(Acts 16-19)

The diversity of the church in Philippi really jumped out at me this morning. The first church members there were a wealthy woman, her friends/ employees, a slave girl, and a Roman prison guard and his whole family. They didn’t have much in common socially or economically, but the bond of brother-sisterhood through the blood of Jesus was enough to establish a solid church. Paul wrote the encouraging and powerful book of Philippians to these folks.

The second thing that really jumped out at me today was how Paul appealed to and leveraged to his Roman citizenship in Philippi.But Paul said to them, ‘They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out” (Acts 16:37). This was Roman colony that would have had all the respect for Roman law and citizenship as Rome itself so his appeal wasn’t ungrounded.

We live in a moment in American history where many Christians are wondering how they need to posture themselves. Some note that we are citizens of Heaven and to them it indicates that they don’t need to worry so much about the affairs/ politics of this world. Others indicate that God has given us an American citizenship and we are to press that to it’s fullest advantage including voting, campaigning for candidates/ issues, signing petitions, boycotting, etc. Some wondered does citizenship in Heaven mean I forfeit the rights of citizenship of my country?

These concepts were never intended to be held in tension. Paul writes the Philippians, (People who understood all the rights and privileges’ of Roman citizenship and who were present when he first made an appeal to his own Roman citizenship ) and uses the concept of citizenship as a metaphor to teach about the rights and privileges of those who are in Christ. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

It was precisely because Paul was a Roman citizen who appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen that the concept of being citizens of heaven could be clearly understood. This is one of those both and concepts. Christians should rejoice that they are citizens in the kingdom of heaven, but we should also use whatever rights and privilege’s that are afforded to us as citizens of our country to promote and further the gospel. In America this means using our rights such as free speech to present the gospel, advocate for the powerless, address corruption, and let our voices be heard. However, there is a way to do all of those things with tact and compassion for those who see things differently than us. I’ve put a few links in the resources today that include organizations/ individuals that write from a biblical/ Christian perspective on political/ theological issues of interest to Christians. I’ll also link to a few good books on Politics/Christianity that I have read and found helpful.

Father, We thank you for the diversity of individuals you have called together in the church. we rejoice that more than anything we have the saving work of Christ in common. We pray that you would use us to be salt and light into our communities to reach others with the gospel. We thank you for our Nation and the freedoms we have. Give us wisdom on how to use our rights and privileges to spread the gospel. These things we ask in Jesus Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

Politics According to the Bible* – Wayne Grudem Book

Why Politics Needs Religion* – Brandon Sweetman Book

Join us in reading though the New Testament in 90 Days! You can find the plan and previous posts here.

*- Affiliate Link

There is Room for Conflict in the Church (Acts 13-15)

The major thing that jumped out at me today is that there is room for conflict in the church. We see a few conflicts in the reading today. The biggest issue that took up a bulk of the reading was the conflict over if new converts to Christianity should be circumcised. It was an issue that was ultimately decided by taking the debate to the Apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem. I’d like to say that the conflict was resolved with a well drafted letter from Jerusalem, but the reality is that this became something that plague Paul’s ministry down the line.

It’s worth noting how Paul and his companions handled the conflict. They took it to the Jerusalem council and left it in the hands of those who had been called as Apostles to decide. These men met, prayed, and discussed the matter and finally resolved the issue. Then a letter was drafted affirming the decision they knew honored the LORD. This should have ended the controversy inside the church, but unfortunately there were those who would follow Paul wherever he went trying to teach gentile converts that they had to be circumcised.

Another conflict arose when Barnabas and Paul wanted to visit the churches they had planted. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, but Paul had no confidence in John Mark because he had been abandoned by him before. We are told that this was a sharp contention (15:39) that wasn’t even really resolved, but that ended with Paul and Barnabas going separate ways with separate partners.

Often we picture the early church being conflict free. We imagine that folks prayed about everything and that everything just worked out. The reality is that the early church was filled with drama and issues as good people, called by God, worked through their conflict. Earlier in Acts, deacons were appointed to deal with the drama surrounding feeding widows. Here we see a church council meeting to decide an important theological issue. We also see good friends going separate ways over what seems like a small issue. The early church had just as much conflict as the church does today.

