Archive for August, 2017

Judges 6:33-40
Gideon Ask for a Sign

One of my favorite comedy routines is by Bill Engvall and the routine is called “Here’s Your Sign!”. In this comedy routine, Bill goes about telling us that you can fix ignorant but you just can’t fix stupid. And there are signs that people are sometimes just stupid! He talks about how there are warning signs that people are stupid. In one version of this routine, he talks about when he and his wife were moving and the house was full of boxes and the moving van was outside. They neighbor says, “You guys movin’?” Bill says, “Nope. We just like to pack up all our stuff about once every week just to see how many boxes it will take….here’s your sign!” He says, “I was pulling into the marina on the lake one afternoon and unloaded a whole string of fish!” and somebody asked him, “Did ya catch all them fish?” Bill said, “Nope. Talked ‘em into givin’ up!”…here’s your sign! And one of the funniest ones is about product warnings on products we use every day. He said, “I just don’t understand why…wait yes I do…why Preparation H has a warning on it that says, ‘Do Not Take Orally’ Well, you know there was some guy that wrote them a letter. He probably said to them, ‘I sucked down that entire tube of Preparation H but I still have hemorrhoids! My mouth is so much smaller now and I can whistle real good, but I still got those darn hemorrhoids!’…here’s your sign!” He then talks about those silica gel things that you find in shoes. They say do not eat. Why? Because somebody ate it. He said what idiot would think, “Wow, a new pair of shoes and something to eat too!”…here’s your sign.

That’s the thing. We sometimes should obviously know what God’s will is, but we make excuses or ask for signs. Well, God is you do this, I will know. Here’s your sign! We say will go in the ministry if God does this. We say we will lay out a fleece and see what God says. We use looking for a sign from God as a delaying technique I think. We use it to put off making a decision about following God’s calling when it is already obvious to us what God wants us to do. Often we miss our calling because we have waited for this sign or that sign or God to confirm in some way. We are waiting for the big pointing finger from the sky that says “this is it!” or “do this!” or “here it is!” It reminds you in some ways of a scene from the movie The Jerk starring Steve Martin. At the end of the movie where the flaw in the product that made Steve Martin rich is revealed and he begins to lose everything, Steve’s character says as he is leaving the mansion, “I don’t need anything…nothing at all…except this paddle ball and that’s it…this paddle ball” He goes on to continue leaving the house but notices one more and one more thing to the point he says, “I don’t need anything but the ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, and this magazine, and the chair! And that’s ALL I need!” We are kind of like that when it comes to God. We ask for signs. He proves His claim. We ask for another and another as an excuse for inaction. Where is our trust? Where is our faith! Here’s your sign.

These things from my trivial brain that I thought of this morning as I read through Gideon’s fleece story in Judges 6:33-40. Let’s read it now:

33 Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.

36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

In this passage, we see must ask the question, “Was Gideon testing God or was he simply asking God for more encouragement?” In either case, though his motive was right (to obey God and defeat the enemy), his method was less than ideal. Gideon seems to have known that his request might displease God (Judges 6:39) and, yet, he demanded two miracles (v. 37, v. 39) even after witnessing the miraculous fire from the rock back in Judges 6:21. It is true that to make good decisions that we need as many facts as we can gather in a short period of time. In this case, Gideon had all the facts, but still hesitated. He delayed obeying God because he wanted even more proof. Demanding extra signs was an indication of unbelief. Fear often makes us wait for more confirmation when we should take action. Visible signs are unnecessary if they only confirm what we already know to be true. Today, the greatest means of God’s guidance is His Word and the conviction of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Unlike Gideon, we have God’s complete revealed Word. If you want to have more of God’s guidance, don’t ask for signs, study the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and allow the Holy Spirit to convict our hearts of its meaning through pondering God’s Word and through prayer.

Putting out fleeces is a poor decision making method. Those who demand proofs from God are putting limitations on Him. We are, in effect, asking God to fit our expectations. The results of such experiments are often inconclusive in our minds and do not make us any more confident about our choices. Don’t let a fleece become a substitute for God’s wisdom that comes through Bible study and prayer.

You know what God is calling you to do? What are you waiting on? Are you waiting for a sign and another and another? Are you waiting for your pastor to pat you on the back? You have a ministry in you. God has put that on your heart. Now, quit your whining about what has to happen first and just go do it! Follow God’s call on your life. Do what the Spirit has called you to do. No more excuses. No more request for signs. Jump into the water and trust God to send the flotation device when He has obviously told you to jump into the river.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 6:1-32 (Part 5 of 5)
Gideon Becomes Israel’s Judge

This past Sunday in the New Testament class that I am teaching this year (running from June 11-October 8, 2017 with a few Sundays off here and there), we began a two-week look at the Book of Acts. One of the powerful stories of Acts is the stoning death of Stephen. He was the real deal. He loved the Lord so much that he was willing to stand against the opposition to his belief in Jesus Christ. In Acts 6:12-15, we see him being accused of blasphemy against God. The charges are remarkably like those which were leveled against Jesus when He was arrested, tried and turned over to the Romans for crucifixion. Indeed, there is a correlation between these two events. Both were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. Both are accused by false witnesses. Both were accused of speaking against the Temple and the Law. Both were put to death. Stephen is on trial for having taught what Jesus taught. And as he stands before the Sanhedrin, his countenance appears almost heavenly. Why? Because he is filled with the Spirit of Christ. His sermon to the Sanhedrin demonstrated how Israel had rejected Joseph, Moses, and Jesus – all of which were sent to be deliverers of Israel. He calls them to repentance for their rejection of Jesus Christ. What does he get for it? He gets stoned to death. But before He dies, He receives a vision of the Jesus. And even in his death, he, in the vein of his Savior, he asks Jesus to forgive the mob for stoning him to death.

