Pulling the Strings

The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera. Judges 5:20

While Deborah summoned Barak to take on Sisera with his 900 iron chariots and many troops, and Barak enlisted 10,000 men to help him, it might be easy to miss the hand of the Lord in the victory. In Deborah’s song in Chapter 5 she elaborates on the activity of the Almighty in the background.

First, he drew Sisera down to the river Kishon with a “tip-off” from a credible source.

Second, for twenty years this man terrorized Israel with these menacing chariots, but as fate (hand of God) would have it, they weren’t much use in the water and mud, as an unexpected violent storm with torrential rainfall caused the river to overflow.

The torrent of Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. Judges 5:21

In our finite minds we rarely anticipate the unexpected, or contemplate God’s intercession in a miraculous way. Here he used the swords of Barak’s men and a flash flood caused by a rainstorm.

The Lord routed (or confused) Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword and this flood before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. Judges 4:15

It’s about time we go to our knees and plead with to the very same God to intervene in a world gone insane. The chariots are indeed surrounding us!

We should pray that he confound evil and cause it to turn on itself, as we learned from Gideon’s experience in the Midianite camp.

When they blew 300 trumpets, the Lord set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army. Judges 7:22

All’s not lost with the Lord pulling the strings.

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Terms of Engagement

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Hebrews 11:32-34

Barak was one of those “if-then” people. Truth be known, so am I. When asked by Deborah to take on Sisera with his 900 iron chariots, he said, ”I will if you go with me.” This position was understandable to me since Deborah was judging Israel at the time and was a prophetess. Some might say it wasn’t a good look. I think not. Since Sisera severely oppressed Israel for 20 years, it makes good sense that Barak wanted all hands on deck, especially someone with a direct pipeline to God.

The sons of Israel cried to the Lord; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years. Judges 4:3

Rarely do you find someone willing to do something without conditions. If certain terms are met, they’ll do it. Then after what is asked is accomplished, their job is done. So the decision to participate is both conditional and provisional. This to me is good. You know where you stand, if your volunteer has proven trustworthy.

Deborah agreed but warned Barak that he would not have the honor of taking out Sisera. A woman would deliver his head instead. He apparently didn’t care, as long as Deborah was with him. As far as can be seen in the account of Barak’s actions, he energetically and faithfully followed through (with the help of others) in his mission against Sisera.

Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him. Judges 4:1

And yes, Sisera singlehandedly fell to Jael, a woman, who hatched a shrewd plan and bravely carried it out.

“Most blessed of women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Most blessed is she of women in the tent.
“He asked for water and she gave him milk;
In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.
“She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer.
Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;
And she shattered and pierced his temple.
Judges 5:24-25

From a leadership standpoint, you should appreciate faithful people who are willing to set the terms of engagement, and then act. On the other hand, there are those who talk a good game but never get into it, like the tribes of Reuben, Gilead, Dan and Asher. They verbalized ”great resolve” and ”searchings of heart“ but were no shows when the trumpet sounded.

Among the divisions of Reuben
There were great resolves of heart.
“Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,
To hear the piping for the flocks?
Among the divisions of Reuben
There were great searchings of heart.
“Gilead remained across the Jordan;
And why did Dan stay in ships?
Asher sat at the seashore,
And remained by its landings.”
Judges 5:15-17

Barak made the Hall of Faith by faithfully keeping his commitment. He just wanted access to a word from the Lord and senior management. A shout out was enough, and he got it.

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Impetuosity and Other Impediments

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Hebrews 11:32-34

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1

While described as a valiant warrior, Jephthah’s backstory was not sterling. As the son of a harlot, he was banished from Gilead by his brothers to live in Tob. He drew a band of worthless fellows to his side. Birds of a feather flock together.

So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him. Judges 11:3

But he was recruited back by Israel to fight against the sons of Ammon, which he did with a vengeance. In the lead up to war, the new judge was most impressive, though, in his command of Israel’s history. In Judges 11:12 to 27, Jephthah through messengers to Ammon justifies his pending actions against them based on the failure of nations to allow Israel free passage through their countries in the past. His conclusion was that Ammon was indeed squatting on some of Israel’s promised land.

