RELUCTANT HEROES

Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” [Exodus 3:10-11 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawkIn the late 1970s, psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance developed the concept of what is known as the “imposter syndrome.” Loosely defined as doubting one’s abilities and feeling like a fraud, it is believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. The impostor syndrome manifests in failing to realistically assess our competence and skills, self-denigration, a fear of not living up to expectations, and attributing any of our successes to someone or something else, like luck.

When God called out to Moses from the burning bush, He assigned Moses the task of going to Pharaoh and leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. Moses’ response is a classic example of imposter syndrome. As the princess’ son, he spent forty years as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace, was well-educated, and knew the royal protocol, language, and culture of Egypt and, as a Hebrew, he also knew the language, history, culture, expectations, and God of Israel. Although he was uniquely qualified for the task, Moses belittled his speaking ability and showed his fear of failure with the question, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me?”

Moses, of course, is not the only one of the Bible’s heroes to suffer from the “imposter syndrome” when called to do God’s work. Isaiah thought he was too sinful, Jeremiah thought he was too young, and then there’s Gideon. When we first meet him, Gideon is hiding in a winepress while threshing wheat, which seems somewhat cowardly. The people of Israel, however, had been oppressed for seven years by marauding nomadic tribes like the Midianites. Their livestock and crops were being pillaged and the people were being starved into submission as they hid in caves. Not about to let his family starve, Gideon had come up with a clever way to conceal his activity and threshing wheat in a wine press may have been wiser than it was cowardly. Nevertheless, when the angel of the Lord called on him to rescue Israel, the man disparaged not just himself but his entire clan of Manasseh. Even though the people had no other leader, Gideon was sure he had neither status nor authority to call up an army.

Convinced that they weren’t capable of doing God’s work, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Gideon listed all that they weren’t rather than looking at all of the things God is. They didn’t see what they brought to the table and certainly didn’t understand the power they’d receive from God. It wasn’t eloquence that caused Egypt’s plagues or caused the Israelites to follow Moses nor was it strict adherence to the law or maturity that enabled Isaiah and Jeremiah to prophesy. It certainly wasn’t status and authority that led to Gideon’s victories. It was the power of God!

While there are many competent, experienced, and skilled people in the world, God isn’t interested in whether or not we’re qualified. God is interested in our devotion to Him. If we’re committed to doing His work, God will provide the qualifications! If we’re not devoted to God, however, we’ll remain unqualified regardless of our eloquence, status, authority, talents, wisdom, or expertise. Let us never underestimate our abilities but, more important, let us never underestimate the power of our God!

Many Christians estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt. All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence with them. [James Hudson Taylor]

Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him. He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded. [Judges 6:34-35 (NLT)]

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TAKE THE RISK

Be strong and courageous! … Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you. [Deuteronomy 31:6a,8 (NLT)]

Let all who fear the Lord repeat: “His faithful love endures forever.” … The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? [Psalm 118:4,6 (NLT)]

great egret
Judge Guido Calabresi regularly asks his Yale law students to imagine receiving an offer of an amazing invention that could improve people’s lives in every imaginable way. In exchange for this invention, however, the lives of at least 1,000 randomly selected young people would be taken every year. When asked if they’d accept the deal, his students inevitably conclude they wouldn’t. Calabresi then asks them the difference between that offer and the automobile. The very thing that allows us to travel, see loved ones, easily move products across the country, and do things that couldn’t be done otherwise, kills even more than that! Over 2,600 teens (16-20) accounted for auto accident fatalities in 2019 and, with over 46,000 car fatalities last year, more than 150 people of every age die each day because of a car. Be that as it may, we’re not about to give up driving!

Calebresi uses his example to illustrate how selective we are in our fears. We underestimate and accept chronic risks like riding in a car while overestimating prominent ones like a terrorist attack or plane crash. In actuality, rather than dying from either of those things, we’re more likely to die by choking on food or slipping in the shower or tub but, preferring bathing, eating, and even driving to the alternatives, we decide they’re worth the risk. On the other hand, after assessing the perils involved in things like free solo climbing, running with the bulls, or base jumping, most of us probably decide they’re not worth the risk.

