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No, Never alone

Greetings All:  This is my first attempt at sending my friends and anyone else that I may not even know yet a brief message.  I hope you will see fit to respond.  We are all forging ahead through unchartered waters through this Covid crisis, and I thought it might be appropriate to remind ourselves of a foundational truth.  In my next installment I want to send you a poem that I penned for this past Easter; though it will arrive to you after Easter, I hope you can file it away for future use if you ever need an Easter poem.  Easter poems are not as easy to find as are Christmas poems or poems for other special days, but I feel like this is a good one and so wanted to share it with others. But the poem will come later.

No, Never alone

“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have:  for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Recently, while all of us were “sheltering in place” in individual efforts to keep the COVID 19 virus from spreading, my sister and I were exchanging text messages and in one of them she was reflecting on what the health mandated isolation meant to her.  She lives alone, an octogenarian grandmother, on top of a mountain in Georgia, separated by miles from any family, but supported by them through loving constant communication, and buoyed by neighbors and friends who look in after her.

During the conversation she mentioned our grandmother, who, having lost her husband in death when she was a young mother of three, expecting her fourth, children lived in a small rural community in southeastern Iowa, in our nation’s post-depression.  She eked out a living by doing housework for people in the community, supporting herself and children by a meager income sometimes of a dollar per day.  We never heard her complain.  Hers was a difficult life; she was not given to many lighthearted moments and the few times that I remember being around her she seemed austere and not very “warm” like most grandmothers might appear to be.  It would be years later, when I became a parent, and later a grandparent, and had some perspective on life and on history that I would be able to somewhat appreciate the austerity of the times through which grandmother Moore had lived and had provided, without any governmental assistance, for her four children.  My sister in our texts back and forth made this observation about grandmother: “She explained to me how she felt about living 55 years as a widow:  ‘I am never alone.  The Lord is always with me.’”  My sister followed that up by saying, “I have had the opportunity to prove that fact to be absolutely true, and I never feel alone.”  Nor should any of us who can sincerely affirm “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…I will fear no evil for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” No, we are, with Him, never alone!

Growing in Grace

Except for his standard greetings in the two New Testament epistles that bear his name, the Apostle Peter does not have a lot to say about grace (“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you….).  But his last recorded words, 2 Peter 3:18 are pregnant with meaning: “But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  To Him be glory both now and forever.”

A student once asked Horatius Bonar how he could tell if a Christian was growing.  Dr. Bonar replied, “In proportion to his growth in grace he would elevate his Master, talk less of what he was doing and become smaller in his own esteem, until, like the morning star, he faded away before the rising sun.”

Pablo Casals was considered the premier cellist of the first half of the 20th century.  He was still playing in his mid-90’s when a young person asked the artist why, at the age of 95, he would still practice six hours a day, to which the master replied, “I think I am making progress.”

There are no short cuts to growth; it must be systematic, disciplined, purposeful and practiced whether in the arena of sports or the stage of fine arts or in the realm of spiritual maturity.  Peter urges the scattered saints to whom he was writing, many of them no doubt displaced due to persecution who, if they had chosen to, might have found a ready excuse to put spiritual maturity on hold as they were trying to maintain and eke out a bare existence, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of their Lord and Savior.  If that was Peter’s message to those beaten down first century saints, it is still a message that resonates world-wide in this 21st century.  So, the question is, “how does one mature in his faith and in his following of the Lord Jesus Christ?”  It is vital in answering that good question, to follow these basic steps:

  •  Desire the Milk of God’s Word.  Peter had already urged this upon his readers in his first epistle, chapter 2 verse 2: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby.”  In order to mature as an earnest disciple of the Lord Christ, one must desire the milk of His Word.  Milk doctrines are comparable to the nourishment that an infant receives from its mother’s milk (or from a healthy infant formula or cereal).  In Hebrews 5:12ff., the author, writing to Jewish converts who had been saved long enough that they should have been teaching new born converts the basics of the faith, says that their spiritual growth had been stunted so much so that they had need of milk and not strong meat in their spiritual diet.  They were characterized by a lack of skill in handling God’s Word so that they were likened to babes who, spiritually, could not discern between good and evil.  Immediately, in Hebrews 6:1, the writer speaks of the “first principles” or foundational doctrines of the faith, categorizing them as those having to do with repentance from dead works and of faith towards God (salvation or soteriological); doctrines of baptisms and laying on of hands (church matters or ecclesiology) and doctrines having to do with the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgement (last things or eschatology).  These are all milk doctrines and are very important, but are “first principles/milk” from which a new born babe in Christ should eventually move on to stronger “meat” doctrines.  An example of meat doctrines can be found in the rest of the book of Hebrews beginning in Hebrews 6:13. So, step one in spiritual growth is to acquire an appetite for the sincere milk of the Word, allowing for the assimilation of this spiritual nourishment, then growing and gradually moving from the first principles of the doctrines of faith to “strong meat” doctrines.
  • Digest the meat of God’s Word, learning how to use God’s Word skillfully so that you can discern between both what is good and what is evil, what God approves and what God disapproves of and why.  The mature believer will know what holiness is.  He will have a continually increasing faith, and an active prayer life.  He is able to withstand the fiery darts of the wicked one because of the defense of the shield of faith.   He possesses a values system that is not materialistically oriented.  He is careful to keep himself unspotted from the world, and his life manifests the fruit of the Spirit and he is walking in the Spirit.  He has cultivated a love for the Word, a need for and desire to worship and to be involved in the edification of Christ’s church. He enjoys messages on the last days and end times, but is not obsessed with them.  His spiritual sensitivities are trained to detect false teachings as he has learned and loved the genuine truths as taught by the Holy Spirit.  In a word, the strong in grace maturing believer is regularly digesting the meat of God’s Word and in the growing process is maturing as fruit is borne, then more fruit and finally much fruit to God’s glory.
  • Delve into the ministry of God’s Word.  He loves evangelizing the lost through every possible means such as personal witness, tract distribution, missionary endeavors and internet communications.  Besides his evangelizing efforts, he is faithfully edifying the church as he ministers his spiritual gift(s) to build up His body, the church.

