August 21 – Missions Spotlight – Ben & Sandie Dyke

Read Judges 7:1-25

Ministry: Giving high school and college students and faculty opportunities to know God and grow in a relationship with Him in the U.S. and around the world.

Missionaries: Ben and Sandie Dyke

When the pandemic began to affect the U.S. in March of 2020, our ministry with Cru to students and faculty began to change rapidly. Conferences and mission trips were canceled. All of our in-person interaction with both other Cru staff and the students and faculty we were working with went all virtual. And we began to think, “OK, what is our plan B? What is our backup plan?” 

There are many places in the Bible that talk about plans and plans changing, plans being disrupted, or things not working out exactly how the people in the story thought they would or should. I mean, who would have thought that God’s plan to save the world from their sins was sending a baby born in a barn (Jesus) to earth through a virgin (Mary)?

However, as we can see throughout the entire Bible, God has a purpose for all He does, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense to us. In Judges 7, God uses Gideon and only 300 of the least qualified soldiers out of the possible 33,000 men to defeat the Midianites and bring glory to Himself. Gideon thought he needed the 33,000 men to win the battle, but God had a different plan.

Even in our ministry to students and faculty, our predominant way to connect with individuals and do ministry was in person. Now, I don’t think any of us want to only be doing things virtually the rest of our lives. However, God had a plan all along that even used something as terrible as a pandemic to accomplish His purposes. He knew that the pandemic would cause us to innovate other ways to do ministry virtually to bring people to Himself. God never has a Plan B. God’s plan is always Plan A. And even when we can’t see or completely understand why things are happening the way they are, we need to have faith in Him and trust in who He is as the all-knowing and all-powerful God who has a plan for us. God’s plan gives us a future, and it gives us hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Pray: Pray for wisdom on how to continue leveraging new ways of doing ministry as the school year begins in August and that God would continue to use Cru on campus to bring people to Himself.

June 25 – God of Second Chances – Samson

Read Judges 16:28-30

I hate to be the one to break the news to you but you are not perfect.  No one is! The Bible tells us in Romans 3:23 that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  The unfortunate thing is that many of us tend to think that, because of our sin or because of our baggage, we cannot be used by God.  We feel that our past and our shortcomings exclude us from being a servant of the Lord.  But these are lies!  God is never finished with us.  Like the song we sing on Sunday mornings during worship, “If I’m not dead then You’re not done” (My Testimony). 

One of the great examples of God giving someone a second chance is the story of Samson.  He was a Nazarite and had vows to keep until his death, one of which was to never cut his hair.  Samson’s strength came from his hair.  But what happened?  He told the secret of his strength and, while he was sleeping, his hair was cut and he became powerless. 

Samson was seized by the Philistines who went so far as to gouge out his eyes and bind him in bronze shackles in prison where he was forced into grinding grain. 

Sounds like game over for Samson!  The once mighty man was nothing but a shell of a man.  In prison and forced in to hard labor with no sight and in a place where he faced abuse from the Philistines. 

But God was not done with Samson. 

In Judges 16:22, it says, “But his hair began to grow back after it had been shaved.”  His hair was where he received his power.  It was sheared off.  Removed.  But it started to grow back. 

Things in our past are just that; the past.  It is behind us.  In a sense, our past and our sins or our circumstances leave us feeling powerless.  But the LORD is not done with us! He is never done with us as long as there is breath in our lungs. 

Samson was in chains, the prized prisoner of the Philistines. As they brought him out during a sacrifice to one of their gods, the ONE AND ONLY LIVING GOD ALMIGHTY did a mighty thing! 

Judges 16:28-30 says Samson called out to the Lord:

“Lord God, please remember me. Strengthen me, God, just once more. With one act of vengeance, let me pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” Samson took hold of the two middle pillars supporting the temple and leaned against them, one on his right hand and the other on his left.  Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the leaders and all the people in it. And those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed in his life.”

God had given Samson the task of delivering Israel and he blew it; because of that, he was unable to finish the job.  But God gave him a second chance and Samson delivered on his prayer request to the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, your past is behind you!  The Lord is not finished with you.  He used a man like Samson who had broken his vow and sinned against Him, was imprisoned and blind, and He can and will use each one us to accomplish His will.

What is in your past that is holding you back? What could God do in and through you if you unshackled yourself and followed hard after Him?

Nate Mills

June 8 – Wait, who? – Ehud

Read Judges 3:12-27

If you have ever read the book of Judges, Kings or Chronicles, there is one phrase you became familiar with: “The Sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord”…over and over and over again. 

