(My Talk Delivered at Ivy Kingsway This Morning)
I sometimes wonder, what would my life have been like if I hadn’t become a Christ follower nearly 30 years ago.It’s a long story and you have already heard it but it started when I opened my mind and opened my Bible, then Jesus Christ showed how real he is, so I opened my life to him and he changed everything.
I don’t know whether you’d say you are near to God or far away, but the Bible says ‘Draw near to God and he will draw near to you’ and that’s a promise and that’s what I did. And that’s what He did.
And He will do it for anyone here today, so today I want to invite you – like we do all the time round here at Ivy and over 50 people have done it since September – to pray with me to fully give control of your life and come back to God. To receive his love, believe his promises, turn from everything you know to be wrong and follow him closely from now on. To be a Christian.
Personally, I think if I never had done that it, my life would have been totally different in every way. And obviously I don’t mean I wouldn’t be leading a church, though in fact there are people who lead churches who don’t even believe in God, I’ve met them, but I don’t know why they do!
That first meeting with God came for me when I was driving to work and if I picture it like a car, I set out with me in charge and at the steering wheel of my life, doing whatever I think and feel and want. And though outwardly it looked okay I’d already been in various ditches and scrapes and I didn’t know where I was headed and I was headed toward various crashes and full of dents and running out of fuel or else putting all the wrong stuff in the tank! In every department, spiritually, relationally, financially, family, career…
I needed a Saviour!
I still need the Saviour!
And I am so glad I got out of the driving seat, and he took over.
As I look at the world this week – it’s a world that needs a Saviour.
A Judge weeps here in the UK over the brutal murder of a young girl by her stepbrother. Earthquake in Japan, funeral bombed in Pakistan, suicide bombings in Lebanon, Paris again. It’s a mess. After yesterday’s attacks in Paris I heard and saw statuses and people in media saying ‘It’s religion that divides and messes the world up.’ People sometimes talk about how the world would be so much better with God out of the equation. What if we all just believed whatever we wanted or did what we wanted and made us feel good and got along,
My paper says the song being played in Paris now is Imagine by John Lennon: ‘Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too…’. Some will point to crazy people like Jihadi John and these terrorists and say things like religion causes all the trouble and conflict in the world, which of course is simplistic and untrue. What causes the trouble?
People. People cause all the trouble and conflict in the world.
But what would our world be like, what would family life, national and international life be like without God? We know those things are often very messed up, but would they really be better without God? If we all just did what we think or want or feel or believed what was right?
Well we’ve been in this study and we’re closing out a series today looking at the Bible’s book of Judges. And there we see exactly what that looks like, for people to live without God and just making it up for themselves – played out among a particular people group and nation in history.
And the last few chapters of Judges are among the strangest, darkest, and most horrific; you may even wonder what they are doing in a ‘holy book.’ But this is above all a real book.God tells it like it is a lot more than the media ever will. What’s wrong, what went wrong, and how to start to put it right again.
When the people of Israel had been led out of slavery in Egypt, they were meant to go in and take possession of the promised land as their inheritance. But generations arose which forgot about God, and what he’d done for them- all the miracles and provision along the way. God had been their King, and when people followed him closely and obeyed his instructions they enjoyed all kinds of blessing and victories. But over time the people stopped being a set apart and holy people following God. Instead they said, ‘We’ll decide. Whatever makes us happy is right’
It’s how our Western world lives now. Whatever feels good, do it. It must be good.
And they stopped being distinct as the people of God, they blended in with the people around them. Added in a bit of this religion and that pagan practice.
And this week we aren’t looking at an ‘Everyday hero’ like we have in the rest of the series, (you can listen to them all on the podcast at Ivychurch.org) because the book runs out of heroes and heroines – the people of Israel stop even crying out to God for a saviour, and it finishes terribly. It spirals down in the last few chapters and they really get X rated. Sexual violence, a young woman getting cut to pieces, tens of thousands killed in merciless brutal wars, families torn apart, hatred and pain on every sorry, blood stained page. I don’t even want to preach on it because it turns my stomach. And don’t think the Bible’s ancient history – it sounds just like this week’s paper.
