Ordinary Heroes: Gideon
June 25/26, 2016
Have you ever been swept up into an adventure far bigger than yourself? Have you ever felt completely unmatched for the task at hand? Have you ever been called to a role you couldn’t possibly complete?
Well I have. In fact, I laugh every time I hear Emmet’s speech, because it sounds so much like me 7 years ago.
In 2009 I started a non-profit called World Next Door. The goal was to use photojournalism as a way of getting suburban Americans involved with what God was doing to combat injustice around the world (poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc.).
My job was to live in the developing world for months at a time, embedded with local churches & ministries, and then to share stories & photos with people back home.
The only problem was that none of that - NONE of that - was stuff I was equipped to do. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s true. I could have just as easily gotten up and given my own version of Emmet’s speech.
“Yes, it’s true. I may not be a photojournalist. Or a world traveler. I may not have any experience with photography. Or non-profit management. I don’t speak any other languages. I have a weak stomach. I’m confused by other cultures and I find meat with the bones still in it revolting. Also, I’m scared and cowardly. And I don’t like to sweat. I know what you’re thinking. He is the worst person in the world for this job. And you are right.”
Honestly, as I was getting the ministry started, I felt a bit like an imposter. But it seemed clear to me that God had called me to that role, so I kept at it. And ultimately, it all worked out. I’ll talk a bit more about that later.
What I learned through the process, though, and what I learned from many people of faith I met along the way, is that I am not alone in feeling like Emmet in the Lego Movie.
In fact, I’ve come to understand that this is a pretty common thing for Christ-followers everywhere. Even ones doing amazing things for the kingdom. They are rarely cut out for the job.
But here’s the cool thing. Being ill-equipped for a task doesn’t seem to matter when God calls us to it.
And that’s the idea we’re going to talk about today.
This is week 3 of a series we’re calling “Ordinary Heroes.” We’re looking at different “heroes of the faith” from the Bible to understand what it is that makes someone heroic in God’s kingdom. Our big idea is that every follower of Christ can and should be a hero - including you.
· The first hero we looked at was Esther, who stepped up to address “the need of the hour.”
· Our second hero was David, who ripped off his mask and acknowledged his brokenness.
· And today’s hero is Gideon, who was called to a mission he was not qualified for.
So let’s dive in and meet him. You can find Gideon’s story in the book of Judges in the Old Testament. It’s page ______ in the house Bibles. [House Bibles/App]
Judges 6 Page ________
As you’re turning, let me give you a little bit of background of the book as a whole.
The book of Judges is about a time when the Israelites were having a real identity crisis. They had gone through the Exodus, wandered the wilderness, and then conquered the Promised Land.
So when we come to this book, the Israelites are settled. They have a home. They’re farming and building cities and trying to put down roots.
Unfortunately, the Israelites start worshipping other local deities and God’s not too happy with that.
So again and again he has to punish his people to get their attention (usually with some enemy invaders or something). And every time, the people eventually cry out to God for mercy, and he sends a judge to rescue them, bring peace, and get them back on track. It’s a cycle that repeats itself in the book over and over again.
The people sin,
God punishes them,
they cry out for mercy,
God sends a judge,
The people sin,
God punishes them… you get the picture.
Now, when you hear the word “judge,” don’t think Judge Judy with the flowing black robes and the gavel. In this book judges are everything from military leaders to priests to lone warriors. Men and women. They’re less part of the legal system and more like warrior chieftains… bringing justice.
Now, these judges were not all wonderful people. In fact, some of them make some pretty terrible, even immoral, decisions. Including Gideon. But their stories point to some powerful truths about how God works, so I think they’re definitely worth exploring.
Let’s start reading Judges 6, verse 1.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 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.
Ok, so you get it. The Midianites were bad news. The Israelites were terrified of them. And so they call out to the Lord for help. That’s how it goes. And as the cycle of the book continues, we know what happens next. God sends a judge to rescue them. His name’s Gideon.
Now, if this were a Hollywood film, the next thing we’d see is Gideon riding over the horizon on the back of a massive stallion with a huge broadsword strapped to his back. He’d saunter past a group of swooning Israelite girls, flex his pecs and say, “Are these men bothering you? I don’t mean to judge, but that’s kind of what I am.”
But this isn’t a movie. And Gideon is not exactly an action hero. Let’s read how he actually is introduced. Look at verse 11.
The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.
Now, threshing wheat in a winepress. That probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to most of us, but it’s actually kind of hilarious.
Ok, so back before combine harvesters were a thing, people used to do all their grain harvesting by hand. And they still do this all over the world today in developing countries.
So what Gideon was doing was beating all the wheat to try and separate the grains from the husks. It was a lot of work. But what makes it funny is that he was doing it in a winepress. This would basically be a big hole in the ground where they’d squish the grapes to get out all the juice.
