PUTTING OUT THE FLEECE

Then Gideon said to God, “Please don’t be angry with me, but let me make one more request. Let me use the fleece for one more test. This time let the fleece remain dry while the ground around it is wet with dew.” [Judges 6:39 (NLT)]

In Judges 6, we find the people crying out to the Lord after being oppressed by the Midianites for seven years. When we meet Gideon, he is hiding from the marauders in a wine press while threshing wheat. When an angel of the Lord appears, the angel addresses the frightened man as, “Mighty hero.” Instead of kneeling before the Lord’s messenger in awe, Gideon boldly questions him about the nation’s difficulties and protests being handed over to the Midianites. Instead of answering Gideon’s questions, the angel tells him that he is the one who will rescue Israel. Continuing to question the angel, Gideon immediately points out the difficulty of such an insignificant person as he ever gathering an army. After being reassured of both God’s presence and the army’s victory, Gideon asks for proof that he really is speaking with God. When his offering is miraculously consumed by fire at the angel’s touch, the doubtful man realizes he is speaking with the Lord and erects an altar to Him. At the Lord’s command, Gideon then destroys the town’s altar of Baal, cuts down their Asherah pole, and erects another altar dedicated to the Lord.

As the Midianites gathered for battle in Jezreel, the man who was sure that he couldn’t gather an army recruited 32,000 willing warriors. Nevertheless, Gideon’s faith continued to waver. He again doubted the Lord’s promise that he would lead Israel to victory and even had the audacity to demand that God again prove Himself by passing two more tests. In the first, Gideon put out a dry fleece and demanded that in the morning it be wet with dew while the ground remained dry. The next day, unsatisfied with dry fleece and wet ground, Gideon then demanded that the dry fleece remain dry when the ground became wet.

At this point, had I been God, I might have struck Gideon dead and found someone else to lead Israel to victory. Instead, God acceded to Gideon’s demand. That He did so says more about His incredible patience and love for Israel than His approval of Gideon’s impudence. That God didn’t rebuke Gideon, however, doesn’t mean He endorses this practice. In fact, Gideon knew he was treading on dangerous ground with his demands when he asked God not to be angry with him.

Remember, Gideon wasn’t asking God for a sign of what he should do—God had given him clear instructions as to his assignment. Filled with doubt, Gideon wanted a guarantee that the Lord was stronger than the pagan god Baal. God, however, proved His power when Baal couldn’t destroy Gideon for destroying both pagan altar and pole!

Whether Gideon was hoping to reassure himself of divine support or merely hoping the demanded miracles couldn’t occur so he wouldn’t have to go to battle, we’ll never know. Either way, what he did was wrong. Deuteronomy 6:16 tells us we are not to test the Lord—a command Jesus repeated when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. Moreover, Deuteronomy 18:9-11 warned the Israelites about imitating the customs of the pagans with such things as fortune-telling or interpreting omens and Gideon’s demands did both!

Just because Gideon put out the fleece doesn’t mean we should follow his example when making decisions. After all, Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied Him, Jacob deceived his father, David committed adultery and murder, neither Eli nor Samuel disciplined their boys, Samson broke his vows, and Jonah fled from God. No pastor ever says we should follow their examples! Nevertheless, there are some Christians who, like Gideon, “put out the fleece” by testing God’s will. Having made a decision, they demand a sign from God to confirm it. Be it a phone call, job offer, letter, opening the Bible to a random verse, or something else entirely, that’s putting God to a test and seeking omens! Neither is how we are supposed to determine God’s will.

We don’t need to put out a fleece to give us the answers only God can provide. Instead of looking for signs, we should be looking to the Giver of Signs and His word for our answers and reassurance!

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. [Matthew 12 38-39 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

COMPLETING THE RACE – Part 2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. [Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)]

Monday, when writing about stripping off the weight that keeps us from running the race God sets before us, I likened it to the actions of a triathlete. Whenever I attend one of my son’s triathlons, I’m part of an enormous crowd witnessing the event. Most are like me—trying to spot our loved ones’ swim cap bobbing in the water or their number as they speed past us on the course. Although we cheer, shake cowbells, carry posters, and yell encouraging words to all the racers, we are merely onlookers and few of us have any real idea of the challenges faced by each competitor. When reading of being surrounded by a crowd of witnesses during the race of faith in Hebrews 21:1, it first seems that these witnesses are like the crowd at a triathlon cheering on the athletes.

