I have been sharing the announcement that Abingdon Press will turn my sermon series Crash Test Dummies into a chapter book and small group resource in September of 2017. It will be the fifth such collaboration between the ministry at Good Shepherd and the publishers in Nashville.
I have previously related the unique challenges that go along with preaching and teaching from the book of Judges. How can you find good news in a book that is so bereft of redemption? How can you find any intelligence among all the dummies?
Perhaps the best locale is in the prelude to the story of Gideon. Not the character of Gideon — despite all his bibles in hotel rooms across the USA, he is no hero — but in the story before his story.
Here it is, from Judges 6:1-10. Before you read this, you need to know: by Judges 6, the Israelites have already been through numerous cycles in which they have sinned, they have been enslaved, they have called out for a deliverer (that’s what a judge is), they have been delivered, and they have immediately fallen back into sin.
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.
7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”
See that? God does not answer their prayer. The people ask for a deliverer, and God sends a prophet. They long for redemption and he sends a history lesson.
The prophet – I love this – who is both unnamed AND who does not predict the future — tells them of the past! All that God had done in delivering them from slavery, the how and the why, and the reminder that the main requirement for them to stay in favor was the avoid idolatry. But then the Lord through his prophet lowers the boom in the last line:
But you have not listened to me.
Mic drop. And in that delay is everything you need to know. If God had delivered the people immediately following their outcry, what would he have been doing? ENABLING! 4th time! So here he says “No no no no. Why should I answer THIS PRAYER when you never acted on the LAST ONE I answered?” God was so with the people that he had to depart from them. He was so for them he had to be temporarily against them. In order to help them, he first had to hurt them. Yep. God here refuses to be co-dependent. He will not let Israel’s problem become his problem.
And every parent, spouse, sibling, friend who DIDN’T BAIL OUT, who DIDN’T RESCUE, who DIDN’T LOAN MONEY, who DIDN’T TOLERATE POOR WORK PERFORMANCE knows exactly what God was going through when he sent a history lesson instead of an answered prayer.
Because in the face of repeated, habitual sin, God refuses to enable. But he delights to empower. And that’s very good news indeed.
Do you have a previously answered prayer that God is still waiting for you to act on? Is it time for you to recognize that God won’t do for you what he needs to do with you?
Our God is so secure that he will not enable us. Our God is so loving that he delights to empower us.
And that’s some divine intelligence in the middle of all the crash test dummies.
Crash Test Dummies is available through Amazon and my publisher, Abingdon Press.
Update: As of June 2018, several pastors have been using Crash Test Dummies as part of their own sermon series. You can listen to the series as sermons on GSUMC’s Vimeo Channel and these sites:
Order through Amazon: