Gideon’s Army

Gideon’s story is found in the 6-8th chapters of the book of Judges in the Bible.  Gideon is one of a series of people raised up by God to lead the people of Israel during a period when they did not have a king.  The need for their leadership frequently arose out of the people’s departure from the direction of God.  The people often began integrating with the culture around them, adopting their gods and ethical practices.  God would leave them to their own designs without his protection and care until problems overwhelmed them. Then, like many of us, when troubles overwhelmed them, they would call on God for help.  This is what happened that gave rise to Gideon’s call to battle.  The Midianites along with others had been perennially raiding and pillaging the Israelites.  At last they called out to God for help.  God sent an angel to call on Gideon.

The coolest thing about Gideon is that he is not cool.  He didn’t come from an important family or place.  Even within the ranks of his own family, he was the low man on the totem pole. When the angel came to Gideon, Gideon could not imagine that he was being asked to do anything important because he felt powerless.  The mess that the people were in further discouraged him from believing that God could work miraculously.  Even so, God was able to call Gideon to trust him. In fact, Gideon became a vessel through which God led his people to trust him again.

When God sent Gideon into battle, he started with an army of over 30,000.  God said it was too many because if they won with that many, the people would believe it was their own doing.  They needed to know that they could absolutely trust in God.  So God took them into battle with just 300 men.  They had to trust and follow God into battle with a plan that, well, was not militarily sound.  There was no doubt in the end that God gave them the victory!

What an incredible story of God’s deliverance!  We need to apply this in our lives right now.

Here at Galloway we have gone through a lot of transitions that have given us lots of ups and downs.  When I arrived the church was going through a crisis, loss of members and money.  Since I began here as pastor we have had a fairly stable attendance averaging @ 275 or more. Then fall, our attendance never rebounded from our summer lull.  So our attendance if averaging more like 250 per Sunday.  That can be very discouraging.  That was a time when we experienced a change in leadership in our children’s ministry.  That led to cancellation of our Wednesday night children’s ministry.  Perhaps we lost momentum as a result.  Perhaps people felt that we were no longer focused on kids as in the past.  This morning it occurred to me that another change at that time was the creation of our volunteer covenant for kids and youth ministry volunteers. In it we defined certain sexual relationships that conflict with our Biblical view of marriage, family, and morality.  These actions would disqualify someone from working in those ministries.  Perhaps some people found those too restrictive and did not want to accept them as standards for their own lives.  I don’t know, but I know that is when it changed and those are things that changed at that time.  That is helpful to a degree but it doesn’t remove the discouragement of lower attendance.

Yet, at the same time, I see God moving among us.  I hear people talking about our future with anticipation.  That’s when God hit me with it.  We are Gideon’s Army.  Now every Sunday, I am claiming the promise of this scripture.  Every week I am looking out and refusing to be discouraged.  Instead I look out and see Gideon’s army.  Smaller for the moment, preparing to follow God for his glory.

I just heard a speaker say that there are times that God must stop our forward moment, even take us backward, before we can go forward.  Why? If we experience nothing but unstoppable forward progress, we can begin to believe in our own forward moment to carry us along. What if God brings us to a complete halt and forces us to reset our focus of faith. What if we have nothing but God to trust, then God moves!

Take some time to reflect on these points and discuss them with someone else.

  1. How have you experienced set backs in life?
  2. Has a set back ever helped you reset your focus of faith, and set you up for God to move in your life?
  3. In the church, is God moving?  Listen it is undeniable that we have experience some declines in attendance, I’m not just trying to put a positive spin on a negative.  I said in my message that it would be easy to say that if we don’t grow this year I will go next year.  It’s possible that practical issues could call for that, but I can’t live this year packing my bags. God has given me a positive sense of him moving in the church that anchors my hope.  What about you?  Are you seeing God move? Does that motivate you to trust God? Does it motivate you to look ahead to what God is doing?

 

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Love Overcomes

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:17-18 NIV

God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father.  God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children.  His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him….In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us.  I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Romans 8:15-17, 37-39 CEV

This week we celebrated Communion and Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost is a Jewish holy day.  What makes it important to Christians is that it was on that day that the Holy Spirit was first poured out on the Church as the believers were gathered in an upper room in prayer and worship (see Acts 2).  Communion is celebrated every month in our church as the testimony of God’s love and forgiveness given to us in Jesus.  Romans 5:8 tells us that God proves his love for us by Christ dying for us on the cross.  Communion recounts that demonstration of God’s love for us over and over again.  But rather than leave us with only a remembrance that is merely symbolic tokens of bread and wine, God gives us his Holy Spirit to dwell in us.  What communion symbolizes is internalized to our lives by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Through the Holy Spirit we are able to know without a doubt that we belong to God as beloved children.  When the love of God and his forgiveness is real in us and we in turn love God…when those two things come together, it’s perfect and perfect love drives out fear!  

This sets the stage for God to work in our lives, inwardly and outwardly, in ways that are truly miraculous. I have pondered Romans 8:37 for many years trying to find a way to express what it means to be, “…more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (NIV) Recently, I heard the story of a funeral. How many of us have attended a funeral that was a family reunion of sorts? You see people you haven’t seen in years and haven’t spoken to for just as long. In some cases you haven’t spoken to those people on purpose. Conflict of some sort has separated you more than time and distance. Well, the story of this funeral was one I have heard before. In the context of a funeral, people came together in a way that bridged the gap.  No apology was made, no money was repaid, no one was vindicated for being right or punished for being wrong but they simply came back together. In the context of a funeral, life’s petty issues were suddenly overcome and the value of the relationship of family and friend was brought front and center.  You may wonder if this is fair or just. No, it is grace. What if you win the argument and you are right? What if you push and push until you win, but lose the closeness of a friendship or make your spouse feel beaten down by the pressure to concede victory to you. What if you are paid back the money you were owed but then still have no relationship, what do you truly own? What if you finally force an apology from someone flawed and at fault, but still have no peace? These, I must acknowledge, are not completely universal statements.  There are times when debts must be collected and apologies need to be made but there is a point to be made.

Jesus wants to make sure that we get the bigger victories in life that that only grace and the love of Jesus can accomplish.  In the context of a funeral, family members faced wth death, realized that a relationship with each other was more valuable than winning arguments or getting paid back. They simply stepped past all those obstacles, covering over a multitude of sins, and embraced each other. What if in the presence of Jesus, we can do the same.  What if being more than a conqueror means simply that in the grace and love of Jesus he doesn’t want us limited to the lesser wins.  Rather than just winning arguments and paybacks, if there is more? Jesus asked what it would profit a person to win the whole world and yet lose their own soul. Many have lost their soul in bitterness, unforgiveness and never healing woundedness. Jesus arranges everything needed to make us more than minor victors. He has made it possible for us to be connected to the love of God in a way that nothing in all of creation can separate us from. That allows us to go on to these greater victories without actually losing anything.

Take time to reflect and discuss these thoughts with someone this week.

  1. Have ever experienced a reunion like the one I described?  One women told me about her sons who had not spoken for years.  Then, suddenly, one became ill and his brother came to his aid and they were once again, brothers.  Have you ever experienced something like that?
  2. Have you ever found yourself the winner of an argument but the loser of a friend? Has you spouse ever complained that you always have to win? Are you winning the argument at the expense of something more valuable?
  3. Is there someone in your life that you are estranged from?  Is it your fault or theirs? Do you even remember? What would it be worth to be reconciled?
  4. The starting point for all of this is in Jesus Christ who loves you and died for you.  Jesus died for you because you are a sinner, not because you were good.  Have you opened yourself to surrender to Jesus? Do you have the inner peace of the Holy Spirit letting you know that you belong to God as a forgiven and beloved child?

 

Memorial Day

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  John 15:13 NIV

I read this week, an article that said you should not wish a veteran, “happy Memorial Day.”  This is because Memorial Day in not just a long weekend, camping and cookout celebration of spring.  Memorial Day is a day of memorium, a day to remember those who have died in service of our country.  When in one church service, I asked those who had a friend or relative in military service, those who had a friend or relative who had died in service to our country to stand, well, everyone had to stand.  It drew attention to the personal nature of this holiday we observe each year.  Most people know someone who presently or in the past, served our country in military service. Of those, many have lost someone who died offering their full measure of devotion, giving up their life.  My wife’s father served in WW II and one of her mother’s brothers died in WWII.  We reminisced with stories father told and a drawing of her uncle done by a fellow soldier before he died.  This is a holiday in which we celebrate sacrifice.

Our nation was born in revolutionary war.  It’s founding fathers had to fight and sacrifice for our liberty.  Soldiers ever since have continued to lay down their lives in the cause of liberty.  As Christians, we too are a people founded on sacrifice, not our sacrifice, but that of our savior, Jesus Christ.  In fact, to many of those who were founders for our nation and those who followed them, Christ’s sacrifice was their model and their motivation to “lay down their life for a friend.”  We value and embrace sacrifice because of the way in which God, in Christ Jesus, acted to save us by laying down his life for our sin.  Though we are a culture often proving itself by acting as profit driven, over achievers, we measure true greatness by the degree to which one will and die serving their friends, neighbors, and families.  By this standard, true greatness is not a commodity owned by the rich and famous.  Anyone of any age, race or social status can of the full measure of devotion to others even in the supreme sacrifice of living or dying, but always laying down their life for a friend.

Take inspiration this memorial days from those who have given the the last full measure of devotion and give glory to the one who died for us for our salvation.  So whether it is in living or dying, give your all and give your best to be a blessing.

Believe in Me

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.  He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.  He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:14-30 NIV)

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.  (Mark 6:1-6 NIV)

In these Scriptures Jesus shows us how important it is that we believe in him and in each other in order to experience the fullness of God’s work in us. People in his hometown had heard about the miracles and wonders that Jesus had done in other places. They were impressed by his teaching and wanted to see him do the same things in their town that they heard he was doing elsewhere.  However, they did not believe in him for who he is.  They just wanted him to come and do his program for them.  Even when they saw him to do miracles and heard him teach and marvelous ways they could not cross that line into belief because they thought they already knew who he was.  He was just one of them.  They knew where he had grown up, they knew his family, they knew all there was to know about him, or so they thought.  Because they could not believe in him, he could do only a few miracles.  So, the first lesson for us is that we must believe in Jesus for who he is in order to gain the fullest expression of his Grace and power through the Holy Spirit.

The second lesson for us is the importance of believing in each other for the work of Christ to be complete in us.  This must begin with faith in Christ.  That faith allows us to believe what Christ’s Grace can do in an through others.  It enables us to believe in God’s calling on another’s life.  We can declare, I believe that you can do all that Christ has called you to do and to be.

If you and I would share the gospel with someone else, we must believe in the power of Christ to save and transform that person.  In a sense, we must believe for them in order to open the message to them that they might believe.  Sometimes we have to believe in someone before they can believe in themselves.  Others can step out into something new based on their belief in their abilities, their product, their plan, etc., and launch out boldly into the future.  Even then, eventually someone else must believe in them in order to gain success.  The empowerment to faith and action when we believe in Christ and the work of Christ in each other is immense.

I began to realize the power of believing in someone else when I was in high school.  In ninth or tenth grade I happened to be seated next to two different students who were always low scoring/failing students.  I realized they did not have anyone at home helping them with homework and pushing them to try hard.  So I began to encourage them as we talked.  I always was at the top of my class and did well in academics.  If they confirmed an answer with me, they gained the confidence to put their hand up.  It was awesome to me to watch them try for the first time to give an answer.  However, the teacher’s in both of those classes routinely ignored them when they had their hand raised.  Worse, the one teacher seemed to make a point of calling on that student when he did not raise his hand and ignored him when he did.  It almost guaranteed his failure.  It confirmed that the teacher did not believe in him and reinforced the message that he should give up.