As has been said, this growing in grace is a process and it does not come to pass in a day or week or month or maybe even a year, but steadily in time.  A student asked the President of his school whether he could take a shorter course other than the one prescribed.  “Oh, yes,” the President replied, “but then it depends on what you want to be.  When God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years, but when He wants to make a squash, He takes six months.” (Copied, A.H. Strong)

Selah.

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat:  for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” (I Cor. 3:1,2)

“If I Were the Devil”

The late ABC commentator Paul Harvey (1918-2009) wrote the following piece which has been posted and updated many times since its first presentation by the inimitable newscaster who always ended his news program with, “…Good day!”  His style and his honesty as a reporter were in stark contrast to what you will hear on almost any major news outlet today.  This offering first appeared in 1965 and though I am sure Mr. Harvey would make no claim of being a prophet nor the son of a prophet, as you read these lines if you are like me in the recesses of your mind somewhere you may hear the thought bouncing around, “this sure has the ring of a prophet’s voice!”

“If I were the devil… If I were the Prince of Darkness, I would

want to engulf the whole world in darkness. 

I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population,

but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree.

So, I should set about however necessary to take over the United States.

I’d subvert the churches first—I’d begin with a campaign of whispers.

With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve,

‘Do as you please.’

To the young I would whisper ‘The Bible is a myth.’

I would convince them that ‘man created God,’ instead of

the other way around.  I would confide that ‘what is bad is

good and what is good is square.’  And the old I’d teach to pray

after me, ‘Our Father, who art in Washington…’

Then I’d get organized.

I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that

Anything else would appear dull, uninteresting.

I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice-versa.

I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could, I‘d sell alcohol to ladies and

gentlemen of distinction, I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.

If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves and nations at war with themselves; until each in its turn was consumed.  And with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames. If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions–just let those run wild, until before you knew  it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.

Within a decade I’d have prisons overflowing.  I’d have judges promoting pornography—soon I could evict God from the courthouse then from the schoolhouse and then from the houses of Congress.  And in his own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science.  I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls, and church money.  If I were the devil, I’d make the  symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.

If I were the devil, I’d take from those who have, and give to those who want until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious.

And what do you bet I could get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?  I would caution against extremes and hard work in Patriotism, in moral conduct.  I would convince the young  that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on the TV is the way to be. And thus, I could undress you in pubic, and lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure.  In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.

Paul Harvey… good day!”

Note:  You can easily find Paul Harvey’s reading of this classic on YouTube

Burden Bearing

“Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” “For every man shall bear his own burden.” (Gal.6:2,5)

I once read a fable entitled “The Encumbered Ant.”  It seems a certain little ant felt life had dealt him a bad deal.  It had fallen his lot to carry a piece of straw that was so long and so heavy he suffered under the weight of it. He had to creep wearily across a desert of cement.  The stress became so much that the ant despaired and wanted to throw up his antennae and quit.  To add to his frustration, he came to a deep chasm—a crack in his path that brought him to a dead stop.  He saw no way of getting across the vast divide.  As he stood there discouraged, a thought suddenly struck him.  His back breaking load could actually be turned into a blessing.  Carefully laying the straw across the crack in the concrete, he walked over it and safely reached the other side.  His heavy load became a helpful bridge. (copied)

Everyone has burdens.  They are common to human kind.  Do not despair.  God in His Word has given us hope.  “Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee:  He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Ps. 55:22) The meaning of the Hebrew word translated in this verse as “cast” might more accurately be rendered “roll.”  Some burdens are too heavy for us to “cast,” but God assures us that all we need to do is “roll them over onto Him” and we will have all the help we need.

In the text quoted above in Galatians six there are two kinds of burdens that Paul speaks of:  burdens of others that we can help to bear and our own burdens that we are instructed to bear ourselves.

The bearing of one another’s burdens:  These are burdens too heavy to bear alone.  Because Paul introduced this chapter in verse one with the problem of a believer being “overtaken in a fault,” one would proceed with the assumption that a person overtaken in a fault would be strapped with a burden with which he needed help, and Paul directs that the help should come from a spiritual person who with the attitude of meekness (considering one’s self, lest he also be tempted) approaches the struggling brother hoping through the love of Christ to “restore such a one.”

“Overtaken” is a word that suggests the hurting brother or sister in Christ was suddenly overtaken, surprised, blind-sided by an arrow or dart of the wicked one.  It does not suggest that this spiritual detour was mapped out or engaged in deliberately.  Peter denied knowing Christ after Jesus had been arrested.  He had not planned to do that, but suddenly fell into Satan’s trap and did what he thought he would never do.  He denied knowing his Lord and Savior.  He was overtaken.  Jesus, with a look at Peter, was the One who restored him (Luke 22:54-62) as Peter wept bitterly, and having been restored eventually was used of God to preach on the day of Pentecost seeing thousands coming to faith in Christ and then later writing two of God’s New Testament epistles.  Talk about being restored!

The faults, then, of which Paul speaks in Galatians 6:1 are serious faults.  Examples of what kind of faults Paul is notspeaking of would be (1) someone forgetting to send you a thank you note for a gift; (2) the pastor failing to visit you in the hospital to pray with you before surgery; (3) a leader in the church running a red light because he or she entered the intersection just as the yellow light was turning red.  And so forth.  There are a myriad of faults.  James says that in many things we all offend. (James 3:2) But “overtaken in a fault” that requires help from a spiritual person for restoration is a serious fault, a sudden fall.  The one who goes to help in the restoring (as in resetting a broken bone) is one who should be spiritual.  A spiritual person is a believer who is yielded to the Holy Spirit, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in his/her own life, such as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.” (Gal.5:22,23).