Here we are in Judges 3 where we are introduced to Ehud but, before we get to Ehud, in chapter 3 alone, we see that phrase twice.

Time and time again the people of Israel turned against the Lord and what was best and chose their own paths, wants and desires, ending up in slavery. Yet, the Lord repeatedly delivered them and in this particular chapter we meet Ehud.

We don’t learn much about who Ehud is, but, if the Lord “raised him up”, we have to conclude that He was a God-fearing, God-listening man. He followed God’s instructions in a time of need for His people and, through Ehud, the Lord delivered His people from underneath Moab. 

As I read this chapter, the biggest reminder that sticks out is how God brings forth deliverance. Throughout history and the Word of God, we see deliverance occur. The choices we make cause separation from God or His best and then we cry out to Him. And because of His love for us, He delivers us.

Over and over and over again. 

How many times in our own lives has God delivered us? For me, I can say countless occasions. I specifically think back to the time in my life when I did evil in the sight of the Lord, saw zero hope and chose to take my own life. During the attempt, God intervened and I was delivered out of the darkness of my mind and heart. Everything that I suffered with was Eglon, king of Moab, and Ehud was Jesus. And just like Ehud came and quite literally destroyed Eglon, Jesus destroyed my way of thinking and feeling and caused a new light to appear, a new hope and a new peace.

I was delivered. 

If you get anything from reading Judges 3, other than a graphic death scene, get this;

Jesus will fight for you, He cares for you and He will and has crushed the head of evil. 

This deliverance offered is free for us, but the only way to get there is through Jesus.

Just like the only hope for the sons of Israel was Ehud. 

I don’t know what you may be going through, I don’t know what decisions or choices you are faced with, what heartache may haunt you or what emotions fill your mind, but what I do know is that, because Jesus will fight for you, because of His love for you, He will deliver you and has delivered you; all you have to do is choose to go before Him, cry out and turn the other way with Him by your side. 

Kelly Lawson

August 9 – Coward to Conqueror – Ending Well

Read Judges 8:21-32

Recently, I took on a new title. In addition to wife, mother, daughter and sister, I now proudly wear the title of  “grandmother.” Due to complications, I didn’t get to meet my grandson until he was one month old, but, the moment I held him in my arms, I was in love.

His life is a miracle.

There’s something about welcoming a new generation that causes us to ponder our new role, the influence we have on a new life. As I enter into a new season, I realize the importance of leaving a godly legacy.

Today we come to the end of our study of Gideon. He has left a legacy as a hero of the faith. We have watched him grow from a coward, hiding in a wine press, to a mighty warrior, conquering an entire army. All along the way, he was a man of conviction and obedience until now. We all like stories with happy endings. I wish I could say Gideon’s is. But even though it doesn’t end well, there is a great challenge for us concealed within these verses.

Yet. A simple three letter word.  It means up until the present time. It’s a transitional word that changes everything.  After defeating the Midianite kings, the men of Israel tried to make Gideon and his heirs rule over them. Gideon refused and reaffirmed the truth that the Lord was their Ruler. Gideon should have stopped there, but the next verse ushers in the compromise. Yet. Gideon said the right words, but his actions proved something different. He compromised. In the absence of spiritual leadership, he thought his last responsibility was to create an ephod from the earrings and gold that were spoils of the Midianite kings. We read in Exodus 28 that the ephod was part of the high priestly garment. God gave specific instructions on its design and use. Gideon may have had good intentions, but he did not seek God’s guidance. Intentions do not equate to obedience without God’s direction. Just like Aaron in the wilderness, the new image became the downfall of the nation as they returned to idolatry, leaving God and His miraculous work in their lives forgotten.

As we continue to read, we see that Gideon accumulated wealth and wives. He may not have had the title king, but he chose to live like one. If you read further in chapter 8, you will see he didn’t have a good track record as a father either. His son, Abimelech, hung out with worthless and reckless fellows and killed all 70 of his brothers! (Judges 9:4,5) Gideon fell into the snare of compromise. As long as he said that God was in charge, he could live like He wasn’t.

What happened? The Gideon we see in chapters 6 and 7 was a man of conviction and obedience. Now he is a man of comfort and apathy, falling prey to Satan’s lie that he has earned a life of ease. He chose to trust in Himself rather than God. Read Judges chapter 8 carefully and see what is missing. Gideon’s conquests were his own personal pursuits. His former habit of seeking God is blatantly absent. Proverbs 3:7 says, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” Rather than turning away from evil, Gideon was trapped by it and it all began when he chose to ignore his relationship with God.    

