Friday, February 28, 2014

Behind the Words

"What did she really mean when she said that?" Have you asked that question before? I know I have. When you pray the Lord's prayer, have you ever felt there was more to it than the obvious words you're speaking? Frankly, I didn't until I read Listening to the Language of the Bible by Lois Tverberg.

Right from the beginning, there's more behind the first two words, "Our Father," than you might realize. Take note that Jesus didn't just start with Father or My Father. He started the example prayer with reminding the people that God is the Father to all of Israel not just himself. According to Lois it also reminded the people that we need to pray as a group, not just separately.

What I didn't know was that there were several corporate prayers in place that began in the same way. But, as I see it, this time Jesus makes it personal for them. The people have heard Jesus referring to God as "my father in heaven"; a phrase the Messiah was expected to call God because of his close relationship to him. Did you know this was one of the Messianic prophecies? (2 Samuel 7) I didn't.

So, Jesus who has been calling God my father turns to the people and says our father. It's like your best friend's mom saying, "Don't call me Mrs. Jones. Call me mom." Do you think the people understood that they could have the same close relationship? And Jesus didn't stop with reminding us to pray as a group or calling God, Father. He reminded us that when we speak to God we need to remember his name is to be kept holy.

This is easy to say. But do we keep God's name holy all the time? Do we respect it and view it with awe and wonder? In everything we do? I'm sure most of us watch our words so that we show this respect. But is there more we can do?

In scripture, names are important because it's part of a person's reputation. And not just the name but the meaning behind it. Today the meanings of names are often not considered when a baby is named. But, back in the days of the Bible it was very important. I have to admit my name held no significant meaning to me until a pastor explained it. . .then I was blessed to have a name of blessing.

My eyes were opened when Lois pointed out that our actions, which are said to speak louder than words, can often bring more disgrace and dishonor to God's name than anything else. Most people think curse words dishonor God's name, and this is true. It shows little respect for the God we worship. But, according to the lesson in Lois's book we need to consider our actions.

I'd never thought of sinful or thoughtless actions as being a form of failure in keeping God's name holy. Now I've learned that watching my words isn't enough. I need to watch my actions. When I don't forgive someone I dishonor God's name of Forgiver. When I place my activity above taking the time to go to a friend in need I fail to honor God's name as Healer and Friend. The more I think about it, the more shortcomings there are in keeping God's name holy. Ouch. Keeping a good name for God should be at the core of our words and our actions.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Testing Gideon Again

This week I want to talk about the little known details around Gideon's testing of God through fleece. It's the story he's most known for. (Judges 6-8) But, do you notice God doesn't belittle Gideon for asking these things of him? Our God is a patient person, especially when asked. I take so much comfort in that.

So to catch us up from last week, let's review. Gideon tore down an idol worship center which made the Midianite men angry, so they sent for help in killing Gideon. Gideon has also sent word out to his tribe and the tribes surrounding his area. And while he's waiting for help to arrive Gideon realizes he must know without a doubt that his God is for him and going ahead of him. Which when you get further into the story is a good thing to know.

You may ask, "why fleece? Why did Gideon pick fleece and dew?" Here's an interesting fact; the Midianites thought Baal was the one who provided the dew and rain for their crops. I'm sure that's one of the reasons Gideon picked the fleece-dew requests. It was a great way to be shown that indeed his God was greater than any false god any day of the week.

Another interesting fact is that it's summer, when moist air from the Mediterranean Sea would cool off at night then settle on the land as heavy dew. But this effect didn't occur every night. And, according to A Visual Guide to Bible Events, the threshing floor where the fleece was placed would have been on or near a ridge where a constant wind blew. Between the heat from the rising sun and the wind the threshing floor would dry first before the rest of the ground.

So when Gideon asked to have the fleece wet with dew and the ground dry, it was actually an expected possibility. Fleece is naturally quite absorbent, so the dew would not have dried up as fast as the land. So even though he squeezed a large amount of water from the fleece, Gideon realizes he needs to change the request. And so he does.

But as the men arrive to help Gideon he is faced with another internal struggle. Surveying the valley filled with Midianites who've come to fight him, he views a sea of men and camels. He has to remind himself that God is on his side, especially when only 32,000 men have arrived to help him. Imagine his surprise when God tells him, "that's too many."

At least Gideon is told that God wants it clear who is delivering the nation from the Midianites. He reminds Gideon how men tend to think they alone had a hand in their victories. So Gideon sends the fearful men away. I know if it were me, I would have a sick feeling in my stomach when over two-thirds of the men left. But Gideon is told it's still too many.

I love this next step of weeding out the the men. God tells Gideon to have the men drink some water from the nearby spring. You have to read closely or you miss who God chooses to have fight this battle. Note, the kneelers are positioned to keep an eye out for what's going on around them as they drink the water; the lappers have their head down focused on the water they're drinking.

Who would you pick? The guys with one eye out, ready to stand and fight if need be, right? Well, that's not who God chooses. God chooses the ones who are focused on drinking the water as a dog laps.

