Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Suffering Church Sunday 2012

Throughout this year we have been reflecting on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23).  For people in Jesus’ day, these words would have been a stark challenge and reminder of the cost that is involved in being a true follower of Jesus.  The sight of people carrying their crosses to the place of execution would be an all too familiar sight, and many of Jesus’ early followers, would themselves face persecution, imprisonment and even death for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. 

Did you know that more Christians died for their faith in the 20th Century that in the previous 19 centuries combined?  And today it is estimated that one in ten Christians lives with discrimination, violence or some other form of persecution for their faith..

It is not just a problem that affects Christians in other parts of the world.  Even here in Britain there is concern that Christians are increasingly facing religious discrimination.  In September the European Court of Human Rights heard the cases of four British people who claim they lost their jobs as a result of discrimination against their Christian beliefs.  


Shirley Chaplain, a nurse with 30 years experience, and Nadia Eweida, who worked at a check in desk for British Airways at Heathrow airport, both lost their jobs over their refusal to remove a cross worn around the neck.  

Lillian Ladele, a registrar in Islington, lost her job after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies on religious grounds, despite the fact that Islington Council had said she did not have to conduct civil partnership ceremonies, as other staff were available to do them.  They changed their minds however after complaints that, by refusing to register civil partnerships, Lillian Ladele was acting contrary to the council's equality policies.  

And Gary McFarlane was dismissed from his work as a councillor for Relate after he expressed concerns about providing sex therapy for gay couples. 

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury in April said that the outward expression of traditional conservative Christian values had in effect been banned under a new "secular conformity of belief and conduct".  He argued that there is a "drive to remove Judeo-Christian values from the public square" and that UK courts had "consistently applied equality law to discriminate against Christians".  "In a country where Christians can be sacked for manifesting their faith, are vilified by state bodies, are in fear of reprisal or even arrest for expressing their views on sexual ethics, something is very wrong.”

Whether you agree with what Lord Carey says, or not, will be a matter for debate.  But for many Christians around the world, the difficulties they face are even greater, with persecution and violence a real and ever present danger.  Across huge swathes of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the basic rights of our brothers and sisters are cruelly violated, and those who attack them are rarely held to account.

Only last week, as we gathered to worship here at St Martin’s, a vehicle packed with explosives was driven into St Rita's church in the city of Kaduna in northern Nigeria, killing 8 people, including children and injuring over 100. 


Tragically this is not an isolated event.  In an article published in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, it stated that Christians are increasingly suffering for their faith, and yet their plight is being ignored.  For example, in Egypt, 600,000 Coptic Christians, more than the entire population of Manchester, have emigrated since the 1980s because of harassment and oppression.


Here in Britain, we quite rightly recognise the importance of religious freedom. Yet there is scarcely a single country from Morocco to Pakistan in which Christians are fully free to worship without restriction.  Muslims who convert to Christianity or other faiths, in most of these societies face harsh penalties.  There is a real risk that the Churches will all but vanish from their biblical heartlands in the Middle East.


One of the impacts of the Arab Spring is that it has made life for Christians living in the Middle East even more difficult and uncertain.  For example Syria was considered a safe country for Christians, but with the civil war that has now all changed.  Christians in Syria enjoyed considerable freedoms under President Assad’s regime, and are therefore assumed to be supporters of his government.  As a result Christians have targeted by the opposition forces, and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes. 


But despite this, people are still coming to faith in Christ, and there are Christians who are courageously sharing their faith. 


The problems faced by Christians are not by any means restricted to the Muslim world. For example in India, between August and October of 2008, Hindu hardliners in the eastern state of Orissa murdered at least 90 people, displaced 50,000, and attacked 170 churches and chapels.  And Christians have faced discrimination and persecution in Communist countries such as Cuba, China and in particular North Korea.

But where the church is under persecution, we also hear incredible stories of faith and courage.  Like that of Ahmed, who continues to tell others about Jesus and to plant new churches.    