So, in bearing the burdens of others, go to the brother or sister who has been overcome in a fault, prayerfully, meekly and Spirit directed in order, if possible, to determine exactly how you can help this fellow fallen believer.  You may be able to help by a touch, a word, a look (as Jesus just looked at Peter when he was overtaken) a call, a card, a visit, a hug, a verse.  One verse that will help any restorer is Isa. 50:4: “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary….”

The bearing of our own burdens:  Paul says in Gal. 6:5 that every man should bear his own burden. Whereas the word “bear” in verse 2 connotes a heavy load, one that the bearing of requires help, in verse 5 Paul employs an entirely different word though the translation comes across the same at least in the KJV.  The word in verse 5 suggests that the burden is more like a back-pack.  It is not an overwhelming weight and any person should be able to manage these every day “burdens.”  These include such things as work (“work with your own hands as we commanded you”-I Th. 4:11); the burden of providing for one’s own (I Tim. 5:8); the burden of rearing one’s own children, (Eph.6:4)—not the state, daycare, church or grandparents, but the parents; the burden of paying one’s own bills and taxes, and the burden of praying for one’s own needs, among others.  These are “backpack” loads that anyone would be expected to carry on his own.  If you are in the harness with Jesus Christ, He will be helping you carry your burdens: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me:  for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29,30)

A man was shopping with his small son in a grocery store; the son was pushing the cart and the dad kept putting items into the cart which was getting rather full.  A kind, old lady watching said, “That’s a heavy load for a little chap like you to carry, isn’t it?”  The boy was quick to respond, “Oh, don’t worry, my dad knows how much I can carry.”  

And, Jesus knows how much you can carry, so come to Him and He will give you rest as you bear your own burdens.

We …that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not please ourselves.” (Rom. 15:1)

This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

The Theology of Pain

In his treatise on spiritual matters in the classic eighth chapter of Romans Paul plainly posits in verse 22 that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”  It was so because of the universal consequences ultimately of sin and it is only bearable because of the hope that believers possess that in spite of the “sufferings of this present time” (v.18) the defiling, disabling, damning consequences of sin will one day, due to the grace of God, be swallowed up by the “glory which shall be revealed in us.” (v. 18)

Stop momentarily with me to rehearse in your own mind the pain that you have heard of or personally dealt with just this past week: Surgeries due to cancer or other serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases; untimely deaths of people caught up in natural or unnatural calamities, fires threatening the homes of thousands; draughts, the marches for freedom of a long enslaved people, the physical impairments because of the nagging, numbing, nerve wracking pain that people go to bed with every night, wrestle with through the night and wake up to before the dawn of day, pain in their life and limbs that medicine can only briefly mask and only death will eventually deliver from.  It is, at times, simply overwhelming– the fact of the universality of pain that “the whole creation” is groaning with 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Consider the causes of pain which are:

  1. Suffering:  physical, mental (depression, paranoia, dementia); emotional (fear, phobias) and spiritual (“O wretched man that I am!”).
  2. Separation: (death, divorce, disease, distance)
  3. Sorrow: (from earth’s earliest day: “…I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children….” and “…in sorrow shalt thou eat of it (the ground) all the days of thy life.” (God to Eve and then to Adam when sin entered through their disobedience into the world.)  (Gen. 3:16,17)

Hear some of the cries of sorrow caused by sin:

“Hear my cry O God…From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed….” (Ps.61:1,2)

“My soul is among lions:  and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows….” (Ps. 57:4)

“Give ear to my prayer, O God…attend unto me…I mourn in my complaint and make a noise; because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked…my heart is sore pained within me and the terrors of death are fallen upon me…” (Ps. 55:1-4)

“O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath: neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.  For Thine arrows stick fast in me, and Thy hand presseth me sore.  There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin.” (Ps. 38:1-3)

  1.  Strife: personal, marital, workplace and family strife such as between Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brethren; Absalom and David and on and on and on.
  2.  Sin: “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin:  and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:15)

Pierre Auguste Renoir, a famous French Painter, was said to have suffered with crippling arthritis which left his hands twisted and cramped.  He was once asked by a friend why and how he continued to paint in such debilitating pain that caused him to grasp a brush with only the tips of his fingers.  The artist replied, “The pain passes, the beauty lasts.”  The pain of suffering will only and ever fully pass when this old world passes; the glory which shall be revealed in God’s eternal purposes through grace will last.  But there is, at present, the pain of suffering.

But, wait, there is also at present, the comfort of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to send after his death, resurrection and ascension back to heaven.  He is with us and in us and He comforts in all of our affliction. (John 14:15-18).  So, there is the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Then, there is the comfort of the Holy Scriptures.  David knew this comfort when he wrote, “Unless Thy law had been my delights, I should have perished in mine affliction.” (Ps. 119:92) What believer has not been renewed in spirit by fleeing to such passages as “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” (Ps.23) and “The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms,” (Deut.33:27) and a myriad of other passages?

There is also the comfort of the holy saints.  “Wherefore, comfort one another with these words,” Paul exhorted in I Thess.4:18 after reminding first century saints that in lieu of the light of Christ’s coming for His Church and later with His church we “sorrow” but not as those who have no hope!  Believers can and should and must comfort one another with the hope and help of God’s eternal promises.

Finally, there is the comfort of God’s holy Son! He after all gave to his followers in the upper room while in the shadows of Calvary those immortal words of comfort: “Let not your hearts be troubled….” (John 14:1ff.)

Finally, a word about the consequences of pain.  There are several, but to mention a few, we might consider that pain affords the sufferers the opportunity of learning. Again, hear David when he said “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes,” and “Before I was afflicted I went astray:  but now I have kept Thy word.” (Ps. 119:71,67)

Also, having suffered pain, we should be more apt to be given to listening.  James says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear….” (James 1:19).  This exhortation followed his admonitions on enduring temptations.  We can and should through pain become better listeners, giving more attention to what God is saying and to what others who are suffering the awful presence of penetrating pain are saying.

And, finally, because of pain we can become more loving.  Loving means caring for the needs of others.  Its by-products are giving, sharing, communicating, praying, encouraging and listening.  If you are in tune with God, you with be in touch with God’s offspring.  And having suffered pain you will be more adept at loving purposefully, practically and perfectly those fellow souls and soldiers who are also suffering pain.

