Living a Great Story

Living a Great Story (CaD Jud 13) Wayfarer

The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Judges 13:24-25 (NIV)

Our daughters happened to grow up as J.K. Rowling was writing and releasing the seven volumes of her epic Harry Potter series. Forgive the pun, but it did seem like a bit of a magical time. The story about Harry and his friends growing up, going through adolescence, and figuring out life was unfolding right along with our daughters’ own adolescent years. For their generation, the story was layered with meaning that perhaps no other generation will experience because it was happening right along with them. I’ve often thought that the entire series should ideally be gifted to a child, one book a year, from ages 11-17. Not that you could keep an inquisitive child from learning everything from movies, friends, and the internet.

Today’s chapter begins the final story of the five major judges raised up by God to deliver the Hebrew tribes from their enemies. The first four were Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and now Sampson. One of the things that I’ve learned about the ancient Hebrews is that the structure of their writing is typically as important to them as the content of it. Just as God metaphorically layers creation with meaning, the ancient Hebrews layered their writing with structural and mathematical meaning.

Just as with the psalm writers, the center is the core where you place the central theme. The author of Judges places Gideon, who represents the “ideal” Judge, and his son, Abimelek, who represents the antithesis. One step out from the center are two atypical leadership choices from each of Joseph’s tribes. The major Judges are bookended by two “loners” who single-handedly delivered the people from their enemies. They remind me of the achetype of the Lone Stranger I’ve written about before.

But there’s something different about Samson that sets him apart from the others which we see right from the beginning of the story in today’s chapter. Samson’s birth is divinely announced to a barren woman and he is “set apart” by God from the very beginning, much like Moses who escaped Egyptian infanticide. There’s something special about this one, which we will uncover in the coming days.

This brings me back to thinking about our daughters who as preteens began a story about a special baby with a lightning-bolt scar. Stories connect me to themes that are larger than myself. Stories connect me with others and provide source material for Life-giving conversations. Stories help me navigate my own life journey. This Great Story I’ve been trekking through again and again for over forty years is a collection of stories that connect me with God.

When my life journey is over, I will cross into eternity. Here on earth, I will become a story. I will become a story told by children to grandchildren shared with old photographs, snippets of video, and snatches of first-hand memories of moments we shared together once upon a time.

What will that story be, I wonder? What layers of meaning might my story have for the lives of those who hear it?

I guess that’s still somewhat undetermined. The story is still being written. It’s a work in progress.

How can I live a great story today?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Latest: Spring 2022

It’s been a while since I posted and caught friends and family up on the latest with Wendy and me. There are so many ups and downs on Life’s road. Some stretches of the journey are memorable for their intensity and/or for pinnacle events. Then there are stretches of the journey that are less than memorable. Life proceeds, the river continues to flow, and you simply surrender to the flow. That’s how the late winter and spring of 2022 feel to me. Relatively uneventful, but not necessarily unimportant. C’est la vie.

We continue to enjoy small moments of joy with loved ones like the night we went to the Des Moines’ nightclub, Noce, with friends to enjoy the Des Moines’ Big Band. “Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life,” said Art Blakey. He was right. In the depths of an Iowa winter, some good jazz warms both heart and soul.

But it’s not just jazz. The arts, in general, allow the Creator to infuse life with the joy and Life of new creation. Wendy and I are so blessed to be part of a local gathering of Jesus’ followers who celebrate this. I was asked, once again, to be the Master of Ceremony for an “Original Works Night” that featured amazing talent and original works from poets, artists, songwriters, and photographers. It was so good. There’s even a video of the entire evening.

We continue to enjoy the blessing of great meals with good friends and the life-giving conversation that accompanies them. May this always be a regular part of our lives, as it certainly was this spring.

St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated this year with our friends, Kev and Beck, at the Hall in old West Des Moines. We thought we’d beat the rush and arrive early, but forgot that the Iowa Hawkeyes were playing in the Big Dance that afternoon. We went with the flow and enjoyed the afternoon and evening with good friends, good food, and a joyous time together with friends.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Speaking of friends, COVID robbed us of so many opportunities to be with friends and loved ones. Wendy and I took advantage of the waning pandemic to jet out to Palm Springs and spend time with dear friends in California. We enjoyed great meals, great conversation, and a jaunt out to Joshua Tree National Park. It was so good for our souls.

