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.

The Finite and the Infinite (Psalm 65)

God of Zion, to you even silence is praise.
    Promises made to you are kept—
    you listen to prayer—
    and all living things come to you.
When wrongdoings become too much for me,
    you forgive our sins.
How happy is the one you choose to bring close,
    the one who lives in your courtyards!
We are filled full by the goodness of your house,
    by the holiness of your temple.

In righteousness you answer us,
    by your awesome deeds,
    God of our salvation—
    you, who are the security
        of all the far edges of the earth,
        even the distant seas.
    You establish the mountains by your strength;
    you are dressed in raw power.
    You calm the roaring seas;
        calm the roaring waves,
        calm the noise of the nations.
Those who dwell on the far edges
        stand in awe of your acts.
    You make the gateways
        of morning and evening sing for joy.
You visit the earth and make it abundant,
    enriching it greatly
        by God’s stream, full of water.
You provide people with grain
    because that is what you’ve decided.
Drenching the earth’s furrows,
        leveling its ridges,
    you soften it with rain showers;
        you bless its growth.
You crown the year with your goodness;
    your paths overflow with rich food.
Even the desert pastures drip with it,
    and the hills are dressed in pure joy.
The meadowlands are covered with flocks,
    the valleys decked out in grain—
        they shout for joy;
        they break out in song! (Common English Bible)

The biblical psalms present God as sovereign over all creation. Today’s psalm extols the Lord of the universe as God of both temple and terra, of people and the earth.

God of the temple

Praise is the appropriate offering to God – because it is the Lord who listens, forgives, and chooses to fill persons with the holiness and goodness of God’s presence, exemplified in the temple.

Infinite righteousness cannot be fulfilled by finite beings. In other words, we need God.

The nineteenth century philosopher and theologian, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) insisted that the humans did not established themselves; therefore, no one can simply exercise their will toward better and brighter circumstances.

Kierkegaard argued that humanity, at its core, is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, the temporal and the eternal. A finite human is not a self; only when connected and aware of the infinite is someone a self. (The Sickness Unto Death)

Creatures can never lift themselves above anxiety, worry, distress, or hardship with only finite resources; we need infinite supplies and divine capital, to tap into the image of God within us, to realize that our true identity is inextricably dependent upon our Creator.

“Prayers” by Yoram Raanan

We are more than bodies and brain synapses; we are also souls. And as souls, we shall never realize our true selves through the temporary means of possessions, prestige, and power. A person cannot construct a self, by themselves, to bear the weight of who we really are. That’s because our real identity is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

Just as the temple in Jerusalem was much more than a physical structure, so we, as the people of God, are so much more than tangible beings.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16, NRSV)

Praise, prayer, and worship are practices designed to connect with the infinite God. Indeed, the kingdom of God is much nearer than we know.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21, NRSV)

God of terra

We walk upon and inhabit this present terra firma, this earth. The earth, and all that is in it, belongs to the Lord. God is something of a cosmic farmer, taking care of the earth, watching over it, tending to its needs.

All that takes place on this celestial ball we live upon is under the gracious and loving eye of God. It is the Lord who brings the seasons and the rains, calming the storms of the seas, as well as the storms of our lives.

One of the reasons we find ourselves in such an impending climate debacle on this earth, is that we continue to utilize all the finite resources we can muster and fail to acknowledge and become aware of the grand infinite wherewithal we have with our Creator and Sustainer.

“I am the Lord, your savior;
I am the one who created you.
I am the Lord, the Creator of all things.
    I alone stretched out the heavens;
    when I made the earth, no one helped me. (Isaiah 44:24, GNT)

The earth is beautiful. Yet, in our insistence upon merely using the temporal and physical, ugliness has come upon the earth, obscuring the true nature of God’s good creation. Distancing ourselves from the Creator only builds bigger obstacles to solving the earth’s most significant issues.

Self-imposed and ensconced impediments need to be cleared away. The weeds have overtaken the garden; we can no longer see the good plants that are supposed to grow and produce a harvest. And yet, as any farmer or gardener knows, you cannot simply yank such weeds from the ground without also pulling up what you are trying to preserve.

