Most of us think of strongholds as physical objects. But the Bible makes clear a stronghold is a mindset, an epicenter, of unbelief that exalts itself over God and keeps you from maximizing your potential in God in every area of your life. It’s possible to be active in the church and say the hallelujahs but be locked off from God’s glory and make you a functional unbeliever in different areas of your life.
11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”
25 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father's bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.
All right, Mars Hill, I get to introduce you to a good friend of mine, Dr. Eric Mason. I’ve known Eric for a number of years. He and his wife Yvette are very good friends of Grace and mine. When I first met Eric, before he went to plant his church in Philadelphia, I remember Gracey and I sitting down with him and Yvette, and I told him, “I think God’s hand is on you in a special and unique way, and I want to be a friend of yours for a lot of years.”
And God has been very, very gracious to this man. He’s got a brilliant mind, and he’s got a beautiful family. His wife, Yvette, is very sweet. She has battled some serious illness throughout her life, been through a number of surgeries and been bed-ridden for extended periods of time. I’ve not met a sweeter, more godly, kind woman. They have a beautiful family.
Eric has planted a church that we actually help support and fund in Philadelphia, not far from Temple University. The area he’s in is a tough area. Ninety percent of the kids there are born out of wedlock. They don’t have a father, and so he’s doing the hard, urban work of really teaching young men to be responsible men and to care for women and children who have been neglected. The church is growing—it’s flourishing, it’s thriving, and he’s done an absolutely amazing job. I’m very honored to be able to introduce you to a very good friend of mine, Dr. Eric Mason.
Glad, glad, glad to be with you guys this afternoon. It is an honor. It’s an honor and a privilege to come to Mars Hill Church and preach the word of God. I’ve just got to tell you, I mean, this is not a church where the word of God isn’t preached, and so I know there are a bunch of best sermons ever that have been preached at this church.
I just want to acknowledge and thank Mars Hill for the years of support. Epiphany Fellowship is about to be seven years old in two weeks, and it would not be where it is unless of the gracious, loving, and merciful gifts that God sent through Mars Hill over time. They have been a phenomenal blessing to us, as well as Pastor Mark and his leadership, and his wife Grace. We love them to death—on steroids. And God has been just really, really gracious in our relationship and our friendship.
You have a wonderful, wonderful leader who has led hundreds upon hundreds of guys who are inspired and looking to church plant and lead churches all around the world, and to go to probably some of the most challenging places to go, believing that the gospel is more mighty than the unchurched numbers, believing that the gospel is more mighty than the challenges, believing that the gospel is more powerful than demons, believing that the gospel is more powerful than everything. So, you should give God a hand praise for your pastor, Pastor Mark Driscoll. Amen, amen.
So, again, I’m glad to be here. I’ll be back at Epiphany Fellowship next week. This is my first post-vacation message that I’m giving, and so I’m honored and glad to give it here.
Let’s get ready to dig into the message today on breaking free from strongholds. If you don’t mind, why don’t you stand to your feet with me. Turn in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 10:3–6.
Now, we’re going to be in 2 Corinthians 10:3–6, then we’re going to jump over later—not right now, but later— to a case study in Judges 6:11–16, 25–27. I want to talk about today breaking free from strongholds.
Father, I bless you today and just ask you that you would throw your weight around here. Throw your weight around in such a way that helps us to go into the uncharted places of our heart, to deal with the brokenness that is there, the challenges that are there, so that we can look more like Jesus and so that our lives may be saturated with the nutrients that makes all things new.
Lord God, I pray that you would throw your weight around and be glorified in this place. May your saints be edified and may your enemies be horrified. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. Everybody agree with what I said? Amen. Sit down if you can.
I’ve been in ministry nineteen years now. It trips me out—it’s almost been twenty years. I’ve been in ministry nineteen years, and I’m just coming to terms with the fact that people are going to be a mess. The reason why I’m coming to terms with that reality is because now I recognize that the thing that makes an unbeliever different than a believer is the fact that a believer has help with their mess. But we’re just as messy as the most messy unbeliever. Somebody should say “Amen” right there.
And so you’re not flyer than anybody else; you’re not cooler than anybody else. You just have some divine sweepage that’s happening in your soul. That’s what Christ is doing. And the more and more I grow, the more and more I realize that everybody has something to hide. Everybody is hiding something, somewhere, someplace in their life, and that’s why this message has become a really, really part of the matrix.
When Pastor Mark asked me to do my best sermon ever, you know, I felt like my swag was getting too up. But then I was realized what he meant by that was, what is one of the messages that God used to really nurture you and others in a way that stands out? And I think this message on strongholds does that.
In light of that, we come over to this passage, and we see Paul talking to the believers in Corinth about their mess. Corinth was probably the most diabolical, crazy group of Christians that ever existed, even though we got some churches that mirror their reality right now.
And so in light of that reality, we go here and see that Paul is dealing with the issues of strongholds. Somebody say, “Strongholds.” [Congregation repeats.] I want to build a theological basis for us, then we’ll jump over to Judges. And what we want to do is we want to use Judges as a case study on how to deal with what we talked about theologically here. Paul begins talking about a root issue. He deals with a root issue and he deals with strongholds, the destruction of them, and how to deal with them.
But it’s interesting that when most of us think of strongholds, we think of strongholds more in terms of an actual external sense. But when you read the text and you look at the verses, it says in verse 4, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” It says, “We destroy arguments”—that’s a way of thinking—”We destroy every lofty opinion”—that’s a way of thinking—A stronghold is sort of a nucleus or an epicenter of unbelief that we have in the matrix of our lives that exalts itself against the knowledge that’s only revealed through Jesus Christ (which brings me to my definition, which I’ve tried to coin, because I like my notes people. They like to take notes and go back to it. I ain’t mad at you because I’m a note person myself.) In the Greek here, the word for “stronghold” means “fortified place”—in other words, a place of greatest protection in your life. It also means “bastion” or “false argument.” I underlined “false argument”—opposing that which is true knowledge that comes from God.
And so what I’ve coined as a definition of “stronghold” is this: A stronghold is a mindset. Somebody say, “Mindset.” [Congregation repeats.] A stronghold is a mindset, a value system, or a thought process that doesn’t allow you to maximize your potential for Jesus Christ in his glory. It’s a mindset, it’s a value system, and a thought process that doesn’t allow the believer to maximize their potential in the glory of God in every single area of their life.
So, a good stronghold we’ll see later. But now we’re talking about bad strongholds, ways of thinking that we’ve clustered into belief systems where we’ve functionally become believing unbelievers. There was a cat in the gospels who said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
It’s possible to come into Mars Hill Church, have beautiful cologne on, have beautiful perfume on, have your comb-over looking real nice, have some nice gear on. Or you can not care about what you’re wearing but you come in with all of the hallelujahs, reading the classics, be a beast and know all of the Christian jargon, and have some places in your life that has been locked off from God’s glory for a very, very long time. See, a stronghold causes you to be a functional unbeliever in different areas of your life.
Now, some of y’all are looking at me like I’m funny because you think you’re a super believer, but I guarantee you, by the time we get finished with this, you’re going to see different areas of your life where you have pushed off limits to being a structural place of God’s excellence, a structural place of God’s glory, a structural place of transformation, a structural place of power to help God in your life to initiate what he’s called you to do through Jesus Christ.
So, a stronghold is a beast of a mug in your life. My man David Wilkerson kills the definition. I like his definition because it’s scholarly exegetical expositional, really nice. Watch my man: he says, “Most of us think of strongholds as bondages or sexual trespasses.” He says, “Drug addictions and alcoholism.” He says, “Outward sins we put on the top of our worst sins list.” He says, “But Paul is referring here to something much worse than our human measuring of sins.” He said, “A stronghold is holding firmly to an argument.” It’s beautiful. He says, “A stronghold is an accusation planted firmly in your mind by Satan to establish lies, falsehoods, and misconceptions, especially about the character of God.”
You know, it’s interesting. As we look at this idea of strongholds, build this foundation of what it really, really means, we see it’s a mindset that we’ve developed and it’s an alternative belief system. And I want to unpack this as we walk through the book of Judges.
And so, Paul is telling the Corinthians, “Even though you’re the worst church right now in the history of the church in the first century, in relation to sanctification, your real issues aren’t just your fleshly executions of your mess.” I mean, when you go through 1 Corinthians 6, he names every kind of sin you can think of and commit. But what’s interesting is in 2 Corinthians 10, he says, really, those external sins are rooted in a heart reality of unbelief called a stronghold that you set up in your life, and it’s a lie that’s been planted by the enemy so that you can functionally live left field of God’s kingdom.