You never know when life will throw you a curveball. Wendy and I found ourselves at the lake this spring. We were preparing dinner. Wendy was slicing an avocado and ended up slicing her hand. An evening in the Emergency Room was followed by surgery and we continue in a season of rehab and recuperation. We’re at least enjoying the fact that she has a Harry Potter-worthy lightning-bolt scar on her palm. Trust me when I tell you that you’ve never truly experienced the breadth of humanity until you spend about six hours in an Emergency Room in the Ozarks.

We enjoyed a lovely visit from my parents. Dad continues to suffer the effects of cancer, bacterial infection, and the early symptoms of Parkinson’s. Mom’s Alzheimer’s continues to progress. Nevertheless, they continue to persevere in independent living in Des Moines as we plan for the next stages in their respective life journeys.

Wendy’s injury put a bit of a damper on our annual turn as the Dominie H.P. and Maria Scholte at Pella’s annual Tulip Time festivities. I spent some time each morning greeting visitors and tourists at the Scholte House Museum and we rode each afternoon in the Tulip Time parade. The three-day festival was a bit of a miracle this year. Right up until the day before the forecast was predicting rain for the first two days, but the first morning of the festival the rain stopped and the weather was perfect the rest of the time. The tulips were right at peak this year, as well. They looked spectacular.

The crew in Scotland is anxiously awaiting the arrival of our granddaughter. That didn’t stop them from making a vaca trip to Belgium this spring (yes, I’m jealous). Baby girl is scheduled for a summer solstice arrival on June 21. Big brother, Milo, has floated potential names for his sister ranging from “Julie” to “Harry Houdini.” We’ll trust mom and dad with making an apt choice.

We loved having Madison and Garrett (aka “G”) with us at the lake just a week or so ago. They flew into KC and we picked them up and transported them to the lake for a wonderful, long weekend. As always, the time was too short.

We also enjoyed dinner and a visit with our friends, the Burches, who were welcoming their daughter, Shanae, along with her husband and baby son back to the United States from their home in Cambodia. It was so fun to enjoy a Cambodian meal and spend an evening of love and laughter together. To watch my friend, Matthew, with his grandson was awesome.

We returned to Iowa, briefly. Wendy and I returned to KC the following weekend for an enjoyable getaway that included a visit with our friends, Matt and Tara. We then scooted back to the lake. Memorial Day weekend has finally arrived, which portends our annual VW, JP, and VL get-together. The official kick-off of summer has begun!

And So, it Begins

And So, it Begins (CaD Jud 12) Wayfarer

Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.”
Judges 12:4 (NIV)

Feuds between family members are as old as Cain and Abel, and they have always been part of the human condition. Both within my own family history and in families I know well, I can find multiple stories of feuding family members. Some of these feuds center on very specific issues (e.g. inheritance) while others seem to be of a mysterious origin that gets labeled simply as “bad blood” between feuding members.

Our place at the lake is in central Missouri, a border state between North and South during the U.S. Civil War. Missouri hosted 29 of the 384 principle battles in the war. The third most behind Virginia and Tennessee. My great-great-grandfather fought on the Union side in the Missouri Infantry. It’s been over a hundred and fifty years since the end of the war, but vestiges of the conflict remain to this day. You can find it in the recorded history of our land, which originally stated that no person of color or “mixed-blood” could ever own any of the lots in our development. On our way to the lake, we pass a giant flagpole that sits prominently by the state highway surrounded by a tall fence and razor wire. It flies the Confederate flag. Feuds run deep and can last for many generations.

I found that today’s chapter is best understood in context. In the books of Moses and Joshua, there were two-and-a-half tribes who wanted to settle lands on the east side of the Jordan River, rather than in the Promised Land on the west side of the river. The half-tribe of Manasseh was one of them, and these east-siders became known as “Gileadites.” Jephthah led his tribe to military victory against the Ammonites.

