Joshua, Caleb, and the Fearful Ten

When I think of the word “courage”, the pictures that pop up in my mind are of soldiers on a battlefield, police officers on a call where weapons are drawn, or firefighters responding to a raging fire with people inside. Courage isn’t limited to those situations. It can be displayed at any time or place.  It isn’t limited to those wearing a uniform and it doesn’t have to be a matter of life and death.  Courage is when one does what the Lord would have them do, often taking the difficult instead of the easy road, even though they are scared silly.

The Bible provides many stories having the ingredient of courage. One of them is the story of Joshua and Caleb. It is a dramatic and powerful tale of two who did the right thing surrounded by those who chose to give in to fear and doubt.

The Israelites led by Moses had fled Egypt to their destination of the promised land of Canaan initially promised by God to their forefather Abraham. Joshua and Caleb’s story begins where the Israelites were at the threshold of this Promised Land.

Moses sent Joshua, Caleb, and ten other spies into the Promised Land to check out who the enemy was and report back what they saw.  The spies returned after scouting the land for 40 days. All twelve agreed that Canaan did flow with milk and honey and it possessed bountiful fruit. They all reported the inhabitants were powerful, their cities fortified, and they even saw descendants of Anak there. (The Israelites felt like grasshoppers in the presence of the sons of Anak who were endowed with height). The people focused more on the strength of the enemy than the milk, honey, and fruit.

There was not full agreement among the spies on what to do about it. The majority believed the enemy was a mountain too high to climb. Joshua and Caleb were of the opinion that the land was conquerable because they had the Lord on their side and the Canaanites did not. That made all the difference. They stated:

“‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’” (Numbers 14:6–9).

Although Caleb and Joshua were outnumbered, they didn’t change their minds to appease the majority. Their belief in going forward to battle wasn’t based on what they saw, but on what they couldn’t see.  It’s called living one’s faith.

The people didn’t listen to the courageous two, but to the fearful ten. They even turned on their leader, Moses, and complained about being led out to the wilderness to come this far only to die. It was a bad day for Moses. It seemed that sometimes the hardest part of Moses’s job was not dealing with the enemy or the physical challenges of traveling a multitude of people, but the “people” themselves who may have kept Moses up many a night with their complaining.

God threw up His hands so to speak. The punishment of the people’s lack of faith was making them wait forty years to enter the land (a year for every day the spies were spying out the land). He also promised that every person 20 years old or older would die in the wilderness.  Think about that!  All those 20 and above knew they had no more than 40 years to live and would never leave the wilderness alive.  If one was 20, one knew they wouldn’t live past 60 and would only see the land flowing with milk and honey in their dreams.

There were two exceptions.  Numbers 14:38, “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.”

After the death of Moses 40 years later, Joshua led the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He won every battle and thus possessed the land that God had initially promised Joshua’s forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Oh, and Caleb? Well, he received an inheritance in the Promised Land in his ripe old age (Joshua 14).

Courage isn’t limited to adults.   I can think of another place where I have personally witnessed courage while on my job as a substitute teacher’s aide. A child is alone amidst a host of classmates on a playground. The child is perceived by the other children to be different.  Maybe it’s the child’s different skin color, or a brace on their leg, or doesn’t speak or talks too much, flaps his hands, spins in circles, or their legs are useless to them.  One of their classmates joins the child.  He or she is pointed at and snickered for giving attention to the “different” one. But the one who stands alone pays their snickering classmates no mind. That child who is putting into practice Jesus’s command to love one’s neighbor as thyself is displaying courage. Just as Joshua and Caleb did when they stood alone amidst the fearful ten.

 

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The Greatest Invitation

A party is not a bad thing if you like such things.  Not that I would know but I assume those who are the life of a party welcome party invitations unless it’s an invite with people that they if they had a choice, they’d see an orthodontist instead.  I don’t get many invitations and that doesn’t keep me up at night.  Coming up with a plausible excuse to get out of an invitation or dreading going to one does.  I have learned from observation that a simple “no” to a party invite with no excuse or a lame one is a social no-no.  Social interaction just doesn’t come easy for me and others on the autism spectrum.

