Summary: Gideon's victory with 300 warriors should be an encouragement to any congregation which might be small or have lost members.
Today, I don’t want to take you through the text verse-by-verse. I’m not going to bore you with maps or the meanings of names (except one)—even though there would be some familiarity there. I’m concerned that we might have lost sight of the purpose of this short, specialized sermon series. I felt led to prepare on these texts because of where our church is in terms of finding its identity and figuring out who its leadership is. So, I just want to share a few, hopefully quick, ideas with you and we’ll allow the Holy Spirit to take it from there.
Let me start by reminding you what I believe is important about the previous messages from this book. In the first two chapters, we saw the terrible pattern that continues throughout the book. The people forgot about God and started prioritizing the things that those in the culture around about them thought were important instead of the things God had told them. We saw that whenever Israel did this, God put them in the proverbial “fix” to fix them. Then, when the Israelites were desperate and cried out to God, God raised up a leader. We considered the fact that God raises up leaders when God’s people need them and we asked all of you to commit yourselves to becoming that kind of leader.
In the third chapter, I opened up with a grotesque story-version of Ehud’s assassination of King Eglon of Moab. I spoke about how there are always big challenges in our lives, as well as attitudes, habits, and actions that end up oppressing us. I shared how our modern oppressors aren’t as much people as these sinful actions, attitudes, and habits. But I truly believe the important lesson for us in that chapter was tied to Ehud’s “passing over” or breaking the idols before the victory was won. I probably wasn’t specific enough about the idols in our modern lives, especially those idols faced by Asian-Americans, but I’m going to try to make that up in a minute or so. The point is, we can’t win the victories God has for us as long as we’re protecting the idols “behind our lines.”
In the fourth chapter, we saw two important females within God’s plan. Deborah was both a religious and political leader. She had something that every leader needs—VISION. Jael may have used seduction and trickery to lure God’s enemy into her tent, but even though she herself was not an Israelite, she killed God’s enemy and handed the corpse over to General Barak. I’ll address this more specifically in a moment, but it really does require us to rethink the way we as men, and some Asian-American men in particular, have treated women who are called to leadership.
This week, I read a book about leadership in Asian-American churches. As that Asian-American leader described the way that the western world relates to Asian-Americans, I realized that he was largely right. Among other points, he suggests that Asian-Americans are trained to be reserved, humble, and hardworking and loyal. Now, those are good attributes. The only trouble is that when Asian-Americans keep quiet, look away, and, at least seem to, submit to westerners, the westerners get the idea that the Asian-Americans lack confidence, are disinterested, and may be exploitable. The same thing is true when the average Asian-American thinks it’s disrespectful to raise his/her hand and say, “I’ll do it.” There is a decidedly non-volunteer culture among Asian-Americans and that can be extremely dangerous within the church community. Did you notice in our study of Judges 1 and 2 that God raised up leaders whenever they were needed? Well, my question to you is, “How do you know that you’re not that leader that needs to step up?” We can’t let some pseudo-Confucian humility keep you from discovering God’s will for your life.
I was really affirmed in the impact of this sermon series when I read about the “idols” that still exist in Asian-American culture. Oh, I’m not talking about those lucky Buddhas with your pastor’s physique and those pawing kittens in the Chinese stores. I’m talking about three particular “idols” that Asian-Americans sometimes put above God’s will for their lives: 1) the assumed inferiority of women (if we pretend they aren’t equal to us, it’s easier to use them and ignore them that to interact authentically with them) that is quite counter to the way Jesus related to women; 2) the glorification of Ivy League schools or “good schools” (in the sense of schools whose names have become “designer labels”) over discovering God’s will for one’s life—sometimes God has lessons to teach you in that community college or state school before you’re ready to be an effective leader in that designer school (and maybe that’s part of why 97% of Asian-Americans leave their churches after high school); and 3) the tendency to put one’s family’s expectations and will above God’s will. Even though we need to respect our parents and recognize that God can and does often speak through them, our apbah is not Jesus. And we need to make sure we’re following God even when we sometimes have to make decisions without our parents’ blessing.