Powerful story is this story of Stephen. His is a story of being willing to take his faith to the mat. He was willing to die for his faith in Jesus Christ. There are Christians all over the world right now, right now, in the 21st century that are doing what Stephen did. They take their faith in Jesus Christ more seriously than anything else in life. There are Christians in countries like North Korea and China that suffer because their governments forbid worship of anything other than the collective of the people themselves, the government. Those who express faith in something other than the communist ideal of the collective people (as expressed and enforced through the government) are singled out, charged with crimes against the state, and imprisoned and maybe even killed (by some kind of “accident” in prison). Then, there are Christians in predominantly Muslim countries that are ostracized, imprisoned, raped, murdered just because they refuse to convert to Islam. Islam is both a religion and a political machine in these countries. So, to offend Islam is more than just a church issue. It is an issue that becomes a governmental one as well. Not only does your Christianity offend the religion of the majority of the people, but also it runs you afoul of the government.

I have often wondered how I would react in that situation. Would I stand up for Jesus or would I stand out for Him. In the United States and other Western cultures, being a Christian is just beginning to cost you something. Right now, it is only ridicule and marginalization from the mainstream beliefs of society. However, God’s Word promises us that things will get worse for us as believers over time as people stray further and further away from God. I wonder what I would do if I really did have to choose between Jesus Christ and physical comfort. What would I do if I had to choose between Jesus and my own life. What would I do if I had to choose between Jesus and prison. And I think that answer lies in how we react right now even when things are not tough by comparison to other countries where persecution is at a higher level that what we experience now in the USA.

It all begins in the small stuff. It begins with little things. Instead of turning down your radio tuned to the local Christian contemporary station when others come around, you leave it playing at the same volume. It begins in the little things. Including God in the conversation about the weather wear it is clear that you believe God is the Creator and controls the weather instead of making random small talk about it. Sharing your faith with others instead of missing opportunities to share because of fear of being looked at like your have four heads. Standing on God’s positions on certain social and sexual issues when it is clear that it is easier to go along with the crowd (and their anti-biblical agenda). That’s how we grow toward Stephen-like behavior. It starts in faithfulness to the Lord in the little things. Then, as we have that boldness to stand up for Jesus in the little things, we can begin to grasp not betraying Him in the big things. The question remains though as to whether I would be willing to go to the death for the name of Jesus Christ.

Today, as we look again at Judges 6:1-32, we are reminded that we are going to face opposition if we stand on biblical principles in a society that no longer believes in God. We will have to make choices that could cost us our friends, our way of life, or even our life itself. Are you willing to stand up and stand out and be ridiculed and even murdered for the name of Jesus Christ. Let’s read the entire passage once more with an eye toward that thought. Here is the passage now:

6 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old.[b] Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole[c] beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of[d] altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second[e] bull as a burnt offering.”

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!

29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”

When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”

31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[f] that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”

In this passage, we see that after God called Gideon to be Israel’s deliverer, God immediately asks him to tear down the altar of the pagan god, Baal – an act that would test Gideon’s faith and commitment. Canaanite religion was very political. An attack on a god was often seen as an attack on the local government supporting that god. If caught, Gideon would face serious social problems and probable physical attack. Gideon took a great risk following God’s higher law, which specifically forbids idol worship (Exodus 20:1-5). After learning what Gideon had done, the townspeople wanted to kill him. This shows how immoral God’s people had become. The irony here is that God’s Word (in Deuteronomy 13:6-11) says that idolaters must be stoned to death but here we see that the townspeople wanted to stone Gideon for worshiping God (by tearing down and idol). When you begin to accomplish something for God, you may be criticized by the very people that you are trying to reach with your gospel-centered efforts.

Are you willing to stand up and stand out for Jesus? It starts right here in your hometown. If you are faithful to Christ in matters that seem small in the grand scheme of things, you will be more and more confident when it comes to standing against social pressure when it counts. Gideon started small. He was willing to obey God by tearing down the local idol. He was willing to face the wrath of the people to accomplish what God has in store for Him.

Are you a Christian that stands up for Jesus or do you turn your radio down because you are ashamed of Jesus?

Amen and Amen.

Judges 6:1-32 (Part 4 of 5)
Gideon Becomes Israel’s Judge

After a dry spell since late January of this year since I have had a job interview toward my goal of going into ministry full time, I had two initial job interviews over the weekend. One was a phone interview for an executive pastor’s position for a large Methodist church in Charlotte, NC and one for another executive pastor’s position for a large Baptist church in Columbus, GA that was a “one-way video” interview. The latter interview was a new one on me. I had never heard of one-way video interviews before. In that situation, you sign on to this video interview service, they present you preformatted questions and then you have to record your video response to the question posed and you have a specified length of time that the video answer can be. Strange but I can see how it is an effective candidate review tool. Like I said, these interviews ended a long, dry spell without any interviews at all.

Even with that one, ministry interviews have been few and far between since graduation back in May 2014. But that one in January was close. We (I say we because in ministry your wife is an integral part of your ministry) almost had that job. It came down to me and one other guy, I believe. After a weekend of interviews, we thought we had it. All the interviews went well. We were in sync with the vision of the church. We got along really nicely with the senior pastor and his staff. It just seemed we were a good fit. Although it would have meant relocating to north central Ohio (eight hours drive from where we live now close to family and friends), we were ready to launch. We were ready to go. We mentally already had our bags packed (even though we had just moved into our new home here in Lyman just two months previous). We were already talking about the community up there and how we both seemed ready to love it. We were “all-in”, as the saying goes for Clemson Tiger football fans. We were ready to move to that next phase of God’s calling on our lives to go into full-time ministry. As the old song, Leaving on a Jet Plane, said, “My bags are packed. I’m ready to go!” We have heard God’s call on our lives to be in full-time ministry and we are ready. That failure to get the job in Ohio was a crushing blow.

