Take the Long View (Genesis 49:1-2, 8-13, 21-26)

Jacob blesses his sons on his deathbed by Yoram Raanan

Jacob called his sons together and said:

My sons, I am Jacob,
    your father Israel.
Come, gather around,
    as I tell your future….

Judah, you will be praised
    by your brothers;
they will bow down to you,
    as you defeat your enemies.
My son, you are a lion
    ready to eat your victim!
You are terribly fierce;
    no one will bother you.
You will have power and rule
until nations obey you
    and come bringing gifts.
You will tie your donkey
    to a choice grapevine
and wash your clothes
    in wine from those grapes.
Your eyes are darker than wine,
    your teeth whiter than milk.

Zebulun, you will settle
    along the seashore
and provide safe harbors
    as far north as Sidon….

Naphtali, you are a wild deer
    with lovely fawns.

Joseph, you are a fruitful vine
growing near a stream
    and climbing a wall.
Enemies attacked with arrows,
    refusing to show mercy.
But you stood your ground,
    swiftly shooting back
with the help of Jacob’s God,
    the All-Powerful One—
his name is the Shepherd,
    Israel’s mighty rock.
25 Your help came from the God
your father worshiped,
    from God All-Powerful.
God will bless you with rain
    and streams from the earth;
he will bless you
    with many descendants.
My son, the blessings I give
are better than the promise
    of ancient mountains
    or eternal hills.
Joseph, I pray these blessings
    will come to you,
because you are the leader
    of your brothers. (Contemporary English Version)

Where does confidence come from?

The theme of confidence works its way through the patriarch Jacob’s deathbed prophecies and blessings – a resolute conviction in the promises of God – that the Lord will accomplish exactly what was promised.

Jacob expressed the hope and sure belief that God would bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan as their inheritance – and, ultimately to the City of God, the eternal inheritance.

The Christian will find much in the blessing of Judah concerning the promises surrounding the coming of Christ. Mentioning the implements of “staff” and “scepter” are symbols of authority. And the reference to a donkey communicated a ruler was coming, as donkeys were the preferred mounts of royalty in ancient times.

What’s more, the washing of garments in wine, and eyes darker than wine, are allusions to the future blessing and abundance that will occur through the tribe of Judah. In fact, the first miracle of Jesus was turning water into wine – a deliberate attempt by the Apostle John to connect Jesus with Old Testament messianic prophecies of abundance and blessing. (John 2:1-12)

It’s important to adopt a long view of life. We must keep in mind that it took eighteen centuries for Jacob’s prophecy of Judah to occur. This long view is what gives us our confidence in life and provides the patience and perseverance we need for the here and now.

Seeing the big picture of God’s work in this world is necessary, because if we do not, we will likely become discouraged with the circumstances we face right now.

The reason Jacob makes it into the great Hall of Faith in the New Testament book of Hebrews is not because he was squeaky clean and perfect in how he lived his life; it was because he took the long view, the big picture, and saw that God was going to fulfill divine promises to Israel:

By an act of faith, Jacob on his deathbed blessed each of Joseph’s sons in turn, blessing them with God’s blessing, not his own—as he bowed worshipfully upon his staff. (Hebrews 11:21, MSG)

Furthermore, when we string the following three verses together across both Old and New Testaments of the Bible, we see the long view of God’s purposes:

It is true that you planned to do something bad to me. But really, God was planning good things. God’s plan was to use me to save the lives of many people. And that is what happened. (Genesis 50:20, ERV)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)       

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, NKJV)

In the Christian faith tradition, all of God’s promises come together and are fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.

Christ is our salvation, our inheritance, and our hope. To give our lives to following Jesus in complete trust of faith is both our challenge and our privilege.

May we live by faith, and not by fear. And may we have patience and persevere through the most challenging of situations because we have adopted the long view of understanding the God is bringing all divine promises to fruition, all in good time.

Our confidence comes from the Lord.

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through anxious times, so that we who are wearied by the changes of this life may rest in your eternal steadiness. Keep watch, dear God, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Make the Impossible Possible (Judges 7:12-22)

The camp was huge. The Midianites, Amalekites, and other eastern nations covered the valley like a swarm of locusts. And it would be easier to count the grains of sand on a beach than to count their camels. Gideon overheard one enemy guard telling another, “I had a dream about a flat loaf of barley bread that came tumbling into our camp. It hit the headquarters tent, and the tent flipped over and fell to the ground.”

The other soldier answered, “Your dream must have been about Gideon, the Israelite commander. It means God will let him and his army defeat the Midianite army and everyone else in our camp.”

