Finishing Well

 

Judges 6:11-8:35 introduces us to a man with whom most followers of Christ are or at least should be familiar.  Gideon is perhaps best known for his call from God to lead Israel against the Midianites, a call which he requested God to validate by means of a sign, a wet fleece surrounded by dry ground and then subsequently a second sign, a dry fleece surrounded by wet ground.  This sign was to be evidence that God would be with him in the battle against the Midianites.

Prior to this, and the ensuing battle, God tested Gideon by requiring him to destroy the idols and altars of his family.  His obedience, resulting in a name change to Jerubbaal, meaning “let Baal contend against him” nearly cost him his life.  However, it is out of this test, that of destroying the idols closest to him, that God called him to lead Israel out of the bondage of the Midianites.

This episode, following the sign of the fleece, is accompanied by the well-known test of Gideon’s army, those who lap water versus those who kneel to drink, a test that narrowed down his army from 10,000 to 300 soldiers (The original size was 22,000 soldiers, which itself was narrowed down to those who were not fearful).  In God’s narrowing of the army from 22,000 to 10,000, we are given an explanation why this was necessary, “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.”  This statement provides us with a universal principle which warns us against relying on our own strength, rather than upon God.

It might not be a large army, it might not even be physical strength, but we are prone to self-reliance which in turn robs glory from God and causes us to boast in our own accomplishments rather than in how God has worked.   In the case of Gideon, God was not satisfied with merely cutting the army numerically in half, but taking it to such drastically low numbers that it would be humanly impossible to explain the victory.

Finally, Gideon and his small band of 300 soldiers embarked on their famous military campaign against the Midianites where the army gathered with trumpets and torches

16 And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. 17 And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” Judges 7:16-18

Now, perhaps in the statement that Gideon instructed the army to yell out, “…and for Gideon” we’ve got a small indication of a problem.  Nevertheless, when Gideon and his army blew the trumpets and smashed the torch jars, God confused the Midianite army such that they began fighting against each other in the chaos.  After this battle, Gideon and his men pursued the kings of Midian, though exhausted, captured them when again their army (15,000) was thrown into a panic.  Judges 8:10 records for us that in all 120,000 soldiers were killed due to Gideon and his 300 men.  Surely such a victory is due solely to the sovereignty of God.

With all of this in mind, the legend of Gideon is a well-known and rehearsed story and there are many more details left out of this brief overview that we could’ve discussed.  However, the last chapter in Gideon’s life is lesser known.  In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it included in any discussion of Gideon nor have I really paid much attention to it until reading it for myself.  The passage is below

22Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” 24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.”

Despite the calling from God, the signs from God, the victories from God, and the favor of God on Gideon among the people of Israel, Gideon did not finish well.  One would be hard pressed to determine what exactly the failure of Gideon was, perhaps it was pride as in the instructions to shout his name.  Maybe it was the taste of success or simply suppressed but not fully eradicated idolatry that found opportunity to surface.  Nevertheless Gideon desired more than what God had given him.  He was not content to have rule over the people, but wanted to preside as priest.  To lead a body politically is one thing, to lead a body spiritually is an entirely different matter altogether, one that had not been granted to Gideon, particularly as it was exclusively given to the tribe of Levi.  As a result, he caused not only himself to fall into idolatry and false worship, but he led all of Israel to whore into idolatry as well.  The simple test of faith that he had initially passed in tearing down the personal idols of his family became a snare and a downfall for himself and Israel.  it was a failure to destroy the idols closest to him.

This final chapter of Gideon’s life should cause us to reflect on our lives, particularly as we see God’s sovereign grace working in and through us, calling, gifting, perhaps even granting various victories.  In this life we are called to persevere and to keep ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

If this were all we had to remember of Gideon, perhaps it would be another in a long line of men and women who did not finish well.  Yet for Gideon, there was an additional word to be said, that from Hebrews 11 and the so-called “Hall of faith”.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” Hebrews 11:32

Though his mention is brief, nevertheless, the fact that he is hailed by God alongside other men and women who were wrought with failures, yet extolled for their faithfulness should give us encouragement and hope.  This chapter of epitaphs does not mention the failures of God’s people, but rather their faithfulness as a mark of perseverance.

Narratives like Gideon’s serve as patterns and examples, both for the positives and negatives.  Our lives, though certainly possessive of failures, should be marked with the constancy of faithfulness and lifelong perseverance to avoid tapering away from God in our final days.  Surely, we should long for the day when God says well done good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your master.  Until then, let us persevere and strive to finish well.

