That Speaking Thing I Did


Gentle Reader,

Never open your mouth at a retreat.

This past spring I was able to attend my church’s district women’s retreat. (I am a member of the Church of the Nazarene. A district is just a group of congregations in a particular geographic area, overseen by a superintendent. If you’re interested in what that looks like, here’s a map). I got to stay with friends in a beautiful bunkhouse up in the mountains, surrounded by trees and quiet, with a lake just a few hundred yards away. The speaker’s messages moved me to ponder the Lord and my relationship with Him, the music was deep and soulful and did I mention the quiet? How I needed the time away.

There were also workshops. One of them focused on Bible study and small groups.

That’s my jam.

In my “this chick is far too intense about this” way, I shared how important Bible study is and how, if God has gifted you to serve Him in that way, then that’s exactly what you should do, no matter if you lead a group of 3 or your group is so big you have to break it down into several groups. Two of the district leaders present encouraged me and affirmed my calling, which was incredible. One of them even told me that she thought I should speak at “The Mix,” the district discipleship conference in October.

I pretty much laughed at that.

Never thought it would happen.

Because I’m not a speaker.

Then I stopped being a Resident Assistant at the shelter and moved over to the Chaplaincy Team. Suddenly speaking was expected. Now, of course I’m used to leading a small group. I know how to guide a conversation and keep discussion flowing. But just me? Up front, alone, talking? With people looking at me?

Not my jam.

Just after becoming a chaplain, I received an email. Would I speak at “The Mix?” Would I do two sessions on Bible study, the “why” and the “how” of it?

Wait, what?

God, I think, delights in shoving us outside of our comfort zones, because we have no choice but to rely on Him. I knew immediately that I was supposed to accept the invitation. Definitely flying without a net.

Shortly after that, the pastor who heads the Chaplaincy Team asked me if I would like to teach. I’d been there…maybe four times at that point. This was just before I had surgery, so I asked if it could be a combination of sermon/lesson/testimony/whatever. He was cool with that. I showed up at the shelter an hour before I was to speak, pacing the room, praying. “Um, yeah, Jesus? I don’t know what I’m doing. Would you please just really show up today? Make sure the focus is on You, not me.”

When we seek to glorify Him, God’s answer is always “yes.” My words weren’t polished or amazing or up there with “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But the Holy Spirit moved and He was strong and the prayers afterward were powerful and something really began to unwind in me that day.

Still, as of 8:00 a.m. on Friday, September 30, I wasn’t sure if I was going to show up for “The Mix” the next morning.

As I got ready for the day, I listened to this and the line about David running at Goliath hit me with all the force of the stone from that sling. David didn’t kill the giant because David was so cool. David killed the giant because God was there, with him, enabling to do what he had been tasked with doing.


I heard that.

Yet my heart continued to pound. My palms continued to sweat. I felt like running away. I even asked my mom if she wanted to read what I had written (I am definitely NOT an off-the-cuff speaker, for sure) as we pulled into the parking lot of the church where “The Mix” was held. She just smiled at me.

I was supposed to speak in the afternoon, but of course the schedule changed. Up first. Back-to-back sessions. I don’t mind telling you that sweat trickled down the back of my neck. (That could have been due to the ungodly temperature of the room, but I doubt it).

The person who had asked me to speak opened the session in prayer.


For a second I thought I might have a heart attack and drop dead.

As soon as I opened my mouth, a strange, indescribable peace descended. I may never be asked to speak at anything ever again, but those two hours on that Saturday morning – that’s exactly where I was supposed to be. The Lord filled me with assurance. My voice didn’t crack. I didn’t cry. I was able to make eye contact with each person there.

Only God can do that. Only He can take a person who can’t do the thing and give her all that she needs to do the thing. Only He can empower that way. Only He can provide the necessary boldness, confidence and love for the hearers required to share a message that was, at points, hard. It was no fluffy, feel-good sermon I had. It was, for all intents and purposes, a call to action.