When we believe in Christ and believe in the work of Christ in each other it opens us to seek and pursue the fullness of Christ.

Who has done that for you?

Who are you doing that for?

 

Sin: A Sensitive Subject

Recently the news brought some very terrible revelations to our community.  Two school teachers were arrested for having sexual relations with students, one in Franklin and one in Oil City.  This has far reaching impact.  Students in both schools, families who feel a renewed fear for their children’s safety, persons who have experienced sexual abuse as children have wounds reopened and all of us lose again our sense of innocence and peace.  In addition, there are four families, (families of the two students and the two offending teachers) who are affected.  These families are filled with innocent people who are now caught up in a whirlwind of confusion, fear, and pain.  Many of these family members will suffer as if they are guilty by association.

As pastor I sought to speak to these events in this Sundays message (listen to it at gallowaychurch.org).  I couldn’t just mention this in passing inviting everyone to pray.  I also could not talk about it as if it concerned people we do not know.  I do not know the identity of the students affected nor do I know who is related by family ties or friendship to them.  I do, however, know the men who were arrested for their actions.  These men are both connected to our church.  They have been part of our ministries in the past. Their immediate families are deeply involved in our church family.   As pastor, I wanted to make sure that our congregation was aware of that. I didn’t want some neighbor or coworker giving them that information. I wanted us as a congregation to wrestle with how to be God’s people in the midst of such a crisis.

Even though we talk about sin at church fairly routinely, sin is too often something we discuss like an abstract idea. Sin becomes a much more sensitive subject when it is personal.  Sin that affects a wide circle of people becomes an even more sensitive subject. Sin is never a victimless act. There is always harm done to more than just yourself by sin. Yet, when we declare that Jesus Christ died to offer forgiveness of sin, we immediately realize a tension between justice, forgiving sinners and caring for those harmed by the sin of others. It can feel like walking a tight rope trying to balance truth, righteousness, and justice on the one hand, with mercy, grace, and forgiveness on the other. When we try to address sin that does great harm to individuals and impacts a large number of people, the tension between those elements becomes even more intense. Any discussion of forgiveness for sinners can immediately seem like we are diminishing the harm done to others. One thing that I have tried to emphasize is that pursuing forgiveness and redemption in a sinner in no way shape or form means that the harm that their sin has done to others is lessened or that the pain and suffering others endure is any less significant. There is endless compassion for those harmed by sin.

In this Sunday’s message I reminded us that sin is more than just breaking a rule and redemption is more than just an effort on our part to stay under the speed limit in order to avoid a ticket. James 1:13-15 describes in simple terms the way that sin develops out of our own natural desires through which we are tempted to turn away from God in order to indulge and fulfill those desires. The Apostle Paul describes our inner struggle and makes it very clear that sin is a force to be reckoned with that we cannot conquer without the power of Jesus.  This dispels the common myth we hold when we believe that there are good people and bad people.  We foolishly believe that good people don’t do bad things.  The truth is all of us, good and bad, wrestle with sin and good people sometimes do really bad things.

So the central question for us is how do we respond to sin in this present situation? To seek an answer, we looked to Jesus in a situation where he was called, “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” in Luke 7:28-50. Jews under Roman occupation had a visceral hatred of tax collectors.  They were singled out among sinners.  They were people who betrayed a public trust.  They were Jews hired by the invading Romans to rip off taxes from other Jews.  Yet, Jesus socialized with tax collectors and sinners.  This made him guilty by association in the eyes of many, particularly of the religious Pharisees.  What they did not recognize is that Jesus was not approving of the wickedness of tax collectors or other sinners by associating with them. Jesus was seeking their redemption and life transformation.  The religious leaders saw only the damage done by these sinners and had given up hope on them. They saw no redeeming hope for them.  Therefore, they simply rejected and avoided them.  Jesus was thus called a friend of sinners as a severe criticism.

