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.

Grace Changes Everything (Isaiah 12:1-6)

In that day [to come] you will say:

“I will praise you, Lord.
    Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
    and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
    from the wells of salvation.

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
    let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
    for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” (New International Version)

The Bad News

The reason prophecies are made about better times ahead is because the times now are not so good. That was true of Isaiah’s day, and still remains true today.

It’s easy to identify what’s wrong in this world, especially during a political election cycle! It’s not so easy to recognize the ways we keep ourselves as Christians in bad times. A big reason why, and I unabashedly state it, even though I say it much to my chagrin:

Christianity in our day has mostly failed at spiritual transformation because we have not identified and named the real evils we face, thus leaving us largely irrelevant to a world desperately in need of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, speaking to religious folk who should have known better, said:

“You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness… You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24, NIV)

The tragedy of our age, which was the same tragedy of Isaiah’s age, is that there are so many godless followers of God. They fuss about trifles while ignoring more serious matters. Many Christians’ faith is not much more than conforming to cultural Christian norms while mostly ignoring the realities in front of their faces.

We say we need God but then turn to Google for answers and solutions.

We bemoan the lack of righteousness in the nation, then obnoxiously argue with others and create unnecessary relational wedges.

We decry the injustice of our cities and our world, then do nothing to address the problems and change it.

We talk about the need for others to change rather than first looking in the mirror. Yet, even when we do that, we walk away and forget what we look like.

“For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NIV)

The Good News

However, judgment is not the last word. Even though the prophecy of Isaiah is thick with it, and I started out with less than uplifting words, there is one word that transcends every word: grace.

The grace of God is remarkable! The Lord made promises to Israel in Isaiah’s day not based upon what they would or would not do; God made promises to the people by God’s own radical and scandalous grace. It wasn’t a matter of playing Let’s Make a Deal, with God saying, “If you get your act together, then I will be good to you.” No, before Israel even had a chance to return to the Lord, God was already choosing to be merciful.

I am absolutely convinced with the firmest conviction possible that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are all about God and God’s own unbounded, unfettered, free, crazy, illogical, and wildly wonderful grace.

Because God is Love, the Lord constantly goes out of the way to be gracious so that we can live up to being the sort of people our dogs think we are already.

If we miss the message of God’s grace in the Holy Scriptures, we have missed salvation – because only grace can save us. Without grace, we are lost. Today’s Old Testament lesson is full of praise because it’s a response to the undeserved grace which God freely gives. 

If grace isn’t the answer, we aren’t asking the right question. Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is wildly generous. Grace does not use carrot sticks, scorecards, or power politics. Grace never demands – it only gives. 

Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. 

That is what God did for Israel… and for us. And when we get a hold of this truth, even a little bit, our hearts become bubblers of praise.

The Bible is an extended drama of redemption; and Isaiah’s prophecy is an adventure of God’s steadfast love toward unlovable people – which is why Isaiah is one of the most quoted books of the Old Testament by Jesus. Jesus came because of grace. 

Jesus came to release us from our obsessive need to be right, our compulsion to be rewarded, and our demands to be respected. 

Because Jesus came to set sinful captives free, life does not have to be a joyless effort of justifying and validating ourselves before others. The grace of God in Christ is a game-changer. And with but a glimpse of grace, we are forever undone by God’s mercy.

Grace leads us to praise God

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us… In love he predestined us… to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:3-6, NIV)

Grace causes us to trust God

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31, NIV)

Grace results in our comfort and satisfaction in God

Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,
    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
    And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:16-17, NIV)

Grace creates in us thanksgiving to God

“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:14-15, NIV)

The Lord has seen you at your worst, and still loves you. And if that isn’t something that gets you expressing gratitude to God, then you have failed to see God in your dog. We make known among the nations what God has done because God has really done something in our lives worth babbling our thanksgiving over to everyone. And grace helps us to do it.

Grace causes us to sing together to God

When grace takes hold of a congregation, there is no mumbling of songs – there are loud shouts and singing for joy because God is good! We need times of both silence and contemplative worship and times of becoming unhinged with some noisy worship to the God who has saved us and given us something to sing about. 

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. (Psalm 98:1, NKJV)

Conclusion

The world mostly ignores God. Some Christians take God’s grace for granted. The greatest sin of all is the sheer absence of grace – because where there is no grace, there is no God. God is the expert in transforming apathetic people into caring, compassionate, and concerned citizens of the kingdom who raise their voices and declare the works of the Lord.

