Reflections on the Book of Judges

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Here’s one benefit to reading through the Bible that I’d forgotten about – rediscovering the stories you’d forgotten about. Everybody knows the Samson story. Long hair, big muscles, high libido and low morals. Bruce Springsteen even mentioned him in a song once. But do you remember Micah? His story follows Samson’s in Judges 17 & 18.

But with just a smidge of cultural updating it could be the next installment on your favorite podcast. Micah stole his mother’s silver but returned it when he heard her utter a curse on the anonymous thief. Frightened by the possibility of divine retribution, he confessed.

“Uh, Mom, you know that silver someone stole from you that you called down a curse about? I have that silver with me. I took it.”

Mom’s response? “The Lord bless you, my son!” Who doesn’t love a forgiving mom?

As a reward for returning the silver, his mom gave some of it to a silversmith who used it to make an idol. Micah set the idol up in a shrine in his living room and installed one of his sons as his priest, thus launching the first house church – The Church of Micah. But, as with any church plant, there were some problems. Besides the not-so-small violation of the second commandment (no graven images), Micah’s son was not qualified to be a priest. They were of the tribe of Ephraim and only Levites could be priests.

Meanwhile, a young man from Bethlehem was looking for a fresh start and happened to walk up Micah’s driveway.

“Where are you from?” Micah asked.

“Bethlehem in Judah. I’m a Levite,” the young man answered.

Have you ever had one of those Age of Aquarius moments when it seemed Jupiter aligned with Mars, when the pieces all fell into place and the fortune cookie prediction you read two days ago was coming true right before your very eyes?

Neither have I. But that’s precisely what Micah felt was happening. A duly ordained, fully credentialed, highly qualified, gen – u – wine priest fell right into his lap. Micah made him an offer he could not refuse. “Be my priest. I’ll give you room and board, a clothing allowance and I’ll pay you well.”

“Where do I sign?” the young priest asked.

Micah was thrilled. “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.”

Unfortunately, Micah didn’t think to include a non-compete clause in the contract. Before Micah’s house church could outgrow his living room, the young priest left for a better paying gig with a bigger church. It is an eternal curiosity that the Lord never calls preachers to smaller, lower paying churches. But that’s a story for another blog.

You Church

Lots of us these days treat church like the music streaming app, Pandora. If we don’t like our church, we skip to another one that more nearly matches our preferences. Is the worship too old school? No problem. The big mega church downtown just opened up a new franchise in the suburbs. Did your reliable old traditional church add that infernal contemporary music to the playlist? No problem. There’s a faithful fellowship nearby that still holds the line. Do you prefer to go to church at the biblical hour – 11:00 a.m – but yours moved it to 10:30? Preacher too deep? Too shallow? Elders too controlling? Not strict enough? Seats too hard? Too soft?

Noooooo problem! There’s bound to be a church out there that checks off every preference, satisfies every whim and fulfills every wish. Or, push come to shove, you and a few like-minded friends can start your own. It’s like we need a dating service for churches. You fill out your online profile and it sends you a list of local churches that match all twenty-nine dimensions of compatibility. ChurchMatch.me – where it’s all about you.

Dream Church

In the first seven-and-a-half pages of his book, Uncomfortable, Brett McCracken meticulously describes what he calls his “self-indulgent dream church.” He even includes the color palate for his imaginary church’s website. Then he confesses: “I am a bit disgusted with how easy it is to describe in such detail my hypothetical ‘dream church.’ It’s easy because this is how we’ve been conditioned to think. ‘Have it your way’ consumerism is the air we breathe.”

I’m just getting started in McCracken’s book, but I can tell it’s going to be a little like hugging a cactus. And that’s a good thing. Because if I’m never pricked, never made to feel uncomfortable, I will not change. And where there is no change, there is no growth. Therein lies the danger in our Micah-like church customization.

Making members feel comfortable is nowhere to be found in the mission statement Jesus gave the church. On the contrary, the very things we are called to do – examining ourselves, repenting, confessing, loving people who are different, looking to the interests of others, forgiving those who sin against us, praying for those who offend us and serving the whole lot of them – are decidedly un-comfortable activities. If your church never makes you feel inconvenienced, indisposed or uneasy about something – maybe you really do need a new church!

Everyone Did As He Saw Fit

Some of the most gruesome, stomach-turning stories in the Bible appear in the last five chapters of Judges. Israel is spiraling down into spiritual, moral and political chaos. Now and then as the book draws to a close, the author pens a haunting phrase: In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. It is no accident that the first time that phrase shows up is in the story of Micah’s customized church. Micah created for himself an ergonomically designed religious experience. It was safe. It was comfortable. It was user friendly. He never had to listen to a sermon that offended him. He didn’t have to learn to love people he didn’t like. He never had to feel convicted, called to a higher way of living or challenged to change. Micah got the church he wanted; not the church he needed.

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