Luke gives us a clear depiction of Jesus purpose and attitude by telling the story of “women who had lived a sinful life” who interrupted a dinner at the home of Simon, who was a Pharisee.  The uninvited women slipped in and bowed at Jesus’ feet where she wept until her tears wet his feet.  She dried his feet with her hair, poured perfume on them and repeatedly kissed his feet.  In response to this amazing act of contrition, Simon was only concerned that Jesus did not recognize her sinfulness and reject her.  Jesus called out Simon, however, pointing out that, as his host, Simon had not shown him any descent hospitality.  Simon had not provided any normal means of allowing Jesus to “freshin’ up” by washing his feet or putting oil in his hair.  He hadn’t kissed Jesus, which would be like not shaking hands.  Jesus told Simon that those who are forgiven much, love much.  Clearly this woman loved much, but Simon did not.  This is Jesus cause for being a friend of sinners, their forgiveness and redemption to new life.

While I am deeply sensitive to the pain and harm done by sin, I will be a friend of sinners.  Confession and repentance are an absolute necessity.  If a Christian who has fallen in sin does not display these, then there is little I can do for or with them.  In some cases it is best to walk away until there is a change of heart.  But when there is a willing heart to confess and repent of sinner and take instruction, it is our task as Christians to seek the redemption and restoration of their lives.  This in no way diminishes the impact of sin, it acknowledges it and takes responsibility for it.  I invite anyone hurt by this kind of sin to reach out to me and allow me the opportunity to demonstrate the compassion and grace of God to you for healing and hope in your life.

This is a balancing act that can be very challenging.  But truth, righteousness, and justice balanced against mercy, grace, and forgiveness are what the Gospel is all about.  Jesus died for sin because it is bad.  Jesus died for sinners to save us.  Jesus is a friend of sinners so that they can receive new life.  I don’t want to be in the seat of the Pharisee.  I want to be a sinner saved by Jesus, who like Jesus, is a friend of sinners.

Mission Drift

By Shawn Hogue

Yesterday, we talked about how mission drift is a very real, very prevalent problem that any group can be susceptible to, including churches. If we look at Matthew 28 (vs. 16-20) we get a very clear picture of the mission God has given to the church. Any honest look at church life suggests that, at the very least, we need to be more protective against mission drift and probably need to address areas where we have already drifted. However, our BIG idea was that mission drift is only allowed to exist within the church because it first exists in our personal lives.

To address this I proposed 3 ways Christians who avoid mission drift live their lives. First, Christians who don’t drift view sin differently. Second, they pursue Jesus differently. Lastly, Christians are called to view people differently. If you missed the discussion on this I’d encourage you to go back and listen to the sermon. Today, I want to follow up by reflecting on whether or not Jesus embraced these ideas in the way he lived His life.

If we go to the early parts of Matthew’s gospel, we see a critical part of Jesus’ life and ministry. Just after being in the desert to be tempted we see that Jesus begins preaching, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matt 4:17). Before He even calls His disciples and with the power of sin and temptation fresh in His mind, Jesus starts telling us that before anything else, we must address and remove sin from our lives. This is one of the early examples in the ministry of Jesus where He instructs us to view sin differently.

Another moment in the ministry of Jesus is when He’s being challenged by some religious leaders of the time. In a moment where Jesus is asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law,” He responds with, “Love God, but just as important Love People” (my shortened version of Matt 22: 34-40). Above all else we are instructed to love God. However, he adds that it’s equally important to love each other. He’s telling us that when it comes to knowing God and loving His people, we are to be different. It should be the biggest priorities of our lives. We must pursue Jesus and view people differently.

Part, if not all, of my intention in sharing this message was two-fold. First, to draw attention to the fact that in a world that feels increasingly complex, living out faith is relatively straightforward (notice I didn’t say easy). If we complicate faith it can feel like this daunting task that can never be achieved. That’s not what Jesus wanted by coming to Earth. He simply wants to be in relationship with us. Second, is a call for us as Christians to return to faith as it’s laid out in the bible, not the faith that culture tends to define. I genuinely believe the full potential of the church will never become reality until we reject mission drift in our own lives and reunite with the mission of God.