We were right there. We could smell the job. I was already thinking about how to take on the job. It was an administrative pastor’s position and I was already thinking about what a thrill it would be to serve the Lord in this way. But the failure to get the job and scarcity of job interviews made me realize that it may be quite some time before we would be this close again. That was the heartbreaking part. It boiled down to an answer to one question about whether I would be happy in the position given that I had teaching aspirations as I had said earlier in the weekend. I thought I had answered the question well enough to quell their concerns. But the thing, the one thing, that took me off the table with them was that they did not feel like it was a “destination job” for me. They felt I would be there only a couple of years and move on. Wow! I asked the senior pastor, “if you are not hiring people that somewhere down the road other people are going to want, are you really hiring the right people!” I don’t remember now what his answer was. However, like I said we were one question away from that job. One answer to one question. We were both heartbroken that I did not get the job offer. And I knew it might be a good while before I got another job interview…and I was right. That was the heartbreaking thing to me. It only takes one job offer and then you’re done, you’re in, it’s time to get about the work of the Lord. But getting in has been the issue. It was not so much that I lost the opportunity in Ohio but it was that I knew that it would be a while before another interview would come along. And typically the job interview process for executive pastor positions are a multi-step, multi-level process that can take over a month and a half to complete and you can get knocked out of the running at any one of those steps.

In the last seven months since the last job interview, that scarcity had begun to make me question my calling. Why would God pick me to go into ministry? Why? I have been in the finance/internal audit/accounting world in the secular domain for 33 years now. Was it all just a pipe dream that I made up in my mind? Did God really call me? Why would he call someone that still has so many flaws? Why was I so stupid to think that God had called me? I cried out to God for answers and no answers came. I finally came to the realization that God is in control of this thing. Yes, He did call me to ministry. I know that. It is because of the fact that it would be easier not to. It is because of the fact that it sounds crazy and far-fetched for a man with a long career in the secular world to be called to ministry. It is because it will be hard. It is because that even after all this time since I felt called to the ministry, the calling is still there, that I believe the calling is real. It is not mine to understand why God is taking this amount of time. I must trust that He is working out a plan both in me and for the place that I will land in ministry. He is working on my flaws and on my pride and on my need to be more dependent on Him.

And He is working out the details of that church, a new one or an established one, where I will land right now wherever that may be. In a famous line from the show, How I Met Your Mother, Stella tells Ted that his soulmate that he will marry “is getting here as fast as she can!”, meaning that God is working out that plan of life for the woman that Ted would meet and marry right now as they spoke. It has not come to fruition yet, but Ted’s “dream girl” was working through the decisions of life and destinations of life that would bring them together. I must trust the same idea. God is working out the details. My dream church is getting here as fast as she can. I must trust that God is working out the details to bring us together – my dream church and me. The almost of Ohio was part of the plan to see if I could deal with heartbreak in ministry. The almost of Ohio was just that she was not right dream church at the right time for me according to God. The almost of Ohio was to make me appreciate it so much more when I meet the dream church that God has for me. It may be that the dream church and dream position that is getting to me as fast as it can is right where I am at. Maybe, God is working it out right now for somewhere next year, the year after, that the dream church with the dream job will be LifeSong itself. It may be somewhere else. It may be even starting something completely new. But God will make it abundantly clear when I meet my dream church that she and I were destined to meet. Of that I am certain.

In the meantime, I plow the field in front of me with happiness and joy because I know that my season in my current function at LifeSong is not over yet. There are still things that have to be worked out. There are still things to be learned. There is deepened trust in God’s plan for my and my wife’s ministry that must be worked out. I must trust that the calling is real and that God is getting it together out there somewhere as fast as He can, according to His eternal timetable not mine. Meanwhile, I cannot let the doubts of Satan make me give up before I even start.

Today, as we look again at Judges 6:1-32, we are reminded how we tend to give up before we even get started with God’s calling on our lives. I so see myself in Gideon in this passage. Gideon does the same thing here v.14-16. Let’s read the entire passage once more with an eye toward that thought. Here is the passage now:

6 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old.[b] Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole[c] beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of[d] altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second[e] bull as a burnt offering.”

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!

29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”

When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”

31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[f] that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”

In this passage, we see that God promised to give Gideon the strength that he needed to overcome the opposition, and God told him, “I will be with you!” In spite of this clear promise for strength, Gideon made excuses. Seeing on his limitations and weaknesses, he failed to see how God could work through him. Like Gideon, we are called to serve God in specific ways. Although God promises us the tools and the strength we need, we often make excuses. Reminding God of our limitations only implies that we have a lack of trust in him and that He does not already know what our weaknesses and flaws are. We are implying that God made a mistake when He chose us for the calling that He has laid upon us. We are implying that He made a mistake in evaluating us and calling us to the task. God doesn’t call us to a task without knowing deeply what makes us tick, what our weaknesses are, and so on. If He is the God of the universe, Creator of all things, then we should be about His business and rely on Him to make our path forward for us.

What is that God is calling you to do that seems crazy? What is that He is calling you to do that He seems to be taking His sweet time in making happen? Are you questioning God’s calling on your life? Are you afraid to do anything about the calling on your life? Are you afraid to step out in faith?