One of Jesus’s parables was about an invitation to a great banquet.  You can read all about it in Luke 14:16-24.  The banquet was hosted by a certain man who I am speculating had a fair amount of wealth.  I assume that since the banquet was for many guests.  I have never hosted a party, but it just makes sense that the bigger the guest list, the bigger the price tag.

At the time of the banquet, the host sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  The servant went around giving the invitation and was turned down by invitees, one by one, who asked to be excused.  They all had their excuses and some of them were so lame that the servant might have scratched his head wondering why they couldn’t have come up with a better excuse.

Jesus gave three examples of those who asked to be excused from coming.  One said he had just bought a field and must go and see it.  Hm?  Who would buy a field before seeing it?  

Another claimed he had just bought five yoke of oxen and was on his way to try them out.  Hm?  Who would buy five oxen before trying them out?  That’s like me buying a car without a test drive.  

And a third said he had just got married and couldn’t come.  Hm?  He couldn’t bring his bride along?  Or, she laid down the law to him that his partying days were over?  

The servant came back and reported the bad news of repeated “please excuse me” responses.  The house owner was livid.  Now why all his invited guests did not want to attend a banquet given by the host isn’t told in the parable.  I gather that wasn’t the point Jesus was getting at in this parable.  The meaning of the parable wasn’t about how to get out of a party given by someone you’d rather not break bread with.

The owner of the house ordered his servant to go out into the town streets and alleys and bring in the poor, crippled, blind and the lame.  After the servant had completed the task, he reported to his master what had been done and that there was still room for more.  The master told his servant to go out to the roads and country lanes and invite the folks to come in so that his house would be full.  Instead of his banquet attended by those he had invited in the first place, it was full of strangers.  The master said he did not want one of those who asked to be excused to even get so much as a taste of his banquet feast.

Every parable was an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  This one was no exception.  Jesus was like the banquet host in extending an invitation.  The Gospel was first given to the Jews.  Some believed but there were those Jews who did not.  Some of those unbelievers were Jewish priests, elders, and scribes among others.  On the other hand, there were believers who were the outcasts.  Like the Samaritan woman at the well, a short-in-stature chief tax collector named Zaccheus, and a woman who lived a sinful life whom Jesus allowed to anoint his feet with perfume.

Jesus gave His life to give the greatest invitation to all who will accept it.  The gift of salvation isn’t limited to a particular group of people.  My own personal favorite scripture of invitation is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  I’m so thankful for that “whosoever”.

I’m thankful, too, more than words can say, that Jesus’s invitation was one I did accept!

The Prophet Who Did Not Drown

Habakkuk was one of the Old Testament (OT) prophets and author of the OT book named after him. His name is a lot easier for me to say than to spell. He is somewhat a mystery because of the 66 books of the Bible, his name only appears in his book twice – in the first verse and first verse in the third chapter. There’s no mention of his hometown or parents or tribe. He doesn’t say where he resided but some Bible scholars concluded he lived in Jersalem at the time he wrote his book. He does provide his title “the prophet”.

Habakkuk must have chosen not to write about himself. There’s nothing wrong with that. His focus wasn’t on himself, but on what he saw and the “why” of it. He saw famine. He saw injustice. Something was eating at him and it was what he saw as God’s uninvolvement in the world. He wanted to see God at work, particularly in the area of justice for those who did evil. Habakkuk lamented but who can’t relate to that. If one is a stranger to lament, then one is a rare bird!

I haven’t figured out, don’t expect I ever will, of how much control I have of what happens to me or around me. But I do have a say in how I respond to it. Instead of throwing tantrums, blaming God, Habakkuk prayed. His book is mostly a conversation between him and God. These conversations led to something amazing for the prophet. Judging from Habakkuk 3:17-19, he was able to praise even in the middle of a drought.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

3:19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.

One would think there’s no joy in famine, but Habakkuk found something to rejoice about. God hadn’t left him. Because of God, the prophet had hope there was an end to the famine. He had hoped the sweet would come. Verse 19 speaks of the deer who is known for being fast on its feet and ability to jump over any obstacle. We all have a race and it’s called life and it sure has its obstacles!  Don’t we all know it!