 

“The Wind blows where it wishes”

 

Originally published August 11, 2009.

The other day I checked in on a Bible Facebook group that I sometimes follow and in the comments there was an interesting request.  One member, perhaps passing through, indicated that he was an atheist and would like for someone to provide a convincing argument that a divine entity existed.  Now, it’s at this point I must say I don’t know what compelled me to message him, nor had I prepared any sort of conversation.  I was just honestly wondering what might have persuaded him to be an atheist, where his beliefs came from, and what convincing argument he was looking for.  I’ll also quickly mention that as Christians we should care for each and every lost soul and I still pray that Christ might reveal himself to this young man, perhaps even through this site as I recount our conversation.

When I first mention a conversation with an atheist, the initial thought might be to take an apologetic route.  I don’t claim to be an expert on atheistic issues, but I felt like I should try to find out what his beliefs were and admittedly to determine where his thought process fell, i.e. relativism.  I asked questions along the lines of “Do you believe we are born with the ability to determine right from wrong” to which he answered no.  I then followed up attempting to probe deeper into those thoughts, but each time I was thwarted in MY efforts.

At this point I prayed, “Dear Lord guide my steps, my thoughts, let my words be Your words” and the young man’s next response was essentially let’s stop being so apologetic and cut to the chase.  And then it hit me and with all the sincerity of my heart I replied with:

Ahh I see, well forgive me. I was merely trying to understand where you were coming from. Without apologetics, you’re left with one thing standing in your way between understanding whether a divine entity exists or not.

See where apologetics fails is that it presumes that all things can be broken down into logical concepts, arguments if you will, that prove or disprove one point or another. While on the surface this makes sense, as it appeals to the very intellectual nature of our being, it lacks a key, necessary component and that is faith.

We can banter back and forth about relativistic points of view, to establish morality or whether a divine entity created the earth or not and that is all well and good, nothing wrong with that at all. But at the end of the day, without faith you and I are the same person. We both do what we want, when we want, and live each day doing the best we can.

Without my faith in the only One and True living God, I am an atheist. Without my faith that God loved His only Son so much that He sent Him to die on the cross for me and all of my disgusting sins, I am an atheist too. But I have that faith. And through my faith I am saved from those sins. And through that faith I have eternal life through my Savior. And that faith is all I need. Because if I’m wrong and everything I believe in is wrong, have I lost anything? No, you and I would end up in the same place after we die. But if I’m right and my faith is all that’s needed in this world, then that’s a big difference isn’t it?

At the end of the day that’s the separation between us <name>, it comes down to faith. Neither of us were granted a higher knowledge over the other or have seen some great revelation that leads us to our beliefs. I have faith in my Savior Jesus Christ and perhaps you want proof so that you can believe in a higher power, but in the end it’s faith you are searching for. But I’m afraid you won’t find it by searching, no one is going to provide you with the answer you’re looking for, it’s within you already and it’s up to you to believe.

“So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” Romans 10:17

I’m sure it’s easy to look back on that and say, well you should’ve said this or that or phrased your response this way, but that’s the way it came out, so that’s the way it is.  Why is it that some have the capacity to have faith while others, like my young friend, seemingly do not, or at least not yet?

See what my friend, and so many others who are searching, long for is a god to mold into what they want.  What Christians have is a God that molds us to what He wants.  That’s the difference and it’s big.

In John 3, Jesus is approached by Nicodemus who says, “…Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” John 3:2 To which Jesus replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Ah, if only I had remembered this encounter before mine with my young friend, because here, it is Jesus who cuts to the chase.  He wastes no time in witnessing to Nicodemus.  He doesn’t even wait for him to ask the question, before He has already stated the answer.   Nicodemus is no fool, he understands the figurative language that Jesus is using, but nevertheless he asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  John 3:4 He knows that his question is not a possibility, but as he’s picked up on Jesus’ analogy, he inquires more.  Jesus replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'” John 3:5-7

Jesus reemphasizes His figurative language by pointing out the Spiritual cleansing and Spiritual rebirth necessary for salvation and essential to entering heaven.  It should be noted that being born of water in this passage does not refer to baptism, but rather the spiritual cleansing through being born again.   As though He  perceived the potential next question from Nicodemus, Jesus follows up by explaining the root of this rebirth does not come from man, but from the Spirit Himself.  “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

That last sentence of Jesus’ statement is so important towards understanding our previous question of why is it that some people come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, yet others don’t.  It’s this passage that so clearly points out that it’s not a human decision.  Meaning it is not within us to “make a decision” without the power of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and in our hearts.