Martha Snell Nicholson was bed-ridden with devasting pain for most of her life; but through it she allowed God’s grace to produce “beauty that lasts.”  Listen to her words:

“Pain knocked upon my door and said that she had come to stay;
And though I would not welcome her, but bade her go away,
She entered in.  Like my own shade, she followed after me,
And from her stabbing, stinging sword, no moment was I free.
And then one day another knocked, most gently at my door.
I cried, ‘No, Pain is living here, there is not room for more.’
And then I heard His tender voice, ‘Tis I, be not afraid.’
And from the day He entered in, the difference it has made!
For though He did not bid her leave, (My strange unwelcome guest)
He taught me how to live with her, Oh, I had never guessed
That we could dwell so sweetly here, My Lord and Pain and I,
Within this fragile house of clay, while years slip slowly by.”

What’s That in Your Hand?

It was only a rod, a common, simple shepherd’s stick that Moses had picked up somewhere on the desert; a rod like any other rod.  There was nothing uncommon about it; there was nothing especially noteworthy concerning it:  it looked like a thousand other rods that any of many shepherds might have carried. “What is that in thine hand?”  Moses could only reply, “A rod.”

In all sincerity he could not have said it was a scepter, for no authority had been invested in it by virtue of his carrying this shepherd’s stick.  It was not a scepter, but only a rod.

Then, too, he could not say it was a wand—no magic powers were there in this thing that Moses carried in his hand.  It was only a shepherd’s rod. Not a scepter; not a wand; just a rod, a simple stick.

But, oh, when yielded to God and consecrated to Him for service, that shepherd’s staff had all the power of omnipotence on it!

“Cast it on the ground, Moses.”  “A serpent!”  A writhing, wriggling, wretched snake!  But it was only a rod!

“Put forth your hand and take it by the tail.”  A rod again!  What wonders are wrought with just a simple stick that is consecrated to a Holy God for His service!

Rahab had only a cord, a scarlet cord, but that cord, consecrated to God, became an instrument of deliverance.  By faith Rahab let the spies down through her window to safety.  By faith did she bind the cord in her window the very day God’s people marched around the city of Jericho seven times and the walls of the city fell to the ground and every household in Jericho was destroyed save the household of Rahab.  What was that in Rahab’s hand?  Only a cord! “By faith the harlot perished not with them that believed not when she had received the spies with peace.”  (Hebs. 11:31)

Gideon, what is that in the hands of that motley band of 300 soldiers you’re sending out against the mighty hosts of Midianites?  You say “a trumpet in each one’s hand?  And, empty pitchers and lamps within the pitchers?”  “Hardly what you’d expect to see in the hands of soldiers going forth to war, Gideon!”

What?  No shields?  No swords?  No spears? Just trumpets?  Empty pitchers?  Lamps?

Yes, hardly conventional weapons of warfare even in Gideon’s day, but what he had in his hands was totally consecrated to the living God and thus those simple instruments were used by divine omnipotence and with them they were able to put to chase the Midianites who were like grasshoppers because of their great number, not to mention the thousand camels with which the Midianites would lead the charge!

And then there was Samson.  Ah, Samson, what have you there in your hand?  A new jawbone of an ass?  And what do you propose to do with it?  Chase away coyotes or scrape out a desert hollow wherein you may find some rest? Just what can a man do with the jawbone of an ass?  You’re going to war with it?  Ah, Samson, you’ve been working too hard lately!  You are desperately in need of rest and possibly some competent counseling!

But wait!  That very worthless piece of bone, held in the hands of a man of faith, consecrated to the living God, became an instrument of divine omnipotence, and with-it Samson slew a thousand Philistines!

I see on another occasion years later a small boy with something in his hands.  “What is that in your hands, son?  Just five loaves and a couple of fish?”  Yes, but the Lord had need of them.  Multitudes had heard His teaching all day long and he would not send them home hungry.  “That’s right, son, just give them to the Lord.”  And on that day, that which a school boy carried in his small hands, given to God, was used to feed 5,000 men and their families!

I see six empty waterpots now.  Only earthen vessels but empty at a wedding feast where there was nothing left with which to serve the guests.  Yet, six empty waterpots, brought to the Master became the very source of satisfaction to all at the feast!

What’s that in your hand?  What small, mundane, miniscule thing do you have that you could let God use in some mighty way?  It does not really matter what it is:  God can put omnipotent power into that consecrated thing and do through your dedication of it to Him what it never could have been used for otherwise!

So, back to Moses.  “Moses, what’s that in your hand? Only a rod, a stick, a staff?  Smite the waters of the Nile and watch them turn to blood; stretch forth the rod over the streams and rivers and watch frogs come forth up over the land.  Stretch forth the rod again and smite the dust of the land so that every thing will be covered with lice.  Stretch forth that shepherd staff and hail will fall from heaven upon every man and beast of Egypt.  Again, stretch it forth and, behold, the Lord God will bring an east wind with locusts which will cover the face of the whole earth.  Again, stretch forth the rod and darkness will cover the land of Egypt!  Finally, Moses, take that rod that is in your hand and stretch it out before the Red Sea and stand back and see the salvation of the Lord as He parts the waters of the sea and makes the waters into walls and dries up the bed of the sea so that the Israelites can walk across the sea—all two million of them—on dry land!  Watch, too, as you stretch the rod back out over the sea and look at the waters as they are brought back together making the bed of the sea a watery grave for Pharoah and his hosts!”

What’s that in your hand?  A rod?  A jawbone?  A trumpet, lamp or pitcher?  A few loaves and couple of fish?  Some empty waterpots?  Just a cord?  Two small mites?  Whatever you have consecrate it to God and let Him use it for His glory in a way that you could never have imagined.  LITTLE IS MUCH WHEN GOD IS IN IT!

Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have.