No matter what people may think of Gideon and his 300 men, God worked a miracle through them. This is a perfect story to show God uses those whom he chooses, not always the people men think will get the job done.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Testing Gideon

After reading about Gideon in A Visual Guide to Bible Events and then in Judges 6-8, I realized there's more to the story of Gideon than asking for wet and dry fleece. I for one can associate with him in many ways. Think about it. What would your reaction be if someone suddenly appears where you're at and tells you you're going to do something big? Can you picture yourself asking, "What? Who me?" I can.

I've heard him called a fearful man. . .hiding in the wine press to thresh some wheat he'd gleaned from the harvest; tearing down an altar at night. But when you read the last part of verse 11 you realize he's smart and crafty. Yet, he doesn't believe it when he's told that he, the youngest son of the smallest family in his tribe, will be a conqueror. He doesn't even realize for another five verses that it's an angel of God talking to him.

Before his revelation, he puts the words of this stranger to task and asks for a sign that he has God's favor. (6:17) That's when the angel of God burned up the meal offering Gideon had prepared for him, which turned out to be Gideon's wake up call to God's proclamation. And, obviously his moment to shake in his sandals because he's told to relax; he wasn't going to die. If someone I had been speaking to vanished from my presence and kept talking, I'd be shaking in my shoes.

Then God tells him to tear down the altar built to Baal, the god of the Midianites. Rebuild an altar to God. And, burn a sacrifice on it. Now at that time this is a huge request/test for Gideon. Yes, he knows that he was just told he would lead Israel in victory against the Midianites, but first he has to do something that affects him at home.

Isn't that how God works? Tells us he will do something through us, but then asks us to do something smaller in a place or area that affects us personally. Having us take an action in a smaller setting before putting us on the bigger stage, so to speak.

So, it's no wonder Gideon hesitates in doing this thing for God. He knows that if he attempts this in the daylight he will be stopped by his father and the rest of the men in the city. He will be unable to complete the task God has for him. So in his craftiness yet with fear of the power these men have over him, he does it at night.

And the repercussions of this action? Gideon's father, Joash, stands up and defends him against the men of the city and tells them that Baal should defend himself. Don't you think Gideon was taken aback when he heard what his father did? Joash didn't give the men full access to Gideon so that they could kill him. Gideon had to be shocked.

Of course, as often happens, his dad starts calling him by a nickname that will remind him of what he's done. There is no mention of Gideon's father or family after this episode, but we do know one thing. Joash didn't lay a hand of punishment on him. Perhaps he noticed a difference in his son. Perhaps Joash only went along with some of the worship practices to a fake god because he feared the Midianites as well. And, inwardly was glad to see his youngest son have the guts to stand up to their oppressors.

It's those smaller steps before you get to the final goal that can be the toughest ones to take. Gideon isn't the only one to fear telling family, "hey I have to tear down this family tradition because God told me to." And the courage it takes to do the big thing has to be seeded in the smaller steps. Moving away from the norm is a difficult thing to do, especially in the first step.

Friday, February 7, 2014

When There Seems to Be No Way

Remember we talked about the Israelites falling away from God after conquering the land of Canaan? Unfortunately, they didn't get back on track with God very well and went through a time when judges led them against their enemies. Deborah, the only female recorded to be a judge, went from giving counsel on situations to accompanying men to fight the enemy. Can you imagine. . .a woman, in those days going to battle? (Judges 4,5)

Let's picture this battle. They take ten thousand men onto a dome of a mountain, Mt Tabor, that sits 1,929 feet above the valley floor. As they gather to await further instructions from God the Cannanites arrive on the valley floor with 900 chariots, and foot soldiers, ready for battle. As the authors of A Visual Guide To Bible Events put it, these chariots were the equivalent of tanks.

Can you imagine? Unarmed farmers going up against tanks? Surely they asked themselves. . ."What is God thinking? We wanted to be rescued from this awful leader and this is God's answer? We have no horses or chariots, how are we going to beat them? Will they come up to fight us?"

So, they're safely on the mountaintop, the enemy arrives with weapons, it starts to rain, and God directs them to go down to the valley to fight. Even though the odds look to be against them and they might not have understood why they were leaving the better fighting position, they followed God's instructions through the prophetess Deborah.

The battle ready Canaanites were probably rejoicing that they didn't have to leave the protection of their chariots to fight an uphill battle against the ill prepared Israelites. Each and every charioteer would have thought victory was soon theirs. But they forgot one little thing. . .it was raining.

God gave the Israelites this one advantage. If you look at pictures of the landscape or see a map you'll notice there is a creek bed, called the Kishon River, that runs by Mt Tabor. Now from pictures I've seen it resembles Texas in this way. . . when it rains the creek becomes a torrential river, quickly. And dry land can become impassable before your very eyes.

Now let's look at the scene again. The Israelites are on the top of the mountain. God tells them to go down to the valley floor just as a downpour begins. And when they get to the bottom of the mountain, water has pushed out from the overflowing Kishon River and is flooding the entire area.

The Canaanites run for their lives, leaving chariots and probably weapons behind as they run away from the torrential flooding waters. The Israelites are able to catch up with their enemy and bring them down. The victory is theirs. But only because God made a way.

You know, as I look at this scene and apply it to my life and the experiences of those around me, I have to say that God still works that way. Sometimes when things look lost God brings a victory. And sometimes he does it by asking us to do the strangest things at the strangest times.