Archive for August, 2017

Judges 8:22-35 (Part 2 of 3)
Gideon’s Sacred Ephod

Yesterday, we talked about how there seems to be a history of the epic fails of megachurch pastors here in the last decade. It always is a moral lapse of some sort that bring them down. It’s usually not just a singular moment of moral turpitude where there is just a momentary lapse of reason. The moral lapse stems from a pattern of a lack of accountability. There is usually a pattern of poor, ungodly decisions. And often a contributing factor is the fact that their own congregations develop this hero worship mentality concerning their founding pastor.

Yes, the churchgoers themselves are often a part of the problem and if that problem goes unchecked with constant reminders, it will become part of the problem. You see it quite often. Go to any megachurch, the members think that their founding pastor is the most awesome man ever. They clamor to have an audience with him. They applaud his preaching as if he is Paul himself. His every moment of crescendo preaching is met with wild applause and people standing and clapping at the height of the crescendo. He steps into meetings within the church building just to say hello and when he opens the door it is as if Moses had parted the waters. Meetings scheduled by non-founding pastor staff members may be lightly attended but if the founding pastor is the one holding the meeting it is packed to the walls. Let the founding pastor plug a ministry of the church from the stage and that ministry fills with volunteers suddenly. The founding pastor’s tweets are golden eggs. The founding pastors Facebook posts are liked out the ying-yang. Let a passionate staff member post a tweet or a Facebook post of something that is just right on point when it comes to our walk with Christ and it is mildly received. But let the founding pastor do something similar, and the whole church thinks it is the most original an most perceptive interpretation of Scripture ever. Yes, this is often the world of the megachurch pastor. Everything he does is loved by his thousands upon thousands of church members. They considered him trendy, edgy, and cool. They consider him the greatest prophet since Elijah. They consider his words, his sermons, anything he says as like this fresh air, this newness, this new way of looking at Scripture. The founding pastor of what becomes a megachurch can sometimes become an idol that his church members worship. He can even become an idol of people in the general public that don’t even go to his church that follow him from afar and think he’s this cool preacher that has the new vein of gold in a gold mine that has not been mined before. Yes, the congregations and the fans of a founding pastor of a megachurch can make him into an idol that they worship. Talk to a person that goes to one of these churches and if they talk about they pastor first before they talk about Jesus Christ and you may, just may, have some hero worship, some idol worship going on.

The same can be true for the church itself in megachurch situations. To be known as a person that goes to Newspring (Upstate South Carolina), to Elevation (Charlotte, NC metro area), to Northpoint Community Church (Atlanta, GA), to Gateway Church (Dallas, TX), to Hillsong Church (in New York), Life Church (Oklahoma City, OK), Willow Creek Church (Chicago, IL), Lakewood Church (Houston, TX), the Potter’s House (Dallas, TX), or Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA) is to think yourself of the trendy religious sort. To say you are a part of these largest megachurches in America is like a badge of honor. These are growing and expanding churches among the many that are dying out there. To be a member of the happening, new, wow, now, with it, church that gets it kind of church is to say to others that you are perceptive about faith matters. It’s like being to get into Studio 54 back in the 1970’s disco scene in New York City. To have the t-shirts and pullovers and merchandise from these megachurch bookstores are like having the latest Nikes from the store. To be seen where a cool t-shirt from your chosen megachurch is like saying to the world, “Yeah, uh-huh, I’m hip. I’m trendy. I go to x megachurch. It’s the cool new thing in Christianity and I am in the middle of it! Yeah, uh-huh!” Talk to a person who goes to such a megachurch and if they go on at length about the church itself and how cool it is to go to church there before they talk about Jesus Christ and how the church is reaching the world, then, you might have a little idol worship going on there.

My church, LifeSong Church, is not a megachurch but it is by standard church research definition a large church with close to 1,000 people attending regularly (not necessarily all 1,000 attend weekly but our draw of people that claim LifeSong as their church is about 1,000). Even though we are not a megachurch or anywhere close to it, we can suffer some of the same idol worship. Our founding pastor can be subject to the same hero worship as any megachurch pastor. LifeSong is the first church of its kind in our suburban area northeast of Greenville, SC and northwest of Spartanburg, SC. The Greenville-Spartanburg area certainly has its share of large churches of the “new church” genre. Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville is a megachurch with 15,000+ members. Brookwood Church in Greenville with its 5,000 members is not far behind. First Baptist Spartanburg has exploded its membership to close to 5,000 with its “Hangar” services at the downtown airport and with its separate services for contemporary worship. And of course, there is the ever-present NewSpring Church with its campuses all over the upstate (one of the previously mentioned largest megachurches in America). But in our little suburban area in northwest Spartanburg County, SC which used to be a collection of mill towns but is now an up an coming suburban area for the fast growing Greenville area, LifeSong when it splashed onto the local scene 10 years ago was something new for this area. Sure, people here in Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area had heard of “modern churches” over in Greenville and elsewhere but nothing here. So, bam, LifeSong was born here 10 years ago from the dream that God laid on the heart of founding pastor, Jeff Hickman.

Even in our church, a large but non-megachurch church, there can be hero worship of Jeff and there can be church worship of LifeSong itself. Our church building, people often say, looks like a large Harley-Davidson dealership from the outside when you approach it going from west to east on US 29 with its color combinations of black, orange, and white on the building. Locally, the church does great things and is well-respected for the fervency with which our people worship the Lord and help the community. Leaders in the community always enlist LifeSong when they need to get something done in the community. We are just that kind of church. LifeSong in our conservative, former mill town area is seen as new and trendy for sure. Jeff is seen as a new kind of pastor for the area. All of these things draw people to our church. However, we have to be careful to keep people focused on the game – reaching the lost for Jesus Christ. Our people can become susceptible to the same hero worship of Jeff, the same church worship of LifeSong, as any megachurch. I am always interested when I talk to people at church as to whether they talk about how they are growing in Christ at LifeSong first or whether they talk about Jeff, his sermons, his tweets, his Facebook posts first. I listen to hear whether they talk about how they love LifeSong Church and never mention Jesus Christ. We ain’t a megachurch but there are those that hang on Jeff’s every word and like everything he does and talk about him first before they talk about Jesus Christ. We ain’t a megachurch but there are those who are so in love with who our church is as the trendy church in the region that gets it before they talk about Jesus, if at all.

That’s the thing that came to mind this morning when I read through this passage for a second time. About how people can even today make something godly into a god that they worship rather than God himself. Let’s read, Judges 8:22-35 now, with special attention to v. 27:

22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” 24 And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)

25 They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels,[a] not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

28 Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years.

29 Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live. 30 He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. 31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelek. 32 Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.

