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.

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Day 44: Romans 10-12 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Romans 10-12 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

In Romans 10 Paul continues to point the readers to faith in Christ. Romans 10:2 is the verse that the Lord used to bring me to conviction of sin in my own life. I realized that I had a religious zeal for the things of God, but I didn’t know the LORD.  Hearing that particular Word of God at that time produced saving faith in my own heart (10:17).

Chapter 11 deals with questions about Israel (God’s chosen people) and their presumed rejection of Jesus. It is not as though the purpose of God has failed, but that it has been enlarged (11:12).

Moving into chapter 12, the Apostle Paul begins to write with more application in mind.  Most of what Paul has written so far, has been laying the foundation of a good theology. You will notice this trend in almost all of Paul’s letters. Theology comes first then the practical application flows last. This is what we see in Romans: Man is sinful, Jesus died to bring you to God, God is sovereign, therefore work together, love your enemies and trust God to deal out justice.

[SIDE NOTE: The point of a good theology is action. Some people live with a false dichotomy between theology and action. They say they believe one thing and behave another way. Then others just reverse the false dichotomy and say its all about action and forget why they do what they do. The truth is to have a fully colored in worldview you need to not only respond to God in faith, but know that previously you were separated from God by your sins.]

A love that focuses on the action and not the principle isn’t any kind of real love anyway. Its a coerced at best and a thin veneer over vileness at worst. Only resting in real truth about God and his character will ever free you to truly love your enemies

FATHER, Thank you that Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. I pray your word would go out far and wide today and many would put their faith and trust in you. I pray for boldness on our part to share the gospel so that others might believe. I praise you that you are too infinate to fully comprehend and humble myself to realize that I need your counsel in every area of my life. I pray that you would equip me to do my part in the body of Christ and exercise the gifts that you have given me, for your glory and the edification of the church. I pray that my heart rests in you today and I love others in the same radical way that I am loved by you. Help me to grow even more in my knowledge of your love. Thank you for the calling to preach your word and prepare your people. I pray that I would walk faithfully with you all the days of my life. 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 41: Romans 1-3 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes fromRomans 1-3 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

Paul jumps right into the gospel in Romans. He is not ashamed (1:16). He is making his appeal to both the Jews and to the gentiles. Paul says in chapter one that what can be known about God is plain in creation, but our perverse hearts seek something else to worship (1:20-21). The reason we sin is because we are sinners and that’s not something that takes place on the outside, that’s a heart issue!

[Side Note: a lot of people are fond of pointing out homosexuality in this passage (1:26-27). It is there, but there are also a lot of other sins that are listed as the result of our rebellion against God (1:28-31). Some that are a lot more evident in society. Things like gossip, disobedient to parents, boasting, being unloving, or unmerciful. We are warned in chapter two of judging those who do these things while doing them ourselves. Romans 2:4 stands out as a gem of hope against the backdrop of condemnation and the coming wrath of God… We should be those who seek repentance not the condemnation of those who are in sin.]

Paul says that the purpose of our conscience is to bear witness against us,  condemning us or justifying us as the case may be (2:15).  We take notice that our conscience is internal, in our hearts. Our consciences are not an outside influence like an angel sitting on our shoulder whispering in our ear. If we are really going to be acceptable to God we have to change from inside out. We must be changed in the heart (2:29). 

Paul reminds us that we are all sinners (3:23). We all miss the mark. We all inwardly don’t long or aspire of our own accord to glorify God. We are bent and broken creatures. So bent and broken that the only one who could really straighten us out is God himself. And that is exactly what He did through Jesus Christ (3:24-26). We grab hold of this being made right with God though God by faith (3:28).

FATHER, Thank you for the gift of faith and of salvation. We lift up those who seem content to live in sin and plead for their repentance. We plead for our own hearts so often bent by sin and swayed by the philosophy of this world. Thank you for the high calling of shepherding your people. Give us grace today. 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 40: Acts 26-28 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Acts 26-28 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

Certainly Paul had a testimony to share and he wasn’t afraid to share it. Jesus made a noticeable difference in his life.  So much so, that Paul went from being the persecutor to being persecuted! So when people asked, “Hey what’s the deal?” He had a message to share.

We may not all have a testimony like the Apostle Paul, but those of us who are in Christ do have a story to tell about how Jesus changed our lives. If we are intentional we might just find a few opportunities to share with the earnest desire that God would change others the same way that he changed us (Acts 26:28-29).

