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Our Receptiveness is Necessary for Spiritual Formation

December 12, 2019

I have been on a quest to better understand spiritual formation in the context of a local church. I am currently reading two books on this subject. Pastor Paul by Scott McKnight approaches the subject by looking at how Paul pastored his churches in order to nurture a culture of Christoformity within the church. The other book is Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered by James C. Wilhoit. So far, my approach is to read a chapter in each book alternatively, which is surprisingly an enjoyable way to tackle this subject. 

 

jeremy-yap-eCEj-BR91xQ-unsplashFor the last several days I’ve been reading Wilhoit’s book. He has identified four dimensions of spiritual formation within a community of believers. The first dimension is receiving. He describes receiving as “cultivating spiritual openness and continual repentance.” This is usually accomplished through confession, worship, sacraments, and prayer (Wilhoit 50). Being receptive to the Holy Spirit is vitally important if one wants to grow spiritually. Wilhoit compares it to going to the doctor. First, we have to be honest with the doctor about our physical condition and our habits that influence our health. Once the doctor diagnoses the problem and provides a treatment plan, we must be receptive to his advice. If we aren’t, we will continue to be sick. This is true for our spiritual health as well. However, we often aren’t aware we are spiritually sick. Unless we recognize that we have a deep spiritual need that goes beyond a “trying harder” cure, we aren’t ready for spiritual transformation (Wilhoit 58). Wilhoit explains, “Without a receptive spirit, born through brokenness, there is no interest in formation” (63).  

Brokenness Reveals Our Idols

Wilhoit argues that humans know they are broken, but don’t always recognize why or know how to respond to their brokenness. Too often individuals turn to things they believe will mitigate the pain as they seek to fill the void with things that don’t satisfy. Wilhoit quotes Victor Mihailoff to illustrate this point: 

 

“Whenever we wanted comfort, confidence, consolation, or celebration, we turned to a substitute for God. Substitutes for God are actually idols” (qtd. Mihahiloff, 72).

Wilhoit believes the most basic question of spiritual formation is, “What am I doing about my idols”(73)? However, before we can answer that question we have to identify our idols. They aren’t made of clay or metal and in fact are hard to identify because they have become so much a part of our identity. Our idols blind us to the fact that in addition to Christ, we believe they are necessary for our happiness and well-being. 

What am I doing about my idols?

The other morning I had a project I needed to tackle at work that required a lot of mental capacity. I tend to procrastinate these types of tasks until the deadline is approaching. I immediately began to feel anxious and my instinct was to get up from my desk and go to the staff kitchen to get a snack. I wasn’t hungry, but food is often how I deal with my anxiety. This time, I stopped and prayed at my desk. I confessed that instead of turning to God and asking for his guidance I usually turned to food. Using Mihahiloff’s definition, food is an idol for me. I asked God to quiet my spirit and give me a sense of peace. I then asked him to help me focus on the project so that I could complete it. I immediately felt calm and was able to tackle my work. 

 

My receptiveness to the leadings of the Spirit helped me recognize how I used food inappropriately and allowed me to experience a much more effective method of dealing with my stress. I had to be honest about my sickness so that the Spirit could provide a treatment. When we spend time with him in prayer and reading his Word we are cultivating an openness to his grace which has a regenerating and strengthening power. I have learned that it is the Spirit that transforms me, but he needs my participation. My holiness is fueled by a receptive heart that is yielded to the Spirit’s leading.


Wilhoit, James C. Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered – Growing in Christ Through Community. Baker Academic, 2008.

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Wholly Yours – Explaining Entire Sanctification

October 1, 2019

In Leviticus 19:2 God states that the Israelites should “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy (NASB).” This is the very essence of what the Church the Nazarene’s Article of Faith on entire sanctification communicates (Manual 10).

 

One of my favorite David Crowder songs is Wholly Yours. I never grow tired of listening to it. As I think about entire sanctification, I am struck by how this song’s lyrics capture the glorious truth found in this doctrine.

 

The song begins by describing the nature of man without Christ;

 

“I am full of earth….I am stained with dirt, prone to depravity.”

