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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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Old Photos and New Life

Memories sit on the shelf of the mind quite often collecting dust and serving little purpose, like old family photos placed in a hall closet and forgotten through most days. There they sit until relatives land in town for a few days or one of the kids is home from college. Then they see the light of day.

I’m pulling a few of those memories from the closet today as I reflect on something that happened thirty-two years ago today (April 11, 1982). It was that Easter Sunday that I surrendered my life, my rights, my past, present, and future to Jesus Christ. I was buried with him in baptism and raised again with him to new life.

Why was that? Why would I have made that decision? How did it really change anything?

Walk to the shelf with me. Let’s pull out one of the photos from years earlier. The photo is shadowy. There is a six year old boy, wearing pajamas. His sallow face is swollen, hair tussled. A small pair of plastic-framed glasses lay on the night stand. He is kneeling under the table, eyes squeezed shut, hands folded. It looks as he could bolt at any moment, running for his life. There is a caption below: “Please God, I don’t want to die.” He had been told a few hours before that he might only have six months to live.

How about this one. Look at this. This photo is of an eight-year-old boy, sitting on the bench seat of a moving truck. He is holding a Orange Crush soda in his hand, his big eyes gazing up at his dad, grinning like a possum eating sweet potato. He gets to ride with Daddy on the first leg of the trip south to a new home. That new home would end up being southeast Kansas. Caption here: “What will life be like there? Will I fit in? Will they like me?”

What’s this? In this photo our little boy is alone, face tear-stained, shaking. Small towns can be cruel. Sometimes older siblings can be too. This photo was “taken” just after he was left at home, everyone else headed out for pizza and fun. Caption here: “Why?” Pause for a moment and consider this one. Lonely, alone, hurting, fearful, sick, desperately looking for . . . acceptance. We place this photo back in the box. How depressing. But wait . . .

Here’s an interesting one. There is our boy sitting in a church pew. The cushions were red, the hymnals that sort of 70’s burgundy that found its way onto Lincoln Continentals, velvet suits, and church hymnals in those days. The crowd is small–must’ve been a Sunday night–definitely. The preacher at the edge of the picture isn’t wearing a tie. Definitely Sunday night. White knuckles. Right there in the center of this photo. Our little boy is white-knuckling the back of the pew in front of him. He has talked to the preacher. He knows about Hell . . . and heaven. He knows about sin and its wages. He knows the price of rejecting God. Yet, the knuckles are white, the boy stationary.

What’s this one? This photo is different than the others. It is effusive, almost glowing. Can photos glow? In this photo the boy is dressed in white. His hair drips, water running down his chin. Is it water or Spirit? His eyes are bright, his face no longer sallow but warm and ruddy and alive. He smiles and feels clean, pure, new, and empowered. It seems like it must be the same boy from the other photos, yet not. There is still fear in this photo, yet it is a holy fear, not one born of dread and death. Oh yes, Easter Sunday. 1982.

That photo was taken 32 years ago today. Death died that day in me and became Life. Dark was dispelled by Light. Lost became found. Rejection was redeemed by the One who had been rejected without cause. Loneliness was removed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit came to make a new home in me.

Aged Todd Portrait Photo

I thank God today that He looked at my sickness, my loneliness, my pain and buried those in the grave. I thank God today that by the power of the resurrection and by His Spirit he raised me to eternal life, lived in Him. I thank God today that he has given me opportunity upon opportunity to put hands and feet on “thank you.”

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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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Days 24 & 25: What Would You Risk to Find the Lost?

Lately I’ve been asking myself a simple, foundational question: “What does the New Testament say about what Jesus considers to be important?” Perhaps it could be stated differently: “What would Jesus risk (give) his life for?”

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing . . . I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15: 3-7, ESV

Allow me to restate this in the most plain terms possible: “Jesus is willing to risk me to find the one lost sheep.” Let that sink in for a moment. Any of us who have been lost and found, who walk in the Way according to the Truth filled with the Life, belong soundly in the company of the ninety-nine.  The parable does not say that He leads the sheep to safe keeping, to a sheep pen where there is protection, food, and warmth. Jesus says that the good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the open country and goes to find the one. He risks at least some of the many to save the one.

The emphasis of Jesus’ parable is not on the leaving of the ninety-nine as much as it is firmly on the joy of finding the lost one. Even so, He risks the danger of leaving the ninety-nine in open country to rescue the one who is in immanent danger. The lost one is enormously important to Him.

If I align my heart with His, then I, too, must be willing to risk all to rescue the lost one from danger.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:35, ESV

What would I risk to find the lost? What would you risk?

Looking ahead I have to consider Jesus’ words and count the cost. I have to daily be willing to risk the personal safety, agenda, and happiness of me and mine in order to complete the search-and-rescue mission Jesus has sent me on.

Our specific mission is to Papua New Guinea, to the Somau Garia people, to translate the New Testament into their heart language. Many Somau Garia will not know Him until they are able to come to know Him in the language that speaks to their heart.

Many of you have a call to these people, too, though it not be to physically be there, working alongside them in the day to day grind. Many of you have a call to risk yourselves in prayer, in providing resources to insure that each and every Somau Garia speaker has opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. What would you risk to find the lost?

Rescue the Perishing!
Please consider partnering with Pioneer Bible Translators in sending our family out  on a search and rescue mission to the lost ones among the Somau Garia. You can partner in prayer by clicking here. Your prayers are vital to success in this God-given, high impact mission. You can partner in financial provision by clicking here, which will take you to our donate page.

Please join us in the battle to shake the gates of hell in this generation!

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 24

September 3 (Day 24) — Tuesday. There are about 4,000 Somau Garia speakers, yet this people wields profound power throughout northern Papua New Guinea by means of their shamans and sorcerers. Imagine if these same people were known all over northern Papua New Guinea for their holiness and devotion to Christ, for his working in their midst! Pray today that many of these 4,000 will turn away from traditional deities, from devotion to practices and behaviors that hurt them, to the living Christ, the one who has removed death’s sting, won the victory, and did a victory march with captives in his train. Pray that my Somau Garia friends will know the freedom that is only possible in Jesus Christ, through the work accomplished on the cross, the life and power given through his resurrection from the dead, and through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Pray that these friends will become famous for faith!

 

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 22

September 1 (Day 22) — Sunday. Pray that those tempted to absent themselves from a Christian gathering will be motivated to join others in worship, preaching, and fellowship. Pray that the Word will be proclaimed with power today, that the preachers will speak the Word of Christ with such insight that none can deny that it was from God. Pray that the Word will multiply and grow in each heart, that the power of the spoken Word will stick in the spirit of each hearer, that they will dream about it, talk about it, marvel in God’s name and majesty. Pray that transformation will begin today.

 

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 20

August 30 (Day 20) — Friday. Half way through the journey, friends. How goes the praying? Is Satan buffeting you, challenging you to give up and lay aside the work of intercession. Friends, stand firm. Pray today for yourselves and for others like you who are on the “hump day” of the forty day season today. Pray for clarity to see and acuity to hear what the Spirit is speaking to you in your prayer time. My prayer for you today is that He is filling you with all knowledge through Jesus Christ, that he is giving you the spirit of wisdom and revelation (in increasing measure) that you may know him better. I’m praying for you today that He is sustaining your strength and resolve as you imitate Jesus’ ongoing ministry of intercession, taking us to the Father and praying for us. Let’s pray for one another today.

 

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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.