Friday, June 29, 2012

a few final words on Gideon, maybe (Gideon Part 3)

As I was trying to wrap things up on Gideon a couple of final thoughts kept creeping back into my mind that I want to share with you.

Remember when I said that the Israelites hiding was caused by sin but driven by fear? I want to make it real clear here that, for the most part, the underlying causes of our hiding are ultimately caused by our own sin. Let’s not make ourselves the innocent victims of our circumstances here. I’m not talking about circumstances that are out of our control; I am talking about what happens when we turn from God and decide that we think we want is better than what he has for us. We screw up, we hide.

Let me remind you that the very first people who ever had to go into hiding were Adam and Eve right after they had disobeyed God and stamped our existence with the very first act of sin (“I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”). The beautiful thing about that account is that it is also the very first time that we see God pursuing his loved ones and calling out to them. He never, ever will let us stay in hiding.

Before the angel of the lord ever comes to Gideon verses 7-10 tell us this:

When the Israelites cried out 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 rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out 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.

One of the things that Gideon was told to do was, “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it”, because the nation of Israel was up to their necks in idolatry.

What kind of altars have we built to “Baal”? We worship ourselves, we worship the approval of others, we worship our money and all of the things it will buy us, we worship our jobs, and we worship our bodies and obsess about making them perfect; we worship whatever it is that we think is going to make us happy and free, we run to them when in the end those are the very things that end up ensnaring us.

(Okay, this is a total rabbit chase but at the moment I can’t help myself, I must tell you that I think that it is totally fascinating that Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to Midian. He makes a life for himself there, is comfortable and well off. Maybe this is a far stretch, but don’t you think that it has to be more than a simple coincidence that Moses flees to Midian (to hide and protect himself), yet it is now those same peoples that are the ones tormenting the Israelites that he freed?)

In the garden God covered Adam and Eve so they could come out of hiding, on the cross Jesus’ blood has provided a cover for us so we could come out of hiding. Christ is the one who defeated the Midianites, Gideon’s only job as to obey and get rid of those idols.

I don’t want to just be brave, I want to take the provision and the strength of God to empower me to do his will, I want to get rid of my idols and run toward freedom.

“For Narnia and the North!”

Oh wait, wrong book.

“For the Lord and for Gideon.” v.18

I know I said there were a couple of final thoughts. The second will have to wait till next week. Have a blessed weekend. See you then!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

you sure 'bout this? (Gideon Part 2)

God didn’t let Gideon stay in the winepress.

You see, my bosses at Cornerstone Academy saw in me something that I could not see in myself. They could see that I had it in me to the do the job and to do it well. Had they not believed in me, I would not have felt empowered to do what I had been called to do.

We are so hard on ourselves. We have such a hard time seeing past the ugliness that captures our focus. We need someone to come along and tell us what we truly have under there, we need them to see who we really are, and empower us to come out of hiding. We will not come out on our own.

The angel of the Lord comes down and meets Gideon at the winepress and says these empowering words to him.

Judges 6:12

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Let me remind you that God is speaking to that guy that was hiding in the winepress. And let me also tell you that he is also speaking to me and to you wherever you are hiding. This is my absolute favorite verse in the entire Bible, because it is a continual reminder that God does not see us as we see ourselves. He comes in pursuit of us and declares whom we truly are.

What God sees in us is not the sinful coward that is in hiding, what God sees in each of us is a mighty warrior. Did you hear that? A warrior, not just any warrior, a mighty one! It’s really hard for me to swallow too.

These are the first words out of Gideon’s mouth.

" but sir"

Those are usually my exact words too. When we hear God we are full of excuses as well. Let me just highlight his first two excuses.

I have been cheated.   In a nutshell that must be what he was feeling. Well, that’s what I feel when those “but sir” words spew out of my mouth. When Gideon takes a look at what he has heard about God and what he is witnessing at the moment there is a disconnect that he can’t quite seem to reconcile. 

Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

“It just doesn’t make sense, I hear that you change lives and you use people to bring glory to you, but you have surely abandoned me and I have got too little left to offer. You have delivered other people from addictions, you give them every thing they need to make a difference in the world, but in me, I just don’t see it. I take one step forward and two steps back. Where are you Lord? I’ve got nothing. You certainly can’t use me.”

One thing is for sure, when HE is the one commanding us, really, that is all we need. If he can command the world into existence, I think he can handle whatever he has in mind for you. As much as we may argue, the fact is, we have not been cheated. The Lord has his power available to all who are his.

