Scripture: "And those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness--to uprightness and right standing with God (shall give forth light) like the stars forever and ever." (Daniel 12:3)
Scripture: "Blessed, happy, fortunate and to be envied is the one who waits expectantly and earnestly--who endures without wavering beyond the period of tribulation..." (Daniel 12:12)
Scripture: "For God did not give us a spirit of fear or cowardice, but a spirit of love, of power and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)
Scripture: "And Gideon made an ephod, (a sacred, high priest's garment) and put it in the city of Ophrah; and all of Israel to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family." (Judges 8:27)
May every grace and blessing of the Holy Spirit be with us always. We have just emerged from a huge storm that left us without power for 2 days, and some significant tree damage. Yesterday the maintenance staff was busy with chain saws clearing a huge poplar that took down both fences and part of the backboard at the tennis court, and another that took out part of the swimming dock. These are just two of the places we got slammed in camp. We're still assessing the damage. We could scratch our heads and be surprised at the hit...but really, stuff happens, weather happens, life happens. And some of it is NOT fun. Prepare and decide ahead of time how you will go forward "when."
Today, I want to revisit our friends Gideon and Daniel. We talked about their great beginnings and becomings, if you will. I want to talk about how their stories ended. If we are to learn from history, (so we won't repeat it) let's look at the choices made and what those choices birthed. In the book of Daniel, this beautiful man of God, continued his whole life to honor God with his every move. Over and over Daniel chose to honor God, even at the continual threat of death. Because of his faithfulness, Daniel was entrusted with the secrets of heaven for a future time of great tribulation. He was obviously aware of his deep prophetic gift, but he only and always used it to glorify God. We all know the story of the lion's den in Daniel 6. Daniel had risen to a place of the highest distinction because of his "excellent spirit." The king set him over the whole realm. This led to many occasions of jealousy among the other king's men, and they continually looked for opportunities to bring accusations against Daniel. The "presidents of the kingdom, the deputies and satraps (king's leaders) agreed that the king should establish a royal statute and make a firm decree, that whoever shall petition any god or man for 30 days, except the king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Hmmm. Dilemma time for Daniel. Or was it? Daniel heard that the law was signed, went to his room, opened his windows (so they could see), and got on his knees as usual, and began to pray, giving thanks to God as he always did.
Well we know the tale. King Darius LOVED Daniel. He hadn't thought this thing through carefully, and he was deeply distressed at the thought of throwing Daniel in the lion's den. But he let the decree stand, and Daniel was pitched in with the hungry lions. They had been fed two people and two sheep a day. It seemed that they would make a quick meal of Daniel. All night the king fasted and did not sleep, so worried about his friend, Daniel. Early in the morning he rushed to the den and called to Daniel. "Daniel, did the God whom you serve deliver you?" Imagine how astounded he must have been when Daniel, totally unharmed, answered him! The king had Daniel taken out of the lion's den, praising the God of Daniel, and had his accusers thrown to the lions, who devoured them quickly.
Then the king wrote to all the people in his realm and said, "I make a decree, everyone praise the God of Daniel, for He is the living God...He is the savior and deliverer and He works signs and wonders, and has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions." (Daniel 6:12-28) Daniel, God's friend, brought conversion and true worship to His God, Yahweh. "So Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus. Daniel's faith did not waiver. He was not scared of death. Why? Because he KNEW the One in whom He believed (2 Timothy 1:12) and he was totally in love with Him. And perfect love casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18) In life or in death, Daniel belonged fully to God. "And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ whether I live or die." (Philippians 1:20)
Gideon had also become a great man of God. When he had his little band of 300 men break their pitchers and blow their horns, the battle cry that went out was, "For God and for Gideon!" This brought the people to a unity and a joy in the Lord that they hadn't had for years.(Judges 8) The men of Israel asked Gideon to rule over them as their king, but Gideon refused. "I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you." (Judges 8:23) But then Gideon did an interesting thing. He asked that each man give him part of the spoils taken from the battle. But what he asked for was a gold earring from each. I spent a good bit of time reading commentaries on Judges 8 this morning. Apparently, since the time of the golden calf debacle, the taking of gold earrings was not allowed. It symbolized their former idolatry and the Israelites had been instructed to stay away from anything that invited re-entry into an idolatrous relationship. With all those earrings Gideon made an ephod. This was a highly decorated high priest robe. "Gideon made an ephod and put it in his city of Ophrah; and all of Israel paid homage to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelite and in the land there was peace and rest for forty years in the day of Gideon." (Judges 8:27-28)