In contrast, any risk we take in obedience to God always is worth it. Regardless of the danger, we must obediently accept the risks in the challenges and tasks He gives us. Think of what Abraham risked by packing up his family and leaving Haran for an unknown destination. Think of the risks taken by the midwives Shiphrah and Puah when they defied Pharaoh by letting boy babies live or the risk Moses took when he returned to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh. It was a huge risk when Gideon and his 300 men took on an army 400 times their size and when David faced Goliath with just a sling and stones. In spite of the risk, Esther approached the king, Daniel defied the law by praying, and the bleeding woman touched Jesus’ robe. Joseph of Arimathea took a risk when he asked Pilate for Jesus’ body and Peter and John risked imprisonment and worse when they defied the Council by continuing to share the gospel. When we search Scripture, we don’t find people who assessed the risks and played it safe. We find God’s version of bungee jumpers and wing-suit flyers—faith-filled and obedient risk takers.

Every God-sent risk comes with a God-sent promise. He will remain faithful to us and be present in the risk. He will protect and empower us and we’ll never need more than what He supplies. As followers of Jesus, we don’t walk by sight. In spite of the risks, we walk by faith because faith means we’re willing to risk anything for God!

Trust is faith that has become absolute, approved, and accomplished. When all is said and done, there is a sort of risk in faith and its exercise. But trust is firm belief; it is faith in full bloom. Trust is a conscious act, a fact of which we are aware. [E.M. Bounds]

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:20 (NLT)]

…For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT)]

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AN AMBASSADOR IN CHAINS 

And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. [Ephesians 6:19-21 (NLT)]

lupineSince the beginning, Satan has been determined to impede God’s plan. He started in Eden and continued by attempting to cut off the promised line of the Messiah with the killing of Israel’s infant boys in Egypt, Haman’s evil plans to exterminate every Jew in the Persian empire, and Herod’s slaughter of boys under two in Judah. When that failed, Satan sought to derail Jesus’ mission to mankind by tempting Him in the wilderness and Scripture tells us that wasn’t his last attempt to stop the Lord. Having failed with Jesus, Satan has been trying to interfere with the church’s mission to spread the gospel ever since.

Satan may have thought he’d found the perfect man to defeat the early church in the Pharisee Saul—a powerful man who hated both Christ’s followers and Gentiles. He rejected Jesus as the Messiah, approved of the stoning of Stephen, and devoted himself to persecuting and terrorizing Christians. That, of course, was before Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. In a little bit of God-ordained poetic justice, the Saul who had been doing Satan’s work by persecuting the church transformed into the Apostle Paul whose mission became that of building the church!

Satan probably thought he’d obstruct Paul’s mission with an assassination attempt, several shipwrecks, assorted arrests, beatings, stonings, and floggings, along with several stints in prison. Paul, however, managed to turn every hindrance into an evangelism opportunity; he even preached to his guards! Once Paul was put under arrest in Rome in 60 AD, Satan may have thought he finally stopped the evangelist in his tracks. Rather than being imprisoned as a common criminal, however, Paul was confined to house arrest. Although he was chained and under guard, he was allowed to live in a rented house at his own expense. In spite of his captivity, Paul “welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Acts 28:31] Rather than discouraging other believers, Paul’s unstinting faith during imprisonment encouraged them and it was during these years that Paul wrote his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. When Paul wasn’t writing to the church, it seems that he spent his solitary time praying for it!

After a few years of freedom, Paul was re-arrested and imprisoned around 65 AD. Confined to a Roman prison that time, he was cut off from the world except for a few visitors. As the apostle faced death, he wrote his final epistle, 2 Timothy and, like his other letters, it is filled with faith, sound doctrine, encouragement, endurance, and love.

While Satan thought Paul’s hardships and suffering would stop him from preaching the gospel, Paul used his hardships and suffering to spread it. When Paul was free, he saw himself as an ambassador for Christ and, when imprisoned, he simply saw himself as an ambassador in chains. Moreover, knowing Paul’s situation, his words about forgiveness, rejoicing in suffering or trouble, and finding joy in all circumstances are all the more meaningful to his readers today. Rather than stopping his ministry, Paul’s imprisonments helped keep his ministry alive because of his letters. His words are as essential to the church today as they were when written nearly 2,000 years ago!

Satan couldn’t stop God’s plan for the Messiah, couldn’t stop Jesus from His mission as the Lamb of God, and couldn’t stop Paul. Satan can stop the church only if the church allows him. Paul didn’t. Will we?

