Key verse: Judges 7:2
Big idea: It is God’s power that breaks our cycles.
Have you ever asked a child who taught them something? Many times, they will say, "I taught myself," or "I just knew." Of course, that is rarely true. Someone spent time and energy with them, showing them how to read, how to do a puzzle, how to write their name, or whatever it may be. But they forgot! They only remember that they have the skill, and they are proud of it. Their memories are short and so the person who put in the work doesn't get much credit.
Unfortunately, we are like that with God. We turn to God in a moment of crisis and pray, "I can't make it anymore, Lord, I need you to rescue me!" God does, graciously, and then in a few weeks or months we look back and think, "Wow, I really handled that well." Whenever we can take the credit, we do! We forget about God's help, the way He ordered our circumstances, put the right people in our paths, and encouraged our hearts when we did not have the strength to go on any further. Pride drives out worship.
God knows this, obviously. He is not surprised by this weakness in our hearts and sometimes He takes surprising steps to mitigate against it. That was certainly the case with Gideon. This "mighty man of valor" that we met last week was going to conquer the Midianites but God knew that it would be easy for him to take the credit. So the Lord made it painfully obvious that it was not Gideon's power that did it. He had the commander send home soldier in waves, telling him that there were too many of them. Imagine any military commander, pastor, business person, or teacher saying, "The problem here is that we have too much help and too much money." It's absurd! But because God's primary interest was not in rescuing the Israelites from Midian but from sin, He needed fewer people to prevent them from taking the credit. 19,700 troops were sent home. 300 were used by God to deliver the nation. It was a powerful picture.
In fact, He could have done it with 299. Or even 0! When He defeated the army of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, no Israelite had to raise up a sword. The point was to make it clear that it is not our strength, but God's that does the real heavy lifting. Our own cycles of sin and pride will only take us in the same downward direction that they always have. The only way out is for a hand up. God reached down into our death and helplessness if we are willing to admit that it is helplessness, and saves us when we could never save ourselves. We only need the faith and the humility to ask.
Discussion idea: What is something God has done for you which you have let slip from your mind? We are we so "prone to wander," as the old hymn says?
Prayer focus: Lord, I cannot do anything on my own. You are the vine, and I am the branch, all that I have comes from You and without You I can do nothing. Take away the things that give the delusion of self-sufficiency and teach me to trust and to worship.
Key Verse: Acts 5:3
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus can only operate with integrity.
The continuing saga of the church at Jerusalem is interesting: God's people grew stronger when faced with external opposition. As they were rejected by the outside world, they were forced to depend on each other ever more intensely. They sold their property and lived with all things in common, probably because finding work when their Jewish neighbors considered them heretics was more and more difficult. But the greatest test to their fellowship yet was not beatings or mockery, but plain old human greed. A church can stand up to many external threats without flinching, but internal division is a cancer which threatens to be fatal.
Ananias and Sapphira were members of the church at Jerusalem, who sold their property, but held part of it back for themselves. They apparently wanted to live out of the community's resources, while still keeping something for their own luxury. It is obvious that if many people did this, the whole community would collapse. Maybe it is less obvious that the risk was much more than financial: a church can only function when she has integrity. Hypocrisy and self-serving attitudes undermine everything Jesus taught. Attitudes like that forget that God knows the depths of our hearts and wants the entirety of who we are for Himself. Ananias, and then Sapphira, were struck dead for trying to lie to God, and the whole community was awestruck. God removed a bad witness, where their sin was undermining the gospel, and created a good one: God is holy, and cannot be deceived. The church at Jerusalem was protected and Jesus' ministry continued to spread.
Ministers and members who try to fool God by living in sin may see some temporary results. They might build up a personal brand or even church attendance for a while, but they will never have the blessing of God to do what really matters. Gimmicks, whether the pursuit of the ultra-contemporary or the worship of tradition, are no substitute for the power of the living God that comes when we walk with Him.
Discussion Idea: Why did God act so decisively in response to this sin? What are some similar actions today regarding the church which we might take lightly, but which God does not?
Prayer Focus: Ask God to help you identify the subtle areas where you are most vulnerable and protect you from those temptations.