 

Holiness and uncleanness are mutually exclusive. However, being clean does not necessarily make someone holy, but being unclean tarnishes that which is holy. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for holy, as used in Leviticus 19:2, means to be hallowed, holy, sanctified, to consecrate, prepare, or to dedicate. It denotes the sphere of the sacred and is distinct from the common or profane (786).

 

Due to our fallen nature, without Christ, we are tarnished and unclean. We are blemished by our bent to live independent lives apart from God. This is what Nazarenes call original sin (Manual 5). But at the same time, deep down, we know that we are missing the mark. We sense a great chasm between us and God. His prevenient grace is at work in our lives (Manual 7). In contrast to our depravity, Crowder sings that God is:

 

“Everything that is bright and clean, The antonym of me, You are divinity.”

 

God is not just clean, he is holy and the only source of holiness. No man can make themselves holy, even by cleaning themselves up on the outside. Crowder illustrates this in the second verse;

 

“But the harder I try, the more clearly can I feel the depth of our fall and the weight of it all.”

 

This is even after he sings,

 

“And You’re covering me with Your majesty, and the truest sign of grace was this,

From wounded hands redemption fell, liberating man.”

 

After salvation from our sins, God begins the process of initial sanctification. Something holy reflects the moral perfection of God. It is a life that reflects love, purity, and righteousness. Sanctification is the work of God and not mankind. Holiness is something that happens internally and then becomes evident externally (Manual 9.1). I love the way David Crowder describes the process in this line of the song:

 

“And so this might could be the most impossible thing, Your grandness in me making me clean.”

 

My greatest temptation is to try to clean myself up so that God will be proud of me. I struggled with some of the same habits and sins for many years and felt powerless to change. It was through studying God’s Word that I realized the Holy Spirit does the changing. My job is to be obedient and to pray that my attitudes and actions would reflect His. Once my prayer life began to match those desires, the internal changes began to happen. The grandness of God began making me holy.

 

However, we do have a part to play in the process. For many weeks, I would listen to this song and kept wondering why Crowder titled the song, “Wholly Yours,” when he kept singing about God being holy. It wasn’t until I read the lyrics that I realized he turned to the word wholly, in the final chorus.

 

“So here I am, all of me

Finally everything

Wholly, wholly, wholly…

I am wholly, wholly, wholly Yours”

 

With the help of the Holy Spirit, we come to the point where we give everything to him. The crises moment in time that we Nazarenes call entire sanctification is when we declare to God that we are Wholly Yours (Manual 10). As the Holy Spirit reveals habits, thoughts, and interactions with others that cause us to be in proximity of the ‘unclean,’ we surrender these in order to guard ourselves from what is common or profane (Manual 10.1). This allows the last line of the song to be true:

 

“I am full of earth and dirt and You.”

 

As long as we are still on this Earth, we will be ridding our lives of earth and dirt, but the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives makes all the difference as we become set apart and Wholly His (1 Thess 5:23-24).

 

Church of the Nazarene Manual 2017-2021. Nazarene Publishing House, 2017

David Crowder Band, “Wholly Yours.” AZ Lyrics, accessed March 21, 2019, https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/davidcrowderband/whollyyours.html

Harris, R. Laird, et. al. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Moody Publishers, 1980.

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. Print.

Looking for God When Life is Messy

July 19, 2014
“For if Yahweh’s help were given only when we prayed for it, only when we asked for it, only when we had sense enough to seek it, what paupers and orphans we would be.” – Dale Ralph Davis

In my study of Judges this summer, I got stuck in the story of Samson. The story I remember from vacation Bible school is quite different than the Biblical account in Judges 13-16. The story I recollect is about an Israelite man who has an unusual amount of God-given strength that was to be used to deliver God’s people from the Philistines. Samson fell for a Philistine woman named Delilah who schemed to find out the secret of his immense strength so that she could sell this information to her people. He eventually tells her that his strength is from his long hair. While he sleeps, she cuts off his hair and his power is gone. In my memory, the hero and the victim are Samson and Delilah is the traitor.