God has not forgotten his people, and he calls other Christians to remember them in their chains.  Paul writes that ‘If one part [of the church] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.’ (1 Corinthians 12:26).  And the writer of Hebrews says ‘Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.’ (Hebrews 13:3)  In other words we need to stand up and support our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing persecution and oppression. 

Jesus came to proclaim true freedom, and he calls us to proclaim freedom for his captive people. This is the message of our reading from Isaiah, which Jesus quoted in the synagogue in Nazareth ‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.’ (Isaiah 61:1) 
We can do this in three ways.

1     Pray daily for our Christian brothers & sisters who are facing persecution – use the prayer diaries that Barnabus Fund and other organisations produce

2     Give financial support. Many of these Christians suffer extreme poverty, and rely upon the support other Christians can give them. 

This is how a snapshot of some of the projects The Barnabus Fund is currently involved in.
In Sierra Leone they are training Christian pastors in farming and animal rearing, and giving them two goats, seeds and farming tools, so they can support themselves, and serve the desperately poor rural Muslim communities in which they live.  They are also buying the pastors a bike so they can reach the remote communities.

In Kenya they are paying for a young man to undertake training in radio production and programming and Arabic, to reach Muslims via the radio. 

In the Holy Land, they are giving financial support to eight Christian families who are dealing with difficult circumstances of various kinds. 

In Burma they are caring for over 30 Christian orphans living inside a camp for Internally Displaced Persons. 

In Pakistan they gave seeds and fertilizer to 32 Christian families, who lost all they had in the devastating floods that stuck the country in 2010.  Because of this gift these families have been able to reap an abundant harvest, and pay off their debts. One of the farmers said “I felt free because I was under no debt anymore.  It was the first time in a long time that I could sleep without worrying about anything.” 

In Sri Lanka they have built homes for 25 Christian families, who lost everything in the destructive civil war, which came to an end in 2009. These homes are making an enormous difference to their lives.  One of the receipts of said “We have been blessed with this house. We are opening the house for prayer meetings and hope this house will be a blessing to others.”   

Barnabus Fund also provides money to build churches, schools, and ensure people have access to medical care.  They can only do this because of the support and generosity that they receive churches and individuals here in the West.

We are to stand with those who are oppressed.  In the book of Proverbs it says “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9) We need to fight for the rights of our fellow Christians, which we can do by supporting campaigns run by organisations like The Barnabus Fund, Open Doors, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.  We can write to our MPs, so that pressure is brought to bear on those countries who do not uphold the rights of Christians. 

Because we are Christ’s disciples, He calls us to share in His work of proclaiming freedom.  In our Gospel reading today, Jesus ends His reading from Isaiah by announcing that He has been sent to declare the year of the Lord’s favour.  This is the time that God has appointed to bring deliverance and freedom, through Christ and those who follow Him.  Jesus’ message requires a response from us: to join Him in proclaiming freedom for His enslaved people throughout the world.  Jesus reminds us that whatever we do for one of the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for God.

Public Life/Private Life

Sermon preached by Penny Wheble at St Martin's on Sunday 28 October 2012

I’d like to start by asking you how you see yourselves. Then I’d like you to think how other people see you.

We all have 2 or more sides to our personalities and what we present publically may be entirely different from what actually goes on behind closed doors.

As I was thinking about today’s talk I wondered how I’m perceived – extrovert or introverted; highly strung or placid; confident or full of self doubts; organised or disorganised – the list goes on, and I can tell you that in each of those pairs, the latter description applies to me. You may be surprised to know that I also have quite an addictive personality too!

When I come into church or to talk or sing in a public setting I need to display confidence – I need feedback and perception. All of us have working models which are the experiences in our journey, and the positive and negative experiences make us act the way we do. These formative experiences are very powerful influences of how we see the world. Sometimes they can be buried, and when triggered can cause a huge emotional reaction. So our perceptions actually affect the way we act in the world.

Think of it like this – Front stage or how we see the world equates to how we are in public; Back stage is our secret life, the way our friends and family see us - how we really are.

