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.

Pay Attention to the Word (2 Peter 1:16-21)

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (New International Version)

The Bible is a set of living documents. It breathes with a revitalizing and reliable message about Jesus Christ.

Rather than being merely an ancient book to be displayed as some sort of museum artifact on a coffee table, Holy Scripture has demonstrated amazing resilience of use and pertinence throughout the ages.

Millions of people have discovered it’s riches; and have found the Bible’s message of knowing Christ and him crucified, died, risen, and coming again as their hope and salvation. Indeed, God’s Word to people is a gracious revealing of God to humanity so that all persons may reconnect with divinity.

The earthly ministry of Christ had eyewitnesses and earwitnesses. The witness above all witnesses was the Most High who audibly affirmed Jesus with a voice from heaven:

“This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3:17, NLT)

Baptism of Christ, by Vitaly Melnichuk, 2009

Christianity is a religion of the book. Scripture unites us with believers across the world and throughout history. The Bible is to the Christian what weights and barbells are to a bodybuilder. 

The people of God need Holy Scripture, God’s Word, in order to spiritually grow and become mature. Christian character formation cannot truly occur apart from the continuous repetitions of reading the text of Scripture, and letting it build strength into the muscles of the soul.

Scripture is a powerful unifying force within the life of God’s people. We may not all explain every Bible verse in exactly the same way (hence the many different Christian traditions) but believers share a common desire to honor, apply, and obey God’s Word. Ultimately, a passion to listen, talk about, and apply God’s Word brings believers in Jesus together, rather than separates us. 

Perhaps because the average American household today has at least three or four Bibles, we take for granted the availability of God’s Word. It is always at our fingertips, on our smartphones and computers. Yet, because it is always present and available, we may let the busyness and business of life keep us from paying attention to it. 

A commitment to reading and listening to Holy Scripture ought not be done quickly or mechanically, and certainly not half-heartedly. For the Word to penetrate and seep into our souls, we must take the time to listen carefully and slowly.

A first century rabbi, Akiva, once noticed a tiny stream trickling down a hillside, dripping over a ledge on its way toward the river below. Below was a massive boulder. The rock bore a deep impression. The drip, drip, drip of water over the centuries had hollowed away the stone. Rabbi Akiva commented, “If mere water can do this to hard rock, how much more can God’s Word carve a way into my heart of flesh?”

Water flowing over a rock, all at once, leaves it unchanged. It is the slow but steady impact of each small droplet, year after year, decade after decade, that completely reforms the stone.

O how we desire quick answers to our questions! Yet we must take the time to prayerfully listen and reflect on God’s Word and allow it to do it’s work on us and in us. Truth is revealed over many days, months, and years. Big splashes aren’t usually God’s way of doing things. Instead, the slow drip of careful study, contemplative prayer, and meditative reflection, day after day, year after year, shapes us and spiritually forms us into the likeness of Christ.

Thus, a patient, humble, and teachable spirit is necessary. Sometimes the Bible is not apparently relevant. We oftentimes need others to help us and to encourage one another to stick with reading and learning, even when we aren’t sure about what it is saying. 

Rightly interpreting Scripture happens in community, both in present local churches and small groups and in the community of saints who have gone before us. It doesn’t occur in isolation.

Always an appropriate response to hearing God’s Word is to address and the problems of others and the issues of our day. That’s because God is not just concerned about you and me, but about other people, as well. 

What do you suppose would happen if we all committed to carefully reading and listening and meditating, even memorizing God’s Word on a daily basis? Would it transform our worship? Make a difference in our relationships? Change how we do life together?

Attention, people of God and of the Book! God is our God, the One and only!

Love the Lord your God with your whole heart:

Love God with all that is in you; love the Lord with all you’ve got! 

Write these foundational commands I’ve given you on your hearts. Get them inside of you. Then, get them inside your children. 

For this to happen, talk about God’s Word at home when you are eating supper together and when you are working or playing with each other. Start your day with God’s Word when you get up in the morning and end your day with God’s Word when you go to bed at night. 

Put God’s Word on your refrigerator and your car’s dashboard; have it on your smartphones and let it be available to you anywhere and anytime. Use every opportunity you have to incessantly chatter about God’s Holy Word.

(Deuteronomy 6:4-9, contemporary paraphrase)

Pay attention to the Word made flesh and the written Word proclaimed. It makes all the difference.

Our Great Physician, Your Word is like alcohol – when poured on an infected wound, it burns and stings, but only then can it kill germs. If it doesn’t burn, it doesn’t do any good. 

Father, we are all hungry baby birds this morning. Our heart-mouths are gaping wide, waiting for you to fill us. A cold wind seems to have chilled us. Wrap us in the blanket of your Word and warm us up. 

Lord, we find your Word like cabbage. As we pull down the leaves, we get closer to the heart. And as we get closer to the heart, it is sweeter.

–Daily Prayers of Haitian Christians, translated by Eleanor Turnbull (1924-2020) missionary to Haiti for over 50 years

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – Let It Out!

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo, c.1545

You tricked me, Lord,
    and I was really fooled.
You are stronger than I am,
    and you have defeated me.
People never stop sneering
    and insulting me.
You have let me announce
    only destruction and death.
Your message has brought me
nothing but insults
    and trouble.
Sometimes I tell myself
not to think about you, Lord,
    or even mention your name.
But your message burns
in my heart and bones,
    and I cannot keep silent.

I heard the crowds whisper,
    “Everyone is afraid.
Now’s our chance
    to accuse Jeremiah!”
All of my so-called friends
are just waiting
    for me to make a mistake.
They say, “Maybe Jeremiah
    can be tricked.
Then we can overpower him
    and get even at last.”

But you, Lord,
are a mighty soldier,
    standing at my side.
Those troublemakers
will fall down and fail—
    terribly embarrassed,
    forever ashamed.

Lord All-Powerful,
    you test those who do right,
and you know every heart
    and mind.
I have told you my complaints,
so let me watch you
    take revenge on my enemies.
I sing praises to you, Lord.
You rescue the oppressed
    from the wicked. (CEV)

The prophet Jeremiah had a tough gig. The Lord God almighty didn’t give him much choice about his life’s work. Jeremiah was commissioned by God with a message of doom and destruction. If that weren’t enough, God promised him that no one would respond, nobody would repent, and not one person would listen to what he had to say. Sheesh, talk about a tough ministry!

But Jeremiah was compelled to speak. He just could not hold it in. His calling, his life’s work, bubbled up and out of him, no matter what he did to try and keep a lid on it. Whenever Jeremiah would try and walk away and say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” then the words from God burned like a fire in his belly. Jeremiah got worn out trying to keep the message domesticated within him.

Maybe you can relate in some small way.  It isn’t always easy talking about God to others, let alone talking about some subject other people really don’t want to hear.  Yet, as the people of God, we discover it is much more painful to keep it inside than it is letting it out and taking the consequences as they may come.

Or it could be that you resonate with Jeremiah’s trying to distance himself from God.  You were hurt, wounded in some way, and no matter how hard you run from God, your inner sacred space will not leave you alone – it relentlessly tracks you down and hounds you, barking to be heard and expressed.

What then, should we do? How, then, shall we live? Don’t keep silent. Speak! Let your voice out. Say what is important to you. Because ignoring it, wishing it would go away, or thinking God will eventually give-up isn’t going to happen, my friend.  Let the Word have its way.

God Almighty, you have your ways in this world, and they don’t always make sense to me.  Sticking my fingers in my ears trying to pretend you are not there isn’t working – my heart burns within me.  So, help me to speak with all the confidence of the message I have, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit.  Amen.