Here’s the point from his ranging argument for war. Can you–can I–make a case for carrying out God’s will from scripture? Are we well versed enough to make a spiritual point? Can we vocalize a defense of the faith? Jephthah could, despite his colorful background.

Back to the story, in his exuberance to assure victory, Jephthah made a rash and senseless vow to God that had tragic consequences.

Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” Judges 11:30-31

His only daughter was first out the door to greet him and he was laid low because of the vow he had made. Many commentators believe he followed through on his vow and offered her up as a burnt offering. But others believe that the loss of her chance to bear children was what was sacrificed. I believe the latter. The law of Moses forbade human sacrifices and it’s hard to rationalize taking another’s life as a consequence for my sin. Judge for yourself by her response.

So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” Judges 11:36–37

It appears that she clearly understood that what was at stake was her virginity (a horror in that day) and it was in that state she remained, and for that sacrifice she was honored. I also find it hard to believe that Jephthah made the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith list having such a horrific entry on his resume.

So what have we learned from Jephthah? We should know and account for our proclivities. We should ward against drifting into known pathways to sin. The Spirit’s empowerment of our lives allows us to live above these impediments with power derived from strong faith.

In the context of Hebrews 12:1, Jephthah’s encumbrance was that he was not of good stock. His entangling sin, his impetuousness and lack of forethought. I ask myself what’s my encumbrance? What’s my entangling sin? What is keeping me from running with endurance the “faith” race set before me? Think about it.

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Most Unlikely to Succeed

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. Hebrews 11:32

Gideon is mentioned along with other stalwarts of the faith in Hebrews 11:32. When I hear of Gideon I immediately think of a fleece and a trumpet, yes, but more so of a consummate hand wringer. My impression of a true man or woman of faith is someone who apparently throws caution to the wind. But there was no reckless abandonment with Gideon. He seemed to demand full assurance before acting, and the Lord obliged.

“If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. Judges 6:17

We’re urged to have faith but we want to lay out our markers too. We order a fleece on Amazon and set it out and nothing happens. Most people I know caution against the use of fleeces in one’s Christian life. Nevertheless, we constantly look for signs of probable success before we move. What I give Gideon credit for is that he ultimately acted. Still he liked the cover of night and a companion by his side, but he took the steps and followed through. In the end he pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah, and cleared out the Midianites with only 300 men with clay pots, torches and trumpets. He was a man of valor but voted most unlikely to succeed.

He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” Judges 6:15

One tiny problem with Gideon. Always the Achilles heel of our heroes pops up in Judges. He liked to collect souvenirs and erect monuments to past accomplishments.

So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments which were on their camels’ necks. Judges 8:21

Gideon made it (and the peoples’ spoils of war) into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household. Judges 8:27

Let’s not do this. What God does through us is his doing. Please, no Midian’s Worse Nightmare tee shirts showing Gideon blowing a trumpet! All glory to God!

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Considering the Possibilities

19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

Hebrews 11:19

Abraham was in the act of plunging a knife into the chest of his son Isaac from whom he was promised descendants as numerous as the particles of sand on the seashore when God suddenly stopped him. While emotionally he was undoubtedly in turmoil, his faith, remaining rational and logical, caused him to consider God fully capable of raising Isaac from the dead after the fact.

My faith, probably your faith, has never been put to such a test. If and when it is, we need to “consider the possibilities,” and with God, all things are possible. Yes, we know that, but easier said than done.

I always try to focus on his ability to make something out of nothing, to pull things out of thin air. We, in our frailty, think we’ve got to go with what we’ve got, to make the best of things we can see. Try considering, as Abraham did, the inconceivable, the impossible.

But the point of Hebrews 11 is yes, he can do the impossible, he can pull a rabbit out of his hat, but is that in his grand scheme of things?

