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Faithlife

Deliverers Are Us

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" Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help. When the Israelites cried to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.” The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior. “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you? “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”" (Judges 6:1-16, NIV) [1]

The story of God’s people during the period of the Judges was a story of cyclical behavior.  They had clear direction, ahead of the fact.  They did what they knew they shouldn’t do.  God allows consequence to become the teacher.  When we prefer to go our own way, God opens the door and allows us the freedom to stray.  They cried to God when their situation was desperate enough.  He sent them a deliverer.  They enjoyed peace for a period.  Things began to drift once more and they moved toward their oppressors.

Sin is a spiral downward. Why in the world do we expect God to act on our behalf or protect us from harm while we are living at odds with His will for our lives.  How much of the difficulty that we face in life comes from a failure to listen to God?  We’ll listen to Oprah, Dr. Phil, E.F. Hutton or a thousand other voices.  But God?  I don’t think so.  Why because we don’t like what He has to say.  We don’t like what we see.  We suspect that turning to Christ means turning from ourselves.  So we ignore him or style our religion to our own liking.  Until something happens that our self-styled religion cannot process.  Until the gods of pleasure throw their hands in the air at our misfortune. 

In his book Why Prayers Are Unanswered, John Lavender retells a story about Norman Vincent Peale.

When Peale was a boy, he found a big, black cigar, slipped into an alley, and lit up. It didn't taste good, but it made him feel very grown up ... until he saw his father coming. Quickly he put the cigar behind his back and tried to be casual.

Desperate to divert his father's attention, Norman pointed to a billboard advertising the circus. "Can I go, Dad? Please, let's go when it comes to town." His father's reply taught Norman a lesson he never forgot. "Son," he answered quietly but firmly, "never make a petition while at the same time trying to hide a smouldering disobedience."

   -- Kirk Russel, DeForest, Wisconsin. Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 4.

If we reflexively blame Him when things go wrong.  Then do we have some wrong concept of who He actually is and what role He plays in our lives.  God has done something wrong but we have done nothing wrong.

We rarely recognize or imagine the possibility that we are the problem when we experience circumstances in life that are not to our liking.  Perhaps there is much that we might remedy simply by looking at our lives and evaluating any obvious reasons that God’s blessing may be removed.

1.   Many of our problems begin when we stop listening to God?

Unfortunately we find this truth most evident in retrospect.  When we look back we begin to see where we went wrong.

In George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan, Joan of Arc is always hearing voices from God, and the king is angered by this. He complains to her, "Oh, your voices! Your voices! Why don't your voices come to me? I'm the king, not you."

"They do come," she replied. "But you do not hear them. You've not sat in the field in the evening listening for them.

When the Angelus rings, you cross yourself and have done with it. But if you prayed from your heart and listened to the trilling of the bells in the air after they stopped ringing, you would hear the voices as well as I do."

 -- Ben Patterson, "A Faith Like Mary's," Preaching Today, Tape No. 87.

Maybe you are able to recognize patterns, spiritual patterns in your own  life.  Out of distress you have come to God and experienced some sort of deliverance.  Once the pain or worry or anxiety is gone you relax – you are thankful that you’ve had an answer to prayer and vaguely conscious that God had a hand in it.  So you fail to explore this relationship to any greater depth.  Once more your passions and interests revolve around self.  God graciously steps out of your way and leaves you to what you have chosen.  Did you ever try to communicate with someone who will not set their task aside?

What impressions do you have?  They are too busy to talk to me right now.  The truth is that the things that they are busy with are more important to them than you or the things that are important to you.  A word of balance – the more you respect people’s time, the more time people will have for you.  The thing that people in pain lose perspective over is the fact that life demands something from others as well and people have cares and situations of their own that need their attention.

Do we know how to set our tasks aside to listen to God?

And what was Gideon’s problem.  He was a victim perhaps even a party to the sin of his nation.  The same might be said of us today in this nation.  We may be victim’s of God’s dealing with us as a nation.  How is God dealing with nation of Canada?  Perhaps as he deals with many of us.  He steps back to allow us to fashion what we feel to be preferable.  He is leaving us to ourselves.  We have leadership that is truly representative of our society.  A godless society produces leaders who have little to no regard for God.  It’s not that they perhaps are wicked – just that they have no regard for God.  So perhaps we suffer from this plight.  The answer is never to find another leader.  What happens politically will never redeem a nation.