While components of the story I learned as a child are true, it’s much more complicated and messier than I remember. In order to accurately interpret this portion of scripture, I had to slow down and spend time looking up the meaning of various Hebrew words, consult several commentaries, and outline the chapters in order to find patterns that would help me understand what lessons are being taught. The story of Samson is told in four chapters of the Bible. That’s a lot of space to be devoted to one man’s story which indicates that it’s a story worth studying.

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After Joshua led the twelve tribes of Israel into the promise land, they vowed to remember how God had delivered them from their enemies and how He provided what they needed while they wandered in the wilderness. They promised they would be completely devoted to Him and would not worship any other gods. However, a destructive pattern began to emerge. The tribes of Israel would begin to marry individuals who were not from Israel and did not worship the God of Isaac, Jacob, and Abraham. Instead, they worshiped Baal and other false gods. This led the people of Israel to break their covenant with God by worshiping these other gods. Over time, God would bring discipline to them by allowing other nations to conquer and oppress them. After a time, the Israelites would cry out to God asking Him to deliver them. He would hear their cry and would raise up a judge who would organize a rebellion against their oppressors, which would lead them back into a period of time of peace and prosperity. When the judge died, however, the people would turn back and follow other gods and the pattern would repeat.

We see the same pattern emerging in Samson’s story.

Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.” Judges 13:1 (NASB)

The difference in the story of Samson is that the Israelites did not cry out for God to rescue them. They had become accustomed to living under the oppression of the Philistines. They had accepted their position as serving their oppressors and in fact, were contented in their situation. They were even surprised that anyone would want to change the status quo. (Judges 15:11)

This brings me to the first lesson I’ve learned in studying the story Samson. When studying scripture we need to first ask ourselves what is God doing in the story.

  • How is He moving?
  • Who is He working through?
  • What actions is He taking in order to equip someone to be able to accomplish His plan?
  • Why is His intervention necessary?
  • Where has He chosen to take this action and why there?
  • What events has preceded His intervention?
  • How do these events fit into the greater story of redemption?

Too often we first focus on the actions of the characters in a biblical story. We see their triumphs, their courage, their mistakes, and their failures. We try to determine if their actions line up with our understanding of God’s desires or will. I believe that we are also trying to measure our lives against theirs.

We certainly can learn from the characters in the Bible, but before we get too deep into asking why Samson would do things so contrary to God’s plan for his life, we need to look to see what God is doing in the story. The Israelites were living in bondage and oppression and had become accustomed to it. Although they weren’t asking God to rescue thembecause of the long-suffering nature of God, in His grace, He decided to intervene on their behalf anyway.

According to Daniel Block,  “God would seek and create an occasion to disturb the relationship between oppressor and oppressed.”*

Dale Ralph Davis beautifully describes the situation:

Once you see this Israel you marvel at this Israel’s God. What does He do when He has a people who refuse to forsake Baal and have no desire to forsake Philistia? A people grown so used to bondage they don’t even have a sense to call out for relief? At least here the very God who judges them (v. 1b) begins to work their deliverance — anyway (vv 2-5). That is grace – grace greater than all our sin, than all our stupidity, than all our density…. For if Yahweh’s help were given only when we prayed for it, only when we asked for it, only when we had sense enough to seek it, what paupers and orphans we would be.”**

How moved we are when we ask for God’s grace and it’s provided. But time after time God is providing His grace when we didn’t ask for nor realize it had been given.

Like Samson and his fellow countrymen:

  • I’ve lusted after something I didn’t have
  • I’ve used my power to seek revenge
  • I’ve intervened in a situation without first asking what would God have me do
  • I’ve demanded my own way
  • I’ve worshiped something other than Yahweh
  • I‘ve selfishly sought what was in my best interest at the expense of others
  • I’ve thought I was smart enough, or clever enough to solve a problem that was way over my head

The good news is that even when I was in the midst of selfishly pursuing my own way, God’s grace was freely given. Regardless of whether I asked for it or deserved it. This doesn’t mean that He didn’t bring discipline into my life to bring me back into obedience to Him, but I certainly didn’t get what I deserved. Discipline, yes, but utter destruction, no.