A look back at Hebrews 11, however, tells us those witnesses are not mere observers; they were participants in the same race! Having already crossed the finish line, they include such stellar names as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Samuel, and even Rahab. Without specifically naming them, the author also refers to the trials of people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Stephen, James, Jeremiah, and Elijah. Not limited to ancient Biblical witnesses, we can be inspired by the witness of people like William Tyndale, Eric Liddell, C.S. Lewis, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, and Desmond Tutu. All of them encountered things like overwhelming challenges, torture, sickness, combat, beatings, oppression, poverty, hostility, and suffering beyond our wildest imaginings. When they stumbled, they got back up and kept going. Having persevered through doubt, distress, and anguish, their lives affirm God’s absolute faithfulness to them. Their witness of faithful service to God can inspire us to shed anything weighing us down and to faithfully continue running the course God has given us.

There are, however, another set of witnesses to our journey of faith. In his first triathlon, my son was a novice who naively thought that combining three sports in one race couldn’t be that difficult. He made mistakes in his choice of clothing, equipment, nutrition, and training. Although my son finished that first race (with soggy bike shorts and blistered feet), it was just a sprint triathlon. He knew he needed the wisdom and support of other triathletes if he ever hoped to complete an international/Olympic triathlon. Joining a tri club, he attended clinics, meetings, and group workouts where he learned about each discipline within a triathlon. He gained guidance, coaching, training opportunities, encouragement, and friends with whom to train.

If we want to finish well in our faith journey, rather than joining a tri club, we need to join with other Christians. Just as his fellow triathletes witnessed to my son about their experiences, it is our brothers and sisters in Christ who witness to us. Just as his teammates share their experiences, help him up when he falls, and encourage him when he struggles to keep going, our church family is there to encourage, guide, correct, and help us. Even though they haven’t completed their journey, they are well on their way to crossing the finish line. Like my son’s tri teammates, they’re more than mere onlookers; as living testifiers to a life of faith, they bear witness to us that running the race set before us is both doable and worthwhile.

By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. [Hebrews 11:34-34 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

COMPLETING THE RACE – Part 1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. [Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)]


Next weekend, my son will be participating in Chicago’s triathlon during which he’ll swim nearly a mile, bike 24.8 miles, and finish up with a 6.2-mile run. Because it’s a grueling race that requires stripping off extraneous equipment twice, it reminds me of Hebrews 12:1. After coming out of the water, my son rushes to the first transition area while stripping off swim cap, goggles, and wet suit. Having worn shorts and shirt under the wet suit, he drops off his swim attire and dons his race bib, socks, shoes, helmet, and sunglasses before mounting his bike. Then, after biking nearly 25 miles, he makes his second transition by changing into running shoes and leaving behind his bike, helmet, and bike shoes. At each transition, he strips off any unnecessary gear that can slow him down. After all, the wet suit would be extra weight when biking as would be the bike and helmet during the run!

Although my son is a seasoned triathlete, he wasn’t when he did his first triathlon a dozen years ago in rural Illinois. Not knowing that seasoned triathletes don’t wear wetsuits designed for water sports, he wore the same wetsuit he used when wake boarding and diving. Wet suits made for triathlons, however, are designed to be taken off quickly for an easy transition and made of thinner lighter neoprene with a slippery outer coating that reduces drag and provides optimal swimming dynamics and speed. He also made the mistake of wearing regular bike shorts under his wetsuit. While bike shorts have the extra padding necessary for long rides, in a triathlon that padding acts like a sponge and holds onto the wetness from the swim along with any sweat from the ride and run. My son ended up biking and running in what felt like a toddler’s very wet and heavy soiled diaper! Instead of conserving energy and swimming, biking, and running faster, he was weighed down by his poor choice of equipment.