In this passage, in v. 27, we see that an ephod was a linen garment worn by priests over their chests. It was considered holy (Exodus 28:6-35, Exodus 39:2-24, Leviticus 8:7-8). Gideon probably had good intentions for making the ephod (a visible remembrance commemorating what God had done in their victory over the Midianites). Unfortunately, the people began to worship the ephod as an idol. Sadly, many today without realizing it worship their pastor or the church they go to and speak first of who their pastor is or what church they go to instead of speaking of God.

May we as leaders of churches, small, medium, large and megachurch, remember that it is not about us. Let us remember to point people away from ourselves, away from our church buildings, away from the idea that we are trendy or whatever, and point them to Jesus Christ. It never should be about anything less than or anything more than what leads us to Jesus Christ and to walk with him in our everyday lives. Let us remember that Jesus is the center of it all. If people start worshiping pastors or worship being members of our church, then, we as leaders have to redirect their worship. That was the failure of Gideon in this passage. He did not stop them from worshiping the ephod (because it was a sign of his own wealth and his leadership status). He should have redirected their worship to God, but he didn’t. We cannot make the same mistake as leaders in the new church movement. We may have the new, trendy ways of doing things that bring people in our churches and we may be the trendy spot to be but once we get them through the doors of our church, it can’t be about anything else other than pointing people to the cross of Jesus Christ and to growing them in Christ once they accept Him as their Savior and Lord. That’s the business we are in. Not selling t-shirts. Not selling a mystique. Not selling that trendy feel. We are in the business of pointing people to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and then growing them in the depth and width of their love of Him once they have been saved.

Amen and Amen.

Advertisements

Judges 8:22-35 (Part 1 of 3)
Gideon’s Sacred Ephod

You see it all the time. Pastors who become enamored with the influence that they have. Pastors of large churches that they founded that are independent of denomination or any sort of accountability structures. Big mansions are the first sign of slippage. Security details are another sign of becoming enamored with self. Speaking engagements around the country. Authoring books. Rapidly expanding churches. It can all be overwhelming. There are many that started out as humble men of God with a passion to reach people for Christ. God shows them favor and everything they touch seems to turn to gold. Their churches explode. Their churches become magnets for other preachers who want to learn how they did it. Next comes the conferences for other preachers to teach them how you did it. God is given praise through it all. Books come next on leadership in God’s church. Next comes further explosion of the church and more campuses. Then, the books on your thoughts about living the Christian life. Next thing you know, you’ve got a big house in an exclusive neighborhood. You spend more time traveling to speaking engagements than you do with your family or the church you founded. You become the darling of Christian media as guy who is doing it right and being blessed. Your church is the cool church. New buildings with the latest church style that promotes “fellowship and community” and has the latest in seating design and sound systems and lighting. Your worship music ministry begins to draw great talent from around the region of the country in which your church is located. You get the best musicians. They are awesome. They are so good that they record albums and they are of course big hits with millions of downloads and lots of airtime on Christian radio. They get on the radio to promote their tours and all the while they give you credit as well as the Lord above. Your church employment structure grows and grows and you get the best talent for your staff.

It all seems to be working well. Then, the pastor becomes enamored with self and with pride and the next thing you know they are promoting more of a prosperity or self-help Jesus that the Jesus of the Bible. The next thing you know they begin to believe there is justification for everything they do. Everybody loves me they say so there seems to be no pushback for decisions that begin to stray from God’s Word and His design for your ministry. Next thing you know, there are the private moral lapses known only to the staff. Next thing you know there is a public scandal that everyone knows about. And, then, there is the fall from grace. You are no longer the trusted man of God and no longer the head of this wow, now, pow growing by leaps and bounds church movement.

The battlefield with Satan is filled with men of God who started with good intentions, with God intentions. They started out with a passion for Jesus Christ. They loved Him like nobody’s business and it showed and it led them to aggressively seek after Him and to seek after the lost. And, they did, did, did love seeing people coming to Christ. They truly were men of God. But with being a successful man of God comes the target on the back of such men. When we have success it is easy to listen to pride through Satan and becomes harder and harder to open your eyes to your own shortcomings and weak spots. Satan will attack there. We’ve seen it before. Great men leading great church movements. Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Darrin Patrick, Bob Coy, and most recently, Perry Noble come to mind. Flasback to the 1980’s when the non-traditional church movement began with the failures of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. It is a danger when things start creeping in that start becoming more important to them than the churches they founded. The attention, the money, the glamour, the riches, the ego massaging, the success itself. Success is a cruel and unrelenting seductress that has led many a man to moral failure. But similar to the fact that most commercial airliners don’t crash, when they do it is spectacularly horrendous. It is the same with large or megachurch pastors. Most are god fearing men who steer their ships well, but when one does fall it is spectacularly horrendous. When an executive in the business world has an affair, it might be news but it might not. When a megachurch pastor has a moral failure, it is always news. Why is that these men who were passionately following God at the beginning, and even in the middle of their ramp up to megachurch status always seem to end up having some moral failure.

That is why I pray for megachurch pastors that have not yet fallen that they would take notice of the moral failures of other such pastors. Right now, I pray that Steven Furtick, founder of the wildly growing network of Elevation Church in the Charlotte, NC area. He is the next rising star. He is a hot commodity. Passionate preacher. Wonderful organization. New campuses in the ever expanding Charlotte metro area every couple of months it seems. Each campus is vibrant and active. Steven is demand for speaking engagements and he wows crowds with his speeches and sermons. He has written books. His worship music team is wildly popular nationally among Christian contemporary music fans. It’s all been an amazing thing to watch from this North Greenville University alum who had a passion and a burden for Charlotte and started in a storefront. He is the next great megachurch pastor. He is also the next one who is line for a big fall. I am not saying that he will and pray that he doesn’t. His church is reaching a segment of Charlotte’s population that would otherwise not be churched had he not started Elevation. But he already has built a big fine mansion. I fear that more of the same indicators of the falls of previous megachurch pastors are to come. As a North Greenville alum and a fan of Steve’s preaching and his church, I pray wholeheartedly that he stays grounded. That he remembers that if it doesn’t align with Scripture, don’t do it. I pray that he has men around him that will hold him accountable and tell him the truth when it needs telling. He needs men to tell him that poop is poop and not roses.

The fall of many megachurch pastors is what I thought of when I read this passage about Gideon. He was a man from humble beginnings and really didn’t want the mantle of being Israel’s savior from the Midianites. However, he took on the battles and even says here at the beginning of this passage that he wants to follow God. However, he was not aware of his weak spot and it shows right away when he becomes a leader. He was susceptible to the need for wealth and displays of wealth. His pride was going to get in the way, we see right from the beginning. He always needed validation externally. Remember the fleece episode. Now he is seeking validation through wealth, even though feigning that Israel should put God first. Let’s read, Judges 8:22-35 now, with special attention to vv. 22-25:

22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” 24 And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)

25 They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels,[a] not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.
Gideon’s Death

28 Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years.