The secret to studying any story in the Bible, especially the messy ones, is to focus on God’s actions and His purposes. That’s where you’ll find the gems that are worth treasuring.


*Block, Daniel, The American Commentary - Judges and Ruth, Vol. 6., Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999, Print  (Page 392)
**Davis, Dale Ralph, Judges; Such a Great Salvation, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2000. Print (Page 158)

 

When God Plans the Wedding

July 10, 2014
It's about to begin!

It’s about to begin!

Those that know me, know I don’t like details. Let me dream up the big picture or help imagine what’s possible, but I’m much more comfortable letting someone else deal with the details to make it happen. This reality is what made the announcement of the upcoming marriage of my daughter give me great joy and strike dread at the same moment. I was so excited that Stephanie was marrying such a godly man who adored her and she him. They had dated for over three years so we all knew that their relationship was leading to this moment. I couldn’t be happier for them, but at the same time, I saw this very public event, that demanded skills I don’t possess. I didn’t even know where to begin.

When I got married, things were pretty simple. You selected a dress, ordered the flowers and a cake, and selected a photographer. The location was not in question. You got married in your church and your local pastor performed the ceremony. You didn’t have to worry about decorations because the florist provided them. The reception was usually held at the church and was pretty simple. The biggest decision you might have to make was whether or not to have a grooms cake along with the wedding cake. I may have simplified this a bit because my penchant to avoid details probably goes back to my birth, so I don’t remember doing very much of the planning of my wedding. Luckily my mother was born with a piece of paper in one hand and a pen in the other, ready to make a list. She plans everything, even a trip to the nearest grocery store to avoid as many stop lights as she can.

Stephanie at the door

It’s time.

Weddings in 2014 are a tad more complicated than they were in 1979. Today very few couples get married in churches. Simple wedding receptions are rare. Themed decorations, favors, bands or DJs, dancing, a full dinner, participatory entertainment, and a dress the bride said “yes” to are in the dreams of modern-day brides. This not only increases the cost of the wedding but also the planning. Both of these increased my anxiety as soon as the excitement of the engagement announcement wore off.

The first thing we did was establish a budget we thought was reasonable. Stephanie made it clear that she would do much of the planning. My mother’s ability to make lists passed over my generation and landed in hers. Stephanie is a natural born planner, just like her sister. She makes lists, and then makes more lists to accomplish the items on the first list. But we soon discovered that she made sure there was enough money in the budget for the things she felt were important but left out some of the things that I thought were important. This ended up adding to the cost of the wedding and also to the planning. Although Stephanie gets MOST of the credit for the planning of her wedding, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to avoid wedding planning like I did in 1979. I was going to have to face my dread of making lists if this was going to be the wedding of Stephanie’s dreams.

While the wedding plans were being formalized I was studying the Bible story of Gideon. This is a story of a very unlikely hero who quickly learned that because of his and Israel’s weaknesses, he was going to have to rely on God’s strength in order to win the battle that was looming ahead. I was also working on being more intentional about my prayer life. I had recently read Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker and was now going through his devotional book on prayer. Batterson encourages the journaling of your prayer requests, so in January I began to write down my prayer requests in a notebook.

 

Holding back tears.

Holding back tears.

As the wedding came closer, I began to recognize that God had a stake in this wedding and there is absolutely no one that is a better planner than the Creator of the universe. My weakness in planning gave me a chance to rely on His strength by committing my anxiety of the wedding details to prayer.

At first my prayer requests were very practical. On March 12th I prayed for the decorations and the cake. On the 13th, I added the invitations and the flowers to the prayer list. By the 16th I had put the color of the flowers and the root beer floats on the list. By the 18th the decision about what type of utensils, plastic or stainless, were added. Eventually the hotel selection, where to purchase the ice cream, how to get the tea to the reception, and the exact quantities of the ingredients for a salad for 200 made it

The tea has arrived!

The tea has arrived!

on the list. As I prayed for each task, God began answering them by putting us in contact with friends or experts that inspired solutions to the prayers. As the prayer requests were answered I would either put a PTL (praise The Lord), a check mark, or circle the request to indicate that God had answered the prayer. Each request might be repeated several days until they were answered.