The Lord will provide – but if we keep to our stubborn independence from God, the process of weeding the garden will take much longer to accomplish. Yet, God is patient, not wanting any to perish but all to come around to the infinite. (2 Peter 3:9)

Conclusion

Let us come to God in our neediness and failure. We must see ourselves as infinite souls with finite solutions who can cry out to the God who hears and forgives. We need to connect with the Lord who hears our prayers. It is imperative that we rely upon the infinite Creator who is concerned to cultivate justice and righteousness upon an earth which is full of plenty for everyone.

Praise, pray, give thanks, and be connected to the infinite One whom we need for life and godliness in this present, evil, and finite age.

Stay joined to me and I will stay joined to you. No branch can produce fruit alone. It must stay connected to the vine. It is the same with you. You cannot produce fruit alone. You must stay joined to me. (John 15:4, ERV)

Blessed God and Father of all, yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. To you belongs the heavens and the earth. It is you who made all that is – sun, moon, stars, rivers, forests, minerals, birds, animals, fish, and us – and pronounced it all “good.” We seek your divine mercy and help so that our work and our worship may curb the sin that so easily entangles and bring your intended shalom to the earth. Amen.

John 7:37-39 – Come and Ask for What You Need

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (New International Version)

Anyone Can Come

Let’s take Christ’s words at the end of the Jewish Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles) at face value. Jesus said that if anyone is thirsty, they could come to him and drink. This is an unconditional statement with no caveats, qualifications, or fine print to it. Jesus did not say if anyone is spiritual enough or strong enough or committed enough that then they could come to him.

The only qualifications one must have in coming to Jesus is to be needy. To be thirsty and want a drink is it, period. No interviews. No jumping through any hoops. No red tape. No having to go through one of the disciples to get to Jesus. No obstacles whatsoever. Sheer need and want gets anybody an audience with Jesus.

“Thirsty” is Christ’s simple metaphor for need. Whenever we long to have our needs met, there is always the opportunity and possibility of going to Jesus. And we know that all of us are thirsty because every single person has needs that aren’t getting met. These important and vital words of Jesus to us encourages us to admit and say to him, “I need you, Lord.”

And what is the Lord’s response to such a humble expression of need? “Please come here to me and drink till you are full.” No judgment. No condemnation. No big sighs. No snarky comments. No disappointed looks. Our confession of need accesses divine compassion and help. Who will help?

Anyone Can Receive Help through the Helper

The Holy Spirit will help. Christ ascended and gave us the Spirit. On this day before the Christian celebration of Pentecost, we are reminded that Jesus delivered on his promise to give help. There is no better assistance in all the world than having a permanent live-in guide, helper, and advocate who is continually alongside us, even in us.

Ask. Seek. Knock. That’s it. We have a popular commercial figure in my city, a lawyer, whose one-liner is, “One call. That’s all!” And help will come. All we need do is express our needs and wants. And yet, that is so awfully hard for so many people. It seems weak or selfish to come right out and say what we need and what we want. Yet, if we are to embrace any sort of Christian discipleship, straight forward asking will be involved.

Believers simply can state their needs to be breathed on by the Spirit and have their thirst satiated. If we make it more complicated than that, we lose the incredible simplicity of the gospel – that it is good news for needy people. Yet, we sometimes make it complicated by not coming out and saying what we need. Why do we do that?

Why Don’t We Come?

For many people, they have never been given permission to do so. They were never encouraged to express their needs and wants. However, it is perfectly acceptable to state what you want, and what you really need. Ask for what you want, and you may be surprised at how often you get it.

The lack of asking goes much deeper than this. Our fear of vulnerability and being judged by God (and others) prohibits us from asking for what we really want. We must come to the point of seeing that vulnerability is crucial to having our needs met. Only through being open enough to share what you need will relational connection happen. A relationship with Jesus is based on such humility and vulnerability. Without it, there is no relationship.

We also might be afraid of not getting what we ask for, so we don’t ask, at all. Or, conversely, we may be afraid of receiving our asking! On some level, it’s more comfortable to stay in a familiar situation. We think we want something different, but we’re worried about the downside of getting it. We fret and wonder about it, not trusting ourselves. So, we become paralyzed, unable to say what we really want or need.