29 Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live. 30 He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. 31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelek. 32 Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.

In this passage, in vv. 22-25, we see that the people of Israel wanted to make Gideon their king, but Gideon stressed that the Lord was to rule over them. Despite his inconsistencies, Gideon recognized here the importance of putting God first, for both a nation and an individual. Is God first in your life? If he is, he must affect every dimension of your life, not just what you do in church or other public settings where you can seen as godly. Here, we see an indication that Gideon struggles with prideful behavior. This type of behavior can bring down many a leader. As was the custom in these days, those who were wealthly put ornaments on their camels as a way of displaying their riches. Women wore vast amounts of jewelry as a display of their husband’s wealth. Gideon’s desire here shows that he seems to have been enamored with displays of wealth.

When we start letting things get in the way of our relationship with the Lord, we will fail. When we let having things and trinkets get in the way, we will fail. When we let lusts of the heart (for women, for money, for power, for attention, for approval, for an addiction) get in the way of putting God first in our lives, we will fail and we will fall. We need to put God first in our actions as much as in our words. We must put His Word as the governing priority in our lives. We must compare what we think, do, and feel to what Scripture says. We must love God more than we love anything else. We must love him with a passion. We must have people in our lives to tell us that our poop is poop and not tell us what we want to hear. We need to realize that we are here on earth only because God willed it to be and we are here to serve Him. He is God and we are not. We must remember to make him the passion of our lives. We must make him the all to end all. Not things. Not people. Not acclaim. Not approval. Not wealth. Not anything on this side of eternity. All here is temporary and fading. Nothing lasts. Think on eternal things and of pleasing the Eternal One. He will never fail us or forsake us. Pleasing Him is what we are here for.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 8:1-21 (Part 4 of 4)
Gideon Kills Zebah and Zalmunna

If you are offended by anal-related stories, you might best stop right here and go read something else. It’s gonna get messy…

Back when I was married to my second wife, at one point in the marriage, the boys convinced their mother that they should have a pit bull. Against my wishes (imagine that in my second marriage!), they got a pit bull. The boys named him Tank for obvious reasons. Pit bulls are stout dogs. Even as puppies, they are dense, muscular dogs. Again, against my wishes (imagine that in my second marriage!), they boys were allowed to keep the dog in the house, even into the dog’s adult years. What a mistake that was! Tank was just a doggone (pardon the pun) destructive dog. He chewed on doors. Scratched them. He even chewed up the carpet in the living room in one corner to the point that we had to have the carpet in the living room replaced. What did he do? Chewed it up again in the same place! He chewed wallpaper off the wall. If anyone left food sitting out, particularly when he became an adult dog, he would jump put his paws on the edge of the table or countertop and steal the food. I hated that dog. I had never in my life had a dog in the house and I did not like it one bit. But back in those days, I was less inclined to voice my opinions about things because it might jeopardize my relationship with my second wife. I never wanted to do anything to jeopardize her approval of me, even in the smallest things that irritated me. This dog was not a small irritation. He was a big one both literally and figuratively. Did I say that I hated that dog! He destroyed our house. He was like the marauding Midianites were to the Israelites to me. It was similar in that he was destroying my house and there was nothing I could do about it. The wife and kids would make excuses for this dog’s destructive behavior. He would even tear up stuff at our neighbor’s houses. He would chase neighbor cats. He would turn over trash cans at our neighbor’s houses. He would try to hump the neighbor’s iddy biddy dog. He was hell on wheels.

And the pooping in the house. The boys wanted the dog but would rarely take him out for him do his bodily ablutions outdoors. My ex-wife or I would often have to take the dog out for those things. Did I tell that I hated that dog! Although it was not a regular thing, there were those times that someone forgot to take him out, and you would see him get squatty and you would go like in those slow motion scenes from movies where the audio get slowed down too and the person is diving through the air saying, “nooooooooooooo!”

Well having set the background to the story here. You do now realize how much, maybe you don’t, but let me tell you I hated that dog. He was the thorn in the side of Paul to me. Something that was a daily pain that I had to deal with. He was the demon’s spawn to me. He was the drip, drip, drip of water on the forehead of terrorist in a CIA interrogation to me. I really didn’t like this dog. He was the bane of my existence and of my wallet. I had mentioned earlier that he would steal food off tables and countertops if you were not looking. He had been known to steal ground beef straight off the countertop next to the kitchen sink on more than one occasion as my now ex-wife was about to cook the meat. But there was this one Saturday morning. The kids were outside with the dog playing in the yard. It was Saturday morning. I was lounging around in the bedroom watching a little TV. Just taking it easy. The boys rush in and shatter my peaceful Saturday morning. They say that something’s wrong with Tank. They said he’s running around yelping and he seemed as though he was in great pain they said. Even though I hated that dog with a passion, I went with them just to get them to be quiet. I go outside and the dog is running around yelping like an animal in pain going nuts and biting at his own rear end as if he had a bee up his butt or something and then starting running around again yelping. Finally, when I could get him to stop long enough to see what he was biting at his rear end about, I saw it. He had something plastic sticking out of his…well…anus.

Upon closer…yeah…closer examination, it looked like some kind of plastic wrapping. That dog would eat anything. Whatever it was, when it worked its way through his digestive system and was ready to be “pooped out” it got stuck in his anal muscles. A portion of the plastic wrapping was sticking out. That is what the dog was yelping about. It was 10% out and 90% in. What’s the resolution here you might ask. The dog was yelping and running around like a mad dog and it was beginning to disturb the neighbors. There had to be a quick resolution. Well, no one else was willing to solve this problem. So, it was up to dear ol’ dad (stepdad in this case) to solve the problem. I yelled for my wife to bring me a pair of those yellow plastic gloves that she used for cleaning where you did not want your hands exposed to chemicals and such. So, yep, here goes. I put on the gloves. I got all three boys to hold Tank still from the front of the dog. Trey and Josh to hold him. And Dillon to talk to the dog and keep him calm. With gloves on, I go to the anus of the dog. I grab hold of this wrapping. And ewwwww of all ewwwws, I pull it with my hand inside this plastic glove. I pull slowly and the dog wimpers and growls as I do it. As I keep pulling it on this thing, I find out it is a that plastic bag that a loaf of bread comes in. That daggum dog had sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning snuck into the kitchen and inhaled a loaf of bread, packaging and all. No one was willing to pull the bread bag out of the dog’s butt but somebody had to do it and somebody ended up being me, dear ol’ dad. I am sure that this was quite a sight to my next door neighbor as he watched me pull a bread bag out of a dog’s butt! It is funny when I think about it now. Like a surgeon I removed the agent that was irritating this irritating dog to no end. I was that guy that draws the short straw that has to go into the cesspool to retrieve a valuable item that was hidden there. I was the guy that was like in some hazing from a fraternity at college where you have to eat worms or something gross. This was one of those “I did not sign up for this when I married you” kind of things. Pulling a bread bag out of a dog’s butt is not in the wedding vows nor is it an expectation that is in the proverbial husband/father job description. I dare say that I have never had to do that again. The damn dog ate a loaf of bread, bag and all! The funny part is that no one else would help this dog out but the one person who hated him the most. All those in that lived in my house that loved the dog so much were not willing to go to the dog’s butt and pull out the plastic bag! How ironic!

