“SECOND GENERATION DEGENERATION”

JUDGES 2:6-10; 3:1-6

JANUARY 15, 2012

 

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           There’s one in just about every community.  Years ago it had been a booming, on fire congregation.  The church loved Christ, and people were attracted to it likes flies to honey.  At one time there was so much enthusiasm about what God was doing in their midst that church members had to add on to the building to accommodate everyone.  Now, things have changed.  Membership has drastically declined and members rattle around in a building filled with memories, but not people.       

            I wonder ... what causes a church to die?  What causes the spark to go out, the fire to be extinguished?  I suppose there a lot of possible answers to that question and one of those answers is contained in our passage for today.  For in a very short time ... in the space of one generation ... Israel lost its spark, her zest for God.  Let’s go back in time and examine what happened so we might be able to learn from their mistakes and keep history from repeating itself on our watch. 

            Last Sunday we embarked on a study of the Book of Judges, and we noted that the Book of Judges stands in sharp contrast to the book of the the bible that immediately precedes it ... the Book of Joshua.  The Book of Joshua marks one of the golden ages in Israel.  It marks a time of victory, and blessing, and joy.  So when the Book of Judges begins, things couldn’t be much better for the Israelites.  But the golden age disappears quickly in the Book of Judges, and today we will investigate what went wrong.

            But before we investigate what went wrong, let’s quickly review the golden age of Joshua.  Turn with me in your bible to the second chapter of the Book of Judges, verse six.

 

            When Joshua dismissed the people, the Israelites all went to their own inheritances to take possession of the land.  The people worshiped the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel.  Joshua, son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten years.

 

            By the way, calling someone a “servant of the Lord,” is the highest honor that can be bestowed on someone in the Bible.  His predecessor, Moses, was called that as well.  Only outstanding leaders in Israel’s history are ever referred to as a “servant of the Lord.”  Let’s continue reading.

 

            So they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in the Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north Mount Gaash.  Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel.

 

            Note, it did not take long for the people of Israel to get off track.  As soon as Joshua’s generation died off, the next generation fell away from God.

            Most of you know that we named our one and only son, Joshua.  Not because the name was popular at the time but because Trudy and I thought so highly of Joshua of old.  Joshua was  a great military commander, a brilliant organizer, and a charismatic leader.  We could go on singing his praises, however, two of his qualities stand above everything else.  These two qualities explain why Joshua experienced so much success in his life.  Unfortunately, these two qualities were missing in the generation that followed him.

            Let’s turn our attention to the first quality: a responsiveness to God’s word.  Turn with me to the Book of Joshua, to chapter one verses seven and eight, and let me set the scene.  Moses has just died, and Joshua faces the awesome task of following Moses, and God comes to Joshua with a promise and a challenge.  Once again ... chapter one, verses seven and eight.  God says to Joshua ...

 

            Be strong and courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it.  For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.

 

            And that is exactly what Joshua did.  He meditated on God’s word.  He had it for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner, and God honored Joshua and blessed the people of Israel because of their responsiveness God’s word.

            One of the more remarkable reports to come out of China has to do with the state of the church in China.  You may remember that in 1949 Christian missionaries were expelled from the country and most, at the time, believed the church would die in China.  Not true.  A generation later the church was thriving.  It had grown to fifty million Christians in China.  Furthermore, it grew even though the communist government did not allow bibles into China.  In fact, at one point there was only one bible per one thousand Chinese Christians.  That’s just the opposite here where we seem to have one thousand bibles for every American Christian. 

            Of course, the question people asked at the time was why?  Why did the church not die in China?  With all the obstacles it faced ... no missionaries, very few bibles, government opposition ... how did the church thrive and grow?   Well, it did what the early church did.  The Chinese church went underground, and people gathered regularly to study and meditate on their most prized possession, the bible.

            So one of Joshua’s great qualities was his responsiveness to the word of God.  What he also had going for him was his active faith.  If you don’t know his story, let me tell you about some of the stuff he pulled off because of his faith.

            First, there was the time he guided two million Israelites toward the flooding Jordan River and just about the time the Israelites began taking out their snorkels and fins, God parted the river just as God had told Joshua he would.  Active faith.

