In Judges 6-7, the Israelites are in trouble, once again. They’ve turned their back on God and have disobeyed his commands. They’ve been under the control of the evil Midianites for seven years, and they’ve had enough. At least, that’s what they say. But the Midianites are very evil and are so cruel, that the Israelites hide from them in mountains, caves and other strongholds. When the Israelites plant their crops, their enemies attack them and destroy their crops. Their oppressors leave them with nothing to eat. They’re reduced to starvation. So they cry to the Lord for help.
The problem isn’t that their enemies are strong. It’s that the Israelites have again disobeyed God. Trouble always finds them when they turn their backs on God’s commands.
One man, who is basically afraid of his own shadow, threshes his wheat at the bottom of a winepress in hopes that his enemies can’t find his food and steal it. Gideon says he is the lowliest person in the lowliest tribe of Israel, and he’s scared of everything. But God sees him and comes to him in his hiding place.
When the Lord finds him deep in that winepress, he calls Gideon a mighty hero. But Gideon asks God why he has allowed his people to endure such hardships. He asks why God has abandoned them. God knows Gideon has many fears, but he also knows Gideon’s heart. He hears Gideon when he asks why God has allowed all the evil to take place. He hears Gideon’s cries about his people starving and struggling to survive.
God doesn’t rebuke him for questioning. God doesn’t chastise him for being fearful. Instead, God empowers him to fight. He enables Gideon to assemble a small army. God says a large army would indicate that they won by their own power. A small army shows that God is the one who led them to victory. Because there are times in life, we can’t do everything. We need God to guide us, and the victory is all his.
It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Zechariah 4:6
God didn’t give him attaboys or you got this, man. No. God wanted the praise. God wanted the adoration and commitment. Gideon needed to depend on God’s strength to fight this battle and win. God led Gideon to defeat the enemies, but it was with God’s power. Not Gideon’s. The victory was not through human strength but from God’s favor and power. After all, God whittled down Gideon’s army from three thousand to only three hundred men. And those few men defeated an army of thousands with the help of God.
Gideon doubted God. He thought his people were in such a bad way because God wasn’t doing his job. But when God showed him that his people’s deliberate disobedience had caused this oppression, Gideon had a change of heart. He saw his countrymen for the sinners they were. In spite of his fears, he saw God’s mighty hand upon him and his small army.
Too many times we try to fight our own battles. We imagine victory at the sound of our sharp words or brute force. But we are weak. We are inadequate. We are fearful. We are human. We can’t fight our own battles. We need God’s help. If we claim to be a child of God, we need God’s strength to fight our battles. And he says he will fight for us.
We don’t have it all together. And God sees our weakness. But he also sees our hearts. And if our hearts are seeking to obey and honor God, he will work with our weakness. He will be our strength. He will be our guide. He will lead us to victory. Oh. The victory may not look as we expect. But victory will be look the way God intended. God ordains all our steps. All our battles. All our losses and victories. They are his. If we are his, we know that obedience is much better than elaborate victories.
He said he felt sick to his stomach. Oh. I said. Are you not feeling well? Then he proceeded to tell me about an event his employer was planning for the community. This event was geared very specifically to support a group with a social agenda. And this man was sickened by the thought that his Christian employer might be getting involved with social justice issues that are not biblically based.
What does a person do? What does a believer do when they’re faced with a challenge such as this? When their employer, whether Christian or not, supports issues that go against the employee’s moral, ethical or biblical values. What do you do? How do you deal with that? How do you work within that system and remain employed? Do you keep the truth to yourself? Do you speak up? Do you build a campaign against the cause, creating your own cause? What’s the right thing to do? What’s the wrong thing to do?
How do we as believers today stand for truth at the risk of being canceled?
How do we speak biblical truth in a world that doesn’t want to hear it?
Have I now become your enemy because I am telling you the truth? Galatians 4:16
If someone shows no concern to submit to God’s commands, even— indeed especially—when these commands cut across our cultural ideas or our comfort, we must question the spiritual state of that person.