Tank appreciated it though. He knew (dog’s know these things) that I hated his rear end (nice language used as to what I would normally say, but it is also funny using that term in the context of this story). He knew I did not like him at all but on this day, he turned around and licked me and ran off. Next like the guy in a haz-mat suit that has to take something radioactive to the truck, I was the guy with the plastic gloves on carrying this fecal tinged, stinky plastic bag to the trash. I was one of those experiences where you are trying not to hurl but you are convulsing.

That’s what I thought of this morning as we read this passage for the fourth time. That story came to mind about how sometimes as leaders, we must do the jobs that no one else wants to do but the jobs that must be done. Here in this passage, we see that Gideon has to do the deed that no one else wanted to do. Let’s read the passage now:

8 Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously.

2 But he answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided.

4 Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. 5 He said to the men of Sukkoth, “Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”

6 But the officials of Sukkoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?”

7 Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.”

8 From there he went up to Peniel[a] and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. 9 So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.”

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. 11 Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the unsuspecting army. 12 Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army.

13 Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. 14 He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. 15 Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” 16 He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. 17 He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.

18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?”

“Men like you,” they answered, “each one with the bearing of a prince.”

19 Gideon replied, “Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.” 20 Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!” But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.

 

21 Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.’” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks.

In this passage, we see that, in vv. 20-21, for a king to be killed by a boy would be humiliating because it would look as though he was no match for a boy. The two men wanted to avoid that disgrace as the slower more painful death that an inexperienced swordsman might inflict. Gideon’s son must have never killed anyone or either he did not feel right killing prone men as opposed to it being in battle. Gideon was trying to bestow an honor on his son by allowing him to kill two enemies of the nation of Israel. Maybe, Gideon was tired and simply did not want to do the execution. However, sometimes, we must do our own dirty work. Sometimes, when we are in positions of responsibility, we must do what needs to be done even when we do not want to. Sometimes, we have to do jobs that no one else wants to do.

As leaders in the church, we sometimes have to do the dirty work. Sometimes, we have to tell people the truth about their sins. Sometimes, we have to tell the truth to them about the fact that they are not gifted in the area that they believe falsely that they are gifted in. Sometimes, we have to preach the gospel truth from the pulpit that is controversial and countercultural. Sometimes, we have preach the Word that directly punches a person in the gut about the sin that they are actively participating in. Sometimes, we have to confront friends with the truth about their behavior. Sometimes, we are the only ones that will do it, because no one else will take the risk. Sometimes, we have to be the one to lay our life on the line to inspire others to be willing to do the same. My senior pastor has said several times that we should never ask our people that work for us or volunteer for us that we would not do ourselves. He has mentioned many times when the church first got started, he was cleaning bathrooms on Saturday night before church and on Monday morning after church. We must be willing to do the very same dirty work that we ask our people to do. We must be willing to show people that we can never be too proud to do the little things, the necessary things, the needed things. We must set the example of leading the battle charge and taking the first blow from the enemy. One of my favorite movies is Braveheart and I can see William Wallace leading the men into battle and he was fighting right there in the middle of them as opposed to the English king who stood off in the distance far from the war. William Wallace’s men loved him deeply and passionately because they knew he would not ask them to do anything that he would not do himself. They knew that he knew what they went through in battle.

Think about it how it changes your decision making when you know what your people are going through because you have been there yourself. Let us be leaders who understand our people. Let us be leaders who never are above rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty.

We have an example in Jesus Christ. He knows what we go through as human being because he got down in the sin-filled world with us. He got his hands dirty. He lived among us even though He is God. He got dirty. He was beaten. He was battered. He was bloodied. He was nailed to the cross. He died the most excruciating death known to main after already having been beaten within an inch of his life. He knows about pain. He knows about suffering. He knows about being a kid. He knows about being a teenager. He knows about being an adult. He knows the human experience. Whatever you are going through He has experienced it. He experienced it so that He could give you a chance to be reconciled with God. He experienced it all so that He could know you and what you go through. He loves you that much that He laid aside his glory to do the dirty work of redemption. He laid aside His glory so that you could know God and be in his presence. He laid aside his glory and did the dirty work of dying on the cross so that the penalty of all you sins has been paid for. Don’t let His dirty work be wasted. Come to him now. Even though we are enemies of God before we accept Jesus, we are all fully acceptable in Jesus’s sight through the cross where He pulls our sins out of our body and takes them on Himself and suffers for them. We are free from the pain that sin has lodged in us. We can them turnaround and love on God freely and without penalty and luxuriate in the presence of God.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 8:1-21 (Part 3 of 4)
Gideon Kills Zebah and Zalmunna

Back in the day when my brother and I lived at home with our parents, we moved around a lot as sons of a United Methodist Church minister and his wife. Before I left home and got married (the first time) in 1980, we sure had lived a few different places. I was born on August 25, 1962 while my dad was pastoring churches in Lamar, SC. That was my dad’s first appointment and my family lived there from June 1960-June 1963. We lived in Anderson, SC the first time from June 1963-June 1966. We moved to Walhalla, SC in June 1966 and lived there until June 1968. From there, we moved to Rembert, SC and lived there from June 1968-June 1970. Rolling on, we lived in Hartsville, SC from June 1970 to June 1972. Still with the moving, we then went on to Elgin, SC where we lived from June 1972 through June 1974. After that, the United Methodist Church in South Carolina moved us once more to Anderson, SC where we lived from June 1974-June 1976. Finally, after moving every two years for a good while, we moved to Travelers Rest, SC in June 1976 and dad served churches there until my parents were moved to Charleston, SC in June 1980. In the fall of ’78, my brother was off at college and by the summer of 1980 I had finished my freshman year in college and was about to be married to my high school sweetheart. For me, it was the end of the moving merry-go-round. From that point, I lived in the Greenville, SC area (of which Travelers Rest is a part) from June 1976-January 2006 during which I became a dad twice, married twice and divorced twice. From there, I moved to Rock Hill, SC just outside of Charlotte, NC and lived there from January 2006-May 2008. While there, I met the woman to whom I would be married later. In May 2008, I moved to the San Francisco Bay area where I lived until August 2010. Elena and I were married while out there. Finally, in 2010, we moved to the Lyman-Duncan, SC area where we have been living now since August 2010. I have lived a lot of places over these 55 years. But one of the most vivid memories that is still fresh in my mind takes me back to Hartsville, SC. That’s when my brother and I started drifting apart.

