Sermon series: Life after Failure
Abraham as the "friend of God" and "father of nations" experienced some highs and lows in his journey of faith. God established a divine covenant with him even though Abraham made some big mistakes by traveling to Egypt and fathering a child by Hagar. Sometimes God's best work is revealed in the lives of His messed up children. This principle was true in Abraham's life, and it was illustrated in the life of Gideon.
The story of Gideon reads like an action movie. Gideon plays the role of the unlikely hero who rises to the challenge against all odds to accomplish what most thought to be impossible. While the story may seem like one of those "too good to be true" movies, this is historical reality with spiritual significance. Pictured in the life of Gideon are several guidelines for all believers who desire to do great things for God. We must never forget that the prophet Daniel said, "those who know their God will do great exploits." Jesus promised the Holy Spirit's power to enable His followers to do greater things than what Christ did during his earthly ministry.
I. Appreciate adversity
The first guideline is to appreciate adversity. When I use the word appreciate, I refer to perception, not enjoyment or pleasure. I learned what appreciation was during my freshman year of college in a music appreciation class. The professor entered the class on the first day and said, "Welcome to music appreciation, where you will grow in your knowledge and understanding of music. Appreciation is not liking a particular style of music. It is developing a working knowledge of the characteristics of music styles, composers, and culture." We had "drop the needle tests," in which the professor played a record, and students had to identify the specific work, the composer, and its period.
When we are introduced to Gideon, he is experiencing great adversity. The pagan nation of Midian had overthrown Israel. The Midianites were a nomadic people who would sweep into an area - as the Scripture describes, "like locusts" - and ravage the land and inhabitants. After seven years of oppression, the Israel cried out to God (6:5-6).
Almighty God hears us at all times, but the Scripture reveals that He has a special response for His people who cry out in humility for divine assistance. God in His sovereignty allows adversity. The Bible says we should consider it a joy when we experience trails because they test our faith (James 1:2). First Peter 1:7 says adversity refines in us a faith that is greater than gold.
Adversity is the training ground for God's glory. Many saints are frustrated, defeated, and confused because they expect faith to eliminate adversity, instead of strengthening under adversity. If you find yourself in a difficult situation today, expect God to teach you, to shape you, and to equip you for something greater.
The Scripture reveals that trails precede triumph. Abraham left his home to follow God. Joseph was thrown in prison before reaching the palace. Moses lived in exile before leading Israel out of Egypt. David fled for his life to the cave of Adullam before becoming king. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt before settling in Nazareth. The apostle Paul spent three years in a desert until Barnabas convinced the apostles to accept his conversion. And the list goes on and on. Throughout Christian history adversity prepared people for greater accomplishment.
II. Accept your identity
The second guideline from Gideon's life is to accept what God says about your identity. God calls Gideon, "mighty warrior!" This proclamation is amazing because Gideon was not a mighty warrior at the time of God's declaration. He was living in a spiritually backslidden nation and family. God instructed him to tear down his family's altar to Baal and the Asherah poles. He threshed wheat while hiding in a wine press so that the Midianites would not see him and take the wheat. Listen to Gideon's own description of himself: "My clan is the weakest of all the clans in Manasseh and I am the least of my family!" (6:15).
Gideon was a small man from little clan living in fear and disobedience. God declares who and what we are by His power, not by what we have done in the past or our present circumstances. He sees beyond faults, failures, and limits. God prophesies over Gideon a new identity. He is a mighty warrior because God says so, regardless what his family says or other tribes say, or what the enemy says.
God called Abraham the father of many nations, even though he did not have any children. God called Moses the deliverer of Israel, even though he was on the backside of the desert hiding from a manslaughter charge. Jesus called Peter, who was the least consistent of all the disciples, a rock upon which He would build His kingdom.
God says about you . . .
You are His child;
You are His friend;
You are justified, forgiven, and no longer condemned;
You more than a conqueror;
You are His workmanship created for good works;
You are a royal priest declaring good news like a shining star;
You are a blood bought, spirit filled, heaven bound, fully equipped warrior with special armor designed to tear down strongholds of the enemy!
