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Whose Glory Is It Anyway?

The Least

135,000 soldiers filled the valley of Jezreel. Like a swarm of locusts they noisily consumed every living thing before them: crops, cattle, donkeys, grass, trees, wild animals, everything. When they moved through, nothing was left.

Within earshot of this vast swarm of humanity, Gideon bent over with his threshing rake, tossing what little grain he could in the bottom of a winepress, afraid. Perhaps he was peeking over the edge of the winepress when he spied a man sitting under the oak tree in Ophrah that belonged to his father, Joash.

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Looking around: “You talkin’ to me? Well … if the Lord is with us, then why do I need to thresh the grain in this winepress? Eh? Why is Israel overrun by these locusts, these Midianites? Why are we so poor, then? Answer me that! Where are the miracles? The deliverances? What about the stories my daddy told me when I was knee-high to a grasshopper? The Lord cut us loose. He handed us over to Midian … mighty warrior … let me be. I’m busy.”

“Shut up! … and listen. You have some strength left. Go and save your people from Midian. It’s Me talkin’ here … you will set your people free–by my hand.”

“You serious? I’m from the weakest clan in Manasseh, and I’m the least of that line.” Something clicked in Gideon’s mind. “You mean it? You’re going to use me to do this thing? You’d do that? Really?

You know the rest of the story. If you don’t, you’ll find the story written in Judges chapters six through eight.

Encouraged

I find Gideon’s story encouraging, if puzzling. Gideon is essentially a nobody in Israel. Today we’d call him an “everyman”. He’s taking care of his family, putting food on the table, trying to keep his head down and make it through tough times.

He’s honest. He speaks his mind. No filters. Even to the angel of the Lord. Even though he couldn’t wrap his head around the great tragedy that he was living through, he knew that Jehovah was (and is) the God of Israel. He wants to believe what he’s being told. It’s just so blasted hard when he looks both around him and within. He’s confounded. “Why me?”

His story shows me that it is OK to speak plainly to the Lord in prayer. God doesn’t smite him or grind him to dust. The ground doesn’t open up and swallow him. His questions are honest, not rebellious. He’s not opposing God, he’s just trying to understand, to discern the words being spoken to him. Though there is a twinge of fear in his heart, he obeys anyway. He fears the Lord more than he fears what might happen if he obeys.

His first task is to tear down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole, these abominations to false gods. He goes in the dead of night, but he goes nonetheless.

Gideon’s story is a picture of God’s grace and mercy. He uses a no-name to do deeds that were so pivotal in God’s greater story that they would be recounted for thousands of years. Gideon, though hesitant, was obedient. God used him to deliver Israel. He conquered an army of 135,000 with a mere three-hundred men, delivering Israel.

Lessons?

What can be learned here that will help us shake the gates of hell?

God chooses the weak, the nameless, the forgotten to fight the war in the heavenly places. Jesus chose fisherman and tax collectors and hot-headed zealots to be his disciples. When God chose the nobodies he equipped them to follow. They were chosen for their obedience and character, not for their name. He empowered them by his Spirit to carry out bold and courageous missions. God acted in the midst of their obedience and faith.

Warning

There is a stern warning here as well. Israel was quickly confused about who delivered Israel. They wanted to make Gideon their leader. But Gideon was not having any of it. His response was as straightforward as his initial prayers, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you.”

He next did something, perhaps with good intention, that became a snare. He took his share of the plunder and made into an ephod, which became an idol to the people. They worshiped the thing that represented victory to them. They worshiped “success.”

Today there is no end of books, blogs, and emails promising the secret to growing a successful church, building your mailing list, making a platform for your message. More often than not these are thinly-veiled business principles reimagined for religion and reputation. And what if we build a list of 100,000 readers or congregate of thousands of people? Gideon’s success became a snare for Israel. Could not our “success” be a snare to us? Will “success” make Jesus’ name famous or ours? (I’m not suggesting that well-attended churches or highly read authors or growing organizations are wrong or evil. By no means. I am suggesting that success doesn’t necessarily indicate blessing or eternal reality and that we should guard our hearts from seeking the wrong things.)

