Do I Boast in the Lord or in Myself? The Second Part of Gideon’s Story (Judges 7)

This story is all about boasting, a special kind of boasting, boasting not in our own ability, but in God’s ability to save. That’s important because as long as we are boasting in our own accomplishments we will never have time to trust God to save us.

 Have you ever heard the story of the Emperor’s new clothes? It goes a little something like this: The emperor hires two new tailors to make a suit for him. He pays a nice sum of money, they take measurements, and he expects them to return with a brilliant suit. The tailors are tricky folks and they play on the emperor’s gullibility and desire to be loved by others. They tell him that they have made a one of a kind unique suit, in fact it is so special that only those who are pure of heart can see how splendid it really is.

So it comes time to try one the suit and they show up with a box of nothing. They go through the motions just like they were laying out a real suit, but there is nothing there. They ask the emperor to disrobe so he can wear the special new suit. The emperor doesn’t see a suit, but not wanting to feel stupid, pretends he does. They pretend to help him fit in the suit. They ask him if it’s too snug, or if it fits just right and then they go on praising him, telling him how fine he looks in his new suit.

Then they start to call the castle staff in starting with the butlers and maids. They describe to these kind gentle folks that only those pure of heart and fit for service in the palace can see how splendid the fabric really is. Each person who comes in is afraid to admit that if they say the emperor is naked that it will reveal that they are not pure of heart and were never meant for palace work anyway. Finally there whole palace is in an uproar about how brilliant the emperor’s suit is. No one dare says that they can’t see it and they all go on pretending in order to cover their shame.

The next thing you know someone yells out, “Let’s have a parade and show everyone how brilliant your new suit is!” and of course that’s a good idea because everyone in the palace is pretending to be able to see this imaginary suit.  The situation escalates quickly and the emperor is now marching out in front of his whole castle staff down the road through the village. People are running ahead announcing the reason for the visit from the emperor and that only those, “pure of heart, fit for a kingdom like ours can see how brilliant the suit really is.” The band assembles. The people, not wanting to betray their inability to see the suit all play along.

Then the procession rounds a corner and a little child who didn’t hear the announcement looks up and sees the king marching naked through the street with all his staff behind him, with the band playing, with all the people telling him how wonderful he looks in his new suit and says, “you’re naked!”

The charade is up! Everyone’s worst suspicions were realized. There never was a suit, it was all made up by some lazy tailors who wanted the kings money.

In a way we are like the king and all the towns folk when we boast about ourselves and what we have done. Boasting is like the emperor’s new clothes because we all stand in need, but boasting ignores that real need and shifts focus onto a lie that says, “I have enough.” People who have a problem boasting about themselves are trying to cover over a real need. To put it in perspective it’s like saying, “I know I am a sinner, but I’m really good at basketball,” or “I know that I can’t forgive that person for what they’ve done to me, but I’m really beautiful.” Or “I know that I’m going to spend eternity away from God in a place called hell, but man can I sing.” Boasting in ourselves is like the king who boasted in his new outfit. He was actually boasting in his ignorance.

The nation of Israel was overrun by Midianites. God had sent word that he would deliver them through the hand of Gideon, but He was going to do it in a way that it was obviously God who won the victory. The Israelites needed to know that even in their weakness that God was strong. They needed to boast not in themselves, in their nakedness, but in the God who covers over sin and provides for deliverance.

  1. When we are WEAK, we see God’s STRENGTH

Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.'” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained. And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” (Judges 7:1-7 ESV)

Did you catch that? God reduced the size of Gideon’s army by over 99%! First, let’s get one thing straight the 32,000 people he gathered together weren’t enough to take on the enemy! We are told that the soldiers of Midian numbered around 135,000!

So let’s do a little battle math. Let’s assume that all things are equal and so every guy can kill one guy. You’d need 135,000 guys to fight for you, not 32,000. Let’s say that you’re guys are really awesome and they do have the home court advantage so they are good for at least 2 of the other guys. You still need about 68,000.

Put it in money terms. Let’s say you’re trying to get enough money together to buy a really nice car. Something like a Lambrogini. You find one decked out, on sale for $135,000.  You don’t have $135,000 so you raise money, you promise rides out to your friends if they invest, you pick up odd jobs, you wash dogs, you sell your parents stuff at yard sales and you work really hard and you come up with $32,000. It’s impressive right? But it’s not enough to buy the car, but given your skills in raising the money you may feel like it’s enough to enter a negotiation. Now imagine that $20,000 walks off and you are left with $12,000 to negotiate with for a $135,000 car. Now imagine that it’s down to $300… Do you know what kind of car you buy for $300? At that point you are just buying it for the parts.

How ridiculous to walk into a car negotiation for a $135,000 car with only $300 in your pocket! You wouldn’t even call the guy. It’s not enough!

