I Am Sending You (Judges 6:11-24)

The Messenger of the Lord came and sat under the oak tree in Ophrah that belonged to Joash from Abiezer’s family. Joash’s son Gideon was beating out wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. The Messenger of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said, “The Lord is with you, brave man.”

Gideon responded, “Excuse me, sir! But if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all the miracles our ancestors have told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and has handed us over to Midian.”

The Lord turned to him and said, “You will rescue Israel from Midian with the strength you have. I am sending you.”

Gideon said to him, “Excuse me, sir! How can I rescue Israel? Look at my whole family. It’s the weakest one in Manasseh. And me? I’m the least important member of my family.”

The Lord replied, “I will be with you. You will defeat Midian as if it were only one man.”

Gideon said to him, “If you find me acceptable, give me a sign that it is really you speaking to me. Don’t leave until I come back. I want to bring my gift and set it in front of you.”

“I will stay until you come back,” he said.

Then Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread made with 18 quarts of flour. He put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot. Then he went out and presented them to the Messenger of the Lord under the oak tree.

The Messenger of the Lord told him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” Gideon did so. Then the Messenger of the Lord touched the meat and the bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared up from the rock and burned the meat and the bread. Then the Messenger of the Lord disappeared. That’s when Gideon realized that this had been the Messenger of the Lord. So he said, “Lord God! I have seen the Messenger of the Lord face to face.”

The Lord said to him, “Calm down! Don’t be afraid. You will not die.” So Gideon built an altar there to the Lord. He called it The Lord Calms. To this day it is still in Ophrah, which belongs to Abiezer’s family. (God’s Word Translation)

Today’s story is familiar in more ways than one. It’s a typical interaction between the Lord and the individual. And it’s also the typical way people respond to God, even now in our contemporary world.

Notice how the interaction between the Lord and Gideon unfolds:

The message: The Lord is with you. You are brave.

The pushback: It doesn’t look like the Lord is with our people (and a purposeful ignoring of the bravery thing).

The message: The Lord is sending you (and a purposeful ignoring of the pushback).

The pushback: I’m too weak for that.

The message: The Lord is with you. You got this.

The pushback: It can’t be me. Give me sign.

The message: I will stay. I am with you.

The pushback: I am not acceptable. Here’s an offering.

The message: Chill, dude. You’re wound way too tight. I am with you. You got this.

The acceptance of the message: Here’s an altar to remind me that God is here, and God calms my fear.

Sound familiar? How many times have you had a similar sort of interaction with the Lord?

The message: “Don’t be afraid. The Lord is with you. You have everything you need.” (assurance and reassurance)

The pushback: “Huh!? If I had everything I need, why are my circumstances so hard? Every time I turn around, there’s another adversity staring me in the face!” (ignoring the presence of God)

The message: “Go and make disciples. Love God. Love your neighbor.” (ignoring the bunny trail)

The pushback: “I’m the least gifted person in the world to be doing that sort of ministry.” (goes off point)

The message: “I am with you always until the end of time.” (stays on point)

The pushback: “It can’t be me. Give me a sign.” (i.e. I can’t accept myself, so there’s no way that you do!)

The message: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” (a demonstration of the presence)

The pushback: “I’m not the acceptable person for this… Here, I’ll put something in the offering plate.” (having a hard time wrapping head and heart around God’s grace)

The message: “You are anxious and upset about a great many things. I am with you. You got this.” (still remains on point)

The acceptance of the message: “Here I am, Lord, a living sacrifice.” (now on the same page with the Lord)

Christian ministry is not the absence of doubt or fear; it is doing what the Lord calls us to do, despite the surrounding circumstances.

We are never promised anywhere in Holy Scripture that life will be a bowl of cherries, that somehow circumstances will always be smooth. Instead, we are continually reminded of the promise that God is with us.

It’s the presence of the Lord that makes all the difference. Our abilities, or lack thereof, have nothing to do with the equation. We are already in the image and likeness of God, created with the inner resources to do the will of God.