            Or take the time when Joshua, in obedience to God’s orders, marched the Israelites around the city of Jericho and on the seventh time around Joshua had Wynton Marsalis hit a high C and the walls fell like a clay pigeon.  And, as a quick aside, the song they wrote about the event went platinum. 

            His supreme act of faith, of course, was when Joshua commanded the sun to stand still in the Valley of Aijalon and it did.  Facing an overwhelming military alliance, Joshua needed more sunlight to complete the battle, so he fixed the sun with his military gaze and because he was in charge of the operation, and because God was in charge of him, the sun snapped to attention and kept shining until the job was done.  Active faith.

            And note I said “active faith,” and not just “faith.”  You see, most of us possess faith.  That’s not the problem.  Our problem is it’s not active.  We pray for rain, but we don’t carry an umbrella.  We pray for protection, but never stop worrying. 

            Let me tell you about a missionary couple, Robert and Mary Moffett.  For ten years they served on the mission field without a single convert.  Then they decided to step out in faith and asked a friend to send them a communion set.  Were they crazy?  What did they need with a communion set?  They didn’t have any converts.  Well, they were just about as crazy as Joshua when he marched the Israelites around Jericho and told them to shout like a bunch of pre-teens at a Justin Bieber concert, for the strangest thing happened.  The day after the Moffets received their communion set, they led six people to Christ.

            Our problem is we don’t order the communion set until after God has acted, and God often refuses to act until we’ve ordered the communion set. 

            OK, that’s what typified the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership.  A great commitment to the Scriptures and an active faith.  Now, let’s turn to what went wrong.  I want us to note two devastatingly, debilitating characteristics that caused the Israelites to lose what they had.

            Number one.  In contrast to the generation before, they neglected God’s word.  Chapter two, verse ten.

 

            Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors (that is the people of Joshua’s generation) and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

 

            We will find something astonishing as we study this book.  There is almost no reference to the study of Scripture in the Book of Judges.  What was central in Joshua was peripheral in Judges.

            And we have the same problem.  Sure, we Americans love our Bibles.  We love them so much we often keep them in a pristine, unopened condition.  Or, as George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli said in a widely quoted survey, "Americans revere the Bible but, by and large, they don't read it."

            Anecdotes abound.  Time magazine observed in a 2007 cover story that only half of U.S. adults could name one of the four Gospels.  Fewer than half could identify Genesis as the Bible's first book.  Jay Leno and Stephen Colbert have made sport of Americans' inability to name the Ten Commandments — even among members of Congress who have pushed to have them posted publicly.  Oh sure, generally, people know the Bible's major figures - Adam, Noah, Jonah, Job, David and Goliath, Jesus.  Ask them to put those names in chronological order, however, and they are stumped.

             Davie Eikenberry, as part of a doctoral thesis, recently gave a simple quiz on Bible facts to people at his own church, Orchard View Congregational Church in Muskegon, Michigan.  The average score was just 40 percent.  Eikenberry asked other pastors in West Michigan to administer the same quiz to their parishioners.  "The scores were just atrocious," he said. "I don't expect those outside Christianity to know the Christian book, but shouldn't people of the Book be familiar with it?"

            Are we reliving the Book of Judges in our time?  Do we know the Lord and the work he had done for Israel?

            The other debilitating characteristic was spiritual erosion.  Chapter three, verse five.

 

            So the Israelites lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters as wives for themselves, and their own daughters they gave to their sons; and they worshipped their gods.

 

            Erosion is the process by which the surface of the earth is worn away by the action of water, glaciers, winds, waves, and like most forms of erosion, spiritual erosion happens slowly but surely.  It happens so slowly we are often unaware of it.   No garden suddenly grows with thorns.  No marriage, unless you are a Kardashian, suddenly ends.  No church suddenly splits.  No, slowly and subtly, things we once rejected are now accepted.  Things once considered hurtful we openly tolerate.  At the outset it appears harmless, but the wedge it brings leaves a gap that grows wider as moral erosion joins hands with spiritual decay.  Like the people in Judges, we settle down and live and adopt the customs of modern day Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites oblivious to the erosion of what we once valued.

            Let’s not relive the Book of Judges.  Let’s relive the Book of Joshua.