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By Pastor Bruce Sikes
Most people have seen the movie "300" or have at least heard of the Spartans. They were the ancient Greek people known for their "No Retreat, No Surrender" warrior ethos and their simple basic "Spartan" lifestyle. From among the myriad pagan beliefs and culture of the time, these two qualities have stood out and been admired by generations of people. The "300" refers, of course, to the small group of warriors who fought against the overwhelmingly powerful Persian army who numbered in the tens of thousands. Although the 300 Spartans were defeated in the battle of Thermopylae, Greece in 480 B.C., they stood firmly in the gap known as the “Hot gates" and bought time for all the rest of their people to prepare for the upcoming battle.
A few short years ago, I was able to visit Thermopylae and stood silently on the spot where the 300 fell. I wondered, "What courage and strength, what training and lifestyle prepared these men for their final battle?" It's interesting and exciting history, but what does it have to do with the 21st century Church? Much, I believe.
By the way, did you know that the story of the 300 is in the Bible? No, not the Spartans, but Gideon's 300 Israelites. The story can be found in Judges chapter 7. It describes how the Lord chose a small remnant-sized group from among all of people to challenge the entire Midianite army.
“The LORD said to Gideon, In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave...' So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there....There the LORD told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink." (Judges 7:2-6)
Out of the thousands who partook of the water, only 300 remained alert and ready to fight as they drank. These were the ones the Lord chose face the powerful enemy. God chose to use a small group so that His people could not boast that their success was due to their own strength and numbers.
It is a lesson God's people need to learn again today. In our 21st century, bigger the better, health and wealth, program boasting mega-churches and ministries, little room has been left for God to demonstrate His sovereignty and supernatural power. To say it once more, "We can do church quite nicely without God's help. Thank you very much!"
But it's not just the mega-churches. Large or small, groups of believers can become self-sufficient, self-contained, and self- centered, cutting themselves off from not only the world and other believers, but from the Lordship of Christ Himself.
Let me give you just one generic example. A mega-church decides it can build a new building, project, or program because it has, or can raise the money and resources to do it, so it does it. After all, they say, "Why would God ever say "No!" to such a great deal?" Likewise, a small church decides against a new project, (even though they feel God's leading) because they lack the manpower and funds to go ahead with it. They believe that, "God obviously realizes this and understands their decision."
Both churches are committing the sin of David, "counting the fighting men." (2 Samuel 24) One boasts of its many, and the other decries its few. Neither has left room for the supernatural work of God. They have locked themselves into man-made and human-powered models for church success. It's "I can or can't", because "I have or don't have."
We can't neglect the story of the rich young ruler of Matthew chapter 19. He went away sad because Jesus did not want him to rely on his money, but trust and follow after Him instead. The rich ruler was obeying the commandments of God; that was not the problem, and no doubt he felt blessed by God with all his money. Nevertheless, he found himself trapped by his own success.
In like manner, many pastors, church elders, and Christians have found themselves trapped by their own success. Whether it is security in finances or job position, status in the community, personal comfort, organizational control, maintaining a "peaceful" status quo, or fulfilling the "expectations" of the congregation and peers, they find themselves reluctant or refusing to take any "risks" in following where Jesus leads.
Years ago, I remember challenging fellow pastors in a meeting by observing, "Have you ever noticed that whenever a minister "feels called" to leave a church position, it is usually to another one with a better pay package and more pleasant church situation, and never to one with lower pay and a harder, tougher situation?"
As Jesus told the rich ruler, with all they have, they still lack one thing - courage. Courage to completely trust Jesus with everything they have and follow Him wherever He leads, no matter the cost.
Courage like Gideon, who chose not to use the thousands at his disposal, but to buck conventional wisdom and worldly logic and to choose God's wisdom and supernatural logic instead. What a demonstration of Faith! What a witness to all! His actions were contrary to the people's worldly idea of a successful plan. The society of Gideon's time was earthy, fighting for food and land. The society of our own time is largely a culture of comfort and leisure. God's plans are often largely unknowable and indescribable, but fully trustworthy. Obeying God often means acting contrary to the norms and ideals of the secular world in which the people of God are often overly immersed.
We need men and women of God, leaders who are willing to lead sacrificially and make faith-based decisions, while challenging the Church to do the same.
We also need courage like Gideon to tear down the idols the people have allowed to stand in their midst. Before God called the 300, the Lord directed and helped Gideon cleanse himself and His people before using them. (Judges 6) This man of God obeyed in spite of great personal risk and opposition from the people. In many respects, the idols we have among us today are more insidious, "having a form of godliness" cloaked in church traditions, socially accepted and tolerated. Once again, we need men and women of God, leaders who are willing to cleanse themselves of personal idols and shine the light of God's Word on those that have crept into the Church. He is calling us to do so now as He cleanses a Remnant for Himself.
In reality, Gideon was an ordinary man. He questioned God and repeatedly asked for signs of confirmation. The Lord was pleased to answer him because he had a willing heart and would "risk" all that he had, honor and possessions, to serve God and lead His people wherever the Lord took them. During Gideon's time, the people of God and their leaders were undergoing a major learning curve as the Lord was preparing them for the battle ahead.
During our own time, the people of God, the Church, is also undergoing a major learning curve. God is sifting His people at the water. He is preparing and cleansing a Remnant for battle, a battle which is already well underway and is rapidly heading to its final culmination at the Lord's return.
God is calling us to tear down our personal and church idols and to strip ourselves of anything which will weigh us down as we go into battle.
We must become Spiritual Spartans.
The enemy is evil, fierce, brutal, unforgiving, deceitful, and merciless, and will cut right through any man-made armor, no matter how Christian or church-like it appears.
There are actual historical accounts of medieval soldiers who were given very expensive armor and equipment by their king before going into battle. However, the men threw them into a ditch as soon as they were out of sight of the leaders because they were not protecting them and were hindering their ability to fight.
We, too, must rid ourselves of any church possessions or practices that cause us to rely on them rather than God. In and of themselves, there may be nothing wrong with many of these things, but war has a tendency to break and take our possessions away, and render our peacetime practices as self- indulgent and ineffective. An axiom of battle is that the first to die are often the unprepared, the unfit, the lazy, and the phonies. May God have mercy on the unprepared, and even more on those who have failed to prepare them.
From now on we must,
Do church as though we have no building
Preach as though it's your last sermon
Teach as though you are training warriors
Witness as though your own salvation depends on it
Minister to all as though it's your only full time job
Pray as though God can literally move mountains through you
Proclaim God's truth as though you are the only voice being heard
Plan as though the Lord is returning tomorrow
Remnant of God, the Lord is sifting you at the water. Cleanse and prepare yourselves for battle. You have been called to stand in the gap. No Retreat, No Surrender!
For Christ and His Remnant,
Pastor Bruce Sikes
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