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have everything I need. (Psalm 23:1, GNT)

We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power. (2 Peter 1:3, CEV)

You already have God’s acceptance; you don’t need to earn it.

“I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis. Those who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to.” (Acts 10:34-35, GNT)

When God promised Abraham and his descendants that the world would belong to him, he did so, not because Abraham obeyed the Law, but because he believed and was accepted as righteous by God. (Romans 4:13, GNT)

Honor God by accepting each other, as Christ has accepted you. (Romans 15:7, CEV)

There’s a lot we don’t know. Yet, what we do know is that God is with us and God has accepted us. And that’s all we need to hang our hat on.

Psalm 11 – Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Faith?

I have taken refuge in the Lord.
How can you say to me:
“Flee to your mountain like a bird?
Wicked people bend their bows.
They set their arrows against the strings
to shoot in the dark at people whose motives are decent.
When the foundations of life
are undermined,
what can a righteous person do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple.
The Lord’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes see.
They examine Adam’s descendants.
The Lord tests righteous people,
but he hates wicked people and the ones who love violence.
He rains down fire and burning sulfur upon wicked people.
He makes them drink from a cup filled with scorching wind.
The Lord is righteous.
He loves a righteous way of life.
Decent people will see his face. (God’s Word Translation)

We all know what it feels like to take the brunt of someone’s poison verbal darts. And it’s scary. What do you do? In a state of fear, shock, or panic, we will likely either fight, flight, freeze, or faith.

If you have ever received a nasty email based on half-truths and accusations; stood dumbfounded as someone hurled misinformation and criticism at you; and/or experienced the victimization that comes from slanderous and gossiping tongues, then the psalmist knows exactly how you feel. 

Cobbling together a hasty email response, full of anger and vitriol, only sucks us into the person’s evil ways. Metaphorically punching someone in the face for their slap to your face is how the demonic realm handles offenses. Fighting back with an equal or greater force is diametrically opposed to the way of Jesus in loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.

Then, there is the response of taking flight from the nastiness. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if good people are always getting swallowed whole by unjust words and behaviors directed squarely at them. And it doesn’t help when the downers among us stroll along and give us their unhelpful fatalism about how there is nothing we can do and how nothing will ever change.

For others, they are just plain dumbfounded that another person can be so mean or controlling, so they freeze, unable to speak or do anything. They end up suffering in silence, without their victimization having a voice.

To be the target of evil speech or malevolent actions is, at the least, unsettling, and, at worst, can bring years of struggle, depression, and inability to serve. Yet, there is someone who sees it all, and that someone will address the wrong. We have an option beyond fighting back in anger or fleeing altogether in fear. We can trust God.

The Lord sits aloft, overseeing all, and knows everything humanity does and says. God always does right and wants justice done. Everyone who shares a divine sense of what is right and just will see God’s face. God will act because the Lord abhors and despises those who are cruel and enjoy violence.

It’s not a good idea to get on God’s bad side. The way to flare God’s anger is by possessing an acerbic tongue; relishing in verbal violence; and, having no remorse about any of it. Because God loves people, God hates evil. The righteous are to take solace in the truth that God really does see the harm done and is in a position to do something about it. Like the psalmist, we seek the Lord. The Lord fights our battles.

Whenever we are harassed and the ungodly give us a hard time, the psalmist isn’t offering some nice religious platitudes such as, “Just let go and let God,” “Everything works for the good of those who love God,” or “It’s okay, you’ll be in heaven someday.”

In another context, maybe those statements are helpful. But being in the teeth of the wicked, all is not okay. As much as some folks try to sanitize an evil situation with rainbows and butterflies, the evil is real, and it’s there. The truth is that everything is not okay. The earth is filled with violence, malevolence, oppression, injustice, and systemic evil. The psalmist knows this, all too well.

