I've been really challenged by the lesson of Gideon this week. Here are the highlight thoughts:
When the Israelites were in the desert and had NO food, they complained to God, and He miraculously kept them alive by sending a new supply of manna each morning. And He gave very specific instructions:
The provision was From God. It was Daily. It was ENOUGH.
The manna would melt away with the heat of the day, so that each night it looked like there was nothing for the next day.
Each night they had to believe God would provide all they needed for the next day.
"Some left part of it until morning." What could be wrong with leftover manna?!
By leaving some until morning, they were putting their security in the provision of God rather than in God Himself as their Provider.
"And it bred worms and became foul."
What is amazing is that manna had not existed on earth before God provided it for His people, and when they reached the produce of Canaan, the manna stopped. So, not only was the manna provided, but the worms for the "leftover" manna were also provided!
(And evidently, these were Sabbath-keeping worms, because they didn't eat Sabbath-stored manna!)
The worms were purposefully sent to teach the Israelites not to trust in their own clever scheme to meet their needs apart from dependence on God.
Jesus reminds His disciples in Matthew 6:19-20 not to "store up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy..." but to store up treasures in heaven. A few verses later, He commands us:
"Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?'...for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
So DO NOT WORRY ABOUT TOMORROW, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
And each day has enough manna for that day from the Provider that lovingly sends worms to the things we've hoarded, to keep us from trusting His provision instead of Himself.
I like the feeling of Making Progress; of getting somewhere; of moving forward! But there are those times when looking at the needs and circumstances that are on "today's plate" stops me in my tracks, wishing there were a detour around the difficulties. Evidently, I am not alone.
When the Israelites were coming out of Egypt after 400 years in slavery, they were definitely making progress! God's Big Picture plan was advancing, their bags were packed, and they were Moving! But then they came to a screeching halt at the Red Sea with mountains on either side and an Egyptian army advancing from behind.
At that moment, they just wanted to disappear out of the situation. But what does Moses say?
"Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Ex. 14:13, 14
Don't panic and don't run! Watch this--God is going to fight for you. You are not stuck in your situation.
The believers that heard about Jesus through Paul faced unbelievable odds of living godly in their sensually-soaked cultures with antagonistic worldviews battering them, and caustic remarks being made about them. So what was Paul's encouragement them? "Get out there and make a difference!"? No--it was to STAND.
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:11-13
After Epaphras had left the young believers at Colossae and joined Paul, he wrestled in prayer for his friends. What was he asking for? Great progress and advancements? Actually, it was that they would "stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured." Colossians 4:12 Simply standing firm, not giving ground, was deepening and maturing the believers.
If what you are facing is making you want to run and hide, be encouraged from Jude 24, 25:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
The Enemy's Discouraging Lie.
Then came the taunting voices.
Nehemiah 4:1-3: "'What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble--burned as they are?' Tobiah...said,'What they are building--if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones.'"
What was the intention of the Enemy's words? To make them believe that what they were doing would make no difference; that it was inadequate; that to continue to work would be foolish.
The People's Weariness.
At first, the enemy's words fell on deaf ears, because 4:6 says, "We rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart." But then the amount of work they had put into the wall looked so small compared with what still needed to be done. "The people in Judah said, 'The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is SO MUCH rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.'"
Their Enemy's words had sunk in: "It's too big. You will never accomplish it. Your work doesn't matter."
Then, the Enemy moved in with words of fear--ten times they circulated rumors that wherever the Jews went, they would be attacked. The initial verbal assault, "It isn't possible" turned into, "It isn't safe."
Nehemiah 6:9 sums it up: "They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.'"
Every accusation and false reasoning had one goal: for the people to STOP doing God's work.
"But I prayed, 'Now strengthen my hands.'“
The people had grown weary of carrying away enormous loads of rubble while picking up bricks, hauling them to the building site and laying them into place, all the while being on guard every minute against possible physical attack by their enemies. Their physical hands needed strength to continue, but their hearts needed strength to keep on with the work God had put before them.
For those who are discouraged and hearing the Enemy's lie that their labor in the Lord "doesn't matter" the book of Hebrews reminds us:
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. Hebrews 6:10-11.
How can a person tell when a thought is God’s Voice or when it is Satan’s lies?
One key indicator is that Satan’s lies are bent on attacking my value and destroying my desire to come to God.
Phrases like, “You’ve messed up again, God won’t want to see you!” and “You are such a failure as a Christian!” may sound like rational thoughts when considering the evidence, but they are in direct opposition to the truth that God’s voice always invites me to come to Him, regardless of where I am.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
If attacking my value does not keep me away from God, Satan will use the more subtle tactic of deceiving me about my true condition and need for God's changing grace.