The very last words of Judges are the same words which have popped up all the way through if you’ve been here – and in fact feature twice in the story I want to focus on today; (21:25) “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
Would the world be better off if everyone just did what they wanted? The Bible’s clear. It tells us and shows us why that won’t work, why it can’t work, why it never ever works. In individuals, families and society. And where it always ultimately leads.
Do you know why there is never going to be a perfect utopia on the earth. Because I would spoil it!
And don’t look at me like that – like you’re all so perfect! YOU would REALLY mess it up!
Because the world itself is broken, and nobody’s perfect, and because of what’s going on in HERE. Because of sin. ‘The heart of the human problem, is the problem of the human heart.”
The Times ran a competition to write an essay with the Title ‘What’s Wrong with the world?’
And GK Chesterton won when he wrote, Dear Sir, I am, GK Chesterton.
Judges 17 gives us some very interesting insights – and even though this might seem a world away from us in history and place, you are going to see it’s bang up to date with where we are now.
Verse 6 is again the key message of chapter 17. It’s that little line that keeps popping up in Judges: It say it again: ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.’ We’ll see where that leads.
In the next book of Bible history we’ll read about how they chose human kings, a very imperfect mixture of good and bad, to rule over them instead of God. Because actually they had a King all along, didn’t they? God was King, but they jump into the driving seat, they jump up into the throne themselves and say, “I’ll be in charge now. Whatever works for me, whatever makes me feel good and happy, I rule me.” And what was the consequence of that? Were people happier? Better off? Really? Let’s see.
They forgot who God is. His power, his love, his wisdom. They made their own way and didn’t listen to his Word. If they needed God – they mixed up worshipping him with all kinds of idols, and lived as if he was their puppet, not their King.
As we’re going to see, the consequences come out very clearly in this story for families, the church and the nation. which then lead into even worse consequences in the final chapters of Judges which are like an apocalyptic horror film.
My old Vicar Alan Buckley told us years ago how shocked he was by the movie Seven. He said “If you want to see what the world without God would look like, watch that film’ – so I did. There’s no happy ending. Instead of the convention of good triumphing, we see:
- Inevitable evil
- Unstoppable descent into
- Unfathomable hopelessness.
So if you haven’t got the stomach to watch Seven – movies have got a lot worse and I’m not recommending it – but you wouldn’t handle the end of Judges either. To see what happens when everyone just does, ‘Whatever you think is right.’
Here’s the contrast:
When God rules as King, truth and peace reign.
When relativism rules, chaos reigns.
As we go through the story we see three crucial areas where this is really clear. Family, Church and Nation.
1) Families are fractured and there are CONFUSED PARENTS.
When everyone decides to just do whatever they want and ignore God, it’s a parenting disaster for families. Generations are destroyed. I haven’t got time to read it but the story starts in Judges 17:1-6 with a guy called Micah who lives at home with his Mum.
The name Micah means, ‘Who is like the Lord?’ but this guy has no idea who God is or how to honour God. He breaks commandments 5, 8, 9 and 10, so he can break commandment 1 and 2. He doesn’t honour his Mother, he covets, he wants what she has, so he steals money from her and lies to her, to makes a shrine full of idols in the house.
Meanwhile his Mum’s is cursing, then lying to her son, while Micah involves his own child in the idolatry, and Gran does the same. She says she’s going to use the money to worship the Lord (Yahweh) but she’s going to do her religion HER way. She says ‘I’ll give it all to Yahweh,’ then she gives 20% of it, to make idols, breaking commandment 1 and 2, so this is quite a busy day.
Total moral confusion. Money, materialism and images worshipped and the centre of everything, with a bit of made up sentimental religion thrown in if it make you feel better. To make life easier. That’s God job. I get him to bless me, whatever I’m doing. Because I want God on my terms. I make God the way I want him to be. Small enough to control – but he better be big enough to help. I mix a lot of the world and a bit of the Word.