I doubt that I’ll be setting up a speaking tour anytime soon, but next time, if there is a next time, I won’t be quite so afraid. Or maybe I will be. Doesn’t matter. It’s all about God, anyway.

May I remember that.

May you remember that.


There is no video or audio of my sessions. If you are interested, you can read the text of Session 1 and Session 2.

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: A Place for Beasts to Lie Down (2:14-15)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

The herds shall lie down in her midst,
Every beast of the nation.
Both the pelican and the bittern
Shall lodge on the capitals of her pillars;
Their voice shall sing in the windows;
Desolation shall be at the threshold;
For He will lay bare the cedar work.
This is the rejoicing city
That dwelt securely,
That said in her heart,
“I am it, and there is none besides me.”
How has she become a desolation,
A place for beasts to lie down!
Everyone who passes by her
Shall hiss and shake his fist.

– Zephaniah 2:14-15 (NKJV)

With these words, Zephaniah wraps up the pronouncement of judgment upon the nations that stood against His chosen people. The great city of the Assyrians, Nineveh, will be reduced to nothing. Animals, beasts, will take over.

Mouths Filled with Boasting

We touched on Assyria and it’s relation to Judah a couple of weeks ago. These folks were the muscle of the region, until the Babylonian Empire arrived on the scene. Their style was one of total conquest, complete domination. They were not, however, any worse than any of the other ancient empires that rose and fell like the changing of the tide. Despite a famous reputation for ruthlessness, historians note of the Assyrian’s equally-famous preference for deportations,

The deportees, their labour and their abilities were extremely valuable to the Assyrian state, and their relocation was carefully planned and organised. We must not imagine treks of destitute fugitives who were easy prey for famine and disease: the deportees were meant to travel as comfortably and safely as possible in order to reach their destination in good physical shape. Whenever deportations are depicted in Assyrian imperial art, men, women and children are shown travelling in groups, often riding on vehicles or animals and never in bonds. There is no reason to doubt these depictions as Assyrian narrative art does not otherwise shy away from the graphic display of extreme violence. (1)

This does not mean that men like Sargon II or Sennacherib were cuddle-bears. They weren’t. Keeping deportees safe as they traveled into exile, into working for a foreign power, makes good economic sense. Though the evidence indicates that they weren’t outright abused, the people Assyria conquered were still forced into a life they did not choose. They were still under complete control of a king who wielded absolute power.

2 Chronicles 32:1-23 and Isaiah 36-37 record Sennacherib’s dealings with King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah. He sends his military commander, the Rabshakeh, to threaten and intimidate the citizens of Jerusalem:

“Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”’ Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make peace with me by a present and come out to me; and every one of you eat from his own vine and every one from his own fig tree, and every one of you drink the waters of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards. Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Indeed, have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’”

– Isaiah 36:13b-20 (NKJV)

Sennacherib was confident that there wan’t anybody, past, present or future, that would take him on and win.

How wrong he was!


Sennacherib’s sons assassinated him in his own palace (681 B.C.) This triggered the beginning of the end, a decline punctuated only by the last great Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanpial, who loved the arts so much that he commission a sculpture showing he and his wife at a picnic, with some heads and hands dangling in the tree limbs. You know. Pretty ornaments. (2)

Again, the Assyrians were really no worse than other ancient empires, but they were certainly no better. As with all great nations, the borders expanded beyond what could be reasonably governed. Ashurbanipal’s successors simply could not hold things together.

A century and a half before, God had sent the prophet Jonah to Assyria’s capital city of Nineveh to warn them of God’s judgment, and the people had repented, but successive generations went back to the old pagan ways, and Nineveh was destroyed in 612. B.C. Within the next few years, the once great Assyrian Empire simply vanished from the face of the earth, and Zephaniah saw it coming.

