Living For What Matters Most - Part 1
From Glory To The Grave
It was past midnight when my friend answered the disturbing knock on his door. He probably thought, “Who could possibly be knocking at such an ungodly hour?” When he reached over and opened the door, two police officers stood before him. Their black and white cruiser abruptly parked along the curbside. My friend was asked to identify himself. Then the names of two boys were brought to his attention. It was apparent that his sons were involved in a critical car accident nearby. As the details of the tragedy unfolded, thundering rotor blades cutting through the air high above shook the sleepy Walnut neighborhood. At that moment, a medevac helicopter carrying the two boys was headed toward the Los Angeles USC County Medical Center.
On the morning of April 4, 2008 the Whittier Daily News headlines read, “Brothers Hurt in Crash.” According to the sheriff’s official report, Jose Lopez, 30, and John Lopez, 26, was driving west on Amar Road at about 11:30 pm Tuesday when the driver lost control of the vehicle. It was estimated that the car was traveling over 90 mph when the crash occurred. The car rolled over hitting the center divide and two trees before coming to a stop. Both the driver and passenger were ejected from the car at different locations. Jose was listed in extremely critical condition while John was listed as “death imminent.” Jose suffered from a broken vertebra paralyzing both legs while his younger brother remained in a coma. John’s grave condition saw no improvement. After a trying six-day ordeal, the doctor’s diagnosis never changed. John was brain-dead and nothing more could be done for the young man. The family was strongly advised to let him go. John passed away on April 10, 2008.
John, or “Jep” as he was called, along with his entire family, were members of a church I pastored some years ago. He was given charge of opening the fellowship hall, turning on the lights and air-conditioning, setting up the tables and chairs, and hooking up the video audio system. In fact, he’d be the first one to greet me with a smile every Sunday morning. Like clockwork, Jep quietly, but faithfully fulfilled his assigned role before the rest of the church members showed up. He was a valued member of our congregation. A website dedicated in his memory speaks volumes of a life that touched and affected many friends and loved ones. Every now and then I stop and think about that young man who was tragically cut down in the prime of his life. I think about my friend and his family who continue to grieve for the loss of their son. I think about Jep’s promising potential and the lasting impact he could have made in this world. Not only will my friend’s son be sorely missed, but this heartrending loss will leave us in the dust forever guessing what more God could have accomplished on earth with an unfinished life.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Most people go to their graves with their music within.” What did Holmes mean when he penned those words? I believe he meant that most people die without discovering their own genius; without expressing the uniqueness that makes them special. The most expensive real estate in the world isn’t the oil fields of Saudi Arabia or the diamond mines of South Africa, but all the cemeteries that litter our landscape. In graveyards the world-over lay hidden centuries worth of lost human treasure: uncomposed music, unsung melodies, unpainted artworks, unwritten books, unpenned poetry, undiscovered inventions, unexpressed ideas, unfulfilled hopes, unrealized dreams, and unfinished lives. If you were to ask, "How many people die on an average day," the answer would surprise us. Over 150,000 people go to their graves on a daily basis. And thousands are lowered six feet under without ever discovering who they are or what they could have become. The world suffers the terrible loss of their true untold stories and unreleased potential. Their unrevealed glory lies buried beneath the grave.
For many people the word glory is veiled and mysterious. It’s not a word that often heard in our conversations. But the concept of glory should be unearthed and made known to all God’s good creatures. David the great king of Israel declared, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaim his handiwork” (Ps 19:1). Everywhere we look, we are surrounded by God’s glory. What is glory? The primary Hebrew word translated for glory is kabod, which comes from a root that means “heavy” or “weighty.”[i] The more complete definition includes the words splendor, magnificence and radiance. The question is, “What does it mean to glorify God or show him worthy?” It means, “to make God known” by fulfilling the work he purposed for you and me.
There is no greater purpose in life than to fulfill the God-given destiny you and I were created for—our life’s final testimony that makes a world of a difference in the lives of others. The greatest tragedy in life is not death, but a life weighed without purpose and found wanting. The greatest shame in life is a failure to reveal your ultimate goal—your true self. Glory defined is the full expression of your purpose through one’s work. The glory of a bird is to fly. The glory of a fish is to swim. The glory of a horse is to gallop. The glory of men and women is to bear the image of God, to walk in the joy of his presence, and to accomplish the fruitful purposes for which they were created thereby making God known. In essence, we utilize all our gifts and talents to realize visions and dreams given by our Creator. The mission of this message is to cause us to succeed in fulfilling our glory while we’re still alive, rather than fail by filling our graves with empty lives. We ought to be all that God created us to be—a glorious blessed gift unwrapped for this waiting and wounded world. In this study we will discover and draw the God-given glory wrapped in the person of Gideon: First, what’s in a name; second, where’s God’s glory; and third, who gets the glory.