Isaiah’s entire prophecy is about returning to the Lord. And the upcoming season of Advent is all about God’s relentless pursuit of wayward people – the anticipation of grace coming in the form of an infant – and the bringing of grace to a people living in darkness.

Let us, then, return to the Lord… be captivated by grace… renew our love for Jesus… lose ourselves in praise and adoration of the One who gave everything for us.

Let us worship Christ the King and proclaim the name of Jesus as exalted over everything and everyone.

Gracious God, we come with nothing but ourselves and our baggage of sin. Forgive, cleanse, renew, revive, refresh, and reform us according to the ways of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your undeserved grace. We give you praise for the lengths you went to secure our forgiveness. With a joy too deep for words, we humbly offer to you our lives so that the name of Jesus will be exalted through us, to your glory and honor. Amen.

Isaiah 12:2-6 – Grace Changes Us

The Prophet Isaiah by Marc Chagall, 1968

“Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
    from the wells of salvation.

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
    let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
    for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
(New International Version)

The large Old Testament book of Isaiah is thick with a message of judgment for both Israel and the surrounding nations. The sins of ancient Israel, seven-hundred years before the birth of Christ, were many. The primary offenses were injustice toward the needy; the have’s taking advantage of the have-not’s; and empty worship rituals toward God.

Social and spiritual corruption was rampant. God pleaded with the people through the prophets to stop doing wrong and start doing right by encouraging the oppressed and defending the powerless. (Isaiah 1:10-17)

Although God’s judgment was imminent, via the powerful Assyrian Empire, God would not annihilate the people. God promised a Righteous Branch would grow from the seemingly dead stump of Israel. A child will be born, a Messiah given. There will be hope in Israel. Heartfelt praise, and proclamation of God’s great name, will again fill the air.

For me, what is so remarkable about all this is the grace of God. The Lord made promises to Israel not based upon what they would or would not do; God made promises to the people by God’s own radically free love. This wasn’t a matter of playing Let’s Make a Deal with God saying, “If you get your act together, then I will be good to you.” No, before Israel even had a chance to return to the Lord, God was already choosing to be merciful.

I am absolutely convinced with the firmest conviction possible that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are all about God and God’s own unbounded, unfettered, free, crazy, illogical, and wildly wonderful grace. Because God is love, the Lord constantly goes out of the way to be gracious so that we will be together and enjoy our divine/human relationship.

If we miss the message of God’s grace in the Holy Scriptures, we have missed salvation – because only grace can save us. Without grace, we are lost. Today’s Old Testament lesson is full of praise because it’s a response to the undeserved grace which God freely gives. 

Any Christian preacher worth their salt is a preacher of grace. Grace is the very thing that is distinctive about Christianity. Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is recklessly generous. Grace does not use carrot sticks, scorecards, or power politics. Grace never demands – it only gives. 

Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. 

That is what God did for Israel… and for us. And when we get a hold of this truth, even a little bit, our hearts become bubblers of praise.

The prophecy of Isaiah is an adventure of God’s reckless love toward unlovable people, which is why it is one of the most quoted books of the Old Testament by Jesus. Jesus came because of grace. 

Jesus came to release us from our obsessive need to be right, our compulsion to be rewarded, and our demands to be respected. 

Because Jesus came to set sinful captives free, life does not have to be a joyless effort to justify and validate ourselves before others. The grace of God in Christ is a game-changer. And with but a glimpse of it, we are forever undone by its mercy.

Grace causes us to praise God.

There was once a pastor who had a three-year old daughter who was going around the house singing the chorus “We Exalt Thee” except that she kept mispronouncing one of the words: “I exhaust thee, I exhaust thee, I exhaust thee, O Lord!” Perhaps she was right. Maybe too many folks are exhausting God with folded arms instead of hands raised in praise and worship.

Grace causes us to trust God.

Grace alleviates our fears. For, if God is for us, who can be against us? God takes care of us despite our weaknesses and failures. 

Grace causes us to have joy in God.

With joy we draw water from the wells of salvation. Jesus is the Living Water we can continually draw from and drink. Grace keeps giving without an end in sight. We get to keep coming to God with an inexhaustible supply of fresh grace.

Grace causes us to give thanks to God in prayer.

Gratitude to God ought to characterize our corporate gatherings. Expressing thanks is more than for the individual in their prayer closet – it is to be offered in the gathered assembly of believers. Grace eliminates self-consciousness altogether because there is nothing to be self-conscious about with God. The Lord has seen you at your worst, and still loves you.

What’s more, we need not be self-conscious about appearing ignorant, looking silly, or not having all the answers in making known among the nations what God has done. If we are influenced by grace, then we can freely speak of God to all kinds of people we encounter. 

