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An All Sufficient God

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" Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ ” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

 

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore. Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.” His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

 

When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’ ” 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!” 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. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath." (Judges 7:1-22, NIV)[1]

When I think of the possibilities that God has for His church and for His people I am literally “awed”.  In today’s world our religious structures and systems are impotent and powerless and yet nothing is too difficult for God.

"Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" (Jeremiah 32:26-27, NIV) [2]

Where we are lacking, God is all-sufficient.  He is the source, the promise for our success as we try to impact the world around us.

Not only that, the scripture also indicates that nothing is too difficult for the church.

" Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction." (Deuteronomy 30:11-15, NIV) [3]

In my mind God still has a mission for His people.  He still has a role for them to play – one that is very plausible.

Unfortunately many of us today are overwhelmed at the obstacles as we try to envision and encourage the development of a healthy, God-centered church.

We’re stuck as Gideon was on the defensive, hiding afraid.  Let’s briefly retrace his steps as God brings him to the moment of truth, the defining battle of his life.

q     Threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.  The angel of God calls him a “mighty warrior”.  Gideon sees himself as the “weakest of his clan.”

q     Gideon makes an offering to the angel and it is consumed by fire.  He fears that this means that he will be put to death for what he has seen.

q     He is instructed to tear down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it and replace them with an altar of sacrifice to God.  Because he is afraid he does it by night.

q     His father rushes to his defense when the people want to kill him.  He earns the name “Jerub-Baal” meaning, “Let Baal contend with him.”

q     The Midianites and Amalekites gather for war against Israel.

q     He summons the people with a trumpet and sends messengers to gather others from the various tribes.

q     The fleece thing . . . wet . . . dry  . . .  you know.

And throughout this relatively short process, Gideon is in continual dialogue with God.  You know, the more we engage in dialogue with God the more we change.  The end result of prayer is a changed life.  One way or the other, God will mould us as we communicate with Him. 

1. The Culling of the Army

Thirty-two thousand troops had gathered at Gideon’s call.  A small force already compared to the 135,000 that gathered around them.  They were outnumbered, out-powered, and as soldiers, most likely outclassed.  At best, they were reservists, a hastily assembled force and most of them didn’t want to be there anyway.

I would imagine that Gideon was likely disappointed at the turnout.  He wanted the numbers up.  Four to one aren’t the best odds, especially when you are the one.

God on the other hand wanted the numbers down.  Gideon’s silence is marked as he watches the odds grow greater against his success.  I think by now that he recognizes that God is in charge and there is a point when things in life become so overwhelming that they are nearly laughable.  Murphy’s Law says that if anything can go wrong it will.  Life just seems to tell us that everything goes wrong.

I’m sure that many of you in this room today have found yourself in a sequence of calamities.  One disaster on top of another, one disappointment on top of another.  Normally it turns us into pessimists or cynics.  Or, if you so choose, your disasters, your disappointments can cause you to look in a different place to find hope and sanity.

Among the many rhetorical questions that we ask and are asked, questions like, “What’s new?”, is the question, “How’s life?”  For me that answer changes frequently.  Life is just life and if you depend on it for very long in order to find a sense of well being, you will be disappointed.  I have learned that life is something that happens to us and we have very little control over what life will deal us.  If we are fortunate, the cards will be good and there are some things that we can do to improve the quality of life that we live.  But the basic stuff, the stuff that we tend to take for granted is so fragile.  Health, love of family, friends, . . . the best of which disappoint us.  When we lose these basic things, all the other stuff loses its significance.  Money can’t fix a failed marriage or buy good health.  All of us know that it can’t bring peace of mind and a sense of fulfillment.  It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know that makes a difference when the basic stuff of life doesn’t bring you what you had hoped.

Your response to calamity and adversity and inequity is the most important thing.  What will you do when your life is out of your own control?  When you are being swept along by forces that are far greater than your ability and your strength . . . what then?

God was teaching Gideon this lesson as he was decimating the numbers of the assembled men and slowly Gideon was “getting it”.  His silence was that of a learner who was looking beyond his own resource, the stuff in which he placed his trust.

And God was determined that Gideon would “get it”.  You see God doesn’t need an army to accomplish His will.  All he needs, so many times is one person who will follow Him in faith.  Large armies only obscure God’s glory when we place our trust in them.

“You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ ” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.”

