Small Enough to Win
God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.
1 Corinthians 1:27
Napoleon, the great conqueror, sneered, “I observe that God is usually on the side of the strongest battalions.”
Maybe he shouldn’t have said that.
On Russia’s western border the town of Vilna (presently Vilnius of Lithuania) had a signpost. As you traveled east it said, “Napoleon Bonaparte passed this way in 1812 with 410,000 men.” As you turned west to leave town, it read, “Napoleon Bonaparte passed this way in 1812 with 9000 men.”
How could one of the world’s greatest military commanders lose virtually his entire fighting force? Napoleon’s army did not encounter a fierce, superior army. Instead, the main enemy was the snowflake. Lots and lots of them.
A snowflake is so fragile and delicate. But when snowflakes band together – watch out. Napoleon knew how to conquer opposing armies, but he was not prepared to fight an army of snowflakes, and so he was forced to retreat from Russia and his once mighty army was destroyed.
God loves to take weak things and use them to conquer the strong. You shouldn’t think that he has something against those who are powerful or influential. It’s just that, as we grow in power and influence, we like to hog the credit for it. Once we are awed by our own sense of accomplishment, we inevitably lose a sense of dependence on the Lord. The most loving thing God could do for us when we enamored with ourselves is to humble us and teach us to depend on him. And, conversely, when God empowers the weak, he is providing us a powerful object lesson for the truth that all spiritual gain begins when we acknowledge our weakness and God’s strength to save.
Gideon complained when God told him to save Israel from the Midianites. He offered the helpful reminder to the Lord that his tribe of Manasseh was the smallest in all Israel.
If Gideon only knew that God considered his tribe far too big! Gideon marshaled an army of 22,000 men, but the Lord told him, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.” Only when Gideon whittled his army down to 300 did God consider it small enough to win.
And, just to make sure Gideon understood how this all worked, God instructed them to wage war by making noise: blowing trumpets, smashing clay pots, and hollering.
We often talk about how God’s ways are mysterious and beyond our understanding. True enough. But, when we see God using the weak things of this world to humble the mighty, we see a living parable : that the true power for salvation comes from him.
That God should act in such ways that teach us his grace is not mysterious at all.
(Copyright 2010 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
Grace Flows Downhill
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5
In 1978, Mr. Behrend Fedderson, announced the “discovery of the year” in the art world. He “discovered” an exciting new artist, named Yamasaki, and now Fedderson was hosting an exhibition of his art in Frankfurt, Germany.
The exhibit catalog pointed out the “convincing luminosity of his colors” and the “excitement of his powerfully dynamic brushwork.” Within three hours all 23 of Yamasaki’s paintings had been sold. The crowd, connoisseurs of modern art, could appreciate the genius of Yamasaki’s bold style.
You can imagine the electricity in the crowd when Fedderson announced that Yamasaki would make a guest appearance to answer questions. It turned out, however, that Yamasaki was a chimpanzee who was simply encouraged to lob paint at the canvas.
We’ll come back to our art exhibit in a moment, but first, let me ask you a question: What is the worst sin you can commit? Robbery? (Oh come on, you’re not trying.) Adultery? Murder? Now we are dealing with truly devastating sins, but these are not the worst.
The worst sin of all, I believe, is pride.
You can see this truth reflected repeatedly in Jesus’ observations. He speaks to the temple religious leaders and claims that the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of them. Why? The priests are too proud to admit their neediness for God’s grace; the “sinners” know they have no hope without God’s mercy.
Why is pride so serious a sin? Because it is the one sin that rejects the grace of God. When we are filled with pride we expect God to reward us for our goodness. We are no longer seeking for Him to show us a kindness which we don’t deserve – we want Him to pay us the wages we think we have earned through our righteousness.
God longs to forgive our sins, but how can he forgive someone who does not come to him for forgiveness? Pride does not want mercy. It wants a pat on the head.
We can laugh at those who want to appear cultured and discerning about modern art, can’t we? Snobbish pride doesn’t make them look cultured; it makes them look foolish. But I must remember every day that I am tempted to do the same thing. Pride tempts me to think that I am better in God’s eyes than others. That I don’t need God’s grace quite as much as “other” people do.
When we start losing the sense of our total unworthiness to stand before a holy God, we are entering a dangerous place. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
As odd as it sounds, the healthiest place to be is not at the top of the hill – confident that we are closer to God than others. No, we are best off when we kneel at the bottom and honestly tell God we have no hope except in his graciousness to us.
Grace flows downhill.