Humble yourselves under God’s power so that he may raise you up in the last day. Throw all your anxiety onto him because he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:6-7, CEB)

Today’s psalm is reminding and reassuring us that the Lord is aware of what’s going on and will most certainly do something about it. God will act to punish the wicked and deliver the Lord’s people. There may not be peace this present moment, yet it will not always be this way. We shall behold the face of the Lord.

The Lord is a righteous judge. Justice is the foundation of God’s throne. God sees the entire spectrum of humanity and can make a right assessment of people’s thoughts, intents, words, and actions. We, however, cannot. Therefore, it is most necessary for us to put our trust in a Divine Being who cares about right and wrong and has the power to act with justice.

Whenever we are hemmed-in through the schemes of diabolical persons and are powerless, there is always the choice to trust in the Lord. The outcome of every life on earth rests in the hands of God. And it will be a just and right rendering.

Trust in the Lord and do good. Seek peace and pursue it. We might struggle mightily on both the inside and outside – our hard circumstance might not change immediately – yet God is the One who will vindicate the just person when the time is right.

You are not alone. The Lord is with you always.

God of justice, look at the state of your servant and act on my behalf. Do not let evil prevail. Thwart the ungodly so that they can no longer do any harm. Amen.

Psalm 124 – Help Is Here

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
    when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away;
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
    who has not given us
    as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
    from the snare of the hunters;
the snare is broken,
    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

As a church pastor, many Sundays I begin the worship service with the ancient confession of faith that “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” It is a call to worship the God who is above all and sees all – and can do something about the adversity and trouble we face in the world. 

With each new day, our attention needs guidance toward the positive acknowledgment that the eternal and ever-present God is ready and vigilant to skillfully and lovingly direct us through our waking hours. 

There is no biblical reference anywhere in Holy Scripture that God helps those who help themselves. The Lord is indiscriminate in providing aid for all without prejudice. All we need do is ask for it. Whereas we can certainly make positive choices and advocate for ourselves with effective help, our supreme and ultimate help is in the Lord. 

Our fears about the future, our insecurities of what will happen, and our anxieties about all the upcoming stuff we must face can be transformed with the biblical perspective of acknowledging our great need for divine intervention. 

The Lord is our most prescient support. The virtual meeting you have been dreading; that conversation you have been avoiding; a deadline that has been looming over your head; the ongoing health issues which seem to never end; these, and all situations, can only find their proper perspective in light of the God who helps.

I am a believer in making daily affirmations of faith in God. Early in the morning, I deliberately affirm and profess my firm beliefs in the Lord, even if I don’t feel like it, each and every day so that some solid robust theology is at the forefront of my mind, and the attributes of God sink firmly into my heart. 

I rely on such rituals because faith does not simply come through checking-off a list of orthodox beliefs, then moving on as if those beliefs have no connection to daily life. Rather, faith arises as a response to the recognition that God is good – all the time – and that the Lord helps those who intentionally and constantly seek divine help and enablement.

There are a lot of things we do not know: What will happen tomorrow? How will that situation shake out in the end? Will this relationship flower or wither?… a million questions can weigh down our hearts with anxiety. Yet, there is a sure and certain truth we can count on right now and for every minute into the future: God is with us.

God’s ever-present help remains the constant ballast in a sea of changing circumstances.

“If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?… I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Romans 8:31, 38-39, CEV

Not even the graveyard can limit God. With the Lord, death is defeated. Resurrection is a reality. The enemy is flat on his face. Evil’s power is weakened. We are only in danger if we let ourselves go near our old toothless foe. And even then, we have the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and the shoes of peace.

The dangers of water and fire, traps and snares, enemy armies and spiritual foes are all undone by an almighty God. The maker of heaven and earth personally advocates for and helps us. Indeed, the Lord is on our side.

Creator God, you are the ever-present One who provides everything I need for life and godliness. I need your help today and everyday so that I can confidently do your will.  I stand with full assurance of faith because I serve the Lord Jesus, who is benevolent and always does what is right and just. Amen.