But what happens now is we go to the case study over in Judges 6. Now, Judges is the 1 Corinthians of the Old Testament. It’s the Corinthian church of the Old Testament. The reason why we say that is because literally, the Bible says later on in the book, in chapter 17, I think around verse 8, “And they did what was right in their own eyes.” So in other words, instead of following the legacy of God’s teachings from the Tanakh, what they began doing is, when things didn’t work out in their way, the Bible says, “There arose a generation of people who did not know God.” So, we’re talking about a 100 percent unchurched generation. We ain’t talking about 2 percent, 50 percent, 98 percent. We’re talking about an entire generation that is unchurched and out of relationship with the living God.
This brings me to my first point: if you are going to break free from strongholds, the first thing you must have and you must recognize is, you must have an encounter with God. An encounter with God changes everything.
So, here in this book, we see that the children of Israel are stuck on stupid and living out their own philosophy of life. And in light of them being stuck on stupid, what begins to happen is God is a good God. I like the fact that God isn’t a God who puts people in time out. He doesn’t do that. He gives you a whooping. Not a spanking, a whooping. You know what I’m saying? I’m talking about a hood rat, take off the barber belt, extension cord beat down to the floor down, right?
And so what God begins doing with his people is because they stopped following him, he loves us enough to not let us get far away from him. What he’ll do is we’ll have an encounter with him, but before the encounter is a spanking, and that’s a real good encounter, because he whips you and then he gives you his presence, right?
And so, what we see here is, he’s giving his people a beat down, and he’s giving them a spanking, and they don’t recognize it as a spanking that they’re getting, and so he shows up physically to let them know what he’s actually been doing to them. That’s great. That’s real, real great. I like it when my father used to not tell me. My father didn’t tell me, but now I tell my kids, “Actually, now this is the reason why I tore you up just now,” right?
And so God’s going to come down and begin to do that. So Gideon is going to have an encounter with God. There you go. “The altar of Baal that your father has, cut down the Asherah that is beside it—” And so this encounter with God that Gideon has is phenomenal, because it says the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth. Now, what I like about that is that the first thing he does as an incarnate God is, he comes and chills up under a tree. Now, I think that’s just funny.
We’ll see in a second that Gideon’s operating in a stronghold. Now it’s interesting, as Gideon is operating in this stronghold, God is chilling out while he’s freaking out. Now I’m going to show you that in a second. Now, God cloaked his presence so he wouldn’t see him, but he’s sitting there watching him like, “Man, I’ve got so much for this cat, but look how he’s acting. I mean, I don’t even know—but I’m going to show up in a second. I just want to see how—I’m just going to watch him acting like a fool all up in his mess.”
Now, the question somebody’s asking is, “How do you exegetically suppose, Eric, that he’s in a stronghold?” Well, the Bible says that he’s threshing wheat in a winepress. Now, hold on. Why in the world would you thresh wheat in a winepress? OK, wheat in our day is used for something else. “In a winepress”—some of y’all missed that. Wheat, you’re supposed to go out to the threshing floor, and you’re supposed to throw it up and let the wind separate the wheat from the tares. You take the tares, you burn them or use them for some type of recycling that we do all the time in our day, and then you got on this side—they didn’t recycle back then, they just burnt stuff. And then you used the wheat for what it’s used for.
Now, what’s interesting is that he went to the winepress, it says, “to hide it from the Midianites.” Now, why is he hiding it from the Midianites? Because the children of Israel, including him, is being disobedient to God, and because God hasn’t provided or done in the way that they wanted him to. He had to function in dysfunction. This is crazy. He was functionally dysfunctional. Functional dysfunction is when you create a new normal and don’t know how messy your abnormal normalcy has become.
OK, y’all are looking at me funny. All right, my wife got me on Home and Garden TV, so now I know what a chandelier is, and I know what, like, different types of wood and all kinds of carpet are. I’m like, “Wow, that’s a Persian something,” and I can say it now, right? What’s the show on that I like, though? It’s called “Hoarders,” right? Who’s ever seen “Hoarders”? Anybody seen “Hoarders”? “Hoarders” is a trip, because, man, you go near these folks’ house and you stand, like, twenty feet away. The reekage is twenty feet away from their freaking crib, man.
And so you can smell, like, urine which turns into ammonia over time. You know, there’s all kinds of fecal matter in the house. They got rugs everywhere, clothing everywhere. One person had like a hunnid cats. (That means a hundred. In my hood, we say a “hunnid.”) That means it’s a lot. That means it’s tripping you out how many it is, right? I mean, it’s cats running over everything. I mean, the dude tried to get the cat. The cat just taking his armpit off, I mean, cutting him up, right?
