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!

How Is Your Aim?

Make it your aim to live a quiet life

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(Disclaimer: Some may find my analogy offensive, especially those who think hunting is barbaric. If I offend you, then get over it and move on.)

Where I live, there are only 2 seasons: Football and Deer Hunting. Any event has to be planned around these 2 seasons. When Debbie and I were setting our wedding date, I chose November 13 because The Crimson Tide had a bye week and the Deer Season for hunting with guns had not yet begun.

Well, around here Deer Season (hunting with guns) begins November 23 and I am getting ready for it. Food plot planted. Mineral spots established. Game camera in place. Supplies gathered. Hunting clothes and gear are out and ready to be worn and used. But I’m still not ready for November.

What’s left in my preparations? Glad you asked. I haven’t taken my rifles out to see if I need to make any adjustments to the scope. The only way I can do that is to put up a target, load the rifle, take aim and shoot. The mark on the target will tell me if I need to make adjustments.

Without knowing this important information, I may miss that deer; or even worse, I may only wound it and it runs off only to die somewhere else. What’s the spiritual lesson in this? Well. . . you asked for it.

Look carefully at Paul’s words to the Thessalonians:

11 Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to earn your own living, just as we told you before. 12 In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers, and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (GNT)

So, how is your aim? Do you possess a calm inner spirit revealed in an even calmer outward demeanor? Do you aim to make your life more like Jesus rather than quickly and harshly telling others what they are doing wrong? Do you apply yourself to becoming the best you possible by being productive and adding value to yourself and the people around you?

To answer these (and many other questions) you need to look at the mark your life is leaving on others. And remember: Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

The Butterfly Effect

2 Timothy 1:3-7 (NLT)

3 Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did.  Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again. 5 I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. 6 This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:3-7 (NLT)

Does anyone here know The Chaos Theory?  No, it’s not a way to describe what happens daily in Washington D.C. and Montgomery, though we could make a good argument for it.  Chaos Theory is the science of surprises, of the unusual and the unpredictable.  It Teaches Us To Expect The Unexpected.  

While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, Chaos Theory deals with things that are practically impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on.  

Chaos Theory maintains that a very small change will make a system behave completely differently.  Very small changes in the starting position of a system that is subject to chaos, make a big difference after a while.  Something happens at a certain point in time that will produce much bigger result than can be predicted.

Edward Norton Lorenz was an American mathematician, meteorologist, and a pioneer of The Chaos Theory.  It started out as a mathematic theory, but before long, it was being applied to every aspect of science, economics, human behavior, and social development.  He noticed it by rounding decimals—that even rounding a number up or down by 1 one-thousandths will create an entirely different outcome. 

He introduced and coined the term The Butterfly Effect to explain The Chaos Theory.  In an over-simplification, The Butterfly Effect states that if a butterfly in Africa flaps its wings at the right moment, the air it moves will lead to the formation of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.  Meaning, had the butterfly NOT flapped its wings, the hurricane would not have happened. 

Sounds insane, doesn’t it?  But there are scientists who insist it is true.

Let’s bring The Chaos Theory and The Butterfly Effect and apply it to nations.  Anyone here know the name Gavrilo Princip?  Well you should.  Gavrilo hated a certain man and his pregnant wife.  He went up to them, pulled out a gun and killed the man, his wife and their unborn baby.  Now do you know him?  His act of killing  Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess Sophie, led to 37 million people either being killed or wounded.  It was called World War 1.  Butterfly Effect

Let’s bring The Butterfly Effect into another realm—the realm of people, society and culture.  Who here knows Philo Taylor Farnsworth?  He grew up in a home that did not have electricity until he was 14.  Yet he successfully demonstrated the first television signal transmission on September 7, 1927.  Who can deny the impact of TV?

Now let’s look at The Butterfly Effect within the spiritual context.  Remember the point of it:  “Small Causes Will Have Large Effects”And to bring this home, let me ask you a question:  What Are You Doing To Change The Lives Of People Around You?  Think long and hard on that question.

What Are Things You Are Doing, The Memories You Are Creating—That Will Change The Heart And Future Of Another Person?  Each and every one of you can be an instrument of God’s plans.  And if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it: 

Your Life Has The Potential To Change Another Life—And The Culture Around You.

You, yes you, can be a mover and a shaker in our community and culture.  You can be responsible for The Butterfly Effect in a person who needs it so much.