As soon as Gideon heard about the dream and what it meant, he bowed down to praise God. Then he went back to the Israelite camp and shouted, “Let’s go! The Lord is going to let us defeat the Midianite army.”

Gideon divided his little army into three groups of 100 men, and he gave each soldier a trumpet and a large clay jar with a burning torch inside. Gideon said, “When we get to the enemy camp, spread out and surround it. Then wait for me to blow a signal on my trumpet. As soon as you hear it, blow your trumpets and shout, ‘Fight for the Lord! Fight for Gideon!’ ”

Gideon and his group reached the edge of the enemy camp a few hours after dark, just after the new guards had come on duty. Gideon and his soldiers blew their trumpets and smashed the clay jars that were hiding the torches. The rest of Gideon’s soldiers blew the trumpets they were holding in their right hands. Then they smashed the jars and held the burning torches in their left hands. Everyone shouted, “Fight with your swords for the Lord and for Gideon!”

The enemy soldiers started yelling and tried to run away. Gideon’s troops stayed in their positions surrounding the camp and blew their trumpets again. As they did, the Lord made the enemy soldiers pull out their swords and start fighting each other.

The enemy army tried to escape from the camp. They ran to Acacia Tree Town, toward Zeredah, and as far as the edge of the land that belonged to the town of Abel-Meholah near Tabbath. (Contemporary English Version)

It took some doing, but Gideon finally got around to taking on the massive army of people.

For years, marauders from the East came and raided Israel. They ate crops and livestock, then destroyed anything that was left. The Israelites, of course, were miserable. Yet, what could they do? There were so many of them!

So, they begged God for help. (Judges 6:6-7)

And the Lord responded. God chose Gideon to be the agent of change.

But Gideon failed to see it. He just couldn’t wrap his pea brain and small heart around the fact that God was choosing him to lead the charge against this humungous mean-spirited ornery bandits.

It was as if Gideon was Barney Fife, being made Sheriff in the Old West town to try and stop the powerful thieves from making off with all their cattle and drinking all of the saloon’s whiskey.

So, it took a while for Gideon to envision what the Lord was doing. And, on top of it all, God went and whittled the Israelite army down to 300 men. That’s it. A few hundred townsfolk against an army that was too big to count.

Yet, Gideon, bless his doubtful and fearful heart, was handed one last piece of gracious information. He caught a conversation between two of the enemy about a dream; it emboldened him to listen and act. And the result was a miraculous victory in which the big bullies were driven from the valley – not because of Gideon’s superior faith or ability – but because the Lord made it possible through him.

And that is precisely how it still works today.

I’m a guy who likes his research; and I can study something to death before pulling the trigger. For me, knowledge is power; and I’ll gobble up every morsel of information I can get my hands on in order to feel a semblance of confidence and courage. But the real issue is trusting God and sensing the Lord’s presence. God is with me. And if God is with me, who can be against me? (Romans 8:31-39)

And I’m not the only one. We all have our ways of trying to feel better and make some sense of the nonsensical situations we get put into, such as:

  • Creating a detailed plan of everything that’s going to happen, accounting for every contingency possible. But God already has a plan. The real issue is: Will you accept it?
  • Making everyone around you happy. Giving, helping, serving. If you could just bake enough cookies for all those men, then everything will be okay, right!?… Wrong. God already loves you and has your back. If some people don’t like you, that’s not the end of the world.
  • Working harder than everyone else. Putting your nose to the grindstone and determining you’ll outwork the enemy. That might get some short term results, but it will only result in burnout. The victory isn’t up to you; it’s up to God.
  • Giving in and giving up. Meh. Why even try? They’re just going to beat up everyone and steal everything anyway. I’ll just tap into my spirit animal, Eeyore, and watch a bunch of British dark comedy on TV. Yet, that approach helped get you into the mess you’re in now. Pay attention to the Lord’s voice, not somebody else’s.
  • Retreating to the high ground. We just need to get away. Stay safe. Keep everyone protected by getting them out of harm’s way. However, anyone outside of God’s will is never safe. If the Lord says to take on something, that’s the safest place you can be.
  • Throwing a party. Hey, let’s try and make the best of it. Let’s eat and drink today, for tomorrow we die. It’s better to go out having fun than wasting away worrying about everything. Pass the chip dip, please. *Sigh* You’re the dip! Trying to put a positive spin on a terrible situation is a terrible solution that will have negative results.
  • Taking charge. If everyone will just listen to me and do what I tell them, we’ll get out of this mess. Reality check, my friend: Who put you in charge? The Lord is God; you are not him. Stop it! Start taking orders from God and follow the Lord.
  • Failing to take a side. Why all the conflict? Can’t we all just get along? Maybe if I take a nap it will all go away. I’m not even going to touch that one. Did you hear yourself?