In today’s chapter, the military contingent of the tribe of Ephraim arrives to complain that they weren’t included in the Ammonite campaign. Remember that military campaigns during this ancient period were lucrative for the victors, as the soldiers were allowed to take their share of the plunder. Jephthah attempts a diplomatic solution to the situation, but circumstances degrade into fighting with the Ephraimites insulting the half-tribe of Manasseh as “renegades” from the other side of the Jordan River. Keep in mind that Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph, adopted by Jacob. They had every reason to be closely allied to one another as descendants of the favored son, Joseph. Instead, they fight and slaughter one another.

And so, it begins. This is the first hint of trouble between the Hebrew tribes since the settlement of the Promised Land, but it will certainly not be the last. Eventually, ten of the twelve tribes will form their own nation (Israel) and fight the other two (Judah) in their own version of North against South.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about feuds and families. I can’t help but be reminded that Jesus predicted that He would be the lightning rod that divided families as individuals leave family behind to follow Jesus. This reality, however, does not excuse feuding behavior. As the follower of Jesus, I am called to do all in my power to live at peace, to love, to bless, and to forgive even with feuding antagonists. In some cases, I’ve come to the conclusion that the loving thing to do is to place time and distance between me and thee.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Childish Notions

Childish Notions (CaD Jud 11) Wayfarer

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
Judges 11:30-31 (NIV)

As a boy, I remember that my prayers were often contract negotiations. In my childhood, prayer was something that happened on three occasions outside of church. There was the prayer before meals which consisted of dad saying the Lord’s prayer or his other stock pre-meal prayer followed by all four kids chanting the simple pre-meal prayer in Dutch that grandma and grandpa Vander Well taught us. Then there was the bedtime prayer, which was the stock “Now I lay me down to sleep” version. The third occasion for prayer was when I desperately wanted something to happen and I had no control over it.

Examples of these things that I desperately wanted typically involved girls. For the record, I never experienced the “girls a dumb” phase of boyhood. I had my first crush in Kindergarten and things only grew more intense from there. There were also the four Super Bowls in my childhood that involved the Minnesota Vikings. Those were, perhaps, the most desperate contract negotiations with God of all time. History will tell you how that worked out for me. I’m sure I made God all sorts of promises and vows on those Super Bowl Sundays. Sports, in particular, were the catalyst for contractual prayers: “God, if you see to it that my team wins, then I will….”

Today’s chapter is one of the most difficult and disturbing in all of the Great Story. It involves a man named Jephthah who utters a contractual prayer as a vow to God. If God grants him victory then he’ll sacrifice the first thing that walks out of his home as a burnt offering to God. He is victorious, and the first thing that walks out of his home is his only child, a young daughter.

I am fond of remembering that these stories come out of the toddler stage of human civilization when humanity’s knowledge and understanding of life, self, and God was about as developed as your average three-to-five-year-old is today. There are a couple of other contextual observations I must ponder as I mull over this tragic story. One is that the author of Judges reminds me twice that during this period of time “everyone did as they saw fit” (17:6; 21:25). Jephthah’s vow was incongruent with God’s law, yet this was also a time when the Hebrew people regularly worshipped the gods of neighboring peoples and participated in their rituals, including deities like Chemosh and Milkom. It is well documented that these religions would at times practice child sacrifices and the practice was viewed as a very serious act of religious devotion. In Jephthah’s day, his actions were, sadly, understood and accepted. His actions stand as an example of why God so desperately wanted His people to forsake these other religions.

Paul wrote in his epic love chapter: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” As I look back at my childhood and my childish notions about God and life, I am both amused and ashamed to have thought and believed such things. At the same time, they stand as a benchmark and a reminder of my spiritual progress over fifty-some years. The real tragedy would be to look back and find that my spiritual understanding had never progressed beyond contractual negotiation for trivial gain.

In the quiet this morning, that’s how I find myself viewing and mourning Jephthah’s tragic story. After over 40 years of reading and studying the Great Story, I am mindful that it contains stories that are examples to follow and stories that are warnings and examples to avoid. Today’s chapter is the latter.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Leaders are Not One-Size-Fits-All

Leaders are Not One-Size-Fits-All (CaD Jud 10) Wayfarer

The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, “Whoever will take the lead in attacking the Ammonites will be head over all who live in Gilead.”
Judges 10:18. (NIV)

Many years ago, I met a man who had lived a fascinating life. Having grown up in Iowa, he worked for a man who was politically connected and ended up being appointed to a position in the federal government. He was asked to accompany his boss to Washington D.C. as his assistant. He quickly rose to a top position within the Commerce Department and served six different presidents directly from FDR through Nixon.