Romans 5:1-5 – Maybe There Can Be Peace…

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (New International Version)

Today, there are millions, perhaps billions, of people without peace in this world.

Maybe…

Maybe there isn’t much peace in your life. Because of that unsettled icky sense of agitation, your mind is somewhere else. It could be that you are upset about something that has happened or are worried about something that is going to happen. 

Maybe the lack of peace has to do with another person. They did or said something, and it’s been grinding on you. So, you are having conversations with that person in your head for which you will probably never say aloud. 

Maybe you have to deal with someone else who doesn’t have peace, and it’s creating stress for you. And you are wondering when things will settle down.

Maybe the lack of peace runs much deeper than your immediate circumstances and plans. 

Maybe every day, day-in-and-day-out, you are not quite sure about where you stand with a person or a group of people.

Maybe you aren’t sure about how you stand with God. You wonder whether God is really pleased with you, or not. 

Maybe you aren’t even in touch with your lack of peace because you are an expert at pushing whatever feelings you have so far down that you think you’re fine. But you really aren’t.

Maybe you are a perfectionist…

Perfectionists are never at peace. The specter of perfectionism always hangs in the air. There’s a steady stream of “should have’s,” and “could have’s” making noise in your head. Your work, no matter how good, is never good enough. “I should have done better.”  “I ought to do better.”  “I must be better.” 

Instead of viewing life’s opportunities as challenges to be welcomed, the perfectionist sees life as one unending mountain to climb, never quite reaching the top. 

The constant companions of perfectionistic people are disappointment, condemnation, frustration, and perceived failure. There is, for them, an internal world of self-loathing based on the lie that I am not enough – I have to be perfect. Peace, for the perfectionist, is a pipe dream.

Maybe we could focus a bit on God…

The Christian God is a triune God, existing in three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – the great Three-in-One. The Trinity is the basis for all we are and all we do.

All of life is grounded in the triune God. God exists in perfect unity and harmony. God is God’s own community of glorious love. God’s glory is primarily seen on this earth through creation, through us, God’s creatures.

Glory is revealed as we reflect the image of God stamped on us in creation. Since God is love, God’s people are to be characterized by love – loving God, loving one another, and loving neighbor. God’s people are meant to exist together in unity and harmony, reflecting the very nature of the Holy Trinity. 

Yet, after the creation of the world and humanity, man and woman fell into guilt and shame through bucking God’s design for people. Ever since, God has been on a mission to reclaim the lost glory.

Maybe we need to focus on the Son… 

The ultimate expression of God’s mission was the sending of the Son to this earth. It is through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension that the way has been opened to a renewed relationship with our triune God.

The way is now clear for us to experience real practical peace. It has been achieved through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since God has initiated a rescue mission for us by sending the Son, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God. 

To be justified means God made us righteous – has made things right between us. God has also provided access for us to be right with each other and the rest of creation. To put this in a contemporary vernacular, we ask God, “Are we good?” and God responds, “We’re good.”

Since then, we’re good with God, we have peace with God. 

Since then, that is true, we cannot try and get peace by another way.

Peace does not come through doing the right things, and by being a good person. 

Peace does not come through trying to obtain feelings of peace.

Peace is not merely the absence of conflict – of just keeping people from strangling each other and harming one another. 

Peace cannot be achieved by trying to relieve anxiety through better effort. 

Maybe grace is the answer…

The antidote to perfectionism, the resolution to feeling a lack of peace is unconditional approval from God. 

Grace is the elixir of life. 

Grace is the thing a perfectionist cannot work to obtain, and the thing that truly helps. 

Grace is freely given; it is a gift.   

Grace (God’s loving unconditional acceptance of us) is the true way of peace.

Some folks have so tied themselves to impossible performances and conditional love that the gift of grace is hard to accept. 

Change won’t happen overnight, and that’s okay – because God deals with us according to grace, not by earning spiritual merit badges. 

The renewal that brings transformation is a process, not an event. In Scripture it’s called “sanctification.” So, it’s important to enjoy the process. 