That is how it looks for Israel when it comes to defeating Midian. It’s impossible! No one in their right mind is looking around at any point in this whole thing thinking, “I think we have enough guys, send some home.” In fact, if you’re just one of the guys waiting to go to war and you see everyone else walking off because of this or that, you get worried. Look at verse 2 though, it’s important for the LORD to illustrate a point to Gideon and all of Israel. He is the one who delivers.

In our society we look at weakness as a flaw. We don’t like weak characters in our movies. We love it when one guy comes in and is able to do what a whole team of folks would do in real life. We like the strong. We like the strong so much that sometimes we fake it. We put masks on to cover over our weakness. We boast in our accomplishments so you won’t see our failures and we talk about the failures of others so that you are too busy looking somewhere else to see us for who we really are. The paradox of the gospel enters at this point because no strong men can be saved; no pretender will be either. Only those who come to a point of honesty about their weakness will truly ever be made strong.

The Apostle Paul, perhaps the most preeminate Apostle from history said this:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV

Paul knew that acknowledging weakness isn’t a curse, it’s a blessing. Being weak and realizing that there is no way that you can get out of a situation puts you in a position to give all the praise and glory to God. Paul looked at his own circumstance and knows that it is God who provides for him. The LORD is his strength and you are never stronger than when you have the LORD on your side.

Here is how you worship. When you know exactly how much God has done for you because you were unable to do it yourself you celebrate. You want to see a worship service? Go hang out with people who used to be drug dealers and prostitutes but have been saved by the grace of God. You want to hear people sing God’s praise with passion, go hang out with inmates who met Jesus while in prison. Why? Because these people have a better picture of what it’s like to receive God’s forgiveness and strength over sin.

If you drop your wallet and I find it and hand it back to you, you might be grateful because there might have been $20 in there. How much more grateful would you be if I found it and it had $200, or even if it had $2000. Our gratitude grows with the money we feel like we’ve lost.

How much more grateful will we be when we know that God has forgiven our sins against him! Most of us don’t even realize just how much that is. We are uncelebratory in worship because we are used to faking strength and boasting in our own accomplishments that we don’t realize how much he has done for us! Just like we need to know and celebrate what God has done in delivering us from our sins, Israel needs to know God is their deliver in this moment. So it’s down to 300.

  • God is patient with us in our WEAKNESS

That same night the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.” As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the LORD has given the host of Midian into your hand.” (Judges 7:9-15 ESV)

So this is what we know about Gideon. He’s always asking second guessing the LORD’s plan. First when God appears to He asks for a sign and so the LORD burns up a meal that Gideon brought out. Then we didn’t talk about this but Gideon puts out a fleece and asks God that everything but the fleece would be wet in the morning, then he puts out on the next day and asks that only the fleece would be wet and everything else would be dry. Now God says, “If you are still scared to go into battle just sneak down there and listen to what they are saying.” God gives him a third sign that He will be with Gideon.

We might be prone to giving Gideon a hard time, but how many times do we play these same sorts of head games with ourselves. God might be leading you to share the gospel with a classmate and so you do things like. “OK God if you are really telling me to share with them, then they will be the first one in class today” or “They will be sitting up front by the teacher.” And all sorts of stuff like that. Just so you know, it’s not the devil telling you to share the gospel with someone and it wasn’t the devil wanting to free Israel. We just need some help and encouragement knowing that God is going to go with us.

Sometimes God does come down to our terms like he did with Gideon and the fleece. Most often he delivers on his terms, like with this dream that Gideon overhears the man talking about. Gideon is so pumped about this that he runs back and rallies the troops… all 300 of them and hatches a plan.

  • Often it isn’t a matter of supernatural ability, but natural ability used in a supernatural way. (Gideon is more like batman than superman)

And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.'” So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. When they blew the 300 trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian. Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan. (Judges 7:16-25 ESV)

This plan is ingenious! Gideon’s men surround the camp. They wait for a shift change. This is important because here is what would have happened at a shift change. 1/3 of the army would have been asleep. 1/3 of the army would have just woken up and taken their spot to guard the perimeter of the camp. And 1/3 of the army would be walking back to their tents with their weapons having just come off guard duty. So the 1/3 of the guys who were asleep get woken up in the middle of the night. They hear the enemy trumpets. They grab their weapons and behold there are already armed men in the camp. They go straight to battle not knowing that they are fighting their own guys. The guys on guard duty turn around and see people fighting and think the enemy has already advanced through the camp and so they join the fray and a massive army destroys itself in one night.

The cool thing is that this little plan seems to be Gideon’s plan. God used Gideon in his weakness to hatch a really cool plan that would deliver the whole army into their hand without much fighting. Gideon’s God given military brilliance would have never come to light had he not been pushed into leading the nation of Israel.

They chase down the Midian leaders. The whole thing comes full circle as the leaders go into hiding and are eventually caught. Where are they caught? One is caught and beheaded at a winepress, like where Gideon was threshing wheat when the LORD appeared to him and the other was caught and beheaded at a rock, like the one the LORD showed Gideon that he would be with him by burning up a meal.