Thankful for the ‘Whys’ of Life
“Why, O Lord . . .?”
When Nick Vujicic (pronounced VOY-a-chich) was born, his mother did not cradle him in her arms. Instead, she screamed in horror, “Take him away!”
Nick was born without arms or legs. He is head, neck, and trunk – with a little deformed foot (which he calls “my little chicken drumstick”).
As he grew up in Australia, Nick was banned from attending public school. When he was finally admitted, he was cruelly bullied. At the age of 10, he contemplated suicide. He felt hopeless, alone, cold, and bitter.
Nick cried out to God, “Why?” Why did you make me like this? Why won’t you answer my prayer and grow arms and legs for me? Why?
And then Nick realized that the Lord could use him just the way he was. He noticed that others considered him an inspiration.
Today, Nick is a college graduate with a double major. In 2005, he received the “Young Australian of the Year” award. He is a dedicated Christian man – whose mantra is: “I love life! I am happy!” Nick has learned to be thankful for what he has instead of bitter for what he doesn’t have.
Nick has spoken to millions of people. Without legs, of course, he can’t stand in front of his audiences. He is just plopped there on stage. And then he deliberately tips over.
“So, what do you do when you fall down?” he asks the audience. You get back up. “But I tell you,” he says as he lies on the stage, “there are some times in life where you fall down and you don’t feel like you have the strength to get back up.” He talks about trying a hundred times to get back up . . . and failing a hundred times.
Nick thinks you should never give up. Failure is not the end, he tells us: “It matters how you’re going to finish. Are you going to finish strong?” After a long pause he concludes, “Then you will find that strength to get back up.”
Slowly, he moves toward a book and puts his forehead on it. Then he arches his body and convulses it and plops upright.
When Nick would go to the beach, he says he would watch couples holding hands and realized that, when he marries, he can never hold his wife’s hand. He fell into a mindset focusing on “I can’t do this; I can’t do that.”
Now Nick says, “But I realize, I may not have hands to be able to hold my wife’s hand. But, when the time comes, I’ll be able to hold her heart. I don’t need hands to hold her heart.”
Nick Vujicic is a happy man. He cried out to God, “Why?” And, I for one, have been deeply touched by God’s answer.
Dead Toad in the Stew Pot
He will tend his flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. He will gently lead the ewes that have young.
My friend, Stan Holder, is a really great guy, and I would never want to embarrass him. So, to protect his identity, I’m going to refer to him, throughout this article, as Buford A. Tiddschnickle.
Sta—I mean, Buford, is not a hiker; he is a Hiking Machine. When his wife, Mrs. Tiddschnickle, managed a U.S. Forest Service district in California, Buford and his wife hiked every trail in the district – to the astonishment of everyone who knew how many miles this entailed.
But Buford’s slide into infamy began with “The Mount Ksanka Incident.” Ksanka rises majestically to the east of Eureka, Montana. On Bufe’s recommendation, I decided to climb it.
“How long does it take to get to the top?” I asked.
“Oh,” Buford replied, “forty-five minutes?”
After several long hours of desperate scrambling up the western face, no jury in the land would have convicted me had I enacted my plot to short-sheet his bed and put a dead toad in his stew pot.
This is a cautionary tale: never ask a hiker with enormous calves how long it takes to go anywhere. They will tell you sincerely, but they calculate according to their own pace.
The thought of following Jesus used to intimidate me. How can I keep up with the Son of God? His life is one of perfect beauty. He forgives the very ones whose hammer blows nailed his body to a tree, while I’m pathetically harboring dark thoughts about toads in stew pots. How could I have the audacity to consider myself his follower?
But, then, one day, this verse from Isaiah stripped away my fears and excuses. Jesus will lead us like a shepherd. He doesn’t out-hike the flock and disappear over the horizon. Shepherds lead at the pace the sheep are able to walk.
And what if you can’t walk very fast? Isaiah says this Shepherd will go at a gentler pace. And what if you’re only a lamb and can’t keep up at all? Then He’ll pick you up and carry you close to his heart.
For years, Buford A. Tiddschnickle has invited me to hike with him, but I’ve always concocted inventive excuses.
This last year, however, I’ve learned a secret about Bufe. He loves to hike with friends and family. He loves to hike with kids. But he always hikes at their pace — not his own.
I think I’m going to hike with him, and deliberately walk slow – just to bug him (since I’m still a little peeved about this Ksanka thing.)
But my conscience has convicted me about the dead toad in the stew pot.