But what happens in you might.  And what happens in you, . . . and you . . . and you.  If God chooses to heal our land he’ll begin to look in common places.

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites

2.   God meets us with hope in the common places and common moments of life.

I believe that the hope is in this place as we begin to listen to God and live out of what we hear.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior. “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

Gideon was not in a place immediately that allowed him to hear what was being said.

The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.

I am so thankful for the surprise party that I enjoyed the other night.  I know that there were those who were unable to be there because of other commitments.  Please don’t feel any awkwardness about that.  It’s a wonderful privilege to be a pastor and to be blessed by the love of God’s people.  I was roasted by many of my friends.  There were stories told that I would never have told.  There were some wonderful things said as well that encouraged me more than I can express.  The power of words is an incredible thing.  I e-mailed one of our young ladies this past week who is coming into a new place of spiritual awareness and told her that I could see God working – I mean I see it visibly.  I’ve been here long enough now to be able to see the difference that God is making.  Her response told me that those words were ushered by the Holy Spirit to inner depths where they fell as a rare blessing.  God help us to speak words of blessing to one another.

And an angel of the Lord spoke words to a discouraged man – who never even heard what was being said.  His response negated this blessing just like we often try to diminish the compliments and encouragements that we are offered.

Look at the emotion simmering below the surface of Gideon’s heart:

Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

He turns the “with you” to a “with us” and questions the reality of God’s presence.

He highlights three issues that make him think otherwise:

n      Why has all this happened?

n      Where are all the miracles I’ve heard about?

n      We’ve been abandoned to Midian.

Now there are some familiar laments.  What in the world is going wrong in my life?  Why don’t I ever see God perform a miracle for me?  God has walked away from me.

He used the word “us” but the real issue was “me”. 

Most of us don’t care about the fact that gas prices are up.  We care that we have to pay more than we used to.  Gas prices in other parts of the world have been higher than ours for a long time and we don’t care about that.  When it begins to affect us we care.

Like us Gideon was more concerned that he had to hide and thresh his little bit of grain in a winepress.  This was a greater issue than the state of the nation.  If the angel hadn’t come he’d have stayed there, doing the same thing, day after day.

Gideon’s quick response was that of an exposed nerve – you’ve done that with people before – you hit a tender spot that represents some area of extensive thought.

But he came.  He didn’t respond to Gideon’s objections.  He came with a personal challenge.

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?

“Go in the strength you have.”

When God begins to re-engage us, he gives no quarter to our external focus.  He doesn’t allow us to blame our condition on things that are beyond our control.  Rather he relentlessly directs us to look at ourselves.

“Go in the strength you have.”

Don’t look to some superhero coming over the hill.  Offer to God what you have – rise in that strength as an offering to God.

Did Gideon pity his people or pity himself?  Self-pity keeps a person in survival mode as a skeptic.  I would say that the consequences of the sin of the nation were more deeply felt by Gideon as it related to it’s impact on him personally.  There was still enough at stake for him to make him hide and cower in order to survive rather than to ask God what He might have him do for the greater good.

How does God work with that?  How does he raise us to some higher level of concern?

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." (Ecclesiastes 9:10, NIV) [2]

Pity is one of the noblest emotions available to human beings; self-pity is possibly the most ignoble. Pity is the capacity to enter into the pain of another in order to do something about it; self-pity is an incapacity, a crippling emotional disease that severely distorts our perception of reality. Pity discovers the need in others for love and healing and then fashions speech and action that bring strength; self-pity reduces the universe to a personal wound that is displayed as proof of significance. Pity is adrenaline for acts of mercy; self-pity is a narcotic that leaves its addicts wasted and derelict.

   -- Eugene H. Peterson in Earth and Altar. Christianity Today, Vol. 32, no. 13.

“Go in the strength you have.”

