“My own strength has saved me”

Daily Readings: Judges 7-8, Mark 10, Psalm 69

Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.

Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

Gideon 7:1-16

I love this story in Judges.

You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’

Sometimes I wonder how many times God has done in this my life without announcing it to me. I wonder how many times God has thought to himself, “Aaron has too many men in his army right now. He might begin to think any success he has is of his own doing. I need to thin this out a bit…”

When I look back over times in my life where I have faced quite a bit of adversity and really needed to lean on God to get through it, they have almost always been preceded by periods where I have been feeling pretty darn good about myself and what “I have been accomplishing”.

When the Lord chooses to bless us in our families, careers, ministries, etc. it is natural for this success to draw attention to us. It is natural that people can’t help but ask, “How did you do it?” At these moments there is the temptation for false humility that takes the shape of, “Well, God has been really good throughout…” and then launching into ten minutes of tactics, strategies, etc. that ‘actually brought about our success’. We know we are supposed to credit God in the beginning, but our heart is not really in it even as we say those words.

God doesn’t mind you sharing helpful strategies with others that might help them in their family lives, careers, etc. However, we short change God if we are not also sharing the times where we totally dropped the ball, had very little to do with our own success, and had no idea how things were going to come together; and then God stepped in.

Success in our lives can be a blessing with which we can bless others if we are able to share our shortcomings as well.

This is also true in advance of potential success.

When people ask you, “How is everything going in your career?” or “How is your marriage going?” or “How have your kids been?” the natural tendency is to want to make things sound rosier than they are.

If the true way you are feeling about your career is, “I will be honest with you, I have been sick with worry a lot recently and I feel like God is the only thing keeping it together right now” say that. By going with, “good, really good” we rob people of the ability to come alongside us in support when we need it most.

We also rob God of future glory.

When he works the miraculous and there is an incredible, unexplainable comeback story in your business, marriage, or as a parent; no one knows about it. There is no glory given to God. People are not able to look and see 300 men with Gideon routing the Midianites. They just see “business still going well, marriage still chugging along, kids still appearing to be good kids”.

I wonder how many times God has thinned out my army so that I would turn back to him in desperation and tearfully proclaimed, “God, I don’t know what I am going to do!”

In these moments, if we genuinely turn to God and place our challenges in his hands, I think he frequently does for us what he did for Gideon.

“Go down into the camp and hear what they are saying.”

God wants to encourage us. He wants to let us know that everything will ultimately be ok.

Sometimes this might take the shape of divine inspiration on things you should do to right the ship. Sometimes it takes the shape of a kind word from a friend speaking truth to you and lifting you up. Sometimes it is a dream, a passage in the Bible you read that morning, or a line from a worship song that speaks directly to your heart and the situation you find yourself in.

God says, “I have got this, if you will just trust in me.”

I don’t want to be an unaware Gideon. I want to be honest with challenges in my life and give God the glory in advance, not just in hindsight. I want to push boldly into challenges with full confidence that God will work in this situation in one way or another.

I want to take my 300 down into the camp expecting victory.

Thought to ponder

What is my Midianite army currently? What area of my life do I need to turn over to God instead of leaning on my own strength? Are there any recent successes in my life where I have been tempted to take all of the credit and not allowed God to get the glory?

 

Heal my unbelief

Daily Readings: Judges 5-6, Mark 9, Psalm 68

I love the story of Gideon. The church I attend recently finished up a series on Gideon and the courage that it takes to follow God’s will in our lives. When his story popped up again today in our readings, I was reminded of another reason his story is so inspiring to me: His story reflects so many of our stories.

At the beginning of this story Gideon is met by and angel and we see the following encounter:

The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 

But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Judges 6:20-24

God had promised Gideon a victory over the Midianites. For 7 years God had allowed the Israelites to experience the ramifications of their actions. They had turned away from God, worshipped false idols, and broken their covenant with God. Now God tells Gideon he has come to save them.

At first we see Gideon following God’s instructions and removing the altar of Baal from his own household before leading the Israelites against the Midianites. But as the time to confront the enemy draws near Gideon grows nervous…

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

Judges 6:36-40

Every time I read this series of events I look back at my own life and laugh. I would venture to guess that most of us truly are like Gideon.