Decades ago, I recall watching a TV episode from the show, “The Walton’s”. If you remember watching the original episodes, you are probably a baby boomer. For those of you who aren’t boomers or have no idea what I’m referring to, the show was about a family living through the Great Depression. The Depression was “real” and one of the worse famines this country had ever faced. Some members of the Walton family were gathered around the front porch awaiting word of the fate of a loved one who was in some sort of danger. It was one of those terrifying moments of hoping for the best while fearing the worst. Grandma Walton told them that they should all pray. One of the grandchildren asked Grandma, “How can you still keep believing in God?” Grandma said, “Who else do I have to believe in?”

Although it was a TV show, I kept the words of the grandmother in my memory. I thought she made a good point with her question. Who else? Well, there’s me, but I don’t think so. I have weaknesses. I have limitations. God has none.

There’s an old saying that one’s life can change in the twinkling of an eye. That is true. A whole host of calamities can happen in seconds. But there’s the flip side of the coin. A whole host of wonderful can too.

Just as there is sour, there is sweet. On any given day, there are folks leaving this earth and grieving loved ones behind; however, there are babies coming into it being welcomed by eager adults, some of whom are carrying “It’s a …” balloons and/or a box of cigars. There are evil acts committed around the clock, but there’s also many acts of kindness by those responding to the Lord’s conviction on their hearts.

A quote comes to my mind: Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the storm.  Habakkuk knew how.  He lamented but he didn’t drown in it.

He Who Has No Limits

One of the things God blessed mankind with is the ability to laugh. Along with the ability to cry.  Sometimes we need to have a good laugh or a good cry.  Both can be a release in good and bad times.  It’s just one can get in trouble laughing or crying at the wrong times.  Such as laughing when a grandparent is showing off school pictures of their adoring grandchildren.

There’s a Bible story in the book of Genesis where one laughed at the wrong time for the wrong reason. She never lived that story down either. There are multiple stories about Sarah in the Bible, but she is mostly remembered for the one where she laughed.

The story is told in Genesis 18:1-15.  Sarah’s husband, Abraham, received a visit from the Lord as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.  When he looked up, he saw three men.  It appears he knew they were from heaven because when Abraham saw them, he ran to meet them and bowed himself toward the ground. I doubt that was how Abraham normally greeted visitors.

Abraham, in fact, addressed one as “Lord”. Abraham asked the Lord if he had found favor in His sight, would they please stay so he could provide water for them to wash their feet and give them food to eat. The three accepted Abraham’s invitation.  He didn’t waste any time in going into his tent and telling Sarah to hurry and make a meal. He then fetched a tender calf and gave it to a young male servant who quickly prepared it for the meal. Abraham brought the three men some butter, milk, and the calf and stood by them under the tree as the three visitors ate.

They asked him where his wife Sarah was and Abraham said in the tent. Abraham was then given shocking news for a 100-year-old man. The Lord said He would return for another visit and when He did, Sarah will have had a baby by then. The scripture doesn’t say how Abraham reacted but it does Sarah who overheard the conversation. She wasn’t much younger than Abraham and was well beyond her child-bearing years. So it was understandable that when Sarah heard she and her 100-year-old husband were going to be having a baby, she laughed to herself.  She said, “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

Unknown to Sarah, the Lord knew she laughed, knowing her innermost thoughts. The Lord told Abraham that his wife had laughed and questioned her bearing a child at her ripe old age. The Lord asked Abraham, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” He again stated that upon His return visit Sarah will have given birth to a son.

I do feel for Sarah in this story. She was already on the record for laughing at something the Lord had promised. She made matters worse by going out and denying her laughter to the three visitors and Abraham. Her lying only made the hole she was already in even bigger. The Lord rebutted her and said, “Nay; but thou didst laugh”.

I’m not one who can be hard on Sarah. If I had been in Sarah’s shoes, I probably would have laughed too. Probably more than a snicker but a roll on the floor laughing with the thought, “Who me? A baby? At my age? This is a joke, right?”

This story is a reminder for me not to the put the Lord in a box. Mankind is the one limited; not the Lord. I shouldn’t confine my prayer requests to what I think the Lord can handle and refrain from bringing up what I assume is a hopeless case. It’s not always easy to pray about something with full confidence that the Lord can change things around when what we I see looks like a dark hole with no light at the end of it. Before abandoning hope in a dark tunnel, I need to ask: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?”  I have limits, but He has none.

