As a former history teacher, I loved the study of battle and war strategy. My favorite two units to teach were the ones on the American Revolution and the Civil War. One lesson learned in these wars is that although an army is weary they should continue pursuing the enemy. You probably have heard the military axiom “win the battle but lose the war”. When you have the enemy on the run, continue the pursuit to attain complete victory.
This was the case in the battle to expel the Midianites out of Israel as told in Judges 6-8. The Midianites were desert dwellers who invaded Israel at harvest time. The Midianites terrorized Israel for seven years. During this time, the Israelites hid in caves in order to avoid the invasion of the Midianites. These attacks were devastating. Judges 6:4b indicates that the Midianites would
.. leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey.”
God brought up Gideon to defeat the Midianites. He’s an unlikely warrior. God often chooses the least likely to work through, so that in the end, it is obvious that God brought the victory.
But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.” Judges 6:16 (NASB)
After a series of “signs” that demonstrated to Gideon that he really was listening to the LORD, Gideon did exactly as God said. He winnowed his army down to only 300 men. Using a battle strategy that only God could design (Judges 7:16-25), this rag-tag group of soldiers defeated the Midianites near the hill of Moreh. Some biblical scholars estimate that there were between 135,000 – 200,000 Midianites involved in this battle. After the initial battle, the Midianites were on the run. Gideon knew that just driving them out of Israel would not rid them of the threat of future invasions. They had to pursue the Midianites and completely destroy them. Judges 8:4 describes their strategy:
Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing. Judges 8:4 (NASB)
Though it would have been tempting to stop and celebrate the victory after the battle was won, Gideon and his army of 300 knew that they must press on to win the war.
This is true when fighting for spiritual victories. Some come easy, some require a long persistence and perseverance. In the battles that are tough to win, we must remain on our knees and not get weary but continue the pursuit.
I’m working through Mark Batterson’s 40 day prayer challenge described in his book, Draw the Circle. He calls these types of pursuits as ALAT prayers. ASAP prayers are what we desire. We want an immediate response. Sometimes that happens, but often it doesn’t. Mark Batterson admits that he too wanted immediate answers to his prayers. But over time, God taught him instead to pray as long as it takes prayers.
I don’t want easy or quick answers because I have a tendency to mishandle the blessings that come too easily or too quickly. I take the credit for them, or I take them for granted. So now I pray it will take long enough and be hard enough for God to receive all the glory. (Page 101-102 in Draw the Circle)
This changes the focus. Instead of achieving my comfort quickly, the prayer becomes about my need for God. Jesus desires a relationship with us. He desires the type of relation that is only forged in the midst of a battle. Foxhole friendships are forever friendships. Although weary, the soldiers keep pursuing the enemy knowing that their lives depend upon it. Their dependence upon each other intensifies during the battle.
Weary yet pursuing. Prayer that last as long as it takes. Forever friendships. That’s a victory worth pursuing.
Too often I view God’s ability or willingness to intervene in current circumstances based on my experience and not on His Word. This false understanding of God is not new. There are countless examples of men and women in scripture that struggled with faith in God’s desire and ability to intervene in their circumstances in a supernatural way.
In Judges 6:13, Gideon is asking God:
…If the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, “Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?”
The Psalmist was expressing the same sentiment in Psalms 44:1-3
O God, we have heard with our ears, Our fathers have told us. The work that You did in their days, In the days of old. You with Your own hand drove out the nations; Then You planted them; You afflicted the peoples, Then You spread them abroad. For by their own sword, they did not possess the land, And their own arm did not save them, But Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence, For You favored them.
When faced with difficult circumstances we often fall into the same pattern. We ask why is this happening? Where are You? God has to remind us daily who He is. What He is capable of. What He has already done. Why we can trust Him.
Before Gideon demonstrated his lack of faith, God had already declared in Judges 6:12 who Gideon was:
The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.”