As I was reading in 1 John last week, a verse jumped off the page at me. It said that if we claim to know Jesus but continue to sin, we are not practicing the truth. As believers, we must practice the truth. No matter the cost. To our liberty. To our status. To our career. To our livelihoods. Are we willing to pay the price if it comes down to it? It’s a sobering thing to consider. What would we rather lose, though? Every earthly possession? Or every eternal possession?
Our soul could be at stake if we don’t stand for the truth. If we give in to the lies that we’re being sold in social media, in the news, in Hollywood, in Washington. Where do we draw the line? What hill are we willing to die on?
Now we may not know what hill we’re willing to die on until we’re faced with it. And we may not know how we’re going to deal with it until that day comes. I totally understand that. Because honestly. I’ve not yet come to that hill in my life.
The question is. How do we as believers stand for the truth? How do we stand against certain social ideals that aren’t truth? They’re just others’ opinions, and those opinions are loud. They’re much more vocal than those who hold biblical truths but remain silent. How do we believers stand against those ideologies and maintain our Christian integrity? How do we maintain a strong relationship with God if we don’t speak up for his truths?
That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. How do we maintain that strong relationship with God, if we can’t stand for truth when the fight at this point in our culture may seem minimal? Our lives are not at stake. But at some point, our livelihood could be. How do we stand for that? How do we participate in the truth? How do we practice the truth without living a lie?
Because, the truth is, both sides believe they’re speaking truth.
Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. 1 John 2:6
We’re told we live in a postmodern world. That means that some believe truth is open to interpretation. Some view truth as a fluid, moving option. How can that be? How does truth change?
So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 1 John 1:6
It’s known that some individuals and corporations bend the truth instead of practicing it. What a shame. Why is truth not applauded and rewarded? Why is truth something we try to hide these days? Why do we seek a convenient and comfortable truth, when it isn’t truth at all?
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend. We were having a great conversation, when we suddenly lowered our voices. We were saying words that might be offensive to our neighbors at the surrounding tables. And it dawned on us. Why should we have to lower our voices when we’re having a private conversation about our faith, about our beliefs, and even about politics? Why should we have to lower our voice in public? Why can’t we speak truth around others who may not agree? Because, perhaps, the table next to us might be speaking their beliefs. And they might be in disagreement with ours. Why can’t we sit table to table and speak in private conversations without the fear of being persecuted?
This is America. This is a free country. But we’re living as if it’s not. We’re living in fear. Fear can be healthy. But we need to stand for truth, regardless of that fear. Our faith is important. Our beliefs are important. Our politics are important.
I’ve been reading about Christians in the underground church in Communist countries. These believers, who have developed a strong faith in spite of horrible persecution in their home countries, continue to share the Word of God with unbelievers. Because in those countries, people are hungry for the truth. They want to know the truth, and they’re willing to learn it at all costs. By meeting in private homes. By going out into the forest with a few people to share the gospel and to fellowship and worship in private, secluded areas. Knowing that they could be arrested at any moment.
But they do it anyway.
They share the truth. They live the truth. Even with the possibility of being arrested, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, drugged and brainwashed. They’re willing to lose everything, including their lives, to continue standing for the truth.
I don’t know if I’m that courageous. But I know that I need to be. I know that I need to be willing and able to stand for biblical truth with the realization that I could lose everything that is most important to me.
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. 1 Peter 5:8-9
We as believers in this country have had it easy for so long that we don’t know what it’s like to risk everything for our faith. Our churches don’t know what it’s like to be shut down. Our pastors don’t know what it’s like to lose their livelihood and be at risk if they preach a strong biblical message.
