Monday, November 13, 2006

2006 California Conference

Above is a view from our hotel, the Riverside Marriott.

I've just spent the last four days in Riverside, CA for what was, I believe, the fifth annual Robert McLaughlin Bible Ministries California Conference. We had a great time, as always. Two classes a day, Friday and Saturday, a question and answer period Saturday night after class and another class and communion on Sunday.

I got some great answers in class and in the Q&A afterward and was so looking forward to going over my notes (I'm a copious note-taker) only to discover that somehow I'd left my notebook in the hotel room! Arg. (One of a number of consequences of going on a trip immediately after a big push to finish a book draft. For the second time now, I have dared to venture out into public without a brain. This time, fortunately, I gave no speeches, but I was amazingly turnip-headed! Leaving my notes behind is just one example!)

Anyway, today I tried to recall some of the things that stuck out for me and here are some snippets and reflections ...

In honor of Veteran's Day Pastor McLaughlin broke from his study of the seven churches in Revelation to do a special on soldiers. He started with the doctrine of Warfare, then went on to a study of Gideon.

Gideon's story starts at the end of the 40 years of peace that followed the victories of Deborah and Barak. Israel is once again doing evil in the sight of the Lord, ie, getting involved in idolatry. I've often wondered about all the emphasis on idolatry in the Old Testament, in light of Romans 15:4 (For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have confidence.) If it's for our example, instruction and encouragement why all the references to idolatry being such a problem? I mean, you don't see too many statues of Baal around these days. Then he defined idolatry: anything we turn to for help, happiness, support, success, comfort, encouragement or security instead of the word of God. By that definition, idolatry takes on new meaning.

Even as Christians, how many of us turn to something besides the word to make us feel better or more confident or secure? How many of us focus on getting that thing we just know is going to solve all our problems and make us wonderfully and finally happy? In fact, without it, we are often desperately unhappy and yearning. It can be a job, writing, being published, getting a mate, having the mate you have act right, having your family or kids turn out right... the options are innumerable. I see the temptations everywhere, but for me now they especially hang out in the field of writing when it comes to getting or being/staying published.

As Pastor McLaughlin moved through the passage the next major subject was miracles and how miracles are the easiest thing in the world for God to do. The much harder thing for God to do is to get a Believer to line up his thinking with God's -- to learn His word and then to apply it to his life. A miracle can be accomplished by a snap of God's fingers, but bringing a Believer to maturity requires that believer's volition. And a lot of time and consistency.

Miracles are used for many things, but rarely does God use them to deliver his people from their problems. Instead, the deliverance lies in his word -- in changing our thinking and our viewpoint and really believing what God has already told us. And that's pretty much what happened with Gideon. The arabs in the land were the problem, and the miracles didn't solve the problem.

Gideon was visited by the Lord and told right off that he -- Gideon -- was going to deliver Israel. After that he saw two miracles: the fire coming out of the rock to consume the meat and the bread he'd offered, and the Lord vanishing before his eyes. But at that point, instead of remembering what he'd just been told (that he was going to deliver Israel) he thought he was going to drop dead from having seen God. His panic tells us how short his memory had become, and how shaky his understanding of God's very recent word to him was.

Of course he didn't drop dead, but finally got his act together, listened to what God told him to do and went and tore down his father's idol -- in the night. And that was another cool thing. Gideon was too afraid of his father to do it in the day, and his fear (despite having been told directly by God that he was going to deliver Israel and seeing two miracles) caused him to do it at night. Which, ironically was exactly what God wanted him to do since the final operation for which Gideon was being prepared would be accomplished at night. I find the fact that God has incorporated even our failures into His wonderful plan to be extremely comforting. And also the demonstration here of His very great patience with us when we are total doofuses.

Which Gideon surely was. For after he tore down the idol and saw his father suddenly switch sides and defend him against the angry religious Israelites who wanted him dead, and after 32,000 Israelites came at his call to be under his command, he lost his nerve again. This is so much what I see in my own life. Great things happen, you realize God is leading you in a direction, first you're afraid to step out on faith but finally you do it, then the stakes multiply and -- oh, no! What if I make a mistake? I have 32,000 men waiting for me to command them. What do I know about command? What if I fail? Oh, noooo.....

So then we have the fleece episode which is really... well, blasphemy. God already told Gideon what was going to happen, and Gideon just didn't believe him. The God who cannot lie. The God who does not change, and in whom there is no turning or shadow. Gideon doubts Him, so he asks God to prove himself. Give me a sign. How many of us do that? I'm really not sure you mean what you say here in your word, God. Could you make the stoplight turn red right now? Or the lights in my living room flicker? Or have someone call me? And God was gracious. He did the miracle. Only to have Gideon doubt the miracle and turn around and ask for another. And even while being insulted, again, God answered his request.

I liked how pastor emphasized at this point how in Judges 6, Gideon had been doing all the talking and not listening much. As a result he didn't learn much and kept falling into fear. But in Judges 7 God started doing the talking, Gideon started listening and obeying and finally started moving forward in the plan...