As I continued to add tasks to my prayer list, God began to speak to me about the ceremony. As the expense began to creep up I began to feel guilty. Should we spend this much money for one event? Was I falling into peer pressure? We were doing everything we could to curtail the cost of the wedding. In fact, compared to many weddings, ours was moderately priced. Stephanie and Eric were very frugal in many of their selections. We were also catering it with the help of our friends and family which greatly reduced the cost, but I still worried about the expense. As I prayed about it, I felt God reminding me that He very much cared about weddings. It was at a wedding that Jesus performed His first public miracle. A wedding is how Jesus illustrated His relationship with the church. Weddings are an important public event for Christians. It is an opportunity for those who don’t have a personal relationship with Christ to be in the presence of God and to be exposed to the gospel.

This realization took my prayer requests in a different direction. On March 22nd I began praying that Christ would be the center of the ceremony. I kept praying for the details but the purpose had changed. I began to see that if all the details were taken care of nothing would distract from the sacredness of the event.

This was my prayer request on May 21st:

“Supernatural presence of God at the wedding. Please use Ernest as he performs the ceremony. Please use this event for Your Glory and accomplish Your work in Stephanie and Eric’s lives and those in attendance.”

Yum!

Yum!

As the day approached, the planning began to be implemented. God had worked in ways that were completely beyond my control. My family and friends from both Bryan and the Austin area helped us accomplish all the many details that needed to be done. On the day of the wedding, Peggy and Alexis went to Bush’s Chicken to get the tea, Scott got the ice cream, and Jason set up the root beer freezer which held his home-made root beer. Arlen and Lail went to Costco to get ingredients for the meal. Scott, Matt, Kent, David G, Jason, Dick, and David B. helped set-up the tables. Preston and Amanda put the salad together. Stephane, Debbie, Janis, Mallory, Donna and Sylvia helped Kristin place her beautiful decorations on the tables and around the room. Janis helped coordinate all the events for the dress rehearsal and the day of the wedding. James and Debbie smoked the chicken. Ed and Donnella helped the line move smoothly. Kristy, Meaghan, and Chris created a super fun photo-booth experience and Dana made some of the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten. Jessie and Keely ensured that the guests never ran out of food or drinks. Cassie and John created a beautiful floral and chandelier display for the arch at the ceremony site and Tiffany and Drew’s beautiful music brought us all the presence of God.

There was one prayer request that was prayed with increasing intensity as the wedding day drew near. The ceremony was outside.

Blessing given.

Blessing given.

The wedding was on June 22nd, at 5:00 pm in Texas. 5:00 pm in late June in Texas is hot! I knew that if people were going to be able to focus on the ceremony and whatever God wanted to do, the temperature had to be such that they were comfortable. I’ve been to outdoor weddings where the sun was beating down and pretty much all I remember is how hot I was, so I began to pray for a cool front. The day before the wedding my iPhone app indicated the temperature would be at least 93. 93 is certainly better than 99 but it still would be very hot if the sun was shining. We provided bottled water for the guests and the wedding program was made into a fan so that we could mitigate the hot weather. However, not many people took the water and I saw very few fans moving. There was no need. We didn’t have a cool front, but all day it was cloudy which kept the temperature in the 80s. At 5:00 pm, it was 87 with a slight breeze. It was perfect. While I was inside waiting for the wedding to start, one of my friends texted me this message prior to the start of the wedding: “It could not be a better day!” As soon as the wedding was over, the clouds parted and the sun came out.

Ernest praying

The weather was not a distraction. All attention was on Eric, Stephanie, and the presence of God. Ernest Smith was the pastor chosen by Eric to officiate the wedding. I didn’t know Ernest, but I began praying for him about three months before the wedding. I was so tempted to call him to let him know what I hoped God would do at the wedding, but God checked me. All I needed to do was pray and He would move through Ernest. The moment I met him and his precious wife Sara I knew why Eric chose him. His love for the Father was so evident in not only his language, but the way he interacted with those in attendance. Ernest reminded us that Jesus used a wedding as the symbolism to explain the gospel. The church is the bride and Christ is the bridegroom. We are that precious to Him. This is what God had reminded me back in March. This is the message that I hoped would be heard at the wedding. I prayed that people would feel the supernatural presence of God. Yes, I wanted the focus to be on Eric and Stephanie and it was, but the ceremony also glorified God. It is more than I hoped for. Every single detail was taken care of. He provided everything that was needed, including His presence.