 

No Doubt About It

I asked my home assistant device, Echo Show, for the definition of skepticism. I knew what the word meant but I like to give Echo commands just to see if Echo will do it or ignore me. Another reason I put her to work is she didn’t come cheap. Echo’s response was skepticism is having doubt about the truth of something. Such as being skeptical about what you hear a politician says. There’s a lot of that going around.

Jesus was familiar with skeptics. Folks who were doubtful of whom Jesus claimed He was crossed His path plenty of times.  Such as Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, scribes, elders, and folks who had no title. But there were instances recorded in the Gospels of when His path crossed with those who took Him at his word that He was the promised one, the Son of God.  Such as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom the Lord counted as dear friends.  There was also a time when Jesus encountered such a strong faith of one individual that Jesus Himself stood amazed.

This occasion took place in a town called Capernaum. One of the town’s residents was a centurion. (My Echo assistant told me that a centurion was a commander of one hundred soldiers in ancient Rome). One of the centurion’s servant was so ill that he was ready to die. According to Luke 7:2, the servant was “dear” to the centurion. I take that to mean the servant was more than hired help, but a friend as well. This to me speaks volumes of the kind of person this centurion was. I doubt that there were many commanders in ancient Rome, or in any other civilizations, who cared as deeply for their servant as this centurion did.

When the centurion heard that Jesus was in town, he sent the elders of the Jews to asked Jesus to come and heal his servant. The commander of one hundred must have heard about Jesus and given credence to what he heard. The Jewish elders did as the centurion asked because they thought so highly of the centurion. Again, this was another example of the centurion’s kindness towards those who were outside of his Roman circle.

When the Jewish elders found Jesus, they pleaded on behalf of the centurion to heal the servant. They spoke to Jesus of the centurion’s love for the Jewish nation and how the centurion had demonstrated that love by having built them a synagogue.

Jesus accompanied the elders to the centurion’s home where the servant lay dying. When Jesus was almost to the house, the centurion sent friends to greet the Lord with the below message:

“Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” (Luke 6: 7-8)

The centurion did not consider himself worthy that Jesus should enter his house or worthy to come to Him. This man was truly one of a kind. A commander with a healthy instead of a fat ego.

Jesus was amazed! It is one of the few times in the Gospels where Jesus was such. According to the scripture, Jesus marveled at the centurion’s statement of belief in Him. This was a rare occurrence where Jesus was impressed by belief instead of unbelief. Jesus turned to those around him and said to them that He had not found such great faith, no, not in Israel.

The centurion’s friends returned to the house. What they saw may have marveled them. They found the servant who had been on his death bed to be completely well.

It’s one thing to pray and ask the Heavenly Father for something that’s in our hearts. It’s another to do so with a heap of faith instead of a tad of skepticism. Faith sufficient enough to leave that request in the Father’s hands and not give it a worry minutes, hours, days, etc. later until the answer comes. The answer may be what one had hoped for, but if it isn’t, it’s still okay. Why? Our Father knows best. No doubt about it!

The Time the Moon Held Back

Once upon a time long ago, the Moon delayed its arrival.  The Sun worked overtime for a full day.  It was a day like no other before it and hasn’t been one since.  God brought this about and only He could since He was the creator of both heavenly bodies.

The remarkable one-of-a-kind story is told in the Bible (the 10th chapter of the book of Joshua).  The story begins after victories the Israelites led by Joshua had scored.  One of them was the well-known Bible story of the fall of the city of Jericho when its walls came tumbling down.  There was rejoicing among the Israelite camp but not among its unfriendly neighbors, the Amorites, who resided in the mountains.  They feared the Israelites were gaining too much territory and didn’t want Joshua to show up at their door next.

The inhabitants of a large city by the name of Gibeon conceded it was best to get on the good side of Joshua and made peace with Israel. This got the attention of the King of Jerusalem and it was the last straw.  The King took action on what he saw as a “Joshua” problem and sought the help of four kings who were his allies.

It says in Joshua 10:4-5:  “Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it hath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel.  Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon, and made war against it.” 