I. What's In A Name?
The character in our study is from the Old Testament. He lived in the dark ages of Israel—a period when people did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. In the book of Judges 6:1-5, God gave Israel over to the Midianites to punish the nation for chasing other gods. After seven years it looked like the enemy was here to stay. They would descend upon the Israelites like a swarm of locusts destroying their crops and wasting their land. The Powers That Be burst Israel’s economic bubble, devalued the country’s real estate, drove the prices of wheat up, starved out the livestock, and chased her homeless citizens into hiding. The nation was on the brink of bankruptcy. The crisis hadn’t bottomed out. The end was nowhere in sight. And finally the people cried out to God for help (6:6). Does this desperate scenario sound familiar? God raised up Judges who would deliver his people out of the power of those who plundered them (Jdg 2:16).
In our story we get a glimpse of God-given glory holed up in a person. In the midst of this national nightmare, an angel of the LORD[ii] finds Gideon in the dark and in deep doubt. He appears before him saying, “The LORD is with you, you mighty warrior” (6:12). The Hebrew name Gideon means “Destroyer”, “Mighty Warrior” or “Feller of Trees.” Where do we find Gideon? Our hero is hiding in the dark “beating out wheat in the wine press” (Jdg 6:11). Can you imagine Gideon’s confusion? Excuse me? Are you talking to me? Mighty what? Warrior who? Where do you suppose one is to beat or thresh out wheat? Not in a wine press that’s for sure. Since the enemy constantly raided the land and destroyed the produce, grapes were probably never harvested. The wine press was a good a hiding place as any to beat out wheat. How could he possibly be called a mighty warrior when our hero is found beating out wheat in the wine press rather than wielding his sword in the open field? He stands under the shadow of the oak tree before the angel in so much shame and fear. Our hero failed to live up to his name. Midian was a Goliath of an enemy who continually taunted and tormented Israel. And Gideon, the supposed Feller of Trees, was found to have fallen short in felling this gigantic tribal tree.
II. Where Is God's Glory?
Second, where’s God’s glory? Now Gideon asked the angel the million-dollar question, “But sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has cast us off, and given us into the hands of Midian”(6:13).Where is God when we need him most? Why hasn’t he come to our aid like he did in the good old days? How long will he allow us to be held hostage by our enemy? God’s glory is gone with the wind. God’s presence is on vacation. God’s people are in dire straits. If kabod is the word for “glory,” ichabod is the word for “where is the glory?”[iii] Israel is in a state of ichabod. God’s shekinah or manifest glory was present in the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Holy of holies. When the Ark was lost to their enemies it meant that, “the glory has departed from Israel.”[iv] The temple was said to be ichabod. The priestly duties would be placed on hold. The animal sacrifices would be stripped of its significance. That’s what happens when the glory of God has left the building.
A Tall Order. In Gideon’s day, God’s glory was missing in action. A dark spirit of hopelessness ruled the hearts of people. Standing before the angel of the LORD, Gideon acted like Israel’s Speaker of the House. The LORD stopped Gideon short of his long list of complaints replacing it with one straightforward command saying, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you”(6:14).Here’s the irony. While Gideon delivers the State of the Nation God charges him with a heavenly commission. Gideon gives God the lowdown and God gives Gideon the high calling.
Where was Gideon’s “might” all along? It was wrapped up in his name. It was present in his person. The purpose of his being was not lost. The LORD simply reminded our fearful and forgetful hero that he need only release the might warrior hidden within him. Gideon didn’t once lose what he could now use to fulfill his glorious commission. But remember, Gideon is still in darkness and denial. What was his response? He said, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (6:15). Haven’t we heard that before? Think about your situation today. Are the odds are stacked up against you? Do you feel outnumbered, outgunned or even outclassed by your trying circumstances? Can you catch yourself saying, “Who am I to overcome this?” Be mindful that it’s not about who YOU are—it’s about who HE is. God is not looking for people of great strength, high status, and brilliant minds. He chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong so that no one gets the glory but God (1 Co 1:27-29). So Gideon is left without any lifelines. He has no one else to turn to. The LORD understands Gideon’s weakness and reassures him, “But I will be with you…” (6:16).
[i] Lawrence O. Richards, Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 310. The Hebrew word glory is normally used in a figurative sense to suggest an impressive or worthy person. It is also used in reference to someone highly honored like a king who was treated with reverent awe and surrounded with regal splendor.
[ii] Richards, 44. Where humans encounter God in the OT, they meet him not in unmasked glory but in the person of the angel of the LORD.
[iii] Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1967), 45.
© 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.