How big is your God? If He is big enough to create the universe, He is big enough to make your path through the darkness clear. If you have followed God’s call and it seems that He is taking forever to bring it to fruition? Who is God? You or Him? Like Gideon, we tend to make ourselves the judge of whether we can do what calls us to. Like me, we tend to think that God should do things on our timetable when we do accept His call. Who is God, Mark? God or you? The answer is obvious. We must trust in the Lord and follow His call. AND we must trust in the Lord about the timing of what He has in store for us! We must trust that intersection of God’s call and our passion for that call is coming up as fast as God wants it to. Trust in the Lord not in ourselves. Trust that God will enable us to do what He calls us to do. Trust in the Lord to bring about the circumstances, people, time, place that will be that soulmate job, that dream job, that He has called you to do.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 6:1-32 (Part 3 of 5)
Gideon Becomes Israel’s Judge

Although my first wife had her own affair during our marriage, it was my affair (off and on from 1991-1993) with the woman who became my second wife that ended the first marriage. I had my reasons and my justifications. From 1983-1988, my first wife was addicted to prescription narcotics and it was a nightmare of cleaning up her physical and legal messes. I was always in a constant state of nervousness as to what would happen this week. How would she disappoint or disgust me this week. The only time that she was clean during of all this was the nine months that she was pregnant with our oldest daughter. After my oldest daughter was born, I pretty much become this child’s sole caregiver as my first wife slid into addiction once again. It was a horrible nightmare of an existence that I do not wish upon my worst enemy. Even after she was able to get clean after a second stint in rehab, she transferred addictions to spending money that we did not have. Bank fees, bounced checks, being embarrassed at the grocery store when they would no longer take our checks. All of this was so long ago but is so vivid in my mind even now some 25-30 years later.

It was in 1991 that I met my second wife. She was a hard working mother of three that had made something of herself though she had only finished high school. She was one of the regional credit managers at the company I worked for at the time. We had been working at the same place for four years but never really got to know each other until we had this quality class that they put all the manager level personnel through. It was there that everything began. It was a justifiable affair in my mind after all the crap I had been through. I refused to let go of her even after several attempts to stop. After several failed attempts to end my first marriage, I finally walked away in 1993.

What followed was my first wife keeping my kids from me after she realized that I was not going to reconcile with her. Then came the harassment that was constant. Then came me taking her to court for preventing me from seeing my kids and for all her harassment (phone calls, voice mails, physically hitting me whenever I was near). It was then at court that she claimed that I had molested my oldest daughter at the last time she allowed the girls to go with me on a visitation weekend. Although I was proven innocent and my first wife was proved to be the one that was a danger to the children with her mental instability, that statement caused DSS to be involved in our lives for around 3 years. It was a dark time in my life and one I would again never wish on my worst enemy. I eventually was awarded custody of my children after DSS being all up in everybody’s business for three years. During this time, my divorce became final in 1993 and I remarried in 1995.

All the while during all of this (the above paragraphs are just tiny snippits of the hell that was my life during this time period and this short blurb here does not really do justice to the craziness that was my life during this time period of my life), I continually asked God while He was putting me through this stuff. Why was all this happening to me. Wasn’t my second wife just plain out better for me than what was proving to be the craziness of my wife. Why didn’t He let me marry her in the first place and bypassed the craziness of my first wife. Why? Why? Why? Then, again when my second marriage began to deteriorate under the weight of ex-wife issues, and more importantly my kids vs. your kids issues, I again wondered why, why, why was the Lord letting all this happen to me. I saw people having happy lives all around me but here I was with two failed marriages and starting over again for the second time in my life after the failure of my second marriage. Why Lord? Why?

Now these many years later I do not blame either of my ex-wives (my first or my second) for what happened. Sure, there were things that each did to screw up the marriages that were pretty big. But I have come to realize over the years that I bare my share of responsibility in all that happened. I should have not been seeking the first woman who came along that would go to bed with me when I was a teenager and should have waiting for God to show me who my bride should be. I should have been a stronger man in my first and second marriages and taken my role as leader of my house and not abdicated it to my first and second wives. I should have not been involved in the affair. It was a sin. All that came after my affair was the result of that sin. The sin had avalanches of consequences that affected my life for many, many years. I did not see it that way back then. It was why was God allowing all this mean stuff to happen to me. Why, Why Why? Ask anyone that I knew back in those days and they would tell you that sure Mark had justifiable reasons for his actions and they all sound good. But it was based on several mistakes and sins – not choosing godly women to be my spouse in either case, and the fact that my sin of adultery had it horrendous consequences no matter how justified it was.

Why is that we blame God for the circumstances of our lives? Why do we blame Him for the holes that we have dug for ourselves? Why do we do that?

Today, as we look again at Judges 6:1-32, we are reminded how we tend to blame God for our circumstances at time. Gideon does the same thing here v.13. Let’s read the entire passage once more with an eye toward that thought. Here is the passage now:

6 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old.[b] Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole[c] beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of[d] altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second[e] bull as a burnt offering.”

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!

29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”

When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”

31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[f] that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”

In this passage, we see that Gideon questioned God about the problems that he and his nation faced and about God’s apparent lack of help. What he did not acknowledge was the fact that the people had brought calamity upon themselves when they decided to disobey and neglect God. How easy it is to overlook personal accountability and blame our problems on God and others. Unfortunately, this attitude does not solve our problems. It brings us no closer to God and it escorts us to the very edge of rebellion and backsliding. When problems come (not if but when), the first place we should look is within. Our immediate response should be confession to God of our sins that may have created our problems. Sure, there are times in life where our problems are caused by the neglect or evil of others, but, in most cases, regardless of the situation, we have played a contributing factor to our own problems.

In my case, sure, there were justifications for my sins and it all sounded so logical and would stand up to scrutiny of conversations with anyone. It was all justifiable in man’s eyes. We can find justifications for why we do what we do. We are our best lawyers, right? It is always somebody else’s fault! And it may well be that we have real blame that we can place on other people, but, we sometimes dig our own holes. We rail at God because we find ourselves in the hole with no way out but our lack of prayer, lack of seeking God’s will, and outright disobedience to His commands for our lives often allow us to slide into the holes we make. Sure, there are true innocents out that have been abused by other people profound ways and I do not speak to that today. I am talking about the choices we make in life that we blame God for. We make the choices but we blame God for how they turn out. We make stupid choices that are against His commands but yet we are all shocked when it does not turn out all roses and wine like we expect. We blame Him for letting the consequences happen to us. God didn’t do it to us. We did it to ourselves.