So get this mental image in your mind. Gideon is cowering in a hole in the ground, trying to beat up some stalks of grain. Not exactly pec flexing. And this is when it gets crazy. Because right then the angel of the Lord walks up, looks down in the winepress and says the most ridiculous thing.
Look at verse 12.
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
He calls Gideon a “mighty warrior” - this cowardly nobody hiding in a hole and battling a pile of wheat.
“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Well, Gideon is incredulous at this. He knows that he’s no warrior. He’s also full of doubt. Look at how he responds in verse 13:
“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”
Wow. That’s a real hero of the faith right there… Keep reading.
The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”
Am I not sending you? The strength you have. You will strike down the Midianites. It seems like God doesn’t see the loser in the hole with self-esteem issues. It seems like when he looks at Gideon, he sees something else entirely.
I think we can pretty confidently say that what God saw in Gideon was not what Gideon saw in Gideon. Their visions for the future were completely different because of how they understood his identity.
This is actually a concept that repeats itself all throughout the Bible.
· David sees himself as a last born shepherd’s son, but God sees him as the king of Israel.
· Esther sees herself as a feeble Israelite girl, but God sees her as the protector of an entire nation.
· Peter sees himself as a low-class fisherman, but God sees him as the founder of his global church.
God’s vision for his people is different than their own.
But this is not just about God preferring underdogs. It’s bigger than that. It’s about his way of completely redefining identity.
For example, the Apostle Paul. He was a quickly rising star among the Pharisees. He was influential, he was deeply religious, and he persecuted the church because of how strongly he held his beliefs. I’m sure Paul saw himself becoming one of the spiritual leaders of Israel.
But when God saw Paul, his vision for the man was totally different. Sure, Paul was wrong about Jesus. But more than that - Paul’s dream of becoming a well-respected religious leader in Jerusalem paled in comparison to God’s dream for the man.
When God saw Paul, he saw a missionary hero who he could use to shatter the age old wall separating Jews and Gentiles, and to bring the good news of Jesus to the world.
Paul, sitting attentively in his class at rabbinical school, even in his wildest dreams could not have imagined how much God would use him to change the course of human history.
God’s vision for his people is different than their own. And guys, God’s vision for his people is far, far better than their own.
1 Corinthians 2:9
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.
That’s a quote from one of Paul’s letters. After being swept up into a mission so huge, I think you can understand where he was coming from when he wrote it.
And so in the story of Gideon, we see that his identity is not that of a puny, insignificant wimp. No, his identity in God’s eyes is that of a warrior protecting Israel. That’s who he is, even if he hasn’t become it yet.
The rest of Gideon’s story is too long to get into here, but let me give you a quick summary of what happens.
First, Gideon needs plenty of convincing before agreeing to fight the Midianites. He tests God a few different times, and seems to be pretty terrified, but eventually he rallies his army and gets ready to fight.
But then, God does something kind of weird. He has Gideon get rid of a bunch of his guys. He started out with 32,000 troops, but God has him winnow the number down to 300.
Just 300 soldiers, against a vast horde of Midianite warriors. Impossible odds.
But that’s the point. Through all of this, God is setting the record straight about who really has the power. Yes, Gideon will become a mighty warrior, but his power comes from God.
Ok, so the Midianites are camped in a valley. Gideon has his 300 men set out with trumpets and torches hidden in jars. They surround the camp, and then let’s read what happens. Judges 7:19.
Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”
Quick side note. By holding a torch in one hand and a trumpet in the other, the soldiers weren’t able to hold swords. Yet again, Gideon must rely on God’s power, not his own.
While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.
So, the battle was won. Gideon - the nobody cowering in a hole - had become a mighty warrior for God, defeating an entire army with just 300 men.
By surrendering his own self-identity, and trusting in who God said he was, Gideon could do the impossible, and that’s why he became a hero of the faith.
OUR BROKEN WORLD
Alright, so what do we do with all of this? We don’t exactly have hordes of Midianite warriors threatening our wheat harvest.
No. We don’t. But we do live in a very broken world.
• Our community faces chronic anxiety
• Immorality is creeping into our workplaces
• Racism seethes under the surface
• Poverty takes life after life
• Our families are shattered
• Our neighbors are lost
• And our friends are depressed and lonely
Two weeks ago, my dad called things like this “the need of the hour.” Our world needs heroes - instruments of God’s peace and joy and love - to bring healing to these broken places.
The need of the hour is great. So who is the hero God wants to use to heal the brokenness in your world? It’s you.
I realize that may sound ridiculous. You may be thinking, “Believe me, I’m no hero. The problems in my world are way too big for me to tackle.”
Well, that’s exactly what Gideon thought. All evidence in his life pointed to the fact that he was a coward, a nobody, and insignificant. But that’s not what God saw when he looked at Gideon. And that’s not what he sees when he looks at you.
When God sees you, he sees a hero.
I realize that may sound like a bunch of empty, feel-good, positive thinking, but I honestly believe it’s true. Let me explain why I think so.