I ask the question, in this instance, if Abraham had to follow through, and had to bury his dead son on that mountain, was God still faithful? We read that not all the stalwarts of faith in this chapter met a happy fate. It’s one thing to believe God can make it right as we would want, or hope, or believe, another for us to stomach him allowing the worse case to happen.

Fact is, we are told and reminded that these greats of the faith are greatly to be praised for their faith alone, not so much for their heroics.

Our faith should contemplate God’s infinite, creative, and inscrutable power absolutely. But we should be far more like Daniel’s three friends before they were tossed into the fiery furnace. They left the outcome to him. That’s what we get credit for.

17 “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:17–18

What he wants out of us is more abiding trust and less calculation. He’s got everything.

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Firm and Faithful

Image: Richard C. Reynolds, 2014

There are two marble statues of lions at the main entrance to St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States. They were aptly named “firm” and “faithful.” I’ve always admired them as works of art on my many trips there, but only recently learned their names. I’ve always strived to be found faithful, walking in the shoes of my dad, who was just that, but adding “firm” was an even better description of his demeanor. Nicknamed the “hard rock,” for his stubbornness, he had the reputation of sticking to his guns, yet all along remaining abidingly faithful. These are rare traits these days.

As soon as I learned of these names I was exhorted to become both, to be described in the end as both firm and faithful. I had the model of my dad, but more importantly that of Jesus Christ, who did not flinch when offering up his life for mine. It should be a terrifying thing to have squandered our brief time on earth equivocating, capitulating, and waffling, especially as it relates to gospel truth and leading an exemplary life.

But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. Hebrews 10:39

(Inspired by Hebrews 10:26-39)

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Real Christianity–Hebrews 10:22-25

22 Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:22

Our first step towards practicing real Christianity is to assess whether we’re drawing near or drifting away from God. It’s not too hard to determine if His spirit resides within us. That still, small voice will let you know. If you own up to what He tells you you’re on your way. It’s important to know that you won’t have full assurance of faith in your life grappling with the doubt created by active sin. You essentially need to reset to the beginning, to the cross on which Jesus shed his blood. You’ll need just a “sprinkle” of it though to clear your conscience and regain a sense of purification. It’s very much like taking a bath. Now you’re capable of drawing near.

This process is ongoing but should be less and less dramatic as time goes on. A spaceship needs only to fire one small engine to yaw right. Real Christianity requires continual adjustment to the route set out for us by Jesus. We retrace our steps to where we veered off and begin again. By nature, I hate to have to backtrack in anything. Likewise, there should be a growing distaste for anything but progress in your Christian life. Regarding full assurance, the quickest way to affirm your faith is to take an obedient step. Only a believer obeys Christ. It’s that simple. Constant obedience yields fully assured faith. You can’t be any closer to God than when you obey his Word in anything!

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23

Once you understand the process you’ll tend to want to stick with what works. The loop will be constantly rolling in your mind, “I’ve confessed Christ.” You’ll reach the point where you draw far greater joy from obedience than from freelancing on your own power. It never ends well when you go your own way. Our lifeline is our confession and to this we must cling to for dear life. But there’s another hand on deck that helps us do this and that’s his right hand, the same one that reached down and pulled up a sinking Peter (Matthew 14:31). Here’s more on that right hand.

35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation,
And Your right hand upholds me;
And Your gentleness makes me great.
36 You enlarge my steps under me,
And my feet have not slipped.

Psalm 18:35–36

Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

A drawn near, fully confessed soul possesses a full measure of hope. With every step of obedience your foothold grows firmer, and with this strength comes even more hope, “that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:13)

I’ve always loved being in shape. The muscles are taunt. The heart is strong. The lungs can be taxed at a moment’s notice. Real Christianity requires endurance built on faith made stronger each day by minute to minute Spirit appropriation and exercise. A strong Christian asks for the Lord’s helping hand in everything, because when we are weak, He is strong! (2 Corinthians 12:10)

24 Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24–25

A drawn near, fully confessed believer is ready to spur and stir other Christians to take the same steps. This can’t be done in a spiritual bubble. Christians need to rub shoulders. That the writer warns against forsaking the assembly, it must have been a problem from the outset. We’ve all learned recently that you can very easily come to the conclusion “who needs church?” I’ve got multiple choices online. I’m good. We’ll, you’re not. That’s not how it’s done. Again, let Jesus help you muster the courage to step out of your comfort zone. If a body of believers is drawn near and fully confessed, can you expect anything less than open arms? Find one!