I fear that day is coming for us. When I see young children and new babies, I wonder if they are the generation who will be put to the test. I wonder if they’ll be the ones who will be persecuted and imprisoned and tortured and beaten and drugged and brainwashed because of their faith. Oh. I hope not. I hope they don’t meet that type of persecution. But as I look at their parents, I pray that they are strong in their faith today and are teaching their children the Word of God. I pray that they are teaching their children how to stand for truth, how to identify truth among the lies, and how to speak the truth. I pray that those parents teach their children to stand strong and to be bold, regardless of the cost. And I pray that they will realize the cost is worth it to stand for Christ.
I don’t know when that level of persecution will begin for us. I pray that we are prepared and ready. I pray for strong Christian parents to teach their children biblical truths and to engrain it into their hearts. And to have the biblical stories interwoven into their childhood memories, so they can pull out those biblical truths when they need them most. My prayer is they will be unopposed as they stand for truth. May God be with them and help them.
It was the wrestling match of the ages. And rightfully so. Who other than Jacob can say they spent the night wrestling with God? Physically wrestling with God. Oh. I’m sure many of us will admit to wrestling with God in prayer for hours on end. Hours that left us weak and limp. Hoping that God had heard our honest, fervent prayers.
But Jacob. Yes. He spent the night wrestling with God. And he came out alive. He came out able to talk about it. He walked away from that match a changed man. Changed in more ways than one. His name was changed to Israel, because he fought with God and man and won. His heart was changed, because he was prepared to reconcile with his brother. His walk was different. He now walked with a limp, because his wrestling opponent wrenched his hip out of the socket.
Oh. During the hours long wrestling match, a conversation was taking place. Perhaps two conversations. One that included Jacob and his opponent. And the other was an internal conversation Jacob was having with himself. Don’t you think? If he’s asking questions aloud to his opponent, they would only come about from his internal conversations.
Let’s just read his mind for a minute.
Who is this stranger who appears in the dead of night in the middle of nowhere and wrestles with me? Who does that? Who is this man? Where did he come from? What does he want with me? Will his strength ever give out? And why? Oh. Why won’t he tell me his name? Am I face to face with God? Will he let me survive the night?
Jacob walked with a limp after wrestling with God. At some point in the night he realized he was wrestling with God Almight. And did his win signify a victory for his soul?
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
Perhaps our opponent appears out of nowhere. We’re unprepared for the match, yet we must fight with all our might. And our might is failing. The fight is long and difficult. It’s taking a toll, and we see no way out. We beg God for mercy. We ask for this dark night of our soul to end. We’re unsure of what part of our faith will be left intact. Can our faith survive this match?
Perhaps our wrestling with God is because his will is not ours. Our wrestling matches may go on for days and weeks. Perhaps they’re continuing still today. We’re not willing to give in to God’s perfect will. and it is just that. Perfect. Not that our lives will be perfect when we submit to his plan, but we will be at peace in his will. We may walk with a limp, but it will be because the battle of our own will has been won. With God’s help. and his plan is put into place.
Perhaps our wrestling match is with a physical or mental illness. A job loss. A fractured marriage. A destroyed dream. Perhaps we’ve lost hope with life and feel there’s nowhere to turn. Life struggles will leave us with a noticeable limp. But the limp signifies victory over the struggle as we allow God to heal us. That limp we now walk with is a sign of victory. It’s a sign of perseverance and faith. Of trust in the Almighty God of the universe. So what’s a little limp?
They have a new pool. They asked me to join them after a long, hot and humid day. So I did. But I’m no swimmer. I can’t float to save my life. Oh. I took a few swim lessons, but they ended badly. Oh. I got in the pool. Well. I sat on the second step. And watched. And splashed a little.
The others were more adventurous. Some were swimmers. Those who weren’t used noodles. They clung tightly to the noodles, but they ventured out into the deep. Not me. No noodles for me. No deep water for me. As they swam and splashed, the water around me would move. This unsettled me. It felt as if I could slip out into the deep water and plunge to the bottom. My water is moving. I would say. Don’t make my water move.