There have been so many examples of God showing up in my life in incredible ways. On my occurrences I have strongly felt that God directed me down a certain path and walked that path faithfully despite obstacles that came my way.

However, frequently I have been Gideon. Frequently I have wanted to negotiate with God for just one more sign.

“Lord, I know you made this fairly clear already, but my normal human emotions are kicking in, so I am going to need you to confirm that one last time…”

“Ok, maybe just one more confirmation…”

“Ok, those were nice. Thank you for that. I am really nervous though, and at this point I need a borderline audible voice…”

I love that Gideon even realized he was being ridiculous as he was asking this of God. “Do not be angry with me…”

We see another story of unbelief in today’s readings as well.

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:19-24

This is a different type of belief in Mark 9. In the case of Gideon, he didn’t feel that he was worthy of being used by God to accomplish incredible works. Here in Mark, we see someone struggling to believe that they can be on the receiving end of God working a miracle in their life through no effort of their own.

I imagine we have all found ourselves relating to each of these two stories at times in our lives.

In some cases, God wants to use us to accomplish great things and our natural tendency is to say, “Are you sure you have the right person?” We then kindly inform God of all the reasons we are unqualified, incapable, and simply not enough. We have an identity issue. We see ourselves through our own lens and not through God’s lens. The good news is that virtually every major character throughout the entire Bible struggled with this same feeling! You are in good company!

In other cases we want to come before our father in Heaven and ask for something on behalf of another or ourselves. But that nagging unbelief lingers…

“Heal my unbelief!”

God knows that we struggle believing. God knows we struggle to accept his calling for our life. God knows every one of our human weaknesses.

I love Jesus showing us that part of him that is fully human and slightly annoyed in today’s story when he said, “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”

And yet our God is patient. He is loving. He wants to give us the chance to turn our unbelief into belief. He wants to give us the chance to step into our calling even if we begin that journey needing to be dragged into it a bit, kicking and screaming like a child. That nervousness, apprehension, and personal insecurity put us in good company when you read stories of all the major characters throughout the Bible.

The key is that we are willing to say, “Lord, heal my unbelief.”

I can point back to many times throughout my life where I prayed that prayer at some point along the way and God was there to greet me.

However, I sometimes wonder how many times I have missed out on something God had put in my path, whether it be an undeserved blessing or an opportunity to serve others, because I acted like Gideon one too many times. For every Gideon in the Bible there are also lots of periods of seven years leading up to Gideon where God had to say, “Alright, if you are going to be that stubborn…”

I know as a parent, I constantly have to think through this with my own children. Sometimes they make the right choice soon enough, but sometimes I have given them one too many reminders (my wife might argue three too many reminders) and there needs to be consequences for their disobedience.

I am a human father with imperfect judgment. Our father in Heaven’s judgment is perfect and just. Our human timeline is short, his timeline is eternal.

Today, this week, and this year my prayer will be, “Lord, heal my unbelief. Heal my unbelief on a daily basis that you want to work in my life. Heal my unbelief on the larger scale so that I might have the courage to be steadfast on this path you have put me on.”

Heal my unbelief.

Thought to ponder

When have I most recently been Gideon and constantly asked for “just one more sign” that I should walk down a path God has clearly laid in front of me? When have I have been the father in the story wanting to ask God for a miracle in my life or the life of a loved one and struggled with unbelief?

“Why bother the teacher?”

Daily Readings: Joshua 21-22, Mark 5, Psalm 65

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43

Seeing these two separate stories juxtaposed next to each other really spoke to me today. In one case there is the woman who truly believes in her heart that “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed!” She believed so thoroughly in the healing power of God to work miracles in her life!

As this is still happening we read of other people coming from the house of Jairus saying, “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

As I was reading this morning it occurred to me that I have frequently been able to relate to each of these stories at different points throughout my own life. There have been times where I completely believe in the Father’s ability to heal me mentally, emotionally, and physically from whatever is holding me captive at the moment. In these moments I absolutely run after the Father know that if I can simply be in his presence all will be well. “If I just touch his clothes…”

Then there have been moments where I feel like I have failed over and over and over again at whatever battle I have been facing and it feels a lot more like the second story. I have felt completely defeated to the point where I don’t even want to bring my concerns to the Father. It feels hopeless. It feels like the last chance for God to work a miracle, in whatever that challenge was in my life, has died.

“Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Why bring this problem to God when I have let him down so many times in the past? Maybe it is just time to throw in the towel on this one and simply be thankful that Christ went to the cross for my sins and I have salvation as a result that cannot be taken away, because clearly I cannot overcome this struggle!

Jesus says, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”

I wonder if Jesus has ever spoken this to you in an area of your life? I wonder if there has ever been an issue you have dealt with for so long when Jesus says, “This battle is not over yet…” the immediate response in your heart has become the same as in the story, disbelieving laughter.

God wants us to be the woman in the crowd.

“If I can just touch his clothes!”

The woman in the crowd had suffered her bleeding for 12 years before she received healing. The child in the house only recently became sick. Sometimes healing, whether emotional or physical, comes after years and years. Sometimes it is nearly instantaneous.

Healing doesn’t always come the way we picture it. Sometimes God’s plan is different than our own. I imagine Jairus didn’t picture his daughter dying as part of this story as he reached out to Jesus to come to his house and heal her. Sometimes the healing we are after is one type and yet Jesus uses our challenge to give us healing in a different area we never even realize we needed.

Press in. Draw near. Chase after his presence. Reach out and touch his clothes. Jesus is there and the Father is willing.

Thought to ponder

In what area of my life have I recently given up on the hope of healing? Where have I recently felt like “I should no longer bother the teacher”?

“My grace is sufficient”

Daily Readings: Joshua 7-8, 2 Corinthians 12, Psalm 60

But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

My grace I sufficient for you.

On Sunday February 11th at 7 PM our family had just wrapped up a birthday party celebrating our amazing daughter Sophie turning 4 years old. Sophie is a cancer survivor that was diagnosed at just 2 months old with a rare form of cancer and, at this moment, is nearing 3 years cancer free.

Praise God!

It wasn’t more than 30 minutes after the last guest left that my wife called me upstairs and said we needed to go to the hospital. At the time we were 7 months pregnant and she had started bleeding significantly. We quickly called my parents, who only live a mile away, to come stay with our other three kids as we rushed to the hospital. The bleeding stopped by the time we got their, but the doctors told us they would be needing to keep Naomi there for observation for 5-7 days, because if it started again Naomi’s life and our unborn son’s life would be at risk at that point, and they would do an emergency cesarean section.

After being their several hours, they told me to go home, but to leave my phone on just in case. 90 minutes later, shortly after I had fallen asleep, the phone call came that I was desperately hoping to avoid, and I was driving as fast as I could back to the hospital, running inside, putting on scrubs, nervously waiting in the hallway, and finally entering the operating room with my wife.

Needless to say, it was an emotional several hours. That second drive to the hospital at 1:30 AM was the most scared I have ever been.

I threw out a group text at 8:08 PM when we were first heading to the hospital to a group of men that I do life with. Christian brothers in arms ready to go to battle with me and for me. The prayers began.

These are the moments earlier in my life where I would have waited until I knew more before sharing what was happening with anyone in my life.

“No point in worrying everyone. What if it is nothing? How will I look if I am just scared over something minor? Besides, they are busy, and I don’t want to burden them with something that might ultimately be no big deal.”

Lies crafted by an enemy with centuries of practice.

Satan wants us to do life alone. He wants you to believe that you are a burden to others, that no one really cares, that you are strong enough in your own power, and the power of prayer isn’t real anyway.

It isn’t until those moments in life where you have a child diagnosed with cancer, a wife being rushed into an emergency surgery, an infant taken up to the NICU, or any other extreme life event completely out of your control; that you realize what a complete illusion “control” is.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God has blessed our family with a fair amount of worldly success. We have an amazing family, I run a successful company, we have incredible friends, and by lots of worldly standards, we are a success story.

Rarely has any of our worldly success given us the ability to minister to others and speak about God’s glory in the same way we have been able to because of Sophie’s cancer. Already, in just a short week and a half, I believe that the experience spanning February 11th-12th has already allowed us to give glory to God more than any career accomplishment ever could.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Naomi is recovering well from her surgery. Andrew, as of Feb 23rd, is still in the NICU and will most likely remain there for another week or two, but is moving in the right direction faster than we could have hoped for.