As Jesus indicates, the Spirit moves where He wishes and we never see Him, never know from where He comes, nor where He is going, but we see the impacts.  We see the impact on the lives changed by His presence.  Spiritual rebirth is as much or more a miracle than our original birth from the womb.

Our role as Christians is to preach the Gospel and expose nonbelievers to the Word of God. (Mark 16:15) In accordance with this, in order to be faithful to Jesus’ commission, we need to be well equipped with a strong knowledge of the Bible, because it is through God’s Word that seeds of salvation are planted in the hearts of nonbelievers.  We can make rational arguments through apologetic presentations, present emotional “seeker sensitive” church services, and even present biblical truths, but without the power of the Holy Spirit, no true regeneration or even a desire for one can take place.

Prayer: My prayer is that the Holy Spirit reaches out to our unsaved friends and family that they might realize their need for a Savior in Jesus Christ.  That the Holy Spirit might bring them to repentance and that they might openly and willingly respond when this happens.  That the Spirit of the Lord might put each one of us in the path of the unsaved and that He might guide our steps, our thoughts, let our words be His words that we might be useful vessels in conveying the wonderful truths of the Word of God.

Additional Study: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

A Three Pronged Assault on Unity

 

It’s been a few months since I posted a video in which Todd Friel, of Wretched Radio and Wretched TV summarizes some recent, troubling events within Evangelicalism.  As I’ve stated before, I don’t believe that the term Evangelicalism really has any meaning these days, but is instead better qualified as an American subset under Christendom, that which is Christian in name only.  Specifically, the troubling events that Friel highlights are occurring with the “Reformed” branch of Evangelicalism.  This group can be summarized as essentially those who hold to the sovereignty of God in salvation, which has sadly become the only qualifier necessary to call oneself reformed.

I don’t want to rehash all that Friel discusses (you can view it for yourself here The Gathering Storm) because he does an excellent job of introducing and over-viewing the landscape of these issues, including The Players, The Events, The Worldviews, and The Future.  However, in this post, I’d like to simply highlight the three primary issues which have surfaced recently that will likely have, and have had, significant impact on the remnant of what calls itself Evangelicalism.

Before we begin, I also want to draw attention again to the viral post from 2009 by the late Michael Spencer, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.”  Recall that in that post, Spencer points out 7 critical factors that he believed would contribute to the downfall of evangelicalism, 2 of which have a remarkably profound link to the current issues that we’ll define below.  By the way, Spencer thought that this evangelical collapse would come within 10 years.  Next March will be ten years since he penned the article.  The foundations are already crumbling and becoming irreparable.

Here are Spencer’s words:

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to “do good” is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

Without commenting further, let’s look at the current issues that are contributing to an evangelical divide at break-neck speeds and will likely lead to its continued demise.

Homosexuality

This first issue has garnered most of the attention over the last decade.  However in this short period there has been much evolution on the views and positions of so-called (self-appointed) leaders within evangelicalism and church pastors.  The issue of marriage, more specifically homosexual marriage, has naturally led to broader discussions on the sin of homosexuality.  I fear that the pendulum is tilting towards supporting a “born this way” biological view of homosexuality that will lead to unrecoverable ground in this discussion.

Even if born this way, biologically, is not fully embraced, nevertheless a shift has already been taking place in clear acceptance of same-sex attractedness. While there is a wide-range of views on this, from those who openly believe that one can be in a monogamous, homosexual relationship to those who believe one can be gay, or same-sex attracted, and simply be celibate while still claiming to be Christian, nevertheless there has been a tendency to soften on the view that homsexuality, even the desires, are sinful and therefore need to be mortified.

Additionally, and equally as troubling, is the effort to normalize the identification of gay or homosexual or same-sex attracted as an adjective describing a Christian.  The remarkable thing is that even since the first draft of this post, which began in July 2018, this trend has been increasing to accept same-sex attraction Christian and gay Christian as simply normal, regardless of the end of the spectrum views one holds to.  This is a slippery slope, unless of course we are prepared to normalize paedo-attracted Christianity or beastial-attracted Christianity.

