Saturday, April 4, 2009

Man of God - With a Weakness

Today we are introduced to one of the most colorful people in the entire Bible. His birth was announced by an angel to a barren woman, he was filled with the Spirit of God as a young man, and God used him to wreck havoc on the Philistines, who had been oppressing the Israelites for 40 years.

As a young man, he sees a Philistine girl he must have. He convinces his parents to go with him to make arrangements to marry her. On the way, a lion jumps out at him. He rips it to pieces with his bare hands.

Later, at the wedding ceremony itself, the Philistines send 30 young guys to mingle, since they didn't trust him. He gave them a riddle. If they solved it, he would give them thirty linen garments and thirty changes of fine clothing. If they couldn't, they would give same number to him.

So they ask the girl to get the info. She pours on the tears for the 7 days of the wedding feast. He finally caves in, gives her the answer. She gives it to them and now Sampson is in a financial bind.
So he goes down, kills 30 Philistines with his bare hands, dispossessed them of their fine clothes, and hands the clothes over to the thirty young guys.
(And you thought that killing someone for their sneakers was a recent invention!)
So Samson stormed home, without his bride. Dad gives bride to best man.
Judges 15:1 -2 "Later on—it was during the wheat harvest—Samson visited his bride, bringing a young goat. He said, "Let me see my wife—show me her bedroom."
But her father wouldn't let him in. He said, "I concluded that by now you hated her with a passion, so I gave her to your best man. But her little sister is even more beautiful. Why not take her instead?"
3 Samson said, "That does it. This time when I wreak havoc on the Philistines, I'm blameless."
4 -5 Samson then went out and caught three hundred jackals. He lashed the jackals' tails together in pairs and tied a torch between each pair of tails. He then set fire to the torches and let them loose in the Philistine fields of ripe grain. Everything burned, both stacked and standing grain, vineyards and olive orchards—everything."
Samson sets the fields on fire. Philistines get mad and burn bride and dad to the ground. Sampson gets mad and kills a bunch of Philistines.
They get mad, get 1000 men and come after him. He gets mad, grabs the jawbone of a donkey, and kills all 1000 men.

Talk about bad relations with the in laws!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bullied and Battered

I watched a very disturbing show last night on TV. It was called "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial."

The story is how the ACLU and a whole gang of legal thugs descended on the little town of Dover Pennsylvania to thrash them and beat them to the ground for even considering a potential rival to evolution. It was the school board of Dover on trial, but I kept thinking, "It really is God on trial."

Of course, the show was put on by Nova, so I knew it would not have been created unless evolution won the trial. And it did. A whole bunch of seemingly nice people lined up against God, against a theory that might even lead to the possibility that God had a part in bringing things into existence.

Then this morning I read this. 6 -8 "And then the People of Israel went back to doing evil in God's sight. They worshiped the Baal gods and Ashtoreth goddesses: gods of Aram, Sidon, and Moab; gods of the Ammonites and the Philistines. They just walked off and left God, quit worshiping him." (Judges 10:6-8)

Watching the program, I kept wondering, "Why doesn't God defend himself? Why doesn't He bring forth irrefutable evidence?" In the end, evolution won, largely, because they traced intelligent design back to Christian roots.

In our passage today, there is a consequence to "doing evil in God's sight."

"And God exploded in hot anger at Israel and sold them off to the Philistines and Ammonites, who, beginning that year, bullied and battered the People of Israel mercilessly. For eighteen years they had them under their thumb, all the People of Israel who lived east of the Jordan in the Amorite country of Gilead. 9 Then the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to go to war also against Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim. Israel was in a bad way!"

"Bullied and battered... mercilessly." Hmm.

Is there a parallel to what our country is going through right now?

There was a solution then, and there is a solution now. 10 "The People of Israel cried out to God for help: "We've sinned against you! We left our God and worshiped the Baal gods!"
11 -14 God answered the People of Israel: "When the Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, Sidonians—even Amalek and Midian!—oppressed you and you cried out to me for help, I saved you from them. And now you've gone off and betrayed me, worshiping other gods. I'm not saving you anymore. Go ahead! Cry out for help to the gods you've chosen—let them get you out of the mess you're in!"
15 The People of Israel said to God: "We've sinned. Do to us whatever you think best, but please, get us out of this!"
16 Then they cleaned house of the foreign gods and worshiped only God. And God took Israel's troubles to heart."

