Wind Chill Already Below Freezing

Have you ever listened to the stories from The Homeless? Maybe if more listened to their stories they wouldn’t deny the Problem or blame The Homeless. I have served (not now thankfully) where the majority of church folks either ignored The Homeless or Blamed the Homeless. At best, only a handful would step up and follow the Command of Jesus–to treat others, and that includes The Homeless, as if they ARE Jesus–because in a very real way, they are because HIS Image is in them, too.

We Are Homeless, Not Invisible

We’re all bundled up and trying to stay warm. Wouldn’t be so bad if the wind weren’t howling. The rain I could deal with. The cold I could deal with. It’s the wind.

They activated the cold weather shelters and the process has changed. We would have to go downtown and wait for a lottery process. You go where you’re told to go. They also give preferential treatment to those without cars first. I get that. We have “shelter”, but we’re just as at risk.

This brings me to my next gripe about the system. No pets. Not a single one. They will not allow you emergency shelter if you have a pet. We don’t, but we know people who do. It absolutely sucks that my city doesn’t have any kind of shelter for people with pets. I know some cities do and that trend is starting to grow.

If…

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When Not Enough Is Too Many!

God Uses The Sifted And The Tested!

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Let’s do a quick review.  This series has been about how we can be a part of the God-Sized Task of Changing The Culture, and we are looking at Gideon for our pattern.  Remember the definition of this word Culture:  Culture Is The Attitudes, Values And Morals Shared By People In A Particular Place And Time.

  1. Attitudes shape how we see life
  2. Values determine what is important and what’s not important
  3. Morals declare what is right or wrong

They needed their culture to be changed.  Gideon’s culture was filled with the oppression of the Midianites.  No one was strong enough to stop these marauders, muggers, and murderers.  This was a God-Sized Task.  The Hebrews cried out to God for help and God started looking for the right kind of person for such a God sized task—and it was Gideon.  And here is why: 

1. Rather than Gideon doing it through God, it would be God doing it through Gideon;

2. He got rid of his Asherah Pole, things that he thought gave him power and held power over him.

 3.  Gideon looked for the signs that God would do this through him, and our signs that God will do this through us are the Cross, the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit. 

4.  And last week we hit the pause button for perspective and clarity.  Gideon operated out of his faith rather than through his circumstances—by seeing an opportunity rather than a problem. 

Now we come down to the preparation for battle.  This moment is Crucial; So Crucial That Success Or Failure Lies In The Balance.  And the same holds true for us if we are going to be part of God changing OUR Culture.  Let’s pick up the story in Judges 7:1-8 (NLT)

So Jerub-baal (that is, Gideon) and his army got up early and went as far as the spring of Harod.  The armies of Midian were camped north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you.  If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.  Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’”  So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight.

But the Lord told Gideon, “There are still too many!  Bring them down to the spring, and I will test them to determine who will go with you and who will not.”  When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the Lord told him, “Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. 

In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream.”  Only 300 of the men drank from their hands.  All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream.

The Lord told Gideon, “With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites.  Send all the others home.”  So Gideon collected the provisions and rams’ horns of the other warriors and sent them home. 

But he kept the 300 men with him.  The Midianite camp was in the valley just below Gideon.

There are more people than you can shake a stick at in the Valley of Jezreel.  It was bad enough with just the Midianites; now there are 3 times as many people.  There may have been as many as 60,000 or more in the Valley of Jezreel.  Do you know what the name Jezreel means?  It means “God who sows.”  To the average Hebrew it probably looked like God has sown seeds of destruction against them. 

Be honest, how many of you have felt the same way?  Ever felt like God’s hand was against you?  You wonder to yourself, or even out loud:  “God, where are you?  Don’t you see what’s going on?  Don’t you care how I feel?”  This is where Gideon was emotionally, spiritually, and physically.  He is at the place where God sows and it looks like God has sown the seeds of fear and destruction.

But now he has an army of 32,000 warriors.  They are still outnumbered—at least 2 to 1—but Gideon is cool.  Gideon knows that God is with him and God has given him the signs of assurance and reassurance.  Now he thinks the time has come to act and if Gideon is a real person he probably has some butterflies in his stomach, but that’s OK.  God is with him.  But God still isn’t ready to act. 