“God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them.”

George Whitefield (1714-1770)

Grace causes us to sing together to God. 

When grace takes hold of a congregation, there is no mumbling of songs – there are loud shouts and singing for joy because God is good! God wants some noisy worship! 

Grace brings such gladness that we don’t care how we appear to other people; we are going to shout, sing, and express our joy! Yes, there is an important place for contemplative, reverent, and reflective worship. And there is also a place for letting go, becoming unhinged, and dancing before Jesus!

The world mostly ignores God. Even some Christians take God’s grace for granted.  Israel’s greatest sin was assuming everything was fine. But it wasn’t. There was no grace. And with no grace there is no God. Eventually, Israel found joy in the most unlikely of places – in exile. God’s grace would transform a terrible time of trouble into raising of voices in song.

Isaiah’s prophecy is about returning to the Lord. The season of Advent is all about God’s relentless pursuit of wayward people – the anticipation of grace coming in the form of an infant – and the bringing of grace to a people living in darkness.

Let us, then, return to the Lord. Let us be captivated by grace. Let us renew our love for Jesus. Let us lose ourselves in praise and adoration of the One who gave everything for us. Let us worship Christ the King. Let us proclaim the name of Jesus as exalted over everything.

Great God of grace, be merciful to us as we limp to you with all of our wounds and brokenness. We have made such a mess of our lives with our bad attitudes, ugly words, selfish actions, and our ignoring of you through it all. So, we come to you with nothing but ourselves in all of our sin. Forgive us, cleanse us, renew us, revive us, refresh us, and reform us according to the ways of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your undeserved grace. We give you praise for the lengths you went to secure our forgiveness. With a joy too deep for words, we humbly offer to you our lives so that the name of Jesus will be exalted in us individually and corporately. Amen.

Psalm 128 – Blessed

The Lord will bless you 
    if you respect him 
    and obey his laws. 
Your fields will produce, 
    and you will be happy 
    and all will go well. 
Your wife will be as fruitful 
    as a grapevine, 
and just as an olive tree 
    is rich with olives, 
    your home will be rich 
    with healthy children. 
That is how the Lord will bless 
    everyone who respects him. 

I pray that the Lord 
    will bless you from Zion 
    and let Jerusalem prosper 
    as long as you live. 
May you live long enough 
    to see your grandchildren. 
    Let’s pray for peace in Israel! (CEV) 

There is a consistent connection between obedience and blessing. That is, in observing God’s ways, one will typically enjoy divine favor and approval.  

Keep in mind, however, this is not a math equation. Like 2+2=4 there are folks who expect a neat linear connection between their obedience and their blessing. In math theology, when a woman is unable to have children, or a child goes astray from their heritage, the parent concludes that they themselves must have been unfaithful to God’s law or are being punished. Conversely, with children who grow to be good citizens and respectful persons, the parents might conclude it was because of their superior observance to the spiritual life. 

In both cases, parents take too much credit, either for a child’s wandering or success. As for kids going astray, even God had prodigal children, so cut ourselves some slack. As for children who maintain faithfulness, a lot of factors went into who they are. I suppose it is only natural to quickly assume we have far more control of than we really do. 

This all cuts to the heart of biblical interpretation. If all Scripture is read literally, then we will likely see the Bible as a math equation where doing and saying the right things gets a predictable result of blessing. Yet, this mistakenly views promise and proverb as the same thing, and divine work with one person or group will be precisely the same for another. The wisdom literature of Scripture, which includes the psalms, were never designed as prescriptive decree but rather as the sage approach for work, worship, and family. 

Today’s psalm communicates the path of happiness coming through love and respect for God. It neither promises lots of kids, ensures money, nor guarantees smooth sailing. Rather, when one lives each day being cognizant and observant to center everything around the divine, then blessing and happiness will tend to follow. 

Blessings and benedictions are given to sustain us in hope and confidence. The best things in life usually come through faith and family. So, when we choose to walk with God and travel down the ethical road, then life becomes full of peace and prosperity – perhaps not always in the manner we expect, yet blessing, nonetheless. 

Humanity is hard-wired for blessing, for a steady diet of encouragement, acceptance, and approval from God and others. When this is withheld from us, unhappiness, even despair begins to settle. Giving and receiving blessing is at the heart of being fully human and alive. Our work and family life will likely be miserable if blessing is absent. Yet, with blessing, we have a sustainable form of happiness and enjoyment. 

Eternal God, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed, guide, strengthen, and bless us through your Spirit so that we may give ourselves to your service and live today in love to one another and to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.