Or in the words of a later passage: "If I ever shut off the supply of rain from the skies or order the locusts to eat the crops or send a plague on my people, and my people, my God-defined people, respond by humbling themselves, praying, seeking my presence, and turning their backs on their wicked lives, I'll be there ready for you: I'll listen from heaven, forgive their sins, and restore their land to health." (2 Chronicles 7:12-14)

Amazing! Unbelievable! Over the top!

It is the middle of the night. Gideon went from terror - to praise, when he heard an enemy soldier say that he believed Gideon was going to defeat them.

After falling to his knees to worship, and praise, and thank God, Gideon springs into action.

Did God give him this plan or did he make it up? Doesn't say. I think he made it up. His heart was pounding, his brain was racing and in the time it took to get from the edge of the enemy camp back to his small band of 300, I think a plan had formulated.

"Get up and get going! God has just given us the Midianite army!"
16 -18 He divided the three hundred men into three companies. He gave each man a trumpet and an empty jar, with a torch in the jar. He said, "Watch me and do what I do. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly what I do. When I and those with me blow the trumpets, you also, all around the camp, blow your trumpets and shout, 'For God and for Gideon!'"

Brilliant. Make it appear that every one of the three hundred was the announcer for the impending attack of the huge army (that wasn't there). And so it was...

19 -22 "Gideon and his hundred men got to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after the sentries had been posted. They blew the trumpets, at the same time smashing the jars they carried. All three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands, ready to blow, and shouted, "A sword for God and for Gideon!" They were stationed all around the camp, each man at his post. The whole Midianite camp jumped to its feet. They yelled and fled. When the three hundred blew the trumpets, God aimed each Midianite's sword against his companion, all over the camp. They ran for their lives—to Beth Shittah, toward Zererah, to the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath."

NOW the real army mobilizes. 23 "Israelites rallied from Naphtali, from Asher, and from all over Manasseh. They had Midian on the run.
24 Gideon then sent messengers through all the hill country of Ephraim, urging them, "Come down against Midian! Capture the fords of the Jordan at Beth Barah."
25 So all the men of Ephraim rallied and captured the fords of the Jordan at Beth Barah. They also captured the two Midianite commanders Oreb (Raven) and Zeeb (Wolf)."

This is one of the most amazing stories in the entire Bible. And it started with a man, in a hole, hiding, in total defeat. His faith grew little by little as he saw God work in his life.

I AM Gideon. Am I in hole? Am I seeing God work in my life? Or am I ready to let God do amazing things?


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Too Much Help

Is it possible to have too much help?

Apparently God thought so.

The Israelites are completely oppressed by the Midianites. They are in grinding poverty. They are hiding in caves and in the mountains. Now they have gathered to war against them one more time. 33 -35 "All the Midianites and Amalekites (the easterners) got together, crossed the river, and made camp in the Valley of Jezreel."

The situation was desperate. Gideon has been raised up by God. So he sends out word across the land to come and fight. "God's Spirit came over Gideon. He blew his ram's horn trumpet and the Abiezrites came out, ready to follow him. He dispatched messengers all through Manasseh, calling them to the battle; also to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. They all came. "

So he's got 32,000 men. Not a match for the Midianites, but a fair number, to be sure.
2 -3 "God said to Gideon, "You have too large an army with you. I can't turn Midian over to them like this—they'll take all the credit, saying, 'I did it all myself,' and forget about me. Make a public announcement: 'Anyone afraid, anyone who has any qualms at all, may leave Mount Gilead now and go home.'" Twenty-two companies headed for home. Ten companies were left."
The situation was scary before. Now it is nearly desperate. God is not done yet.
4 -5 "God said to Gideon: "There are still too many. Take them down to the stream and I'll make a final cut. When I say, 'This one goes with you,' he'll go. When I say, 'This one doesn't go,' he won't go." So Gideon took the troops down to the stream."
To his credit, Gideon obeyed. He must have been thinking God was crazy, or maybe that he heard God wrong, but he obeyed.
5 -6 "God said to Gideon: "Everyone who laps with his tongue, the way a dog laps, set on one side. And everyone who kneels to drink, drinking with his face to the water, set to the other side." Three hundred lapped with their tongues from their cupped hands. All the rest knelt to drink.
7 God said to Gideon: "I'll use the three hundred men who lapped at the stream to save you and give Midian into your hands. All the rest may go home."
Wow! From 32,000 - which wasn't nearly enough - to 300. This isn't going to be a battle, it is going to be group suicide! They will just march down to the enemy, get slaughtered, all Israel will be overrun once again, and the memory of Gideon as an irrationaly fool will live on in history...
8 "After Gideon took all their provisions and trumpets, he sent all the Israelites home. He took up his position with the three hundred. The camp of Midian stretched out below him in the valley."
You know he must be scared out of his mind. But he obeyed.
My question is, if I were Gideon and God told me (I thought) to do this, would I?
It's sure suicide. And my name will be bitterly spit out over the generations to come as the reckless fool who caused Israel to be completely wiped out when they could have put up a decent fight.
Would have I obeyed?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Growing faith while your knees are knocking

Gideon sends the 9700 soldiers home. Darkness falls. So now Gideon and the 300 guys are trying to sleep. I can't imagine. Can you feel the dull pain in the pit of your stomach knowing that you are going to stand up to several hundred thousand soldiers the next day - and you are one of 300? Don't know that anyone was sleeping.

God shows up. Has a promise and an offer for Gideon.

The promise: "Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands." That, of course, was the assumption all along. But it was sure encouraging for God to say that the 300 were going to beat the three hundred thousand.

Problem is, this promise is illogical and beyond comprehension. In your wildest dreams, how could 300 brave soldiers beat 300,000 soldiers? Has God ever called you to do something illogical and beyond comprehension? Did you hear his voice clearly? Did you obey?

I love this next part. God says: 10 "If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11 and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp." So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp."

OF COURSE they were afraid to attack. Even just going down to the outposts of the camp was a life and death proposition. So we know Gideon was afraid, because he took his servant and they managed to get right up to the opposing camp.

The writer of the book throws in a tidbit just so we don't miss the setting. "Midian and Amalek, all the easterners, were spread out on the plain like a swarm of locusts. And their camels! Past counting, like grains of sand on the seashore!"

A conversation is going on, as the outpost sentries are swapping stories to pass the time before their gaurd shift is over.

13 "Gideon arrived just in time to hear a man tell his friend a dream. He said, "I had this dream: A loaf of barley bread tumbled into the Midianite camp. It came to the tent and hit it so hard it collapsed. The tent fell!"
14 His friend said, "This has to be the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite! God has turned Midian—the whole camp!—over to him."

Wow! God told GIDEON that impossibly, He was going to defeat this immense war machine. Now he hears the same thing from the enemy himself. God had appeared in a dream to this soldier, and the interpretation of the dream was that Gideon was going to defeat the Amalekite army! Of course, Gideon in the shadows knew that he only had 300 soldiers. The teller of the dream had no clue. He must have thought there were hundreds of thousands of Israelite soldiers camped against them.

Gideon's reaction? 15 "When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he went to his knees before God in prayer." The text doesn't say what the prayer was. I think I know. "Thankyou Lord. Thankyou. Thankyou Lord. Thankyou. Thankyou Lord. Thankyou!"

"Then he went back to the Israelite camp and said, "Get up and get going! God has just given us the Midianite army!"

His growing faith was coming into maturity. He could see what had not yet happened, because God had told him. And he believed the impossible was going to happen. Because God had told him.

1-2"The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.
3 By faith, we see the world called into existence by God's word, what we see created by what we don't see." (Hebrews 11:1-3)

Crushing Defeat - to Growing Faith

Today is April Fool's Day. No April Fools in Judges 6 and 7.

Starts out with more of the same:

1 -6 "Yet again the People of Israel went back to doing evil in God's sight. God put them under the domination of Midian for seven years. Midian overpowered Israel. Because of Midian, the People of Israel made for themselves hideouts in the mountains—caves and forts. When Israel planted its crops, Midian and Amalek, the easterners, would invade them, camp in their fields, and destroy their crops all the way down to Gaza. They left nothing for them to live on, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey. Bringing their cattle and tents, they came in and took over, like an invasion of locusts. And their camels—past counting! They marched in and devastated the country. The People of Israel, reduced to grinding poverty by Midian, cried out to God for help."

People are disobedient. God punishes them. (Yes, PUNISHES them) THIS is the prelude for one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible!

Gideon is hiding. He is trying to thresh his family's wheat, yet not be seen so it will not be stolen from them. So here he is, trying to be insconpicuous. He was IN the winepress. So is he in a hole in the ground?
"The angel of God appeared to him and said, "God is with you, O mighty warrior!"

Do you get the IRONY of this? Gideon is in a hole, working very inefficiently so as to hide from the enemy. And the angel says, "God is with you, O mighty warrior!"
Gideon does not fall over laughing. In fact, he doesn't miss a beat. He answers,"With me, my master? If God is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all the miracle-wonders our parents and grandparents told us about, telling us, 'Didn't God deliver us from Egypt?' The fact is, God has nothing to do with us—he has turned us over to Midian."
The whole encounter with the angel, Gibeon's obedience and his humility is the great story of this section. We all like the sensational story that follows, but that battle was won here, in his heart, as he submitted to God and obeyed God. He even risked death by pulling down the pagan family altar. THAT is the key to Gideon's early success - his bravery in obeying God even when it might cost him his life.
After the angel's promise, and his steps of faith and growing obedience, Gideon gets the challenge of his life.

Cowering in fear? That was yesterday. Today he is full of the Spirit and has faith that is starting to grow. Even with all the bravado, He REALLY needs to hear from God.
36 -37 "Gideon said to God, "If this is right, if you are using me to save Israel as you've said, then look: I'm placing a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If dew is on the fleece only, but the floor is dry, then I know that you will use me to save Israel, as you said."
38 That's what happened. When he got up early the next morning, he wrung out the fleece—enough dew to fill a bowl with water!
39 Then Gideon said to God, "Don't be impatient with me, but let me say one more thing. I want to try another time with the fleece. But this time let the fleece stay dry, while the dew drenches the ground."
40 God made it happen that very night. Only the fleece was dry while the ground was wet with dew."

OK. God was with him. He knew this task ahead of him was completely impossible without God. But he obeyed what he had been told so far. His faith had been stretched from where it was before. He had even risked his life to honor and obey God.

The stage is set for God to use him in a spectacular way!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

When will we ever learn? When will we e-e-e-ever learn?

Way back in Deuteronomy, God told Moses to tell the people to absorb the Words of God into their lives, their homes, their daily activities, AND their children's lives.

"Write these commandments that I've given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. " (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

In today's reading we see why.

They followed God for a while, then they worshipped idols. God punished them by putting them under the cruel reign of Cushan-Rishathaim for 8 years.

They cried out to God. He rescued them, and they had peace for 40 years.

12 -14 "But the People of Israel went back to doing evil in God's sight." So God punished them by putting them under Eglon for 14 years." (Eglon was the extra fat king. See previous blog.)

They cried out to God and God rescued them. The land was prosperous and quiet for 80 years.

1 -3"The People of Israel kept right on doing evil in God's sight. With Ehud dead, God sold them off to Jabin king of Canaan who ruled from Hazor." (Judges 4) God let him oppress them for 20 years.

They had a mighty battle this time. Very dramatic. Women end up playing major roles.

"The land was quiet for forty years."

When will they ever learn? When will WE ever learn?

words and music by Pete Seeger
©1961 (Renewed) Fall River Music Inc. All Rights Reserved.

You'll never believe what I just read. And its in the Bible!

I'm ten years old, and working my way through the Bible for the first time.

I come upon this passage, and I can't believe it! It is just too good to keep to myself. I gather my buddies together and say, "You'll never believe what I just read. And its in the Bible!"

This guy took out his dagger, "and thrust it into his belly: 22And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade... and the dirt came out." (Judges 3: 22,23) King James Version.

Yes it really says that!

"And the dirt came out!"

Read it for yourself!

The Bible was much less boring after I uncovered that delicious nugget...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Compromise - and Wrath!

There is a strange phenomenon that biologists refer to as "the boiled frog syndrome". Put a frog in a pot of water and increase the temperature of the water gradually from 20oC to 30oC to 40oC…to 90oC and the frog just sits there. But suddenly, at 100oC, something happens: the water boils and the frog dies.

Today we start reading the book of Judges.

I have to tell you - I find this first part of Judges deeply disturbing.

First chapter is largely review, but toward the end it shows one compromise after another after another. God said to take the land over, and utterly kill every single inhabitant. The people had a hard time doing that entirely, but they would let the people stay and make them into their laborers. Good compromise, right?

"The parallel of it all in the Christian life is that we, like Israel, are delivered by the grace of God from the bondage to sin, but as we drift away from the joy and thrill of our spiritual experience we tend to get more worldly and many slip back into a life that is more about the idols of the world than about the Lord and his will. We cease to hate the sins that we left, and do not pursue taking to ourselves all that we are redeemed to experience in the godly life. This can lead to all kinds of negative experiences in life that call for repentance and renewal. Some people are like this book and go through the cycle over and over just like Israel did. What is the problem? It is lack of hate. What a paradox! The key to a life of love with consistent obedience to God demands the balance of hate for what God hates." (Judges Commentary by Glen Pease)
In North America, we have made compromise into one of our most cherished cultural values. We call it "Tolerance". Under that banner, all kinds of sin is accepted. Shall I give you a list? Prostitution, adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexuality, bestiality, perversions, murder (as long as the baby is not born yet) every kind of pagan practice, witchcraft, idol worship (both modern and ancient)... the list goes on and on.
It took the people of Israel only two generations to fall into every kind of pagan practice that God forbade and they claimed they would never do.
11 -15 "The People of Israel did evil in God's sight: they served Baal-gods; they deserted God, the God of their parents who had led them out of Egypt; they took up with other gods, gods of the peoples around them. They actually worshiped them! "
What was God's reaction?
"And oh, how they angered God as they worshiped god Baal and goddess Astarte! God's anger was hot against Israel: He handed them off to plunderers who stripped them; he sold them cheap to enemies on all sides. They were helpless before their enemies. Every time they walked out the door God was with them—but for evil, just as God had said, just as he had sworn he would do. They were in a bad way. "
Compromise with God's standards leads to His wrath. There is no pretty way to say it.
Man, I liked Joshua better than Judges already!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ending Strong

Last night Patti and I went to see a movie called, simply, "The Cross."

"Beginning in 1968, the evangelical minister Arthur Blessit took it upon himself to carry a large wooden crucifix around the world. With the help of a wheel affixed to the end of the cross, a decent pair of shoes and the motivating fervor of a man who believed that Jesus was telling him what to do, Mr. Blessit succeeded, over the next 40 years, traversing nearly 40,000 miles." New York Times movie review.

The movie impacted me profoundly. The central issue is, do you do what God tells you to do or do you do what you want to do? On the one hand, it would seem like a complete waste of a life to drag a 12 foot cross around the world for 40 years. Yet Arthur Blessit is an evangelist by gifting and by calling. God told him to do this, and he has used the attention it gets to faithfully present the love of God and the Good News of God to everyone he meets, in every country, climate, culture and religion.
If you have the opportunity to watch this movie, definately go see it. He is now 68 years old, and is still carrying out the mission he felt God called him to. I would say he is "ending strong".

In our reading today we come to the end of the book of Joshua (Chapters 22-24), and also to the end of the life of Joshua the man. He calls all the people together to give them a last charge before he dies.
2 -3 "I'm an old man. I've lived a long time. You have seen everything that God has done to these nations because of you. He did it because he's God, your God. He fought for you.
6 -8 "Now, stay strong and steady. Obediently do everything written in the Book of The Revelation of Moses—don't miss a detail. Don't get mixed up with the nations that are still around. Don't so much as speak the names of their gods or swear by them. And by all means don't worship or pray to them. Hold tight to God, your God, just as you've done up to now. "
His words carry the weight of his long life, of his amazing accomplishments, of his voice as prophet of God.
11 -13 "Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God. Because if you wander off and start taking up with these remaining nations still among you (intermarry, say, and have other dealings with them), know for certain that God, your God, will not get rid of these nations for you. They'll be nothing but trouble to you—horsewhips on your backs and sand in your eyes—until you're the ones who will be driven out of this good land that God, your God, has given you."
He admonishes them and warns them knowing his time on earth is about done.

14 "As you can see, I'm about to go the way we all end up going. Know this with all your heart, with everything in you, that not one detail has failed of all the good things God, your God, promised you. It has all happened. Nothing's left undone—not so much as a word.
15 -16 "But just as sure as everything good that God, your God, has promised has come true, so also God will bring to pass every bad thing until there's nothing left of you in this good land that God has given you. If you leave the path of the Covenant of God, your God, that he commanded you, go off and serve and worship other gods, God's anger will blaze out against you. In no time at all there'll be nothing left of you, no sign that you've ever been in this good land he gave you."
Last words. FAMOUS last words. You may have memorized them as a child, as I did...
14 "So now: Fear God. Worship him in total commitment... As for me and my family, we'll worship God."
Soon after, Joshua died. He was 110 years old. He lived well. Led the people well. Followed God well.
He ended strong.