When you’ve caught yourself going back to the pigsty of perfectionism, instead of beating yourself up, go ahead and laugh at yourself and your own fallibility. Perfectionists take themselves way too serious. Anytime they can lighten up, it lights up the face of God (in a non-performance sort of way!).

Maybe peace is possible…

Peace delivers us from our brokenness.  Again, let’s return to the triune God. There is perfect peace within Father, Son, and Spirit. God is perfect unity, harmony, and love.

Peace means living, working, and playing together. 

Peace means experiencing wholeness, integrity, and contentment, even in the midst of hard circumstances. 

Peace means being a peacemaker.

The late Fred Rogers, from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, got into television because he didn’t like TV. During spring break of his senior year in seminary he encountered television for the first time. What he saw repulsed him because he saw people demeaning each other and not having peace.  

Fred Rogers worried that TV programming would create a generation of emotionally-bankrupt children. Faced with the decision to either sour on television itself or work to restore the medium, he chose the latter. He dropped out of seminary and began pursuing a career in broadcasting. Fourteen years later, he created a television show that shaped entire generations of children, running on PBS from 1968-2001.

Mr. Rogers was a devout Christian who rarely talked about his faith on the air. Yet, his show infused our society with beauty and grace. “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you,” he’d famously sign off. “There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” 

In many ways, the lasting legacy of Mr. Rogers will not only be the greater emotional stability of generations of children, but also his wonderful example of peace and how to restore the world through basic human kindness.

Maybe the path of peace is different than I believed…

Having all our circumstances like we want them is not the basis of experiencing peace. That’s being delusional. Peace doesn’t happen whenever everything goes our way.

Instead, we are to rejoice in all our circumstances, even the ones which cause suffering – because they the Holy Spirit’s means of teaching us to experience the peace we long for.

Suffering is our triune God’s way of weaning us off all that divides and antagonizes so that we can attach ourselves to God’s peace. 

One of the most read Christian books of all time was written in the 1500’s by a French woman known as Madame Guyon. She saw the disunity of the world and the lack of peace in our individual lives as stemming from our lack of practicing God’s ways. 

Much of the world doesn’t know what to do with suffering, and does not accept it, because people want their own way with everything.

War and Peace by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter

To know God’s peace, we must practice just the opposite – by refusing all personal desires we have, whether good or bad. Why? Because the practice of refusing our own will breaks it free so it can attach to God’s will.  

We need our brains to be rewired in saying “no” to ourselves.

The other part of Madame Guyon’s practice is to accept every circumstance, even difficulty and suffering, with joy and thanksgiving. 

We can learn to say “yes, thank you” for each hard circumstance, whether good or bad. As in the case of Mr. Rogers, the evil we observe can spur us toward making peace in this world. We detach from personal desires so we can attach to what God wants to do.

Peace, on the practical level, comes from persevering under suffering and rejoicing in it. Why rejoice? Because suffering produces character and character hope. There cannot be hope without suffering. 

God the Father called God the Son to suffer; and God the Spirit leads us into suffering so that we might know peace and hope on a daily basis.

Conclusion

Abandon everything to God. Let it go – every dream, every personal desire, everything you have so that you are free to know God’s will for your life. 

Accept each circumstance you face with joy and thanksgiving. The Trinitarian love of God is poured into our hearts through every circumstance of life, even if it is difficult and hard. 

When we practice abandonment of our wills and acceptance of our circumstances, the result gives us hope, the confident expectation that nothing in our lives happens in vain. 

Every situation can lead us to know God and experience peace. This is very different from simply believing in the Trinity; it is to daily experience the Trinity. 

Glorious God, make your presence known through our worship, our prayer, and our reading of your Word. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, within you lies unity, love, justice, peace, and power.

Fill our outstretched hearts with your Spirit and encircle us with your love. Make yourself known to us in new and challenging ways. Empower us to forsake every will but your own.  Inspire us toward your peace. Do with us what you will, through Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.