Oh. Yes. I was fearful of moving into the deep. Of having no control of my surroundings. You see. Water is fluid. Ever moving. Only when it’s frozen does it stop moving.
Oh. I could see myself enjoying the water if I spent enough time in it. The thing is. I don’t have those opportunities. So I played it safe. I sat on the step. Waist deep in the water. Safe. Until my water moved.
The Lord will fight for you. You have only to be silent. Exodus 14:14
Fear of the unknown can stop a person in their tracks. Fear of the known can be very unsettling. Fear of any kind can paralyze and overwhelm. Fear will cloud reasoning and judgment. Fear will keep the one sitting in waist deep water from experiencing the joy and freedom of what the deep has to offer.
God calls us to move out into the deep. To go where we can rely only on his strength. He calls us to move out into the unknown. To trust him and him alone. Oh. It’s easier said than done. But the joy that obedience and submission to God brings is incomparable.
I wonder what I missed out on by refusing to grab onto a noodle. By not being willing to get out of my comfort zone and float in the water. There were those around to help if I struggled. But no. I held onto my fear and didn’t even want my water to move.
I wonder how many blessings I miss out on by allowing fear of the unknown to hold me back. I wonder where God would lead me if I went out into the moving waters of faith knowing that his guiding hand was always holding mine. I wonder why I so easily trust the lies the enemy puts into my mind, but quickly dismiss God’s truths in my heart.
Fear strangles life and enjoyment. Fear will stop you cold. Fear will tell you that you’re not good enough. Fear will whisper that you can’t do the job. But know this. Fear is a liar.
Decide fear will not be your obstacle, as you do the hard thing, and see all the beautiful things you would’ve missed if you’d lived afraid. ~~Rachel Macy Stafford
I stood there with tears streaming down my face. The door to the past was closed. The future uncertain. Trust was at its lowest. Fear loomed large. I cried out to my God. Please show me hope. Show me hope today.
Later that morning, as I stood in the rain with my dog, I looked over and saw signs of spring. Purple hyacinths were popping their heads out of the green. The yellow of daffodils was opening. The leaves of the bleeding hearts were rising from the ground. Peonies were poking through the soil. I saw hope. Even in the rain, hope was around me. Hope of better days. Hope of new beginnings. Hope of building trust again.
I saw hope on another day. Male cardinals vying for the female’s attention. Loud chirping. Swooping tails in flight. Chasing each other through the branches. I saw hope. Hope for rebirth. Hope for renewal. Hope for dreams fulfilled.
Perhaps there was hope for me. A phone call. An encouraging text. A lunch and movie. Time with friends. Renewal. Rest. Reset. Hope.
But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? Isaiah 43:18-19
The Israelites had been mistreated for far too long. They were waiting for a savior. One to rescue them. One to right their wrongs. Oh. Their suffering became worse before it ended. Perhaps hope did wane. Discouragement can cloud hope when it seems as if God isn’t listening.
But God was listening. He heard their cries. God offered hope when He sent Moses to deliver them. And God delivered His people in a mighty way. Miracle after miracle flowed from his fingertips into their lives. God proved with his mighty hand that he was in control every step of the way. God destroyed their enemy in front of their very eyes.
Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.” Exodus 5:22-61 NRSV
This is Easter Week. Holy Week. Just the name implies hope. But in order to see that hope appear, horrible events took place. The sentencing of an innocent man. Sentenced to death on a cross.
When Jesus cried out asking why God had forsaken him, I wonder if God turned to him and said. Now you shall see what I will do by my mighty hand.
Did Jesus see hope as he was dying on the cross? Did he see hope for you? For me?
Oh. Two days later as he left the tomb very much alive, hope came in a bright light. Hope rolled the stone away from his tomb. Hope breathed life into his torn body. Hope shown through him as he appeared to Mary Magdalene. Hope appeared as he showed his scarred hands to Thomas.
This was a different hope. This was a new hope. This was hope eternal. Everlasting hope.