The Gibeonites sent an SOS to Joshua for HELP!  Since he had made a treaty with the Gibeonites, he was obliged to help them out.  Most importantly, the Lord told Joshua: Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.”  

The battle began well for the Israelites.  The Lord sent down great hailstones from heaven and there were more who died with hailstones than the children of Israel slew with their swords.

Then Joshua did something unusual.  In the midst of these battles with these five kings of the Amorites, he asked the Lord one thing.  He did so in front of the children of Israel so they would hear his petition to God.  Joshua asked the Sun to stand still upon Gibeon and the Moon hold down until his people had victory over their enemies.

This was a bold move on Joshua’s part.  He was taking a big risk for if the Sun had set at its regular time, it would have damaged Joshua’s standing with the Israelites.  It would have discouraged his soldiers which no leader would want to happen in the midst of battle.  My thought is Joshua didn’t come up with this idea all by himself.  I believe the Lord laid it on his heart to pray for such and to do so within earshot of the Israelites.

The Sun, like an obedient child,  stayed up another full day over the battlefield of Gibeon and the Moon held back from taking its place in the sky.  No one had ever seen such before.  It was a sign of affirmation to all those who heard Joshua’s prayer that indeed the Lord was with them and no matter how many were left of the enemy, their days were surely numbered.

Chapter 10 ends with:  And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.”

It was not a simple thing for Joshua to go forward to battle even though he had the Lord’s assurance of victory.  He was, after all, human and susceptible to temptation.  On his way to Gibeon, he may have been tempted to make a U-turn.  It might have popped up in his mind to send word to the Gibeonites:  Sorry.  You guys are on your own.  Five kings are too many.  My people and I would like to live a while longer.

It is a constant battle for me to overcome the tendency to go by what I see rather than what I don’t.  I know there’s not a storm the Lord hasn’t seen me through; however, when some storm pops up, I sometimes give in to fear and doubt.  Whenever I have managed to leave something entirely in the Lord’s hands by faith, I am so much more at peace even in a raging storm.

When I think of what faith looks like, I sometimes think of the one man who prayed for the moon to hold back and it did.

 

The Late Night Griller

I don’t like asking questions and I don’t like answering them. I have plenty of them running through my mind though, more than I want.  It’s one of my challenges of living on the Autism Spectrum.  When asked a question, even one that I should know the answer, my brain doesn’t pop up the answer in lightning speed.  My anxiety can get the best of me and give a dumb answer that I will kick myself later for.  As far as asking questions, I really have to work up my nerve to ask because of my fear of a negative or puzzled response.  Those times when I have gotten up the nerve to ask, then it was a question I probably asked out of sheer desperation.

When Jesus walked upon this Earth, He sometimes asked questions such as asking His disciples who people say He was and then who did they think He was.  He was asked questions, too, from His disciples and followers.  He also got questions from His enemies but they were seeking to discredit Him in front of the crowds.  On one occasion, he was grilled into the night by a Pharisee named Nicodemus.  An unlikely person to interview Jesus because he was a member of a group of Jews, the Pharisees, who did not care for Jesus’s teaching.  He was also a high-level official being a member of the ruling body of the Jews known as the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus’s grilling of Jesus is told in the third chapter of John.  John reports that Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus at night.  Many speculate Nicodemus chose to meet Jesus at night because he didn’t want to be seen with Jesus in the light of day.  Perhaps he didn’t want his peers on the Sanhedrin to know he was conversing with their perceived enemy.  This may indeed be true but the Scripture only tells us it was a night visit.  It doesn’t say why.

At the start of their conversation, Jesus confronts Nicodemus with the truth that he “must be born again”.  (John 3:3). When Nicodemus seems skeptical, Jesus remarks that since he is a leader of the Jews, he should already know this (John 3:10).

It is in Nicodemus’s grilling that Jesus stated one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the Bible.  It was the verse recited to me by my pastor before I asked Jesus to save my soul decades ago.  The words in John 3:16 mean more to me than words can say:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son.  That whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”   It sums up in a nutshell what the Gospel is all about.  I understand what a church leader of long ago, Martin Luther, meant when he referred to this verse as the “heart of the Bible, the Gospel in miniature.”

