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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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Temptation and Prayer

One habit that Angela and I picked up when we moved to Papua New Guinea in the 1990’s was to always watch the path at our feet when we walked anywhere. Paths in rural Papua New Guinea are not wide, cement sidewalks or elevated boardwalks through wet areas. Because we lived on a very steep-sided mountain, our paths were (and are) narrow, stony, slick, steep, and snaggy. A person tends to watch the path rather than looking around at all the scenery. The scenery is taken in when drinking water or sitting for a bit of a rest.

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Jesus’ followers watched him walk the snaggy paths of temptation. He handled people who hated him, doubted him, those who tried to manipulate and use him, and tried to try and trick him into doing something that they could use against him. The disciples watched him handle both popularity and rejection with unshakeable character—and without sin.

Read the above texts. What do they say to you about temptation and prayer? Very early in Jesus’ three year ministry, he taught his followers to pray, concluding with, “And lead us not into temptation.”

On the other end of those three years he gave a similar directive—on the night he was betrayed. Entering the Garden of Gethsemane he instructed the disciples: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” Walking several yards further, he dealt with his own temptation in prayer. In prayer he chose to make the horrific journey to Golgotha. Returning to his followers, he found them sleeping, “exhausted with sorrow.” He knew what was about to happen. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” They would need to have been strengthened in prayer to endure the coming hours.

Stress, fatigue, and sorrow can all take their toll on our ability to resist the temptation to fall into worry or anger or hate. Western culture cultivates these three realities. We are pushed to excess in all. It is a diabolical strategy to break us down and make us vulnerable to sin—to push us over the edge. Missionaries face these realities in a rather magnified way on a daily basis.

How do we overcome, friends? “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” Notice Jesus does not exhort his followers not to fall into sin. He exhorts them not to fall into temptation (the gateway to sin). There are three main sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil. As we live in the context of the world, within our own skin, and in an adversarial relationship with the devil, we must continually be in prayer. One of our ongoing prayers must be that we will not fall into temptation. If we find ourselves in the place of temptation when we are tired, stressed, and perhaps sorrowful, if we have not lived in an attitude of prayer, we are more likely give way to sin. How do we overcome?

  • Go, sometimes alone and at other times with like-minded believers, to a solitary place of prayer.
  • Determine not to leave that solitary place until you have surrendered your will to the will of the Father. Your flesh will oppose you. The world will oppose you. The devil will mock you. Don’t give in!
  • Call on God to work his will in your life at the crisis point.
  • Receive God’s grace and sufficiency to overcome.

By God’s grace, by his Spirit, by his Word, by his power we will shake the gates of Hell!

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Day 22: Grace and Truth

We bought a GMC Suburban for a few reasons: winter driving (ours is 4 x 4) and 8 seats plus cargo room to boot. Missionaries drive a lot of miles while in the U.S. and face a lot of different kinds of road conditions. Parents, what do you do on long road trips (sometimes spending days or weeks at a time traveling)? Playing the “silent” game only lasts for so long. The license plate game becomes the billboard game becomes “I Spy” . . .  Focus on the Family did our family a favor when they started producing the Focus on the Family Radio Theater series on compact disc. Utilizing professional actors, they dramatized beloved stories like Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women and C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. One of my favorites of all, though, was their excellent interpretation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

The story, which takes place in early 19th century France, involves the tenuous relationship between Jean Valjean and police Inspector Javert. Valjean was a man given a 19-year sentence of hard labor for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to stave off hunger. The story opens with Valjean, having been released on parole, being offered shelter by a Catholic priest. He receives the hospitality by stealing the priest’s silver and fleeing. He is caught by the police and returned to the priest. The priest disappears into a room and brings two expensive silver candle stick holders. Giving them to Valjean, along with the silver, he asks only one thing: “Take the silver and use it to become an honest man.” Broken, Valjean vows, “Another story must begin . . .” Slipping away into the night (and away from the police), he takes on a new identity and becomes not only an honest man, but one who lives a life of radical grace and generosity.

Javert acts only according to a sense of justice devoid of mercy. He is more a caricature than a character, considering Valjean’s 19-year sentence as appropriate for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. He was completely blind to the transforming power of grace, believing that mercy perverts justice.

As much as the transformation of Valjean leaves a warm feeling in the heart, Inspector Javert leaves one feeling very cold. His character can be simplified into one word: “Yuck!”