“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
“but Lord”

I am a nobody.  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

This excuse is my personal favorite. As my story unfolds you will understand why. I am the youngest of 4 siblings, and as such I feel I have a right declare myself as the least of my family. My brother was 8 years older than me, and my twin sisters 4. As the baby of the family I was pretty much left to follow everyone around. I had no voice, or if I did I’m pretty sure it wasn’t taken seriously. You can imagine what a stretch it is for me to believe that anything I say is worth listening to (even still at 42).

Is there anything in your past that makes you think that you are a nobody, that you have no voice, no power, no strength? Your time is up sister, you are a somebody in Christ. He is calling you a Mighty Warrior.

Go forth, he is sending you, go with full confidence even when it looks like there is no way that your 300 men can defeat the great mean army out there.

I must admit that still, on a daily basis I ask God: “you sure ‘bout this?’

Do I not send you?

Go paint that portrait, go raise that difficult child, write that proposal or make that call. Go bake that meal for your neighbor, write that encouraging note, that article, that book. Go on that mission trip, adopt that baby. Give that money, support that missionary. Whatever God is calling you to do, go, do it. He is sending you. He will be with you.

Stop hiding, grab that jar of clay and torch and scream loud!

Friday, June 22, 2012

are you hiding in the winepress? (Gideon Part 1)

In 2008 I sat at a large long table positioned at one end of a very large room, a room too large for this Monday night staff meeting. The rest of the rooms in this church building were either too small or already used as classrooms. A group of moms from the always still willing and eager to get involved kindergarten class had decorated the table so that it would feel like we were in a quaint intimate Italian restaurant. The tablecloths were checkered and there were lovely fresh flowers placed every four feet or so. The plates and eating utensils were all plastic, which is quite fine since they were feeding over 20 ladies, and a small handful of gentlemen and there is no kitchen in sight.  The spaghetti, garlic bread and salad were delicious. The atmosphere was relaxed as it usually was during these meetings. The staff of Cornerstone Academy, a very small and quite new private Christian school, sat together in our comfortable spots, enjoying the typical family like time together.  No one bothered noticing how big the rest of the room was. Our world was there, at the Italian table with the colorful flowers.

At this particular meeting our board members were present to give us a nice pep talk. Most of us loved working at Cornerstone Academy even though we got paid next to nothing for doing so. Our board members loved us and were quite diligent about letting us know it quite often. So, one by one they began telling us how important we were, and how much they appreciated the work that we did for them, the students, and for the Lord. One member spoke of how much they believed in us and how we should feel empowered by them because they trusted us wholeheartedly. Those words were very reassuring to me. I had no idea what I was doing, or how I could do it best. Yet there I was doing it and having someone who believed in me. At that very moment I was transported to a far away place thousands of years ago. Come with me to the winepress. I pray we won’t be there long.

None of us ever feel like we have it in us to do what we have been called to do. Abraham didn’t think he had it in him. Moses didn’t think he had it in him, and my dear friend Gideon didn’t think he had it in him either.

When we are first introduced to Gideon we find him hiding. Hiding is a very familiar place for me. In Gideon’s case he was hiding from the Midianites, and who can blame him?

This is how Judges 6 begins, and how, I hate to admit, my story begins more often than I care to admit.

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.

Are you hiding?

Although their hiding was caused by sin (doing evil in the eyes of the lord and being handed over to the Medianites), it was driven by fear; the Medianites were oppressing them, invading them, and taking everything away from them. They were so impoverished that they cried out to the Lord for help.

What fear is driving you into hiding?

I found something very interesting about the word stronghold. In this particular verse the word used for stronghold is not actually the typical word meaning a fortified City; instead, the word used here refers to a place of lying in wait, a place of retreat. Are they waiting for something to happen? Did they think that the Medianites were going to just go away? Do we lie in wait and think that Satan is just going to leave us alone and then something grand is just going to happen and fix it all? Are we waiting for the money to come in, the children to shape up, the marriage to heal, the house to be clean, or the pounds to come off before we are willing to step out into the open? I’ve lived in this waiting, I wait and I fear. I dream and I fear. I cry and I fear. I fear and I fear some more on top of that. I fear lack of importance and influence, I fear of never being noticed or taken seriously. I fear that my dream is too big. I fear that nothing I do will ever be good enough. I fear and I lay waiting, paralyzed. I just stay in the cave, in the stronghold, in the fear.

Then I reach that same point that the Israelites reached, perhaps you have too. I become desperate, destitute, lonely, paralyzed, and impoverished. I cry out to the Lord.

Our hero Gideon is in hiding too. When the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon the scriptures tell us he “was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.” What? What on earth is he doing threshing wheat in a winepress? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that grapes belong in a winepress, not wheat. Where should he be threshing wheat anyway? Back in the day, and I hear that even in some parts they still do this today, threshing wheat happened on the top of hills. The wheat is taken and thrown up into the air; the wind blows the chaff away and the heavy grain falls down to the ground. Gideon probably didn’t have much wheat, but what little he did have he took with him to the lowest, safest place he could find in order to survive.