Up until we moved to Hartsville, SC, we were kind of inseparable. We were only 18 months different in age with my brother being the elder of us two. But it was in Hartsville that we began to have our own friends and doing different things. Sure, we still did stuff together like playing football against two of our buddies every Saturday morning in the fall, but it was in Hartsville, that we began seeing that we were independent of each other. While there my brother was ages 9 – 11 and I was aged almost 8 through almost 10 when we moved. He was in fourth and fifth grade there while was in third and fourth grades while there. Prior to Hartsville, we were less socially oriented and more attached to our parents than we were to the kids that we know. In the other towns, we were just little kids with no real concept of what school age social pressure was. But in Hartsville, we began to understand a world without the attachment of parents. It was there that we began to hang out with kids our age more than we hung out with our parents. It was there that we would tear out in the summer mornings and ride bikes all over town with our friends (Lanny Melton, Steve Peavey, and the two Johnson boys, Johnny and Robert) and would not be home til dark. We had great adventures the six of us. If you remember the movie, The Sandlot, or the movie, Stand By Me, that was kind of like us in our summertimes there in Hartsville in the Summer of 1970 and the Summer of 1971 (and part of the summer of 1972 before we moved that June). Fun times. Adventures at Lake Robinson. Riding through Coker College watching the girls like we were such studs…on our bicycles. Riding through the railyards at the mill. We did everything together. Hartsville in the early 70’s was just so like the towns that the guys in the Sandlot and Stand by Me grew up in.

As it was in Stand by Me, there was an ugly side to it as well. Not a murder like in that movie, but it was the fact that my brother was becoming more and more socially awkward. My brother is a brilliant guy. He always has been. He has an eidetic memory. He can remember yesterday’s baseball standings verbatim. He can remember the USC Gamecocks offensive linemen from 1980 by name and what they ended up doing after college by recall. With that kind of memory, you can suspect that he excelled at school. It was always easy for him and he dove into it. He beginning in Hartsville became more and more of a geek. His social problems began there, worsened with the geek squad he ran with in Elgin, was exacerbated in Anderson, and came to full flower in Travelers Rest. Hartsville was pretty much the last time we would spend any time together. From Elgin forward, we had separate groups of friends (what friends my brother would have) that did not intermingle with one another. I was with the non-braniac cool kids and my brother would always gravitate by the force of the social caste system of school age kids to the less popular, let’s say, kids. It all began in Hartsville though for us. That ripping of the bond between us as brothers from which we still have not fully recovered today. Sure, today, my brother and I love each other, but it is not like some brothers who talk every day. There is still that distance between us caused by years of eidetic memory Ralph vs. social chameleon but still worked hard and made good grades Mark. There was a world of difference in our social skills that started becoming apparent in Hartsville that it took us getting married, having kids, and living apart from one another for several years before we began to reconcile our relationship with one another when we were in our mid-twenties.

One of the memories that I have there was one night the Lanny, the Johnson boys, Steve, my brother and me where split up in teams of three playing war around and through the buildings of one of my dad’s churches, Twitty Memorial UMC. The parsonage was right next door and was in the middle of the mill village in which we all lived. Something happened that night. Something was said that offended my brother and he retaliated with some harsh words (for a 9 year old) toward everybody else. Maybe, my brother didn’t get his way about something, because his way was always the best way. Whatever it was, all of them (not me at first) turned on my brother and started calling him names and making fun of him. Because of the social pressure of the situation, I joined in the name calling. It got so bad that my brother ran in the parsonage crying and, of course, as he did it we questioned his 9 year old “manhood” by calling him a “crybaby”. It was within 30 minutes after my dad heard my brother’s story that I was called into the house. I remember Dad giving me the business about not defending my brother. In my defense, I tried telling dad what an ass my brother was being before all the name calling started. But my dad was big on family. He came from a family where his parents were big on family. He told me in no uncertain terms that when you have nothing else you have family. He told me that it does not matter if your brother is right or wrong you defend family. I guess that was where my resentment toward my brother began because my brother over the next decade made it so easy for people to pick on him with his need to show everyone how intelligent he was. He was like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. Like Sheldon’s character, he has softened over the years but back in the day it was like Sheldon at the beginning of that TV series.

However, my dad was right. There are times when we must stand up for our families regardless of what the cost to us might be. When we have nothing else we have our families. We don’t throw our families under the bus just to satisfy the madding crowd. We must sometimes stand up for what is not the socially popular thing to do. I threw my brother under the bus that night in the haze of social pressure. I was a social chameleon and it began there. Fitting in. Getting along. Seeking approval.

 

That’s what I thought of this morning as we read about the town leaders that refused to help Gideon because it would have required going against the odds, going against what was the norm. They did not want to take a chance and stand out for possible ridicule or retaliation themselves. They threw Gideon under the bus. Let’s read the passage now:

8 Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously.

2 But he answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided.

4 Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. 5 He said to the men of Sukkoth, “Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”

6 But the officials of Sukkoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?”

7 Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.”

8 From there he went up to Peniel[a] and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. 9 So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.”

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. 11 Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the unsuspecting army. 12 Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army.

13 Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. 14 He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. 15 Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” 16 He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. 17 He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.

18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?”

“Men like you,” they answered, “each one with the bearing of a prince.”

19 Gideon replied, “Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.” 20 Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!” But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.

 

21 Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.’” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks.

In this passage, we see that, in vv. 15-17, Gideon carried ou the threats that he had made in Judges 8:7 and 8:9. It is difficult to determine whether this act of revenge was justified or whether he should have left the punishment up to God. Gideon was God’s appointed leader, but the officials of Succoth and Peniel refused to help him in any way because they feared the enemy. They showed neither faith nor respect for God or the man God had chosen to save them. We should help others because it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether we benefit from it personally or not.