It is only when we realize that we dug the hole (or at least played and equal role in the digging of the hole) that repentance can begin. When we realize that we must account for ourselves in our circumstances. Only then can the blindness to our own sins can be lifted. Only then can we put our past in proper perspective and actually learn from it. It is only then that we can stop the cycle of repeating the same blind spot mistakes in our lives. When we confess our roles, our sins, in the pattern of our lives, that is when we can grow in our relationship with Christ. Then and only then can our past sins be seen in their true light and only then can our past be instructive to us rather than destructive.

Let us pray that we look deep into our own hearts and have the Holy Spirit expose our sins to us so that we may repent of them and see them for what they are instead of blaming God for why things are the way they are. Let us pray that we see our past as something to be learned from but never repeated. Let us be given wisdom and humility about who we really are. We pray that as a result each of us grows closer to Christ.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 6:1-32 (Part 2 of 5)
Gideon Becomes Israel’s Judge

I told my wife last night that the Lord had been working on me to spend time doing a daily devotional with her. We both do our separate Bible studies and prayers. However, we have never really done any type of devotional or Bible study together. We have never really sat down and discussed Scripture together except maybe as part of a larger group of people in small group. So last night we began making a reading of Scripture part of our evening meal. So, often, we make small talk about the day’s activity at the dinner table and scarf down the wonderful meals that my wife prepares for me. Thus, the meals that it takes her an hour or so to prepare are consumed and gone within a half hour at the most, but last night we actually sat at the table for an hour because we had more to discuss than our separate histories of the day just passed.

We began a study of the Psalms last night. Not some fancy devotional written by some high powered Christian author or scholar. Just reading a Psalm and discussing what we each gleaned from it. Last night, we began at the beginning with Psalm 1. In that psalm, David says:

1
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law, day and night.
3
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

4
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
In that psalm, David is praising the Lord for the fact that He is the source of all we need. He is the river from which our tree draws its strength and sustenance. The river is a symbol for God’s Word and we must stay connected to it or we begin to decay and be blown about by the whims of our desires, the whims of the latest cause celeb, the latest self help guru, and any other form of self-determined worship or anything we believe in other than God. How do we stay connected to the river of God? It is through God’s Word. David says that we should mediate on His Word, His law, day and night. It must be part of what we do each and every day. When we fail to make God’s Word part of our daily lives, we begin to let decaying thoughts have greater rule in our lives. When we withdraw our tree’s roots from the river for His Holy Word, we are like chaff blown by the wind. We lose our anchor and we lose our way and become enamored with things that are not of God and tend toward defining for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. As we continually lower the bar of what is acceptable (because we have no standard of God to measure it by since we are not in His Word), we lead ourselves down a path of destruction, all the while thinking that it’s OK for me to live this life of sin – like the story of a frog who sits in an pot of water where the temperature is slowly increased and the frog is OK with it until it kills him.

Likewise, last night as part of my studies for my doctoral program, I finished up my fifth book of required read. This book was one entitled, Prayer, by Tim Keller. One of the best quotes from those final 50 something pages that I read last night was this,

Paul said we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) meaning that we should if possible, do everything all day with conscious reference to God (1 Cor. 10:31). There should be a background music of thankfulness and joy behind every incident in our day, audible only to us (Col. 3:16-17). This kind of spontaneous and constant prayer during the day should be a habit of the heart.

However, this daily and constant communion and realization of the presence of the Lord in every aspect of our day will not happen unless we take up the discipline of regular, daily prayer.

p.240, Prayer, by Tim Keller

It often amazes me how God drives home points to me, words I need to hear, from multiple different avenues. That’s how I often figure out that it’s a God thing – when I hear the same message from God, a message that I need to hear a specific time in my life, from multiple sources that are not necessarily cognizant of the other one speaking the same message to me. God provides me with a synchronous message from multiple, unrelated sources.

So, here, between the first psalm in the Bible, a powerful quote from Tim Keller’s book, and now here in Judges, the message is clear. OK I get it Lord. In order for us to stay grounded in that which is holy, and honorable and righteous, that those things that are of you, we must do more than give lip service to God. We must do more than read the Bible to say we have read the Bible. We must make God’s Word so integral in our lives that we meditate on it day and night. We must have an intimate relationship with the Lord such that His Word is the background music of our day to day lives. From this passage, we see that Israel has forgotten how to be God’s people because they no longer make God’s Word a part of their daily lives. They are like the chaff mentioned in Psalm 1. They had so begun living for themselves or living in such a way being God’s people was just lip service that they sank into their own evil ways that led to their oppression. Without obedience to God, He withdrew his blessing from Israel and they became fat and sassy in the own self-involved lives and allowed themselves to get conquered, raided, oppressed, destroyed.

Today, as we look again at Judges 6:1-32, let us focus on the fact that as we have seen throughout Judges so far that the Israelites are often far from God and must get into situations where they are oppressed before they seek God again. Let us concentrate on the first seven (7) verses of this passage once again, but this time, look at them from that perspective of Israel crying out to God, as it seems, only when they get in trouble. Here is the passage now:

6 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old.[b] Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole[c] beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of[d] altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second[e] bull as a burnt offering.”

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!

29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”

When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”

31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[f] that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”

In this passage, we see that, again, the Israelites hit rock bottom before turning back to God. How much suffering they could have avoided if they had trusted Him! Turning to God should not be our last resort. We should look to Him for help each day. This isn’t to say that life will be easy, but God will give us the strength to live through them. Don’t wait until you are at the end of your rope. Call on God first in every situation.

Why is it that we only cry out to God when we get in trouble? Why is that we think we are self-sufficient when things are going good and that God is simply the backstop for the wild pitches of life. We only cry out to God when things get out of control. He is our last resort. Why is it that personal success is often the worst recipe for our relationship with God. We ignore Him til we encounter something that we cannot handle. Israel of the Bible is the mirror of ourselves. We worship God when we need to. We worship God when things get so bad that we can’t handle our lives. Once the crisis is past, we return to our evil ways. Sorry, God, I was just kidding about having a deeper relationship with you. There’s still my sins that I enjoy committing too much to subject myself to your authority full time! Even we Christians are that way sometimes when we are not daily grounded in God’s Word and meditation on His Word and prayer about how His Word applies to our lives.

