My family and I returned this past week from spending two of the most awesome weeks of our lives in the mountains of Colorado. Instead of roasting throughout the day in the Oklahoma heat we wore long sleeved t-shirts. Instead of looking for miles over flat lands, we hiked up and down gorgeous mountain trails. Instead of our normal routines, we did things that were out of the ordinary for us, and we had a blast.
It is always amazing to me how the Lord uses these vacations each year to teach me powerful lessons about my relationship to Him. This year was no different. There were many different lessons that I learned while I was in Colorado, but one of the greatest lessons occurred while we were white water river rafting one day. I need to set the stage for you before I tell you about our river trip because it is what was going on before we ever stepped foot into the raft that makes the story come to life.
Each year that we go on vacation I take along a book and choose one book from God’s Word to read while we are away. This year I took with me John Maxwell’s new book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, and I chose to read the book of Judges from God’s Word. I really had no idea why I felt led to read the book of Judges. I had read it many times in the past, but for some reason I simply felt that I was supposed to read it…so I began the day we arrived.
While reading about leadership in God’s Word and in John Maxwell’s book we signed-up to go river rafting. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone on a raft trip where there are rapids and rocks, but it can cause your adrenaline to kick into high gear at times. It is for that reason that they give you a seasoned, experienced guide to help you maneuver through the treacherous waters and to help you avoid the rocks that will throw you into the icy cold waters if you are not careful. Well, we couldn’t have gotten a better guide. When we got off of the bus and met our guide he was a big, strong man in his early 50’s who had gone on thousands of river trips. He told us that this trip was really enjoyable except for one rapid that was pretty treacherous. He told us that he had only lost two people all summer and that he had gotten them back into the raft safely and they had gone on to finish their trip. He said, “If you get thrown out of the raft this is what we will do to get you back in.” Then he showed us the steps that we would take to get us back in the raft. No sweat.
I have to admit to you that after I had met Mike and heard him speak about his experience on the river, my anxiety level dropped dramatically. I mean with a guide like that you can just sit back and enjoy the ride, right? Well, we got on the river and things went really well. We were talking and splashing water on each other until all of a sudden Mike said, “Okay, we’re coming up to the rapid that I told you about so we all need to paddle.” I put my paddle in the water and did as I was told. When we came to the “Smelter” it just looked like faster running water with a little rise in it. That is, until we came right up on it and I looked over into an abyss. Suddenly we were down in this big hole and a huge wall of water crashed over us. The water shot our raft up out of the water and threw everyone to the back of the raft. I turned around to see if everyone was okay. Connie and Annie were in the back of the raft and then I saw Mike’s legs sticking straight up in the air. Next thing I know our guide, our faithful, experienced, cut out of the mold of Grizzly Adams’ guide is gone. I yelled at the rest of my family that Mike was gone so that we could do what we needed to do to save everyone on board. We started paddling like mad, but they had given us regular sized paddles and they just weren’t doing a whole lot of good against the rapids even though we were paddling for our lives. When I saw that our paddling against the rapids wasn’t getting us any closer to the bank of the river I moved to the back of the raft, into Mike’s captain’s seat, and used my paddle as a rudder. I had the boys paddle on one side while I steered us to the bank. My heart was racing, but I have to admit that I felt like Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of their action thrillers.
The raft trip that at first was full of fun and frivolity suddenly changed into a Hollywood script and I felt like I was in a closing scene from the movie, The Perfect Storm. We finally got the raft over to the shore and about twenty minutes later Mike came hobbling up with his tail tucked between his legs. He was embarrassed, but he was also hurt as he had been beaten by the rocks before he made his way to the shore. He checked to make sure we were all right, and asked us if we wanted to go on with the trip. Everyone wanted to go on except for Annie who had decided that she had had enough of rafting for the rest of her life. We finally bribed Annie with a trip to Wal Mart and a toy if she would just get back on board and finish the trip with us.
When we finished the trip, the lady who picked us up told us that we could go to a photography studio in Durango and get a picture that was taken while we were on the trip. When we got into town we made a beeline to the store to see our picture. We all fell on the floor laughing when we saw the picture taken of our family. There are looks of terror etched on our faces, but beside our raft is a pair of legs sticking straight out of the water…Mike’s legs!
Mike was a wonderful guide and if I had to go down the Animas River again I would want him to guide my raft, but I did learn a valuable lesson on the river that day. Even the best human guides are still human.
There are all kinds of “guides” that are available to us today concerning every area of our lives. There are financial counselors who hope to steer you through rough financial waters. There are doctors present who hope to guide you through the treacherous waters of failing health. There are relationship guides who try and help you patch up tattered relationships and guide you back to smooth waters. There are spiritual guides who seek to steer you to God. There are also those people who believe in their heart that they don’t need a guide, they can chart the rough waters all by themselves and arrive on the shores of peace and tranquility.