Sometimes, being a Christ follower is like my story and like the story of these town leaders. There will come a day when all of us have to decide to be a Christ follower or throw Christ under the bus to keep our social seal of approval or at least not to stand out for ridicule. Have you ever hid the fact that you are a Christ follower so as not to be ridiculed? Have you ever went along with the crowd doing something that was against what Christ followers believe just to fit in with the culture? There will come a day when Jesus has to decide whether we are a sheep or goat or whether, though we said, “Lord, Lord!”, he knows us or not. How often are we ashamed our faith? How often do we not share the gospel truth with others because it is uncomfortable and might cause us to stick out like a sore thumb? How often are we silent on social issues that we should be speaking out on because they are against what God teaches us in His Word? How often do we not stand up for Jesus? How often do we throw Jesus under the bus just to fit in and go along and seek approval from others. How often do we fail to realize that it is Jesus’ approval that matters and not the world’s. We sure will be spending a whole lot more time in eternity than the fleeting moments on this side of eternity. Yet, we act as if this side is the one that counts. Let us begin living to please Jesus rather than pleasing our social acceptance rating. Let us stand up for Jesus when it counts. He is our family. He is our blood. Let us live for Him and stop throwing Him under the bus to gain acceptance from that which is fleeting and temporary.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 8:1-21 (Part 2 of 4)
Gideon Kills Zebah and Zalmunna

Earlier this week, I wrote about “gimme that church!” The idea was that I would rather have a church of 50 people that are passionate, sold-out, all-in followers of Christ than a church of 3,000 that is lackluster and lukewarm about Jesus. Just what does a passionate, sold-out, all-in, no-holes-barred Christ follower look like in the context of church?

They are the ones that see church as a “get to” not a “got to”. These are the people that worship on Sunday with a passion and a thanksgiving and a freedom that is noticeable. When the music begins, they get lost in praise. They are consumed by the words and music of praise. They are the ones who raise their hands in praise (which reminds me of the Tim Dawkins talking about a hand raising church – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuRN2LL3fBs). They are the ones that are lost in praise to the Lord and they are the ones that that may even get so caught up in the moment that tears of joy come streaming down their face – even men. They are the ones that are full-on listening to the pastor, and may say amen here and there. The ones that discuss the sermon over lunch with their spouses. They are the ones that are prayerfully considered the message and the Bible verses that the sermon was drawn from. They are the ones that pray to the Lord to engage their heart and change concerning what was said in the sermon.

They are the ones that give of their time to the church because they believe wholeheartedly in their church’s mission in God’s plan. They are the ones that you can count on to do the extra things that need to be done at church. They are the ones who will accept leadership positions and make time for it. They will attend meetings without complaint. They will arrange their schedule around their church responsibilities. They want to serve. It is not some checklist thing to them. They truly do it because of their thanksgiving at their own salvation and feeling it an honor to serve the Lord. They are the ones who know what their fate would have been had they not encountered Jesus and accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. They are the ones who see their service at church as the least that they can do for their Savior and wish they could do more but are limited by the fact that they have to work to earn a living. They often daydream about what it would be like to be able to serve the Lord full-time and wonder how they could make that work and pray for God to show them the way to do that one day, but trust that God has them where He wants them right now.

They are the ones that give of their talents to their church. They may be gifted as carpenters, electricians, accountants, teachers, or whatever, but they give those talents to the church in some way. They serve in capacities in which the Lord has gifted them. Some have the gift of hospitality and greet people with the love of Christ every Sunday morning. Some have been gifted in finance and administration and serve the Lord in that way quietly in the background. Some are gifted in video and audio arts and serve the church by operating and directing the media for the church each Sunday. Some are gifted in compassion and serve the church by working in its outreach ministries to the community. Some gifted in the mechanical arts maintain the church itself. Some gifted in the ability to make Scripture come alive will serve in teaching ministries at the church. Some gifted in leading children in the understanding of God’s love for them will work in the children’s ministry. Some gifted in the law enforcement can use their talents to keep the campus secure during events and during Sunday morning services. Even in the smallest of churches there are many ways in which an all-in heart can serve. They do so because again it is an act of thanksgiving, a small way to show gratitude to their Lord and Savior, not because they want to be seen as being a servant but because they simply love the Lord.

They are the ones that give of their resources to the church. They are the cheerful givers. They are the ones that take it seriously that God commanded us to tithe. They do not get lost in the argument about Old Testament Law vs. the New Testament freedom. They know that Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. They know what Paul meant that we should not give out of compulsion but out of a pure and cheerful heart. They know that Paul meant that we should be cheerfully giving what God commands and then some on top of that. These are the people who have arranged their lives such that they can live on 90% or less of what they earn. These are the ones that have decided that it is less important how much stuff we have and how new that stuff is compared to the honor and privilege and blessing that it is to be able to tithe and then to tithe and give an offering on top of that. These are the ones that don’t call their tithe a tithe when it is not 10% of what they make. These are the ones that began making offerings at 1% then 2% and so on all the way up to 10% when they can truly use the word tithe to describe their giving. They are the ones who would give every dime to the Lord if they could. They are the ones the church can count on to give when there is special need. These are the ones that see their tithing and above as worship. These are the ones that can tell you of how God has blessed them with a new perspective on money by being obedient to the Lord in this area. They consider it a privilege to participate in financing the work of the kingdom just as the women who gave of their own means to finance Jesus’ earthly ministry in Luke 8:1-3. Giving is an act of praise, and act of adoration, and act of thanksgiving for God has done in their lives.

That’s what I thought of this morning as we read about the town leaders that refused to help Gideon because it might be inconvenient to step for the Lord in that way. Let’s read the passage now:

8 Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously.

2 But he answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided.

4 Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. 5 He said to the men of Sukkoth, “Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”

6 But the officials of Sukkoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?”

7 Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.”

8 From there he went up to Peniel[a] and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. 9 So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.”

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. 11 Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the unsuspecting army. 12 Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army.

13 Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. 14 He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. 15 Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” 16 He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. 17 He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.

18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?”

“Men like you,” they answered, “each one with the bearing of a prince.”

19 Gideon replied, “Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.” 20 Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!” But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.

 

21 Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.’” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks.

In this passage, we see that in vv. 5-9 the leaders of Succoth and Peniel refused to help Gideon, probably fearing Midianite revenge should Gideon fail. After all, Gideon had a contingent of 300 men chasing an army of 15,000 men. They should have realized that victory was certain since God was with Gideon. However, they were more worried about saving themselves that they never thought about God’s almighty power to save. Because of fear for ourselves, we may not recognize in other people and therefore miss God’s victory. The we must face the often bitter consequences of failing to join forces with those God has chosen to do His work. Because God will prevail with or without you, be quick to join others who are engaged in His work. Lend support with your time, money, talent and prayers.

So many of us today do not join in the work of the church in spreading the gospel and in discipling up of the saints because it does not fit into their schedule. Church comes after our kids sports programs. Church comes after weekends at the lake or the beach. Church comes after our favorite college football team that we follow around the country. Church comes after our jobs. Church comes after. Church is often something we work into our schedule when it does not prevent us from doing the above. Church is one of a menu of things that our family is involved in. Church is a checklist. What will we say to Jesus on our judgment day? I tried to fit you in but we were too busy. I tried to fit you in when it was convenient to my schedule. We tried to fit you in when it was not in conflict with something our kids were involved in. Will we really say that?