I think of a bride and her hovering bridesmaids. The same doting and interaction should occur amongst believers. I think of a coach’s pregame speech and the revving up of a team before hitting the field. You’re missing out on any number of folks itching to pat you on the back and send you out there to win it all. As they say, iron sharpens iron.

Here’s the context. Is there any doubt that we are living in the last days? All the more reason to huddle up and get coached up. We all face the same cruel world and we need each other!

Get real!

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The Power of an Indestructible Life

15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.

Hebrews 7:15–16 (ESV)

Sometimes you fall upon a sentence fragment that speaks volumes, that’s a sermon in and of itself, both an appropriate title and text. Here in the midst of a lengthy comparison between priestly order and powerful king, between Levi and the ancient Melchizedek, to whom the patriarch Abraham paid tribute, is the phrase “according to the power of an indestructible life.”

Who wouldn’t covet an indestructible life these days, yet it’s available in Jesus, who offers a better hope that allows us to draw near to God (v. 19) and a guaranteed better covenant (v. 22).

26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

Hebrews 7:26–28

We have a perfect, permanent, and perpetual solution to our sin and death problem; Jesus.

He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 7:25

This passage, while somewhat abstract to us in this age, teaches us that Abraham, who was worthy of a tithe from Melchizedek, he being the patriarch of the Hebrews, chose to worship, if you will, a type of Jesus, teaching us the inferiority of the law, and the power of an indestructible life.

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Consider Jesus

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.

Hebrews 3:1

Even to a believer the story of Jesus can seem far fetched. Born of a virgin, rose to prominence from a tiny town called Nazareth, performed multiple science-defying miracles, was coronated by the people with palm branches but a few days later rejected, tortured by the Romans, hung on a cross to die, which he did and was buried. Then it is said he rose from the dead after three days, was seen by hundreds, and ascended into heaven. Incredibly, his followers remain today, of which I am one, believing he will return someday, hopefully soon, to rule. This is a lot to buy into, but I have.

I believe this because of the Bible, His Word.

1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways.

Hebrews 1:1

In its pages, He has spoken to me, just as He did the fathers and the prophets. He “has spoken to us in His Son.”

While I must take the story of Jesus on faith, what I see in Creation gives concrete observable testimony to a God quite capable of placing a man–His Son–on earth to draw us to Him.

2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

Hebrews 1:2

For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.

Hebrews 3:2

I believe this because the builder is counted worthy by what he has made, His Creation.

But even without an amazing prophetic book in my hand and a created world I can see with my own eyes, I believe because there is irrefutable evidence in my own life of God’s hand, and that is His Spirit.

My firewall is a spiritual presence I cannot understand but can tangibly know is there without question. I’m like the blind man healed by Jesus who testified to scoffing rulers and naysayers that all he knew was he was once blind and now he could see, and “that man” Jesus did it. John 9:25

Consider Jesus!

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Fear No Evil

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

Hebrews 2:14–15

Society today is held captive by the fear of death. Understandably so, when one is constantly bombarded with scenes of doctors and nurses fully outfitted in protective gear caring for patients at death’s door struggling to breathe.

But it does not take a pandemic to create this fear. We are born with it, and remain in its terrifying grip without some kind of intervention. The concoctions of man are touted as a panacea but fall short in effectiveness. Way short.

We don’t need statistics to know that all remedies fail to offer full assurance against death. Except.

A fraction of humankind has received a fully effective inoculation against death, proven without peer review by one man, who stepped out of heaven to take on human flesh that he might experience death in our place once and for all. Trial size one.

Those who have freely received His medicine will escape the nagging paralyzing fear of death. They will indeed walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. (Psalm 23)

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