I would listen for and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit. Would I, in the words of William Wallace from the movie Braveheart, have the courage to die well?

Father, please give me the strength live well. May I listen to your Holy Spirit and follow your commands. May I live my life sacrificially for those you’ve placed in my charge. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Freedom is being Christ’s slave. Jan

Judges 18

Laying back in Laish

Pain is a great motivator. If I put my hand on a hot stove, I’m not going to do that again. If get violently ill due to eating certain foods, I’m not going near those foods again. But, with the absence of pain or discomfort, is there any reason to alter my course, to change any behavior?

Which brings me to the citizens of the town of Laish.

…living carefree lives, like the Sidonians; they were peaceful and secure. The people were also wealthy because their land was very fertile. – Judges 18:7a

Sidonians?

Inhabitants of the city of Sidon on the Mediterranean coast, just above Israel. Their extensive sea-trading network made them both powerful and rich. It was the oldest and most important city of the Phonetician trade routes. The city’s glass and purple dye production was lauded by most of the ancient world. Even the poet Homer wrote about their amazing craftsmen. Citizens of Sidon later expanded and founded the equally wealthy city of Tyre.

And now we resume our regularly scheduled program already in progress…

So, these people in Laish are sitting pretty, laying back living the good life. They have everything they want. Unfortunately they don’t have everything they need.

When people are saying, “All is well; everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall upon them as suddenly as a woman’s birth pains begin when her child is about to be born. And there will be no escape. “- 1 Thessalonians 5:3

They were missing something very important.

…they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. – Judges 18:7b

In my life I used to live isolated. I had everything I needed, a wife, house, cars, pets, my television, and a good job.  What more did I need?

Allies – noun – a  person,  group,  or  nation  that  is  associated  with  another  or  others  for  some  common  cause  or  purpose. One  in  helpful  association  with  another.

Bring on the inciting incident. God was not going to allow me to sit on my haunches and not bless his people through the gifts and abilities that he’d given me. He wanted a man of passion, of purpose. He wanted a man fully alive, not sleeping in a Lazy-boy recliner. Like the men of Laish, I was blissfully ignorant.

My wife left me. My carefully constructed comfortable world disintegrated around me.

…the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure. They attacked and killed all the people and burned the town to the ground. There was no one to rescue the residents of the town, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. – Judges 18:27-28

I needed allies. I needed men who would walk with me through the issues of life; men who were not afraid to confront my weaknesses and failings. I did not have that. Fortunately my ‘town’ was merely sacked, it was not burned to the ground. The inhabitants lived, but sadly divorced. Yes, a great price was paid for my lack of having allies nearby. I suspect if I’d known then what I know now, life would have been very different.

I now live in a fellowship of men. I give my strength, time and hard earned wisdom to others. I freely give what I have been given. We are allies.

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:12

I no longer stand alone.

Father, thank you for the men in my life who allow me the joy of calling them friend. May I be a good friend to them. Thank you for second chances. And thank you for the third man, Jesus. It is in his authority I pray, Amen.

Stand, Crawl, Walk, Run! Jan