Month: February 2014

Mighty Warrior

Then the Angel of the LORD appeared to him and said: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”
(Judges 6:12 HCSB)

Gideon was just a young guy threshing wheat in a wine vat to hide it from the Midianites. If there was one thing Gideon did not feel like that day it was a mighty warrior.  After all, mighty warriors don’t hide when threshing their wheat.

Gideon said to Him, “Please Sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, ‘Hasn’t the LORD brought us out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.”
(Judges 6:13 HCSB)

Gideon asks a good question.  Why?  This is the very question that you and I will ask when our lives take a turn toward suffering.  If you are looking for an answer to that question I’ve got bad news for you. You won’t find it here.  It’s as if God completely ignores Gideon’s question.  Not that it is a bad question.  It just reflects what he and probably everyone else is thinking.

When Gideon was a boy he probably sat around a campfire and heard his elders tell wondrous stories about God’s deliverance from Egypt.  About the fall of Jericho and the miracles that God did when delivering his people.  But that all seemed like old news now. Now life was hard and miracles were no where in sight.  Gideon knew one thing for sure, God had abandoned them to the control of Midian.

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you?” He said to Him, “Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”  (Judges 6:14-15 HCSB)

If you are God and you are looking for someone to deliver your people who would you choose?

  • The tallest?
  • The strongest?
  • The smartest?
  • The natural born leader?
  • The guy with the biggest mouth?

God doesn’t choose like that.  In fact, the one time he did choose someone who might fit that description (Saul) He later said that he regretted making Saul king.

Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world–what is viewed as nothing–to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us–our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 1:26-31 HCSB)

God has chosen what is weak to shame the strong. Why? So that no one can boast in His presence.  God will not share his glory (Isa 42:8).  I think this one principle is at work in the way God works with us today. Whatever God does in your life, he must get the glory, not you.  The glory belongs to him and it will destroy you.  In fact, the loving thing for God to do is to prevent you from getting the glory and how does he do that?  By choosing the weak.  This is very good news because I am definitely weak.

Go in the strength you have

There must have been thousands of sermons preached on this one line.  It is so powerful and so true. Gideon could have waited for God to make him strong but then he would be tempted to take the glory for himself. God’s word to Gideon is likely the same thing he says to you and I today.  Go in the strength you have.  But, you argue… I don’t have much strength.  Exactly! So when God comes through you won’t be destroyed by boasting!  Look at how God responds to Gideon’s objection.

“But I will be with you,” the LORD said to him. “You will strike Midian down as if it were one man.” (Judges 6:16 HCSB)

In the end Gideon got a seat in the Faith Hall of Fame (Heb 11).  He got that seat because he was willing to go and not just go in strength but go in weakness.

Consider Saul who later became Paul.  Now he wasn’t weak. In fact, he was pretty strong as he mentions his credentials in 2 Cor 11.  He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. If God was going to send someone to win the Jew’s surely he would send Paul and yet Jesus told Ananias

“…Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!”

(Acts 9:15b-16 HCSB)

Gentiles? Yes. You might think that perhaps it would be better for God to send a gentile to minister to the gentiles but instead he sends a Jew.  God’s strategy was Jew first, then gentiles. So it makes sense that he sends a man who understands the big picture of thousands of years of history with God and his chosen people.

For if I want to boast, I will not be a fool, because I will be telling the truth. But I will spare you, so that no one can credit me with something beyond what he sees in me or hears from me, especially because of the extraordinary revelations. Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.
(2 Corinthians 12:6-9 HCSB)

In order to make Paul effective, God had to make him weak. Did you see that? Jesus said to him “power is perfected in weakness”.  If God’s power were poured out on a proud man he would quickly be taking the credit for the work that was done. He would begin boasting about his great power and partnership with God as Moses did when the water came from the rock.

Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you?” (Numbers 20:10 HCSB)

We Moses? Did you think that you had the power here?  After the many miracles Moses had performed his pride began to rise up and he took credit for power that didn’t come from him.  Moses paid a steep price for this sin.

