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.

A Divine Calling (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

The Prophet Jeremiah by Marc Chagall, 1960

The Lord gave me this message:

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”

The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said,

“Look, I have put my words in your mouth!

Today I appoint you to stand up
    against nations and kingdoms.
Some you must uproot and tear down,
    destroy and overthrow.
Others you must build up
    and plant.” (New Living Translation)

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

St. Paul to St. Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12, NLT)

I write to you, young people,
    because you are strong
    and the word of God abides in you,
        and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:14, NRSV)

Young Jeremiah had an unusual calling from the Lord. It wasn’t to reach thousands with a life-giving message of hope and encouragement; the call was to declare destruction to an unjust people who believed they were fine, thank you very much.

It was a calling that would have been a huge challenge for the most seasoned of veteran prophets. But God called the young Jeremiah. This was his first crack at being a prophet of the Lord; and it was a doozy of a call!

Yet, when it comes to God’s call, age really means nothing. That’s because the Lord equips whomever the Lord wants to empower. Young or old makes no difference. All that’s needed is a willingness to submit to the voice of divine calling.

And to Jeremiah’s credit, the lengthy prophecy bearing his name in the Bible is a testament to his sense of call and straightforward obedience to it.

There is, and always has been, a divine/human cooperative in the world. God, of course, could do everything without humanity’s assistance. But it’s never been that way. Throughout the entirety of Holy Scripture, the Lord calls and empowers people for service.

On the one hand, this may seem like some strange convergence which, on the surface, is sure to end in some screw-ups and failure. Yet, on the other hand, this cooperation between Creator and creature gives people, at the least, a sense of ownership in the world; and, at the most, a powerful opportunity to bless the world with divine gifts of speaking and service.

Although Jeremiah was called to (mostly) pronounce doom, it’s first and foremost a message of justice. The Lord is concerned for the common good of all persons, not just some. Yahweh is not about to be forever idle whenever certain segments of humanity go rogue and harm their fellow sisters and brothers with unjust ways.

The Prophet Jeremiah by Marc Chagall, 1968

What’s more, the Lord delights in using people whom society at large might deem less than usable.

Now remember what you were, my friends, when God called you. From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. (1 Corinthians 1:26-28, GNT)

If God can use a donkey to communicate a message, then it’s likely that the Lord can enable any person on earth to speak words of justice – no matter if they’re young, uneducated, or underprivileged – and make the older, educated, and privileged look like jack asses. (Numbers 22:22-35)

For Christians everywhere, every believer has been called by God to proclaim the gospel of grace. The Word has come to us in Christ, in the flesh (John 1:14). Jesus is the primary and ultimate revelation of God’s Word to us.

God has also set the Church apart to serve as proclaimers of God’s Word to the nations. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment summarize our call to ministry. (Matthew 22:37-40; 28:19-20)

Yahweh’s intentional purpose was for Jeremiah to proclaim God’s word. That’s also God’s intentional purpose for the Church; the Lord puts God’s words in the church’s mouth. Christians proclaim the Word, which we know most fully and experience most personally in Jesus Christ.

With our words, perspectives, attitudes, relationships, and actions, God’s Word flows through us to the world. As believers, we know that gospel proclamation will accomplish God’s purposes.

We trust that God is empowering us to effectively proclaim God’s words with effectiveness so that all the earth may be renewed and blessed.