Next to Psalm 103:17 in my Bible is my grandson’s birth date. It was my prayer that morning and the promise God gave me. “But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children.” Throughout his month in the NICU, I claimed Psalm 145:4 almost daily. “One generation shall praise Thy works to another and shall declare Thy mighty acts.” That is the longing of my heart, but I have a responsibility to the next generation. In this new season of life there is no room for compromise. I must live a life of conviction and full obedience to God. May all who come behind me find me faithful. The prayer of my heart is, “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:18) Only then will I leave a godly legacy to the next generation. Only then will I end well.

Charline Engle

August 8 – Coward to Conqueror – What Dictates?

Read Judges 8:4-19

One lesson I continue to learn is to be careful with my words and actions when my emotions run high. When we are exhausted and drained emotionally, we can easily let our guard down and regret what comes out of our mouth and our choices. 

Gideon was weary and hungry, a combination that can ignite anger in any of us. On top of that, we read in verse 19, that he was grieving the loss of his brothers. Perhaps mixed in with all his emotions was guilt. After all he was the leader of the army. Weariness, hunger, guilt and grief. Gideon was in need of God refreshing his soul, but as verse 4 states he was weary, yet pursuing. He did not stop. At this point it seems like Gideon is acting on his own strength, rather than on God’s and we find that his downfall is just around the corner.

When the town leaders of Succoth and Penuel refused to give food to his hungry, tired men, Gideon lost it. He lashed out in angry words and threats. With gentleness and kindness by the wayside, he discovered the power of words that tear down others. Although Gideon was a hero and man of faith, from this time forward his story takes a turn in a different direction. Unfortunately after these events, the rest of the story does not end well.

This account reminds me of another man of God, who acted when emotions ran high. (Read 1 Samuel 25:1-35) David and his men had been living in a cave, fleeing from King Saul. Samuel died and all Israel was mourning his loss. Grief filled David and his men were weary and hungry. David sent ten young men to ask wealthy Nabal for some food and his request was rejected. In anger David chose to fight, but God intervened by sending Abigail to diffuse the situation. (verse 32)

Acting on emotions is never a good thing. Lysa TerKeurst says, “Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around.”

Years later, probably when David was a king, he wrote in Psalm 23 that the Lord makes him lie down in green pastures and leads him beside quiet waters. When we are weary and our emotions are on the edge, God tells us to stop and receive refreshment.  Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 

Perhaps if Gideon would have stopped and refreshed in the Lord rather than acting on his emotions, his story would have ended differently. Our story is still unfolding. What will dictate? Our emotions or our strength in the Lord?

Charline Engle

August 7 – Coward to Conqueror – Timely Words

Read Judges 8:1-3

Mother Teresa once said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” We all have experienced the power of words, both positive and negative. Words can tear down and words can build up. Words can wound and words can heal. The book of Proverbs is filled with verses about the power of words.

“Kind words are like honey- sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” Proverbs 16:24

“A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.” Proverbs 18:4

Our passage today finds Gideon facing a new enemy- his own people. The last thing he needed to hear was whining and complaining from the men of Ephraim. The haughty Ephramites were more concerned with themselves and why they were not included in the initial attack than they were about the victory that had just happened across the Jordan. They had on their “boxing gloves” ready to pick a fight. Rather than putting on his “gloves” and defending himself, he chose a gentle answer that was like life-giving water to a weary, discontented soul. He chose, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, a word good for edification according to the need of the moment. We know that his carefully chosen words diffused the situation. Look closely at the end of verse 3. “Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that.”

Kindness and gentleness are fruits of the Spirit. Both of these fruits are seen not only in our actions but in our words. Words hold great power. The next time someone wants to fight with words, remember the promise the writer of Proverbs gives. “A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word.”

Charline Engle

August 6 – Coward to Conqueror – Declaration of War

Read Judges 7:18-20

According to the Constitution of the United States, Congress has the authority to declare war. On December 8, 1941, just a day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President  Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a declaration of war against Japan. Just three days later, he signed the declaration that entered our country into war against Nazi Germany. One document, one signature and our military was unleashed against the enemy.  

In biblical times, God ordained the priests to rally the troops with the sound of the trumpet. Numbers 10:8,9 states “The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations. And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and be saved from your enemies.” The sound of the priestly trumpet was a declaration of war. God made it clear that this was a law established by Him throughout their generations.