All of this comes down to our own image of self. It’s as if we don’t believe we deserve to be treated well. But the reality is: This isn’t about whether you deserve to have something; it’s about your needing or wanting it. Plain and simple. There’s no shame being in want or need.

Some people are so used to putting others first and meeting another’s need that they become stymied by their own inability to state what they need. So, they try and feel better by meeting everyone else’s need. And when they become bitter about being emotionally depleted, when they are thirsty for someone to meet their needs, they don’t ask for help. Because they feel they can’t.

Anyone Can Ask, Seek, Knock

You can and you must. Jesus says so. We don’t always get what we want in life. But we won’t get it if we don’t ask. It’s good to focus on what you want or need in life, instead of questioning whether you’re worthy to receive it. Jesus said:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, NLT)

So, what are you waiting for!?

Psalm 70 – Wednesday of Holy Week

Christ in the Garden of Olives by French artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

God! Please hurry to my rescue!
    God, come quickly to my side!
Those who are out to get me—
    let them fall all over themselves.
Those who relish my downfall—
    send them down a blind alley.
Give them a taste of their own medicine,
    those gossips off clucking their tongues.

Let those on the hunt for you
    sing and celebrate.
Let all who love your saving way
    say over and over, “God is mighty!”

But I’ve lost it. I’m wasted.
    God—quickly, quickly!
Quick to my side, quick to my rescue!
    God, don’t lose a minute. (MSG)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that today’s psalm is a plea from a desperate person in a desperate situation of life and death. Help is needed, not in some future time, but immediately!

I don’t know if you have ever been in such a stressful and dangerous situation in which all you could say is “Help! Help me!” The abject feeling of helplessness is palpable and just plain awful. The sense there is nothing you can do to improve your circumstance other than some sort of merciful divine intervention is more than unnerving. Its downright hard to breathe, let alone trying to cry out for rescue.

It seems the psalmist was in a position where there were people getting a twisted sense of joy over the misfortune of others. Its as if they were delighting in the confusion and vulnerability of those unable to stop what is happening.

In the throes of such stress and danger the psalmist wants the evil turned back on the wicked. He wants such persons off his back – to have God hunt them like they are hunting the poor and needy who have no ability to resist.

It makes sense this psalm is short, just a few verses. Long prayers aren’t necessarily better. Prayers can be short, especially when it is a frantic cry for God’s help. There is nothing in Holy Scripture that dictates how long or short prayer ought to be. “Help!” just might be one of the best prayers we can pray. One little word. That’s all it takes.

It also makes sense to me that this is an honest prayer. When in the throes of some horrible situation, all pretension goes out the window. Honest heartfelt prayers are the best kind of prayer. If we are hurting badly enough, boldness comes quickly to the tip of our tongues. I once had a kidney stone (which was extremely painful!). I walked in a bent over position into the Emergency Department of a hospital and yelled at the first staff person I saw, saying, “I want help, NOW!

To confess our great need to a God who listens might just be the best kind of theology we could ever express. In such a terrible place as the psalmist was, there is no thought to keeping up appearances. There is only an unfiltered expression of need. Our prayers can be earnest and urgent.

Prayer can be short, honest, and urgent because emergent situations require it. So, what do you do when you feel desperate? How do you handle your emotions? Where do you go for help?

In this Holy Week we are reminded that Jesus looked to the Father for help. In the worst of circumstances – facing ridicule, torture, and a horrible death – the Lord Jesus let the psalms shape his own prayers of desperation while under severe stress and duress:

“The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” (John 13:18; Psalm 41:9)

“They hated me without a cause.” (John 15:24; Psalm 69:4)

“I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” (Matthew 26:38; Psalm 42:5-6)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1)

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:16)

There is a God who understands our plight. Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation, has gone before us in the way of suffering and knows what it is like to experience the agony and anguish of evil’s weight. He is our great high priest, the one who can intercede effectively and compassionately for us in our great times of need:

 Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So, let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. (Hebrews 4:14-16, MSG)

May you find in Jesus the help you so desperately need. Amen.