Most High God, you knew each of us before we were ever born. And so, you know us better than we know ourselves. Your divine power is already there, deep within us. As you call forth that power, enable us to respond with submission, obedience, and willingness to speak words of justice, love, and grace to a world in need of hope and betterment, through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A God Worth Exploring (Psalm 89:5-37)

God! Let the cosmos praise your wonderful ways,
    the choir of holy angels sing anthems to your faithful ways!
Search high and low, scan skies and land,
    you’ll find nothing and no one quite like God.
The holy angels are in awe before him;
    he looms immense and august over everyone around him.
God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who is like you,
    powerful and faithful from every angle?
You put the arrogant ocean in its place
    and calm its waves when they turn unruly.
You gave that old hag Egypt the back of your hand,
    you brushed off your enemies with a flick of your wrist.
You own the cosmos—you made everything in it,
    everything from atom to archangel.
You positioned the North and South Poles;
    the mountains Tabor and Hermon sing duets to you.
With your well-muscled arm and your grip of steel—
    nobody messes with you!
The Right and Justice are the roots of your rule;
    Love and Truth are its fruits.
Blessed are the people who know the passwords of praise,
    who shout on parade in the bright presence of God.
Delighted, they dance all day long; they know
    who you are, what you do—they can’t keep it quiet!
Your vibrant beauty has gotten inside us—
    you’ve been so good to us! We’re walking on air!
All we are and have we owe to God,
    Holy God of Israel, our King!

A long time ago you spoke in a vision,
    you spoke to your faithful beloved:
“I’ve crowned a hero,
    I chose the best I could find;
I found David, my servant,
    poured holy oil on his head,
And I’ll keep my hand steadily on him,
    yes, I’ll stick with him through thick and thin.
No enemy will get the best of him,
    no scoundrel will do him in.
I’ll weed out all who oppose him,
    I’ll clean out all who hate him.
I’m with him for good and I’ll love him forever;
    I’ve set him on high—he’s riding high!
I’ve put Ocean in his one hand, River in the other;
    he’ll call out, ‘Oh, my Father—my God, my Rock of Salvation!’
Yes, I’m setting him apart as the First of the royal line,
    High King over all of earth’s kings.
I’ll preserve him eternally in my love,
    I’ll faithfully do all I so solemnly promised.
I’ll guarantee his family tree
    and underwrite his rule.
If his children refuse to do what I tell them,
    if they refuse to walk in the way I show them,
If they spit on the directions I give them
    and tear up the rules I post for them—
I’ll rub their faces in the dirt of their rebellion
    and make them face the music.
But I’ll never throw them out,
    never abandon or disown them.
Do you think I’d withdraw my holy promise?
    or take back words I’d already spoken?
I’ve given my word, my whole and holy word;
    do you think I would lie to David?
His family tree is here for good,
    his sovereignty as sure as the sun,
Dependable as the phases of the moon,
    inescapable as weather.” (The Message)

Christ the Redeemer photo by John Dalkin

The Lord’s in it for the long haul.

Yahweh’s faithfulness never wavers nor diminishes over time; it’s always there, always operative.

The angels in heaven know it. All creation knows it.

Sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, and most certainly ironically, much of humanity doesn’t know it. They’re late to the celebration party. Like clueless ants on the sidewalk of life, they fail to look up and observe the big picture of the universe – as if the busywork they’re doing is all there is to living.

Silly us.

When push comes to shove, the only thing we puny people really want is someone who will love us for who we are. We just need someone who will have our back, all the time, and always be there for us, no matter what.

So (in the face of a faithful, loving, and caring holy Being) why do we act as if there’s no one home in heaven? Why does such a large chunk of humanity simply dismiss God as some antiquated idea from pre-modern people who didn’t understand the things we now know?

Aside from those questions being not much more than hubris, it assumes ancient people were downright stupid – except for maybe Plato or Cicero, bless their hearts. Yet even those guys knew better than to ground their ethics – not to mention their lives – in something and someone higher and bigger than themselves.

I tend to think that it all comes down to a matter of listening – of which we people have proven to be, at best, rather dull about; and, at worst, completely tone deaf to the continual voice of the universe.

Because if we would but just stop our ant-like busy-bodying for but a minute and listen, we would discover a constant cacophony of voices lifting praises to a Creator for whom they owe their very existence to.

The bald fact of the matter is that there are presently, right now this very moment, and every minute 24/7, a vast choir of angels offering praise to their Sovereign.