We all need to create an impression of how we really are, -
for example, at home, how are we seen by our family and friends? Do they really see everything that goes on? Or do we hide things even from them? Do they see anger and the things in our lives that need dealing with? Interestingly, many people in high profile jobs have addictions – to painkillers, tv, money, sex, drink problems – the list goes on. It’s a way of coping with the stresses.
But there are things that can resource us – for some, hobbies, keeping fit, others, comfort foods, others, sex!

So what do we want to present to those we meet and know? We are one person but express ourselves in many different ways.
So my front stage presents itself (so I’m told!) as confident, prepared, organised, in control, spontaneous and a ‘people person’.
However my back stage shows otherwise – cluttered, disorganised, full of anxieties and self doubts, a last minuter and a bit of a loner.
As disciples of Jesus we are called to take off the old and put on the new, casting aside the things that control our everyday lives.

When we offer our entire selves to God, a change happens in relation to the world. We are called to a different lifestyle than what the world offers us with its behaviour and customs, which are often selfish and corrupting. There is pressure to conform, to continue living according to the script written by the world, but we are forbidden to give in to that pressure. We need to change the way we think, and experience a complete transformation from the inside out. And that change must begin in the mind, where all thoughts and actions begin. Much of the work will be done by God’s Spirit in us, and as our thoughts change, we will instinctively know what God wants for us, and we’ll want our behaviour to be pleasing to God, and perfect for us.

Today I’m going to tackle a subject that many of us feel uncomfortable about (myself included)and maybe don’t talk about very often – thank you Simon for giving me this one!

In May, I was ill with probably the worst bout of flu that I’ve ever had – 2 weeks of being unable to even get downstairs and as I began to recover a friend filled with good intentions came round and brought me a best-selling book which she thought would take my mind off the way I was feeling. She told me it was very popular with women and was adding spice to their mundane lives! Would anybody like to hazard a guess as to what the book was? It was 50 Shades of Grey – a best selling debut book which was part of a trilogy.

Great, I thought! So I got stuck in to reading it. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the poor literary style and to be honest was getting bored, but I made it through the first 100 pages before starting to feel quite uncomfortable with it.

According to the publisher’s research, Fifty Shades is proving most popular with 20- and 30-something women (hence it being dubbed ‘Mommy Porn’ by the media), a demographic group that is renowned for its viral marketing potential (and if you think that’s a sexist caricature, I give you one word: Mumsnet). The book is being read and discussed everywhere from Facebook to the school gate. One explanation for the book’s phenomenal success, then, is simply that the mix of titillation and everyone’s-reading-it word of mouth has proved explosive. But these aren’t the only factors at work in James’ journey from fan writer to movie deal negotiator (Universal Pictures have already acquired the rights). Another is the proliferation of e-reading devices, which allow for the discreet – and cheap – download of books that one might not want to be seen reading.  Fifty years ago it would have been Lady Chatterley’s Lover hidden at the back of the cupboard. Pornography and erotica are always at the forefront of every technological advance, and the growth of the Kindle and its, er...kin has resulted in a predictable increase in sales of such titles. Perhaps the biggest factor, however, and certainly the one which is fuelling the now stratospheric growth of Fifty Shades and its two sequels is simple intrigue, both about the popularity of the book, and its (for want of a better word) plot.

Here it is, then: 21-year-old virgin Anastasia Steele meets charismatic billionaire Christian Grey, and falls for him. He’s not just stunningly handsome and rich, he’s also trying to save the world and stop famine. What a hero! Well, except that, thanks to an abusive childhood, he has a severely twisted sexual appetite. Despite this, Ana is drawn into his world, and into his arms, via lots of gasping and swooning – and begins a long-lasting liaison with him. He’s not really capable of a healthy relationship, however, so instead introduces Ana to a world of controlled violence, submission and, of course, lots of (very badly written) sex. Within a few short weeks, Ana goes from repressed virgin to sexual deviant, and despite – or perhaps because of – the violence, falls deeply in love.