You might find yourself like a Gideon, hiding, thinking there is no way that God can use you. Can I tell you, He can and he will. You may have a calling to go across the room to share Jesus with a friend, coworker, family member, or even a stranger and you are wondering, “Will God go with me?” I can promise you, he does! It may not work out as you intend, but when you trust him he is with you. You may be scared because God has given you a vision much larger than you are and you wonder why or how it could ever be accomplished. Know this, when you are little, God is big. When you fear God, you don’t fear people.  

Repentance vs. Regret: The Beginning of the Story of Gideon (Judges 6)

I’ve got some friends preaching through the book of Judges. I thought I’d post some of my old notes up here for a quick reference for those who want them….

Imagine that it’s Christmas time. You’ve written a pretty ambitious list for your parents, but word on the street is that this year you might actually get everything on the list plus some other really cool stuff like toe socks that you saw in the store and you’re mom was awesome enough to go back and buy later.  You have also gone all out. Uncharacteristically, you collected change from the couch, did odd chores for neighbors and resold your little Debbie snack that you’re mom packed in your lunch in an effort to surprise your parents and siblings with some really awesome gifts. The best part is that a new video game just came out; you know it’s under the tree, but you have to wait for Christmas…. It’s going to be the best Christmas ever!  

Then a thief breaks in your house steals all the Christmas gifts, smashes all your plates, steals your brand new game system. It suddenly just became the worst Christmas ever! Now imagine that it happens every year at Christmas, for seven years! You wouldn’t be looking forward to Christmas, you’d be dreading it.

That’s the feeling that Gideon and his people were feeling. They lived in an agrarian culture where they would plant crops. Harvest time was supposed to be the best time of the year for them…but it wasn’t! An invading army from Midian would slip in and take everything! Even the stuff they couldn’t eat was given to their animals for food or bedding. It had been going on for seven long years.

The people had adapted. They moved into caves and tried to hide the best they could. We read about Gideon here threshing wheat in a wine press… which is basically a stone hole in the ground. Everyone is in hiding and they are scared because of the people of Midian. The joy of the harvest is gone.

So the people cry out to God for help!

  1. Sometimes we want a MIRACLE, but we really need a  MESSAGE

When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.” (Judges 6:7-10 ESV)

Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is share the truth. Do you know how you catch a monkey? Some hunters in Africa hollow out a log and then create an opening big enough for a monkey to slip an open hand into. Then they place a banana in the hollowed out portion. The monkey will see the banana slip his hand in and grab the banana. But then there is a problem. The monkey cannot pull his hand out of the hole while it is wrapped around the banana. If the monkey would be free, all he has to do is let go. But monkeys don’t let go and so they get caught.

It’s the same for us, we get distracted by sin. Sin is always alluring. Like monkeys love bananas, we love our sin. Like monkeys we think it’s a free meal, but then we get caught. We forget that all sin has a consequence and we become trapped.

To set a monkey free all you have to do is convince him to open his hand and let go. That’s all he has to do and it’s not much different for you and I. We need to be reminded that the reason we’re in a mess sometimes is because we made the mess. The reason you got grounded was because of what you did. It was what was on your phone; it was what you said to your mom. You were like a monkey sticking his hand in a log for a banana and now you got caught.

So when you are in a mess all you want is to get out of the mess, you don’t see the relevance of a message. You don’t understand that the most freeing thing someone can do for you, is to help you understand the situation you’re in and how you got there!

You want to leave your circumstances and God wants you to learn from your circumstance. So instead of immediately delivering the people he first sends a prophet. He sends someone with a message, a reminder that the reason they are where they are is because they have disobeyed God.

We think that rules are restrictive, but what we don’t understand is that they actually free us. Who has more freedom the monkey who obeys the rule “don’t grab a banana from a log” or the monkey who has no rules and grabs the banana? Who has more freedom the guy who never drinks a drop of alcohol or the guy who drinks himself to bed every night? Who has more freedom, the girl who gossips about others to feel good about herself or the girl who doesn’t gossip? Who had more freedom the guy who lies about stuff to impress people, or the guy who never lies? Who has more freedom, the guy who looks at dirty pictures or the guy who flees sexual immorality and temptation? Who has more freedom?

Ask Israel! Did they have more freedom when they worshipped the one true God alone or when they turned their backs on him and worshipped these false god’s in the land? When were they the most free? They were more free worshiping God, because when we sin, we become slaves to sin. That’s how you end up with compulsive liars, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. Their slavery is just more visible than yours might be.

But we are like the monkey with the banana in the log. We get that and we still want the banana. The only way that you will ever be able to let go of the sin you wrestle with is if you can be honest about it. You see that’s the deal. We don’t want to let go. We want to eat cake and not get fat. We want to do wrong things and not get caught or not face the fall out. We regret our decisions, but we seldom ever repent.