Conflict resolution is part of ministry and a part of God’s church because it’s at the very heart of the gospel. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” We forget we were at enmity with God but that He made peace with us through the cross of Christ Jesus. When we see conflict in the church, we should recognize that we live in a fallen world and seek to resolve our conflict in a ways that honors God.

Father, thank you that we get an honest understanding of historical events when we read your word. Thank you that it isn’t dressed up or sugar coated, but that you are straight forward and honest with us about very real conflict that took place in the early church. Thank you that you have made us ambassadors and peacemakers to a lost and fallen world and we get to bring the message of hope to those who have yet to be reconciled to you. We pray that you give us opportunity and wisdom to be peacemakers today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

Last Year’s Post

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Clean Hands or Clean Heart? (Matthew 13-15)

it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.

Matthew 15:11

Today, everyone is talking about washing hands. We all know the drill; wear a mask, stay six feet apart, wash your hands, avoid large crowds, etc… We are all certainly more aware and concience of germs than we used to be. Most of us (I would like to think), practiced generally good hygene before all this but with Covid-19 there is a new hyper awareness. So culturally when Jesus doesn’t seem to think its a big deal if his disciples wash their hands or not, it really jumps off the page.

The modern reader might be worried about if Jesus knew or cared about germs. While there might be plenty of helpful hygene information in scripture (there is more than you might suspect), the primary concern of those complaining was a tradition handed down like it was a law. The Jewish folks had a ritual practice of washing hands before they ate. It symbolized being clean before God and only taking in what is right, pure and wholesome. It wasn’t really a law but it was a symbol. Therefore in the eyes of those watching, when the disciples didn’t conform to the rutual practice, they appeared to be hypocrites.

Jesus used this opportunity to expose the hearts of those who were quick to condemn his disciples. God wasn’t nearly as concerned about if someone had ritually clean hands as much as we was about if they had a spiritually clean heart. He charged the Pharisees and scribes of holding on to the forms (appearance) of God’s law, but completely ignoring the substance (the actual Law of God). He quoted Isaiah in saying that they honored God with their lips but, there hearts were far from God.

We might give the Pharisees and scribes a hard time because they should know better, but some times we can be guilty of the same thing. There are many who try to hold on to some sort of appearance of godliness rather than actually seeking to honor and obey God from the heart. We shold be careful of putting on a “show” and more intent on allowing God to conform us into the image of Chirst.

Father, I pray that I would never obscure the substance of your word with a mere form or practice. I thank you that Jesus is the only one who can make us truly righteous from the inside out. I pray that we would all be found righteous in him. I pray that we would all be surenedered and sensative to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that He might conform us more and more into the image of Christ. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

Last Year’s Post

Join us in reading though the New Testament in 90 Days! You can find the plan and previous posts here.

Touch (Matthew 8-10)

I miss hugs, handshakes, and high fives. We are physical creatures and we were meant for physical touch. There is something reassuring about holding the hand of your spouse, hugging your friends, and even greeting folks you have never met before with a hand shake. It means even more to hold the hand of a friend in prayer as you face some of life’s scary moments like surgery, illness, or in a room waiting to hear news about a loved one.

Physical touch outside of family has been kept to the bare minimum this last year due to the virus. The fact that Jesus touches so many people in Matthew 8-10 jumped out at me as I read it today because touch has taken on a whole new meaning in our culture. I’ve read all of these verses before, but I saw this aspect of more clearly because of what we are going through (social distancing, lock-downs, changed plans, etc.). That’s the way it works with reading through God’s word. It never changes, but you do, and as you come back again and again you see new insights you have never seen before. Today I saw that Jesus definately takes a hands on approach.

It’s not like he wasn’t dealing with illness either. He touched a leper at the beginning of Matthew chapter eight! Even in those days folks knew not to touch people with Leperosy. Jesus wasn’t afraid because he brough healing with his touch.

Throughout centuries he has used touch to heal people. Where the gospel went, hospitals were established. One of the key ways the gospel still goes out today is through medical missions. Some of our Christian organizations are still serving on the frontlines of the epedemic offering sites for testing and now some are opening up places to recieve the vaccine.