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me to show My holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12 HCSB)

God said Moses did not trust Him.  It’s hard to be weak and leave it all in God’s hand. But if we want God’s power to be shown in our lives then that is exactly what we must do.  God allowed sickness into my life and it made me weak. Sometimes I feel so weak I can’t hardly walk. Could it be that God made me weak so that he wouldn’t destroy me by using me? I think that just might be the case.  If so, then I can gladly along with Paul boast in my weaknesses.

You did not obey me

When the Israelites cried out to Him because of Midian, the LORD sent a prophet to them. He said to them, “This is what the LORD God of Israel says: ‘I brought you out of Egypt and out of the place of slavery. I delivered you from the power of Egypt and the power of all who oppressed you. I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you: I am Yahweh your God. Do not fear the gods of the Amorites whose land you live in. But you did not obey Me.'” Judges 6:7-10 HCSB

What does God want to do with me? What does he want me to do?  These are important questions for everyone to answer.  Every now and then you get a glimpse of God’s heart in scripture and this is one of those places.  I believe the God allowed Midian to torment Israel to get them to cry out to Him.  He wanted them to listen and when their suffering was enough they cried out to God.

Look at what he says.  I brought you out. I delivered you. I drove them out. I am Yahweh your God. Is he saying “I did this, now you owe me this?” No. Not at all. He is simply saying “Look what I am able to do. Look what I did for your ancestors.” He is giving them one simple command “Do not fear the gods of the Amorites.”  Now we are getting somewhere.  They were living in a foreign land and they began to fear the gods of the Amorites.  What do you do when you fear these false gods?  You worship them.  This is exactly what was happening in Israel. They wanted Yahweh and Baal. Yahweh and Ashtoreth.  After all, aren’t two gods better than one or better yet, three gods?  Better to have all the bases covered right?

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides Me. Exodus 20:2-3 HCSB

The problem is that Yahweh isn’t going to play that game with you. The first of the ten commandments says “Do not have other gods besides Me.”  With that command God completely rules out Yahweh And ____.  There is room for only one God, one King, one Lord on the throne and he will not share it with others. I believe that by allowing Midian to torment Israel God was showing a severe mercy.  Yes! Mercy.  God was giving them just enough suffering to get them to cry out and when they cried out he sent a prophet.

The role of a prophet is to speak God’s word to you.  Perhaps you aren’t listening, aren’t reading your bible and God wants to get your attention. When you go to church and the pastor brings a message that speaks to you that is what a prophet does. Speaks a message from the Lord.  When I preach, I am acting in the role of a prophet, not foretelling the future, just speaking the word of God to you as I’m moved by the Holy Spirit.  This is a glorious privilege and I never want to take it lightly.

What about you? Are you ready to abandon God and ____?  God and Money?  God and My career?  Until you are ready to make that step you will never experience the blessings God intended for your life.  Your choices will force God to bring suffering your way until you cry out.

A Wasted Land

The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD handed them over to Midian seven years, and they oppressed Israel. Because of Midian, the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites, Amalekites, and the Qedemites came and attacked them. They encamped against them and destroyed the produce of the land, even as far as Gaza. They left nothing for Israel to eat, as well as no sheep, ox or donkey. For the Midianites came with their cattle and their tents like a great swarm of locusts. They and their camels were without number, and they entered the land to waste it. Judges 6:1-5 HCSB

The relationship of Israel to the promised land is an analogy for the relationship of a Christ follower to the life of walking in the spirit. When God promised the land look at what he said.

The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. Genesis 12:1 HCSB

From the very first call of Abram the call was to leave the old place and go the the land. Abram had no idea what the land was or where it was but he had faith in God so he left. When we come to Christ we know so little. We cannot imagine a spiritual land of blessing and our first big challenge is to leave the old land.

The old land had it’s ways. It had it’s gods, it’s pleasures, and everything you have ever known was in the old land. Sometimes we want to stay in the old land and invite Christ to meet us there but he has called us to “Go out from your land.”

I Will Give This Land

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your offspring.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7 HCSB

When Abram got to the place of obedience and went where the Lord had told him to go God made a great promise; “I will give this land to your offspring.” Notice, he did not say “I will give you this land.” In fact, Abram lived as a foreigner in the land as did Isaac and Jacob.

Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. 1 Peter 2:11 HCSB

In our journey, we are in the land, but not of it. Abram was in Canaan but he was not of it. Our call is to live as holy people in an unholy land. Like Abram we may never set foot in the land of promise but we can see it by faith from afar. Abram’s faith was that his offspring would one day receive the land.

Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions. But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age. In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Genesis 15:13-16 HCSB

Four generations before they would return to the land. That would be like my great-great-great-grandchild. What if God said, I want you to do something that won’t benefit you, and in fact could make your life harder for a time, to benefit your great-great-great-grandchildren; would you do it? We are so self-focused in our culture that most of us rarely do anything that isn’t primarily about us.

They Entered The Land To Waste It

By the time we get to Judges the Israelites are learning about living in the land and they are not obeying the Lord and God allowed their enemies to come in “and they entered the land to waste it” (Judges 6:5). What a terrible tragedy. For the Israelites this waste was not just a metaphor. Their enemies came and stole whatever wasn’t nailed down. People were starving, hiding in caves and dying because their enemies entered the land, and God let them in.

So Israel became poverty-stricken because of Midian, and the Israelites cried out to the LORD. Judges 6:6 HCSB

Why would a loving God allow their enemies to waste the land? So that Judges 6:6 would happen; “and the Israelites cried out to the LORD.” Could it be that the things in your life that are laying waste to the land are there for a reason? They are there because God wants you to cry out to Him? The first step in a great deliverance is reaching the place where you are poverty-stricken and you cry out to the LORD.

Seven Years a Slave

The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD handed them over to Midian seven years, Judges 6:1 HCSB

When i consider the history of the Jewish people and the story of their struggle to maintain a relationship with God and conquer their own sin by means of the law I see it as a very long and ornate message to us today that says “You cannot fix your sin problem.” The book of Judges is similar to much of the flow of my spiritual life. At times I was doing good and then at other times Ron did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.

What will God do to turn his children away from evil? Nearly anything. Like any loving parent He will do whatever it takes to save his children. Including handing them over to the consequences of their sin.

The LORD handed them over

Really? God handed them over? You bet he did. Because to continue to bless them while they polluted themselves and their country with evil would be the worst possible thing God could do for them. If your teenager is flunking all his classes, drinking, drugging and getting in trouble with the police would you continue to supply him with a car, money and whatever else he asks for? Of course not because you want what is best for him and perhaps the best thing would be to hand him over to the police. Hand him over to life without a car or money etc.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. Romans 1:28 NIV

When you hand your child over to the consequences of their sin you do so in the hope that they will see their sin for the evil that it really is. You hope that they will turn around. God however does not think that way. He knows what they will do. He knows those who will embrace evil and never turn away from it.

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:29-32 NIV

God hands them over to experience the fruit of their choice. It is an ugly fruit, bitter and rotten to the core. The sad truth is that the vast majority of humans that ever lived and walked on the earth lived this way. Thankfully God did not give everyone up. He chose for himself a people and he wrote a message across the pages of history that says “You cannot save yourself, You need a savior.”

Secret Gives Birth To Lie – Potiphar Edition

Some time ago a thought came to me. I don’t know if it was from God or just a realization after painful life experiences but the thought was

“A secret is a lie waiting to be born”

Think about it. If you have a secret, doesn’t really matter what kind of secret, you will in almost every case lie to protect your secret; people do it all the time, businesses do it, governments do it and you have done it too… (yes, you have).

In our study on Joseph we’ve come to a place where I want to focus on Mrs. Potiphar for a minute. Remember from my last post how she asked Joseph to sleep with her (and we are not talking about taking a nap here). Just think back… there was a day when she was looking at Joseph and a secret desire hatched in her heart. I’ve been saying that while God causes all things to work together for good that does not mean that God causes all things. God did not cause Mrs. Potiphar to lust after Joseph because James 1:13 says God does not tempt anyone.  So how does it happen then?