Many cultures in the world operate by a system that would make Javert a very happy man. Somau Garia traditional culture is essentially a collection of taboos and rituals. Supernatural beings, including local, lesser deities, wild spirits, the recently dead, and other cavalier beings enslave these people in a system of laws and taboos that lead only to one reality: fear. Walking through the bush involves paying close attention to the taboos and spirits of that place. The slightest transgression must be corrected lest the spirits pour out inordinately harsh acts of wrath and punishment. Grace does not exist in this system. The system is characterized by a lot of guesswork and visits to the local shaman. Peace does not exist. Cavalier and contrary spirits can change the rules any time they like–without notification. In a word: “Yuck!”

Jean Valjean’s character is a beautiful picture of a man who experienced the power of two realities: grace and truth. The priest never indicated that Valjean was anything but a thief and a powerful, violent man. Yet, the priest knew that if Valjean were exposed to radical grace, God just might allow the old story to close, and allow a new story to begin. . .

John, perhaps said it best in John 1:17, “For the law was given through; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” A bit earlier in the passage, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14.

True grace does not deny uncomfortable realities and doesn’t lead us to believe that we are not guilty. True grace looks our guilt in the eye and then deals with it–radically. Truth, the kind that brings us into intimate relationship with Christ, is revealed to us with clarity and detail in the Bible, which is best understood and obeyed when it is given in the language that speaks to our hearts.

The Somau Garia have had but a taste of the gospel in the language of their hearts–The Gospel of Mark, in circulation since Easter Sunday, 2007. Twenty-six books remain to be translated. Truth remains to be grafted into the hearts of the Somau Garia. The transforming power of the gospel is only a few short years away from being accessible.

Getting the Word Out Somau Garia Style

Getting the Word Out Somau Garia Style

Join Us!
Would you join with Pioneer Bible Translators, the Owen family, and the group of current ministry partners in getting the Word out to the Somau Garia people? Clicking here will connect you with us by email to get you signed up for the prayer team. Clicking here will take you to our Donate page, which will acquaint you with how to financially partner with PBT in the transformational, high-impact ministry.

Thank you for your involvement!

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40 Days to Freedom Podcast Update

The 40 Days to Freedom Podcast Update is not only the story of people who prayed for a mission trip, it is the story of a God who answered prayer after prayer after prayer. Please take a few minutes to be encouraged and inspired to engage in the adventure of prayer!

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 38

September 17 (Day 38) — Tuesday. Heading into Madang, God willing, today to rest and prepare for the journey home. Much has been accomplished. Pray today that Todd will have good conversations with the missionaries he has yet to get acquainted with, with old friends, and with co-workers. Pray that Todd will have strength, clarity, and ability to wrap up responsibilities in Madang before leaving on Saturday. Pray for God’s grace and mercy to rest on each word, each conversation, each encounter, that Todd will be a blessing and encouragement to all that he encounters. Pray for the Aruamu today, that the experiences of the crusade—the workshops, celebration, worship, and preaching will leave a lasting imprint on the heart of each attendee. Pray for a powerful move of the Spirit in each life.

 

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 15

August 25 (Day 15) — Sunday. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31) In Papua New Guinea people rarely do things alone. Jesus, here tired and need to restore his inner man, invited his closest followers away to a quiet place to rest. Pray today for the missionary community, for the Christian leaders, and for those heavily involved in the war for the souls of men and women. Ask God to give them wisdom to take rest when it is needed. Ask God to bless their times of rest, making them useful for restoring the soul. Pray that for those in Madang, when they need to rest, power will be on so that fans can run, air conditioners can run (for the office), even the cricket match on telly (some relax to sports) can be viewed. Also ask God to reach down to the depths of the missionaries’ souls and do His work of healing and empowering. Pray also that God will minister deeply to them through the power of his mighty Word in their own heart language.