Being a lover of history, I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with this gentleman. He had so many great stories. I asked him who his favorite and least favorite president to work for was. He didn’t hesitate to name both. He shared that Harry Truman was his favorite to work for because Truman was a decision-maker. “If we told Truman we needed a decision on this-or-that by Thursday morning we would always have his decision,” he said. Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, was his least favorite President to work under. “He may have been a good military general,” the man said, “but he didn’t do anything while President except bear the title. He was never around. We got no direction. He made no decisions. He was always playing golf.”

I thought of that conversation this morning as I read today’s chapter. Under oppression from their enemies, the Hebrews living in Gilead proclaim that whoever rises up to lead a military defeat of their enemies will become their undisputed leader. It was quite common in the ancient Near East for “kings” to simply be warlords, and the people of Gilead provide a great example of why it was so common. Survival was dependent on a strong military defense that could withstand the regular attacks of neighboring peoples and tribes. Strong military leaders quickly came to control everything.

That doesn’t mean, however, that good military leaders make good civic leaders. I have heard it consistently argued by historians that military generals who succeed at civic leadership tend to be the exceptions, not the rule. For every George Washington, who was successful at both, there is a handful of those who were less than successful being President, including Eisenhower, U.S. Grant, and Andrew Jackson. In fact, there are eight other Presidents I haven’t named who were military generals and I’ll bet you can’t name more than one or two.

Along my life journey, I’ve learned that there are different kinds of leadership, and that leadership is not one-size-fits-all. In the same way, there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, different kinds of talent, and different temperaments. Every human organization from families to businesses to churches and athletic teams requires having the right kind of leadership and having people in the right positions to utilize their gifts and talents in order for the system to function well.

At the same time, I’ve learned that it’s important for me to be in positions that fit my temperament, gifts, and abilities. Whenever I’ve found myself in a job, a position, or a role that is incongruent with the strengths of who I am and how I am wired, my entire life will eventually feel wonky. It’s critical for me to know myself and discern opportunities that are right for me, and those that are not; Not only for my well-being but also for the well-being of whatever human system in which I’m engaged.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Two Paths

Two Paths (CaD Jud 9) Wayfarer

Abimelek son of [Gideon] went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”
Judges 9:1-2 (NIV)

I still have vivid memories of the bully. I remember his name. I can see his face in my memory along with the bathroom at Woodlawn Elementary school where it happened. I was in second grade and he was a year older than me. He was bigger than me. He was mean and intimidating. He demanded that I give him my lunch money, but I didn’t have any. I brought my lunch to school. This made him mad and he feigned that he was going to hit me. He then told me that after school he would find me and was going to beat me up. The two-and-a-half block walk home was sheer terror, but I managed to walk with my neighbor who was two years older and that gave me some comfort.

That was my first experience with a bully, and it obviously left a strong impression on me. History is filled with those who use threats, violence, and intimidation for personal gain. What begins as bullying on the school playground can easily become a way of life that in adulthood turns into gangs, organized crime, and rackets. The same tactics of power and intimidation get “cleaned up” but still fuel political parties, corporate boardrooms, and union organizations. I’ve also experienced the same basic bully tactics from powerful individuals in churches.

The stories of Gideon and his son Abimelek form the center of the book of Judges. Ancient Hebrew writers, poets, and lyricists commonly used a literary device and placed the central theme of their work smack-dab in the middle. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that one of the central themes of the book of Judges is the tension the Hebrew tribes were experiencing as they tried to be a theocracy and follow God as their ultimate King and the reality they were experiencing with their enemies of what a powerful leader/king could do for a city or region. At the center of the book are two contrasting examples of this very tension. Gideon and his son take two very different paths to power and end up in very different places.

The story of Gideon provides the example of a powerful leader who humbly refuses to be made king, and he calls on his fellow Hebrews to recognize God as their only true leader. In today’s chapter, Abimelek provides a contrasting example. He takes the path of the power-hungry individual who will stop at nothing to seize and maintain his power.