For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” (2 Cor. 8:11,12)

Broken

You’ve been to college—maybe even seminary.  You’ve been graduated, certified, ordained and commissioned with every credential in order, and, in time you have been or you will be culled and called to serve.  On your resume there is nothing lacking, nothing sparing.  You literally “fit the bill” and by every conceivable canon you are fully equipped and ready for service and success.

But lest you allow yourself to be caught up to the third heaven with desires and dreams of trouble-free, testing exempt work in whatever endeavor you find yourself engaged, let’s consider one more requirement for a fruitful, faithful life of labors for your Lord.  And, that one special, crucial ingredient is brokenness.

It will be an experience you need not pray for, nor will you have to find it; it will find you.  Probably at the least convenient time and from the least expected source you will suffer brokenness that will shape you and may shake you to the core of your soul, spirit and body.  Only your settled, sure, steadfast confidence in the goodness of God, the guidance of His Spirit and the grace of His Son will see you through.

You can mark it down.  If you will be used of God to execute in your daily walk with Him and work for Him, you will need to pass one more course, and that is in the school of brokenness.  You won’t be attending any lectures to guide you through.  When you look back upon the unforgettable lessons, you will not be able to hang any framed diplomas on your office wall to mark your passing this school of discipleship course.  Few people, other than your spouse or maybe a deeply trusted confidant will know the depths, the despair, the draught your soul and spirit suffered; but you will and you will never be the same for it. And, oh, you would be wise to expect some intermittent “refresher” installments along life’s way. 

There will be and should be comfort in knowing that God has enrolled every servant of His that has been used to bring glory to Himself in this post-graduate course of brokenness.  Jacob (“supplanter”) was left broken, literally and spiritually, after wrestling with God one starlit night on his return trip from Padanaram to Canaan, and he was known thereafter as Israel, a prince with God.  Joseph, oh Joseph!  Hammered by his brothers’ betrayal for starters, Joseph knew well what he would later write that “God meant it for good.”  David was broken by Saul, by his own self (sin), by his son (Absalom), and by his servants before he would confess that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:  a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” (Ps. 51:17) Paul the Apostle possessed credentials like few others could ever boast, but he would be broken in almost every conceivable way so that he could say “And, lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” (2 Cor. 12:7)

One wise man aptly said, “Our life is full of brokenness—broken promises, broken relationships, broken expectations.  How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God’s faithful presence in our lives?” (Henri Nouwen) Another spoke well: “The freest person in the world is one with an open heart, a broken spirit and a new direction in which to travel.” (George MacDonald)

Brokenness is not only good, it is vital.  Grain that is crushed feeds multitudes; pitchers that were broken gave Gideon’s meager band of 300 barely equipped soldiers a resounding victory over 120,000 well-armed Midianites with their 1,000 camels!  Broken boards and pieces of a broken ship dashed upon rocks enabled Paul and his traveling companions to make it safely to shore.

Jesus, our Lord, broke pieces of bread at His last supper with the Apostles on His way to Calvary and in so doing He said that they should “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you:  this do in remembrance of me.” (I Cor. 11:24)

God uses broken things to sing His praises.  God uses shattered health to show His grace; He uses useless things to humble men. (Simon Walburg)

From a page out of history:  George W. Truett was a great preacher, pastoring the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, for almost half a century.  Early in his ministry he was invited to go hunting with his dear friend who was Chief of Police.  Tragedy struck when Truett’s gun accidentally discharged, and his friend was wounded.  Getting help for the Chief as quickly as possible, the prognosis for his recovery was promising; but, sadly, in a couple of days his condition worsened and he died.  The devastated young pastor wanted to resign and leave the ministry, but his friends implored him to remain, so he continued as pastor and when he retired, he had been a faithful, fruitful under shepherd for 47 years, paving the way for his successor, W.A. Criswell, to realize an equally blessed 50 years of ministering at this historic church.  It was said that Pastor Truett never smiled again after the passing of his best friend; but it was also noted that he never preached before like he preached after that experience.

So, yes, God uses broken things.  Broken hopes, broken bodies, broken fortunes and even broken families, but out of ashes can rise beauty; out of rust, riches; out of weakness, wealth; out of dying, living.  Are you broken?  Do not despair.  Through your weakness God can display His strength.  Ride the broken boards or bones to the Shore of safety.  God will never leave you.  You will never be the same.  You would never have prayed for it but you would not trade anything you could name for the experience of it.  God works in and through brokenness. 

The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart and:  and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Ps. 34:18) 

Are You a Mature Believer?

Three questions every person would do well to ask one’s self are: (1) Am I a Christian?  (2)  Am I a spiritual Christian?  (3)  Am I a mature Christian?  Where are you in your pilgrimage from here to eternity?  How did you answer those basic questions?

Consider then:  a Christian is a person who is rightly related to God through Jesus Christ, His Son.  Thus, we label such persons as “Christ ones” or “Christians,” because they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who plainly said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) And, “…Ye neither know me, nor my Father:  if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.” (John 8:19) To be a Christian is to know the Father through a personal faith in and relationship to His Son, Jesus Christ.  The key word here is relationship.  Are you a Christian then?

Second, a Christian is one who is rightly related, by faith, to Jesus Christ.  What about a spiritual person?  What makes a Christian spiritual?  Is every Christian spiritual?  The answer to that question can be found again in the word “relationship.”  A Christian is spiritual who is related to God the Spirit by surrender.  Every believer possesses the Holy Spirit of God who indwells every believer at the instant of salvation. (John 14:17) Any Christian can be and should be a spiritual person if he or she is rightly related to God’s Holy Spirit, that is, surrendered and “walking in the Spirit.” (Gal.5:16) The key once again is relationship.  If you are a spiritual Christian (not every Christian is) you are yielded to God’s Spirit who is your teacher and guide into all matters of truth (John 16:13).  You might have been saved for hours or just a few days or weeks and still be; yea, should be spiritual if you have a right relationship, through surrender, to God’s Holy Spirit who indwells you.  Conversely, you might have been a Christian for forty years and still not be spiritual if you are not moment by moment yielding to God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.  Spirituality is not “static,” it is a moment-by-moment relationship to the 3rd person of the Trinity, God the Spirit.