Most of life is about calming ourselves long enough to hear the voice of the Lord speaking to us. And if we will just take a few deep breaths and follow through with what God tells us, it’s going to go a lot better than any of our contrived ways of coping.

God is with you. God loves you. God makes the impossible possible. Faith over fear. Calm over chaos. Armed with that understanding, you’ve already won.

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.

Shining the Light on Fear (Psalm 27:1-6)

The Lord is my light and my salvation.
        Should I fear anyone?
    The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.
        Should I be frightened of anything?
When evildoers come at me trying to eat me up—
    it’s they, my foes and my enemies,
    who stumble and fall!
If an army camps against me,
        my heart won’t be afraid.
    If war comes up against me,
        I will continue to trust in this:
    I have asked one thing from the Lord—
    it’s all I seek:
        to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
        seeing the Lord’s beauty
        and constantly adoring his temple.
Because he will shelter me in his own dwelling
    during troubling times;
    he will hide me in a secret place in his own tent;
        he will set me up high, safe on a rock.

Now my head is higher than the enemies surrounding me,
    and I will offer sacrifices in God’s tent—
        sacrifices with shouts of joy!
    I will sing and praise the Lord. (Common English Bible)

Being afraid of the dark is a common fear. After all, whenever we cannot see anything around us, then we don’t know what’s really there – and that’s understandably frightening for most people. Typically, it’s not what we see that’s so scary; the scary stuff is what our imagination conjures up that’s out there in the dark, which we cannot see.

Kids, with their curiously active imaginations, tend to be fearful of the dark – which is why we parents, and grandparents, ensure there’s a nightlight for them so they can sleep. The light illumines their surroundings, reminding them of where they are; the light also helps them remember that we are with them.

As children of God, we need the same reminders. We must continually check-in with our internal selves, reorienting our lives around the reality that the Lord is present, that Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us.

Having the Light of the World surrounding us provides confidence that God is watching and will save us from whatever threatens our life. Indeed, being immersed in the Lord helps us snuggle down and realize our ultimate security blanket holds us tight.

Not only do we have confidence with God’s presence, but we are also fearless in the face of the most adverse and scary of circumstances. Knowing that God has our back enables us to accept, cope, and transcend overwhelming situations.

God protects because God is present.

Admittedly, we don’t have all the answers as to why the Lord sometimes seems absent in the midst of our trouble. That’s maybe because God is a Being, a Person, and not an insurance policy. Ultimately, personal presence and protection is a whole lot better than the impersonal and legal sort.

Which is why it’s important to delight in the Lord, to enjoy being in God’s house, to bask in the beauty of divine holiness, righteousness, and justice. With this as our way of life, we tend to better understand that not everything is necessarily going to go right but that the Lord is alongside us, giving strength and hope.

It’s important to note that divergent emotions can be held together. Many folks tend to believe that if there is fear within the heart, then faith, courage, and praise cannot exist. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The more likely scenario is that trying to suppress feelings of fear only results in becoming more afraid; thus, leading to forced or manufactured praise with little to no bravery behind it.

Instead, the sage thing to do is acknowledge whatever emotions bubble up for us. That is our inner spirit’s way of alerting us that we must pay attention to something. Ignoring the fear makes the monster under the bed more fearsome.

Being aware of the emotion and acknowledging it brings options and choices. Getting it out there to actually feel it means that now we can choose what we’re going to do with the emotion. Hiding the fear only gives it power; naming the fear gives us control over it.

This is one reason why I believe it is significant to read the psalms out loud; it provides more fortitude in dealing with what’s in front of us.

Holding both our fears and our faith together enables us to face our troubles with wisdom and courage. If attacked – whether it be spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical – the worst thing to do is grin and bear it or plaster a fake smile on your face.

It’s okay to be conflicted, to wonder what the heck is going on, to not know what’s up or down, to live with the seeming incongruence of emotions.

Healing comes through feeling, speaking, and acting – and not by suppressing emotions, keeping words bottled up inside, and acting as though everything is peachy keen when it isn’t. Expressing words of trust in the Lord, without having first expressed words describing our emotions, is a fool’s errand. If we trust God to answer a prayer, then we also need to trust God in hearing our real emotions.

God encourages honesty, sincerity, and feeling; the Lord disparages ingenuine offerings of praise and inauthentic gestures merely meant to fake-it-till-you-make-it. The psalmist encourages us to express all our emotions – whether “positive” or “negative” – and find the empathy, solidarity, and healing we need.

God is our light. So, let’s not keep him in the dark about our real selves.