Those who were afraid were the first to be released.  They went home.  They weren’t shamed in any way – just relieved of duty.  But what do you do when 22,000 troops walk away from the battle?  Now the odds are nearly 14 to 1.

And that’s still not enough.

 

There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.”

God told him that there were still too many troops.  Down to the brook they go for the water test.  Finally the cut is made to 300 troops who lap water from their hands – they are the ones that never stop being soldiers.  They never let their guard down – not for long enough to take a good deep drink of water.  So at least he’s left with 300 of the best water drinkers that God can find.

And from Gideon – no complaints that we know of – no questions.

The principle for us today?  God doesn’t want there to be any confusion in your life between His strength and yours.  He doesn’t want other people to be confused about that and he doesn’t want you to be confused.

So that you won’t be confused, he will diminish your sense of self-sufficiency prior to the greatest challenges of your life.  When you think that you need more in order to be sufficient for the task, God will reduce.  He’ll give you less reason to be confident in yourself and more direction to find your confidence in Him.

He doesn’t want you to go forward in any false sense of self- confidence that you may place in your own resources or the measurable strength that you bring to the party.

"Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ." (Philippians 3:2-7, NIV) [4]

I think that it is crucial for church leaders to learn this lesson of confidence.  God doesn’t need you to bring anything to the party.  What may have worked well for you in other places and at other times can be a detriment to a full experience of His Grace and Power flowing through your life.  Paul realized that – we read his words, written from a jail cell – a place of adversity – a time when life was out of his own control – he was confined to a prison with an uncertain future and yet God was fully in control.

"What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:8-11, NIV) [5]

The soldiers chained to him were a captive audience to Paul’s vibrant and vital faith.  You see, life out of your control is life in God’s control.  Sometimes it’s wrenched from our hands and we have no choice.

I was standing in the office the other day and Leanne’s parade of pre-schoolers went by.  My grand-daughter, Taylor was among them and she broke ranks and ran into the office.  I think that she had ulterior motives but she ran to me with arms open wide and I picked her up for a moment of love and affection.  I sat her down and on the way past Joni’s peppermint jar she deftly retrieved a prize.  Leanne entered about that time and told her to put the peppermint back because it wouldn’t be fair that the other kids had no peppermint.  This made absolutely no sense to Taylor.  Much like the principles that God works in our own lives – we miss them simply because we can’t understand the greater reasoning that God represents.

I jumped in – it was two against one.  Leanne and I trying to get the death grip off the peppermint.  She just looked at me with those beautiful eyes as if to say, “Grampy, why are you taking my candy away?”  I wanted her to have it.  I told her that I would bring it home to her at the end of the day.  She never said a word, - I pried her fingers off her prize and took it from her.  It hurt me to do it and she was silent – not understanding why I wanted to take something good from her.  I think that God must have similar emotion when at times for reasons that we don’t understand he doesn’t give us what we want.

I brought the mint home to her, . . . not because my memory served me well – I just happened to slip it in my pocket and later that evening I returned home and gave her the very same peppermint that she pulled from the dish.  She jumped and twirled and giggled – it was so easy and so delightful for me.  I thought about how good it is to be satisfied with something so small.  She didn’t know or hadn’t stopped to think that I could have brought her a garbage bag full of peppermints.  There was so much more that I could have given her other than that single solitary piece of candy.

I suspect that Taylor learned something that will need to be reinforced with her just as God reinforced his teaching of Gideon.  You can trust in something higher than yourself when life is out of your control.  And even better, if you can trust when life is beyond your control, you can trust when life is firmly within your ability to control – you can trust in a God who can bring infinitely more to your life than all you dare ask or imagine.  You need to if you want to experience fullness of life.

I like this quote from Mark Batterson in his book, “In a Pit With a Lion On a Snowy Day: How To Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars”

“What if the life you really want and the future God wants for you, is hiding right now in your biggest problem, your worst failure . . . . your greatest fear?

Right at the outset, let me share with you one of my core convictions:  God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time.  A sense of destiny is our birthright as followers of Christ.  God is awfully good at getting us where He wants us to go.  But here's the catch  The right place often seems like the wrong place and the right time often seems like the wrong time."

So God wrenches 31,700 men approximately from Gideon’s grasp and sends them home.  And one more time he reassures him that all will be well.