The simple fact that there are so many guides available to us today doesn’t necessarily mean that these guides are fail proof. No, as a matter of fact, each of these guides are like my friend Mike, merely human beings who may have more experience than I possess, but they are human nonetheless. The fact that all of those who give us guidance are people just like us should not lead us to believe that we don’t need any help. We do need help, guidance in many areas of life, but we need to be careful about who we are listening to and taking advice from or we could find ourselves overboard.
In the Scripture that we are going to look at this morning we see the people of God coming out of a season when they had a reliable guide, a man who had sought God with all of his heart and had urged the people to be faithful to God. When Joshua died a different reality begins to unfold among the people of God. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Judges 2:6-15.
6After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. 7The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel. 8Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress. (Judges 2:6-15 NIV)
I want you to notice something as we begin our study. Take a look at the Scripture once again and you will see that in verse 7, under Joshua’s leadership, the people served God faithfully. In verse 8 a dramatic change of events takes place. Joshua dies at the age of 110 and is buried. In verse 10 we read,
10After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.
We are told that when Joshua and his generation died another generation grew up to adulthood and they did not know the Lord. Neither could they recall the great stories of how God had acted on their ancestor’s behalf through all of their trials and struggles.
There are so many different lessons contained in these verses for us, but I want to focus on one specific lesson. Before I get to that I have to ask the question, “Why did the children of those who had served God faithfully not know the stories of faith? Why did the children of the great men and women of faith not know the Lord?” Were they so busy serving the Lord that they forgot to pass on the faith to those who would come after them? Were they so busy teaching, preaching, giving, and serving those around them in the name of the Lord that they had neglected to teach, give, and serve their own kids? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but for some reason the next generation grew up without the benefit of knowing the Lord and His mighty power.
I believe that we are seeing Judges 3 lived out before our eyes today. I have the opportunity to work with a lot of kids and so many of the kids I know can’t tell you the stories of God’s faithfulness throughout the generations. They don’t know that God saw the suffering of His people in Egypt and did something about it. They don’t know that He gave David the strength to bring down the bully on the schoolyard. They don’t know that He gave sinners a chance to begin again. They don’t know about Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego and how those kids refused to bow their knee to the pressure being put on them. They don’t know about Esther and her boldness. They think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. They can’t name even the first of the Ten Commandments. They just don’t know. Why don’t they know? Because we haven’t told them. We’ve told them about everything else under the sun, but we’ve haven’t told them about the Lord and His faithfulness. As a result our kids are running on empty trying to find some kind of meaning out of this life, but they don’t know that apart from Jesus Christ there is no meaning in this life.
What was the result for the next generation after Joshua died? I’m so glad you asked! Take a look at the next section of Scripture.
11Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
The direct result of not knowing the Lord, of not fearing God, is that we will do whatever we want to do and as a result we will forsake God. Judges teaches us that we are going to serve somebody or some thing. It is not that the Israelites decided one day that they were going to stop serving God and simply live. They forgot about God and begin to serve the Baals and Asherahs, false gods of their day. The people of our day, those of us seated here in this church this morning need to heed the warning from the book of Judges. My experience has taught me that the majority of Christians, those who say they love the Lord and want to do His will are really Sunday morning, fair weather fans rather than faithful followers of Jesus. We follow Jesus the way we follow our favorite sports teams. When the team is winning and it is fashionable to wear their colors then you can count us in. On the other hand, when times are tough and losses are more prevalent than victories then we shrink back and look for some other team who can provide us with the excitement and good times that we are looking for in life.
Many followers of Jesus today are cut out of the same cloth as the fans of sports teams. When things are going well in life and we are getting what we want then we are willing to go along with the program, sport a big cross, and even put Jesus bumper stickers on our cars. When prosperity dries up, when things don’t go our way, and tragedy and turmoil visit our houses then we look for something or someone who can provide us with the buzz that we are looking for in life.
We don’t have shrines to Baal or Asherah poles in the town square today, but don’t let that lead you to believe that we are out of the woods. Our false gods are far more deadly than an Asherah pole or an idol sitting on the mantel. Any time we move the Lord off of the altar of our hearts then you can bet that something or someone will take its place. If you are not giving your all to the Lord then you are giving your all to something or someone else. I know folks who will fall all over themselves to do whatever it is that is most important to them, but they can’t ever seem to find the time to attend Bible study or make time to pray or carve out an hour to help a brother or sister in need. I know parents who are willing to live on the verge of poverty and totally rearrange their lives so that their kids can play sports or be involved in some kind of extracurricular activity, but they aren’t willing to encourage the kids to get involved in the youth group. Why do we do these things? The answer is simple. Having what others have supposedly will make us happy and bring us the life that everyone tells us is full and exciting. Having our kids involved in sports and other activities where they can accomplish will help them to make a name for us…I mean for themselves. They will be popular and fit in with the other kids and after all that is what is really important for kids.
