Key verse: Judges 6:12
Big idea: We are who God says we are, not who our cycles say we are.
Sometimes God gets our attention easily. Our hearts are sensitive and a little bump in the road shakes away the sleep from our eyes and brings us back to where we belong. Other times, we need to be grabbed by the shoulders and shaken. In the days of Gideon, who we will meet today and look at again next week, Israel needed someone to scream, shake, and pour ice water on them. The Midianites came in judgment, so the Israelites had to hide in caves, could not reap from their fields, and were plunged into poverty. After six years of this, they cried out to God for mercy, and He raised up a judge.
This judge was no hero or warrior. He was hiding like everyone else, throwing wheat into the air in a pit. But the Angel of the Lord (an Old Testament appearance of Jesus) appeared to him and said: "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor." No one looking at Gideon would have called him valiant. He was not a warrior. For six years, he could have tried to stand up to the Midianites (and probably died in the process), but he was just hiding. Yet his past did not determine his identity or his future. God saw what Gideon could be and would be and so that is who he was.
God is a transformer. He promised Israel that he would give the nation a new name (Isaiah 62:4-6), no longer desolate and deserted but married and beloved. In the same way, He promises us individually a new name (Revelation 2:17). We, like Gideon, are not who we have been but who God has declared us to be. Gideon's weakness, sin, and failings were not the end of his story! And yours and mine are not ours.
Discussion idea: What sin or weakness are you tempted to let define you? What does God call you in the gospel instead?
Prayer focus: Lord, help me to bring my sin and shame to You to be forgiven, and to trust Your word about who You have called me to be.
Key Verse: Acts 4:20
Big Idea: For the Church of Jesus, the greater the heat the greater the expansion.
Acts 4 feels like it could have been a scene from Luke. Jesus performs a miracle, the religious leaders don't like it, and their conflict begins to ramp up. The only difference is that this time, Jesus is already seated in Heaven and is performing this miracle through the hands of His people. Peter and John were held overnight and questioned about what had happened. They did not cower to the pressure of the authorities, but used the opportunity to boldly talk about what Jesus had done for them.
When Jesus had been in Jerusalem, the religious authorities were nervous about what to do with Him: they could not leave Him to continue undermining them, but they knew if they struck out publicly, the people would side with Him. They faced the same problem with Peter and John: here was a public miracle and a peaceful message. What could they do? They seemed to have no option but to make private threats. The apostles were getting a warning this time, but if they continued to preach about Jesus, there would be repercussions. Often, the greatest fears we have are more from innuendo and vague objections than anything concrete. How many times do we work ourselves up over a half-conceived notion of what might be, rather than what God assures us is infallibly true?
Peter's response was simple: they had to obey God instead of people. The priority of their loyalty was clear. Besides, even if they wanted to keep it quiet, what they had seen was too wonderful to keep in. Through their boldness, the church's ministry to the outside world strengthened, and their connection to each other grew deeper. The work Jesus started could not be doused by opposition: persecution only seemed to make His people stronger. If we trust the example God has shown us in Scripture, how could we doubt that He is using it all for good?
Discussion Idea: Why would times of peace be more dangerous than times of persecution?
Prayer Focus: Pray for the skill to find gospel opportunities in difficulties, and lift a specific current challenge in your life up to God for His help in using it for His glory.