Author and speaker Tim Keller shares about the difference between regret and repentance:

“Regret is all about ‘us’” how I am being hurt, how my life is ruined, how my heart is breaking; but repentance is all about God: how he has been grieved, how his nature as Creator and Redeemer is being trampled on, how his repeated saving actions are being trivialized and used manipulatively.”

Tim Keller, Judges for You. (Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Co., 2013), 69

So Israel is in awful shape. They have been running from God and now they are experiencing the consequences and even when they do call out to God. It’s more the voice of regret than it is true repentance and so God sends a prophet. They need a voice to remind them of their situation. But notice where the message stops… the message ends with “you have not obeyed my voice” (Judges 6:10b).  So we know what they’ve done wrong, but how do they make it right? How do we go and fix things?

OK God, I’m stuck here, how do I let go? How do I find healing? How do I get out of this mess?  The answer comes in the very next verse… the angel of the LORD. He is the answer. He’s the one who takes your darkest night, your biggest screw ups, and your unfortunate mistakes and turns them into something beautiful. Only God can undo the wrong that we have done and he will do it though a deliverer.

  • Sometimes you Can Miss God at Work, Even by Staring Him in the Face

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?(Judges 6:12-14 ESV)

This is by far one of my favorite parts of this story. God shows up and says, “The LORD is with you!” and Gideon doesn’t even see how God could be with him? He’s too busy looking at the calamity around him that he doesn’t recognize God’s call on him. He doesn’t get that he’s telling God face to face that God is not there!

Maybe in the moments when it looks like God is not there we are actually closer to Him than we have ever been before. That was certainly the case for Gideon.

Not only is God there, but God is calling Gideon to go do something about the brokenness that he points out. Gideon doesn’t understand that this messenger is actually God in human flesh. He starts talking about how he is the least likely candidate to fix things up, but God won’t take no for an answer.

In that culture it was right to show guests a little hospitality and now Gideon feels that this man (who is actually God) is a bit of a guest so he decides to show some hospitality. Gideon tells the LORD to wait while he fixed a meal (This was a process that probably took an hour or more). So Gideon makes this meal, brings it back and sets it on a rock. God puts forward his staff and burns it up and the LORD disappears.

Gideon freaks out! I mean he freaks out! He’s saying, “I saw God! I saw God! I saw God! I’m gonna die! I’m gonna die! I’m gonna die!” He knew that people don’t just see God and live to tell about it. The word on the street was that if you saw God, you would die. He’s probably rehashing his conversation, “what did I tell him? Did I say that he wasn’t with us? Was he with me and I did not even know it was him!?”

Then God appears to him again and says, “Chill out dude. I’m not going to kill you. If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead already.” And Gideon builds an altar to God and worships there.

This is significant because remember the whole reason that Israel is in this mess is because they are building altars and calling out to false gods. They see the Canaanites and they say things like, “Oh, I want what they have. I want to act like them. I want to be like them.” And the things they were doing were wrong, offensive, and sinful to a holy and a righteous God not to mention they came with consequences… Like the monkey and the banana.

They were crying out to God because they got caught with their hand in the log, but now this is something different. This is a return to God. This would be like someone not going to church for a long time and then saying, “Something is missing in my life when I call all the shots on my own. I need to hear from God so I’m going to church today.”  This is a shift. But it’s not enough on its own.

Now listen to me, because a lot of you are here right now. You’ve come to youth group, you’ve come to church and you’re like, “this is cool or God might really have a plan for my life or I think I might want to serve him.” But the problem is that you still have your hand in a log holding onto a banana. You still have sin in your life that while you feel regret about, you never have repented from and you need to know that it is not enough to just add Jesus to the mix.

When I was in middle school I played basketball all the time. The puberty fairy visited and I was blessed with sweat glands that really went into overtime. I still remember the day that my dad sat me down and explained what deodorant was and how it helped me not to stink. This wonderful gift of Body Odor also came at a time when I started to notice that girls were pretty and I started to think that cooties weren’t real. I soon found other interesting smells like cologne and spray on deodorant (this was before body spray).

So while I knew deep down that I probably stunk after playing basketball, I also knew that I didn’t want to stink so I did the most logical thing ever I sprayed on more deodorant or heaped on cologne. So instead of just stinking like B.O., I also smelled like Old Spice or whatever was my cologne of choice.  So here is the thing. While the cologne smelled nice, it didn’t really address the problem of body odor, I was still dirty.  I still needed to be clean. I needed soap.

That’s what is going on with Gideon here. He’s acknowledging God, he’s worshiping God which is pleasing to God, but there is still this issue of Baal worship. It’s like having body odor and trying to mask it with cologne. There are two smells that are coming off and the rotten one taints the sweet one, not the other way around.

So the LORD gives him directions on how to repent.

  • Real Repentance often Causes a Riot

That night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night. When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar. (Judges 6:25-32 ESV)

For real repentance to take place, Gideon has to not only construct and altar to the LORD, but takes down the altar meant for Baal! It’s not his altar so he knows it’s going to upset a lot of people. But what he basically does here is eliminate the path back to Baal worship. He makes it harder.