Whose Glory?

Shaking the gates of hell is something that happens in the heavenly realms and occasionally manifests in this one. Israel looked at the man God used to bring deliverance and wanted to worship the man. He wasn’t looking glory for his “success”. He was simply obeying. Whose glory is at stake anyway? God’s or ours? If we are seeking glory over obedience, it is surely time for repentance, humility, and submission to the Lord of hosts lest we destroy ourselves with our “success” and bring shame to the only Name that matters.

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Please Pray, March 5, 2014

Grateful for the opportunity to call believers to faith and to good works which God prepared in advance for us to do–by means of the Spring Forward Campaign. Why is it a privilege? Hebrews 11:6 reads: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

If I truly care about my brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God, then it follows that any call to deeper faith and greater obedience to Jesus is an act of love, mercy, and solidarity.

  • Pray with us today and throughout the next two months that God will open doors and unleash the resources needed to get us to the field this year. 
  • Pray that God will show us clearly who to approach, how to connect them to this vital project, and when is His time for this.
  • Pray that we will stay encouraged and have the presence of mind to put on our spiritual armor each and every morning before launching our day.

Thank you for praying with us.

Blessings

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5 Assurances that We Are Praying According to His Promises

The faith that Abraham had in God’s promises was so great that in the absence of the written Word of God, in the absence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, in the absence of the church or a national identity based on fealty to Jehovah, Abraham believed God would do what he said he would do–and it was credited to him, by God, as righteousness. In the previous article entitled Promise and Prayer, I reflected on the faith of Abraham and posed this question: “How can we be confident that we are indeed praying according to His promises and not merely according to our personal aspirations or desires?”

This  question is important to answer because prayer is the context within which our hearts are aligned to God’s heart. While our hearts and minds are informed by the word of God and our faith is worked out in practicing good deeds (rooted in right attitudes), our hearts are find those right attitudes and apply the Truth in the prayer closet. It is in the prayer closet that we confess our sins to God. It is in the prayer closet that we petition Him for a new heart–a heart of flesh instead of stone. It is in the prayer closet where we verbally submit our hopes and dreams, our intentions and desires, to his (as Jesus did at Gethsemane). It is in the prayer closet that we lay aside our personal agendas to take on His agenda for us. It is in the prayer closet that the words of Scripture become the catalysts of our hearts.

I believe that there are at least five components in answering the question, “How can we be confident that we are indeed praying according to His promises and not merely according to our personal aspirations or desires?”

First, we must practice confession of sins and the clearing of our conscience before God. Hebrews 3:12 and following states: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” This is done both privately in the prayer closet and also in community. Elsewhere we are exhorted to “confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed. (James 5:16) If we are to be aligned with the desires of God, we cannot be walking in rebellion and hardness against Him.

Second, closely related to the first but slightly different, don’t put your own agenda ahead of God’s agenda for you. Jesus was wholly honest before His Father has he knelt there in the garden, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He dreaded the hour of is torture and murder, yet knew that God’s desires for him were preeminent. He submitted to the unthinkable to fulfill God’s purpose for his sojourn on earth. We must be very careful when facing difficulty and challenge not to assume that it is God’s will for us to avoid suffering. It is vital that, having confessed and cleared our conscience, that we lay our agendas on the altar before God and give Him the opportunity to choose our destiny. Sometimes we find ourselves in the crucible because He has created us for such times.

Third, keep the Bible before you–test the prayers you pray against the revealed will of God as found in the Scriptures. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV) As we confess our sins, as we submit our own agenda to His, we also must submit ourselves to the scrutiny of the Scriptures. The Word will sift and penetrate our attitudes, our thoughts and intentions. We must be yielded to the Word. When our heart’s agenda is found to be at odds with the Word, we must repent or change our course of action.

