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Lecture 2 (Week 1): Create A Climate To Flourish

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In early August we got a golden doodle puppy. Our granddaughters named her Carmen. She’s so very cute but such a mess! I’ve told people that she’s a sweetheart and a demon in one body.

As you can imagine, my life’s been taken over in many ways by supervising Carmen to be sure she hasn’t found something to get into. She chews on everything, and so of course, she destroys anything in her path. The bottom of the ottoman in our den was sagging. Friday she chewed on it and made a hole and dug out some of the stuffing.

I’m doing all that I know to do to guide her toward a good life with us. I want to see her become a great dog that flourishes in our home as a positive member of our family.

Point: God Is Our Father Acts To Help Us Flourish.

In the same way, we have a God who, as our heavenly Father, desires what’s best for us—that our lives would flourish, that we would thrive and experience abundance.

You saw in your lesson—God wanted Israel to flourish in their land but they floundered, as the cycle in Judges shows. God commanded them to wipe out the inhabitants of the land because of his love and desire for their best. Initially under Joshua they obeyed. But as individual tribes annexed more land, they grew content and failed to finish the job. Making peace with their enemies began the cycle that was repeated over and over throughout this era, moving in an ever downward spiral.

So how do we avoid a spiral like this? We realize that God is for us as Romans 8:31-32 says: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

That’s means that God is at work for our good. God’s actions in Judges highlight three ways that he’s at work for our good, so that we flourish as his people.

1. God Gives Us Boundaries.

With Puppy Carmen we have gates that keep her in a smaller area where I’ve removed the low-lying dangerous items. Until she’s older and wiser, these boundaries keep her from getting hurt or acting destructively. They help protect her and our family.

Before Israel entered the land of promise, God who knows all things, knew that he needed to set firm boundaries so that the people of the land of Canaan couldn’t influence Israel by their evil practices and idols. His instructions to rid the land of its people was required to protect them.

God’s protector role for us is highlighted in Jesus’s words in John 10:10-15: 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly—that’s flourishing. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [Note the same message as Romans 8:21-22: He proved that he’s for us by his sacrifice.] He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Jesus reveals himself as the good Shepherd who protects his followers to give them abundant lives.

Flourishing in their new land required the Jews to silence the voices that would influence them away from God. And if we want to avoid falling into a similar cycle today, we need to do the same thing—not by physically killing anyone but instead by eliminating the influence of voices that don’t align with God’s voice.

So what voices are we talking about?

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul identifies our enemies: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The enemies of the church aren’t people, but spiritual forces of evil. If we’re to flourish we need to filter their influence from our lives. Yes, Satan and his minions use people under their influence, but the people aren’t the real enemy. They are simply people who need Jesus, just as we do. We’re called to love them.

But when we listen to voices that don’t align with God’s character, we end up putting our hope elsewhere, not in God—and that’s idolatry.

How do we eliminate these influences and voices? Yes, we can turn off and tune out any voice that causes us to minimize sin and embrace idolatry. But tuning voices out isn’t enough. We must replace them by listening to God’s voice—both in his Word and through interactions with mature believers—like so many of you. We need each other as positive voices to overcome the enemy’s lies.

God is for us! He wants us to flourish, so he gives us boundaries in His Word so we avoid the destructiveness of sin and know truth to counter lies. But when we ignore his voice and continue in a pattern of sin . . . 

2. God Disciplines Us.

Carmen has bitten me a few times, as you can see from my wounds. It’s mostly from playing too roughly or trying to keep me from disciplining her. Truthfully, I don’t like disciplining my puppy, but if I don’t, her life and ours will be miserable for many years to come. I do it because I love her and want her to flourish.

In the same way, God’s love motivates his discipline. Let’s not bite him to try to stop it but learn from it.

Let’s look at Hebrews 12:5-11 to see God’s heart and purpose:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews confirms that God’s discipline is done out of love for our good. God is for us! He wants us to flourish.

Any time we talk about God’s discipline, I have to add this important caveat: Most trials and tribulations don’t involve God’s discipline but are simply the effect of being broken people living in a broken world. Christians aren’t immune from troubles. We will all get sick and die. We all face struggles and heartache. You and I can’t discern for anyone else when her situation is discipline. But when we navigate our own hard situations, it’s smart to ask God to clarify what he’s teaching us.