They knew the Ten Commandments, but wasn’t that a bit old school? Too restrictive and narrow? Nobody wants to be accused of intolerance – let’s all embrace what’s going on around us in the modern world, never mind what some old book like the Bible says.
Can I speak to Parents here? As a grandparent..
You are chiefly responsible for whether your kids grow up to love and serve God. In the end they make their own decision, true. We want to help with that. We have people who love to serve that vision especially here on Sunday.
But your kids see what you are like through the week. They see whether you pray and read the Bible. They see what you watch, what you worship, what you spend money on and what you spend your time doing. When you come in here, they see whether you think it’s okay to be late and roll in and be disengaged.
Because the family has a King, and ultimately for children the choice is their own as to whether they follow Jesus Christ or not; but you who care for them are ridiculously in charge of many, many things that you can do or not do that will massively make a difference to that decision.
And it’s no good when they’re a teenager wondering why they walked away – if you don’t do those things and model them now. That’s why we encourage parents to help in the kids work. Because they see me up here – and so what. But when they see Dad passionately loving God, and everything changes. They see Mum serving and in community in church – and they never forget.
But none of that’s easy. It’s hard work to raise a godly family and you have to go against the flow – and if we just go along with what the world says and do whatever we think or feel, it effects generations, it messes up families.
2) And after that Confused Family the story talks about a Compromised Church (7-13) Because it just tries to blend in, and won’t stand out.
Now don’t get me wrong, we meet in a cinema, we have a great band. I don’t dress in a white dress at the front, because we want to be accessible. Everyone’s welcome and we want people who don’t do church to feel at home and check it out. But accessible doesn’t mean you’re just the same. Accessible to everyone doesn’t mean Accommodate everything. There’ll be times when we say, ‘I know what the world says, but this is what the Word says…’ and we go with what that, not what people want or think or feel. Because only Jesus has the words of eternal life.
And you can lose the crowd and lose some friends that way. It calls for courage, to not just go with the flow. But to go with God and his Word no matter what.
The story goes on to say there’s a priest – we find out later he’s called Jonathan, and he’s a Levite so he’d have had a place in the Temple to be provided for there. But he gets itchy feet. He wants bigger and better, so he doesn’t pray about whether he should abandon that call, he takes his show on the road. Because what you see before long about this guy is that he’s in the ministry for the money. What he does is solely based on how comfortable his living is and what it pays him.
Jesus said you always have to watch out and distinguish between two types of leaders, two types of people. He said there are hirelings, and shepherds. Shepherds care for the sheep. They’ll even lay down their lives for the sheep. Jesus is the Good shepherd and he did that for us on the cross. But a hireling is only in it for what he can get out of it. First sign of trouble, he’s off. And as soon as he can get more out of something else – bye!!
That sums Jonathan up. He’s meant to be a shepherd, but he’s a hireling.
And the church will never have a healing ministry with a hireling mentality.
A priest was supposed to uphold the holiness and teaching of God. He doesn’t.
A shepherd would call this guy Micah out on the idols in the house: not Jonathan. He says whatever people want to hear. He gets offered ten shekels and a shirt and food all year – that’s the price of his integrity. He just moves in with the idols and Micah says, ‘Great – now I have my own priest, I have God in my pocket too.
Because this compromised, false religious system is all set up around ‘What I want, think and feel to make me happy’. It smells churchy. But God is nowhere near. Like the apostle Paul said it has the form of religion, but no power. No lives are changed. Nobody needs to change, because nobody’s a sinner. When the priests are compromised.
And by the way – who are the priests now? Put your hand up! If you’re a Christ follower; put your hand up priest! The Bible doesn’t say there’s a class of religious person now called a priest and the ‘laity’ watch them perform religious acts. No, since Jesus came as the perfect great High Priest, gave himself as the sacrifice, now you, you and you and me are a Kingdom of Priests unto our God. Called by him, chosen to represent him
3) But when people stop having God as King and do whatever they think and want and feel, there’s Confusion in the Family
When the priests neglect God’s truth and add in idolatry and make decisions based on money and an easy life, to go along with culture, the church gets in crisis because it’s Compromised.