But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. James 1:14 HCSB

Mrs. Potiphar has a Thinker (mind), Feeler (emotions) and Chooser (will). Maybe she had a fight with Mr. Potiphar as he left for work one morning. Maybe he was mean or distant or whatever. Maybe she had a very good reason to feel hurt and then her Feeler starting working overtime. Her Feeler wants to be loved by a man and maybe Mr. Potiphar isn’t the only man in sight. Perhaps she eyes young, well-built, Joseph and her Feeler says “You go girl… you deserve to be happy.” After dropping at least 100 hints she finally just comes right out and says “Sleep with me.” Does she know it is wrong? Of course she does, why else make up the story about rape?

Somewhere along the say Mrs. Potiphar’s Feeler convinced her Chooser to make the choice to bring a secret to life. What is the secret? She wants to sleep with Joseph. As long as this remains just a desire in her feeler nobody needs to know about it but the feeler is enticing her chooser. It is whispering in her ear how she deserves to be happy and that a secret fling with Joseph would be just the thing to do it.

If she had the Holy Spirit in her heart like a Christ follower would, she could have stopped the whole process in it’s tracks. But she doesn’t have the Holy Spirit and she is held captive to sin. There is no stopping this process in her life. Evil Desire sprung up from the Feeler and enticed her Chooser to choose to embrace that desire.

Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. James 1:15 HCSB

There is some time between conception and birth right? For humans about 9 months. For other animals less or more. There is some time between when your Chooser chooses embrace that desire and the birth of sin that comes from that desire. I don’t know how long it is. It is probably different for different people and different desires but there is a moment where you could abort that sin. Yes, I cannot believe I breathed that ugly word for a horrific practice on my blog but follow me for a second here.

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24 HCSB

Imagine a young woman, she turns up pregnant. At first she embraced the desire and her Chooser chose desire which would inevitably lead to sin. Now she is regretting her choice. It greatly saddens me to think of young women who find themselves in the place but this is just an illustration so track with me. Can she, on her own, terminate her pregnancy?

Perhaps, but probably not safely and would most likely fail to prevent the birth. She needs help to terminate this inevitable birth. Again, I can’t believe I’m writing this but, I think the Holy Spirit can perform the abortion on that sin that was conceived.

So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:12-13 HCSB

If by the Spirit you put to death. That sounds exactly like going to the doctor who can save you and saying “Doctor, do whatever you have to do to prevent this birth from happening.” Please, please don’t ever think I condone abortion of a human being, I would never do that. What I would condone is abortion of a sin before it is born. In the space between choosing an evil desire and the inevitable birth of that sin there is an opportunity to turn it back.

If sin is not aborted, it starts growing in your life, dominating your every move making you a slave to sin and there is still a chance to turn it back while it is young and small. It’s much harder now but there is an opportunity to put it to death. But if you wait… If you wait until sin is full grown, it will bring forth a grandchild named death.

But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Romans 5:8 HCSB

Can you believe it? Even when we were completely dead in our sins Christ died for us! That ought to shake your world today.

Sadly, Mrs. Potiphar did not have the Holy Spirit to help her. The secret was born and then the lie was told.

Then she told him the same story: “The Hebrew slave you brought to us came to make a fool of me, but when I screamed for help, he left his garment with me and ran outside.” Genesis 39:17-18 HCSB

Falsely accused, Joseph went to prison because a secret gave birth to a lie. Joseph found peace in all this eventually. He told his brothers, and I think he might have said the same thing to Mrs. Potiphar, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Joseph – the hunk

He left all that he owned under Joseph’s authority; he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome. After some time his master’s wife looked longingly at Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.”
Genesis 39:6-7 HCSB

I’ve been preaching a message series call How God Works about Joseph for a couple of weeks now. Today we might flip that title around and think about How Satan Works for this one.

Here’s Joseph, he’s young probably around 18-20 at this point and he is a hunk. Not only does he look good physically but he is probably a very pleasant person to be around. You don’t get to be in charge of everything while being a jerk right?  So there he is minding his own business, doing what God wants and then out of the blue she drops a bomb.

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance–as I told you before–that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21 HCSB

Where did this come from? Potiphar’s wife was just doing what people do apart from Christ. Their flesh controls their behavior for the most part and the result is sexual immorality.  Now if you want to trip up a young man there is probably no better way than the put him face to face with a woman willing to sleep with him. Of all the temptations Joseph could have faced this was probably one of the most difficult to turn away.

Does Satan want to trip up Joseph? Absolutely. After all he wants to steal, kill and destroy and not just Joseph but you and me. Joseph didn’t have a new testament to turn to but I think God had given him the same kind of insight that Peter had when he wrote.

Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. 1 Peter 5:8 HCSB

Was Joseph serious (some translations use the word sober) and alert (or vigilant) when it comes to temptation? I suppose the best indication is what he said when he was tempted.

But he refused. “Look,” he said to his master’s wife, “with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority. No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?” Although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her. Genesis 39:8-10 HCSB

Joseph… Dude! Day after day she’s like “sleep with me” and he’s like “no way!” Wow. What he said tells us what he was thinking and that is the first most amazing part of the whole story. At just the point when your average guy is not thinking at all, Joseph is thinking.

He has withheld nothing from me except you

The first person he is thinking about is Potiphar and the trust the Potiphar has placed in Joseph. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself and this is exactly what Joseph is doing right here. By saying no to Mrs. Potiphar he is loving Potiphar and honoring the trust placed in him.

Hormones are short term thinkers. They are all about rip the clothes off and do the deed as soon as possible… worry about the consequences later. Joseph had learned how to set his thinker on God’s ways and when his hormones caused his feeler to want something unholy his chooser had the strength to say no.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word. Psalms 119:9 HCSB

So if I want to keep from being ruled by my hormones I need to keep God’s word. The only way I can do that is by walking in the Spirit.

I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 HCSB

The verb here “walk” means to establish a pattern of living that is marked by depending on the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome the hormones that would lead us down some very bad paths.

I seriously doubt that this encounter with Potiphar’s wife was the first time she was hitting on him. I suspect that there were several hints dropped earlier and Joseph was probably doing his best to ignore them. Perhaps after one of those hints he might have prayed like this.

God – Mrs. Potiphar wants to sleep with me and I know that it is wrong. Even though I know that it is wrong, deep down I want to do it. At the same time, I know that doing this would be a terrible thing. Change my heart so that I want to serve you more than I want to sin against you.

Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit that helped Joseph to move the focus of his thinking from Mrs. Potiphar to Mr. Potiphar. Now he is thinking about the trust placed in him and how he would hate to violate that trust.

Do you think that Joseph and Mrs. Potiphar would have gotten away with it? If they went down that road and slept together? Could they have kept it a secret? Probably… at least for a short while. But sooner or later it would have come out. Even if it didn’t… this relationship would have never been fulfilling in the long term. It was doomed from the start and perhaps the Holy Spirit was helping Joseph to think long term.

Most of all, Joseph was thinking about his relationship with God. Did you notice what he said?

“…how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9b

Joseph realized that this sin even if he got away with keeping it secret would damage his relationship with God.  Some people think that the relationship with God is no problem. Just pray a quick prayer for forgiveness and everything is fine and dandy.

And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30 HCSB

Yes… forgiven. But unscathed? No. James MacDonald says “Choose to sin; choose to suffer.” You suffer, your relationship with God suffers, your reputation suffers, your relationships suffer. Oh God please help us never to choose suffering over obedience.

Perhaps Joseph could have just gone back to his room and had an imaginary encounter with Mrs. Potiphar (if you know what I mean). Suppose he went that route and told himself that it was better than sleeping with her so it was ok.  That is partly true, it is better than sleeping with her but it is clearly not the victory that the Holy Spirit intended to bring about in his life.

If Joseph was regularly having sex with Mrs. Potiphar in his imagination, how long do you think it would be until he was having sex with her in real life? Not every long. Don’t kid yourself. Imaginary lovers are not the solution.

Ultimately Joseph would get married and have kids. And that my friends is God’s solution for hormones. Those desires are God’s insurance policy that there will be a next generation. Until the day when you are mature enough and ready enough to make the commitment of marriage you will have to fight hormones and honor God with your body.