Thoughts like, “I’m doing so well, praying and reading God’s Word.” “Everything is going well, I must be doing something right!” can mask pride and give a false security that equally destroys a desire to come to God. A person without an inner thirst will not come to God. A longing, a desire for the inner empty to be filled, a dissatisfaction with plastic facades and empty motions--that place of neediness and thirst for righteousness is exactly what delights the Father:
"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." (Isaiah 55:1)
Jesus made it very specific that the thirsty one, the needy one, the distressed one crying out, is crying out to Him--and the one who comes to Him will be satisfied, not just one time, but continually. The invitation is open.
“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’”
You know what the scary part was? The people who studied the Scriptures were the ones who wouldn’t come to Jesus. The reason? Although the motions made it look like they were seeking God, they weren’t thirsty. They didn’t feel a driving need that made them want to be changed. Their knowledge of Scripture kept them insulated from seeing or feeling their true condition—that they were not filled with compassion and love for others, they were concerned only for their own wellbeing.
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Whether we hear the lies that we have messed up too much and God doesn't want us to come, or we are subtly deceived with feeling no need to come, the invitation remains the same to the end:
“Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)
The wind was the divine "pause button" to keep the disciples safely out of harm's way--but it looked like the obstacle that was preventing their progress.
Rewind the story, and we find that Jesus had just shown His disciples the hands-on lesson of giving the Bread of Life (Himself) to the crowds of 5,000+ women and children. Jesus recognized the groundswell movement to "come and make him king by force" before it happened, and "immediately made the disciples go on ahead of him to the other side." The danger for the disciples was that they would be swept up in the moment of excitement of a false view of Messiah; that they would be dazzled by His provision and not anchored in His person. What needed to happen?
1. Disciples needed to be removed from temptation to join the movement to "make Jesus king by force."
2. The crowds needed to be dismissed.
3. Jesus needed to spend time alone with the Father in prayer.
4. Jesus needed to re-join His disciples before the crowds got to them the next morning.
Voila--enter a wind that keeps the disciples safely in the middle of the Sea of Galilee for six hours.
Can you imagine the disciples' frustration going against that wind?! They were trying to follow Jesus' instructions--and it was hour after hour with very little to show for their work. Were they wondering why the God of Creation wasn't lifting or shifting the wind? Were they thinking that if Jesus were there, it would be different? Were they frustrated that Jesus had sent them "on ahead" into that storm? The truth of the situation was that they were exactly where they were supposed to be...and Jesus was there with them.
The Perfect Timing.
The timing of Jesus walking to them on the water focused their attention back to His person--the lesson they had missed in the excitement of feeding the 5,000--so that they confessed, "Truly you are the Son of God."
The timing of a frustrating wind protected them from staying on an 'emotional high' so that when the same crowds found them the next morning, they would be ready for Jesus' difficult words--words that caused many of His disciples to turn back and no longer follow.
The timing made them ready to answer Jesus' question the next morning, "You do not want to leave too, do you?" so that Peter, who had been rescued from the waves by Jesus just a few hours previously was ready to say, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
The timing of the storm was Intentional and Necessary.
But then in II Samuel 11, there is the Big Black Splotch--David's adultery with Bathsheba. And when the news of Bathsheba's pregnancy gets to him, he tries to rub the messy splotch with panicked plotting to cover it up, finally sending an innocent man to his death in battle.
David has made a mess on the page of his life--and he did it not in youthful ignorance, but when he was in his stride following God. Somehow, that makes the dark spot look messier and splotchier.
David's repentance and broken heart are evident. And when Solomon (the second son by Bathsheba) is born, "the Lord loved him; and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah." (12:25)
The Promise came FIRST.
But wait. Back up on the page. II Samuel 7--the passionate heart part of the story, before the splotch: "When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you...I will be His Father and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, but my love will never be taken from him as i took it away from Saul." I have always filled in Solomon's name in my mind as I have read that passage, because I know the end of the story: but DAVID doesn't know the end of the story! He doesn't know about the dark splotch and his failures, or that Solomon is going to come from the messy part of his life.
God wasn't caught off-guard, scrambling for a way to incorporate Solomon into His plan so that he could make David feel that he was forgiven. God already had the dark splotch as an integral part of the Big Picture HE was working--before the splotch was ever on the page.
I've noticed that believers often feel more forgiven for sins they committed before trusting in Jesus. There is a false perception that Jesus covers the sins up to repentance, but that I am responsible to keep the page clean from then on. (Note: this isn't meant to imply that we aren't called to holy living!)
I've also noticed that believers who have many dark splotches on the life-page before coming to Jesus, somehow feel that God's purpose for them starts at the point of repentance, and the past is an unfortunate mess that He has to step over to get to His Real Plan for them.
Our disappointment with ourselves and regrets from the past not only fuel the accusations of the Enemy to discourage us, they also keep us stuck thinking that an irretrievable clean page means it is a wasted part of the story.