Because Nineveh thought it was an impregnable city, her citizens were careless and carefree when Zephaniah made his prediction, but God brought both the people and their city down into the dust of defeat. (3)

This is exactly what happened.

In 612 BCE Nineveh was sacked and burned by a coalition of Babylonians, Persians, Medes, and Scythians, among others. (4)

What We Want

It is important to notice that the people of this nation were given a chance to hear the message of truth. (If you haven’t read the book of Jonah, do. It’s interesting and funny and terribly convicting). God doesn’t judge them because of their ignorance. He judges them because they know better and choose to turn away from Him.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

– Romans 1:18-23 (NKJV)

The Assyrians had the testimony of creation. They had the sense that each of us has in our hearts that there is something more, something greater. They had a visit from a prophet (never mind that he was a cranky prophet). They lived in close proximity to the people of God; they did not collectively always do what they were supposed to do, but there were always some in the population who spoke and lived the truth.

The Assyrians were judged based on what they knew and how they lived.

Odd, isn’t it? This is what we so often claim that we desire. We flippantly say that we want God to judge us by how we live. Because we are, after all, “good people.”

This is the exact opposite of what we want.

What we truly want, what we desperately need, is for God to see us through the lens of Christ. We don’t want to be judged by our own lives. They will forever fall so very far short of the mark. We want to be judged by the life of Christ. We want His work, His earnings, applied to our accounts.

A Picture of the End

Prophecy has layers. There was an immediate fulfillment. There is a future fulfillment.

The fall of Nineveh, and of every empire before or since, points to what is to come.

Pause now and read Revelation 6.

I cannot and will not tell you when the end of things will come. If I tried, that would make me a useless and probably false teacher. The exact box on the calendar that will signal the beginning of the final days isn’t one I’m aware of. Only God knows. The point isn’t to try and figure that out.

The point, instead, is to remember that God is the Judge.

Is God gracious? Yes. Merciful? Yes. Compassionate, kind, good, faithful and loving? Yes. He also sits on the throne. He has the whole case spread out before Him. He has no need for a jury, for He alone decides.

“…the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

– Revelation 6:17 (NKJV)

Who can stand?

Those who choose, right now, to bow.


  1. What is your view of God? Is He “Buddy Jesus,” someone who’s there to support you in whatever you want to do? Is He harsh and unknowable? Read John 17 and Revelation 19:11-21. Do these chapters change your view of God?
  2. It is difficult for our minds to comprehend that God will both forgive totally and judge totally. It is hard for us to accept that we come to Him on His terms, not our own. Read Hebrews 4:13-16. How do you respond to this passage?
  3. Read Zephaniah 2. What do you take away from the message of judgment on the Gentile nations surrounding Judah?
  4. We are 2/3 of the way through this book. What have you learned so far? What do you want to know more about



(1) Deporation

(3) Ibid.

(3) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 151-152.

(4) Nineveh

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: For Their Pride (2:10-11)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

Back into the pages of the prophet we go.

This they shall have for their pride,
Because they have reproached and made arrogant threats
Against the people of the LORD of hosts.
The LORD will be awesome to them,
For He will reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth;
People shall worship Him,
Each one from his place,
Indeed all the shores of the nations.

– Zephaniah 2:10-11 (NKJV)

Recapturing Context

These verses fall smack in the middle of God’s pronouncement of judgment upon the Gentile (non-Jewish) nations for their cruelty toward His people. Coming directly on the heels of terse words against Moab and Ammon, the theme of destruction continues.