He’s a little bit of a chicken so he does it at night. He tears this stuff down, makes a new altar to God and kills one of his dad’s bulls as a sacrifice. This is repentance when you destroy in a final kind of way the avenue through which you used to rebel.

I’ve known guys who had a difficult time not looking at bad pictures or videos and so they gave their phone back to their parents, they destroyed computers, they put filters and software on so other people knew what they were doing. They were serious about repentance because they were willing to do whatever it took to deal with their sin head on.

I watched an episode of biggest loser one time. I used to love that show. All the fat people start out fatter than me, but it gets depressing because midway through the show they end up skinnier than me. The people took the trainers back to their houses and the trainers went through their kitchen and put stuff in the trash. They would say things like, “This bag of sugar is pure sugar, and you can’t put that in your tea anymore if you want to get smaller. This oil is only used for frying, you’re not going to fry anything anymore get rid of it.” They were helping these people repent of bad eating and removing the easy access to bad calories.

I knew a guy who was a compulsive liar. He would lie for no reason. Jesus got a hold of his heart and so I told him to repent means you go back and you tell the truth to the people you know that you’ve lied to. Lying is no longer your god. Jesus is! He had to come clean about a lot of junk. He was so set on real repentance though that he willingly went back and outed himself for lying in several instances. He became free for the first time in his life! He was actually free!

There is no way you can do this in your own power or strength or even perfectly. Gideon was not on his own either. The LORD was with him. When folks tried to kill him for tearing down their idol God allowed Gideon’s dad to come to his defense and say, “If Baal is a real god he can defend himself.

What do you need to repent of today? Repentance is necessary to find healing from our sins.

When my kids fall down and scrape a knee I don’t just throw a band-aide on the wound. It makes sense to cover over the bleeding, but there is a necessary step you have to take first: you have to clean the wound to prevent an infection. Once it’s clean, then you can place a band-aid on it and the healing can begin.

Repentance is turning to God and trusting him to clean us so the healing can begin. We trust God for two things when we do this. One, that he will forgive us. The bible tells us that while we were still sinners that Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8 ) the other thing is that he will give us the power to overcome the sin in our life. Jesus didn’t just die to forgive us, but also to give us power over sin in our life… have you trusted in him? If not, why not today?

The Pastor’s Family (A Review)

I really enjoyed reading The Pastor’s Family* by Brian and Cara Croft. I am a pastor and my dad was a pastor/ church planter growing up. I really appreciate all the resources that Brian Croft and his team at Practical Shepharding have brought to the table (they really fill a niche that was missing when I entered into ministry). This book was especially impactful and I am very grateful to Brian and Cara for spending the time to write it.

New pastors and their wives often don’t know just how challenging ministry can be on a marriage and family. It only appears that ministry will grow even more challenging in the days ahead as the culture shifts and unreal expectations and demands are placed on pastors (by other or themeslves). I really appreciate the balance that Brian and Cara offer providing both pastor and spouse comment on the issues. I admire their candor and ability to share from their mistakes. I was especially intreagued by Brian’s appeal to both good and bad examples of famous pastors from history who did a fantastic or regretful job of shepherding their own families.

Overall I walked away from the book challenged and inspired. It didn’t share alot of informaiton that I didn’t already know, but it provided something even more valuable, motivation. I want to be sure that I don’t lose my first ministy, my family, while ministering to others. I also want to be sure that I don’t idolize my family and forsake real opportunies to minister. Brian and Cara set forth a very practical way forward to balancing the demands of ministy and ministering to your family that don’t pit those two against one another.

If you are a pastor looking for a very helpful and encouraging read on shepherding your family, this book is for you. I reccomend it to pastors, seminary students, individuals and spouses of those preparing for ministry. It’s a helpful read for those who are already married and have children, but I can see how valuable it would have been to have read this before I was married and had children.

*This is an affiliate link. If you click on the link and purchase any items through Christianbook.com I will recieve an affiliate commission. (It helps me earn money for more books!) Reguardless, I only recommend products / services I use personally use and believe will add value to my readers.

Letter from a hospital bed to my children on the eve of open heart surgery

I had open heart surgery a few years ago to fix a leaky mitral valve that was damaged by a serious infection in my heart. I had already experienced a very small stroke and was in congestive heart failure when they discovered the root issue. I went in for a test to try and figure out why I was so sick and ended up being admitted to the hospital facing serious heart surgery. All this before I had ever turned 40.

I was warned that there was a very slight risk of complications that my surgery could end in a catastrophic stroke and or death. This really struck a nerve because my dad has a stroke in his early 40’s and it had really impacted me in a negative way. I was anxious that something could happen and that it would have a negative impact on my children.

I wrote each of my kids a letter, and I wrote this as a journal article for them to read as they grew older (I’ve edited it slightly to help it read better):

“Today I sit down to acquaint myself with all the things that could go wrong. To be honest, “wrong” on this is just my perspective. I really want to avoid hurt and pain, but they are at my doorstep knocking.They won’t let up until they enter my life like never before.