It doesn’t say in the scripture if Nicodemus went home that night a believer of Jesus or not.  My thought is Nicodemus either came around that night to believe in Jesus or he eventually did because of other times Nicodemus is mentioned by John which put Nicodemus in a good light.

The next time he is mentioned was when he was on the job on the Sanhedrin as they were considering what to do about the “Jesus” problem.  Nicodemus comes to the defense of Jesus by stating Jesus should not be dismissed or condemned until they have heard from Him personally.  (John 7:51). However, the rest of the Council didn’t take kindly to Nicodemus’s statement and rudely dismissed it.

The final mention of Nicodemus in the Bible is after Jesus’ crucifixion. Nicodemus assisted Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’s burial.  This is another sign that Nicodemus did take to heart Jesus’s words that night.  Nicodemus brought expensive spices for use in preparing the body for burial and then assisted Joseph in wrapping the body and placing it in the tomb.

John’s Gospel leaves many questions about the one who grilled Jesus late into the night.  Was he born again? What did he do after the resurrection? The Bible is silent on these questions. Perhaps Nicodemus’s final recorded act was his declaration of faith.

Since I have trouble asking questions even from those people I know, I give Nicodemus credit for asking questions from someone his peers was opposed to.  He’s a good example to follow for all believers can and should ask Jesus questions that are in their hearts.

After all, Jesus is still open to questions, even late into the night.

The Sign Seeker

Before there were kings of Israel, there were judges.  Their stories can be found in the book of Judges in the Old Testament.  One of them was Gideon who received three chapters worth of Bible coverage (Judges 6-8).  My impression of Gideon from the scriptures was a man who wasn’t a born leader.  He wasn’t bold and energetic like King David or outspoken like Apostle Peter.  This is one of those stories where God picked the weakest instead of the strongest to do His work.  It’s a comfort to know that the Lord can use all of his children who have different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.

Gideon lived at a dark time in Israel’s history.  The first verse of Judges states the bad state of affairs.  The children of Israel had strayed from God as they sometimes did.  As a result, He delivered them into the hand of Midian.  The Israelites had a change of heart and cried out to the Lord for mercy.  Once again, the Lord heard their cry and chose someone to lead them out of the Midianites’ hand.  This is the part in the story where Gideon comes in.

An angel of the Lord came and sat under an oak tree near where Gideon was threshing wheat by the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.  The angel spoke and told him the Lord was with him.  Gideon responded by basically asking, “Where has the Lord been?” Gideon felt forsaken.  He had been living through seven years of slavery under the Midianites and longed to be out from under their brutal hand.

The Lord’s answer was He had heard Israel’s cry and chosen a leader to deliver them out of bondage.  There was a “but” for Gideon:  he was the chosen one.  That had to come as a shock “Who ME?”

Gideon told the Lord that his family was poor as if the Lord didn’t know that.  He added that he was the least in his father’s house.  I don’t know what Gideon meant by least, but he obviously saw himself as such.  His confidence was slim, but his ego wasn’t fat.  I can relate to that since I don’t welcome new challenges with open arms.

Gideon asked for a sign of assurance he was indeed speaking with the Lord.  Maybe he thought he was daydreaming or was hearing things.  He probably never would have seen himself as a military leader in a million years.  Now one might say Gideon should have just taken the Lord’s word for it and not asked for a visible sign.  Well, maybe so, but I being opposed to immediate and drastic changes in my daily life, I give Gideon credit for not running for the hills.

A sign must have been okay with the Lord because He gave one.  Gideon was instructed to prepare a young goat and unleavened cakes of flour; to put the flesh of the goat in a basket and put the broth in a pot and place it under the oak tree.  The angel told Gideon to take the flesh and cakes and lay them all on a rock and to pour out the broth.  Then the angel put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, touched the flesh and cakes; fire rose up from the rock consuming the goat and cakes.  Then the angel disappeared out of Gideon’s sight.

The roasting convinced  Gideon he was talking to the Lord all right.  What was wrong then?  He was frightened.  He believed that if one saw an angel face to face, it meant that one’s time on Earth was about up.  The Lord patiently assured him he wasn’t going to die; not then anyway.