A few years ago, I went on a mission trip and we were all challenged to prepare and share our testimony throughout the week.  The idea was that whenever someone asked why we were there, we would share a brief form of our testimony along with a verse or two of scripture. One of the people working where we were staying asked me if I could talk with them about Jesus. It seemed like this opportunity came out of the blue until I got to talking with her more.  She said that every time she would ask someone from our group what they were doing here, they would tell her about how Jesus had really changed their life and they wanted that for other people too. After several stories she realized that we were all together, but she also realized that we have all individually  had some sort of life changing experience involving Jesus. She wondered if Jesus had  changed all of our lives, perhaps he was worth checking into.”

My takeaway and challenge today is to revisit my testimony that I tried to write in 100 words or less. Pray that God might use me to share my faith with someone this week. Then see how many people I can share a simple and brief testimony with.

FATHER, Thank you for Jesus and how He has changed my life. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead stands at the center of history but it also stands in the center of my life. I pray that we would be bold in our witness for you this week. I know that there are many who have yet to hear how they can enjoy your grace, love and forgiveness through Jesus. I pray that this week we would be able to share with as many as you give us opportunity in the hope that perhaps you would change their life the same way you changed our. Thank you for the great responsibility of leadership. 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 32: ACTS 1-3 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Acts 1-3 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

first thing that jumped out at me today was to, “Wait!” That is such a hard word for today’s culture. When the Lord says it though, there is nothing else to do, it is exactly what we need. The disciples were told to for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5, 8). So they spent ten days actively waiting. I say “actively” waiting because they were intentional about it and intentionally seeking the LORD in prayer (1:14, 2:1).  God’s timing is always right and we can never do on our own, without the Holy Spirit, something that only the Holy Spirit can do. 

This was intentionally a missions moment. The disciples were from Galilee not Jerusalem and the gospel writer Luke goes out of his way to highlight that little fact (see Acts 1:11, 2:7).  Acts 1:8 which lays out the progress for how the book of Acts unfolds isn’t a mission mandate to reach our neighbors with the gospel first and then go to the uttermost parts of the earth… the gospel was going to the uttermost parts of the earth by being proclaimed in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost where so many international Jewish people and proselytes would be (2:5, 9-11).  The disciples understood Jesus to be the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (also Acts 3:25).  We should be open and intent on taking the gospel to the nations. (On a side note: Where I live right now, was not on anyone’s map when Acts 1:8 was given. It qualifies as one of the “uttermost parts of the earth.”)

It is apparent that the disciples understood Jesus to be God. Peter quotes Joel 2:32 and says, “Who ever calls on the Name of the LORD shall be saved” (See Acts 2:21).  He then concludes his sermon by calling on those who are present to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38).

Also, did you notice the lame man at the gate called beautiful at the temple? He was lame from birth and at the temple every day (Acts 3:2). Two months before this Jesus was in Jerusalem and coming and going to the temple every day (Luke 22:53) and while he was at the temple he healed the “blind and the lame” (Matthew 21:14). It doesn’t take much to figure that this man was in proximity to Jesus, but was never healed. His healing, like the sending of the Holy Spirit would came at a different time than expected. I don’t know why this man wasn’t healed when Jesus was in the temple before. We could guess. What I do know is that God’s timing is always perfect.

FATHER, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit and how He moves in our lives. I ask that we would press in wait for you to move.  Help our hearts to be satisfied to know that there is nothing we can do apart from you. I pray that we would be faithful witnesses where ever you place us and where you send us. We ask to see you do great things in our community. We give ourselves to be used by you to glorify you and  transform our families by the power of the gospel. I am thankful for  the grace given to me to lead 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 30: Luke 19-21 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Luke 19-21 follow the link provided hereto read the ESV online.

How do you handle your wealth? Today’s reading begins with a rich man who hears the words of Jesus and repents to the point of restoring all those whom he has defrauded and giving half of his wealth to the poor (19:1-10). Zacchaeus had been a taker, but after Jesus transformed his heart, he became a giver. He didn’t need money for security he had something greater. Is Jesus more precious to us than our money and stuff?

The account of Zacchaeus’ change is followed up with a story about the Minas (19:11-27). Ten servants were charged to be faithful with what the master had given them. At least two went out and earned more for their master and at least one we know did not do anything with his. The ones who earned a profit were blessed with even more, the one who didn’t do anything was stripped of what he even did have. We are reminded to do what you can, with what you have, while you have it for the kingdom of God.

There is also the story of the poor widow who didn’t have much to give, just two little pennies (21:1-4). Jesus said that she gave more than the rest, not because of the extravagance of her gift, but because of her complete poverty.

FATHER, thank you that you teach us about money and possessions in the Scripture. I pray that we are faithful with everything you have given us. I pray that we are generous towards others and faithful in the small things. Thank you for all you have entrusted to us and thank you for the grace of talking about money in your word. 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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