Tuesday 17 July 2012

God loves to use the least

“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Judges 6:15

For many Asians Christians, the story of Gideon’s call from God hits home with our own personal experiences.

If you come from a background of idol worship: your family frequents temples, they offer joss-sticks to your ancestors during the festive seasons; if this has been the pattern of life in your family for generations and generations; and then, one day you come to know Jesus, you come to understand that his death on the cross was for your sins, that God raised him from the dead for your justification; and you respond to Jesus in faith, repentance and love. He is your Lord. Your life is now lived in worship of his glory alone. Yet, for you, as someone coming from a background of idol worship, turning to Christ, must also mean turning away from idols to serve the true and living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). This can be an immensely scary thing to do.

In the story of Gideon, we meet a young man who is afraid. He is afraid of the Midianites, whose troops were oppressing the Israelite people, attacking their homes and destroying their crops. He is afraid of God, thinking that he is going to die from the encounter with the angel of the LORD. But also, he is afraid of his own family, who do not worship God, who instead, had given themselves to the worship of Baal.

So before God sends him out on his mission to take on the enemy, he first sends Gideon back home to deal with the idols in his backyard. “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it,” God tells Gideon. Gideon did as he was instructed... but. “But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than the daytime.” Gideon was afraid, and he had good reason to be. His own father was an idol worshipper and possibly even, a priest in service of Baal, the idol. The next morning, the entire village is in uproar over Gideon’s act of vandalism. They march up to his house and demand of Gideon’s father, Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar.”

But Joash doesn’t give up his son. Instead he starts mocking Baal. “If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” Does Gideon’s father become a Christian overnight? I can’t really say for certain, but this much is clear: (1) He sticks up for his son - facing up to the hostile crowd to protect Gideon; and (2) He recognises his own foolishness in worshipping an idol, and turns away from it.

On the one hand, idols have no power. They are not gods, just things that we put in place of God. They are only as powerful as we allow them to be. In this sense, money can be just as powerful an idol as the statues in the Taoist temple - both have a tremendous hold over their worshippers; over those who give their lives in service to these idols.

On the other hand, God is serious about our worship. And for Christians, who understand that the sole basis of our worship is the sacrificial offering of Jesus’ own blood and body on the cross, who we offer our lives in worship to is a serious thing in God’s eyes. Jesus warns us that we cannot serve two masters. Either we will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and hate the other (Matthew 6:24). The first thing God does with Gideon is accept his worship. The very next thing he does is send Gideon to tear down his father’s idols.

That’s scary. We don’t want to offend our parents. We might even be afraid of offending God. But if you look closely at Gideon, it wasn’t so much his fear of God or even the fear of his parents that was at the root of his constant indecision and cowardliness. Why do I say this? Well, because again and again, we find God reassuring Gideon and speaking to him so graciously. Again and again, God is so patient with Gideon, even though this kid keeps insisting on testing God again and again. And as for his fear of his father, why, Joash sticks up for him in the end. He seems like a pretty stand-up guy!

Why was Gideon so afraid? Because he was the least. He was fearful of his own inadequacy. He felt small and he felt so insignificant. What does he say to God again? “How can I save Israel? My clan is the least! I am the least!” But again and again, God’s response to Gideon is, “I will be with you.” God doesn’t give Gideon super-powers. He doesn’t give him supernatural courage. No, what God gives Gideon is an assurance. “I will be with you.” God gives Gideon the promise of his presence. “We will do this thing together.” Such that the strength of God’s promise and the power of God’s presence is seen precisely in the weakness and inadequacy of this young man.

Maybe, like Gideon, you are the least in your family. Maybe, like Gideon, you don’t feel in any way up to the task. And maybe, just maybe, like Gideon, God looks at you and me and goes, “That’s the guy I’m looking for!” “That girl is perfect!” In God’s wisdom he chooses the weak. In God’s mercy, he pours out his love on the least. Why? So that when others see us in our weakness, in our poverty, in our inadequacy, what they will see all the more clearly is his glory, his power and his grace through his Son, Jesus.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10

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