Family Ties

Moab had been harassing Israel for centuries, exactly like cousins who will not get along. (Remember, the Moabites were the descendants of Lot’s incestuous union with his daughter, and Lot was Abraham’s nephew). Just prior to the Conquest of the Promised Land,

Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel. So Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time. Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

– Numbers 22:2-6 (NKJV)

Balak was determined to get the upper hand. No way, no how were the Israelites going to get the best of him. In order to do so, he calls on the services of Balaam, lived in Pethor, identified as modern day Deir Alla, in Jorgan. He is who mentioned in Numbers 31:8 “in conjunction with the five kings of Midian, apparently as a person of the same rank.” (1) His social standing appears to have been based less on politics than spirituality, for it is believed that Balaam

“was from a long line of celebrated diviners, and…he and his family had made their living for several generations cursing or blessing people. It was their family trade. They passed it down, giving their sons names that went along with it, names like “Burning” and “Devourer.” Their family reputation had traveled throughout the entire region. If anyone wanted someone cursed, they would send for a baru from Balaam’s family, since they were the best in the world at cursing people. These baru—regardless of the requester’s religion or political stripe—would, for a price, perform their auguries, say their incantations, make their sacrifices to some particular god, and then curse the other party in the name of that god.” (2)

A sorcerer-for-hire.

Instead of confronting Israel directly, Balak hoped to manipulate divine forces, because

…[t]he Moabites did not have much of an army to field against Israel, which is why they did not try to block its way by force of arms. Until recently, they had themselves been subject to the Amorites and had suddenly been freed by Israel’s conquering of Sihon and Og of Bashan. However, they were not at all grateful and decided that they would have to stop Israel themselves.” (2)

A Tale of Two Donkeys

Pause here and go read Numbers 22:22-35. I’ll wait.

Isn’t that fabulous?

The donkey kept Balaam from doing what he wasn’t supposed to do. King Balak hired him to curse the Israelites, but all Balaam could do was bless them. Over and over again he prophecies that God’s people will be strong and prosperous. Balak is frustrated to no end over this turn in events, but Balaam basically says, “I told you so.” He had warned the king that his mouth had been constrained by God.

Despite this, Balak won in the end, for unfortunately the beloved people of God proceeded to make donkeys out of themselves:

Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel.

– Numbers 25:1-3 (NKJV)

On the threshold of success, they make monumentally stupid decisions.

Israel’s men managed to find time to indulge their sexual passion with the local women of Moab. On the verge of Israel’s entering the land and thus realizing the fulfillment of God’s promises to the fathers, there was excitement and stimulation in the air. But it was excitement engendered by Moabite maidens and not by the mighty workings of God. And the sin was not merely of a sexual nature (v. 1). It also included apostasy (vv. 2-3). (4)

What prompted these women?

Interestingly, Numbers 31:16 informs the reader that the impetus behind the scheme of the Moabite seductresses was none other than Balaam of chs. 22-24. Balaam was prepared to share his services either for a fee (chs. 22-24) or gratuitously (ch. 25). He was the kind of person who refused to quit. His malice having been stymied in one instance, he soon stumbled upon another opportunity to express it. Where the potency of spell failed, possibly the potency of seduction would succeed. (5)

Balaam found a way. Despite being confronted by God Himself, the man found a way to express his spite and cause problems in Israel.

No Better Over There

Ammon, the other cousin of Israel, was also a thorn in her side.

In Deuteronomy 2:9, God forbids Moses from leading an attack against the nation. This kindness was completely overlooked, for

…[i]n the days of Jephthah [the judge] they oppressed the Israelites east of the Jordan, claiming that the latter had deprived them of their territory when they came from Egypt, whereas it was the possessions of the Amorites they took (Judges 11:1-28). They were defeated, but their hostility did not cease, and their conduct toward the Israelites was particularly shameful, as in the days of Saul (1 Samuel 11) and of David (2 Samuel 10). This may account for the cruel treatment meted out to them in the war that followed (2 Samuel 12:26-31). (6)

These were the people who threatened to blind all the people of Jabesh-Gilead – just to prove a point (1 Samuel 11). These were the people who humiliated King David’s ambassadors, shaving off half their beards and cutting up their clothes so their buttocks were exposed – for no reason (2 Samuel 10). These were the people devoted to Molech (also rendered Moloch) – a god who demanded human sacrifice.