This is not a good book. Aside from the tortured prose, the storyline is hackneyed, predictable and ‘nods’ to a host of influences including, most bizarrely, the cinematic rom-com; the 500-plus pages drag like the post-lunch session of a Christian conference. The sex scenes fluctuate between creepy and comical. The whole story is narrated as Ana’s inner monologue, so we’re treated to lots of descriptions that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Mills & Boon novel. Actually, they wouldn’t feel out of place in a Mills & Boon parody.
Here’s what really bothered me, though. I can’t work out whether postmodernism means you can write whatever you like as long as you claim irony. But on the face of it, this appears to be a book about a man who takes a woman as his slave, and tortures and hits her. She submits to him completely, and she likes it. I’m reliably informed that this isn’t just a male fantasy, but a common female one too. Either way, this isn’t a description of healthy sexual behaviour. While the book tries to suggest that it’s an extreme and deviant form of love, it also gives us a protagonist who was abused as a child and then turns abuser. If this is the new romance, then give me the new celibacy!
If Christians are outraged by Fifty Shades, then, it should not be simply because EL James has made it acceptable to read pornographic stories on the train, but because those stories are, like video porn, teaching and advocating sexual dysfunction. They subtly feed readers a story which feels exciting, but – when fiction becomes experimentation, then becomes reality – it results in an abusive distortion of real love and healthy sex. Rather than decrying those who seek to make money out of sex, we should be modelling a better way. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did, when, during his time on earth, he spent time with those in the sex industry and led them away from it?
Sex has always sold. There has always been a market for pornography and sexual ‘services’; what’s changed is their accessibility. Inventions such as the home video and the Internet have caused a proliferation of sexual material, and that in turn has led to a gradual erosion of the line between taboo and mainstream. Twenty years ago, hardcore pornography was subject to censoring and could only be bought by adults in licensed shops. Since this book was written, the private adults only shop on Stafford Street has on it’s door “You’ve read the book, now come in and buy the equipment.”  Shocking in my mind!

Today, children are watching unrestricted video pornography on their home computers and smart phones, and we’re now hearing more and more of young people’s lives being severely damaged by internet porn. Controversially, this week has come the announcement that there will be teaching in junior schools about pornography and the harm it can do.
Sadly, Christians aren’t immune to the temptations of this world and I personally know of a couple who, even after 50 happy years of marriage have big issues with pornography – something that started with the husband gazing at attractive young women in the Sun newspaper. It’s become a major obstacle in their lives as more and more he wants to spend time looking at more explicit images on the internet of women being exploited for his personal satisfaction.

The Church should be giving serious consideration not to campaigning against books like this, but to standing for something better. In Christianity magazine, there’s a Dear Maggie column – a problem page where people can discuss intimate and personal aspects of their lives.

Love and sex by Christian rules means freedom, tenderness and equality. Jesus, teaches us that far from being abusive, healthy relationships involve each putting the other first (John 13:35; Mark 9: 35), not making a choice between dominance or submission. Love and sex shouldn’t be about violence, fear and cheap intrigue. When it comes to sex, the Bible provides a far more fulfilling framework than EL James’ sadistic anti-hero.
50 Shades is porn. Fact. It is written to appeal to women’s sexual appetites. It is expecting our husbands to live up to this made up, make-believe man in a book and taking our affections away from our husbands and onto another (fake) man. It is emotionally and in some cases, physically draining on our marriages. It’s detrimental. I don’t care about the reviews that say ”it’s bringing marriages closer” or about the “50 Shades of Grey” baby boom…’s taking your physical desire away from your husband in your own mind. It is finding your pleasure in something else other than your husband.

OR, in the cases of single women…’s finding your pleasure in an unnatural source. It’s still porn. While young men are known to be frequent users of porn, they have found willing partners among their female counterparts, who accepted the declaration made by Sex and the City’s Samantha that women should be able to go out and have sex like a man, and who believe that recreational sex makes them look confident.

Girls often portray young people living in a world where casual encounters are so embedded in their culture that they have a new terminology such as ‘hook ups and friends with benefits’.

Disturbingly, with the average age of first exposure to porn being just ten, many young males have viewed brutal online sex before they have even kissed a girl, and 90% of porn scenes contain physical or verbal abuse of women. Is this right for them to grow up thinking this is the norm? Of course it’s not!