Beneath the story of Abimelek are other subtle themes that were crucial in their time, and they still resonate today. Abimelek was one of some seventy sons of Gideon, the offspring of Gideon and a Canaanite slave. It’s likely that the biracial son of a slave was treated as less-than by his pure Hebrew half-brothers, the sons of Gideon’s legitimate wives. Abimelek uses his Canaanite blood, and his position of relative power as Gideon’s son, to convince the Canaanite people of the city of Shechem to appoint him their king. He then goes all Michael Corleone and “settles accounts” with all the potential threats to his power, his brothers, by killing them all (with the exception of the youngest brother, who escapes).

Chaos, political intrigue, violence, vengeance, and the continuous struggle for power follow Abimelek through the entire chapter. The Godfather epic is an apt parallel. Once he stepped down the path of power by violence and vengeance, Michael Corleone could tragically never escape the consequences of where it led. Abimelek found himself on the same tragic path.

In the quiet this morning, I said a prayer for my elementary school bully. I hope God led him to find a better path in life. He taught me a lesson that day. He provided me an example of the person I never wanted to become. I’m grateful for that.

I also find myself pondering the simple contrast between Gideon and his son, Abimelek. Gideon wasn’t perfect, but his deference to God’s power and authority kept him from the tragic ends experienced by his son.

I’ve learned along my life journey that whatever positions of earthly power and/or leadership I might find myself should come because I am led to them, not because I seized them for myself. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to the path of humility and service to others. Looking back from my current waypoint on Life’s road, I can tell you that it is a path that has always led, not always to easy places, but ultimately to good places.

I think I’ll stick to this path.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

King, or Not?

King, or Not? (CaD Jud 8) Wayfarer

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

Judges 8:22-23 (NIV)

The book of Judges tells the story of a very specific period of Hebrew history. I have found that understanding the context of this period of time is important in understanding the overarching Great Story. These twelve Hebrew tribes that settled in the Promised Land were a populous nation with no formal central government. Think of the contiguous United States as if each state were a tribe and there was no Federal government in Washington D.C. All around them, cities and small regions were ruled by the strong, central authority of monarchs, or kings. The Hebrews saw themselves as a theocracy, in which God was ultimately who led them and whom they served. This system had its challenges, which is what the book of Judges is all about. It sets the stage for the next chapter of the Great Story in which the Hebrew people will demand the establishment of a monarchy.

In today’s chapter, Gideon completes his military leadership in the defeat of the Midianites who had oppressed them. As a result, the people offer Gideon the opportunity to be their king. Gideon refuses, reminding the people that God alone rules over them. On the surface, Gideon appears to be saying the right thing, but the verses immediately following this proclamation (24-32) describe Gideon doing the exact opposite.

Gideon refuses to become king, but he embraces all of the privileges that a monarch would have claimed in that day. He takes a personal share of the spoil for himself. He creates a trophy commemorating his victory that the people worship in a cult-like fashion. He takes on a large harem and has many sons, one of them named Abimelek, meaning “my father is king.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about who rules over me. In the early Jesus Movement, followers of Jesus found themselves in difficult political circumstances. Their local governments were puppets of the Roman Empire. The Roman caesars claimed to be gods, but the followers of Jesus saw themselves, ultimately, as citizens of God’s Kingdom and ambassadors of that kingdom on earth.

In my mind, however, it becomes even more personal than that. In Gideon, I see a reflection of my own natural bent. As a disciple of Jesus, I am quick to say that I am not King or Lord of my life, but only Jesus is King and Lord of my life. However, I have to ask myself: “What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about the true Lord of my life?”

On this Monday morning, as I enter another work week, I find myself thinking about my life, my relationships, my work, my upcoming appointments, and my multiple task lists. I’m asking myself both what and who I am ultimately working for.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Different Ways

Different Ways (CaD Jud 7) Wayfarer

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’”
Judges 7:2 (NIV)

History is filled with stories of military deceptions. In World War II, the U.S. created an entirely fictitious army group so that the Germans would think that the invasion of Europe would be focused on a different part of the French coast far east of the beaches of Normandy. They even used inflatable tanks and vehicles so that German reconnaissance planes would verify the misinformation that had been fed to spies and planted in radio communications about the “First U.S. Army Group.” The Germans were so convinced by the deception that when the invasion finally did happen at Normandy, they kept reinforcements at the false invasion point for seven weeks, allowing the Allies much needed time to resupply and bring in more reinforcements.