When we are not daily grounded and founded in an intimate relationship with God through study and prayer, daily study and prayer, we begin to bend God’s Word to make living in the culture easier. We begin to make God’s Word be inconsistent with itself. We begin to make the Bible say what we want it to say. We begin to make certain sins acceptable just to fit in with the culture or to justify the evil that we participate in.

The point is clear from David in Psalm 1, from Tim Keller in his book about prayer, and from the lesson of Israel here in this passage. We must firmly plant our roots in God’s Word daily. We must study His Word and understand it and understand how each passage fits into the grand narrative of the Bible, and understand what it reveals about God, what universal and eternal truths of God it reveals. We must meditate on God’s Word and on the wondrous character of God every day and every night. We must be aware of God’s presence with us as we go about our day in everything that we do. We must have specific prayer time where we have intimate talks with the Lord and seek His will for our lives. All of this leads to intimate knowledge and intimate love of the Lord to the point that we are firmly grounded in the water of God’s river. We are not blown about by the wind. We are secure in His love for us and we are not subject to the whims of culture and we know the difference between what is of God and that which is not. Message received. Let us not be like Israel with their cycles of obedience and disobedience. Let us stay with the Lord. Let us be so intimately in love with Him that it is our greatest desire and pleasure to please Him and only Him – our audience of one!

Amen and Amen.

Judges 6:1-32 (Part 1 of 5)
Gideon Becomes Israel’s Judge

Back when we were living in California in 2009 and 2010, we were active members of a great start-up church called Livermore Alive Community Church (LACC) in Livermore, CA. It was there while we were at LACC that Elena accepted Christ as her Savior and Lord. And, it was there that I finally began to grow up as a Christ follower (after accepting Christ as my Savior and Lord in December 2001). Up to that point, I had been a spiritual baby unwilling to mature or simply failing to see the need to mature. I thought I was good just having accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord. That way, I could keep dabbling in my what I considered my justifiable sins. The ones that were OK for me to commit because of the rationalizations that I had developed for them.

In the years in between the end of my second marriage and the beginning of a committed relationship with Elena. I went through a series of relationships that all became sexual at some point in those relationships whether they were a one-time date or a relationship that lasted a few months. I thought that sex outside the confines of marriage was OK for me. I had been through two tough marriages and I deserved this freedom and the rewards that it brought. Besides as you have read here many times, even after salvation there was a lot of sanctification to be done (not that the Holy Spirit’s job is finished now by a long shot!) and it took a long time for the Lord to rid me of the god that sexual validation was for me. Because that was my pet sin, validation of my value as a person through something other than God (in this case, validation through sex), it stunted my spiritual growth. It was my pet sin and our pet sins push us away from reading God’s Word. We steer clear of God’s convicting Word when we have active sin in our lives. We may read about the Bible but hardly ever read the Bible. We pick and choose the things that we read about the Bible too. Only those things that keep us clear of God’s Word convicting us of our sin.

God was able to tame me down in this lost world of seeking that perfect relationship when he gave me Elena. She didn’t want a relationship with me. But there was something about her, the challenge of her that kept me around her. Strangely enough for me, we became friends first. Our porch conversations in those days in Rock Hill before we became a real couple are legendary memories in our relationship. It was a first for me for me to be real friends with a woman without sex being a part of the equation. It was only after we became friends that we became lovers. Yes, we became committed to each other and we became exclusive to one another. Even when I had to move to California, we remained committed. Finally, when my temporary assignment out there became a permanent one, she decided to move out to California to be with me. We lived together but we were not married. We were engaged and that was good enough for us. We both had been married twice and justified not getting married again on those grounds. We were committed to each other but we were living together and we were good with that. We weren’t much on reading the Bible back then so we avoided the whole issue of our sexual relationship being outside the boundaries for it set by God. We were committed to each other, right! So, it was OK, right! Allowing that sin to stand was OK, right?

It was not until several months in at LACC that we got confronted with our sin of sex outside of the marriage covenant. Our pastor who was the planting pastor of our church was developing an elder team to come alongside him in the governance of the church. I felt that because we had become so involved in the church and its activities and because we had become such close friends with the pastor and his wife and because we, Elena and I, had grown so much spiritually since we came there, it would be slam dunk for me to be part of the elder team.

One night when I had my interview with the pastor (to me it was just two buddies getting together as he and I were close), he confronted me with my sin. He said that he would love for me to be on the elder team but our interview could not even start. He said how can you be an elder in the church if you are living with a woman to whom you are not married. How can you be an elder if you are having sex with a woman that is not your wife. Bombshell dropped. Sin confronted. Plain and simple. You have unrepentant sin in your life that you don’t even recognize as sin. You cannot be a leader in our church EVER until you see your publicly flaunted, unrepentant sin for what it is. You need to seek forgiveness from the Lord and stop the sin. You must stamp it out from your life. You must destroy it. Drive it out. Turn around from it and run. Within two weeks, Elena and I were married because our pastor loved us enough to confront us about our sin. Our sins will destroy us if we do not stamp them out of our lives. First, we must identify it as sin and then stamp it out.

The irony of that confrontation was that my pastor had his own unconfessed and unrepentant sin that he kept hidden and ultimately destroyed his ministry in that church about a year and half later and it imploded the entire church. It almost destroyed his marriage. His marriage is still reeling from the effects of his pornography addiction. His unconfessed and unrepented sin came out and it changed everything. It came back to haunt him. Sexual sin is one of the sins that in our modern culture we as Christians are often like the culture. It is OK now to have sex any way you want it. It is OK for people sitting in church to be living together outside of wedlock. It is OK for us as Christians to be having sex with everyone we date. It is OK for us as Christian men to be looking at soft porn or even hard core porn because we say there are no victims. It is OK because the culture says it is OK.