Jesus touched people because he cared for people. Those who have placed their faith in Christ are called to care for one another. In the midst of a pandemic our care sometimes that means we are withhodling physical touch but withholding physical touch should never mean withholding care. I’m grateful many have found old and new ways to bless and encourage one another. I look forward to the day when touching won’t have such a stigma and we can shake hands, hug, and highfive again. Until then, I am grateful for a God who cares for us.

Father, thank you for the gift of touch. Jesus could touch because he was fully human. He could heal because he was fully God. Thank you for the way you have used your church to be the physical hands and feet of Christ ministering in my life this week. Thank you for how you use me to minister to others. I pray for healing from this virus and I pray your Gospel goes out with boldness. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

Last Year’s Post

Join us in reading though the New Testament in 90 Days! You can find the plan and previous posts here.

No Matter What My Plans Are For Others, You Follow Me (John 19 – 21)

Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what [is that] to you? You follow Me.”

John 21:22

I try and get my ten thousand steps in each day and sometimes when I need a few extra steps I’ll walk the hallway in our house. When my youngest kid sees me doing that, she challenges me to a race. She loves going back in forth in the hallway to see who gets to the door first. She’ll often say, “I win you lost.” or I’ll taunt her and say, “I win, you lose.” What can I say, we’re both competative. Everyonce in a while we end up changing the competition, I’ll stop walking and we start playing some other silly game (That conincidentally I’m really good at). Before I know it, I’m way down in my step count again. Somewhere along the way my focus changed from getting in steps to teaching my child sportsmanship aka how to be a good loser because Dad’s the best.

Peter was walking with the risen Jesus. He has just been restored to ministry. Jesus is telling him the plan for his life. He’s letting him know that he will face persecution, but that Jesus will be with him all the way. While they are walking Peter gets distracted and notices the other disciple lagging behind them and wants to know what the Lord’s plan is for the other disciple. Jesus response is one that should help us all to stay in our lane. He simply tells Peter it doesn’t matter, but that Peter is to follow him.

I know in ministy sometimes it can be really easy for me to get distracted by seeing what other ministries and preachers are doing. It’s tempting to compare church size, budgets, baptisms, etc. and either pat myself on the back because someone is doing “worse” or to feel like I’m striking out at T-ball because someone is doing better. Jesus hasn’t called up to play the comparison or competition game, He has called us to follow Him.

Father, I confess that I too can be walking in lock-step with you and then be quickly distracted and moved by what others are or aren’t doing. It is easy to lose focus. Thank you for the solid reminder today that my job is not to compare or compete with others, but to simply follow you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES:

Last Year’s Post

Join us in reading though the New Testament in 90 Days! You can find the plan and previous posts here.

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?

Day 63: Colossians (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Colossians follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

Paul had not met the people this letter is addressed too (1:2). He had never been to Colosse. He heard about this church through through his friend Epaphras  who shared about the church and everything that was going on (1:7-8).  Paul wanted to make sure that the members of this church knew that even though he didn’t plant their church, he was praying for their church (1:3, 9). He was praying for their knowledge and fruitfulness of the gospel among them (1:9-10).

Most of Paul’s letters have a purpose behind them. Generally a church is dealing with an issue, or several issues, as in the case of Corinth, and Paul writes a letter to settle a doctrinal question or dispute. We can look through Colossians and see the issue addressed in this letter is the sufficiency of Christ. So the first half of the book is rich with doctrinal content explaining the preeminence of Christ in creation and as the head of the church. Observe the doctrinal richness and clarity in Colossians 1:15-18 and 2:9.

SIDE NOTE: I won’t spend too much time here, but my Thesis Paper for my Bachelor’s Degree was about Christology (the Study of Christ) in Colossians

Before we go much further it is worth highlighting Colossians 1:28, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The goal of the Christian life is to grow to maturity in Christ. Reading the word of God is helpful, but reading alone doesn’t bring maturity. We must apply his word to our lives, submit our character to Him and allow ourselves to be changed from the inside out. We should look more like Christ today than we did yesterday… to our spouses, to our children, to our bosses and to our workers (3:18-4:1)

When we were little we used to mark our height against different objects in the house to tell that we were growing. Tests were given in school to measure if we were growing in knowledge. But perhaps the most difficult measure was given to my parents as they trusted and tested me with responsibility to see if I was growing in maturity. And so it is with the Christian life. Mature believers recognize that they have a responsibility to help and encourage their younger brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s a good place to pause for meditation today. Am we growing in Christian maturity?

