Lent 2017: f God is for us, who can be against us?

given on Sunday, March 19, 2017:  Week 3 of Lent 2017:  A Season of Mindfulness

Scripture Connections:

Judges 6:6-16, NLT

So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.

When they cried out to the Lord because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites. He said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. 10 I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

13 “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”

15 “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

16 The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

 

2 Corinthians 1:3-11. NLT

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.

 

Romans 5:6-11, NLT

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 

Week’s memory verse:  . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?

Week’s challenge: Remember. Record. Reorder. Spend time writing down the tough times in your life that you felt discouraged. Then write down what God did in your life as a result of the tough times.

 

Reflection: If God is for us, who can be against us?

Glory be! Two days ago we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and now we are just two days away from the first day of Spring—so much green, and it truly is green. A few days ago a deep freeze attacked the spring flowers, the Bradford pear blossoms and the tender green wheat, but that cold snap was just a momentary lapse in an extraordinarily mild winter.

A cold snap like that easily discourages gardeners and farmers watching the young plants they so carefully planted and nourish. Once the wheat or any seed/seedling is planted, human control is relinquished and God, through the forces of nature, assumes control. Trusting God is tough.

In Judges 6, Gideon is doing his best to harvest the wheat. Even the harvest has to be done as secretively as possible, but the Midianites along with other tribes keep attacking and taking all the harvest. The Israelites become discouraged and turn away from God returning to idol worship. For seven years, the Israelites battle to survive under these difficult conditions, and God’s angel shows up and talks to Gideon:

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

 

Imagine the surprise Gideon experienced. Here is inside a winepress, a hole in the earth, trying to clean his wheat in hiding. The conditions were not good and the task extremely difficult in that setting. He hardly felt like a hero much less that the Lord was with him at that moment. He had to be discouraged, frustrated, and exhausted after seven years of failure.

Undoubtedly we can all think of similar experiences. I know that Dad used to say that a drought year would occur about every seven years. Living on a small farm during the 1960s and 1970s, the challenges left my parents discouraged over and over. But farming was their life. The land, the cattle, and the crops provided the structure of life itself. Those years of drought were tough, but I never saw their faith in God fail, either.

The stories in the Old Testament and the New Testament are filled with examples of how the faithful are tested over and over with challenges. The problems cover the very basic needs of humans—food, clothing and shelter, first; but also the next level of human needs as identified by Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs, that includes security and safety. (McLeod 2016) Gideon and the Israelites were struggling with all these human needs when the angel showed up. Certainly, Gideon doubted what the angel was saying so he replied:

 

13 . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

 

Three weeks ago the first memory verse was introduced from Genesis 3:1—“Did God really say that?” The challenge then was to consider the 5 Ds that the Devil can use to tempt us into following him rather than God: doubt, discouragement, divisiveness, defeat, and delay. Gideon and the Israelites were being tempted by the Devil just as we are tempted when life challenges bombard us over and over again.

How many times in your own lives have you become discouraged because life kept knocking you down over and over again? No where in the Bible does God promise an easy life, rather he gives us the laws or commandments and the people to guide us in our life so we can manage the Devil’s temptations along with the simple challenges of managing to meet the basic needs in our life of food, clothing, shelter, security and safety. And still we become discouraged.

Meeting with a few friends recently, I heard testimony that reminded me how difficult seeing God at work in our lives really becomes. I cannot imagine any single person hearing this today not having a life filled with challenges, but my friend spoke through tears as she testified how God had worked in her life. This woman lost a son during his elementary years. Then her husband was diagnosed with cancer and died while she still had twin sons living at home. All the time she was a teacher, working full time.

As she spoke, she reminded us that at the time she was angry and scared; but as she continued getting up each morning and going to work, she could see God working in her life in unexpected ways. She added in pieces about professional decisions and her sense of discouragement. Yet, she remained faithful and today she can see how God worked even in her most painful days.

  1. S. Hawkins shares in The Jesus Code an interesting explanation of how God reaches out using a comparison to professional lifeguards:

When [professional lifeguards] spotted someone in trouble in the ocean, the guards swam out to them but did not immediately lay hold of them. Instead the guards would tread water just beyond arm’s length. Why? The drowning swimmer’s kicking and thrashing and struggling could well take them both down and under. But when the struggling swimmers neared the end of their strength—when, in essence, they said, “I give out. . .I give in . . . I give up;” when they realized they were unable to save themselves—then the rescue began, and they were pulled safely to shore. (Hawkins 2015, 307)

 

The logic of the lifesaving technique seems to go against everything we might think, but only when the fight is gone can the lifeguards succeed.

God is our lifeguard. We must not ever forget that he is always just an arm’s length away waiting for us. He waits for us to “give out, to give in, and to give up” as Hawkins explains. Only when we have given up and turned our lives over to God, can God move in and save us.

My friend learned this. My mom learned this. And from knowing you, you have learned this. Today’s memory verse may be from the Old Testament, but it is a theme carried throughout the Bible. Jesus himself had to experience life challenges throughout his ministry, even dying on the cross in order to save us today. Paul, too, had to go through blindness in order to see God working to save him.

In Gideon’s question to God, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” sounds familiar, then so should God’s answer: “I will be with you.” God never abandons us. God reached out to us through the arms of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ saves us because he died on the cross for us.

How do we demonstrate our faith so we can serve as God’s arms? The answer is provided in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

 

Look back over the words in today’s reading and notice how many times Paul repeats that idea: He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. By my count, I see it listed five times in the verses 4-7.

My friend said almost the same thing. She did not know that losing a husband would push her to work with other widows trying to deal with their grief. She did not know that losing a son would open doors to comfort others who lost their child as an instructor taught her in her grief. In her reflection on God’s work in her life, she realizes that when life shuts a door one way, God opens the door in great and wonderful new ways.

Living in today’s culture, the temptation (or the Devil) can cloud our vision. When we are handed one more life challenge that seems overwhelming and we feel like we are drowning, God is only an arm’s length away. That arm may be a friend who understands the struggle from a personal experience. The arm may be a stranger waiting in line behind you offering you a simple smile or more. The arm may be a song’s lyrics that you hear on the radio. The arm may be a lifeguard waiting for you to give out, to give in or to give up so they can safely bring you to shore.

Life is one challenge after another, and no one is exempt from the challenges. Stop, listen to the life stories of others, and examine the quality of their lives. The life challenges come in so many forms—death, disability, health issues, financial problems, abuse, divorce, fire, natural disasters, job crisis, and so much more.

This week memorize Gideon’s question and remember God’s answer: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? . . .I will be with you.” Then I challenge you to review your own list of life’s challenges, even record them in a journal (and continue on with the practice), and then reorder your thinking to know that God is with you always. Life wears us out, but only when you give out, give in, and give up to God are you saved.

Paul explained it to the Romans:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Take courage, do not be discouraged, but rely on God to be there for you at even the most trying of times. Once you discover you are not drowning, you will then become God’s arms in the lives of others seeking to find answers.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, our heavenly lifeguard,

 

Day after day, I feel the weight of the world

Pushing down on my shoulders.

I struggle to look up for the Son’s light

And find your arms waiting for me.

 

Day after day, I battle temptations

Making my life seem so discouraging.

Keep my eyes looking up to you

And find your arms holding me up.

 

Day after day, I feel like I am giving out

Or giving in or giving up.

Speak to me the life-saving words of grace

Through the mouths of your faithful.

 

Then, Lord, open my heart to others

Feeling discouraged and drowning

So I can share your grace and your love

To comfort and encourage them.

 

In the your name,

the Father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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