Just for fun, I went back through my prayer journal to review the progression of my prayer list. I guess I do like lists after all! The difference is realizing that I don’t have to accomplish all the tasks on my own strength or ingenuity.

Wedding Prayer List

March 12th – Wedding planning – decorations and cake

March 13th – Invitations and flowers. Stephanie and Eric to find an apartment

March 14th – Cupcakes/cake, invitations, and flowers

March 15th – Finish invitations, and flowers

March 16th – Flowers, colors, root beer floats

March 18th –Flowers, root beer floats, utensils, invitations. Eric – leadership in relationship, 1st steps in his ministry

March 19th – Invitation, flowers. Eric and Stephanie – build a bond that no man can put asunder

March 20th – Flowers, root beer floats, hotel

March 22 – Flowers, hotel, invitations to be sent out. You are the center of the wedding

March 23rd – You are the center of the wedding, hotel, invitations, flowers

March 26th – You are the center of the wedding. Flowers, hotels, invitations

March 28th – Help Stephanie with the anxiety of all the wedding preparations. Ericfinish well (college), spiritual leader, draw him to You

April 2 – flowers for wedding decision made (thank you)

April 6th – send invitations out

April 7th – hotel

April 16th – Give Eric wisdom as he plans for Stephanie’s and his future.

April 26th – finances, stamina to accomplish everything, and that it is Christ centered

April 26th – finances, stamina to accomplish everything, and that it is Christ centered

May 4 – Finances and  details (drinks, plates, etc.)

May 5– Help Stephanie and Eric find an apartment in their budget in a safe neighborhood

May 7th – Help Stephanie and Eric finish the year strong. Help Eric as he prepares his sermon (for a class). Help them find a place to live.

May 9th – Stephanie and Eric – prep for wedding and beyond

May 21st – Finalize wedding tasks to be accomplished

Supernatural presence of God at the wedding. Please use Ernest as he performs the ceremony. Please use this event for Your Glory and accomplish Your work in Stephanie and Eric’s lives and those in attendance.

May 25th – Outline details so we can accomplish them.

Eric and Stephanie – bless their marriage and may their ceremony lead others to You.

May 31st – Please be with us as we make plans with Janis.

June 2 – Stephanie – wedding preparation, Get ice cream, ice, tea, flowers to event in good shape. Those in attendance would feel your presence – leading to salvations.

June 3 – Help Stephanie feel in control of the wedding prep.

June 5 – programs

June 6 – Programs

June 9 – Stephanie and Eric – have a wonderful honeymoon. They would leave their parents and cleave to each other, they would put you at the center of their relationship The wedding surpasses their expectations.

Your presence is felt by all in attendance. Nothing distract from the sacredness of the event. 5 people would come to know and surrender to you because of your presence at the event.

We have the finances to pay for the wedding.

June 16th  – All the details be taken care of so the focus will be on You and Stephanie and Eric.

Your Presence will be felt in a supernatural way. At least 5 people will be stirred which will eventually lead to new life in you. I‘m believing in expectation. Please let me know who they are are in due time.

We will experience pure joy that only comes from You.

Safety for travels. Health for all members of the wedding party. The heat not be so stiflingnoI pray for a cool front. Ernest as he conducts the service. Janis as she manages the event. James and Debbie as they manage the meal. Dick and I that we make everyone feel welcome and loved

June 19th – Help me figure out the quantities needed for the salad.

The Tulgas and Nickles get here safely.

 

And now we party!

And now we party!

Weary Yet Pursuing

March 22, 2014

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 Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 10.39.23 AMand 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.

Needing a Daily Reminder

March 16, 2014

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.

A Tale of Two Lost Sons

August 6, 2013

Alistair Begg

 

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.