Valiant warrior? At this point in the story, Gideon doesn’t look much like a valiant warrior. When the angel of the LORD approaches Gideon, he is threshing the wheat in a wine press. Normally, threshing floors were located in exposed areas so that the wind could easily blow away the chaff. A wine press is a pit that is carved out of the rocky ground. He was in a wine press because he was hiding from the Midianites. Not much of a warrior, huh?
The key to Gideon being a valiant warrior is not Gideon’s strength or his experiences, it is in the meaning behind the name of God. God’s name in Judges 6:12 is LORD, or Yahweh. In Exodus 3:13-15, God say that his name is: I AM WHO I AM. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains the meaning of Yahweh in this way.
I am truly he who exists and who will be dynamically present then and there in the situation to which I am sending you.”
We need a daily reminder that God’s very name indicates that He is not only capable of intervening in today’s circumstances, but that He desires to do so. It’s not our efforts or our abilities that accomplish God’s work in our everyday life. It is the faith in a God who has and will work supernaturally on our behalf.
On the way to work this morning, I listened to a sermon by Alistair Begg . He has been doing a series on the Bible story of the prodigal son. This morning’s sermon gave me a fresh perspective on this parable. It’s so much more than a story of a wayward son who has come home.
Take a few minutes to listen to it but be sure and stay until the end. His explanation of the brother who stayed home might surprise you. My favorite part….the Father pursues both sons.
The sermon was aired on August 6, 2013 and is called Amazing Love, Part 4, A.
The second speaker for Verge 2013 was Frances Chan. Just as David Platt left the stage, on walked Frances Chan. The schedule of when each speaker would speak was not in the program. We knew who would speak over the two days, but we didn’t know when. To have Platt and Chan back to back with little introduction was certainly unexpected. You could almost hear the crowd whisper, “First David Platt, now Frances Chan! Wow!” Of course, both of these men quickly put the focus on where it should be, Jesus.
Frances opened up with a prayer. He confessed to God that we trust too little in His Spirit and asked him to restore the joy of our salvation. After Platt reminded us of the cost of following Jesus, Chan reminded us that although it would cost us everything, it would be worth it.
His talk centered on how the love of God should flow so easily through us that when we are gathered together, an outsider could walk in and immediately recognize that the love among us (Christians) was supernatural. They would exclaim, “No way…the only way this is possible is if some supernatural thing happened here.” He reminded us that as we gave it all to Christ and His mission and His priorities, we should draw strength upon one another and demonstrate sacrificial love for one another. What is mine, is yours. If you need something I have, I give it to you without a thought. If you need a place to stay, I make room for you in my home. If you are hungry, I invite you to dinner. That kind of love is compelling. It is attractive. It provides healing. It is supernatural. It is rare. It is a characteristic of a follower of Christ.
Chan reminded us that sadly, some of us have given up on this dream and have turned to other ways to “fill the room”. Instead of building God’s church His way, by loving others as described above, we try to attract people with programs and church growth strategies that may or may not be biblical. He reminded us of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians:
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Philippians 1:27 (NASB)
Chan also impressed upon us that we try too hard to impress others with our intellect. We try to reach others for Him with intellectual arguments. Paul was extremely intelligent. When it was necessary, he used his intelligence to help show the fallacy in other’s logic, but he made it clear in I Corinthians that the simple truth of the cross was enough.
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” I Corinthians 2:2 (NASB)
Paul deliberately chose to know nothing except the cross. He didn’t let his words empty the cross of it’s power. He knew the simple message of the cross was all that was needed to reach others. The message of the cross is used by God to reveal Himself to the lost. It is the Spirit that gives life, not the flesh (our intellect).
He ended his talk by asking us if we have given up on Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. He said, “I’m not talking about strategy. There are things that are non-negotiable. When people in a church aren’t loving one another, it is just sin!”
The 2013 Verge conference started off with a bang. After the Austin Stone Worship band led us in worship, David Platt quietly walked on the stage. Platt would set the tone for the entire two days. He reminded us of the urgency of Christ’s commands. The theme of his message was similar to the one he gave at the 2012 Verge conference. He warned us that there are a whole lot of people who believe they are Christians but don’t really understand the meaning of the word and haven’t counted the cost. Culturally they call themselves Christians, but “Biblically they are not.”