In one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, he says
2 Corinthians 5:17
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
The moment we put our trust in Jesus, the moment we surrender to him, we become something new. New creations. We’re no longer the people we once were.
Elsewhere Paul talks about this phenomenon as casting off our old, sinful nature and putting on the Spirit. No longer being a slave to fear, but being a child of God.
And along with this new identity comes a brand new purpose. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he says this:
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
When we surrender our lives to Christ, we take on a mission from God - loving the unlovable, tackling injustice, spreading hope and life where there is none. Suddenly we have a role to play in this world that goes far beyond our petty human ambitions.
That’s what God sees when he looks at you. A new creation. A redeemed saint. A Spirit-filled hero with a mission in this world.
“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
I know what you’re probably wondering. If all that’s true. If I’m a new creation. If I’m a hero in God’s eyes, then why is my life such a mess?
• Why do my sin struggles and addictions seem to have power over me?
• Why do I feel so insignificant all the time?
• Why do my limitations far outweigh my strengths?
The answer is because you don’t know who you are.
You’re still living over here, with your old self. Wallowing in your inadequacies, and throwing up your hands in frustration every time you slide back into old patterns.
You haven’t accepted your true identity, over here. A child of God. Redeemed, holy, alive. Not some day in the future, but now.
The only way to become a kingdom hero is to stop trying to avoid who you used to be and start becoming who you already are in Christ.
I know this from personal experience.
My self-identity as I went off to college was pretty well established. I was an easy-going, picky-eating, unambitious video game addict. I was content to be my old self.
Yeah, I kind of knew that the world was a mess. I could see how ignorant we all were of things like poverty and homelessness and disease.
But like Gideon, I knew my safest course of action was to keep my head down and just hide. I was a nobody. That’s how I saw myself, and I was perfectly fine with it.
But that’s not how God saw me.
I don’t have time to go into all the details, but through a series of unexpected circumstances, I found myself having my own moment of, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
You see, the indifference I saw in our suburban world was not just a reality, it was “the need of the hour” for me. Our self-focused, consumeristic, apathetic culture was my Midianite army. I realized that God wanted to use me to address it.
I was terrified, but I trusted God and started World Next Door with absolutely no relevant skills. In no time at all, I was living in slums and climbing mountains and eating goat brains.
All the while, God was equipping me with gifts I didn’t even know I had. He was using me as a mouthpiece to wake people up. To show them a world beyond their own.
None of it happened because I was naturally adventurous or passionate or gifted. I wasn’t. It happened because when God saw me he saw an influencer, a leader, a man with a mission. When I finally surrendered to his vision for my life, it led me to places I never would have imagined.
Hear me when I say this. I take zero credit for any of the things God has done with my life. I am just Gideon in a winepress. But God has a different idea. By pursuing his vision for my life, I can be used by him to change the world.
The same is true for you.
Who do you see when you look in the mirror?
Do you see a coward? A nobody? Do you see someone helpless or apathetic or inconsequential?
Friends, that is the old you. If you have surrendered your life to Jesus, then you already are a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come. Not some day in the future, but right now.
You are a hero in God’s eyes. You have a one-of-a-kind mission in this world. You are a child of God.
It’s time to stop avoiding who you used to be, and start becoming who you are.
What is “the need of the hour” in your life? What part of this broken world does God want to use you to heal? What does God see when he looks at you?
These are not always easy questions to address. Sometimes it takes years to discern an answer. And even when we do start to understand our identity in Christ, it requires a life-long process of surrender to keep moving in that direction.
So where do we begin?
Well, just like Gideon, our first step is to hear from God. “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” We can’t become who we are until we know who we are, so why don’t we ask him?
Right now I’d like to invite pastors and prayer team members to join me on the stage.
We want to give you an opportunity to listen for God’s voice. We want to invite the Holy Spirit to speak truth to each of us.
In a few moments, you’ll see a series of words on the screen - words that describe you if you’re a follower of Christ. They’re also listed on cards you can find at the end of each row.
As we scroll through these words, let each one become a statement about you. Try it on for size. Hopefully, the Spirit will cause one of the words to jump out at you. To really just stick in your brain. If that happens, pay attention. Hold onto the word and ask God why it’s standing out.
You may feel intimidated by the word. Or embarrassed. Or you might feel like there’s no way it could possibly describe you. But friends, that word is true. It’s how God sees you. And it may hold clues about how God wants to use you in this world.
· If you’re having trouble discerning which word describes you best, come on down and let us pray over you.
· Or, if God does give you a word and you want to dive into it more deeply, come down and let us pray for you.
· Or, if you just need a kick in the pants because you have held on to your old identity for far too long, come down and let us pray for you.
All of us have the capacity to become kingdom heroes. But you have to stop avoiding who you used to be and start becoming who you are.
Now is the time to hear from God about who he sees you to be. Because believe it or not,
“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”