The Israelites didn’t seek after the things of God. They forgot about God and did what they wanted to do. They did what would make them happy and popular with the other folks in their towns, schools, and neighborhoods, but it was evil in the eyes of the Lord. They didn’t do this just once; they repeated this pattern over and over again. Take a look at Judges 3:7 with me.
7The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:7-11 NIV)
Without a godly guide the people did evil in the eyes of the Lord. The Scriptures tell us that they “forgot the Lord their God” and went on to serve the Baals and Asherahs. If this were the only time that this phrase appeared it would be bad enough. For anyone to forget the Lord is a horrible thing, but this is one of six occurrences of the phrase “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
If you will take the time to read this powerful book that is filled with so much application for our lives then you will see that there is a cycle that begins in chapter 3 and carries all the way through the rest of the book. Let me give you the cycle in a nutshell. 1) The Israelites forget about God and do their own thing. 2) God becomes angry with them because of their rebellion against Him. 3) God removes His hand of protection from His people and turns them over to their enemies. 4) The Israelites, struggling under the hand of their oppressors, cry out to God for help. 5) God raises up a deliver, a Judge, who comes in to lead them back to God and out of bondage. 6) The Israelites, enjoying calm waters and peace, forget about God and the cycle begins all over again.
As I said, this cycle runs throughout the book of Judges. We read, “and the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” and the cycle begins. Something different occurs when we get to chapter 17 of Judges. Let me read it to you. Take a look at Judges 17:6. 6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. (Judges 17:6 NIV) Again in Judges 21:25, read with me, 25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. (Judges 21:25 NIV) The more the Israelites forget about God and suffer from their amnesia the more they are unable to hear the voice of God and respond in faithfulness. Finally, the Israelites are found not doing evil, but doing as they see fit. They are doing what they think is right, but it is all wrong.
I want to go back for a minute and talk about the generation that came after Joshua and the faithful men and women who served God. The Scripture says,
10After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.
There are so many guides around us today who are willing to share their wisdom with us about why we are facing such uncertain times. Why do one in five Americas have a sexually transmitted disease? Why is suicide a viable alternative for people today? Why is divorce ransacking our homes and lives? Why are drugs so attractive and yet so destructive? Why are well-educated, financially successful folks finding themselves living in the bottom of a bottle? In such a prosperous country why did more Americans file bankruptcy in 2000 than in any year in our nation’s history? Why are kids shooting each other and carrying guns and other weapons to school? Why? The guides of our day will tell you why and then give you the answers. The only problem is that so many of these guides are not offering Scriptural solutions to the problems that plague us they are offering nonsense. They are like the guides of old spoken about in God’s Word.
O my people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path. (Isaiah 3:12 NIV)
30 “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? (Jeremiah 5:30-31 NIV)
6 “My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. 7 Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty, for they sinned against the LORD, their true pasture, the LORD, the hope of their fathers.’ (Jeremiah 50:6-7 NIV)
4This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because they have rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed, 5 I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.”(Amos 2:4-5 NIV)
Many people of my generation and certainly those younger than me are growing up without knowing the Lord and His purposes for our lives and it is destroying us. We are listening to those around us who convince us that they know what is most important in life. When we get in a fix we listen to those closest to us who are willing to share with us what they think. We listen to so-called “authorities” who write books and have specials on television, but they will not get us anywhere. What we need more than anything else in life is to know the Lord. Not to play church on Sunday, but to know the Lord so intimately that He is our closest companion, our guide through rough waters, our corrector when we get off track, and our encourager when we find ourselves shipwrecked and wondering if we can go on. If we are left to guide ourselves then we will most assuredly make decisions that will ruin our lives.
I have a friend who has gone through some tough times in his life. About one year ago he decided he wanted to get right with God and begin a new life. There were folks who encouraged him to pursue the Lord with passion and he showed signs of doing so. Then he began to slip and go back to doing what was right in his own eyes instead of doing what the Lord was leading him to do. When I got back from vacation I had a message that my friend was in the County Jail. He is looking at serving many years behind bars for what he has done, but he was doing what was right in his own eyes. You need to know that my friend is smart, highly intelligent on an IQ scale, but he has chosen to be his own guide instead of allowing the Lord to guide him through this life. The result is that now he has found himself in jail.
I want to ask you this morning, “How good is your guide?” Are you allowing others to give you advice without checking to see if it squares with God’s Word? Are you making decisions for yourself…what is right in your own eyes? If so then I want to invite you this morning to surrender your life to Jesus Christ and allow Him to empower you to do what is right in the eyes of God. Won’t you invite Him in?