1 Peter 5:7-9  Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Now, I realize the early church was not speaking on pornography for women, but it IS a warning: Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. I don’t know about anyone else, but that SCARES me!

These books are Satan’s way of devouring us with a made up man named Christian Grey. It’s his way of steering us away from God. Not the direction I desire to go. And it worries me how very popular these books are.
1 Corinthians 6:18
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
Matthew 5:28
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman [OR MAN] with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

I’m saying all this from a Christian woman’s perspective. It is directed at Christian women out there. Those who do not know Christ will not understand what it is I’m trying to convey. I do believe that books such as 50 Shades and today’s attitudes towards sexuality to be a stumbling block in a Christian woman’s walk with God.

And this is something very personal that God has laid on my own heart. If He has not convicted you (and you have sought Him on this), then by all means, make your own decision. But I cannot, in all good conscience, recommend this or similar books on any level.

I’d like to finish by saying to you that God accepts us where we are, because he chooses to pour out his unconditional love for us – it’s so liberating! We need to be free from the things which entangle us. Vulnerability and weakness are NOT barriers to our calling.

We don’t need to be clever or witty or beautiful. God delights in us and wants us to hear his calling. He wants us to stand tall with the authority He has given us. We MUST answer his call.

Let’s pray –
We pray for ourselves.
In a moment of quiet, open your own heart to God.
Share with him now those areas of ife which cause you most difficulty,
The times when you know temptation will come.
May the faithfulness of Christ hold us for ever,
And hold us till the end and beyond.

The E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The Judges: Gideon Defeats The Midianites (28)

Judges 6:1-7:25

The Midianite Oppression

The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian for seven years. The hand of Midian prevailed over Israel; and because of Midian the Israelites provided for themselves hiding-places in the mountains, caves and strongholds. For whenever the Israelites put in seed, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east would come up against them. They would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the land, as far as the neighbourhood of Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel, and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they and their livestock would come up, and they would even bring their tents, as thick as locusts; neither they nor their camels could be counted; so they wasted the land as they came in. Thus Israel was greatly impoverished because of Midian; and the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.

When the Israelites cried to the Lord on account of the Midianites, theLord sent a prophet to the Israelites; and he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of slavery; and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians, and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you, and gave you their land; and I said to you, “I am theLord your God; you shall not pay reverence to the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.” But you have not given heed to my voice.’

The Calling of Gideon

Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.’ Gideon answered him, ‘But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.’ Then the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.’ He responded, ‘But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’ The Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.’ Then he said to him, ‘If now I have found favour with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.’ And he said, ‘I will stay until you return.’

So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.’ And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight.Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, ‘Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.’ Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, TheLord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

That night the Lord said to him, ‘Take your father’s bull, the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father, and cut down the sacred pole that is beside it; and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, in proper order; then take the second bull, and offer it as a burnt-offering with the wood of the sacred pole that you shall cut down.’ So Gideon took ten of his servants, and did as the Lord had told him; but because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day, he did it by night.

Gideon Destroys the Altar of Baal

When the townspeople rose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the sacred pole beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. So they said to one another, ‘Who has done this?’ After searching and inquiring, they were told, ‘Gideon son of Joash did it.’ Then the townspeople said to Joash, ‘Bring out your son, so that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the sacred pole beside it.’ But Joash said to all who were arrayed against him, ‘Will you contend for Baal? Or will you defend his cause? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.’ Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, ‘Let Baal contend against him’, because he pulled down his altar.

Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east came together, and crossing the Jordan they encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him.He sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.

The Sign of the Fleece

Then Gideon said to God, ‘In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.’ And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.’ And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

Gideon Surprises and Routs the Midianites

Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops that were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was north of them, below the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
 The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, “My own hand has delivered me.” Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, “Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.” ’ Thus Gideon sifted them out; twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained.