I took notes throughout the two days. I will release them in several blog posts. Below are my notes from David Platt’s sermon.
Platt started by pointing out that when you know Christ, everything changes in your life. Everything changes when you follow this King. He wants us to consider the question, what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ.
After studying Matthew he believes that we can get a very good portrait of Christ in the first four chapters of this gospel.
Savior, Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham, center of history, fully human, fully divine, sovereign over the wise, shepherd over the weak, inaugurating a new exodus, He will end our exile, loves His fiercest enemies (sinners like you and me), Savior King, righteous Judge, filled with God the Spirit, Jesus is loved by God the Father, new Adam (doesn’t fall to satan’s temptations), true Israel (faithful and obedient Son who passed the temptation), Light of the world, the Hope for all nations not just Israel.
He then asked and answered the question, what does it mean to follow Jesus?
1. Live with radical abandonment for His Glory.
He reminded us that when Jesus’ disciples chose to follow Jesus, they followed Him with nothing in their hands. In Jesus’ day it was common to follow a “teacher” to step up the ladder. But not this teacher. With this teacher they would lose it all. Christ made it clear. If they followed Him, they must deny themselves. When we decide to follow Christ, comfort and certainty in this world are no longer our concerns. Followers of Christ do not bow down at the alter of safety.
2. Live with joyful dependence on His grace.
Jesus did not call the disciples because they had a lot to offer. We are all sinners, rebels to the core, running from God. The stunning reality is that Jesus is running after us. Nothing in the Christian faith is born out of our merit.
3. Live with faithful adherence to His person. Christ said, follow Me. I’m the path, I’m the way.
4. Live with urgent obedience to His mission. He stated follow Me and I will make you fishers of men. This is not optional. Followers of Christ will make disciples. We’ve misunderstood what it means to be a follower of Christ. If we fully understood the meaning, we wouldn’t have to be cajoled to go make disciples. No one could hold us back. The cost of non-discipleship is greater. Many people who call themselves Christians are deceived sitting in churches.
David Platt speaks with such authority and humility, a rare combination. I am always challenged when I read or listen to his words.
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been fascinated with the political process. I remember watching both party’s political conventions from gavel to gavel even when I was in elementary school. This fascination grew into a passion. I majored in political science in college and then used this background to teach social studies in middle and high school classrooms.
Knowing this, you can probably imagine that I have been just a bit distracted with the current presidential election. I’ve struggled to find a balance with work, family, and my preoccuation with every single poll that comes out. Is my candidate up or down in the Gallup or Rasmussen poll? What about Ohio? Oh wait, now the race is tightening in Wisconsin and Michigan? I find myself running to Twitter, blogs, and online news sites to see who is up and who is down. This preoccupation has a way of seeping into my subconscious and affecting how I am feeling at the moment. My faith in God knows this is wrong. Scripture reminds me not to worry about anything. It admonishes me to recognize that God is in complete control and that the real solutions to our problems are spiritual, not political.
To try to bring some balance, I joined a 40-day prayer and fast for the election. I gave up Diet Cokes with lime from Sonic. If you knew how addicited I was to them you would see how significant this is! As I prayed for the election I found it hard to pray out-right that my candidate would win. Instead I began to cry out that God would unlesah His Holy Spirit so that we would have a revival in this country. I prayed that God would reveal the truth about both men to the American public. Reveal who they really are, not who their campaign wants us to see. I prayed that God would speak to His people and stir them to get involved in the political process. I also prayed that God would use the process to reveal His glory.
When I keep my mind on these prayers, I remain calm, but when I run to the computer to see what the Real Clear Politics poll average is, I become anxious. That is why Erick Erickson’s post 50,000 Feet Looking Down resonated with me. It’s a great reminder that we have to keep this election in perspective. In the post he states:
What I do know for sure is that I’m headed home to eternity and this world is temporary. So while I like politics and have my side and want it to win, I’m not going to be partying in the street if my side does win and I’m not going to think the end of the world is upon us if my side loses.