The race referred to in Hebrews 12, however, isn’t a triathlon; it is our journey of faith. Nevertheless, it is like a triathlon because it requires strength, determination, and endurance. It’s long and strenuous, often grueling, and comes with a variety of challenges and difficult transitions. The epistle’s writer tells us that we must cast off anything that hinders us in order to complete the journey. Rather than stripping off water-logged bike shorts or leaving behind the bike when we start to run, the believer needs to strip himself of the extra weight found in things like unbelieving friends, questionable activities, greed, fear, anxiety, bitterness, unconfessed sins, or doubt. Those can impede our progress and cause us to stumble as easily as can running a race in bike shoes.

There will be times when even the best prepared Christian will tire, falter, turn the wrong way, or consider quitting. Unlike a triathlon, however, the time it takes to complete the course doesn’t matter; finishing is the only thing that counts. Moreover, there is no winner in the race of faith—staying true to the course, no matter how long it takes, makes anyone a winner!

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. [2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

OUR VOWS

For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. [Isaiah 54:5 (NLT)]

But you have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel! You have been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband. I, the Lord, have spoken. [Jeremiah 3:20 (NLT)]


Throughout the Bible, marriage is often used as a metaphor for man’s relationship with God. His covenant with Israel is seen as a form of marriage, their unfaithfulness as adultery, and their alienation from God as divorce. The book of Hosea is a story of a prophet with an unfaithful wife that parallels God’s relationship with his unfaithful people. Some scholars say the entire Song of Songs is an allegory of God’s love for Israel or the church. In the New Testament, John the Baptist describes the Messiah as a bridegroom and Jesus refers to himself as the groom in wedding parables. Marriage was ordained by God and the marital bond illustrates God’s relationship with His people.

55 years ago, I promised to love, comfort, and honor my husband and to forsake all others, keeping myself only for him as long as I lived. I took him for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and to love and cherish until we were parted by death. In light of the many Biblical references to our spiritual marriage, I started to evaluate how I’ve done keeping those same vows with God.

Although I’ve done a pretty good job of doing all that I promised to my husband, I’ve not done as well with God. In times of health, wealth and contentment, I often forgot who made those good times possible. Moreover, I often was doubtful, distant, or angry with God in the times of sickness, scarcity, and sorrow. Since I frequently followed my peers, took the easy rather than right route, and listened to the enemy when I should have listened to Him, I’m not sure I even forsook all others for the Lord. Like a mistress or prostitute, I seemed to love Him for his gifts and often came to Him only because I wanted something more. While I can’t comfort our Almighty God, I’ve probably caused Him a fair amount of discomfort and grief. Fortunately, there was nothing about obedience in my wedding vows because obedience certainly hasn’t been my strong suit with the Lord. While I haven’t failed completely as a spiritual wife, I certainly haven’t kept our covenant relationship as well as I should have done.

On God’s part, like the perfect husband, He has been faithful and loved me in all circumstances. In spite of seeing me at my worst and knowing my every fault, God continued to love me. When I stopped believing in Him, He never stopped believing in me and, when I rejected him, He never rejected me. No matter how unfaithful I have been, God has remained faithful to me. He’s been loving and true to me at my sickest, poorest, and most contemptible. He gave me unconditional love when my love for Him seemed to depend on circumstances. Just as God told Hosea to redeem and love his adulterous wife, God has redeemed and loved me! The gift of His only Son to save my sorry soul is evidence of that.

At landmark anniversaries, people often remake their wedding vows. Our vows to God need to be retaken not just every ten years but every day. Merciful God, thank you for your unconditional and lavish love. Forgive us for being less than you deserve and thank you for giving us more than we could ever desire. In all circumstances, may we love, honor, cherish, and obey you, now and forever.

Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. [Isaiah 62:4-5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SOWING

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of heaven is alike a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.” [Matthew 13:14-16 (NLT)]

p0rairie rose - rose hip
Our brief return north last June meant we again enjoyed walking among the Midwest’s summer wildflowers. I only stepped a few feet off the path for a photo and yet my pants were covered with sticky seedpods from the Tick-Trefoil. Sometimes called sticktights or beggar’s lice, their seed pods are covered with fine hooked hair that catches on anything it contacts—whether clothing or a passing squirrel. I spent the rest of the walk picking off the pods and scattering them along the trail. After carefully stepping over a pile of seed-studded raccoon poop, I was reminded that a flower’s purpose isn’t merely to look pretty; it’s to spread its seeds any way it can.

