You don’t have to convince most of my friends that life is difficult. They battle things every day: addictions, poverty, poor self-image, weight loss, difficult neighbours in crowded housing, loneliness, and the list goes on.
This week we started studying the book of Judges. In this book we gaze at an Israel caught up in battles on seemingly every front, and the longer we gaze the more we see our lives. If we replace the names: Philistine, Edomite, Canaanite etc. with the list above, we soon see ourselves in this book with its repetitious story.
This time through Judges we are not concentrating on the gore but rather the similarities to our story. We have decided to read this story through the prism of Jesus’ “Parable of Rented Vineyard” in Mark chapter 12. The Lord of the Vineyard sends his servants; Othniel, Ehud etc. over the centuries until finally he sends his beloved Son. It is important to know that despite the similarities to the Israelites of the time of the Judges there is an important difference. The Son has come and the Son has risen! The Son has bequeathed his Spirit to his people. The same power which raised Jesus from the grave now lives in us!
Knowing this we learn some really helpful lessons from Judges. One of the first thing we learned was that the battle is fought on one battlefield at a time. While my friends and I have multiple challenges, if we want to be effective we must choose our battle. We cannot fight on multiple fronts at all times and expect to gain ground. To battle on every front is to fight defensively. Jesus calls us to advance! He says “The gates of Hell cannot stand against the Church.” We begin to ask ourselves what is my battle in this moment?
The second lesson was that we need to be ruthless and not stop short. Total victory may not be achieved in our mortal lifetime but we cannot relax in compromise with those enemies which would fell us. Often times in the past we have “won” relief only to allow victory to slowly slip away again. No victory is permanent apart from vigilance.
The third lesson we learned was that, without God we are powerless before the slippery might of these enemies. The moment that we lapse into self-confidence we are “crusin’ for a brusin’”.
A fourth lesson was that as long as there were people to remind Israel of God’s care and power, they remained faithful and thus protected. We need each other. Jesus said the “Church” would storm the gates of Hell. The battle is not a solo pursuit. We need to talk about God’s power to overcome. We need to share our stories of deliverance so that no one forgets and lapses into complacency which is the road to idolatry.
We have just started our study and already the conversations are warm and deep. We see the story of our past played out. We see the road to our preferred future mapped out. We have hope that together we can make progress. We have faith that God’s mercies are new every morning. Those times we fail we can pick ourselves up and continue knowing that that is one less failure before we see true change.
We have begun our programs in our new home at Stone Church. The transition has not been without glitches but I am really pleased that most of our friends have found their way to our new venue. I had been having our “Spaghetti & a Western” in the secure half-way house, for the past year. I was concerned as to whether the guys would ‘sign out’ and join us at Stone but I was also excited to be able to include other ex-offenders in the meal. Last night we had a great mix of guys from the Centre and guys from the community. I was very pleased.