Whatever happens with the election doesn’t change the fact that we are here to advance God’s interests, not ours. God uses all circumstances to fulfill His promises and His plan. Erickson reminds us that:
God is sovereign. And whether you are for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, set your sights on God, not November 6th, and be happy. In four years, we really will do this all over again whether right now you think so or not. There is no permanence except in Heaven.
Whether you support President Obama or Governer Romney, I encourage you to read his post. Take a break from brewing over the lastest polls. Go see a movie, read a good book. But…make sure you vote!
Why do we fall into a pattern of committing the same sin over and over? It may be gossiping, sexual sin, pride, coveting, some type of addicition, or a number of other sins. After we realize we’ve fallen into the same trap we cry out to God and ask for forgiveness but next time the same temptation presents itself, we find ourselves repeating the sin. Once we realize what we’ve done we turn to self-loathing because we just can’t seem to rise above this sin. Why? What’s wrong?
We get a glimpse why from Abraham’s story in Genesis 12 and 20. We find in Genesis 12: 10-20, that when Abraham and Sarah traveled to Egypt to escape a famine, Abraham is worried that he will be killed because Pharaoh will find Sarah, his wife, to be so beautiful that he will want her for himself and possibly harm Abraham. To head this off, he tells her to tell Pharaoh that she is his sister and not her husband.
Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” (Genesis 12:13)
How low can a man get? How selfish! ‘Let’s pretend that we aren’t married (Genesis 20:12 tells us that he was actually her half-brother) so that it will go well for me’. What about Sarah? Is this God’s plan? Hadn’t God just told Abraham that God would make a great nation from Abraham’s descendants? Wasn’t he just told by God that He would bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who would curse Abraham?
God is faithful to His plan even if Abraham wasn’t. God struck Pharaoh’s house with great plagues, which led Pharaoh to confront Abraham, and eventually let both of them leave Egypt unharmed.
Twenty-five years later we find Abraham falling into this same trap. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, Abraham and Sarah travel to Gerar. Again, Abraham is afraid that the king of Gerar, Abimelech, will kill Abraham so that he can have Sarah as his wife. This leads Abraham to use the same lie he used in Egypt twenty-five years earlier. This time, God came to Abimelech in a dream and warned him not to sleep with Sarah or he would die. When Abimelech wakes up he immediately tells his servants what God told him and then confronts Abraham.
…What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” Genesis 20:9
Abraham uses the same rationale he gave in Genesis 12. He told Abimelech that he thought ‘there was no fear of God in this place and they will kill me because of my wife’. He goes on to reveal that this premeditated sin was actually concocted over twenty-five ago when they left his father’s home.
…And it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, “he is my brother.” (Genesis 20: 13)
Abraham was afraid that Abimelech had no fear of God. How ironic. In his actions, it is Abraham that demonstrates that he has no fear of God. Fear of man, yes. Fear of God, no!
In Matthew Henry’s commentary on this portion of scripture he declares that “fear of man and faith in God cannot dwell together in the same heart.”
The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” Proverbs 29:25
Abraham failed to judge his sin and forsake it in Genesis 12. Because of this, he falls into the same trap later in his life.
It’s easy for us to look at Abraham and judge him for his pattern of sin; however, we do this too. We sin, we are deeply sorry, we ask for forgiveness but do we examine, judge, and then forsake it? The Hebrew word for forsake means to abandon, leave, stop, and let it go.
If we find ourselves committing the same sin over and over, it’s time to stop and really examine why. What’s the root cause? Is it my lack of fear of God? Is it my lack of faith in His promises? Is it my selfish ambition? Is it my pride? We must ask God to examine our heart and show us what’s causing us to stumble time and time again. Once we feel satisfied that God has revealed the cause it’s time to repent and then turn. Leave, abandon, and let it go! Until we do this, the pattern will continue.
The most beautiful truth is that once we repent and abandon the sin, God provides mercy. Oh that is such good news!
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” Proverbs 28:13)
Go and sin no more!