Race

The second issue that is and will continue to drive a wedge among remnant evangelicalism, broadly, and the reformed movement, specifically, is race.  Over the last few years American society has been shaken and divided over issues of race, specifically in matters involving law enforcement.  It was only a matter of time before the social/cultural movements migrated into evangelicalism.  The election of a president, by the overwhelming majority of evangelicalism,  at least as we have been told, has predictably contributed to this division.  Evangelicals continue to hitch their wagon to the political golden-calf in the hopes that government and policy will somehow restrain sin and make this a Christian nation.  Law cannot convert hearts.  This has kept them comfortable enough not to feel the urgency of spreading the Gospel, so long as  a particular party is in charge.  The fact that our sitting president has been painted (whether fairly or unfairly) as racist and a white supremacist sympathizer, has predictably led to an overreaction that evangelicalism is inherently racist, has always been, and thereby should repent of their sins and the sins of their fathers.

This issue has been gaining massive speed and I simply do not see reconciliation coming any time soon, if ever.  In fact, the division is deepening even in recent days.  Earlier this year with the T4G and MLK50 conferences, the issues of systematic racism and white privilege, along with the call for repentance from every non-black  white person’s role, and their parent’s role, in racism, hit  mainstream evangelicalism.  However, I went back and looked at some of the key speakers trajectories over the last few years and this was the path they were on, it was just largely unnoticed.

On the one side, that of racial reconciliation and systematic racism is some of the T4G members (perhaps John MacArthur as the lone exception), MLK50, The Southern Baptist Convention and their seminaries (including the flagship -Southern Seminary), 9 Marks, The Gospel Coalition, the ERLC, Acts 29, Sojourners, and a host of others (essentially all major seminaries, though I’m sure there are exceptions), all represent the recent push for racial reconciliation and an emphasis on social justice.  Clearly they hold the majority of the evangelical power, particularly those in the reformed camp.

On the other side, the ever-shrinking minority, John MacArthur,  Voddie Baucham, James White, and others who have authored and signed a recent statement on the Social Justice Movement explicitly stating that an emphasis on social justice, whatever that even means, is an assault on the gospel.  The outcries, hatred, and downright sinful responses to this statement have been telling of the path that Evangelicalism is on.  If a Christian finds themself on the side of hate-filled, liberal, unbelievers, a reassessment is necessary.  Additionally, what speaks louder is the silence that those in the first group above have had on their various media platforms regarding this statement.  Of all of their blogs that I follow, there has been zero commentary.

The Role of Women

This final issue is one that has been on-going, but honestly the issue I’m least familiar with.  Typically, it is broken down into complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.  That is, that men and women are different but complement each other perfectly in their various roles vs. a more egalitarian view that says their roles are equal.  In the past, these views usually manifest themselves in divisions over whether women can be pastors, but more recently the #metoo movement has begun to percolate throughout evangelicalism, which will, and has, inevitably lead to an overreaction (see the firing of Paige Patterson).  Don’t get me wrong on this point.  I abhor any use of power for sexual gain, as well as sexual harassment, and especially assault.  What I’m more pointing out here is the pendulum swing, rather than a balanced approach to these issues.

For some time, I have felt that a minority of those who label themselves as complementarian have painted with broad strokes and have a tendency to come across as heavy handed and domineering over women.  This certainly has not been true of all and there are those who hold to a more balanced view of biblical complementarianism, but predictably, this has led to the overreactions that we’re witnessing.

Ironically, some of the publications and outcries for the advancement of complementarianism were themselves a reaction to the influx of feminism.  Since I’m not as familiar with this movement, as with the others, I will simply defer additional comment.

Regardless of where one’s views fall on any of these issues, it is impossible to justify the divisions and disunity that is taking place.  In fact, what we’re witnessing should cause every genuine believer’s heart to ache for the reproach being brought to the name of Christ.  Every day that these issues continue to fester is another day that division widens.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones often said that church history can be boiled down to excesses and then subsequent overreactions, in contrast to consistently holding to the pattern of the New Testament.  This is precisely what we are seeing today.  Excesses in political involvement and engagement with culture have led Evangelicalism down a path of gospel neglect.  In turn, by attempting to address or confront culture on its terms, it has resulted in a watered down gospel message, one that now associates the Gospel with republicanism, racism, homophobia, and patriarchy.  This is what happens when you soft-peddle the gospel on the back of winning the culture wars.  Man cannot serve two masters. Evangelicalism has tried to serve both Christ and culture and it has resulted in an abject failure.

A final word from Spencer on his predicted evangelical collapse,

Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before – a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.”

May God have mercy on us, but brothers and sisters, judgment begins in the house of the Lord (1 Peter 4:17).  Make no mistake, its here.