Third, are you a Christian who is mature?  It is possible to be an immature Christian; and, it is possible to be a Christian who is not spiritual, and it is possible to be a Christian who is not mature.  It is NOT possible to be a Christian who is mature but not spiritual.  God’s plan for each of His followers is for each of them to “grow in grace” and to achieve maturity as a Christian.  It is God’s will for you if you are a Christian to reach maturity; and the key to maturity is, again, a right relationship; in this case, being rightly related to God’s Word.  A mature believer is able to skillfully use God’s Word to achieve growth in spiritual matters so that he or she is able to “discern both good and evil.” (Hebs. 5:14) So, are you a mature Christian?  Are you rightly related to God’s Word?  Can you use it skillfully?  Are you able before God through His Word to discern both good and evil?  This is God’s goal for you if you are indeed a Christian.

How do you achieve maturity?  First, have the mind of Christ.  “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christi Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5) We already do possess the mind of Christ Paul affirmed in I Cor. 2:15, (“But we have the mind of Christ”) so what he is saying in Philippians 2 is that we need to let Christ’s mind be operative in our thinking process.  The earmarks of that in your life, Paul continues in this great Kenosis passage, are humility and servanthood.  It is the first step on your path to maturity as a believer.

Then, you will need to be serious about studying God’s Word if you will ever become adroit at using it to discern right from wrong.  “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” (2 Tim.2:15).  There are a myriad of study helps today including traditional Study Bibles, commentaries and guides as well as internet commentaries and Bible teachers, BUT the vital Bible Study that leads to maturity is through a systematic, diligent reading and understanding of God’s text of truth to us, His Word.  Find a Bible preaching church and learn from gifted teachers in a sound local church what God has shown them in their pursuit of knowing Him and growing in grace.  A good local church with a sound Bible teaching ministry will protect you from being deceived by false teachers.

Enjoy, if you are newly saved, the “sincere milk of God’s Word that ye may grow thereby,” (2 Peter 2:2) but do not be content to remain “as newborn babes.” (2:2).  Milk doctrines are necessary for babes in Christ and they are doctrines concerning soteriology (salvation) and ecclesiology (church ordinances) and eschatology (things to come, future events) as the writer of Hebrews enumerates (Heb. 6:1,2), but one needs to cultivate a taste for and desire for the “meat of the Word” in order to continue to grow (Heb. 5:14) to “full age” or maturity.  A good example of “meat” doctrines would be the rest of the book of Hebrews, chapters 6-13.

So, are you a mature Christian?  Do you have a right relationship to God’s Word?  Can you use it skillfully to discern both good and evil?

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself in determining your own level of spiritual maturity:

  •  Have I learned how to exercise my Christian liberty while living in a libertine age/culture?
  • How do I relate to other believers with whom I disagree on matters not considered fundamentals of the faith?
  • If for the length of time that I have been saved I ought to be teaching others (Hebs. 5:12) am I involved in teaching/discipling others in faith matters?
  • How am I holding to doctrinal distinctives (baptism, eternal security, 2nd Coming issues such as “pre-trib” or “post-trib”) which differ with other sincere believers?  Charitably?
  • What are the “first principles” of the oracles of God? (Hebs. 5:12) Am I stuck on these or am I assimilating truth which would be considered “strong meat?”
  • Are my spiritual senses “exercised” to discern both good and evil? (Hebs. 5:14)
  • Can I answer questions for myself through a serious study of God’s Word regarding such issues as (a) social drinking; (b) cremation; (c) Bible versions; (d) eternal security; (e) spiritual gifts such as tongues, healing; (f) divorce, remarriage; (g) dress/modesty questions; (h) music choices; (i) how much to give to the church/Lord’s work/to tithe or not to tithe; (j) questions concerning interracial marriage.

My prayer for each of you, dear readers, is that you will know for sure you are a Christian, rightly related to God’s Son, Jesus, through faith in His atoning work for you on Calvary, and that you are every moment striving to yield to His Holy Spirit, rightly related to Him in surrendering your will to His, and, third, growing into grace to maturity as you are rightly related to His Word through reason of use having your spiritual senses exercised to discern both good and evil.  God bless you to these ends, my friends.

The Preacher and His Preaching

Like most, I suppose, of those who will read these lines, I can say that I love preaching.  I loved preaching before I was called of God to preach.  As a child not yet ten years of age, I wanted to sit as close to the front of the church as possible so that I could hear every word the preacher would utter.  I wanted to see him sweat, to watch him labor for souls delivering his own soul as it were.  I have loved preachers and preaching ever since:  old preachers and young preachers; tall ones and short ones, bald-headed preachers and those who have a full head of hair.  I love preachers that have had too much fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy and homemade pies to eat and those who are skinny as a rail; I love those who speak fluently evidencing a well-rounded education and I love equally the preacher on fire for God who mercilessly may “butcher” the king’s English but who has a passion for souls and a burning desire to plead with men the best way he knows how.  Ask my wife, and she will attest that almost any kind of preacher, other than a quack, that I can find on the radio while traveling is what I want to hear; not to criticize but to enjoy.  In fact, the last message that I heard (much like a piece of pie or cake) is probably the “best message” I ever heard!

George Whitefield loved preaching.  He said, “I love those that thunder out the Word.  The Christian world is in a deep sleep.  Nothing but a loud voice will wake them.”

John Ruskin defined preaching as “thirty minutes to raise the dead.”

Samuel Chadwick loved preachers and preaching.  He said, “I would rather pay to preach than to be paid not to preach.”  Most God-called preachers would heartily agree with that!

Charles Spurgeon realized the primacy of preaching when he said, “I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the Gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it.  The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her.  It has been through the  ministry that God has been pleased to revive and bless His churches.”

Today, many preachers are fizzling out; many are choosing immorality over morality; many are trying to please man rather than God; many are getting out of the ministry to which they have been called.