We avoid reading through the Bible in its entirety. We avoid reading through complete books of the Bible so that we don’t have to run across convicting passages. We look up themes that we like in the Bible and just read those passages so we don’t have to address the real issue of sexual sin. I was that way about sexual sin. God just wants me to be happy, right? It’s OK for me. God makes an exception for me. It’s all sin, bro! No justifications. No exceptions. We wonder why our families in today’s culture are a complete mess. Sexual sin is at the root of it. My life, until I married Elena, is a testimony to that fact. Our sins always, always, always come back to haunt us.

Today as we begin our five-part look at Judges 6:1-32, let us focus on the first seven (7) verses for this devotional. Here, we need to think about who the Midianites are and how that relates to my opening illustration. Sometimes, it seems harsh to us that the God often called Israel to completely wipe out a group of people. It seemed almost generous of the Israelites not to carry out the total judgment called for by God. Sometimes, we are the same way about sin. This sin is OK to allow to continue. Look God, I have repented of this sin, but you gotta let me keep that one.
6 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old.[b] Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole[c] beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of[d] altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second[e] bull as a burnt offering.”

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!

29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”

When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”

31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[f] that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”

In this passage, we must remember some things. First, we must remember that the Bible is a continuous story of the history of God’s people. It has a progression. It is not just a collection of disjointed books that are really standalone. No. The books of the Bible are all interconnected and relate to the ongoing history of God’s people and God’s interaction with them. This passage is a reminder of that progression. Second, because of that progression from past to present to future, that history, we should remember that the Midianites were desert people descended from Abraham’s second wife, Keturah, as noted in Genesis 25:1-2. Midian was one of the six children that Keturah bore for Abraham. From this relationship, the descendants of Midian, the Midianites, became a nation that was always a source of conflict for Israel. Years earlier, while Israel was still wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites battled the Midianites and almost destroyed them (see Numbers 31:1-20). Notice I said, almost. Because of their failure to completely destroy them, the Midianites repopulated into to an even larger nation of people. And, here we are again where the Midianites are in conflict with Israel. Here, though, they have through their constant raiding and marauding oppressed the Israelite nation. In a sense, they are ruling over them. So, from this passage, we see something that we can use in our daily lives today. I think the point being that we must eradicate sin completely from our lives when God commands us to do so. We cannot allow it to be something we do halfheartedly as unrepentant sin will come back with a vengeance to destroy us.

What is your unconfessed sin? What is your pet sin that you do not want to let go of? What consequences of this sin are you blaming on randomness or blaming on others that are a result of not seeing your sin as sin? What consequences are haunting you because you do not see your pet sin as sin? Sin always has consequences and the lie that Satan tells us that these consequences are either OK or that they are somebody else’s fault! What sins am I still harboring today that I consider not to be sins? What is my favorite sin now that I do not see as a sin?

Let us examine ourselves, brothers and sisters! Let us ask God to confront us with our sins. Let us repent from them and no longer justify them. Let us walk away from them and return to a God that is just but yet willing to forgive a penitent heart. Let us walk in the grace of Jesus Christ. There is grace for our sin but we must turn away from it and leave it at the cross. We must run from our sin. We must first see our sin as sin and WANT to run from it.

Just as the Midianites should have been wiped away completely by the Israelites but were not and became a constant source of tyranny for the Israelites, we too must stamp out our sins when the Holy Spirit shows us our sins. Destroy them or they will destroy you.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 5:1-31 (Part 3 of 3)
The Song of Deborah

Some of you may be old enough to remember when cigarette manufacturers were able to advertise on television. One of the most popular of the cigarette ad campaigns was the Tareyton brand’s campaign. The slogan was that “us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch!” This popular ad campaign was used by Tareyton’s manufacturer, the American Tobacco Company, for 18 years as the central theme to their advertising (1963-1981).

It would feature people with apparent black eyes while expressing the slogan which gave the impression that the people in the ads had just been in a fight. Of course, the whole idea was to develop brand loyalty to a cigarette brand that was second tier in sales and popularity. The popularity of the campaign came from the fact that it tapped into that spirit of independence and standing on principle. We have seen this spirit on both sides of the picket lines in Charlottesville and other places around the country over the past decade. There are extremes of both sides of the liberal and conservative spectrum that are standing on their equally misguided principles. Both spew pure hatred and intolerance and call it high moral principle and anyone who disagrees with them are labeled and discarded as communists or as ultra-right Neanderthals. They would rather fight than switch from their unflinchable positions.

However, the vast majority of Christians stand silently and watch our nation destroy itself by its most extreme elements. Neither side, as I said yesterday, displays Christian principles in these violent encounters. They are the Tareyton smokers of our day. However, the silent majority of Christians just watch. Most of us, including myself, watch the news in dismay at this incident in Charlottesville and sigh or throw up our hands. None of us are willing to take to the streets and call for reasonable dialogue about race relations in the United States and the real fear of some that the heritage that once was our country is now being amalgamized into something akin to the Orwellian future or akin to the community of the Stepford Wives in the name of tolerance. We are the key to solving our country’s problems. We, as Christians, are the key. I am not talking about people who loosely identify themselves as Christians but real Christ followers. We can move this country in the right direction if we just quit standing on the sidelines and had the kahunas to speak out publicly about what Jesus would do – not our personal opinions about what Jesus would do, but the real Jesus reaction to all of this based on prayer and study of God’s Word. We all have our stylized Jesuses and how we think, based on our personal feelings, Jesus would handle things if He came back right now. We must pray that we represent Him based on God’s Word and based on prayer for God’s guidance.