If his faith hasn’t been stretched enough, God stretches it some more.  “You’ve got too many warriors.”  The butterflies are probably gone now because his stomach is in a knot.  “Excuse me God, outnumbered 2-1 and there are too many?  Why don’t you trim down their army?  How about making my job a little easier instead of harder?”  Have you ever asked God to make your life a little easier?  But God has a reason.  He doesn’t always tell us His reasons, but this time He does:  “If I let all of you fight the Midianites, then they will brag about how they did it all!”

Have you ever done something for the church that God blessed but you said, “Look at what I did!  This is MY ministry.  I worked hard and look at the results!”  Or have you ever been in a really tight place where you were struggling and thought you were going down for the count but God delivered you?  Instead of giving God ALL the glory, you said, “Man, if it hadn’t been for MY faith and MY wisdom I would have been a goner!  But I got through it!”  We must always be on guard against the temptation to take the credit that belongs only to God.  To help keep them And Us from taking any of the credit, God does 2 things:  a sifting and then a testing. 

1.  First There Is A Sifting

Anyone here know what sifting is?  It’s taking something such as flour and passing it through a sieve or like a wire screen to remove the lumps from the flour.  It’s getting rid of the things that get in the way that thwarts or distorts the intended purpose.  OK, It Gets Rid Of What Messes Up What’s Going On! 

God’s sifting comes this way:  “All those who are timid or afraid, exit stage left.”  That word for “Timid” means to be consumed Not By What IS, But What MIGHT Be.  They haven’t gone into battle yet, but God has guaranteed victory.  But they are consumed by what might be, and what might be?  They might be defeated.  They might be killed by the Midianites. 

And that word for “Afraid” means literally Trembling Because You’re Consumed With What “Might” Be.   And 22,000 left even before God revealed His Glory, Power and Majesty!  I’m going to get really annoying with this question:  Have You Ever Left The Battlefield Before The Battle Started And Missed Seeing His Glory, Power And Majesty?

Here’s my take on this:  It wasn’t their fear of the Midianites and their allies that made them leave.  Their fear wasn’t in the Valley or in their head—it was in their heart.  I Believe They Were Afraid That God Would Not Come Through For Them

Don’t you think Gideon told them about what happened in the pit?  Don’t you think Gideon told them about what happened to the fleece?  Don’t you think that the assurance and reassurance God gave to Gideon that he gave it to them?  I won’t be too hard on the 22,000.  Maybe they thought that God would do it through Gideon, but not through them.  Perhaps they thought ordinary people couldn’t do something like this—only extraordinary people could.

Have you ever felt that way?  That God would use someone else to change the culture, but that He surely couldn’t use someone like you?  Ever felt like there’s too much shame, guilt, or failure in your life?  That’s The Fear!  Fear That God’s Grace Is Not Big Enough For You.  And so you go back home Sunday after Sunday.  But God’s grace IS big enough for you. 

OK, back to the story.  Now Gideon’s army is down to 10,000.  At first they were outnumbered at least 2 to 1, and now they are outnumbered at least 6 to 1.  I would imagine by now that the knot in Gideon’s stomach has eased up, and the butterflies are coming back in.  God has stretched his faith twice.  Now they are ready to fight.  Right?  Wrong!  God tells Gideon, “You Still Have Too Many!”  Gideon thinks it time to fight, but God is still doing stretching exercises.  If I had been Gideon then, I would have been thinking, “Well, now what, God?  The fearful are gone, who else needs to leave?  Excuse me, God, but have you ever heard of Gen. George Custer?” 

2.  Second There Is A Testing

God tells Gideon, “I will test them for you.”  He didn’t tell Gideon to Test them.  God determines who can be used, not us.  That word Test is rich.  It means to smelt or refine.  It’s what a silversmith does before they make their jewelry.  Today that is done through the use of chemicals and electricity.  Back then it was done with heat.  If it didn’t stay in the heat long enough, it lacked quality and was worth far less.  If it stayed too long, it resisted the master craftsman work.  Even though 10,000 were not terrified, they needed to still have other impurities removed from their hearts.  They need a test.