There were many variations on a theme in my research this morning but here's what can be surmised. The Midianites, who'd wreaked havoc on the Israelites for so long, were crushed. There was peace in the land and it lasted for 40 yrs. Perhaps Gideon's intentions were to make the ephod and place it in a visible place to remind the people of God's mighty miracles and deliverance. But human nature, without careful attention to growing in the Lord, usually "dumbs down" eventually to complacency and even idolatry. And perhaps that's what happened, even to Gideon. Perhaps all had grown complacent, and even though Gideon said he would not be their king, he actually amassed so much from that battle, that he LIVED with the wealth and fame of a king. Gideon had 70 sons and many wives. His concubine, Shechem also bore him a son whom he named Abimelech. This in itself was telling. Abimelech means, "My father is king." "All Israel paid homage to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family." (Judges 8:27) My hunch is that over time, with no one challenging the Israelites to grow deeper in their faith, and deeper in their commitment to live for God more and more fully, the war cry, "For God and for Gideon," may well have become, "For Gideon and for God." The people came to pay homage. To whom? One has to wonder if over time human nature found other idols, and this, dear friends, is our focus today. Perhaps their focus shifted to idolizing Gideon. Did Gideon's own eyes shift to the wonders HE accomplished? We must be very careful. The enemy is slick. He does not play fair. He never has and never will. If he cannot get us to quit believing, he will try to gradually shift our focus off the Lord onto idols we can wrap our heads around and worship...even if its ourselves, or another person or thing that takes our attention away from the true God. Sometimes seasons of peace are not our friend. It's so easy to get complacent. We are seeing that right now. We can suddenly see with new eyes the incredible need for a reset, in one or many areas of our lives.
Our friend Daniel planted roots down deep in the soil of God's marvelous love (Ephesians 3:17-18). He set in motion a legacy of courageous faith in a God who keeps His promises. Gideon's story did not end well. As soon as Gideon was dead, "the Israelites turned again and played the harlot after the Baals...and the Israelites did not remember their God, who had delivered them out of the hand of all their enemies." (Judges 8:33-34) We must stand for something or we will fall for anything. THIS is our moment when it is time to make a firm decision. Yes, we are tiring of this season with no end date in sight. We all have very real concerns to deal with. Making a commitment to Christ does not guarantee a Disney ending. But making a commitment to Christ DOES guarantee the ultimate victorious end. And in the meantime, what will WE leave to the ones who come behind us? Many years ago, a Jon Mohr song came into my life. It's an inheritance word for me. I'll close with it:
"Find Us Faithful"
"We're pilgrims on the journey on a narrow road. And those who've gone before us line the way...cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary...their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace. Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...let us run the race not only for the prize. But as those who've gone before us, let us leave to those behind us...the heritage of faithfulness passed on through Godly lives. O may all who come behind is find us faithful...may the fire of our devotion light their way...May the footprints that we leave, lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey. O may all who come behind us find us faithful. "
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone...and our children sift through all that's left behind...May the clues that they discover, and the memories they uncover, become the light that leads them to the road we each must find. O may all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way...May the footprints that we leave, lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey. O may all who come behind us find us faithful."
My friends, may the ones who come behind US find us faithful. Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not grow weary (or lose heart) in doing good. For in due time, at the appointed season we shall reap, if we do not relax, lose our courage and grow faint." This is NOT the time to relax and lose our courage. This is the time to lean in and pray even more diligently than before. We WILL reap in due time. Reap what? BALLISTIC BREAKTHROUGH! "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in ALL circumstances; for THIS is the will of God in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) Lock your gaze on Jesus. His marching orders are clear. It's all right here in this 1 Thessalonians verse. The same God who did outrageous miracles for Daniel and Gideon is here ready and willing to do them for us. You know we each have a part to play. But let's make sure we don't grow weary in doing good. We want to end like Daniel, not Gideon. We need each other, dear ones. And what a grace that we HAVE each other! So, let's sharpen our focus, rededicate ourselves to our mission and rejoice, give thanks and pray without ceasing. I cannot wait to see the breakthrough coming for His faith-filled believers! Let's keep each other in prayer.
Declaration: We praise and thank You, God, for being the God of breakthrough. We thank you, Father. that You are making us overcomers, warriors, and more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:37) We declare that we will not back down, not give up, not quit believing in our God who reigns! We thank you, too, that You are making us into bodies wholly filled and flooded with God Himself. (Ephesians 3:19) You are raising Your people up and making us lights, reflecting Your presence and Your power. To God be the glory and the honor! Amen.