Let us be a people that places our relationship with Jesus Christ above all other things. Let us be a people who will take risks for Jesus Christ. Let us be a people who will drop everything to serve the Lord. Let us be a people who are the rich young rulers who actually did sell all their goods, gave it to the poor and followed Jesus. Let us be a church of people that are sold out for Christ. Let us be a church willing to do whatever it takes to spread the gospel. Let us be a church that gives so freely that our church can spread the gospel in ways that it cant now. Let us be a church that gives so well that we can do three times the ministry that we do now. Let us be a church that is so willing to sacrifice for the Lord that we are planting gospel driven churches all over the place. Let us be a church that is sending forth ministers from its midst. Let us be a sending church. Let us be a church full of missionaries to foreign lands. Let us be a church full of men and women who see their interactions with the local community as an opportunity to share God’s Word. Let us be a church fully in, fully committed, fully willing to sacrifice to win the world for Christ even if it is a risk to do so! Even if it causes us to have live a different lifestyle. Even if it draws us out into the unknown. Even if it draws us into danger. Even if it draws out and trust in the Lord is the only thing we have to go on.

 

Amen and Amen.

Judges 8:1-21 (Part 1 of 4)
Gideon Kills Zebah and Zalmunna

I remember several years ago when Elena and I were co-directors of the Community Transformation ministry of our church (to outsiders desiring non-“church speak” nomenclature, we were co-directors of the church’s local outreach ministry). At the same time, I was the leader of our small group. In that small group, we had encouraged our small group members to participate in the upcoming major event in our church’s outreach calendar, the annual Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway.

As I have mentioned here before, our church has this major event where we invite anyone who feels less fortunate in our community to come to our church and get a complete Thanksgiving meal including an 11-12 lb. turkey to take home. In that way they can have a nice Thanksgiving meal with their family rather than sitting in some church gym eating a meal on long tables with hundreds of other folks they don’t even know. All the while, eating the meal off a paper plate with plastic forks, knives and spoons after having gone through a serving line where some nice church person is the one who determines how much of a portion of each foot item you get. Those generic en masse dinners though an act of generosity are often another slap in the face in the fact that you are poor. You want to have a Thanksgiving meal but you end up feeling like a kid in elementary school eating a meal with hundreds of others. It can be somewhat degrading to the spirit. That’s why we do ours the way we do. Allow these families some dignity where they can take their meal home and have a private meal with their family – not to mention that we don’t have an industrial kitchen at our church where we can feed hundreds of people at once…so there’s that!

Back to my story though. I had encouraged our life group members to get off the couch and help out on the day of the event. So, most of the group did, those that could get off work on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. But I had this one lady from our group that was not there early (we ask volunteers to arrive as early as possible but no later than 7am on the day of the event) for the prep meetings and volunteer assignments to the various functions, just show up around 9am. This particular year, because the weather was going to be unusually warm for late November (it was going to be in the upper 70s that day), we held the event outside. All the stations of our process for the event were outside. It was already in the upper 60’s by event time and it turned out to be a great choice for that particular year. Meanwhile, this lady came directly to me and it seemed to because she knew me, was in my small group, and I was a co-leader of the event that she thought she would get a plum assignment out front engaging people, a place where she could be seen. However, since all positions had been manned I gave her a position as bathroom monitor since we needed someone inside to direct our guests to the bathroom. You know the person that directs others to the bathroom and making sure that people do not wander off into the unattended areas of the main worship center of our church. You know, this lady, though not said directly to me, was telling others how angry she was that she had such a demeaning position. She wanted to be seen. She thought because she knew Elena and me that we would put her in a prime position where she could be seen. She didn’t want to be behind the scenes.

But sometimes in life we have to “guard the bathroom.” In serving the Lord, there are times and there may be many times where we are not out front. We may talented in ways that cause us to be like the old BASF commercials. Remember, “We don’t make the ______. We make the ______ better!” Sometimes, we may be called to rearrange the chairs in the worship center for an event, but not be on stage. We may work in the kitchen at the soup kitchen and not be the ones serving and interacting with the guests. We may build the coat racks but not be the ones who gives the coats away to guests at the coat giveaway. You may be the one running a camera during a church service but not be the pastor delivering the sermon on stage. You may be the accountant who manages the church’s financial reporting but no one notices other than a few people within the church. We must remember who we are working for. We are working for the Lord. We are not working for personal acclaim. We give what we give in our time, talent, and resources not so our pastor will notice us but rather to give glory to God.

That was the first thing that I noticed about this passage, Judges 8:1-21, this morning was how those leaders of the Ephraimites were mad at Gideon because they were given what they considered a lesser role. That was a reminder of how we are sometimes in the church. How we will fall away from participating in some task because it is not in the limelight. Let’s read the passage now:

8 Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously.

2 But he answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided.

4 Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. 5 He said to the men of Sukkoth, “Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”

6 But the officials of Sukkoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?”

7 Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.”

8 From there he went up to Peniel[a] and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. 9 So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.”

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. 11 Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the unsuspecting army. 12 Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army.

13 Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. 14 He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. 15 Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” 16 He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. 17 He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.

18 Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?”

“Men like you,” they answered, “each one with the bearing of a prince.”

19 Gideon replied, “Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the Lord lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.” 20 Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!” But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.

 

21 Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.’” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks.

In this passage, we see that Ephraim’s leaders felt left out because Gideon had not called them to join the battle but had left them in place to “clean up” the escaping Midianites (the “leftover grapes”) and so they angrily confronted him. Gideon assured the leaders of the tribe of Ephraim that their accomplishment was even greater than his own clan (Abiezer). His diplomatic explanation pointed out that the rear guard had managed to capture the enemy’s generals, thus, cutting off the army of the enemy from its leadership – effectively destroying the enemy. Not every necessary job is a highly visible leadership role. Much of the necessary labor of any effective enterprise is considered by many to be dirty work (the behind the scenes seemingly unrewarded and unnoticed). But such work is vital to getting any big task done. Engineers and millionaires may design and finance an elegant building, but it is the metalworkers, brickmasons, electricians, drywallers, and so on that actually get the work done. Pride can cause us to want recognition. Are content to be God’s bricklayer when he needs you to be or are resentful of the work you have been assigned (and thereby miss what God has in store for you).