Where are the preachers today who have the spirit and passion of a Robert Murray McCheyne who said “I preach as never to preach again; as a dying man to dying men”?

Or, again citing that prince of preachers, Spurgeon, “Wherever I preach, I read a text and then I run to Jesus.”  He recognized that if there were no urgency in the pulpit there would be no urgency in the pew.

The late master teacher Dr. Robert Delnay, whom many readers of this post will recognize as one of their former profs, was quoted as saying, “The vitality of Christianity at any time in church history is directly related to the vitality of preaching.”

Quoting A.W. Tozier who commented on Acts 2:37 (“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’”):

“I preach to my congregation week after week.  And I pray that I may be able to preach with such convicting power that my people will sweat!  I do not want them to leave my services feeling good. The last thing I want to do is to give them some kind of religious tranquilizer-and let them to go to Hell in their relaxation.”

The preacher’s commission is from God for he is first a servant of God. (Tit.1:1) He has surrendered his will to do God’s will.  To go where God sends, to say what God says and to above all else “Preach the Word!”  He has not accepted a position nor has he entered into a “Profession.”  There are for him no regular office hours, no specified fringe benefits, no union wages or retirement plan or “job security,” and he does not depend upon positive performance ratings. He is not placed or replaced by a district bishop from denominational headquarters nor is he subject to the whims of a “board” of deacons or the chairperson of the ladies’ Missionary society.  He has no concern for who the wealthiest member of his congregation may or may not be or how much money any family may give.  He is placed by God and can only rightly be replaced by God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church.

His first and last business is to preach; not reformation but revelation; not renovation but regeneration; not resuscitation but resurrection; not culture but Christ. He is not looking for the applause of man but the approval of God.  He (the pastor/preacher) is God’s gift to the church and the faithful preacher will be a blessing to any local assembly.

So, pray for your preacher/pastor.  Love him.  Support him.  Encourage him.  Say “Amen” once in a while to let him know that he is connecting.  Do not forget that he is a man and he is just a man.  He is worthy of your honor; yea, double honor; but your deepest appreciation for his messages and for his ministry can best be demonstrated by your allowing God’s Word to impact your life with continued spiritual growth so that you are changed “from glory to glory.” (2 Cor. 3: 18)

Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:2)

What To Do About Slow Bellies

You may be wondering if you’ve read the title whether this post will be about a diet or a matter related to physical health.  Right up front, let me relieve you of that concern.  This post, though, will address a very important subject, one that the Apostle Paul wrote of when penning an epistle to his son in the faith, Titus, concerning first-century false religious teachers.  They were present almost from the birth of the New Testament Church that Christ, its Head, founded and they are present still today.

Paul had been preceded by the Lord Jesus Himself in warning about wolves who would be disguised as sheep, Paul calling them angels of light. (Matt.7:15-20; 2 Cor. 11:14) They pawn themselves off deceivingly as “preachers” or “teachers,” but they produce not a people grounded in truth but a flock destroyed by error.  They can be detected by their unwillingness to say anything offensive to the “natural man” (unsaved), the avoidance of presenting the way to God as a “narrow way,” their majoring on a gospel that is all about “health” and “wealth” for its adherents,” their ability to speak for any amount of time while saying nothing that would make their hearers uncomfortable; their avoidance of doctrinal teaching; their out of balance emphasis on a God that is loving and not a God that also exacts judgement; their absence of “sermons” on Hell or sin or man’s total depravity; their unwillingness to call sinners to repentance and their majoring on external acts rather than internal, spiritual attitudes.

In his letter to Titus whom Paul calls “mine own son after the common faith,” Paul describes these false teachers in Titus 1:10 as “unruly and vain talkers and deceivers….”  He said that even then, a few decades into “church history,” there were many of these false teachers on the scene. The Didache (a.100 A.D.), an early Christian document, gave some pointers as to how “wandering prophets” should be tested for genuineness:

  •  He shall remain one day, and, if necessary, another day also; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet;
  • He must never ask for anything but bread.  If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.
  • By their characters a true and a false prophet shall be known;
  • Every prophet that teacheth the truth, if he does not what he teacheth, is a false prophet;
  • If a prophet, claiming to speak in the Spirit, orders a table and meal to be set before him, he is a false prophet;
  • Whosoever shall say in the Spirit: “Give me money” or any other things, ye shall not hear him; but if he tells you to give in the matter of others who have need, let no one judge him;
  • If a wanderer comes to a congregation and wishes to settle there, if he has a trade let him work and eat.  If he has no trade consider in your wisdom how he may not live with you a Christian in idleness…but if he will not do this, he is a trafficker in Christ.  Beware of such.”

(Granted that was 1st century and time has changed the effect of some of these warnings, but the above injunctions early on in the history of the church will give us insight into the severity of the danger of which Paul was warning Titus.)

The wolves disguised as sheep were subverting whole houses, teaching false things merely for “filthy lucre’s sake,” Paul warned. (Titus 1:11)

Their methods were that of infiltrating and undermining (2 Tim.3:6) and their motives were to get rich at the expense of unsuspecting victims who accepted them in good faith as true teachers.

In his letters to another protégé, Timothy, Paul spoke of these same devils when warning Timothy that they spoke in fables (I Tim.1:4), employing “old wives’ fables” (I Tim.4:7), eventually turning men to fables (2 Tim.4:4).  Peter strikes the same serious alert in 2 Pet. 1:16 when he reminds his audience of scattered saints that “we have not followed cunningly devised fables….”

Again, in Titus 1:15 Paul says that these false teachers have minds that are impure and unbelieving so that “even their mind and conscience is defiled.”