Look back at verse 11: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We’ve got to pay attention to what God’s saying in trials, so we repent and begin to do what’s right. God wants us to flourish.

God disciplined Israel as a group, and he will do the same to his church when we adopt idols. Discipline may be church-wide or individual. We need to be aware of idolatry in both situations.

Wherever we put our trust in or find our worth from apart from God himself is an idol. The American church has idols, and we individually have idols that we trust instead of God. We think they’ll meet our needs and give us what we want, but they actually motivate our sinful thoughts and actions. We’ll talk more about the problem of idols as we continue our study of Judges, but let’s start identifying them now.

Years ago I was involved in a para-church ministry that I loved. I even became part of their extended staff and periodically traveled teaching people how to study the Bible and lead Bible studies. I felt valued and full of purpose, and I enjoyed serving God by helping people better know him and his Word. In time I sensed God telling me to leave, but I never seriously prayed about it. I didn’t dismiss it, but basically I avoided listening too hard because I didn’t want to give it up. Then a painful conflict occurred with some other people locally involved in this ministry. Since that pain was connected to the ministry that I didn’t want to let go of, the oppressive situation forced me to consider it, and I knew it was time to go.

As I look back, I realize that because I ignored God’s still small voice, in his love he disciplined me through another person’s sinful actions. His plans for me meant that I had to leave what was comfortable. I was clinging to a place where I was valued rather than accepting the value God have me. My good ministry had become an idol.

God reveals our idols but he isn’t trying to hurt us. He’s for us! He disciplines us, so we’ll confess and repent as Israel did.

Repentance means turning around and walking in the opposite direction. When we’ve been focused on idols to give us fulfillment, safety, love and purpose, and then we repent and turn around, we find God right there waiting to embrace us.

Generally our American church culture downplays repentance, and it’s weakening us. We’ve got great understanding of the truth that God loves, forgives and completely accepts us in Christ (which he does). But we’ve focused on that to the detriment of the other side of flourishing—the habit of reflecting and repenting. Of course God still accepts us if we don’t repent, but we don’t flourish in relationship with him and those around us. So God acts to bring us back to himself, the only true God.

Once Israel cried to God and repented, he mercifully rescued his people from oppression and gave them rest from their enemies for as long as the judge lived.

God is for us! He wants us to flourish, so he gives us boundaries, disciplines us and . . .

3. God Rescues Us.

Over and over I’ve taken Carmen out of a bad situation that she herself caused and removed her from danger. And God is similarly merciful to us.

One of the struggles we face in Judges is understanding God’s command to destroy the people of Canaan. Let me share an insight that I heard on a podcast recently. One of the speakers, an African-American man, mentioned this dissonance between God’s love and goodness on one hand, and his judgment of various people groups on the other, as we see in Judges and other scriptures. As a white American who has never lived under oppression or experienced racial injustice, I was struck to hear this guy say that oppressed people don’t question God as I do when reading stories like this one. Instead they identify with the oppressed rather than the powerful and rejoice that God rescues people from evil. They understand to a greater extent than I do God’s rescue.

It made me realize that rescue requires defeating another power. In Judges for God to completely rescue and protect his people from oppression and the influence of idolatrous religion, he had to remove the power of those who would oppress. Jesus had to defeat Satan to achieve a victory over evil and rescue us from the kingdom of darkness. The WWII allies had to kill Germans to rescue the Jews and the oppressed nations. The police must generally kill terrorists to rescue people from death. We applaud all these things. Perhaps our problem—or at least mine— is that we don’t feel oppressed and understand how much we need to be rescued from sin and idolatry. We’re like Simon the Pharisee who judges the woman who wept at Jesus’s feet. He loved little because he didn’t see his need for forgiveness as she did.

My puppy stories provide only limited pictures of our God who is merciful and gracious, the God who rescues us from our sins and their underlying idols. Even when we set ourselves up for it by not heeding his boundaries and turning to idols to get what we want, he rescues us when we repent.

God is for us! He wants us to flourish!

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