And doing your own thing instead of what God says will affect a city, a nation, and the whole planet. ‘Everyone did what was right in their own eyes’ – so society’s filled with violence and greed. Coveting, competing, combating People in the nation. They don’t get what God has for them for free, but try to fill the gap with everything else, that never satisfies them.
The tribe of Dan had a portion of the promised land assigned to them by God, the area belonging to the Amorites. But in chapter 1 of Judges it says they didn’t fight to take hold of that. But that didn’t stop them wanting stuff. Not at all! Now these greedy people don’t ask pray or ask God what to do. Chapter 18 shows how they make their own way. Greedily looking all over the place for some place and Something they could call their own.
They reject what God would give them and now go out to grab and take what they wanted it, wherever and however they could get it. They go in to Micah’s house and find Jonathan the priest there, who of course tells them God will bless them whatever they decide to do.
So they steal Micah’s idols from his house, and say to Father Jonathan does he want to come along with them because they make him a better offer? Of course he says, ‘Whoopee! Promotion! God is really blessing me now! He must be, because my life just got easier and my living just got larger.’
He puts himself safe right in the middle of this predatory little army – while they go on and attack a village full of poor, peaceful and defenceless people – to conquer and kill to take over their place and all their stuff. Then Jonathan and his sons went on to set up false religion there that lasts for generations. During which time you have a nation without God, and it’s that X rated horror movie for two chapters, where a young girl is raped and dismembered, and everyone suffers as wars break out across the whole land.
What a story!
Ungodly Parenting, leading to broken families and kids without restraint
Ungodly Priests, leading to acceptance by culture but rejection from God
Ungodly People, leading to a disinherited, grasping nation destroying others and worship idols: Everyone worships something so they worship anything and everything except the one true God. Because everyone did what they thought was best, and they had no king.
I think we live in a nation that can be every bit as greedy, hateful and uncaring. Because we live in a place where everyone does whatever they think and feel and believe is right. And it’s wrong – and it leads to wrong. It leads to all kinds of mess. It’s not better for a nation to live without God. As if God is not King.
But Imagine: what would it be like if one life at a time across a nation, families said today, ‘We have a King! God is our King! We want him to rule over us. We’ll do what He says.’ Do you think the world would look better? If we did what God told us. I think so.
If we prayed what Jesus told us “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ I’m going to invite you to pray those words and not just say them like a religious phrase but really think about them and mean them; because if you do, they change everything. I’ll invite you to really come back to God today.
What if the church in this land said today, ‘We have a King! We will do what he says and we will say what He says and teach and live according to the truth he has revealed.’
What if one by one across the nation, people came back to God saying, ‘We have a King. We want you to reign, God. We want your Kingdom to come over our decisions, over our education, our government, the way we uphold justice and treat one another, especially the poor. We don’t want greed to rule us. You are our King. We bow to you as our King, Jesus, we want to bow the knee to you.
What if you said that to God today? ‘I want you in charge..’ I want you to be my King. I put you on the throne of my life, my heart, my family, my decisions. If you can’t say that to God, you can’t know him, because he is a great King and he won’t be your little idol. Jesus Christ told Pilate he is a King and they put him on the cross, but he proved it when he rose from the grave.
I started by saying how I made the best decision I ever made nearly 30 years ago when I gave God the steering wheel. I’d wasted too many years going my own way without God’s guidance. The good news is it’s not too late to turn around and go in a different direction in your life – toward God’s good plan and purpose for your life. You’re interested, or you wouldn’t be here and listening. You have a King. A good King – ask him to rule over your life now.
If you are sincerely willing to obey God and do what he says, he will take you on an exciting journey through every day of your life and forever after. Talk to him now, right where you are – he is listening. Pray with me now…