God is good.

However, God is not just good because of this individual result. When I sat outside the operating room while they prepped Naomi my prayer over and over again was, “You are a good God. You are a good good father. Regardless of the outcome, I know this to be true.” I prayed that same prayer when we first got the news with Sophie.

God already knows this. This prayer was necessary for my own heart.

In a perfect world, I would rather not have our newborn need to spend the first 3-4 weeks of his life in the NICU. I would rather that his sisters (who are super excited to meet their baby brother!) not have to wait a month to meet the newest addition to our family because kids under 18 are not allowed in the NICU. I would rather everything had gone beautifully according to plan.

Our plan.

However, Paul said it perfectly today:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  

We have always said as a family that we want to live out James 1:2-4 when James wrote, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

We decided about five months ago that our son’s middle name would be James in honor of this book in the Bible. We never expected he would live into his name so quickly!

However, we are considering it pure joy.

I know this trial will be far from the last we will face as a family as we journey through life, and this one is still not yet over, but his grace is sufficient and his power is made perfect in our weakness.

Faithfully marching around Jericho

Daily Readings: Joshua 5-6, 2 Corinthians 11, Psalm 59

“Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.’

When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there.

The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!”

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.”

Joshua 6:1-5, 8-11, 16, 20

One aspect of the story of Joshua and Jericho never really struck me until today when reading this story again; Joshua never told the Israelite army about the seventh day. He did not go to them saying, “Here is the plan…” and lay out for them exactly what God instructed him to do. In the minds of the army, there was no definite timeline. They were simply told to march.

When reading this morning it occurred to me that there must have been two distinct types of people in the Israelite army when Joshua told them to start marching around the city. There surely were those that trusted in God completely, along with Joshua’s leadership, and marched with full confidence that the city of Jericho would be delivered into their hands at some point.

However, there must have been some who were marching day after day, tension mounting, fear building, and patience growing thin. I have to imagine they were wondering what the plan was, feeling less and less confident the more time that went by, and getting a bit stir crazy, wanting to divert from the plan and take some other course of action.

There have been so many times in my life where I have existed in each of these groups. There have been times where I unconditionally believe in the path God has set me on, knowing that I am marching around the walls of Jericho and that they will eventually fall if only I have the patience to keep marching.

However, there are many times where I start to ask, “God, can’t these walls crumble already? How much longer must I continue to march dutifully before these walls begin to fall?”

There have been so many moments where I feel like I am running out of time, money, patience, stamina, love for others, emotional energy, etc. I am just not sure how much longer I can march around Jericho unless the walls fall soon.

I imagine we have all been there. I imagine we have all had jobs, ministry opportunities, friends we want to reach for Christ, people we are mentoring, or habits we are trying to form/break; where we are just not sure how much longer we are going to be able to march.

What is your Jericho right now? What is the path God has set you on, where it is day 4, 5, or 6, and you are starting to tire of the relentless marching?

In many cases we might be more like Moses wandering through the desert, as opposed to Joshua and the army marching around Jericho. The season we are in is not simply 7 days of patience, but years, even decades.

God is faithful.

We do not always have the luxury of being Joshua, knowing the exact timeline and waiting patiently for that beautiful seventh day. It is extremely rare that I have seen God put on my heart a concrete timeline for his promises.

More often than not, he simply wants me to march. He wants me to wake up day after day, put on my armor, pick up my spiritual weapons and shield, and go to battle against whatever comes my way.

Based on the entire rest of the old testament, I am assuming that God would not have been overwhelmingly pleased if the armies had decided to simply stop marching after day 4. I am guessing he would have burned with fury had they started grumbling and saying, “What is the point of all this marching God?” and simply sat back in their camp waiting for a different plan, looking for a different path.

God wants faithful servants willing to march. And when we remain faithful, whatever walls he intends to collapse, whatever metaphorical cities he intends to deliver into our hands will always be delivered. God’s plan is not always our plan and his timing is not always our timing, but it is always the right plan. It is always to right timing.

The question is, will we faithfully march?

Thought to ponder

What is my Jericho? Where is my patience growing thin where I have been tempted to just stop marching?

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