Perhaps you have heard the story of a polar bear cub who was struggling with his identity. He asked his dad, "Dad, am I'm a polar bear like you? I'm not a lion, not a bird, not a cow, and I know I'm not a cat . . . right?"
DAD: That's right son, why are asking about being a polar bear?
CUB: I'm just making sure because the wind is really cold out here!
Sometimes we need to be reminded who we are when the winds of the world challenge our faith.
III. Act upon authority
A third guideline is to act or obey with authority. Don't confuse with acting boldly or courageously without divine guidance. Going to battle with 300 men against 135,000 men is crazy unless God instructs you do it. Giving 10 percent of your income to advance a kingdom you can't see is crazy unless God leads you to do it. Taking a week off work to serve in VBS is crazy unless you understand the call of God. Serving on a mission team and paying money to stay in undesirable accommodations eating undesirable food is foolish unless you know God has called you to use your gifts for His glory. Remember, Peter only walked on water after Jesus commanded him to get out of the boat.
One of the things Gideon is famous for is "putting out a fleece." This act is not intended to be an example of how to determine God's will, but it does illustrate that Gideon acted upon a divine call, not a hyped-up. The apostle Peter said we have a more certain way of discerning God's will, which is the Word of God. The Word, along with the Holy Spirit, guides us in what the Scripture calls the "path of life."
We learn from this story that God's authority leads us in humility. God instructed Gideon to reduce the troops so that everyone would know the victory belonged to the Lord, not Gideon. Are you willing to do great things and not get credit for it? Ronald Reagan once said, "There is no limit to what one can accomplish, if you are willing to let someone else get the credit."
God's authoritative guidance leads us in purity. Notice, God told Gideon to tear down his family's altar dedicated to the pagan god, Baal. Do you think destroying the altar made Gideon a better warrior? Did his family's religious practices really affect Gideon's ability to fight Midianites? The answer is no, but his call to remove pagan influence illustrates that God uses clean vessels to carry His glory. Gideon was successful because the Spirit of God anointed him, and God anointed him to remove the trash from his life.
Some of God's greatest work is taking the trash of life and transforming it into something glorious. Consider the example of Kopi Luwak coffee. The Luwak is an Indonesian palm civet cat. About the size of a fox, it is the Juan Valdez of the animal kingdom. It roams throughout the forest searching for the choicest coffee cherries or beans to eat. When the civet cat defecates, undigested beans end up in Luwak dung, which local harvesters collect. According to the University of Florida research, digestive enzymes seep into the bean altering peptides, proteins, and amino acids. This journey of the bean through Luwak intestines creates the unique coffee flavor. After the dung is washed off, the beans are dried in the sun before being processed into the most expensive coffee in the world, at around $300 a pound.
Many are surprised if not sickened by the Kopi Luwak process, but turning trash into treasure is not that unusual. In Asian cultures women use a white make-up to paint their faces. This beauty product it made from nightingale dung. What do mushrooms grow in that make them so tasty? Dung. When grapes shrivel into raisins, fungi consume the rotting juices. In the process, these fungi secrete alcohol. Once the alcohol content is high enough, the fungi die. Wonderfully sweet honey is made in the stomach of honeybees. These insects consume flower nectar, and then regurgitate it as honey to sustain the hive.
The trash to treasure transformation exists not only in nature, but especially in the kingdom of God. Gideon began as a coward. Abraham fled to Egypt, lied about his wife, and slept with a servant girl. Moses committed manslaughter. David committed adultery and arranged an innocent man's death. The apostle Paul described himself as the chief of sinners. Others along fit into the list of those who needed a transforming touch to save them from the depravity of sin.
Transforming trash into treasure is seen in the ministry of Christ. Numerous paintings have attempted to capture the majesty of the Holy Spirit as a beautiful dove. The dove, however, is a bird known for its adaptability to dirty environments. When God choose a symbol of the third person of the Godhead, it was basically a pigeon. Jesus was born in a stable and placed in a feeding trough. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, which caused His critics to say, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" When Jesus was crucified, it was at the trash dump of Jerusalem - Golgotha. Today, we consider the Cross, which was an instrument of torture, an enduring symbol of hope and grace. Why? Because God took garbage and turned it into greatness. He did it with Gideon's life, and He can do the same thing with you.