God Calling… Finishing Well

sunsetGideon’s story is a repeated through history.  It’s a story of the individual responding to God’s call, trusting Him beyond the visible, leaning only on His might, winning a victory that blesses many, and then riding off into the sunset a hero loved by all.

If only.

No, it doesn’t usually work that way.  The first part happens from time to time.  Folks respond to God’s call and lean on Him more than what their own eyes or hearts tell them.  But the last part is particularly tricky.  And few do it well.  I’m talking about finishing well; the “riding off into the sunset loved by all” part.

Let’s follow the giant steps leading to the sun collapsing on Gideon’s faith legacy.

Step 1 – He misuses a profit from the blessing.  Gideon says “no” to a request from a now adoring nation to rule over them.  Good boy.  But then he asks for a financial cut of the new economic boon.  His take is a little over a million dollars in today’s terms.  Then he takes that money and creates an ephod – an instrument of the high priestly role – and it becomes a snare to Gideon, his family and the nation.  He knew he was not called to rule.  But he couldn’t resist playing God just a little bit.  Good things never come from that.

Step 2 – He doesn’t keep it all in the family.  Gideon took a concubine in addition to his many wives.  This is a hard thing to work with in a time that has returned to a Genesis model of monogamy.  But in that day, many wives was typical, even for men after God’s own heart like David.  But like many, Gideon went a step further and had a concubine in an odd location – Shechem.  Makes you wonder if while he was away on business (God’s work chasing the remnants of the armies of the east) he engaged is something on the side that wasn’t God’s idea that had serious consequences – a son.  His name was Abimelech (meaning:  father of a king, or king is my father).  This side stepping of family faithfulness never goes well.  It’s a problem as old as Sarah and Hagar.  And it would bite Gideon big time.

Step 3 – He is victim to a fickle market.  People did then what they do now – forget the latest blessing as soon as its normal or boring.  While God blessed the nation with peace for forty years, the nation was busy prostituting themselves to a false god, forgetting the true God, and failing to show kindness to Gideon’s family.  So typical.  So shortsighted.  National dementia – it’s at epidemic proportions in our day too.

Step 4 – His own son rebels.  Abimelech, whom we introduced above, weasels his personal agenda into the political ears of his community and is funded to raise a small army of common thugs with a $1,000 from the temple of the false God.  Compare the $1,000 he got from temple funding through a false god with the $1,000,000 Gideon got from unofficial funding resulting from simple obedience.  His own son would rise and murder all of his other sons save one, and install himself as king.

From deliverer to sucker in less than a generation.  From Baal Fighter to Father of the Butchered in a few short verses.  And though this cycle repeated itself in the time of the Judges (and does throughout history), there seem to be some lessons worth learning…

  • First, obey God but don’t even think about taking his glory; not even a priestly garment’s worth
  • Second, unfaithfulness to your spouse, though glamorized and often served up buffet style, always hurts your legacy, even while doing God’s work
  • Third, remembering what’s important, requires the same rigorous discipline as most memorization
  • Fourth, one child, untended, undisciplined and unloved, can bring a nation to its knees

Most likely, you are somewhere in this cycle today.  If you’ve just finished something great, a major victory, review your next steps carefully.  Let Gideon’s story serve as a map so you can avoid his final ride rather than repeat it.

Sunsets can be glorious.

-Anthony

In Case of Fire… Part Two

We’ve been talking about fires of the worst sort – the kind that burn up lives and destroy souls.  They’re the ones that a simple call to 911 won’t help.  And it’s the location that surprises us most – inside the church.  They happen in the community of faith when sophistry enters and exchanges the grace of Christ for a license to destroy.  Doctrine is diluted, behavior is altered, and character catches fire.

And we are called upon to do more than simply play with the remote while things of eternal worth burn.

Jude calls the faithful to contend and push back on fuzzy sophistication that promotes division and ungodly behavior.  Though often overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and the complexity of the thought behind it, Jude calls you to step forward and intervene before more is burned.