Like the Tick-Trefoil, some flowers have pods that attach to clothes and animals and ride through the forest on pants’ legs and fur until they find a good home. Flowers like the False Solomon’s Seal and Pokeweed, however, produce fruit that is eaten by animals and, like that raccoon, leave the seeds behind in their waste. Other wildflowers, like the Asters and Milkweed, have seeds attached to a feathery sort of “parachute” that is blown away by the wind to (hopefully) land on fertile soil. That the flowers are rooted into the ground doesn’t seem to keep them from spreading their seeds every which way to make more of their kind.

Looking at the colorful blossoms throughout the park, I saw that the native wildflowers have done their seed-spreading job well. Unfortunately, undesirable invasive species like Canadian Thistle and Purple Loosestrife also have been expanding their territory. The seeds of these invasive weeds are trying to defeat the native wildflowers in the same way Satan is trying to defeat us by planting his seeds of evil. So far, the flowers are ahead of the game; are we?

Jesus also told a parable about a farmer who planted seeds and the various kinds of soil on which his seeds fell. Types of soil, however, make no difference if the farmer fails to sow any seeds! Unsown seeds will never germinate! Would that we Christians were as determined to spread God’s word as the flowers are to scatter their seeds. As pretty as it is, the Prairie Rose knows that its job isn’t finished when it blooms into a beautiful flower. Its real purpose is to bear fruit (the rose hip) and spread its seeds far and wide. Unlike the rose, however, many Christians are quite content just looking good and give little thought to bearing fruit, let alone enlarging God’s garden by sowing His word.

It’s what you sow that multiplies, not what you keep in the barn! [Adrian Rogers]

He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” [Matthew 9:37-38 (NLT)]

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” [Mark 16:15 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

BUTTERFLY KISSES – Part 2

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” [Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)]

red-spotted purple admiral butterflyAs I began looking for, listing, and thanking God for the little blessings hidden in each day (His “butterfly kisses”), I couldn’t help but wonder about the rest of the day. In a fallen world that all but guarantees loss, pain, misery, and trouble, does God just scatter these special moments of grace willy-nilly? Does He randomly send things like encouraging emails, the perfect worship song at just the right time, the aroma of gardenias wafting through the air, a hummingbird flitting through the garden, a shooting star, or doves nesting outside the window? What about the rest of our moments—the ones when we’re struggling with colicky babies, chronic pain, a severely disabled child, stage-4 cancer, betrayal, or abuse? As I look at my prayer list, I see prodigal children, financial woes, severe depression, food insecurity, parents who’ve lost two infants in less than two years, families dealing with Alzheimer’s, and a newly-wed who, less than an hour after sending her husband off to work with a kiss, learned that he died of an aortic aneurysm while on the train. Hearing children’s laughter while frolicking in the pool, a popsicle on a hot summer day, a rainbow, or seeing the elusive green flash at sunset only go so far in alleviating their anguish or sorrow. Where is God’s grace the rest of the time?

But wait! What do we know of God? Throughout Scripture, we are told that He is good and that He loves us as a parent loves a child. We know we have a loving God who gives us good gifts because, in Matthew 7, Jesus compared God’s provision to that of a loving father who wouldn’t deceive his children by giving them an inedible stone or a poisonous snake instead of bread or fish. Scripture also tells us that this good and loving God has a plan for us. So, if we believe that we are loved by a good God and that this good and loving God has set our lives in motion according to His plan, does it not follow that His entire plan is for our good (even when it includes sleepless nights, loss, hurt, pain, and tears)?

While we grab with gusto all that seems good to us, we’d prefer escaping the rest. While we find joy in the gifts we like, we feel cheated when it’s not the gift we wanted or expected. Nevertheless, every moment, even the ones that seem to break our hearts, are as much a part of God’s grace as are the little blessings of the day. Perhaps, God’s butterfly kisses are simply His way of reminding us of His loving presence in everything and serve as a way for us to see His hand in all things. It is in thanking Him for the little insignificant gifts of our day that we eventually find the ability to gives thanks in all circumstances!

Be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Ephesians 5:18b-20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2022 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.