The truth is, only a God who is both Sovereign and Compassionate can say to a broken-hearted child of His, "I already knew and had it incorporated from the beginning."
But what if Paul were telling the truth? What if he really wasn’t a skilled orator that could work a crowd by the power of his public speaking skills? Doesn’t that seem like such a necessary, or at least useful, skill in order to carry out his directed ministry? (Acts 9:15)
Paul was called in a dramatic fashion. He was gifted as an apostle and God confirmed his authority with signs, wonders, and miracles. But there are clues that when it came to the skill of public speaking—he knew that his “natural abilities” were inadequate to produce repentant change and spiritual growth in his listeners.
When God calls us to a ministry or leads us to a work, He does incorporate the gifts He has given us as His children, but usually in such a way that we can say with Paul: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (II Cor. 3:5)
Our uncomfortable sense of inadequacy drives us in neediness to ask God to do what only He can do, and be inter-dependent on each other so that the credit doesn’t go to a single person, but to the One working out His good purpose.
Taking (the disciples) with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida. But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the crowd away... ”
But He said to them,
“You give them something to eat!”
...He blessed (the loaves), and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. (Lk 9:10–16).
After the news of John the Baptist's beheading, Jesus withdrew with His disciples in the boat. As soon as they got to shore, there was a great crowd waiting for Him. Jesus' response? He felt compassion for them and actually welcomed them. His compassion extended to both their physical needs for which they came, and also the needs of their souls--He told them about the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus asked His disciples, "Where are we to get bread that these might eat?" it underscored their complete lack of supply for the needs in front of them.
If Jesus had not been there, the disciples' solution to the massive needs facing them would have been the logistically sensible solution: "Send them away!"
But Jesus WAS there. And His person was the SUPPLY for the needs of each hungry person: man, woman, and child. In other words, what each person really needed was Jesus. The disciples hadn't figured that out yet, but Jesus was teaching them hands on. As Peter gave out the bread to his hungry group of 50-100 people, he was getting the food from Jesus. As Thaddeus gave out the bread to his hungry group, he was getting the food from Jesus. As Judas gave out the bread to his hungry group, he was getting the food from Jesus. There was no "giftedness" that was needed to hand out the bread. There were no personality advantages to feed a hungry crowd. There was no time to be comparing who had the larger group--only time to go back to Jesus again and again to refill the basket and head back to the next waiting group.
Each disciple had nothing to give apart from what Jesus put in their basket, and each disciple had the same full provision from Jesus to take to their group of waiting, hungry people.
The Short Version.
When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:39-40)
After reading the lengthy details about the Shepherds finding the babe wrapped and lying in a manger, we find Jesus as an eight-day-old being named and circumcised. The narrative then moves seamlessly to Jesus’ first trip to the Temple. Suddenly, in Luke’s account, we are whisked back to Nazareth, where Jesus grows up for twelve years before His next recorded trip to the Temple.
The Long Version.
What is so interesting is what is left out. We know from Matthew’s record that Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem for almost two years: the time ascertained by Herod from the magi. (Matt. 2:16) Did they stay because they were too poor to travel back to Nazareth? How much had Caesar’s taxes taken from them? Was it because they had a connected family network that they stayed? It may have seemed from the day-to-day events that circumstances were keeping them in Bethlehem. Did they know that their extended stay had a Divinely Directed Purpose?
God’s Bigger Plan was Being Accomplished.
God drew Gentiles to come and bow before His Messiah and present gifts. (Isaiah 60:6) Jesus was the Savior of not just the Jews, but for the whole world. (Isaiah 49:6). Nations were bowing before God’s appointed King from David’s royal line. (Psalm 72:10-11)
I’m sure the day-to-day events before the magi arrived didn’t look as if anything so momentous was happening at all. Unbeknownst to Joseph and Mary as they lived life in Bethlehem and were getting settled in a new place, travelers were even then being brought to them, drawn to them, because of God’s bigger plan.
God’s Bountiful Provision was Being Activated.
The shepherds’ announcement may not have impacted Herod, but dignitaries from foreign lands certainly did! His first thought was that Messiah had been born. (Matt. 2:4) In his murderous rage, he sent his soldiers to kill the babies. It was time for Joseph and Mary to leave Bethlehem…NOW. IMMEDIATELY!!
God had kept them there in Bethlehem, hidden and protected, until the magi came and presented their gifts. They now had such an abundance of gold and frankincense and myrrh, not to lavish it upon themselves, but to supply what was needed for their trip to Egypt and getting established there. God’s supply had come exactly at the point of their need.
When day follows day and it seems that circumstances have dictated where I am, God’s divine hand is still directing the events so that others are brought to find Jesus and there is full provision to do His will.
About this blog...
Thousands have come to the same Word of God and seen His magnificance and penned commentary or devotional thoughts or hymns. What can I add that hasn't already been said?!
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