God has a purpose for your life—to bring Him Honor and Glory.   When you genuinely bring God Honor and Glory it will impact another life.  This Is How His Purpose For Your Life Works.  Remember that:  His Purpose Is HIS Purpose For HIM

It Is Not To Make Your Life Shine—But To Shine The Glory Of HIS Life Through You!  But you must be deliberate with your life.  These are serious times, my friends.  God has never been, nor will He ever be looking for a casual relationship with anyone.  God is looking for serious people who want more than an hour or 2 on Sunday morning. 

Think about Timothy’s grandmother and mother.  We don’t know a lot about them, but there were a lot of people who felt the impact of their lives.  Their impact continues to be felt today.  Their impact continues to be felt all around the world.  It’s here today, and it will be here the next day and the next—until the end of time. 

Here’s the thing about God’s Glory:  Anyone Can Reflect It, And When Someone Reflects That Glory, It Becomes The Butterfly Effect That Reaches Out And Changes Everything.  But it takes 3 key, let’s call them, “Immoveable Commitments” By You.  Here they are:

1.  Make An Immovable Commitment To Be Hungry For God’s Grace!

Live your ordinary daily life knowing that real life is found only as we live it in God’s Grace.   

  • Through your life show others that Grace is what overcomes the power of sin.
  • Through your life show others that Grace is what overcomes the damage of sin. 
  • Through your life show others that Grace is the place to go when you fail.
  • Through your life show others that Grace is what you need when life gets hard and difficult. 
  • Through your life show others that when the questions of life arise, Grace holds the answer—whether you find the answer here and now—or you reveal the confidence that one day God will make the answer clear. 

We equally need Grace, and if are going to see lives change and cultured transformed—we need to recognize our need for Grace.  We often say our world to change, it needs to know its need for God.  But I would say it this way:  For Our World To Change, The World Needs To See Our Need For God!  And when we recognize our need for Grace, it’s easier to then share that Grace. 

Grace Does Its Best Work When One Person Transformed By Grace, Shows Grace To Another Person.  Butterfly Effect

2.  Make An Immoveable Commitment To Live Into The Bigger Purpose

Live with the sense and expectation that you are part of something much bigger than anything else.  What Would Jesus Do is a phrase most of us are familiar with. 

It comes from Charles Sheldon’s book “In His Steps”, where he told stories of people facing a dilemma between choices, and he would ask the question:  “What Would Jesus Do?”  The answer to that question is our purpose.  And that purpose is to love God and honor Him by becoming the reflection of Jesus with our attitudes, words and actions. 

Our Purpose Is To Think In Ways, Act In Ways, Speak In Ways That Reflect The Real Jesus To The World.  To do this you need to Expand your capacity to enjoy God’s presence and reflect His Heart. 

Don’t ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”  Start Doing What Jesus IS Doing!  The Butterfly Effect

3.  Make An Immoveable Commitment To Be Get Involved With God’s Mission

See yourself as part of an unfolding story—an ongoing narrative.  And the narrative is about God reaching out into the world to redeem and restore the broken and fallen lives.  Too many are living out a story that is way too small. 

There’s a word being said frequently to churches wanting to grow.  The word is WIG!  Not hair!  WIG stands for Wildly Important Goal.  It’s so wild, it’s impossible for us to do—but it’s possible with God!  It comes from that sense of urgency that the Holy Spirit is working in our culture.  Without that W.I.G. here’s what we do:

  • We Dream Too Small. 
  • Our Vision Is Too Short Sighted. 
  • We Muzzle Our Imagination. 

It’s time to set our hearts and minds free because we are in the middle of God’s Story! We make a difference in our community and culture—By Our Need For Grace—Through Our Purpose—With Our Mission. 

Your Life Has The Potential To Change Another Life—And The Culture Around You.  The Butterfly Effect!

Stop selling yourself short.  Remember the Butterfly Effect—that if a butterfly flaps its wings at just the right time—everything changes in the future. Andy Andrews, author and great speaker wrote in his book The Butterfly Effect: 

“Every Single Thing You Do Matters.  You Have Been Created As One Of A Kind.  You Have Been Created In Order To Make A Difference.  You Have Within You The Power To Change The World.”

Andy Andrews, The Butterfly Effect

And we see this effect that 1 life can have at this Table of Holy Communion. The effect of Jesus’ death continues to transform and change human hearts and lives.

Next Step:  Come up with your own W.I.G.— Wildly Important Goal that reflects the truth, that God designed your life to make an impact on His creation.