They are, Paul concludes, men who only profess that they know God, but in actuality they in works deny Him being abominable and disobedient and “unto every good work reprobate.” (1:16)

What to do in the light of such stern alarm?  Rebuke anyone who fits these descriptions; see to it that their mouths are stopped; do not give heed to them and remember that people like this early on in the infancy of the Church were generally known as “liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.” (Titus 1:12) Not a characterization you would lightly hang onto anyone, yet Paul did not hesitate to use the strongest language he had in his vast vocabulary in warning about these conscience-defiled professors who were not sound in faith.  Titus 1 was inscripturated for our learning and admonition.  These deceivers did not die out with the passing of the first century.  They are with us still.  Believer, beware.

Mighty Man of Valour

What man would not like to be addressed by a personal envoy of God (or by God Himself) as a “mighty man of valour?”  (Or woman as a “mighty woman of valor”?)  We only find that designation once in Holy writ, ascribed to a young Israelite of the tribe of Manasseh who, when the visitor from heaven found him, was threshing wheat on the winepress floor trying to stay out of sight of any Midianites, fierce and formidable oppressors of Israel during the days when Israel had abandoned God for Baal and God had abandoned Israel in judgement as “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

No one was more taken back to hear himself called a “mighty man of valour” than Gideon would have been!  He said, in essence, that he was a nobody from nowhere, (Ju.6:15) but God overruled his objections by affirming that He was going to use Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianite oppressors and that Gideon need not fear for God said, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” (6:16)

As we read further into this amazing saga, we learn that Gideon offered a sacrifice to God in response to this astounding commission.  He then obeyed God’s directive to destroy an altar to Baal that Gideon’s father, Joash, had erected.  Gideon carried out these instructions without delay, assisted by 10 men in an overnight operation, causing a community-wide stir when daylight appeared revealing Baal’s altar that had been demolished, triggering a movement on the part of the town folks to demand the perpetrator of this brashness to be stoned to death.  Joash, backslidden as he was, intervened for his son Gideon, reasoning with the Baal worshippers that Baal, were he indeed god, could and should defend his own honor.

By now, Gideon was “all in!”  He sounded a trumpet signaling that fellow Israelis assemble to assist in the pending offensive, sending the call out to the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali.  In the meantime, he sought full-proof confirmation from his Commander in Chief, Almighty God, that He was still and ever with him in this gargantuan endeavor, asking that a fleece of wool would be wet with dew in the morning while all the ground around it would be dry; then, the next night, he asked that the fleece would be dry while all the ground around it would be wet in the morning.  “And God did so that night.”  Gideon was now ready to engage the Midianites.

32,000 Israelis had responded to Gideon’s call to assemble, but God told the mighty man that there were far too many men there because, after God had given them the victory, they would march home and would “vaunt themselves against me, saying, mine own hand hath saved me.” (7:2) Therefore, God instructed Gideon to send any man who had the least qualm about the impending conflict back home, and 22,000 took him up on that offer, leaving still too many men.  So, God gave Gideon an ingenious plan to separate soldiers into two groups as they assembled at waters’ edge for a cool drink.  One group would consist of men who lapped the water from the brook into their mouths with one hand while keeping their heads battle alert as they drank.  The other group of men consisted of those who, when drinking, bent down on their hands and knees and were, while drinking, oblivious momentarily to their surrounding environment.  The latter group was dismissed, leaving only 300 men to take on, in a matter of hours, an army that looked like grasshoppers for the multitude of it, with 1,000 camels to help lead the advance!

One more confirmation, a dream overheard by Gideon and his trusted servant Phurah, on the eve of the battle when, following orders from God, they had advanced close to the Midianites’ camp where they overheard a Midianite soldier sharing a dream that he had in which a barely cake tumbled down a hill rolling into the Midianite camp, flattening a tent.  Gideon knew the interpretation of that dream as a confirmation that the host of the Midianites would soon be put to chase in a staggering victory for the Israelis.

That was it!  Gideon, meeting with his men, divided them into three groups of 100 soldiers each, giving each soldier a trumpet, a pitcher and a lamp, telling them that on a given signal, Gideon blowing his trumpet, they should all blow their trumpets, break their pitchers and shout, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon.”  The result:  self-destruction by the 120,000 Midianite soldiers and a complete routing of them by Gideon’s band.

If I could end the story here it would be perfect, but the Bible does not end it here.  Gideon, wisely refuses, though riding the crest of victory, to accede to the nation’s request that he become their ruler. (8:22) Then, in a stunning and bewildering turn of events, Gideon requests that the Israeli soldiers collect all the gold earrings worn by their defeated enemies along with the gold chains that adorned the necks of the Midianites’ camels.  It was done almost as soon as the battle was over, and incomprehensibly Gideon, with the massive deposit of gold at his disposal, cast an image of Baal and placed it in a prominent place in his home town!  We are then told (8:27) that all Israel went a whoring once again after the golden ephod “which became a snare to Gideon and to his house.” 

The narrative regarding Gideon ends sadly with the story revealing that this once mighty man of valour took to himself “many wives” by which he would sire 70 sons who in time would all be slain by one of their brethren.  (9:16).

My blog of June 29 was about the “mystery of iniquity.”  This sad Old Testament tale underscores the truth expounded in that post.  How could Gideon, so singularly used of God to defeat the Midianite oppressors, turn and cause his family and nation to again worship a god that was no god?  The only explanation is “the mystery of iniquity.”  Sin and its allurement, promising pleasure and producing pain, is inexplicable apart from the realization that spiritual warfare against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places is a reality to be reckoned with!  By the way, Gideon is mentioned in the Hebrews 11 “hall of faith,” a list of faithful men and women of God of old.  We will see Gideon and know him in heaven.  Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.  This amazing story tells us that God can use anyone to do whatever He chooses to do.  There are no obstacles to our great God and He can and does often choose to use the weakest of human vessels to accomplish herculean tasks for His own glory.  But because God has used you (or anyone) to advance His cause and kingdom in a marvelous manner, do not assume that you have earned any right to “call your own shots” pursuant to those victories.  Mighty men (and women) can be set aside for service just as they were separated for service when they choose to make unwise and unscriptural decisions.  Stay in His Word and in tune to His Spirit.  Do not assume past victories assure future blessings.  Avoid all of your life-long days the “mystery of iniquity.”