2. A Dream Overheard

“Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore. Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.” His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

This time his encouragement was to come from the scuttlebutt in the enemy camp.  He heard two soldiers, one sharing a dream with the other.  The interpretation was enough to tip Gideon to trust fully in God.

“Since barley was a grain used primarily by poor people, the barley-cake image of Gideon and his army spoke of their weakness and humiliation. The picture is that of a stale hard cake that could roll like a wheel, not a complimentary comparison at all! The man who interpreted the dream had no idea that he was speaking God’s truth and encouraging God’s servant. Gideon didn’t mind being compared to a loaf of stale bread, for now he knew for sure that Israel would defeat the Midianites and deliver the land from bondage.”[6]

3. A Crazy Plan

When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’ ” 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!” 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. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.

The thing that struck me about this story – something that I had never noticed before was that Gideon devised his own plan to attack the Midianites.  I can’t see in scripture where God outlined this for him.  When he heard the dream, he worshipped and then he returned the camp, called the troops to action, gave them their orders and it worked.  So far as I can tell God didn’t articulate the plan but it sure looked like something that was in keeping with God’s “modus operandi” – His method of operation.

There came a time when Gideon no longer needed specific direction to step forward for God.  It was a crazy idea – no more absurd than any direction that God had been giving him – in the same vein even.  I believe that the church must learn to see with a different set of eyes.  The voice of caution is as constant in the life of faith as gravity.  It has it’s place in the universe but we cannot be ruled by it.  The preaching of faith is like the presentation of the idea that man could possibly walk on the moon one day.  Can you imagine how absurd that must have sounded to people when Kennedy announced his plans to put a man on the moon?

As I look back over my life, I have had some good ideas.  I still have some that some people haven’t yet embraced.  Some of those worked very well.  Others didn’t.  I am not even convinced that those that didn’t work are bad ideas.  I just think that there may have been a problem in the execution of the idea.  One of my personal mantras is that one lesson that history was never designed to teach is that something can’t work.  It can only teach us that something hasn’t worked.

One of the things that also strikes me as I read the record of faith in the scriptures is that God’s plans rarely make sense.  I am not sure that I can point to any that pass the test of human sensibility.  Things that make sense to us get results that make sense to us.  A miracle is beyond us – beyond our ability to predict or predefine.  And as I think about the times when I feel that God has asked me to do something for Him, I don’t ever remember thinking that what He asked made absolute sense to me.

There comes a time in the life of a Christian where we begin to dare to step out beyond our sensibilities and do what He is asking us to do.

It was a moment in time . . . Peter and John going to the temple to pray.  They had their agenda.  A lame man begging for alms . . . at the door of the place of prayer and not looking for anything more than money.   He had his agenda.  And then there was the adventure of faith . . . a prompting to stop . . . some inspired words.  “Silver and gold have I none but such as I have give I thee.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  God had his agenda.

The adventure of faith is lost when we cannot forsake our own agenda in favor of God’s.

I went to St. Timothy’s early this week when our run was rained out.  Rose, an early morning regular at the coffee shop was in line just ahead of me.  She asked me if I could stop at her table.  I did and she asked if I would do her a favor.  Wondering what was coming, I answered “Yes.”  She asked me to pray for her for some physical problems that she was having.  I suggested that we pray right then and I put my hand on her arm took my runner’s hat off and St. Timothy’s was briefly a sanctuary.  I prayed aloud, said “Amen”.  She was crying silently and told me that no one had prayed over her for years.  I was so privileged to punctuate that prayerless period of her life.

I don’t know what the end result is but I was reminded that the church needs to be active between Sundays and that God’s children need to take authority to represent Him in priestly ways to a lost and dying world.  They don’t need to see our strength, they need to be touched by our humanity and the supernatural hope that we carry.  It is a powerful thing and yet we remain so silent.  Threshing grain in winpresses, operating out of a defensive, self-protecting mode.

Jesus dispatched 70 of his early his disciples with power and authority to heal and to cast out demons.  They had no idea what they were doing.  They had no specific training.  Just clear direction from the Lord and they went out and trusted Him and ministered in His Name to needy people

Do you think that God would like to use you today in some means that might stretch your faith.  God holds His all-sufficient blessings for you in the areas of your life that you have not dared to explore.  When we hear the voice of God it will never call us to become more comfortable in our already comfortable “comfort zones”.  His voice will always call us to strain forward.

" Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:12-16, NIV) [7]


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[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1994). Be available. An Old testament study. (64). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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