Fourth, do not assume that His promises are fulfilled in keeping with our timing. Abraham waited twenty-five years from the time of the first promise to the time of its fulfillment. Israel wandered forty years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Indeed, “. . . with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9, ESV) Don’t become discouraged and stop praying because of impatience. Don’t think that He is not answering your prayer because it is slow in coming. He alone has view of all past, present, and future and He alone has the wisdom to coordinate all things for good. If you are confessing your sins as needed, are submitting your agenda to His, are testing yourself with the Word of God (the whole counsel of Scripture–but that is another post 😉 ) then be constant in prayer on whatever matter you are bringing before God.

Finally, and perhaps this goes without saying, don’t assume that every answer is “yes”. There are times when we pray that the answer is clearly “no” and we need to accept that answer from the Lord. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden was “No, this cup will not pass you by . . .” Consider the experience of Paul and company as recorded in Acts 16:7ff (ESV): “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” The Lord did not say “yes” to their good and right desire to take the gospel into Asia and Bithynia because He wanted them to go to Macedonia to preach. He had the plan. They submitted to his plan.

I believe that as each of us applies these basic principles of prayer in our lives, we will be transformed in the secret place and will be real threats to the enemy of our souls. I believe that as we find ourselves walking in faith, in submission, in brokenness, and in humility we will shake the gates of Hell.

 

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Day 39: Please Pray, December 30, 2013

I’ve been asking the Lord to give me direction for the coming year. What should 2014 look like? What should our goals be? What does the time line look like? I’ve been asking for very specific areas. Aside from a few personal “nudges”, the Holy Spirit has consistently pointed me back to basics and to some overarching principles to walk and work by:

  1. Our primary and foundational strategy for ministry is prayer. It is our desire for 2014 to be characterized by transformational prayer. This concerns not only our personal prayer practices but also how we train, organize, inform, and inspire our prayer partners. Pray with us that God will grant wisdom, discernment, strength, and power to overcome the enemy–that we might honor Jesus’ name by fulfilling the duties of our ministry wisely and with zeal.
  2. God is in charge of the calendar and the activity of ministry. We have placed July 2014 on the calendar to return to Papua New Guinea. I look at the months on the calendar, the $$ needed and all that must take place and, honestly, I cringe. That cringing is not a faith act, though, it is a fear or flesh actPray that we will have an increased awareness and sense of God’s timing in all that he has ahead for us. Pray that we will have willing and submitted hearts regardless of the specifics of the Call. Pray that we will enthusiastically put our hand on whatever plow the Lord holds out to us and to serve wholeheartedly. Pray that our faith in God’s provision and plan will survive the purifier’s fire.
  3. Our season of building a prayer and provision team will result in praise and glory for God–especially in the faith-stretching and impossible-to-see moments and events. Pray that we will have deep awareness of God’s work in life and ministry. Pray that we will be able to tell His story well, that we will be able, by the power of the Holy Spirit, encourage and inspire his people in their faith. Pray that this season will also be a powerful testimony to the Somau Garia people as they watch and wait for the Word to be made available in their heart language.

As I review what I’ve written here, I’m reminded of the famous words of Sherlock Holmes: “Elementary, my dear Watson.” All these are elementary to true faith and Biblical ministry. Yet it seems like the basics are often the battleground. Please pray with us that as we move toward Papua New Guinea, toward telling the story again and again and again, that we will do that which is most elementary in the Christian life: put a smile on God’s face.

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 40

September 19 (Day 40) — Two days until return travel. Pray for safety in transit, for travel mercy, for much to be learned and gained through this brief foray back into Melanesia. Pray that our family will have a clearer idea of how to proceed from this point forward. Pray for the Father to move in our hearts that we will have the courage and resolve to re-engage this challenging call. Pray for a clearer vision to grip our imaginations about the coming days.

 

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 39

September 18 (Day 39) — Pray that Todd’s stamina will hold out. Ask God to give him wisdom as he finalizes details and has final conversations regarding a return to PNG with the family in 2014, the sorting out of the mission station at Uria, the translation work, checking, etc. to be done in the intervening months. Pray that Todd will have wisdom in choosing what to bring back to the U.S. and what to leave. Pray that there will also be lasting blessing for the Somau Garia left in the wake of Todd’s visit.