This was the beginning of Gideon’s journey.  It wouldn’t be the only time Gideon would ask for a sign along the way.  The Lord was patient with him and granted Gideon a sign each time he asked for one.

For his part, Gideon followed the Lord’s instructions such as reducing the number of his soldiers.  Maybe Gideon’s weakness was in an odd way his strength.  Gideon followed God’s instructions because he sure didn’t know what to do on his own.  He relied on the Lord because he knew he couldn’t rely on his weak self.  He was well aware he could not go up against any army relying on his smarts alone. With the Lord at his side, Gideon did conquer the enemy with only three hundred men with no weapons; just a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.

In thinking about this story, I have to admit I seek signs too.  I need, receive, and am thankful for signs that God does work in my life.  An answered prayer isn’t only about the answer, but a sign that my prayers go beyond the ceiling to the One whom I’m praying to.  That’s beyond awesome!

The 11th chapter of Hebrew is devoted to the word “faith”.  I’ve heard more than one person describe this chapter as the “Hall of Faith” because the chapter has a list of names like any hall of fame.  Each person listed in this chapter has a story of faith.  Gideon, the sign-seeker, made it on this list (Hebrews 11:32).  By faith, he believed the signs came from God.  He fulfilled his part in being part of something far bigger than himself — the conquering of the enemy and deliverance of God’s chosen people.

God calls His extroverted and introverted children.  The pessimists and the optimists.  The popular ones and the nerds.  The strongest and the weakest.  And the sign seekers.

 

 

 

A Mother and her Promise

First off, I want to start off with farming.  Those who know me fairly well know I won’t have much to say about it since I know just a little more about farming than I do nuclear science.

One thing I know is farmers need water.  Not too much since floods are bad and not too little since droughts are bad too.  If I were a farmer, I’d surely pray for rain.  There is a catch.  If a farmer doesn’t tend to his farm chores, it won’t matter if it rains or not.  Crops don’t plant themselves.  That’s a lesson I take from farming.  I do my part while trusting the Lord to do His.

There was a woman in the Bible by the name of Hannah who had a heavy burden on her heart.  She was one of two wives to a man named Elknah   She had no children while the other wife did.  She lived in a society that frowned on women who did not give birth.  Her husband, who loved her dearly, could not understand Hannah’s sadness.  He said, to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?”  Not that I would know being an unmarried, but my married friends have often said to me, “My spouse just doesn’t understand….”  I guess that’s as old a problem as marriage itself.  

Perhaps Hannah was in what we call a depressed state.  The Bible describes her as being “in bitterness of soul”.  Instead of sinking further into depression, she turned to the Lord in prayer at the temple.  She sorely wept while telling the Lord her petition from her aching heart.  She asked for a child and she wanted a boy.  She went a step further by making a promise that if the Lord blessed her with a son, she would give her son back into the Lord all the days of his life.  

Hannah was mumbling this prayer to herself.  I relate to that because I often pray mumbling to myself.  I often do this while I take a walk in the park.  Once I got the attention of someone who asked me if I was okay.  I reckon it would look strange if I saw myself on video but it doesn’t matter.  I doubt that it did to Hannah because she was entirely focused on her prayer and not on who might be watching.

The priest Eli saw Hannah’s lips move without her voice and wondered if she was drunk.  He asked her as much and she told him the truth.  Eli was convinced and told her, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.”

Immediately Hannah felt much better and was longer sad.  Her faith had been restored and wasn’t surprised when she soon learned she was pregnant.  She wasn’t surprised either giving birth to a boy instead of a girl.  She named him Samuel, the name meaning he was asked for from the Lord.

Hannan did not forget her promise to return him to the Lord after the child was weaned.  She had waited so long for a child and now that she had one, she had to give him up.  Although I would imagine she got to visit, it wouldn’t be the same as having him under her roof.  But she had made a promise and did her part in fulfilling it.

Hannah had a part in something far bigger than herself.  She couldn’t have known that the child she asked for would grow up to one of the most well known prophets of the Bible.  She couldn’t have known that her story would be recorded in the scripture and her story told down through time.  Hannah wasn’t supposed to figure the big picture out.  She kept her promise and God did His.