God tests them in a simple way.  He tells Gideon “Tell everyone it’s time for a water break.  Watch how they drink. Put the ones who get down on their hands and knees to drink on one side, and the ones who cup their hands to drink on the other side.  The ones who cup their hands and drink, there’s your army!”  Why this test?  I think I know why.  Those who drink from their hands are alert to what’s going on around them.  They can see more than those who are down on their hands and knees drinking out of the river.

And this same principle holds true today.  We can get down on our hands and knees and moan about how bad we have it.  When we get down on our hands and knees and all we see is our own reflection.  We can’t see God at work. 

Now there are only 300 left.  Start with 32,000 subtract 22,000 timid and fearful and subtract 9,700 clueless = and you have 300 Culture Changers.   And God says, “Now, we’ve got the right number!”  300 versus over 60,000.  Outnumbered 200 to 1.  Do you feel like that in your culture?  You want to witness to others about Jesus but you feel outnumbered and outgunned!  But God does His best work in this kind of environment. 

And Here is the one thing you need to remember: 

God Uses The Sifted And The Tested!

We need to allow God to sift us—to get rid of the timidity and fear that can paralyze us.  What are you afraid of?  What makes you tremble with terror?  You must allow God to sift that stuff, that junk, out of you.  We need to get rid of our pride and arrogance. 

We need to be tested, refined to get rid of the things and attitudes that prevent us from completely trusting in God’s Promise, Presence, and Provision.  We need to be alert and sensitive to what God is doing every day.  And God is at work, we just need to be in a position to see His work. 

Notice carefully what Gideon does next.  He sends the rest home, but before they leave, he takes their provisions and horns.  Why?  Well If They Weren’t Alert To What God Was Doing, Then Leave It For Those Who Are Alert To God’s Activity.  Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 about the talents wasn’t new.  Here it is in real life—take from the ones who aren’t aware and give to those who are.  Yes, God is gracious and merciful.  He’s always ready to forgive and give us a fresh start. 

But if we are not in tune, in sync with God when God acts, He’s not going to waste what He has given you.  He will give your place, your service, your worship, your gifts to another who IS in tune and in sync with Him.  Now We’re Ready For The Game Plan, And YOUR Next Step:  The Next Steps are the 2 questions that has been filling this place even before you arrived here: 

  1.   What is it in your life that is keeping you from unconditionally trusting The Father?  Allow Him to get rid of the stuff that is getting in the way.
  2.   Are you really alert and aware of what’s going on?  God is looking for those who will always be on the lookout for what God is doing. 

Be honest, are YOU that person?  God is going to change this place and community, even if those who are ready are outnumbered 200 to 1.  It takes absolute and complete surrender to Him.  What Are You Holding Back From God’s Grace That Is Big Enough To Change Your Culture Even If You Are Outnumbered 200 To 1?  Will you allow God to Sift your heart?  Will you accept God’s tests that are not designed to crush you, but to Refine your heart?

Next week it’s all about Mason Jars, Flashlights, And God!

Interesting Times

My current Bible study group is looking at Acts, and in particular, Paul–how he operated his life out of that sense of urgency. Here’s a message that should ignite OUR sense of urgency.

Walking Beside the Boat

Okay. Okay! Here is the skeleton of the Sunday Sermon. Remember, I don’t print it if you don’t ask.

The quote, attributed in our experience to Sir Austen Chamberlain in 1936, and later popularized by Robert Kennedy in 1966, is supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse, but that is something I cannot confirm. All I know is that I like it and I can certainly see why it is called a curse, though it sounds like a blessing. It is simply “May you live in interesting times.”

Friends, we live in interesting times.

  • From a natural perspective, we live in
    times when the world is waking up and stretching – we have an uptick in seismic
    activity and a shift in the climate.
  • From a political perspective, there is
    an intensity in the division of political parties that we haven’t seen in
    decades. This is true here, and around…

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