According to the description in the Jalkut (Rashi…on Jeremiah 7:31), its image was a hollow brazen figure, with the head of an ox, and outstretched human arms. It was heated red-hot by fire from within, and the little ones placed in its arms to be slowly burned, while to prevent their parents from hearing their dying cries the sacrificing-priests beat drums. (7)

I wonder, in this age of tolerance, how people would react if the worship of Molech was revived. “It’s just their way.” “Whatever is true for them is true for them.” “No religion is ‘more right’ than another.”

The sort of disgusting worship that requires child sacrifice casts our love for relativism in a different light, doesn’t it?

Together we Ride

And the LORD sent against him raiding bands of Chaldeans, bands of Syrians, bands of Moabites, and bands of the people of Ammon; He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD which He had spoken by His servants the prophets.

– 2 Kings 24:2 (NKJV)

Zephaniah tells his audience repeatedly that Jerusalem will be destroyed because of the people’s sins. We know that they chose not to respond in repentance, for this is exactly what happened.

We should understand this verse to mean that God allowed the Ammonites and Moabites to get away with helping in the destruction of Jerusalem, for it would make little sense for God to send someone to commit a sin and then punish them for that sin. (There you go; my non-Reformed flag waves proudly). Centuries of hostility overflowed into one boiling, vicious act. An act of vengeance for vengeance’s sake. Ammon and Moab opposed Israel and delighted in her fall because they wanted to. That’s it.

Awesome to Them

God’s response?

These two arrogant nations would wind up like Sodom and Gomorrah, wiped off the face of the earth (Genesis 19; note the connection here with Lot). No more would they insult either the nation of Israel or the God of Israel. (See Amos 1:13-2:3 for further evidence of the wickedness and inhumanity of these two nations). (8)

He would reduce them to nothing. Not because He is mean. Not because He takes delight in punishing people. There comes a point when time runs out. Chance after chance was both extended and rebuffed. The people of Moab and Ammon refused to turn to the Lord in repentance and desire for restoration (I speak in generalities, for no doubt that there were individuals among those nations who sought the truth). As He had promised to preserve and protect the children of Abraham (and we can extend that promise to both the physical and the spiritual offspring), He was moved to act.

And there is the mystery, the tension. How is it that God is preserving and protecting when struggle, suffering and even death come to those He claims as His own?

The deeper I go into Zephaniah, the more I realize that God is entirely other. As Isaiah wrote,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

– 55:8-9 (NKJV)

Sometimes we suffer as the direct result of our own actions, as the people of Zephaniah’s day would experience and as we have experienced (even when we don’t want to admit it). Other times the suffering comes without logical explanation. I’m not sure that the best course of action when baffling storms arise is to sit and attempt to decipher their origin. There are days, seasons, when we must simply lower our heads and let the winds blow, confident in His presence, sure that He sees the whole picture when we cannot.


  1. If you’ve never read the story of Balaam, take some time now and do so. You’ll find it in Numbers 22-24. What do you think of this episode in Israel’s history? How does it strike you that God would use a donkey to get through to someone? Can God use any means He wants to speak to people?
  2. There are two primary ways God reveals Himself to us: general revelation (creation) and special revelation (the Bible). What are some things in creation that have pointed you to God? What are some Scripture passages that are especially meaningful to you?
  3. Read Judges 10-11 for a taste of Israel/Ammon relations. Fair warning – as with the rest of the book of Judges, it’s a tough read. More than a bit of blood and gore, but it provides helpful background for the judgments in Zephaniah.
  4. Is God awesome to you, or do you have a sort of “me and my buddy Jesus” attitude? Why? What needs to change?
  5. Read Zephaniah 2. What stands out to you now?



(1) Balaam

(2) Pethor

(3) Ibid.

(4) Asbury Bible Commentary

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ammonites

(7) Molech

(8) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 151.

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.