 

 

Three Against a King

There were three of them who lived about 600 years before Jesus was born.  They lived at the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon overtook Jerusalem and took captive many Israelites.  Among those who were forced to leave their home were the three young men and their friend and leader of the pack, Daniel, whose story is told in the Old Testament book of Daniel.  Their names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  After they were taken into Babylon, their names were changed to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Daniel and his three co-captives excelled above their peers in wisdom and knowledge.  So much so that they got the attention and favor of King Nebuchadnezzar. The King engaged them to be his counselors. God blessed Daniel with the talent of interpreting dreams.  That talent won him a promotion when he was the only man in the kingdom capable of interpreting one of Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmares.  Daniel was in charge of Babylon and at Daniel’s request, the king appointed the three as administrators under Daniel.

The King had built a huge golden image and commanded all the people to fall down and worship it.  The routine was that whenever his musical Herald was played, the people were to bow down and worship the image.  There was no such thing as freedom of worship in the King’s realm.  The stiff penalty for anyone who refused to bow and worship the image was a blazing furnace.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faced with a choice that was not of their own making.  They did not ask to be exiled to Babylon.  They probably would have traded all they had in Babylon, including their positions in the King’s administration, to be back at home in Jerusalem.  But it was what it was and they had to decide to follow the King’s command and avoid the furnace or worship the one true God only.  By faith, they stood up to the King and bowed to God’s wishes.  They left it in God’s hands as to the outcome of whether they lived or died.

According to Daniel 3:16-18:

16. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.

17. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.

18. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

Their statements did not melt the King’s heart any.  Nebuchadnezzar got along well with those who did what he expected of them but had no tolerance for those who didn’t.  It didn’t matter to the King what the three’s reason was for not bowing to his order.  The King whose ego had been bruised was so angry that he commanded the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound and cast into the flames. The furnace was so hot that it even killed the soldiers who had escorted them.

But as King Nebuchadnezzar gave in to his curiosity and peeked into the furnace, he got an unexpected surprise.  The three he had put in the furnace were there, but their bodies were not charred.  They were walking around in the midst of the fire as pretty as they pleased.

If that wasn’t startling enough, there were four instead of three.  Who was the extra person?  The King noted the extra one looked different than the three.  The fourth had the appearance of the Son of God.  Upon seeing the seemingly impossible, the King called the three to come out of the furnace.  The three emerged without a single burn on them, with not even a strand of their hair singed or the smell of smoke on their person.

It was too incredible of a miracle for even King Nebuchadnezzar to deny.  He had a change of heart about the three and their God.  He admitted that God had sent His angel and delivered the three who had put their faith in God by worshipping only Him.   The three and the rest of the Israelite captives were granted freedom to worship and protection from harm by the king’s decree.  The actions of these three resulted in obtaining religious freedom for their fellow captives, but at the moment when they had to make a choice, it was their choice alone to make.

Who can relate to the story of the three?  I think most of us can.  Life affords us opportunities to sometimes make difficult choices.  I have never walked into a fiery furnace, physically speaking; but I have felt at times like I have, emotionally speaking.  A fiery furnace can be a literal one, or it can be the day-to-day grieving over the loss of a loved one.  It can be living with a debilitating illness or that of a loved one.  It can be the loss of a job and the ongoing, up-and-down roller coaster ride of finding another.  It can be living up to the conviction of one’s heart, such as heeding a call to go into the ministry or some other calling and receiving less than enthusiastic support from one’s inner or outer circle.

On the autism spectrum, a meltdown can feel like walking into a fiery furnace.  For most of my life, I didn’t know what they were.  I just knew they came like a storm cloud over me and then left.  I knew the cloud would visit again and again.  I’m thankful to the Lord for the diagnosis so I am no longer in the dark about this storm cloud.  I can’t keep it from coming, but I can pray my way through it instead of bowing down to it.

I don’t know how much control we have on a fiery furnace coming into our lives.  If it were up to me, there’d be no fires to put out but I know that’s not realistic.  I do have a lot of say of how I cope with them though.  I can lean on the Lord or myself.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego looked to the Lord as they faced the furnace and came away from it untouched.  It gained them the freedom to worship God and freedom not to bow down to any man-made image.  Oh, and by the way, they got a job promotion too.