Today’s chapter is a classic case of military deception allowing a smaller force to rout a much larger enemy. Before the battle, God purposefully whittles down the army Gideon has gathered to fight in Midianites from 20,000 to just 300. Using the powers of illusion to stoke the Midianites’ fear, the enemy is thrown into chaos and begins to flee, believing that there is a much larger force about ready to attack.

So, on one hand, today’s chapter is just one in a number of great stories about military deception. What’s fascinating to me was the fact that it was God who was leading Gideon. It was God who told Gideon to get rid of 19,700 of his troops and attack with just 300. Today’s story is one in which it’s very easy for me to focus on the event and lose sight of the context.

At this point in the Great Story, we’re still in the toddler stage of human civilization, and God is trying to teach His people to trust Him and to follow Him. God has a motivation in reducing the fighting force. He knows human pride and hubris. A giant army defeating a similar or smaller force requires little faith, just good tactics. A force of 300 routing an enemy of thousands? Well, that requires a considerable measure of faith.

Throughout the Great Story, God reminds me again and again that the Kingdom of God does not operate like the Kingdoms of this world:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8

So [the angel] said to [Zechariah], “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.'”
Zechariah 4:6

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the ways that the kingdoms of this world operate. How ironic that government, media, social media, big tech, and the corporate world are all worked up about misinformation, disinformation, and fake news. Illusions, deceptions, and talking heads, it all begins to feel a bit chaotic to me.

So, as a Jesus follower, I shift my focus from the chaos of this world. I take captive my thoughts, opinions, fears, and anxieties. I consciously choose to direct my thoughts toward love, joy, and peace, and the things Jesus calls me to do as a disciple. I’m to make people my priority. I’m to love the person I’m with, even if that person happens to be a stranger in an elevator or a check-out guy at the gas station. I’m to look for opportunities to serve others and then do it. I’m to be kind. I’m to be generous. I’m to forgive.

God wanted Gideon to see what He could do with just 300 men. Jesus wants me to see what He can do through me if I will trust, follow, and love well.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Willingness

Willingness (CaD Jud 6) Wayfarer

That same night the Lord said to [Gideon], “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”

So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
Judges 6:25-27 (NIV)

I recently read the story of Angie Fenimore’s Near-Death Experience (NDE). Her body died and she descended to a hell-like place. This is an excerpt of her story:

I knew that I was in a state of hell, but this was not the typical fire and brimstone hell that I had learned about as a young child.

Men and women of all ages, but no children, were standing or squatting or wandering about on the realm. Some were mumbling to themselves. The darkness emanated from deep within and radiated from them in an aura I could feel. They were completely self-absorbed, every one of them too caught up in his or her own misery to engage in any mental or emotional exchange. They had the ability to connect with one another, but they were incapacitated by the darkness.

But worse was my growing sense of complete aloneness. Even hearing the brunt of someone’s anger, however unpleasant, is a form of tangible connection. But in this empty world, where no connections could be made, the solitude was terrifying.

Then I heard a voice of awesome power, not loud but crashing over me like a booming wave of sound; a voice that encompassed such ferocious anger that with one word it could destroy the universe, and that also encompassed such potent and unwavering love that, like the sun, it could coax life from the Earth. I cowered at its force and at its excruciating words:

“Is this what you really want?”

Suddenly I felt another presence with us, the same presence that had been with me when I first crossed over into death and who had reviewed my life with me. I recognized that he had been with us the whole time, but that I was only now becoming able to perceive him. What I could see were bits of light coming through the darkness. The rays of light penetrated me with incredible force, with the power of an all-consuming love.

I had to ask, why me? Why was it that I could see God while the vacant husk of a man next to me could not? Why was I absorbing light and being taught, while he was hunkering down in misery and darkness?

I was told that the reason is willingness.