Oh, Lord, in your infinite and mighty wisdom, you assign us to serve the body of Christ in ways that are not always out front or on stage and help us to remember that it is you that we are out to please and not our own egos. Help us to be willing to crawl through the mud for you if that is what you call us to do. Help us to be your humble servants because you are a great and mighty God full of infinite wisdom and understanding of a far greater plan for our lives than we can see in our limited nature. Help us to trust you and to glorify you in everything we do regardless of whether it is a job out front or it is a job that is in the background. All parts must work together to make the body of Christ effective. Help us to learn that as part of the body there are no unimportant roles and all roles have a purpose as part of God’s plan. Help us to be humble and serve to the best of our ability and for Your Glory in whatever we do for you, Lord.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 7:1-25 (Part 1 of 2)
Gideon Defeats the Midianites

“I would rather have a church of 50 people if all 50 were sold out to the Lord than a church of 5,000 where everyone was lukewarm.” I have heard my senior pastor make this statement on more than one occasion. A church of 50 people who love the Lord and serve their fellow man so that (1) they can tell them of Jesus Christ and (2) give thanks to the Lord for what He has done will make a greater impact on their world than any megachurch that is shallow and weak. One of the dangers of a large church is that some will think that others will pick up the slack. We don’t have to be near as committed in a church of 5,000 as we do in a church of 50. I am not saying that megachurches are bad because some of them have learned how to make the big church small and get everyone to be willing to serve the Lord. I am just saying that for those who want to be lukewarm Christians you can certainly get lost in the crowd in a megachurch.

I think what my senior pastor was saying was that he wanted a church full of people that were committed to Jesus Christ and willing to take the Bible seriously and live by God’s Word. What if he preached the gospel and preached it hard and preached on some of the subjects that we stay away from in modern church (so that we can attract people). What if he preached the God of justice as much as the God of love. What we quit being attractional and became missional. What if we encountered people with the truth of the gospel and the hard truths of all of God’s Word. What if in that process we lost people who were offended by God’s justice. What if in that process we lost those who simply come to church to be “spiritually spoon-fed”, to have their needs met through quality programs that entertain but not challenge, and have their children taught about God by professionals so they won’t have to. What if we lost those who pick and choose what they want to believe from God’s Word and justify the sins that they desire to continue unrepentantly participate in as being OK because we now live in a modern world. What if we lost those who like to stick their toe in the water and nothing else. What if we lost those who refuse to grow and are satisfied with just getting their church fix for a few hours on Sunday morning. What if we lost those who think themselves committed Christ followers but who do not obey God through their generosity in tithing and beyond. What if we lost those who want to stay on the shore and watch others serving in the boat. What if we lost those who say they will help out with a church function but think it is OK to not show up and not say a word to the leader about why. What if we lost those who have short attention spans and cannot commit to anything lasting longer than a couple of weeks.

What if we had people who sought to serve. What if we had people that sought to give God honor daily by their service and by their sheer joy and thanksgiving of serving the Lord. What if we had a church full of people who studied their Bibles daily. What if we had people that testified to others whenever they had a chance about this wonderful thing called salvation in Jesus Christ. What if we were so different from the culture that people were drawn to us. What if we had a church full of tithers and more. Imagine our church with three times the capability to reach out into the world and show people Jesus because our people tithed. What if we had people who read God’s hard words in certain parts of the Bible and obeyed them instead of seeking loopholes. What if we had a church full of people who let God’s Word and the Holy Spirit convict them of sins and they repented of them instead of trying to justify them. What if we were a people to wanted to know more about being God’s man or God’s woman. What if we loved the Lord so much that people could tell that we were Christian. What if we had a church that was a kingdom of priests, as the Apostle Peter told us we were. What if we ministered to our community individually without caring whether the pastor patted us on the back. What if we no longer counted our corporate church events as us serving the community and that’s done. What if we learned from these corporate events how to live our lives on mission. What if we had a church full of people with keen eyes to the world around them and ministered to people where they live, work, and play. What if we were a church that had so many passionate followers of Jesus Christ that each one was willing to follow God’s call on their lives and do things that the secular world would call crazy like moving your family to Connecticut and planting a church or taking your family to eastern Europe to serve as missionaries in former Communist countries or take your family to Africa to open up a Christian center where you feed, nurse, educate, and preach the gospel to the people in a remote village. What if we had a church people were they learned to trust God completely and were willing to chuck our 21st century Southern culture and its creature comforts and move to the inner city of some large, decaying Northern city and live in the projects to spread the gospel in the spiritually dark places with hard spiritual ground. What if we had a church full of people who say any sacrifice for Jesus Christ as a privilege and not as something that you can work in if the conditions are right. What if we had a church of people where church was the central core of everything about their life and not just some add-on, not just some cherry on top.

That’s the church my pastor wants. That’s the church that he is working to create. That’s the church God wants. That’s the church that Jesus will not vomit out of His mouth. Gimme that church. That’s’ the church I want to be counted among.

That idea of a totally committed church, a totally committed group of Christ followers, is what I thought about as I read this passage this morning. Here, we find that Gideon ended up with only 300 soldiers who were totally committed to the fight. They did not care that they were outnumbered. Those 300 were the ones that knew God would give them victory. Those 300 were the ones that God wanted in the battle. The others were not totally sold out and when they saw and opportunity to opt-out of this following God with our entire being thing, they bolted. Let’s read the passage together now:

7 Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ 3 Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

4 But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

5 So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” 6 Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

7 The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” 8 So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. 9 During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. 10 If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11 and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. 12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.

13 Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

14 His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” 16 Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

17 “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. 18 When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’”

19 Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. 20 The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23 Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. 24 Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.”

So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they seized the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. 25 They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan.

In this passage, we see that self-sufficiency is a handicap when it causes us to believe that we can do what needs to be done in our own strength. To prevent this attitude among Gideon’s soldiers, God reduced the number of soldiers from 32,000 to 300. With an army so vastly outnumbered, there could be no doubt the victory was from God. The men could not take the credit. Like Gideon, we must recognize the danger of fighting in our own strength. We can be confident of victory against life’s challenges and temptations only if we put our confidence in God not ourselves. Gideon’s army simply watched as the army of Midian fell into panic, confusion and disorderly retreat. Not one man had to draw a sword to defeat the enemy until the Midianites were on the run. God wanted to demonstrate to Israel that victory depends not on strength in numbers but on obedience and commitment to Him.

Give me the three hundred guys that were sold out for God. Give me that 300 guys that knew, just knew, just trusted wholeheartedly that God would give them victory. Give me 12 men empowered by the Holy Spirit that spread the gospel directly and through others throughout the entire, vast Roman Empire within a generation. That’s the church I want. That’s the church I want to serve in. Give me a church that is fully, everyone on fire for Jesus Christ. God, I want to be a part of that church. Gimme a church that wants disciples and not just converts. Gimme a church that trains up, equips, and sends. Even if it is just a church of 50, just let all 50 be on fire. Maybe it won’t be a church of 50 for long if it is a church that is totally committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ that care so deeply about spreading the gospel that they are willing to chuck it all to do that.

Amen and Amen.