We have so little left when we hide, Satan has come and taken it almost all away, and we are so scared that what little we have we take to a “safe” place and do whatever we can to manage our self-preservation. We are so enslaved that we feel no freedom to take what we have and throw it up on the mountaintop. In Deuteronomy 32 the Song of Moses gives is a completely different picture of what his children look like, he says in verse 13:

  He made him ride on the heights of the land
    and fed him with the fruit of the fields.

Are you hiding in the winepress?

GET OUT! You have it in you, more than you can even imagine. Let’s take what we have, let’s take it to the mountaintop.

I wish you were not familiar with the story of Gideon, because then I could say, “You are not going to believe what happen next.”

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
Ephesisans 3:20

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

on being brave

For years I have wanted to author a blog. For years I have wanted to be heard. For years I have wanted to be known. Don't we all? Don’t we all want to be known, heard? Don’t we all have a story to tell? How do you tell your story?
 I know people that really don't like being in the spotlight, and go out of their way to stay away from it, they work, they serve, they do the job well, but rarely do we see them. Yet, even those people are known for something. They are the one who work quietly and lovingly and then stand behind the curtain. We don't see them but we know they are there, that is what they are known for. The spotlight is actually still on them, just in a different way, and we love them all the more because of their bravery, love and humility.

I know other people that love the spotlight, or at least seem to not mind it so much, because there they are, even if uncomfortable and a little self-conscious, they stand, and we all see them. They work hard and lovingly and step into the spotlight, which is what they are known for. We love them too because they are brave, loving and beautiful.

No matter what category you fit into, in the end there is always some sort of expectation set upon you. No matter how you do it, you are at work, doing your best and we are all watching, waiting for your next move. There are expectations to be met, like it or not.

How do you handle what you do? Do you hide? Do you step out? Are you brave in what you do?

I want to be brave.

What I find myself doing most of the time is both... and then... neither. I love the spotlight, but do I really? The safest place to be is in doing nothing at all.

Survival is hard enough as it is so when I go above and beyond just surviving, expectations begin to set in (whether from others or from myself) and they are so scary that it is just easier to step back and do nothing more. The spotlight is great, too great, it might blind me, and I don't know that I could handle it. If I hide in this cave no one will see me, no one will find me, no one will expect anything from me, no one will notice me, no one will care. The thought of being brave and stepping out is just too scary. I not only risk not meeting the expectations that I or others will begin to put on me, but even worse, I am risking not being seen at all. What if I do step out and still no one sees me, no one finds me, no one bothers with any expectations? What if I’m invisible? I could perhaps risk disappointment, ridicule and failure, but risk not being known or heard? That is what stops me dead in my tracks.

As it turns out though, this cave where I hide, although it can be cozy and safe is actually mostly quite lonely and unfulfilling. It's dark and boring. And God, the maker of heaven and earth and of you and me, doesn't really want us to hide. No matter where we hide he will find us, he will notice, he will care. He knows us, he hears us, and he loves us. So much so, that he is relentless and unapologetic in pursuing us, and he wants us to shine. Whether in the spotlight or out of it, we were made to shine, not hide. The Psalmist understood this well.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand
will hold me fast.

When we hide he reaches, he touches, he changes, he transforms.
I try to hide, I try to escape, but he finds me. Every. Single. Time.

The previous verses found in Psalm 139: 7-10 are followed by a reminder of how wonderfully God himself creates us. I wonder if perhaps the Psalmist had been hiding for the same reasons that I hide. Did he think that he didn't have much to offer, that he was so unworthy that he didn't think he could even be in the presence of God? Was there a spotlight or perceived expectations that he didn't think he could handle? Was he thinking "I'm sorry, but I just cant do it?"

Today I want to remind myself and remind you, just as David reminded himself and us, that we are God's beautiful creation, and although I was made in a secret place I was not made to stay there.

Paul also reminds us in Philippians 1:6

…that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

What a relief to know that whatever good work I am is what he created (not who I try to create), I am a beautiful piece of work in progress that is his responsibility, not mine. He creates, he begins a good work, he completes it. Once I step out of this cave it is not up to me to meet anyone’s expectations; it is not up to me to do anything to be noticed or heard. It is all up to him. I step out and I look at him, I love him, I adore him, I listen to him.

I am ready to be known, I am ready to be heard, I am ready to tell my story. I am ready to be brave.
Are you ready to be brave? Come on with me, let's leave this cave!

Next time we meet I will tell you the story of my favorite hero. He was called out of hiding too. He is part of my story, and perhaps a part of your story too.