Doubt, Failure and Faith

Luke 22:31-34 – Jesus prays for Peter’s faith not to fail, but tells him that he will fail miserably by denying knowing Jesus.

Luke 5:1-11 – Jesus gave Peter a great catch of fish and calls him to become a fisher of men as he fell in humility at Jesus’ feet.

John 6:67-69 – Jesus asked if the twelve would abandon him and Peter declared that there was know one else to turn to because Jesus was the only one with words of life

Matthew 16:15-24 – Jesus asked who the disciples thought he really was and Peter rightly answered that he was, “…the Christ, the son of the living God.”  Then when Peter began to argue with Jesus, Jesus called him, “Satan” and told him to back off.

John 21:1-19 – After his resurrection, Jesus appeared on the shoreline as the disciples, led by Peter, were fishing.  Jesus asked Peter about his love for him.

Do you struggle with doubt?  Most everyone does at one time or another.  I have known many great saints that struggle with doubt in the face of an overwhelming trial.  When we struggle with doubt a common question emerges.  Does doubt mean that a person has no faith?  Not necessarily.  In fact, I would say that most people struggling with doubt are not faithless.  Doubt is commonly a conflict generated by the need to continue to rely on faith in the face of some great struggle. In that case, doubt is not even possible without faith!

Have you ever struggled with the guilt and shame of failure?  So many have suffered some catastrophic moral and spiritual failure.  It may have been a fall back into an old practice of sin or a choice that you can’t believe you made, that led to sin that not only broke God’s law but broke you.  It broke you because you could not imagine that you would ever do something like that. Those kinds of failures hurt and can be hard to overcome.  Do failures like these indicate that a person is faithless and hopeless?  Not if what Jesus told Peter is true.

In Luke 22:31-34 Jesus told Peter that he was praying that Peter’s faith would not fail but then immediately told him he would fail.  Specifically, he told Peter he would deny knowing him three times over.  His prayer is not what you expect.  You may assume that Jesus’ prayer would mean that if Peter’s faith did not fail, that Peter will not fail.  But Jesus told him, that when he turned back he must strengthen his fellow disciples.  Peter’s faith would not fail, if it brought him back to Jesus after his failure!

The story of Peter as a disciple is filled with fantastic ups and downs.  It starts in his boat with a humbling moment that surrendered him to following Jesus.  He had high points of outspoken recognition of Jesus.  He also had an overbearing self-confidence that he demonstrated repeatedly.  When Jesus told him that he would fail, Peter could not believe it.  But that didn’t keep it from happening.

The beauty of Peter’s life is that he did come back, broken, defeated, humble, he came back.  The last chapter of John tells us how Jesus received Peter and lifted him up from where he had fallen.  He asked him three times, “Do you love me?”  I explained in my message that the first two times Jesus used the word agape which is a broad and open word for love.  He began by asking Peter if he loved him more than “these,” that is, do you love me more than anyone or anything else?  Peter, on the other hand, answered with the Greek word, philos.  Philos means brotherly love.  The way I phrased it was as, “my bestest friend.”  Peter had no promises, no commitment, not decision for Christ.  He changed the word to something smaller, simpler.  All he came to Jesus with was a desire to be with him.  The third time Jesus shifted to asking, “Are you my bestest friend?”  Peter’s humility and perhaps his pain shows through as he answers, “You know everything.”  Jesus knew everything.  He knew everything Peter had done.  He knew even before Peter knew, just what Peter would do.  Jesus was Peter’s bestest friend.  That’s all he can say.  That is enough.

Peter’s faith had not failed.  Peter had been unfaithful.  Then he came back to Jesus.  Unfaithful is broken faith, a broken trust.  When faith is restored, it brings a broken person to the one who can make them whole.  That’s Jesus.