Monday, April 23, 2007

GIDEON'S SNARE




Everyone who is at all familiar with the Bible knows something about a man named Gideon, whose story is told in Judges chapters six through eight. He lived in the time when there was no king in Israel and the nation repeatedly turned away from God. The period of the judges is characterized by wholesale rebellion. Every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). A cycle of apostasy, judgment, repentance, and Divine deliverance is the pattern throughout the book. The major lesson we learn from this time in Israel’s history was described in simple terms by Charles Spurgeon, who wrote, “The Lord does not permit His children to sin successfully.” Though His judgment may tarry it will surely come in vindication of His righteous character.

In one such time of departure from God’s laws, the Lord delivered the children of Israel into the hands of the Midianites, who raided their crops and fled swiftly on camels, to the extent that Israel was severely impoverished (6:1-6). This is when Gideon comes into the picture. He followed Deborah as the fifth judge in Israel and is one of the few judges listed among the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. He was deserving of this particular honor. Following Gideon’s plea for God to give him a sign of assurance that He would deliver Israel by his hand (6:36-40), Gideon never again faltered in his courage. With only 300 men, he destroyed the Midianite army and their allies, who were spread out “like a swarm of desert locusts” in the valley of Jezreel (7:12). God had proven Himself strong on Gideon’s behalf, and as a result, the people wanted to make Gideon ruler in Israel and to establish a family dynasty (8:22). Wisely, Gideon rejected any right to a throne, knowing that Jehovah God was the rightful ruler of Israel. In his own words, he declared, “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you” (8:23).

With a victory over his enemies in hand and a statement of fidelity to God, Gideon was standing strong in the faith. But such times of triumph must also be times of great caution! The Scripture warns us in this way: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). As wise as he was in turning down the plea of the people to be ruler, Gideon acted foolishly. He took some of the spoils of the battle - earrings and ornaments- and fashioned them into an ephod, “and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house” (8:27). G. Campbell Morgan’s comments are insightful: “Elsewhere in the Old Testament “ephod” denotes the priest’s special breast piece (cf. Exodus 28:15-30). In Judges 17:5; 18:14-20 the same word refers to the priestly vestments of Micah … Gideon may have been well- intended; perhaps he wanted to consult the Lord's will or to give the people something tangible to remind them of the Lord's intervention. However, the idol-prone Israelites made the ephod into an object of worship. Gideon, who had boldly broken up his father's altar to Baal, was now setting a trap for his own family.” Oddly enough, Gideon’s household became the caretakers of an idol. It is not surprising that as soon as Gideon was dead, “the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baal-berith their god” (verse 33).

As I thought about this incident in Gideon’s life, I could not help but make an application to the church in our day. Whenever anything visible in our devotion toward God detracts from the glory of the invisible God, we have made an ephod. Whenever a form of worship, such as music, takes precedence over the true object of worship (God), we have made an ephod. Whenever we allow into the church anything which God’s Word does not allow, we have made an ephod. But ephods are not confined to church. Dear brethren, whenever we insist on having what God does not will for us to have, we too have made an ephod that will surely become a snare. We enjoy many blessings in a day of grace and Christian liberty. Like Gideon, we have seen God’s mighty power to deliver us from strong enemies. Therefore, we must be all the more vigilant. Our hearts are prone to wander, and Satan knows what to set before us in order to lead us astray. He never rests in his efforts to sow seeds of spiritual destruction. Watch your every step, and “put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:11-13).



God's blessings to you through Jesus our Lord,


Pastor Tom

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

THE TONGUE IS FIRE



The subject of self-control in the Bible covers many different areas. As believers we are commanded to control our thoughts, emotions, selfish ambitions, appetites, etc. Some of these battles for self-control present a daily struggle. Such is the nature of the Christian life. We all have certain weak areas and besetting sins (Hebrews 12:1). However, I am convinced that there is one area of self-control that is a battleground in every Christian’s life. Satan seems to be unrelenting when it comes to the battle to master our tongues. Why? Because a tongue that is out of control casts doubt on the nature of true Christianity: “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain” (James 1:26). As harsh a statement as this is, it wasn’t the only thing that James wrote about the tongue, it gets worse. In chapter three we find the clearest and perhaps the strongest condemnation of the damage inflicted by wicked speech: “5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. 7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:5-10). “Ought not so to be” (v.10) is another way of expressing God’s desire, “may it never be”! But it is! Failure to control the tongue is a sin that we are very familiar with, yet not always in an impartial way. It seems to me that we are quick to take note of it in others, and slow to condemn it when it surfaces in our own lives. The Bible calls this hypocrisy. Surely we would all agree on this one thing, James graphically portrayed the destructive potential that exists in this little member of our body. Its power is disproportionate to its size. Should we not stand up and take notice? “The tongue is a fire that sets on fire the course of nature.” Here in Southern California we know what uncontrollable fire can do. You can take one small match, throw it in dry grass and start a fire that can burn thousands of acres and totally destroy every home in its path, not to mention the loss of human life. “The tongue is a world of iniquity.” King Solomon said: “The mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28). It is interesting that all manner of beasts and birds can be tamed, “but the tongue can no man tame.” Not only is it beyond human control, “it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” with no quick antidote to counter its deadly poison. Charles Spurgeon said: “Tongues are more terrible instruments than can be made with hammers and anvils, and the evil which they inflict cuts deeper and spreads wider.” At this point I am inclined to say, “enough said,” but the Scripture has many other things to say about sins of speech. There is hate speech, prideful speech, slander, gossip, filthy communication, threats, flattery, blasphemy, complaining, self-pity, backbiting, sowing discord, swearing, and lying, to name just some. I’m sure you can think of more. Which of these are you guilty of? How about lying? I singled this one out because I recently read from John’s gospel where Satan was described by Jesus as “the Father of lies” (John 8:44). To be the Father of something is to be the origin or source. Do we realize that we fall into one of Satan’s best-laid traps whenever we open our mouths without wisdom? We become pawns of the devil. We play right into his hands to bring about evil that quickly spins out of control embracing everyone in its path who becomes party to it. This thought alone should be sufficient to ask God for the grace necessary to control our tongues at all times. “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). “To the chief Musician, even to Jeduthun, A Psalm of David. I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle” (Psalm 39:1). Do you sense the burden of David’s heart in these Psalms? It is evident that he longed to be a man of integrity in speech. As children of God our desire should be the same. Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). As obedient children, we should always walk in the truth and speak the truth. The sanctifying grace of God must adorn our tongues so that we will be able to deliver “a word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11). Brethren I must confess, many of my words have not been “fitly spoken”, but poorly chosen. I have opened my mouth foolishly on occasions. May the Lord help me and every fellow Christian to tame our tongues. I know He desires to do this for the furtherance of the gospel in this world, and His eternal glory. Here are some closing reflections to consider:

- Speak less and listen more (James 1:19).
- Make sure you know the facts before offering an opinion (Proverbs 18:13).
- Pray without ceasing for words of wisdom (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- Confess every sin of speech quickly (1 John 1:9).
- Seek forgiveness from those you offend with your tongue (Matthew 18:15).
- Study what the Scripture reveals about our speech (Psalm 119:30).
- Avoid those who cannot control their tongues (Psalm 119:63; Proverbs 13:20).
- Become an encourager (Isaiah 50:4; Acts 4:36; Hebrews 10:24-25).
- Use your tongue often to thank and praise God (read the Psalms every day).

Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

Speak the truth in love,


Pastor Tom