FATHER, Thank you for the honor we have to pray for others and even to pray for those we may have never met. We lift up our sister churches in our area and around the world and ask for knowledge of you and your will to abound. We pray for fruitful ministries filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. We thank you for the grace to grow more and more into the image of Christ and ask that we would be found faithful in yielding to you, Holy Spirit, and your word. We pray for maturity. Thank you for the grace of shepherding your flock. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

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Day 49: 1 Corinthians 7-9 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from 1 Corinthians 7-9 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

There is a lot of tension in today’s reading. Chapter seven addresses how believers are to regard marriage in a fallen world. Keep in mind that each scenario that Paul addresses probably represented a question that had been asked of him by individuals who were seeking to live our their faith.

Chapter eight highlights the issue of eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. The idea is to not cause a weaker brother to stumble (8:9). In other words we are to show a high regard for those who are of like faith, but have a weaker opinion on  matters (say drinking, smoking, how you dress on Sundays etc.).  Don’t cause a brother to stumble(8:13).

However in chapter nine the Apostle Paul lays out the famous phrase,  “I have become all things to all people” (9:22). Paul wants to remove barriers to the gospel (9:23). So when with orthodox Jews he doesn’t eat pork, and when with gentile believers he enjoys the bacon they put on his plate.

In our current cultural dialogue we might ask something like, “Does formal attire present a barrier to the gospel?” Well then I’ll wear jeans and a t-shirt. If lack of formal attire presents a barrier then I’ll wear formal attire… The idea is to not let something as silly as clothing style prevent others from having an opportunity to knowing God. My wardrobe can change for the sake of the gospel, but the gospel cannot be changed for the sake of my wardrobe.

To apply this thought we should be asking questions like: What prevents our neighbors from hearing and responding to the gospel? Do they stumble over Christ himself or is it a man made barrier in their way? Are we willing to remove barriers for the sake of the gospel?

FATHER, We pray for families. We lift up those who are planning and preparing for marriage. We lift up those who are single. We pray for those where believers are yoked with unbelievers and in each situation we ask for your peace and guidance. We pray that we would take care to not intentionally cause offense to our brothers. We pray for grace and guidance to remove barriers to the gospel. Thank you for the grace of shepherding your people. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

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Day 46: Romans 16 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Romans 16 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

In today’s reading the first sixteen verses present a long list of people that the Apostle Paul and others know and recognize as genuine believers with pure motives. Then in verse seventeen Paul makes a stern warning for those who have an unholy ambition to serve themselves.

The point I took away is this, some people serve in the church as servants of God and are truly Kingdom first people. God is their king, their motives are pure, and they really want to see God glorified. They don’t serve for recognition, they don’t jockey for power, they just give and give generously of their time, money and effort to see God’s kingdom expand.

Others though use the same means to draw people away from the kingdom. They are divisive and self serving.They advertise a false doctrine.

Note, though where the line is. It’s over “doctrine contrary to what you have been taught” (16:17). It’s not over error or differing opinions on less than doctrinal matters. This isn’t a call to arms against those who are preaching truth from wrong motives (Philippians 1:15-18), or like Apollos who needed a little more education in the gospel (Acts 18:24-28), this is a call against those who are teaching divisive, false doctrine.

Be on guard, keep the gospel pure, but don’t be trigger happy and send out friendly fire either. Some people in error just need a better education in the gospel.

FATHER, I thank you for your many faithful servants who love you and labor to see you exalted in everything. I pray that we are faithful to you and encouraging to one another. I pray that you would protect the unity of Spirit that is among us and preserve us in your love. I pray that we would be aware of those with false motives. I pray that we would be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Give us wisdom and discernment in dealing with those who seek to destroy your body. Thank you for the distinct privilege of leading your people. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

Find out about New Testament 90 – Here

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