We talked about the first action in part one: look to God!

Now let’s look at the second effort:  look to yourself.

God has a part to play, but so do you.  Surprisingly, little of this relates to political organization and media blitzes.  It’s personal; and in that simplicity it’s also very powerful.  This action permeates all of culture… just like salt on food and leaven in bread.  You, being an influence of one, can make a big difference.  There are six personal, powerful responses to the sophistry of the day that infiltrates the body of Christ to divide and weaken.

First, you can build yourself up in your most holy faith.  Soul building has a lot in common with body building:  you are what you eat; no pain no gain.  The disciplines of the faith are essential in facing fallen-ness in our time and in our backyard:  Bible study, fasting, self-denial, involvement in a community of faith, giving, and prayer.  They are never fancy.  They never go out of style.  There are no short-cuts.  And speaking of prayer…

You should prayin the Holy Spirit.  This isn’t delivering God your daily wish list or complaining about why being part of the global 1% isn’t good enough.  No, this is rolling up your sleeves and getting to work in the Spirit’s power to intercede for others and bring down spiritual high places.  This is closet warfare, on your knees, in the trenches.  And what happens in secret shows results in public.

Third, keep yourselves in God’s love.  When dealing with rebellious souls, keeping yourself centered in God’s love is critical.  Your job is to reflect Christ’s love rather than assume God’s role as judge.  Remembering your example is critical to maintaining the right stance in the middle of pain.  Jesus could have called a legion of angels – but He didn’t.  Can you follow that example?

Then, wait… and this is perhaps the hardest part.  Just ask the two who were ready to trust God in the Exodus event when their ten comrades only saw obstacles.  The two had to walk with the untrusting for 40 years.  But make no mistake, whether its 40 minutes, 40 years, or 4 centuries, the Lord will bring you to eternal life.  It’s not about you and its now about now.  Jude’s emphasis here is on waiting for judgment, eternity, heaven and hell.  Without this focus in our faith we are just an “adjunct social service”.

Fifth, deal with people strategically.  You cannot treat everyone the same.

  • There are those who are just starting to doubt; beginning to be influenced by the fuzziness of sophistry.   Jude says “Be merciful to those who doubt...”  This is the Starbucks approach.  Have coffee with them.  Sit down, take time and reason with them.
  • There are those well on their way – out the door of faith and up-shifting down the highway of apostasy.  For these, Jude suggests an intervention – snatching them from the fire in order to save them.  Envision a group, a community of faith that comes alongside a soul in motion away from the grace of Christ, intervening.  This is something the church is not particularly good at.
  • There are those who’ve gone over the edge.  In these later days of 2012, there’s a lot of talk about the Fiscal Cliff.  But there is a Faith Cliff that does even more damage – and many are those who go over.  They don’t want to reason any longer, they’ve dropped out of the community of faith.  They are beyond an intervention.  They’ve given themselves up to the currents of the day.  Your response?  Show them mercy, but be careful about even touching their clothing.  They are highly “contagious”.  This goes back to your earlier task of waiting.  As you wait, be kind, be merciful (you are not the judge), but be careful.  A rebellious sophistry surrendered to is a powerful thing.  Jude’s words?  “Show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” 

And finally, worship the One Who is able.  Worship is something that falls on hard times when sophistry is on the rise.  It seems unnecessary.  It interferes with golf, sailing, work, and you name it.  But worship has an amazing effect on clarifying the vision of a Christ follower.  Just ask Isaiah.  It wasn’t until he came into the temple (which means he left the roar of culture) that he saw what really was – the brevity of life and the eternal nature of God.  Jude models worship when he ascribes to God our Savior “glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore.”  Often, all that is necessary to course-correct is time away from media spent in full focus on the One Who is able.  Just ask the Psalmist.

So, in case of fire, fight it.  Make it personal.

-Anthony