Then the Lord said to Gideon, ‘The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, “This one shall go with you”, he shall go with you; and when I say, “This one shall not go with you”, he shall not go.’ So he brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, ‘All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.’ The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.’ So he took the jars of the troops from their hands, and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

That same night the Lord said to him, ‘Get up, attack the camp; for I have given it into your hand. But if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah; and you shall hear what they say, and afterwards your hands shall be strengthened to attack the camp.’ Then he went down with his servant Purah to the outposts of the armed men that were in the camp. The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the east lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore.When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling a dream to his comrade; and he said, ‘I had a dream, and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell; it turned upside down, and the tent collapsed.’ And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, a man of Israel; into his hand God has given Midian and all the army.’

When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, ‘Get up; for the Lord has given the army of Midian into your hand.’ After he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them, and empty jars, with torches inside the jars, he said to them, ‘Look at me, and do the same; when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets around the whole camp, and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!” 

So Gideon and the hundred who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. So the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’Every man stood in his place all around the camp, and all the men in camp ran; they cried out and fled. When they blew the three hundred trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah towards Zererah,as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after the Midianites.

Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, ‘Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.’ So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they seized the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. They captured the two captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the wine press of Zeeb, as they pursued the Midianites. They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon beyond the Jordan.

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How Can I Be Sure?

Seek God’s guidance and rely on his power. That’s the key to success.

Does Gideon’s request for “signs” reveal a lack of faith (6.17-40)? Probably not. If we genuinely seek God in faith, we can ask him to make his will clear and eventually he will. Real power and conviction comes when we prayerfully wait for confirmation from God. Gideon’s success was the result of two other things. he was empowered by the Spirit (6.34) and he was forced to rely on God’s power (7.2). That’s still a formula for success today.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The Judges: Deborah Leads Israel (27)

Judges 4:1-5:31

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.

Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him. Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites, that is, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim, which is near Kedesh. When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera called out all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the troops who were with him, from Harosheth-ha-goiim to the Wadi Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. The Lord is indeed going out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand warriors following him. And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, while Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-ha-goiim. All the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.

Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died. Then, as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent peg in his temple. So on that day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites. Then the hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.

Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying:“When locks are long in Israel, when the people offer themselves willingly— bless the Lord! “Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to theLord I will sing, I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel. “Lord, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens poured, the clouds indeed poured water. The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai, before the Lord, the God of Israel.

“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, caravans ceased and travelers kept to the byways. The peasantry prospered in Israel, they grew fat on plunder, because you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel. When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel?My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the Lord. “Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys, you who sit on rich carpets and you who walk by the way. To the sound of musicians at the watering places, there they repeat the triumphs of the Lord, the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel. “Then down to the gates marched the people of the Lord.

“Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abinoam. Then down marched the remnant of the noble; the people of the Lord marched down for him against the mighty. From Ephraim they set out into the valley, following you, Benjamin, with your kin; from Machir marched down the commanders, and from Zebulun those who bear the marshal’s staff; the chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah, and Issachar faithful to Barak; into the valley they rushed out at his heels. Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds, to hear the piping for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he abide with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, settling down by his landings. Zebulun is a people that scorned death; Naphtali too, on the heights of the field. “The kings came, they fought; then fought the kings of Canaan, at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; they got no spoils of silver. The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent Kishon swept them away, the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on, my soul, with might! “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs with the galloping, galloping of his steeds. “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord, curse bitterly its inhabitants, because they did not come to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.

“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed. He asked water and she gave him milk, she brought him curds in a lordly bowl. She put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet; she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead. “Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sisera gazed through the lattice: ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’ Her wisest ladies make answer, indeed, she answers the question herself: ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?— A girl or two for every man; spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera, spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered, two pieces of dyed work embroidered for my neck as spoil?’ “So perish all your enemies, OLord! But may your friends be like the sun as it rises in its might.” And the land had rest forty years.

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Girl Power

God can use anyone who listens to him and relies on his power.

Deborah is the only female Judge in the Bible. And the hero of this story is Jael, a young woman who had the smarts and the guts to eliminate the military commander Sisera. Deborah simply says and does what God has told her (4.6, 7, 14), and it has a powerful effect. A second theme in this passage is that courage isn’t limited by gender. God used Jael’s bold act to defeat the powerful Canaanites (4.17-21). In the end, it’s the ability to listen to God and the willingness to rely on his power that makes the difference.