Gideon, Man of Valor

Reposted from 2006

This is Part one of a Bible study on Gideon from Judges Chapters 6-8.

The people of Israel had come out of Egypt, God had provided a homeland just as He promised, and then when everything seemed hunky-dory, peachy-keen, they went back to their own way of doing things. Before long, trouble arrived in the form of their cousins the Midianites who lived on the eastern side of the Jordan River. For some reason, the Midianites wanted the crops the Israelites grew, and every time the harvest was good, they came along and took it.

Instead of trying to learn why this kept happening, the Israelites griped about their situation. Why did God let this happen, they complained.

One man, Gideon, was trying his best to provide for his family. He found a hidden place to thresh his wheat so the Midianites wouldn’t get it, and one day while he was hard at work, an angel showed up.

The angel said, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor.” (Yeah, hiding out from the bad guys.) Oh, what a wonderful thing to say about me, Gideon should have thought. Oh, how great that God has sent me of all people, a nobody in my family, an angel!

Is that what he thought? No…

Did he fall down in fear and awe? No…

Did he worship and praise God that an angel had come to see him? No…

Gideon did what all the rest of his family had been doing. He wallowed in self-pity, he griped and complained. He said to the angel, bold as brass — If God is with us, why is all this happening? Our ancestors told us tall tales about miracles, but I sure haven’t seen any — (That sounds familiar.)

Gideon was remembering what his father had said about the miracles, but he was forgetting what God’s prophet had said: I delivered you from the Egyptians, and I gave you this land. I only gave you one warning: don’t get yourself tangled up with the gods of the Amorites whose land this used to be. But did you listen? No, you didn’t. You didn’t obey me, and see what it got you. Trouble again.

When things don’t seem to be going our way, we tend to be like Gideon and his folks. Gripers and complainers.

Fortunately, God’s patience is better than ours. The angel gave Gideon another compliment: “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have not I sent thee?”

Oooh, Gideon should have said, We’re going to be delivered again! But instead he said, Wait, what do you mean, Me go? Me? And Gideon argued with the angel. He demanded proof that the angel was really from God, and not a secret agent from the enemy or something.

Fortunately again, God had patience with him. He provided the proof, and finally Gideon had to acknowledge, This is really an angel! A for-real, real angel! Now came the fear, and the awe, and the worship, and finally he was ready to do what God told him.

You know the rest of the story, don’t you? God used Gideon to deliver his people from the greedy Midianites. He did become a mighty man of valor.

Do you suppose that would have happened if Gideon had ignored the angel? Refused to listen to instructions? If you read Judges chapters 6-8, some of those instructions were a mite peculiar.

Circumstances don’t look too pleasant sometimes. Hardships. Loss of job. Family breakups. Sickness. Bad weather. Earthquakes. Volcanoes. Tsunami. Blizzards. Floods. Mud slides. Lots of things that make us think God has deserted us, abandoned us, just like Gideon.

Have we listened to God’s messengers? Are we listening for God’s instructions? Sometimes they come in disguised packages, angels who don’t look like angels. Sometimes we’re tempted to ridicule and think, “Who, me?” when we’re instructed to do something.

Food for thought.

Gideon and the Angel

Reposted from 2006

In Judges chapters 6 through 8, we find an interesting story about a man named Gideon who had an encounter with an angel. Gideon’s response to the angel showing up was unusual, to say the least… (This is part two of a Bible study about Gideon. Read Gideon Man of Valor for more of the story.)

1. Who did Gideon think the angel was?

Obviously he didn’t think he was an angel. We know some of who he didn’t think he was. He wasn’t a Midianite. Gideon would have been running, or attacking, or defending, something.

He didn’t think he was a neighbor. He knew all his neighbors, surely.

He didn’t think he was a long-lost relative. He didn’t think he was a visiting dignitary, or a friend-of-a-friend, or just a traveler passing through. How do we know? Because he would have made an effort to welcome him, honor him, take him home and feed him. He didn’t do any of the normal, every-day things he would do for a visitor.

So what’s left?

I believe Gideon thought he was just another run-of-the-mill itinerant prophet/preachers, somebody he didn’t hold in high esteem. He certainly didn’t think he was an angel who might strike him with a bolt of lightening for his disrespectful attitude.

2. What did the angel look like?

Well, he must have looked like a native. Not like you’d think an angel would look like, from other verses in the Bible. Not shiny, super tall, or cloaked in clouds. No shimmering garments or multiple arms or four faces or eight wings. No thundering voice, either.

If he’d looked like a foreigner, then he might have been an enemy — maybe a Midianite. But Gideon didn’t treat him like that, he treated him like he would somebody familiar, but unliked.

3. Why did the angel sit down under the tree for a bit, before he made himself visible to Gideon?

Maybe he wanted to watch Gideon for a few minutes, see how he acted, what his demeanor was like. Maybe Gideon’s attitude came out in the way he threshed the wheat. Angry, frustrated, feeling helpless — “Bam, take that, you foul Midianite!”

Or wallowing in self-pity — “Bam, how long do we have to hide out like criminals in our own land,” sniffle, sniffle.

I used to operate a huge paper-cutter made like a guillotine. Every time I sliced a ream of paper, I’d imagine somebody’s head rolling — somebody that had done me wrong, of course. Other times, I’d think it might as well be my head doing the rolling, things felt so bad.

Was the angel observing Gideon’s actions in order to get an idea of his attitude?

In Hebrews 13:2 we’re told not to be afraid to entertain strangers, for many have entertained angels unaware. If Gideon had known that fellow was an angel to start with, I bet he’d have behaved a little better, don’t you?

Que sera

Reposted from September 2006

“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be” — God’s will?

Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe unto them who call evil, good, and good, evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

A couple of years ago, the Sunday School class I attended was studying the Bible account of Jesus and the disciples, the boat and the storm.

Jesus and the disciples were in a boat headed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee when a bad storm came up. Jesus was taking a nap and the panic-stricken disciples woke him up, saying “Lord, save us, we perish.” (Matthew 8:25) Mark puts it like this: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38) Jesus got up, rebuked the storm stopping it in its tracks, and then rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. (They could have stopped the storm themselves, without waking him up.)

One of the class members said, “God was trying to kill Jesus with the storm. That’s why the storm arose in the first place, and then Jesus cancelled out God’s will by rebuking the storm.”

I asked her, “You don’t believe Jesus was God?” “Well, yes,” she said, “but everything that happens is God’s will, isn’t it?” She looked a little puzzled at my reaction when I strongly disagreed. The notion that everything bad and evil happening in the world is God’s will, his design, his doing — is calling evil, good, and good, evil.

God created man to have a will of his own, gave him authority to use it, and has never taken that authority back. God did not force Adam and Eve to disobey a direct command. He doesn’t force me, or you, or Hitler, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or a child rapist, or a terrorist, to commit evil.

It is not God’s will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9) Yet some people do perish.

We are instructed to pray for leaders and government authorities, because it’s God’s will for “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 2:4) But not all people will be saved.

People have a free will of their own — some use it to make the wrong choice. The devil didn’t make them do it, and God didn’t make them do it.

If everything that happened was God’s will, why bother to pray? Just let whatever will be, be. But then certain other scriptures would have to be torn out of the Bible…

Like Ephesians 6:2, “Honor thy father and mother which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” That’s number Five of the Ten Commandments, quoted from Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16.

Well, maybe the Ten Commandments don’t apply any more. Or maybe they don’t apply to everybody, or they don’t apply in any real sense. Just in a wishy-washy sense that only applies to some group dynamic — not to individuals at all, just the whole of mankind which will survive while individuals are slaughtered at God’s whim. Hogwash.

Many “if” statements are found throughout the Bible. If you do this, that will happen. It’s the eternal law of sowing and reaping. Long life is one of those “ifs.” Deuteronomy 6:2, “… that thy days may be prolonged.” Deuteronomy 11:9, “And that ye may prolong your days in the land…” If they obeyed God’s Word, that is. But they didn’t, and their days weren’t prolonged.

What about bad things happening to good people? If God isn’t behind everything, then is he powerless? NOT omnipotent after all? Couldn’t he do something to stop it, if it wasn’t his will? Yes, if God wanted to change himself, become an Indian-giver and a liar, he could. But he gave control of some things over to people.

We have an enemy, Satan, who hates God and us. He’s real; a real liar and a real murderer. He will kill us if he can, steal from us whatever he can take and destroy anything he can’t take. (John 10:10.) He is the accuser and the leader-astray, but he can’t make us do anything against our will. He can certainly suggest sin, demonstrate how to do it and promise to reward it, but in the end he will be destroyed. Those who side with him will be destroyed, too.

God told us to do certain specific things. He made promises and provisions to those who are in Christ. The global, spiritual warfare is real, the devastation is real, the pain is real, but God’s power is even more real. He loves to demonstrate that power through the lives of his people. If they will let him…

If prayer was useless and “que sera, sera” was true, why would we be told to pray so many times? If faith was powerless, why did Jesus urge the disciples to have God’s faith? If death and disaster was God’s will, why did God send the Holy Spirit and gifts of healing and miracles?

The choice to believe is ours, and I choose to believe God is good, his mercy endures forever, and his Word is true. Mark 11:23-24 is true. Mark 9:23 is true. Matthew 17:20 is true.

The problem isn’t in God or in his Word. The problem is in those who fall for “que sera, sera” and won’t pay the price to believe. Faith is ours for the taking, but it comes with a responsibility and a job description.

When somebody gets sick and dies, it’s easier to say it must have been God’s will and excuse unbelief, than to take responsibility for failure. The disciples failed, after all — they tried to cast out a demon from a sick child and failed. (Mark 9:14-29) Jesus came along, took care of the problem, then explained to the disciples what they needed to do differently. Prayer with fasting. Do you suppose they ignored Jesus after that and simply quit praying for the sick? I don’t think so.

Jerry Savelle came to Florence years ago for a series of meetings about healing. He recalled an incident when a man complained to him, “Brother Jerry, you prayed for brother so and so, and he died!” Jerry answered, “Everybody I pray for dies sooner or later.” That didn’t excuse him from praying for the next fellow, and it doesn’t excuse us either.

Mercy doesn’t always look like it

MtHarounOrMtHorWandering in the wilderness was mercy, really. The ten doubting spies who said we can’t do it, were telling the simple truth. They couldn’t do it. They had no faith to do it. They knew they’d never survive a fight with giants.

Well, they didn’t survive any way, not even to wander in the wilderness for forty years. They died of a plague.

Unfortunately, before the plague struck they persuaded many others they couldn’t do it, and of course then those people couldn’t either. The plague would have killed those unbelievers too, except for the intercession of Moses. Except for God’s mercy.

In God’s mercy, they didn’t have to fight the giants. But they weren’t allowed to ever enter the promised land. Instead, for forty years they were allowed to live out their lives, raise their families, build tent cities wherever they camped, tend to their herds and flocks. They didn’t even have to plant crops. Humans and animals were fed supernaturally, boring as they thought manna was, unless the animals found enough forage to survive on. I suspect they ate manna too.

Part of their time was spent attending and tending to the Tabernacle of Moses. Part of their time was spent assembling and disassembling that Tabernacle, carefully carrying it from place to place. Whenever God moved, they moved. Once at a new camp, they had to re-assemble the Tabernacle, then bring the animals and make the sacrifices, all the while repenting and praying and hoping for the best. Counting down the days, probably.

Eventually those unbelievers, whose clothes didn’t wear out, whose shoes didn’t wear out, who didn’t have to go to jobs, didn’t have to plow fields or plant grain, didn’t have to build houses or cities, didn’t have to wage war against the giants, died of old age and were buried in the wilderness.

Their children were allowed to enter the promised land, however. Of course they would have to confront a few unruly, uncooperative and combatant groups of people along the way, as well as dispossess the inhabitants once they got there. It’s a good thing they had Joshua to train them in warfare. A real good thing that Joshua — the warrior and spy — wasn’t one of those who had brought back an evil report.

The point of this story is, wandering in the wilderness for forty years was a mercy God showed to the unbelievers in response to Moses’ intercession. Sometimes mercy wears unfamiliar clothes.

Numbers 13-14
Deuteronomy 8

What would you do?

What would you do if Jesus, physical and in person, walked across the platform at church one Sunday? And you recognized him in a flash, knew it was really him.

Would you continue thinking about where to go for lunch? What to do after lunch? About work tomorrow? Would you continue sitting there not singing during the “praise and worship,” wishing they would sing something you liked better?

Or would you leap to your feet with hands raised, begin jumping and shouting praises, clapping, crying and laughing  at the same time? Would you be completely awestruck and filled with amazing joy?

Sunday after Sunday some church-goers act as if Jesus wasn’t there and they hoped he wouldn’t show up. They sit with hands folded, not singing during the song service. Their minds and hearts don’t seem to be present, even if their bodies are there in the pew. 

Jesus is there, though. Actually. Want to change your Sunday worship experience? It’s a conscious decision. Choose to focus on him, thanking him for his presence whether you feel it yet or not. Thank him until praise comes, praise him until worship comes, and worship him until his glory comes.

Real revival takes guts

This week I have been re-watching some Bay of the Holy Spirit revival videos. In this one from February 2011, Nathan Morris is at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas, preaching about revival and the fire of the Holy Spirit, praying for students and others.

As I watch, I realize that many American Christians are spiritual cowards (including some in my own church). They claim they want revival. But what they really want is a nice, tidy, respectable, pretty meeting. They don’t really want revival God’s way.

When God demonstrates his power, your preconceived ideas about revival will need revising. Watch this video and then answer the question — Want Revival? Bay of the Holy Spirit revival at Christ for the Nations, Dallas, TX

Quench

FlamesBackDon’t quench the Holy Spirit, Paul says in I Thess. 5:19. Don’t extinguish that flame. Don’t do something that will make him withdraw his manifest presence from you, his obvious, tangible, felt presence.

How would you do that? What would do that?

Unbelief will no doubt do it. Ridiculing the Holy Spirit, despising the unusual manifestations that sometimes occur when God shows up in power, that may do it. Attributing his works to the evil one, creating a hostile environment for the presence of God, no doubt those will do it.

Grieving the Holy Spirit will do it. Christians sometimes grieve the Lord, making him displeased by their bad behavior. Ephesians Chapter 4 will give you an idea of those things.

People tend to discount the Holy Spirit, as though because he is the third person of the Trinity he is also third-rate. Not quite 100% God. But the Holy Spirit is not some wispy, ethereal creature that gets his feelings hurt so easily that he is frightened away. “Spooked.”

When the Holy Spirit withdraws his palpable presence, it’s because he decided to do it. His patience has run out with unholy antics.

He is 100% God. Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth. God of power and might. God of Hosts. Holy God.

God with feelings. God with ideas. With definitions. With principles and standards. God who is pleased with faith, amazed at unbelief.

God who calls certain things unacceptable in his children. Like lying. Stealing. Corrupt communication. Bitterness. Wrath. Anger. Evil speaking. Malice. Sin. (Actions and intentions.)

Those are just the ones mentioned in Ephesians Chapter 4. Keep reading. Chapter 5 lists more bad things, including having fellowship with unfruitful works of darkness — probably those items listed in Ephesians 4:25 through 5:6. You can add pride, selfishness, self-righteousness, arrogance, hypocrisy, listed as unacceptable in Romans and elsewhere.

And all of this is addressed to Christians! Imagine that. Lost people act like lost people. But believers are not lost people any longer. Father God is patient with new believers. He gives them time to learn, to discipline themselves, to grow in faith and to grow up. Continued bad acts on the part of his people grieve the Holy Spirit. They quench the fire of his presence.

So, how can we encourage the Holy Spirit to make his presence known, and to remain with us? Repent. Hunger for him, seek to know, really know him. Study his works and ways in the scriptures, listen to his voice, obey him. Worship him.

Invite his presence. Welcome him without restrictions, without conditions, without preconceived ideas of what that might look like.