Jesus was not silent on that which was in opposition to the glory of God and that which was unholy in the sight of God. Jesus was very clear that the love of God and sacrificial love of others was that which glorified our Father in heaven. Jesus was very clear that anything that we put before God was a sin. Jesus went to the cross in love for each of us as sinners so that we may have a way to be reconciled to a holy and just God. That is what the world needs now is Christ followers who bring forth the debates in our country from a perspective of leading people to God’s truth. What we have in our country right now is not working. Maybe now people will be willing to hear an alternative. We need to be the mediators in the debate based on what God’s Word tells us and guides us to demonstrate to the world.

However, most of us sit silently and watch the world destroying itself with dismay and disgust and sit behind our church walls and say that the world outside has gone mad. Maybe, it has, but we cannot change it sitting quietly. Many of us Christians wonder why we have lost influence in our culture. Certainly, the KKK with their crosses have damaged the image of Christianity but that’s because no one else is doing the talking for Christianity. Sure, we have our spiritual leaders on a national scale speaking out but the rest of us are saying nothing. The reason Christian values have failed to influence our society is because we are too concerned about our mortgages, our boats, our new cars, our vacations than to stand out and speak out for Jesus Christ, the real Jesus Christ, in our society. We would rather that nobody bother us as we make money and come home to our climate-controlled homes. We watch TV and think with dismay about how our world is falling apart because of worshiping things other than God, but that’s it. As long as it does not affect my paycheck, my home, my 401k, and my summer vacations, we sit quietly and do nothing. We certainly are not the Christians of the first century who put their faith on the line to the point of death. They would not bow down to other gods and spoke freely about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. They loved their enemies. They showed the rich and the poor the way to Jesus Christ. They shared and gave and loved the world to the cross. They were distinctive and they stood out. They cared more about the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ than they did their safety and security. Where are these men and women of courage in Christianity today? Where are you and where am I?

This song of Deborah is a reminder to us that some of the Israelite tribes sat by quietly while other tribes were in distress, while their nation was in distress. God’s people sitting quietly by because they did not want get out of their comfort zone to help. Sounds familiar. Let us read this passage today with an eye toward those tribes that did not help out in this battle to free certain tribes of Israel from oppression.

Let’s read this passage once again in Judges 5:1-31 before we move on to the next passage:

5 On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

2
“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves—
praise the Lord!

3
“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
I, even I, will sing to[a] the Lord;
I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

4
“When you, Lord, went out from Seir,
when you marched from the land of Edom,
the earth shook, the heavens poured,
the clouds poured down water.
5
The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,
before the Lord, the God of Israel.

6
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
travelers took to winding paths.
7
Villagers in Israel would not fight;
they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8
God chose new leaders
when war came to the city gates,
but not a shield or spear was seen
among forty thousand in Israel.
9
My heart is with Israel’s princes,
with the willing volunteers among the people.
Praise the Lord!

10
“You who ride on white donkeys,
sitting on your saddle blankets,
and you who walk along the road,
consider 11 the voice of the singers[b] at the watering places.
They recite the victories of the Lord,
the victories of his villagers in Israel.

“Then the people of the Lord
went down to the city gates.
12
‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, break out in song!
Arise, Barak!
Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.’

13
“The remnant of the nobles came down;
the people of the Lord came down to me against the mighty.
14
Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek;
Benjamin was with the people who followed you.
From Makir captains came down,
from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s[c] staff.
15
The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
yes, Issachar was with Barak,
sent under his command into the valley.
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
16
Why did you stay among the sheep pens[d]
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
17
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.
And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?
Asher remained on the coast
and stayed in his coves.
18
The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;
so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.

19
“Kings came, they fought,
the kings of Canaan fought.
At Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo,
they took no plunder of silver.
20
From the heavens the stars fought,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21
The river Kishon swept them away,
the age-old river, the river Kishon.
March on, my soul; be strong!
22
Then thundered the horses’ hooves—
galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.
23
‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord.
‘Curse its people bitterly,
because they did not come to help the Lord,
to help the Lord against the mighty.’

24
“Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
25
He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
26
Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27
At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead.

28
“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
29
The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
30
‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’

31
“So may all your enemies perish, Lord!
But may all who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength.”

Then the land had peace forty years.

In this passage, we see that four tribes were accused of not lending a helping hand in the battle. No reasons are given for their refusal to help their fellow Israelites. They may have been the same ones that refused to finish driving out the Canaanites from the Promised Land in the first place. Their reasons may have included lack of reliance on God for help, lack of effort, fear of the enemy, and fear of antagonizing those whom they did business with and thus prospered from. This disobedience showed both a lack of commitment to God’s plan and a weak faith in God’s power. How much do these tribes remind us of ourselves in today’s world where we as Christians are often quiet because we do not want to disturb our paychecks and 401k’s and our summer vacations in Florida and our kids wearing the finest clothes and having 500 channels on TV.

How dismayed are you and I about the radical polarization of our country? How dismayed are you about the loss of influence that we have as Christians in our culture? How dismayed are you about how people seem so willing to fight than understand their neighbor? How dismayed are you at how Christianity is characterized in our nation today? How dismayed are you at that feeling that our country is imploding upon itself because it has lost its way and turned from God?

Are you willing to stand up and stand out? Am I? We have got to change the mindset. No one else is doing the talking and we are more interested in preserving our cul-de-sac kingdoms that we are in truly representing Jesus Christ, the real Jesus Christ! What the world needs now is the love of Jesus Christ to prevail. We need to be doing the talking. We need to be expressing the love of Jesus Christ in our homes, in our schools, in the marketplace, in politics, in the media. It is time for us to be Christ followers who change the world just as our first century brethren did. We cannot make Jesus into what we want Him to be. We must conform to His image. We must represent the Jesus Christ of Scripture in a world that so desperately needs Him. The only voices that are being heard are the voices of those who worship other gods – on both the left and the right. It is time for us to come out of our cul-de-sacs and be witnesses to the real Jesus Christ. Where are you men and women of Christian courage? Where am I? It is time for us to care beyond our cul-de-sacs.

Amen and Amen.