A Garden Full of Rutabagas
Is everybody an apostle? Is everyone a prophet? Is everyone a teacher? Does everyone perform miracles? Does everyone have the gift of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
1 Corinthians 12:29-30
All my ancestors come from Finland. The Finns are noted for their determination, which they call “sisu.” (Non-Finns, like my wife, often mistakenly call this “bullheaded stubbornness”.) Finns take funny hot baths, called sauna, and drink more coffee per capita than any nation on earth.
In all these areas, I have proudly represented my heritage.
But the Finns are also known for their painful shyness, and I have grown up with this dubious distinction.
When you’re shy you are uncomfortable in public. You look at your shoes a lot when you talk to people. If you have to stand up in front of a crowd to give a speech, you feel like your fly is open.
You shouldn’t think shy people are generally fearful. I lead trips into remote wilderness areas in Montana. We often encounter fresh grizzly bear sign. A grizzly leaves a pile of poop which is roughly the size of Rhode Island. And, believe me, extroverts get just as nervous as introverts when they come across a fresh pile on the trail.
I had a pastor who was charismatic and outgoing. He once told us in Bible study that shyness was a sin. All Christians, he claimed, should be extroverts.
For many years I lugged around a vague sense of guilt. Gradually, it dawned on me that I was just as judgmental as my former pastor (who really was a wonderful shepherd). I would look at extroverts and wonder why they were such excitable loudmouths. Why couldn’t they be more . . . you know, quiet? Contemplative. Like me.
We all have a tendency to judge a person according to temperament, rather than character. We’ve always recognized that people have different personalities. Four centuries before Christ, the Greek physician, Hippocrates, had classified everyone as either choleric (hot-tempered), sanguine (cheerful), phlegmatic (sluggish), or melancholy (sad). We have refined his classifications over the years, but have never refuted the notion that people have distinctly different temperaments.
We are not only distinct in personality, but the Bible tells us, God has given us all a variety of different gifts. At times, we’ve all wanted to pound square pegs into round holes; we have wanted people to change their temperament.
But God gives us a variety of personalities and gifts – for the same reason you don’t plant your entire garden with rutabagas.
The War is Over
“If, when we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to him by the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved through his life.”
What? Enemies of God? It makes perfect sense once you think about it. Ask yourself: Who has opposed God’s plan to create a beautiful world without sin and evil? Who has marred this perfect world He wanted and filled it with sin? Who has abused and polluted it? Who has become the obstacle to God’s desire for this world?
We’re all guilty, aren’t we? We are the ones defeating God’s good plans for this world.
The beauty of this passage for today is that we have been reconciled to God. To “be reconciled” means to become friends again. Once Jesus offered up His life for our sins, that sacrifice brought an end to the war.
In 1944, a Japanese man, Shoichi Yokoi, began living in a jungle cave on the island of Guam. For 28 years he lived on rats, frogs, snails, nuts, and mangoes. Do you know why he lived like this? He was a Japanese soldier and he didn’t know that World War II was over!
All those long years he was running and hiding from an enemy that didn’t exist. The United States and Japan were at peace. Even when he did hear the war had ended, he said he was afraid to surrender. He feared execution.
Not many people openly defy God and think that this is a battle they can win. But there are throngs of people who are running from God. They are afraid. If God ever finds them, they think, they are in deep, dark trouble.
Are you running from God?
If you’re running from God because you think he’s out to get you, then you’ll find it’s very hard to pray (how can you talk to someone you fear?) Reading the Bible is like pulling teeth. You won’t read long before you have to face Him.
It really stinks to eat rats and frogs to survive, simply because you are at war. But when the war is over, and you don’t realize it, such a lifestyle is just tragic.
Jesus has negotiated a permanent truce. God is on our side – or, better yet, we are now on His side.
Harry Houdini was one of the greatest magicians of all time. On one of his European tours he boasted that he could be handcuffed and locked in any prison cell, and free himself. Amazingly, he always managed to do so.
But, one day, as he was locked up in a jail in Scotland, things went wrong. He hid lock picks in his belt and even under his scalp. It took no time at all to get out of his handcuffs. But, though he was a master at picking locks, he simply could not unlock his prison cell door. Frantically, he worked the lock for two hours. Finally, he admitted defeat and collapsed against the cell door.
The door swung open. The reason he could not unlock it is because it was not locked in the first place! The jail keeper had forgotten to lock him in.
If you feel like God’s prisoner – trapped and confined – maybe it’s time to try the prison door. You will find that, all this time, it was never locked at all.
The war is over.