I do not claim to be a biblical scholar, but the Old Testament book of Numbers spends ample time showing that God separated the Levites among the tribes of Israel to serve as His priests. No other tribe was given this calling. God gave extreme detail to their duties. It was not a service to be taken lightly. This is why I question why Gideon, of the tribe of Manasseh (Judges 6:15) was the trumpet blower as he gathered his troops against the Midianites. (Judges 6:34) Where were the priests? I see no mention of them. Previously in Judges 6:10 we understand that Israel had not obeyed God and had drifted far away from Him. The whole period of the judges is characterized by everyone doing what was right in their own eyes. (Judges 21:25)  After the death of Joshua, there arose another generation who did not know the Lord. (Judges 2:10) The baton had not been passed. Israel had chosen to live in idolatry. I think I’m safe to assume the reason for the absence of the priests is obvious.

Although it was God’s decree that the Levitical priests blow the trumpets to declare war, Gideon was now chosen as the trumpet blower. After assembling the troops and following God’s order to decrease the number of soldiers from 32,000 to 300, he gave each soldier a trumpet. Only the military leader would have blown the shofar, but Gideon equipped each man with his own. Upon his command not one, but 300 loud shofars blew which would have indicated an enormous army. At the sound of such intense noise, the Midianites fled and God defeated the enemy.

Gideon, in the absence of the priests, took on priestly duties and he equipped each of his soldiers with a horn to blow as well. In a real sense each soldier became a priest. As they sounded the trumpets they remembered that it is the Lord who saves them from their enemies.

We too are priests. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) God has equipped each of us with weaponry and armor to face the enemy. We are in a spiritual war and as a priest of His we are to blow the trumpet, rally the troops and prepare for the battle. God supplied Gideon and his army with unique weapons, not swords and mighty chariots, but clay pots and trumpets. The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. (2 Corinthians 10:4) And He has called us conquerors through Jesus Christ! (Romans 8:37)

Today, exercise your role as His priest and blow the trumpet, put on His armor, take up His weapons and be a conqueror! For the battle is not yours but God’s and He has signed the declaration of war and has already defeated the enemy!

Charline Engle

August 5 – Coward to Conqueror – Redeeming the Broken

Read Judges 7:15-19

The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? Romans 9:21

It is fascinating to watch a potter transform a lump of clay. My daughter and niece are both artists and have enjoyed the art of the wheel, creating useful and beautiful bowls and vessels. In her college pottery class, my daughter learned how fragile the pottery is as many of her pieces broke in the process. Rather than throwing the broken pieces away, she chose to rescue and incorporate them into her canvas paintings. As a result of her creativity, she gave a new value to the broken pieces. A new value. A new use. Redeeming the broken.

Gideon, full of courage and the assurance that God was going to give the Midianites into his hands, chose rather unusual weaponry. Rather than equipping his mere 300 men to advance on the 135,000 fortified Midianites with swords and arrows, he gave each soldier a pitcher, a trumpet and a torch. At Gideon’s command the men were instructed to break the pitchers, revealing the light of the torches inside.  The sound of the trumpets and the penetrating lights around the Midianite camp forced the enemy to  flee. “And when they blew 300 trumpets, the Lord set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army.” (Judges 7:22) The enemy fled and in their confusion God turned them on each other. What an incredible military strategy!

The simple clay water pitcher became the source of victory. God took the common and gave it honorable use. But just like my daughter’s painting, the common only became valuable once it was broken. It reminds me of the woman recorded in Mark 14 who came with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, broke the vessel and poured the perfume over the head of Jesus. Some were angry at what they deemed as a wasteful act, for the perfume’s value was a worker’s pay for an entire year. But Jesus honored her good deed, an anointment of his body beforehand for his burial. The common vessel became valuable when it was broken because of what it contained. Once the vial was broken the aroma filled the room. Once the pitcher was shattered the light permeated the darkness.

Paul says that we are a fragrance of Christ- and aroma from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:15,16) Jesus calls us the light of the world and commands our light to shine. (Matthew 5:14-16) Our light and our aroma will not permeate the world unless we willingly allow our Potter to use us for His purpose. He alone can take the common and give it honor through the process of being broken. David said, “I am like a broken vessel.” (Psalm 31:12) God took the broken pieces of David’s life and made a new heart, a man after God’s heart.

A pitcher as a weapon to defeat an insurmountable army seems more than unusual. But God chooses the weak, the insignificant, even the broken to show His power and victory.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) In the hands of the Artist, even the broken can be redeemed.