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. [Philippians 1:12-14 (NLT)]

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DOUBT AND UNBELIEF

lilacWe reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. [2 Corinthians 4:2-4 (NLT)]

Yesterday, when writing about John the Baptist, I said that doubt was not the same as unbelief. In John’s question to Jesus, we have the doubts of a godly man but we see trickery and unbelief in most of the questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Because the Sadducees interpreted Scripture literally and the Pharisees gave equal significance to their oral tradition, the groups frequently argued with one another over Jewish doctrine. They were, however, united in their hatred of Jesus. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not belief in an afterlife or the resurrection of the dead. Nevertheless, they asked Jesus a question dealing with resurrection. Jewish law said that, if a woman’s husband died without having a son, the husband’s brother had the responsibility of marrying her. Using this law as their starting point, the Sadducees set up a bizarre scenario in which one brother dies without having children and his widow, who never bears a son, ends up marrying and burying brother after brother until she’s married and buried all seven brothers. The Sadducees want Jesus to tell them which of the seven will be her husband in the afterlife.

Since they didn’t believe in any afterlife, theirs was not an honest question and they’re sure Jesus can’t answer without looking foolish, offending people, or being caught in an inconsistency. He’ll appear arbitrary if he picks one brother over another and immoral if He says they all can have her! His other choice (and possibly the one for which they hope) is to admit that resurrection is a preposterous doctrine. Not only would they score a point against the Pharisees but Jesus would look like a fraud since He couldn’t be the “resurrection and the life” if there were no resurrection!

Imagine their consternation when Jesus corrected them by saying they’d misinterpreted Scripture and had underestimated God’s power with their assumption that resurrection meant a continuation of the same kind of bodies we have in this life. Jesus explained that people would be raised into bodies unlike their present ones and marriage and procreation would be unnecessary. When Jesus added that people will have bodies “like the angels in heaven,” He dug the knife deep into their absurd question because Sadducees didn’t believe in angels any more than they did resurrection.

In His final thrust, Jesus asked the Sadducees if they’d read about resurrection in the Scriptures. He then repeated these words from Exodus: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” [3:6] Even though the patriarchs had been dead for more than four centuries, God’s words to Moses were in the present tense which showed that the men remained alive before Him. Jesus could have found scriptural support in words from Isaiah, Daniel, or Job but He chose a verse from part of the Pentateuch, the section the Sadducees found most authoritative. Having been out-argued by the Son of God, I imagine the Sadducees departed with their proverbial tails between their legs. The crowd that heard Jesus, however, was “astounded at his teaching.”

When comparing the questions posed by John’s disciples and the Sadducees, the differences between doubt and unbelief become clear. Where doubt seeks answers, unbelief isn’t interested in them. Doubt seeks enlightenment; unbelief prefers darkness. Doubt is receptive; unbelief is hostile. Doubt is straightforward; unbelief has ulterior motives. Doubt wants the truth; unbelief just wants to win.

There are those who insist that it is a very bad thing to question God. To them, “why?” is a rude question. That depends, I believe, on whether it is an honest search, in faith, for His meaning, or whether it is the challenge of unbelief and rebellion. [Elisabeth Elliot]

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. [Matthew 22:34 (NLT)]

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JOHN THE BAPTIST – Part 2

On the following day, John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world! This is the man I meant when I said, ‘A man comes after me who is always in front of me, for he existed before I was born!’ It is true I have not known him, yet it was to make him known to the people of Israel that I came and baptised people with water.” [John 1:29-31 (PHILLIPS)]

mourning doveWe don’t know if John the Baptist recognized Jesus as his distant cousin when the two men met on the banks of the Jordan. Although they were the same age and their mothers were related in some way, with John in the desert and Jesus in Nazareth, it’s not likely they knew one another. If they did, Jesus probably seemed nothing more than an ordinary person to John at the time.

When Jesus walked toward him that day, however, John knew he was seeing someone who was more than a carpenter from Nazareth. In the same way that Elizabeth knew Mary was “the mother of my Lord” when the unborn John leapt in her womb, John recognized Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God. John seemed to have no doubt about Jesus when he testified to seeing the Spirit descend on Him like a dove and, throughout John’s ministry, he continued to point out Jesus as the “Lamb of God.”

After Jesus’ baptism, the gospel of John tells us that both John and Jesus carried on baptizing ministries. Perhaps out of jealousy, some of John’s disciples complained that more people were going to Jesus than coming to John. Again, John made it clear that he knew their different roles when he compared himself to the best man and Jesus to the bridegroom. “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” [3:30]

More than a year later, what happened to John’s confidence in Jesus’ identity? The man who once had been so sure about Jesus sent his disciples to ask, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” [Mt 11:3] Languishing in Herod’s dungeon, John probably wondered why the conquering king from David’s line hadn’t released him. Why hadn’t Jesus taken the throne from Herod and Rome? Where was the end-time outpouring of the Spirit, the winnowing fork that would separate the chaff from the wheat, and the one who would burn the chaff with “never-ending fire”?

In truth, Jesus wasn’t the Messiah that John and his disciples were expecting; nevertheless, He was the Messiah! John, however, didn’t understand that Jesus had to teach, heal, suffer, die, resurrect, and ascend before returning a second time and executing final judgment. At first, it seems that Jesus ducks John’s question with a summary of his miracles but John understood. The miracles Jesus listed fulfilled the messianic promises in Isaiah; they were proof that He was the Messiah. Jesus’ final message for John is a beatitude that encouraged the Baptizer (and the rest of us) not to stumble in our faith just because Jesus doesn’t fit our expectations.

While we may not be languishing in a dungeon as was John, we may be in languishing in grief, infertility, depression, illness, addiction, chronic pain, money issues, infidelity, or family problems. Just as Jesus didn’t meet John’s expectations, He doesn’t always meet ours. He didn’t free John from Herod’s prison and He may not free us from ours and, like John, we may have doubts. Faith and doubt, however, are not antonyms and doubt and unbelief are not synonyms! We can be people of faith and still have questions; like John, we never should be afraid to ask those questions. John went to Jesus for the answers and, like him, we should look to the words and works of Jesus Christ for our ours. We’ll discover, as did John, that the Lord’s credentials will hold up to the toughest of questions!

Jesus gave them this reply, “Go and tell John what you see and hear—that blind men are recovering their sight, cripples are walking, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, the dead being brought to life and the good news is being given to those in need. And happy is the man who never loses faith in me.” [Matthew 11:4-6 (PHILLIPS)]

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FLYING AWAY

Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest! I would fly far away to the quiet of the wilderness. [Psalm 55:6-7 (NLT)]

mourning doveEaster is over and “season” here in southwest Florida is winding down. More people are departing than arriving as our seasonal visitors return north, transport trucks laden with cars are moving up the interstate, and we finally can get a table at our favorite restaurant! It’s been said that there is no escape from death or taxes but we usually try to flee from just about every other unpleasant thing. Thinking their lives would be better here, our snowbirds came south to escape sub-zero temps, heating bills, and shoveling snow. While the climate here is nicer, our tropical paradise doesn’t come with a guarantee and none of us can flee from life’s uncertainties and problems.

Rather than escaping from winter weather, Naomi and Elimelech fled from Bethlehem to escape a famine. Instead of trusting God, they ran away to Moab, a pagan nation hostile to Israel. They intended staying briefly but remained for ten years during which time their sons broke Jewish law by marrying Moabite women. Moab, however, didn’t turn out to be the sort of get-away for which they hoped; sadly, Elimelech and both sons died. A widow with no sons in a hostile and pagan land was in worse straits than a family in their homeland during a famine. Having literally fallen out of the frying pan into the fire, Naomi decided to flee from Moab. At least this time, she went in the right direction—back to Bethlehem and the God of Israel!

We’re not much different from Naomi and some of our snowbirds; we want to escape to a place where life will be better, simpler, happier, easier, less costly, or more fun. Like Naomi, however, we’re likely to be disappointed because the baggage we’ve packed contains more than our clothes. Tucked in with the sunglasses and beach attire are things like problems at work, disappointments, worries, responsibilities, lack of faith, ill health, guilt, unmet deadlines, family strife, or financial problems. If we can’t physically flee from our troubles, some people try escaping through things like procrastination, alcohol, shopping, drugs, busyness, codependency, or denial. Disregarding the bills doesn’t get them paid, ignoring the lump won’t make it disappear, and taking a vacation, moving to a new house, or having another baby won’t fix a broken marriage. There is no way to escape from life’s problems, obligations, or consequences. We carry that baggage with us wherever we go.

In Naomi and Elimelech’s day (the time of the judges), famine was a test of faith but the couple missed what God planned for them by fleeing from their challenge. If we simply suffer through our troubles and allow them to be our master, we lose hope and become bitter, as did Naomi. Having resigned herself to being an embittered penniless widow with no grandchildren, upon her return to Bethlehem the woman whose name meant pleasant called herself Mara, meaning bitter. Rather than running from or resigning ourselves to our troubles, we can endeavor to change them by trusting God—exactly what Naomi and Elimelech failed to do. Instead, it was the Moabite woman Ruth who showed more faith in Israel’s God than did her in-laws. Trusting in Him, she bravely faced the challenges of widowhood by gleaning in the fields of Boaz. Ruth, however, wasn’t alone in those fields; God was at her side! No matter how bleak the situation may seem, there’s no need to flee when we remember that God is with us in our troubles.

Good people must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them. [Charles Spurgeon]

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time. [Psalm 34:17-19 (ESV)]

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)]

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