We would hear the ocean churning it’s affirmation that there is One greater than it’s own mighty waves; and the mountains and volcanoes rumbling their collective recognition that someone greater than their great chains of rock makes their very presence possible.

We could begin to hear the voices of history proclaim that there is an invisible force much stronger than the visible forces we believe to be so powerful.

Most important, we can hear the voice of the Lord – not with our actual physical ears – but with the spiritual ears which so many forget they even possess.

If we would get our heads out of the metaphorical sands of skepticism, we might begin to acknowledge and appreciate the voices of others for whom we have suppressed for too long: Native Americans; Australian Aboriginals; indigenous African spirituality; and any society with an historic and robust theology different from our own.

Both the cosmos way out there, as well as the children next door, discern and know what others do not: There is a God in heaven; and that God is deserving of praise – not the weird God you might think you know who is capricious and fickle – but the Lord who is more dependable than the most faithful friend you’ve ever had.

That’s a God worth exploring.

Be Courageous (Joshua 1:1-9)

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’s assistant, saying: 

“My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 

No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 

Be strong and courageous, for you shall lead this people to possess the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (New Revised Standard Version)

Freedom came to the ancient Israelites; they were delivered from their cruel Egyptian bondage. Then, they wandered through the desert for forty years; and, after the death of their leader Moses, were poised to enter the Promised Land. 

However, it was going to be no cakewalk. There were pagan peoples entrenched in the land. It would be a huge feat to conquer their territory. Joshua, the young aide-de-camp of Moses, now leader of the people, would be the one to go before them in battle. Understandably, Joshua was likely nervous, maybe even downright scared. 

So, the Lord came to Joshua. God told him to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid to claim the divine promise of the land. 

The path to success for Joshua – as well as all God’s people – is not by the physical sword but by the sword of the Lord, the Word of God. 

The Lord was plainspoken about the need to intimately know the Law given to the people and to continually meditate upon it. Being careful to do everything written within it, Joshua would find both the courage and the wisdom to lead the people to victory.

It still remains true for all God’s people that faithful knowledge, sage wisdom, and careful adherence to Holy Scripture comes through meditation upon its contents. 

There is a great need amongst believers to continually ruminate on God’s Word. We live on a broken planet, filled with all sorts of adversity, hardship, difficulty, and challenge to living a committed spiritual life. And so,

we may sometimes wonder how to address and deal with it all; our problems might seem as large as taking the Promised Land. 

The place to begin is by going to the Word of God – not so much in an anxious, hasty, or impatient question-and-answer sort of way which looks for a quick response; but instead, in a slow, deliberate, contemplative way. 

Lasting and genuine spirituality, as well as a sense of settled success, comes not only through acknowledging the importance and integrity of Scripture; one must know it’s contents, and allow it’s wisdom to saturate the soul through consistent and continual meditation.

Scripture memorization is a discipline worth pursuing. Having large chunks of the Holy Bible in our minds and hearts helps us in the crucible of challenging situations and adverse circumstances. 

What’s more, when doing the everyday pedantic and tedious work, we can engage our minds in the practice of contemplation on those verses we have committed to memory. Meditation on God’s Word is a necessary practice if we want to have success in living a genuinely well-rounded life.

Courage and meditation are a package deal. Bravery and contemplation are meant to be wed together. One rarely comes without the other – which means the realization of our good dreams, for both us and the world, needs the practice of Scripture meditation.

God Almighty, my delight is in your law, and on it I meditate day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

O how I love your law! It is my meditation, my food and drink, all day, every day. (Psalm 119:97)

I will meditate on your precepts and honor your ways in all I do and say. (Psalm 119:15)

I am determined to lift my hands to your commandments, which I love; and I will meditate on your statutes. (Psalm 119:48)

I look forward to the wee hours of the night because it provides me the space and the quiet to meditate on your word. (Psalm 119:148)

In fact, I meditate on all your doings through both day and night; I ponder and consider the works of your hands. (Psalm 143:5)

Amen.