Charline Engle

August 4 – Coward to Conqueror – God’s Dew

Read Judges 6:36-40

A rocking chair and an open Bible. These are two indelible memories of my mom. The upholstery of the green and white chair was worn from the many morning hours she spent there meeting God in His Word and in prayer. I can still picture her sitting in the sun room where she found such peace watching the birds at the feeder hovering above the beauty of her flowers with her bible open on her lap. Perhaps that’s one reason why she cherished the hymn, In the Garden. “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” The words of the hymn echo the heart of my mom.

The phrase “to lay out a fleece” is often associated with seeking the will of God in a particular situation. This is what Gideon did as he sought additional confirmation from God for the task that was ahead. Gideon could have asked for any miraculous sign, so why did he choose the sign of a dew soaked sheepskin or the ground around it?  It is unclear why Gideon requested this specifically. However there are some lessons perhaps we can glean.

Dew helped sustain vegetation in the dry and arid land of Israel. We see in Numbers 11:9 that God sent the manna with the dew every night to the camp of Israel while they wandered the wilderness. It is a reminder of God’s daily provision and blessing. Moses, at the end of his life, said in Deut. 32:2, “Let my teaching fall like rain, and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.” Moses compared his teaching of God’s Word to the refreshment and life giving sustenance of dew and rain. In fact later in the chapter Moses says concerning the words of the law, “They are not just idle words for you- they are your life.” (Deut. 32:47)

When Gideon squeezed the dew from the fleece and collected a whole bowl full of water (Judges 6:38), perhaps he was reminded that God was pouring out his blessing of sustenance. Life giving water like God’s life giving words. Soon God was going to strip away Gideon’s army. What looked like what would sustain Gideon’s victory, 33,000 soldiers, would soon be stripped down to just an army of 300. The bowl full of water, not forgotten, was a picture of God’s blessings and sustenance already provided, complete and full.

He is our bowl full of water. He is our living water. All our sustenance is in Him. As the dew provides nourishment for the plants, so His Word provides life for our soul. Complete and full.

“I stay in the garden with Him though the night around me is falling. But He bids me go; through the voice of woe. His voice to me is calling.” The night brings the dew and in the morning it is a shower of blessing.

Charline Engle

August 3 – Coward to Conqueror – If

Read Judges 6:36-40

I was playing an intense game of Scrabble the other day with my daughter. She won. I still had several letter tiles left at the end of the game. Every letter counts. The letter “F” is worth four points and as a two letter word, can be paired with an “I”.

How can two small letters imply such emotion? If. Speak it aloud. Just hearing the word digs up doubt, uncertainty, and longing. This simple conjunction, connecting two phrases, is conditional.  An “if” statement, usually followed by a “then” statement, is part of a cause and effect. It requires certain terms to be met.

Gideon, a man of fear, was not too fearful to question God. He was an “if” man and wanted to understand God’s conditions. We see this over and over in Judges 6 and 7. Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about… (6:13) So Gideon said to Him,

If now I have found favor in Thy sight, then show me a sign that it is Thou who speakest with me.” (6:17) Then Gideon said to God, “If Thou wilt deliver Israel through me, as Thou hast spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that Thou wilt deliver Israel through me, as Thou hast spoken.” (6:36,37)

Prior to each of these “ifs” of Gideon’s, he had received a promise from God. But it appears that his doubts progress with each promise. God provided Gideon the sign for which he asked, saved his life from those who wanted to kill him and empowered him with His Spirit and still Gideon wasn’t convinced. Gideon allowed his “ifs” to overpower God’s “thens”. God patiently and mercifully produced for Gideon, showing time and again that His word was trustworthy, but Gideon didn’t believe.

Thomas had a lot in common with Gideon. He also was an “if” man. Following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to all his disciples except Thomas. Thomas said to them “If I don’t see the marks of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!” (John 20:25 HCSB) Thomas needed proof. Gideon had proof. But still doubt overpowered.

Just like Gideon and Thomas, I have seen the evidence of God’s love, faithfulness and deliverance, yet still doubt His goodness. As uncertain circumstances arise, I find my mind jumping to “ifs,” rather than trusting God who is sovereign and in complete control. Jesus provided the proof Thomas required and told him to stop doubting and believe. He is saying the same to each of us. No conditions, just trust. No “ifs”. After all, at the end of the game, you don’t want to be left with just two tiles, “I” and “F”.

Charline Engle