How many of you have seen the 1984 film “Karate Kid”? I know there are sequels and a new TV series on Netflix, but I’m taking about the 1984 movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s no biggie. I can give a basic recap. After all it’s not Shakespeare or academy award winning material.

Daniel LaRusso a teenager is the main character. His mom moves him from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California. He’s not a happy camper until he meets a girl at a beach party but then her ex-boyfriend shows up, beats him up, and a conflict ensues that basically drives the story line. The ex-boyfriend Johnny is like a black belt in karate and all his buddies are from the “Cobra Kai” dojo or martial arts studio are like a gang of rogue ninja’s wreaking havoc on the streets of L.A..

Anyway, during one of the bullying sessions where Daniel is getting beat up by the ex-boyfriend and his fellow ne’er-do-wells, a mystery man jumps dramatically out of the fog like Bruce Lee and rescues Daniel. His “kung fu” is better than Daniel’s oppressors. I mean karate, but “kung fu” just sounds better. As the bullies are lying on the ground writhing in pain from the beat down that they just received from Daniel’s mystery defender, Daniel realizes who it is. It’s “Mr. Miyagi” a strange older man that just so happens to be the super or maintenance man in Daniel’s apartment complex. Plus, he just so happens to be a karate expert from Japan. Isn’t that convenient?

Daniel begs Mr. Miyagi to train him so he can defend himself, but Miyagi declines. However, he agrees to accompany Daniel to the “Cobra Kai” dojo to see if they can work things out or stop the beatings, but the sensei or karate teacher refuses apparently supportiing his student’s delinquent and bullying behavior. However, Mr. Miyagi notices a poster of a Karate Tournament on the wall in the dojo and offers a deal. If Daniel can win the tournament, then his students have to leave Daniel alone. The sensei agrees to the deal knowing that Daniel winning the tournament would be impossible. Oh, and Daniel isn’t thrilled about this arrangement because he knows absolutely nothing about karate. He’s going to get destroyed if he competes, but hey it’s a movie so anything can happen, right? So, Mr. Miyagi agrees to train him for the tournament. Daniel “magically” learns karate in a short period of time, wins the tournament, gets the girl, etc. It’s a Cinderella story. I’m getting all weepy thinking about it. NOT!

Well, here’s the real reason I’m using this illustration. Mr. Miyagi’s training methods are a little weird. Instead of the normal training in a “dojo” or gym like Rocky movies, Mr. Miyagi uses Daniel to do some mundane chores and home improvements around his house. Daniel washes and waxes Mr. Miyagi’s cars, paints his house, a fence, and sands a large wooden deck at Mr. Miyagi’s house. He gives Daniel very specific instructions on how to do each task. He shows him how to stand and how to use his hands. Each task requires different movements. Daniel is a little confused, but he does it.

After a while he gets frustrated feeling that he is just being used for free labor to do Mr. Miyagi’s work around the house, so he confronts Mr. Miyagi. Daniel is ready to quit and starts to walk off in a huff when the method to Mr. Miyagi’s madness is revealed. In the scene that follows, Mr. Miyagi briefly goes through all the movements to help Daniel understand why those chores were in fact a part of his karate training. Then as a part of the demonstration, Mr. Miyagi begins throwing punches at Daniel, but Daniel blocks every punch using the same movements that he used while waxing the cars, painting the house-fence, and sanding the deck. Daniel is shocked and amazed looking at his own hands wondering how in the world he just did that. (Cue the lightbulb!) He suddenly realizes that all those chores were actually training him to fight. What seemed weird or didn’t make sense before makes perfect sense now. Then, he goes and wins the tournament. All is right with the world. The end.

Just like Daniel in this movie, Gideon is probably confused and maybe even a little frustrated by God’s method of doing things. Remember, God has just reduced the size of Gideon’s army from 30,000 to 300. He also used a weird method of thinning out the ranks, but as we’re about to see it gets even weirder.

Later that night the Lord says to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” (Judges 7:9-11 NIV) There are two options here. Either go down and attack the camp or take your servant and do a little eaves dropping or spying just to be sure. Gideon picks option 2. He and Purah sneak down to the Midianite camp and listen in. They hear a man say, “I had a dream. A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

Okay, it’s not the most terrifying dream I’ve ever heard of. I mean, not many of my nightmares involve rolling loaves of bread. It must have been a really large loaf to overturn tents. Regardless of what it means, apparently it did the trick. It is all Gideon and his servant-friend needed to hear because Judges 7:15 says, “when Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Now Gideon is all fired up and ready for battle.

Ok, what’s next? Do they grab swords and defeat the Midianites like Mel Gibson in Brave heart? Uh, no not even close.

It’s not clear where the strategy for this battle comes from because it never says that the Lord told Gideon to do it this way. Maybe Gideon just wanted to keep this weirdness theme going, he’s a brilliant strategist, or there is a conversation between Gideon and the Lord that we’re not privy to. But I’m betting that it was God’s idea because the battle plan is not really a staple of military strategy. It’s weird. Remember this is just 300 guys going up against an army that is like a swarm of locust, and their enemy has so many camels they can’t count them all, so they can’t afford to mess this up.

Okay it’s time for battle and here’s what they do.

16Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. 17“Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. 18When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’ ” Judges 7:16-18 NIV

If you’ll notice from this description, there are no swords or weapons of any kind mentioned. They are going into battle armed with trumpets, jars with torches-candles inside, and the battle cry “For the Lord and for Gideon.” . That’s it! It’s also important to note that this is all happening at night under the cover of darkness. It would make even less sense otherwise.

19Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. 20The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. Judges 7:19-22 NIV

As crazy as that sounds, it worked. The Midianites freaked out and either stabbed each other to death or ran off. In the heat of battle, I’m sure Gideon and his 300 didn’t have time to take it all in, but they were probably wondering in amazement at what just happened. Ripley’s believe it or not type stuff. How in the world did that work? It worked because God made it work. It was God’s battle plan done His way. I know that might make it sound like God is an egotist or a control freak, but the Lord wanted it to be clear to them who was going to save them, who was fighting for them. Could Gideon have won the battle on his own with the original 30,000? Who knows? But who would have gotten the credit for it?

Before I answer that question, I think we need a reminder of human nature. Human beings tend to revel in their own accomplishments. We brag, boast, and become full of ourselves. It’s easy to let things “go to our heads”. Arrogance and narcissism rarely lead in a positive direction. There is a reason great conquerors, dictators, and infamous world leaders are referred to as “egomaniacs” or “megalomaniacs”. Both are extremely interested in or concerned about themselves, in a way that is not reasonable. They have delusions of grandeur and are obsessed with power. Of course, this is an extreme example of the “worldly way” that we will discuss in greater detail next week, but humanity is more narcissistic than we are willing to admit sometimes. If Gideon could have won the battle his way, then God would have been unnecessary and out of the picture entirely. Plus, this victory could have gone to Gideon’s head and turned him into a megalomaniac ultimatley leading him away from God. That’s not what God wants. He wants to be a part of our lives. It’s about relationship. So, it’s better all around if God is involved and calling the shots.

If you’ve been to church or around Christians, you’ve probably heard them give “glory to God”. In other words, they are giving Him credit for whatever has happened. To some that sounds like God is egomaniacal or a glory hound, but to have that view is to misunderstand the true nature of God. God doesn’t need us to pat Him on the back. He’s beyond that. He’s not insecure. His will and way may be strange, weird, misunderstood, and hard to understand at times, but in the end, He is looking out for us. He’s fighting for us, loving us, and even protecting us from ourselves. He is called our “Heavenly Father” for a reason.

One of the most important elements of this brief encounter between God and Gideon is trust. Gideon may not have understood what the Lord was doing and why, but ultimately, he trusted God. That’s what God wants. He wants us to trust Him. When it says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” in Isaiah 55:8-9, God is saying “trust Me. I’ve got this”. God has a perfect view of the big picture. We can’t see the forest for the trees.

I’m not saying it’s easy to trust God by any means. Did Gideon have questions and doubts? Absolutely. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have asked for “signs” from the Lord. Almost everyone we read about in the Bible had questions and doubts, and so do we. But that’s the great thing about God. He’s gracious. He cares enough to listen to us, to give us “signs”, reassurances, comfort, and affirmation just like He did for Gideon. That’s God’s way. It’s not egotism. It’s love.

Understandably, there are those who don’t believe that. Some say, “well if God loves us, He has a funny way of showing it. If God loved us, He wouldn’t allow so much needless suffering”. That is a natural human reaction, but the fact is that God has tried to demonstrate His love for us over and over and over again. However, since our creation, God has always given us a choice, and humanity tends to choose poorly. We reject His way of doing things which is outlined thoroughly in His word (the Bible). We would rather do things in our own way or “what is right in our own eyes”, which is what got us into this mess in the beginning.

This phrase, “doing what is right in our own eyes”, is used several times in the Old Testament. For example, Judges 21:25 says, ”In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (ESV), which was usually followed by a turning away from God and the Israelites doing what was “evil in the eyes of the Lord”. (Judges 6:1) I’m not talking about how we wash our cars or why we brush our teeth a certain way. This is about moral and ethical decision making. The things that really matter. Rather than doing what is right in God’s eyes we prefer what is right in our own eyes, not only individually but collectively as in “the world”. Humans tend to like doing things, even bad things, together, which can make it easier to rationalize-justify bad behavior. Plus, there is someone else to blame. This is the “worldly way” and sets us up for the grand finale next week.

Whew! Sorry it was so long. Thanks for hanging in there.

Have a great weekend! Love y’all!

Robby Morris
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC