Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Judges 10 - Blessing of Affliction

XGod uses both the good and the bad events of our lives for His purpose. However, rarely do men attribute to God the times of ease and leisure. God blesses with abundance and men say, "look at what I did". But, when affliction comes, God is frequently brought into the mix; sometimes for blame but always for deliverance. 

In this chapter we have the story of two judges, who after leading 45 years left the nation of Israel in apostasy. God in his anger, allowed Israel to be oppressed for 18 years before their thoughts began to turn to God again. The Israelites finally agree with God about their sin of dabbling with various gods. In the Lord's reply you can hear the pain in His voice as He responds. He has saved them time and time again, yet they seem driven to offend the God who helps them so (Jud 10:11-13).  Our sin hurts our Creator. He is not dispassionately afflicting pain; He responds with affliction to correct our wrong thinking. God longs to have fellowship with His people and He doesn't want to judge their betrayal. 

There is something significant in verse 16 that I hope you will see. My text says, "And he could bear Israel's misery no longer."  God not only is the dispenser of affliction, He goes through it with His people. He could bear it no more. What a wonderful God we have that would endure so much for our love. 

God uses affliction to turn us away from our folly and to completely abandon it. Some might say that the affliction was the natural result of the sinful ways they chose; but it is also the mark of God removing His hand of provision. He longs for our allegiance but we must chose who we serve. 

The gods of our modern world don't always have altars, but our heart is diverted from our worship of God when we pursue the follies of this age as well.  Many Christians my say, "I don't engage in hateful acts, I attend church, I pray and I am not addicted to drugs or alcohol." We measure our hearts by comparing them to others. God sees the things that have control. Maybe it is Internet, TV, pursuit of sports or career advancement, but any activity that takes a place in our lives God should have is an idol and we should turn away. I am not suggesting that hard work, play, or leisure are necessarily evil, but we should be careful to evaluate the control they exert over us. 

God still longs for fellowship with His people and in His long suffering to bring us back to Him, He may use affliction. If you are enduring hardship, consider how God may be using this time to grow you into the likeness of His Son, Jesus so that we may be a bride well suited for our Lord. The wedding day is coming dear friend, now is the time of preparation. When the end arrives and we are joined forever with our Lord, it will be easy to thank Him for the times of affliction that allowed our faith and our character to grow. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Judges 9 - God Overthrows Evil

As we open this chapter, we see that Gideon's son Abimelech wanted to assume Gideon's position of leader but definitely didn't honor God or his family. In fact we open the chapter with him stirring up the people of his hometown to make him ruler and involving his followers in the murder of his 70 brothers. (Judges 9:1-5). Abimelech was nothing like his father who defended the honor of God and family. He was a respecter of none. 

God, however, is not a victim of the disgrace shown by men. He is Almighty and able to overcome any foe. In the case of Abimelech, God changed the hearts of the men of Shechem who originally placed him in power. (Judges 9:23). Note that it is God who sends the evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens. God can change the hearts of even men who are not his children and use them as His tools to accomplish His purposes. 

The men of Shechem chose another leader and though Abimelech learns of the treachery and combats his own people slaying many in battle and burning alive about 1000 who fled to the tower of Shechem for safety. Abimelech would do anything for power. 

As he moved to Thebez to capture it as well, a woman drops a piece of a millstone from the top of the tower and cracks his skull. Knowing he is going to die any way he has one of his men kill him with a sword for fear that a woman would get credit for taking his life. 

Please note that while it would appear to human eyes that this was a natural conflict and the result of men's efforts verse 56 and 57 clearly state that it was God's plan to repay the wickedness of Abimelech and the men do Shechem. God actively works his story into the natural events of life. An unbeliever would see nothing but men's effort, but God is behind it all seeing the evil and never allowing His name to be the object of ridicule. 

Dear Christian, if you have conflict in your life, commit it to God and look for His hand at work in the everyday affairs of men. While evil may show itself, it will not gain victory over God or his people. 

Children do not necessarily follow in the footsteps of their parents. Gideon was a noble man, but his son Abimelech was rotten to the core. God allows us each to choose who we will serve, and we cannot make the choices for another. , we can only set the example by honoring God in our own lives and encouraging our family to make their own choice  knowing the God has been a help to you through the years.  Let's make sure we set a God honoring example for those who are watching. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him  and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Judges 8 - When God is all You Have

Few of us would dare to ask God to remove all our resources so that we can experience a situation where God is all we have to rely on. But when God removes all our supports, we find God is all sufficient. Gideon had his faith stretched way beyond what most of us will ever experience. He was an unlikely leader who didn't enjoy confrontation, but God allowed confrontation to mold Gideon into a mighty leader of Israel. 

As we open this chapter, we find that after the victory over Midian, the men of Ephriam resented not being invited to the party. In Judges 6:35 we see Gideon did not call Ephriam to stand against the Midianites in battle. We aren't told why, but given God's parsing of the fighting men, there were likely few that would have made the cut anyway. We do see in Judges 7:24 that Gideon did call on Ephriam as the Midianites were fleeing. It was the men if Ephriam that killed the leaders Oreb and Zeeb. Gideon got nothing but strife from the men of Ephriam and so he responds that God delivered the army leaders into their hands. They do share in the greatest glory. You see Ephriam didn't care for service to God necessarily but they wanted glory and the spoils of war. 

After the maneuvering with Ephriam, Gideon's 490 fighting men were exhausted and hungry. When Gideon asked for bread for his men at Succoth and Peniel, they were refused leaving These men in a weakened state as they pursued the kings of Midian. 

Upon capturing the Kings, Gideon called on his son to kill them as they had killed Gideon's brothers, but he wouldn't. The bible explains he was just a boy and afraid. So Gideon was left to finish the conflict himself.   Gideon was named ruler over Israel because of the great victory God gave over Midian. 

Perhaps if there had been help from any other source Israel might not have seen the hand of God at work. Because Gideon trusted God to save them from Midian, the story is recorded for all generations to know how faithful God is. We see evidence that he uses unlikely people to accomplish his work. We see that God can supply all the resources needed and it doesn't take might or wealth, but faith to see the victory. 

When we are deprived of our resources, it may just be that God is planning to use our situation to demonstrate to the world that he is real, he can be trusted, and he is Almighty to save from any foe. 
Our challenge is to be faithful with the strength we have and not to rely on it for the victory, but rely on God. He gets the glory, we are merely the children of his love. 

We serve a God who is writing His story right now in the midst of our lives with the direction and resources He supplies. There is no resource too small to be used and none so large that cannot be removed at God's discretion. He is all that is needed. When He is all we have we learn that truth in a very special way. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Judges 7 - God's Draft Picks

Have you ever noticed that God's ways are out of our ordinary?  Gideon had organized his army to fight against Midian knowing that he was outnumbered and out powered by the enemy. He wanted to trust God but didn't see how God could pull this one off, but he would throw all his might at it and look for God's favor. Yet, when God saw the army of Gideon, He said you have too many. If you win, you will think that it is because of your own efforts. God wanted both Israel and the enemy to be sure who won this one. 

God first removed those who did not have their heart in it. If they were afraid of battle or doubted God's victory, they could go home. More than 2/3rds of the army left him. That would have anyone a little on edge, but God goes further. Out of the 10,000 remaining select men who cupped water with their hands to drink (300) you will win. That would just shake your confidence if it were anyone other than God Almighty leading them. 

God is so kind to Gideon, He offers him and opportunity to hear the enemy speaking about their fears in fighting Gideon. Overhearing the conversation, he gains new confidence that God is at work. Gideon doesn't arm his men however. He puts a trumpet in one hand and a torch in the other. They are to blow their trumpet on command and break the jars surrounding their torches and say "the sword of the Lord and for Gideon". Odd, since there are no swords in their hands. But God turns the enemy swords on each other and wins the victory for the nation. He confused the Midianite minds with a dream so that they believed they were doomed and mixed them up about who their enemy was. No weapons, just faith and obedience won the day. 

When we look around us, our conflict may be great and we may even experience oppression, but we can rest in the knowledge that God takes care of his own. We can also trust that faithful obedience can yield results no man can accomplish in their human effort. Dear Christian, look to God for your help and faithfully serve Him. The rest will fall by the way if our priorities are straight. Our hope is not built on our own strength but on the power of God offered to us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God will see you through the darkest of days. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Judges 6c - Facing Doubt and Fear

Let's face it: God does not always call us to the easy life. Living for the Lord can be difficult. Certainly His calling on our lives is contrary to the world's ways, but sometimes it is contrary to our own. It seems God takes pleasure in using a weak vessel for mighty acts. So it is with Gideon. Gideon has shown himself to be very meek and afraid, the son of an idolater. He has been pitted against his own people, yet God protected him. Now God asks him to face off against a much stronger enemy, Midian. Gideon would have preferred a life without conflict, but God had another plan.  

Starting in Judges 6:33, we see the story of Gideon's fleece. Gideon wanted to be very sure he heard the voice of God correctly. We see that the Spirit of God comes upon Gideon almost immediately after the Israelites had gathered to kill him for destroying the altar to Baal. Gideon blows a trumpet telling the people to follow him. He also sends messenger throughout Manasseh, Zebulun, Naphtali and Asher calling them to battle. He sounds sure and in charge before the people, yet while in his private time with the Lord, he is unsure and afraid. 

Gideon asks God to perform a miracle to assuage his unbelief. He asked that God would wet the fleece he leaves on the floor and keep the ground dry. By that sign he would know that God intended to use him to save Israel. In the morning when God fulfills his request, Gideon doesn't just accept the miracle and take action. He requests a second miracle in which God would keep the ground wet but the fleece dry. 

God does not encourage us to seek signs of His presence or confirmation of His  word, but in this case God was gracious and gave Gideon his requests. God takes pleasure in using weak vessels because there is no doubt who should receive the glory in the end. A weak vessel in the hands of God is strong indeed. God gives us both His Word and His Spirit to guide and direct us as His vessels in the world increasingly hostile toward the gospel. We have specific commands however to shine our light before men so that they can know that God offers salvation to all and that you are His and therefore cannot stand with the worlds ways. We are on temporary assignment here on planet earth. Our true home is in Heaven. We are called to be bold and obedient to the Lord. When we have fears and doubts He is gracious, but we must not dwell in our fear because God has given us His Spirit to accomplish His mission here using weak vessels. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him  and as you serve Him. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Judges 6b - Standing for God

Making a stand against sin and for God has never been easy. The world's opposition is strong and the consequences can be severe. Recently in the news, a clerk went to jail because of her refusal to issue same sex marriage licenses. Taking such a Biblical view is often mocked in our culture that has largely rejected God's word. Even the Pope who recently visited said he didn't endorse her position but admired her courage to stand by her convictions. He had a chance to stand against sin and he refused it. She however stood against sin and endured the backlash. 

Gideon got a face to face encounter with the Lord who gave him a startling message. Gideon was very fearful of the enemy and now the Lord has told him he will lead Israel into battle against Midian and God will give victory. (Jud 6:16). Gideon asks for a sign that it is God himself issuing the command. So the angel of the Lord consumed his offering when fire flared out of a rock where the offering was laid. Again Gideon is struck with fear this time not because of Midian, but because he has just seen God face to face, but God assures him he will not die from the encounter. (Jud 6:23). 

Now God issues a test to Gideon. Gideon must take a bull from his father's herd and tear down his father's altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Note:  Sometimes the sin is within our own household making the stand against it much more personal. Gideon still fearful, does the deed in darkness, but was still found out. Gideon's sentence for breaking down the altar: death. Amazingly, though his father had just lost a bull and his altar to Baal, he comes to Gideon's defense and suggests that if Baal is really a god, he can take care of his own punishment. The stand Gideon took risked his life. He had good reason to fear, but God's hand was with him to protect. This was just a test for Gideon to be assured of God's presence. God knew Gideon's fear and showed him that he could take a stand. Now he was almost ready to face the real enemy: Midian. 

When standing against sin, Christians are frequently labeled as ignorant or intolerant. The stand we take could even risk our very lives. The mockers and haters cannot consider that God's thoughts may be higher than their own or that their choices may lead to destruction in this world, the next or both. Sinners cannot see their own son and repent on their own. As long as Christians do not stand against sin and the Holy Spirit does not convict, they remain in their terrible state. 

We are called to live in a world that embraces sin, but to live differently. We are called to give the gospel of peace, but sometimes that means standing against the sin that enslaves the hearer. We can rest assured that if God has called us to this task, He will be with us as we complete the task. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him.