Read or watch Angie’s complete story.

In today’s chapter, we have the beginning of the ancient story of Gideon in which God calls Gideon to lead the Hebrew tribes against their enemies. What struck me as I meditated on the chapter was the structure of the interchange between the Angel of the Lord, and Gideon:

  • Gideon expresses doubt that God is even around.
  • Gideon expresses doubt that God would call him, since Gideon is from the weakest clan in Manasseh’s tribe and Gideon is the “least” in his family.
  • Gideon asks for a sign.
  • God provides a sign and Gideon builds an altar in response
  • God tells Gideon to tear down his Father’s altar to the idol Baal and the idolatrous Asherah pole next to it, and then sacrifice a bull on the altar Gideon had built to the Lord.
  • Gideon does it, but for fear of his people, he does it at night.
  • When called out by his people for this deed, the Spirit of God comes upon Gideon and he calls his people to rise up against their enemies. Despite his doubts and fears, his people answer favorably.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.

Last year when I was making this chapter-a-day trek through the Psalms, I discussed the fact that the ancient Hebrews loved to plant metaphorical structure in their writing. In the Psalms, the central theme to the song lyrics is often at the very center, with corresponding or contrasting themes before or after.

Today’s chapter has similar symmetry if you outline the chapter. There are two episodes of Gideon’s doubt and a request for a sign that God answers. There is a command to tear down his father’s idols and offer a sacrifice to God, which Gideon does, despite his fears. Then God miraculously raises Gideon to a position of leadership and his people agree to follow. Then there are two more episodes of Gideon’s doubt and request for another sign.

In other words, the only thing that Gideon brought to this story was his willingness, despite his fears, to tear down the idols and make a sacrifice to God. This made me think of God telling Angie that the reason she was able to see His light in the darkness, and all the poor souls around her could not, was because she was willing to see Him.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think of myself and my own fearful doubts about the things to which God has called me. I am no different than Gideon. My journals are full of letters I’ve written to God expressing doubts, focusing on my weaknesses, recalling my many shortcomings, and asking for signs. I want to see the signs before I believe. God always reminds me, ironically, of “doubting Thomas” who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw the nail holes from the crucifixion and the place where the Roman spear pierced his side. to whom Jesus answered his doubts as he did Gideon’s before saying, “Blessed are those who never see the sign, but still believe.”

And that is where I find myself standing at the beginning of this, a new day in the journey. Am I willing to step out in faith and pursue the things to which God has called me? Or, will I stand still, distract myself with other things, and wait for a sign?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Deborah, the Leader

Deborah, the Leader (CaD Jud 5) Wayfarer

Villagers in Israel would not fight;
    they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
    until I arose, a mother in Israel.

Judges 5:7 (NIV)

Wendy and I just returned from spending a few days at the lake with our youngest daughter and her husband. It was so good to catch up with them. As always, the slow pace of life at the lake allowed for a lot of great conversation.

One of the topics of conversation was about struggles that each of them had with their own local gathering of Jesus followers. To their credit, they scheduled a meeting to share their feelings with leaders rather than continue to sit and stew in their frustration.

Our daughter shared her frustration with the lack of opportunities that women had in leadership. As she discussed her feelings, she referenced the strong female leaders she’d grown up with and the positive impact that they had on her and others. In contrast, what she was experiencing felt like suppression; She knew from experience the advantages and blessings of having gifted women leaders.

I couldn’t help but think of those conversations as I read today’s chapter, which is a victory song that Deborah and her colleague Barak sang after their victory over Sisera and the Canaanite forces. Deborah, “mother of Israel,” arose to lead them to victory.

Along my own life journey, my own thoughts and perceptions have been transformed, as God has surrounded me with strong, gifted women. There are clear waypoints along my path in which my own errant thinking has been brought to light. I’ve been so blessed by women who have led me in various ways and taught me things about God, life, and myself. And, listening to our daughter’s story, they have also been role models to her.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminiscing and picturing some of the amazing women who’ve impacted my life, who have capably led me, and for whom I am so grateful to call teacher, director, boss, pastor, partner, and friend. I love the story of Deborah and the 3,000-year-old example that God provides me of the strong, capable leadership of a woman.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.