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 10

August 20 (Day 10) —Tuesday. In the foothills of the Finisterre Mountains lies Uria Village, a central village of the Somau Garia people. The Somau Garia are subsistence farmers, mostly, but also cultivate some coffee, cacao, and vanilla to earn a little cash to buy things that cannot be acquired any other way. Lutheran missionaries came to the area in the 1930’s, but without the Word of God in their mother tongue, the impact has been somewhat limited. In the mid-1990’s Bible translators started working there. One team was not able to return after a few years of service. Angela and I went in 1997 and worked there for ten years, our sojourn culminating in the publication of the Gospel of Mark. It was a hard go and we needed to step away for a while. Pray for our Garia friends, that this will be a season representative of “the fullness of time” for them. May it be a year of the Lord’s favor for them. Pray that hearts will be tender and ready to receive all that the Lord has in mind for them. Pray that there will be a spirit of prayer and supplication that will enable them to break free of generations-old bondages that hold so many hostage.

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 9

August 19 (Day 9) — Monday. The missionary team in Papua New Guinea work in some tough conditions. Electricity frequently drops out, depriving the houses without power for lights, refrigerators, ceiling fans, security lights, etc. It can be demoralizing. Crime is ever present. A person is usually on guard 24/7 in the city. Please pray for mercy, energy, strength, and good morale for the team. There are always more work and requests than there are time and resources. Pray that God will deal gently with the missionary team in Madang. Ask God to prepare them for the influx of visitors that will add to the already heavy workload they are facing.

 

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Surrender as Victory

I sat quietly at my desk. The room was only half-lit. I was praying, frustrated and melancholic. “How can a person live a completely surrendered life?” The question sprang from a certain amount of accusation that had been circling my heart. I waited. I was seeking wisdom from above and I was not moving until I had something to go on. The answer came, but I have to tell you that this flesh of mine was not at all satisfied.

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

I wasn’t really asking how to live a surrendered life as much as how to win, but I didn’t realize that at first, until the Father gave me a gentle rebuke.

My flesh was not satisfied because my flesh has many demands. My ego demands that I win victory on my own so that I can take credit for it. My flesh wants to be in charge, in control of a situation to work things out the way that makes me look good–in charge. My flesh wants to be honored and coddled and attended.

The flesh exerts its will. The devil flings flaming arrows at me to weaken my resolve. The world squeezes, trying to fashion another empty, soulless robot to march according to it cadence. But the Spirit indwells me. He intercedes for me, as does the Son. I feel the conflict within.

Because I live by the Spirit, I want to crush the devil under my feet, cast off the shackles of the world system, and crucify the flesh. The subtle temptation is to try to do so prayerlessly, relying upon my own force of will, so that I might walk into the King’s presence to show him my victory. There is no victory without prayer, there is no victory without the Spirit, there is no victory without surrender.

Surrender is present in both failure and victory. Failure is tantamount to surrendering to the force of the flesh, to the force of the world system, or to the forceful temptation or attack of the devil. Failure (sin) is making friends with the world and living a laissez-faire lifestyle that assumes that it is the only option; the only way to get along. Failure is a surrender of self to someone else’s will, even if it is the “old man” that Paul writes about to the Roman believers.

Victory is a surrender to the will of God. Victory is a surrender of bragging rights, admitting that we are not able to bring a self-won victory into the throne room, not able to boast to God, “Look what I did. Aren’t you impressed?” Victory is approaching the throne of grace, humbly, offering ourselves to God as servants, as sons and daughters, as ones in need of grace.

This kind of victory rightly gives credit where credit is due: it is God who made us, who redeemed us from an empty way of life, who provides for us, who calls us, who empowers us, who gives us everything we need for life and godliness. It is God who makes any victory possible. It is God himself who gave the ultimate sacrifice that we might come to him. It is God who sought us out and offered us a second chance. It is God himself that enables us to stand, in grace.

Surrender begins with submission to God’s wishes. Submission is not a shameful condition. It merely acknowledges God’s rightful place as King of my life. He rules. Surrender then requires resisting the devil. He will flatter and deceive in order to get us to deviate from obedience. Surrender involves the deep desire of the heart, an act of will that accesses grace so that we can draw near. Without an active and accessed grace we cannot draw near to God. Surrender involves reducing our will to a single allegience: God. To purify essentially means to reduce to a single element. One. Not two. Not ten. One. Surrender involves a cessation of laughing at our sin and willful disobedience. Surrender results in the fulfillment of promise.

If we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. If we come humbly, He will exalt us. If we lay aside our will in lieu of His, He will give us Victory–victory over sin, victory over death, victory over the world.

Humility is one of our “secret” weapons in shaking the gates of hell–a weapon that the world, the flesh, and the devil would never think of using.