 

3.   You have everything that you need. 

I have heard that gentle whisper in my ears in the times when I would like to change my circumstance.  God does not change my circumstance apart from my involvement.  When we effectively pray to God for help we are saying that we submit ourselves to His direction.  Until that is the essence of our prayer we will never find deliverance.   The path of deliverance is often perilous and risky as well.  It is intimidating as well.  Not without it’s risks.  How many times does our level of personal awareness become a personal call to make a difference.  It is never enough to simply be able to recognise deficiency.  There is little value in being able to identify problems.  Many times others have seen the same problem and failed to step forward.

" His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." (2 Peter 1:3, NIV) [3]

Let me ask you today if you hear God speaking to you.  Perhaps there is some problem or issue that has ruled you for sometime.  Like Gideon you could give me a thousand reasons for your plight or difficulty and none of them have anything to do with you.  They are all about some other circumstance, and somehow, God has failed you – he’s let you down.

What about your primary systems?  You’ve trusted in your education to help you find your way through life and you’ve discovered that all the years of effort that you have invested really provide no security.  You might even be a little bitter over that.  But that was your choice.  You made it on your own.  You wondered a bit about what God wanted at the time but you really didn’t worry too much.  God loves us and He blesses us if we go to church.

The paycheque that you get is extremely healthy.  You’ve also discovered that the people who are paying you for the years of life and the peace of mind that you are missing are really the ones who are getting the better end of the day.  They are paying you for something that you can never regain once it is gone.  It’s taking a toll on your marriage.  You’re becoming a stranger to your children.  Your motives are good – you are trying to provide.  But what your loved ones want is you, a little less of things and more of you.  What about these powerless gods that we serve?  What answers do they bring to the table?  When your health fails, what do they say?  It’s been nice to know you.  When your marriage fails, what do those gods of glitter have to say? 

Why don’t we question them in times of crisis for we trust in them for everything else.

“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”"

Gideon still has objections.  God has his attention.  He’s not threshing grain at the moment.  But he can't see beyond what he knows to be true of himself.

There are others more powerful, others more able.  I am the worst choice that you can make.  Part of serving God is learning to step away from the negative images that we have of ourselves.  It comes from drawing strength in God’s promises.

“The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

4.   You see, if God is truly with us our weakness is a non-issue.

God isn’t concerned with your weakness.  Your weaknesses correspond to your strengths.  A person strong in one area generally has predictable weakness.  Our weakness should never become our focus.  God’s design is that we should maximise our giftedness – our God-given strength.

I sat in a board meeting at Houghton College and heard Dr. Chamberlain say something to the college board that I will never forget.  He said that the job of boards is to work with administrators to make strength productive and weakness irrelevant.

God knows your weakness better than you do and He never calls a person to fail.  The key is His presence.  It is the key to the success of this ministry – the presence of God.  It’s not a matter of a particular style of music, or preaching but the heart of a people.  Collectively how does God see us?  Does He see us to be mildly interested in being a revolutionary force to transform our community and lead others God-ward?  Are people in this place developing an intimate relationship with Him the kind that starves the sin-inclination within us because of a ravenous appetite for the things of God?  And at heart are we servants or do we want to be served?  Do we want someone to minister to our children or are we so interested in their spiritual well-being that we will offer ourselves along with them to staff or give direction to their programs?

I say that it takes a whole church to raise the next generation for God.

The church on the hill

It's all that I see as I climb that hill

Filling the skies, standing tall and proud

Was it placed there by human or heaven's design

If human then to what lasting end?

If heaven then what great plan unfolds

Human eyes can never see what heaven has in mind

Human hands can never build by heavenly design

For heaven does not build of mortar and of stone

And all we see on earth is but a shadow of his own

Grand design, eternal plan to touch the heart of man

God help us when we joy in the things that we have made

As though they hold a Living Glory one that never fades

God help us when we worship things on earth below

Stocks and trade, intellect, the tokens that we show

To tell ourselves the greatness of the gods we say we know

It doesn't matter how well we do what we do on our own

God is never honored when He is challenged for His throne

Until we lay ourselves unmade and bare, no dignity to be shown

Only then can He be truly seen, rising High in love

Only then will the church be the Bride of the soon returning King

--Karl Ingersoll


----

[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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