I write this now so you know my state of mind as I open the door.
There may be consequences for you that I never intended. Should things go “wrong,” it will be grief that comes knocking on your door.

Our scariest moments are the ones where we recognize we have no control. We either run to God or we run away from Him. We either call Him Evil, or we call Him Good. In those moments, there is no middle ground to practice a modified religion.

I didn’t choose this road. But it is the road that is set before me. In a thousand lifetimes I would not pick this pain. But I firmly believe that God has chosen me to endure it and so I will walk it, and you must know that I do not walk alone.

You must know that it is because of suffering that I cling to Him now, more than ever. I find that even in the darkness, and in the quiet, He remains true. So while this is not that path I would have chosen. It is the path that has led me closest to Him and for that I am grateful.

So I have to confess that when I ponder, “what might go ‘wrong’?” I say with confidence, that in some way, whatever happens, it will have also gone “right.” God is still in control.

It can be hard to imagine God is in control when we feel so out of control. I imagine the disciples were completely unnerved at the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps they thought all was lost. But three days later he rose from the dead! And the most tragic day in all of history became the greatest day in all of history. The resurrection changed everything. And this is where I place my hope that after whatever darkness may come we will experience the Light of God’s amazing grace.

This trial brought me closer to the Lord and that was a purpose greater than my own personal comfort could have ever been. I pray you press into the Lord no matter what comes your way. He has a way of taking the hardest circumstances and using them for his glory. It took me decades, but looking back and see how he used my dad’s stroke to work in my life. You may not see it or feel it now, but never lose the hope and true optimism that comes with trusting in the promises of God. – DAD”

I am grateful that my kids didn’t need to read that letter/journal entry. But I’m glad I wrote it for them. It helped me process some of my own feelings about my dad’s stroke (for the curious, he survived and I’ve written more about it elsewhere). I swore I’d never go into the ministry because of his stroke and the surrounding story, but as I look back, I’m probably in ministry because of it.

To this day we don’t know the cause of the infection in my heart. We probably won’t ever know. I’ve had to make peace that some things in life aren’t meant for us to understand on this side of eternity.

Family Discipleship (A Review)

I really liked Family Discipleship* by Matt Chandler and Adam Clark! It was a great read! The book is written on a level that is easy to access and is helpful to anyone who is new to figuring out how to disciple their children. It provides a much needed shot in the arm of encouragement for men to lead their family well.

Chandler and Griffin both have excellent perspectives on leading a family and Family Discipleship* is full of both biblical and practical insights. For example, one of the authors talks about reading through a journaling bible for each child and writing thoughts/ prayers for that child as they read through. They also discuss godly habits, disciplines, and rythms of life as well as planning special events, mile markers, and milestones for their children’s journey through life.

All in all it is a great book! I reccomend it to anyone trying to figure out how to lead your family well. It’s best recieved by new parents or parents of todlers, but its never too late to start the journey of discipleship and this book reflects that with insight for older children as well. Certainly there were many insights that I gleaned from it and I’ve got kids in three different stages of development!

If your looking for a basic “how to” for family discipleship, this is a good book to get you started.

*This is an affiliate link. If you click on the link and purchase any items through Christianbook.com I will recieve an affiliate commission. (It helps me earn money for more books!) Reguardless, I only recommend products / services I use personally use and believe will add value to my readers.

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy (A Review)

Sometimes we hurt. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we are depressed. Our cluture often doesn’t want to take time to express and feel the negative. In American Christianity there can be a strong pull to pass over the negative in favor of the positive side of things. Certainly there is a lot of optimism to our faith (Jesus defeated the grave!) but there is also room for lament (Jesus went to the grave). We all go through pain, loss and unexpected challenges. Sometimes we feel the sharp edges of our broken world. It can be unbarable to somehow talk as if rainbows exist without rain clouds or as if the resurection happened without the crusafixion. We need to grieve and lament in a broken world.

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy* was a really fantastic read and very helpful in understanding a fuller picture of God’s sovereignty in our suffering. Written from a place of his own lament, Mark Vroegop, candidly shares how to pray through the laments found in scripture. As pastor he has been instrumental in helping individuals and groups process their own lament in a biblical way.

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy* is both exposition of some of the key texts of scripture (like Lametations, some of the Psalms, etc.) and exposition of the heart in lament. Vroegop writes in an intelligent but open style that allows the reader to enguage in the language of lament. I found the book extremely helpful in my own life and it’s one that I will probably pass on to others.

From a pastoral perspective, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy*, is a fantastic resource to begin figuring out how to lament and lead people through a lamenting process. There are a few really goood resouces in the index. Should another edition be published, I’d like to see more information on leading a group prayer time and other aspects of corporate lament that were shared in the book. The tools are there, but in a rough form.

*This is an affiliate link. If you click on the link and purchase any items through Christianbook.com I will recieve an affiliate commission. (It helps me earn money for more books!) Reguardless, I only recommend products / services I use personally use and believe will add value to my readers.

Never Let Them Cry Alone

It hurts! The pain is so real and everything is so quiet. There is a ton of agony and frustration when you experience tears and are being told to, “Move on,” You can’t even move. You are paralyzed and so you end up more frustrated at yourself, at others, at the one you are mourning. Then you feel guilty for even feeling this way.

Your fear paralyzes you. When you are grieving, you don’t want to leave the loss of your loved one. You are afraid of leaving them behind. Afraid that they will be forgotten. Afraid because you don’t know how to live without them.

https://pixabay.com

How do you experience joy when the one you want to tell about it isn’t there to listen? The joy you would have, is swallowed up by shame because the one you want to share it with isn’t there to share it. You feel guilty for seeing the sunrise, sunset, and new adventures for the first time because you turn to share and remember this is the one they never got to see.

Our souls weren’t made for this. We weren’t made for grieving and this is why it is so difficult.

Sometimes it is just a hand or a hug that encourages you to keep going. It’s a touch. The skin of a hand touching yours or a hug that reminds you that despite all that you are feeling, you are not alone. If we need each other to share in our joy, how much more do we need others to share our grief.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

ROMANS 12:15

It’s the hushed tones of a voice whispering over you in prayer. You know that is were the answers to your questions are hidden… the mind of God. He knows even more than you do about this moment, more than your friends, more than the one we grieve… He knows.

But you don’t feel like praying. Maybe you have been taught to be careful about the tone that would come out? Maybe all you can do is ask the question, “Why?” so many times. Maybe you are afraid that you won’t like the answer. What ever the reason, you just stop asking… and so to hear the words of a friend mumbled over you in prayer is exactly what you need because your faith is running dry and you need to borrow someone elses for a moment.

Mourning is for the community and weaping is a team event. No one should cry alone and no one should rejoice alone. If you have never cried with a friend, perhaps you have never been a friend. We don’t let our friends cry alone.

When you were little, you would cry about everything. On my best days as a father, I would pause and cry with you. Maybe not in as real or full of a sense as you were crying, but in a way that said, “I was sorry too,” for whatever you were lamenting. I learned that my small gesture of validating your sorrow helped you to cope with everything that was going on and was helpful in moving into a new rythm of life. You needed my empathy and I needed to give it.

Sometimes we just need the tears of our friends. I am genuinely sorry for the moments I didn’t take time for tears with you.* There were too many times your tears exposed my insecurities. Often the need to stop your tears said more about me than it did about you. I was trying to fix my broken world by breaking you to fit in… when what I should have done was to sit down and cry with you for the world’s brokenness you were feeling that day and look forward to the day when He would wipe our tears away.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

REVELATION 21:4

*certainly there were times I was right to tell you to dry it up, but there were some moments that I should have taken the time to cry with you.

As my children come of age, they are starting to read my blog from time to time. I write for them as much as for all of you. This post is a meditation on Romans 12:15 I originally wrote as a journal entry but thought I’d share it here.

Honoring Our Heroes

Tuesday Morning, September 11, 2001 many of us saw the best and worst of humanity play out in real life down the street and on our television screens. America had been attacked! Real fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, friends, people… real people, ordinary people, were viciously attacked by a radical Islamic terrorists. We didn’t see it coming!

At first we wondered if it was planned? We had a hard time believing that someone would plan such a vicious attack on civilians. We watched the second plane hit, learned about the Pentegon attack, and heard of the other plane that was crashed into a field on American soil. Many of us sat glued to the television praying, not even knowing what to say, because we didn’t know what was happening.

While many stood still in fear, shock, or wonder, there was another group of men and women who quickly mobalized and went running into the fray. They were our first responders. They were just as surprised as the rest of us, but they had a duty that day. Many were off work, but they still geared up and ran into those buildings. Some who were in the building that day been trained as volunteers and instinctively started to lead people to safety. Many entered into the fray never to make it back home.

We gained a new appreciation for our first responders that day. It has become a day to remember and honor our heroes. We had always known that if we were in danger and we called, the fire truck would come, the ambulance would get there, the police would arrive. We always knew that there was a cost, but on that day we saw that cost paid over and over by incredible men and women who went to help.

In the years since, we have had time to reflect and notice that we have alway had heroes in our midst! They enter our lives at our scariest moments (when we face a health crisis, a fire, or are the victim of a crime) and walk us through them. They bring us peace when our world is anything but peaceful.

It always comes with a cost. Sometimes the cost is relatively low and its just an inconvenience. Sometimes the cost is emotional, knowing you did everything right, but still wondering and feeling like you lost or it’s the heart break of the broken situations they enter that seem so broken they will never heal. Sometimes the cost is high, too high, when our friends and heroes don’t come back.

As I was praying for some of our local first responders today and reflecting on 9/11, I came accross this verse:

He who follows righteousness and mercy Finds life, righteousness, and honor. – Proverbs 21:21

I am grateful for our first responders, especially those who I know in our own community. I count it a privildege to be a friend and pray for many by name. I know them to be men and women of character who enter into difficult situations and are genuine peacemakers. I have found them to be men and women of honor.

Typically at this time of year, our church sponsors a breakfast for the first responders in our community! I genuinely enjoy being able to celebrate and honor these men and women. This year, for the first time, we have had to alter our plans (Due to the virus) but I look forward to celebrating our local heroes in the days ahead, because I believe them to be men and women worthy of honor. I am grateful to God for thier service in our community and the thousands upon thousands like them around the nation and globe who step in to help when help is needed most.

Parenting in the Pew

I really enjoyed reading, Parenting in the Pew, by Robbie Castleman. It was a bit of a “must read” for me. Generally (before the pandemic), the first Sunday of every month, all of our youngsters are in the pews with their parents as well as Sunday nights. The other Sundays we had Children’s church. However, when the pandemic took effect we were worshiping together as family units every week (not really a bad thing). As a pastor I wanted to figure out how I could help our parents, not to mention my own family (unfortunately my wife is the single parent in the pew with our toddler, pre-teen, and teen)!

Robbie Castleman hits the nail on the head with Parenting in the Pew. I was expecting a very basic, “how to get your kids to behave in church,” type book. However, I was very pleasantly surprised when the topic quickly turned from “church” to “worship.” This book packed a punch, and I found myself rejoiceing and praising God at some of the simple truths demonstrated in very practical ways throughout the book. I also gathered a few ideas on how to better preach/ teach all of our youngsters in the pew.

If you are a parnt looking to teach your children about the value of corportate worship or a pastor/ children’s pastor lookinig to equip parents. This is a fantastic resource for you.

There is only one slight hicup in the whole book. Castlemen spends one chapter on the ordinances (which can vary so much from denomination to denomination). I feel she does a good job providing broad application for families from a variety of backgrounds, but if you are unfamiliar with the differences between pedo-baptism and believers baptism or open and closed communion then it may be alot to sort through in that particular chapter. It is a small part of a very good book and I’d still highly reccomend it.

TOGETHER

“Together,” it is just one little word, yet somehow it came to mean so much. You are three and so maybe the word was big for you. Big or Little, we both know what “together” means.

We were praying. You were saying the Lord’s Prayer. You wanted to say the prayer alone. (It is lovely to watch your confidence grow.) You made it most of the way through, you paused, looked up at me with those mild yet gleeful eyes and said, “together, let’s pray together.” You wanted me to add my voice to yours in this prayer.

Maybe you lost your way and you didn’t know the words. You needed me to step in on this prayer and remind you of the words we pray behind the Lord in His model prayer. You needed me to be there for you as a mentor, a father, a pastor and a discipler to show you the way. There are several moments where I have done this in my own life and called out for the help of others and recognized that I needed someone to show me the next steps to take. I’ve also been blessed to be there for many who have needed someone to shephard them along the way.

Maybe though you just saw me alone and you didn’t want me to be alone and so in your sweet childlike simplicity you reached out and said that one small/ big word, “together.” And by saying it, you were saying that I wasn’t alone and you weren’t alone, but we were together.

Maybe you just didn’t want to say the next part alone. It was full of big words that somehow roll easily off the tongue but plague us in their difficulty to put into practice. You needed to know that it is okay to ask God to forgive you, even as your daddy does. It’s okay pray to forgive, even as your daddy does. It’s ok to pray against temptation and for deliverance, because even your daddy needs to pray this way… you needed to know that I too am a sinner and struggle to ask God for these things sometimes, but that I do.

Maybe you just know that I love Jesus too! You thought I shouldn’t be left out when we pray. You know he is my king and that I pray to see his kingdom come and you didn’t want the opportunity to pass me by. So you said “together” to encoourage me to do what I already do and what is right.

Maybe you said it because I use that word with you all the time. You know all the analogies I use and always sum it up with, “we belong together.” And you just wanted to have another “together” moment with me with God in prayer.

Maybe it was all of the above, maybe it was none of it or perhaps something in between. But you taught me so much about how to pray just now when you said together. For such a little word it means a whole lot. There were days before the isolation that we see so much of that I took that word and all it meant for granted, but today when you uttered it in all it’s simplicity I understood it like never before.

Now to make a broader application of these thoughts. I look forward to the next full gathering of our church where we are together. Together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Together as the called out ones. Together to minister to one anothers needs. Together to encourage. Together to disciple. Together to strengthen one another. Together to bless one another in the Lord’s name. Together to bless and worship the Lord.

I am grateful for the words, “our” and “us” in the Lord’s prayer that reminds me that when we pray, we never really pray alone, but we pray together. Perhaps you are on your side of the globe and I’m on mine. But we are both praying for the kingdome to come and his will to be

“In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as [it is] in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

-Matthew 6:9-13