But when they go in, it’s interesting to see the person in that state—Pastor Mark—because when they go in that place, they look in the place, and they walk in, and they just chilling. I mean, it stinks on steroids in there, and they’re just sitting in there chilling like nothing is wrong because they’ve been in the fecal matter and the urination for so long they no longer see it as dysfunctional. They see it as a normal. It’s bad when a stench becomes a perfume to us and we no longer recognize how bad it’s gotten for us, how challenging it’s gotten for us, and we make it into a new normal, and we begin to function within that mess. That’s what a stronghold has you do. A stronghold, listen, will have you functioning and acting like a place of great sinfulness, of great mess, of great trifleness is a normal place to be.
And so what happens, though, is when the “Hoarder” crew comes in, what’s crazy is this, is the person, when they’re trying to help them clean it out, the person is going ballistic because they’re getting rid of the stuff and the person has become so attached to this mess. When someone’s trying to pull them out of their mess, they want to stay in it because they can’t see life beyond the mess.
See, you know you’re deep in a stronghold when you can’t see life beyond where you are. But what I like about this passage and about how God works through Christ is that God doesn’t let your stronghold get in the way of him coming to you.
Now, what’s interesting is Gideon didn’t come to God, God came to him. See, that’s the goodness about the gospel: God comes down, man doesn’t come up. Now, he didn’t wait for Gideon to get it right, though. [Congregation applauds.] See—yeah, you can clap. Amen, amen. I ain’t used to it so I gotta, you know—all right.
You know, that’s what’s beautiful about the gospel. And what trips me out when I share the gospel with non-Christians is they always try to tell me what they need to do before they can get saved. They’ll be like—and if you’re an unbeliever, listen to me right now—”Man, I need to do this, I need to do that,” or they don’t see their need for it, they just say, “You know, man, I need to do this.” I’m like, “Man, if you can get yourself saved, you don’t need saving.” Salvation is about God coming after people who couldn’t come after him.
And so God comes down and watches Gideon in his stronghold and comes and encounters God. One of the beautiful things about encountering God is our mess doesn’t surprise him. That blows my mind.
Now, can you imagine if God gave you one minute of omniscience, and he said, “I’m going to give you the ability to see one thing without your brain exploding, and there’s one thing I’m going to let you do: I’m going to let you see the sins of every human that ever existed—past, present, and future at the same time.” Can you imagine seeing everybody’s sin, past, present, and future at the same time? What’s beautiful about God is, God can see all of that plus your sins, actual and potential, and still move toward humanity to love. It’s phenomenal to me.
And so he moves—he makes advances toward Gideon. Now, this is so funny, because Gideon’s freaking out, God’s chilling out. So he goes over, he’s starting to encounter him now, and so he goes there. Look at what the text says. It says—this is comedic—in verse 12, “And the Lord appeared to him.” You don’t know it’s him, but he’s there, OK, just to see how you’ll react once he knows that you don’t know that it’s him until later on.
Now, watch. So he says, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” That is weird. OK, y’all should have laughed on this part because—this is why: this guy’s hiding wheat in the winepress from the Midianites, but God shows up in a cloaked form and says to him that, “You’re mighty. You’re a mighty man of valor.” The Hebrew term there is “gibbor hechayil.” It refers to people of great value.
Now, him calling him a warrior is like calling him a beast, the way y’all would say “stud.” We black people say “beast.” Y’all say “stud.” Look, this is what happened, right? He ends up going and calling this dude beyond what he is, even though he’s a sucker. Now, a sucker means a person who won’t fight nobody. You get punched in the face, you won’t do nothing about it. Somebody kick you, you won’t do nothing about it.
But this guy is afraid, and God calls him what he’s not. I like the fact that God does not, when he comes around, just focus on our sins only. What an encounter with God is about is showing you what you must turn from and also whom you turn to. That’s very important in the gospel. And what’s beautiful about being in Christ is he not only shows you where you are, he calls you beyond where you’re not. He calls him a mighty man of valor.
Now, mighty man of valor was not just a general army of men. It was a special ops of dudes where you sent in a few of them. These dudes are crazy, OK? Now, it’s like our version of, you know, our rangers or our, you know, black ops or our SEALS, right? You send them in for missions because these dudes are nuts. I mean, but the mighty men of valor in the Old Testament, it’d be 10,000 people over there, it’d be about five to fifteen of them, and they’ll look at each other. The mighty men of valor will be like, “They don’t stand a chance.” “No, let’s go. Ahhh!” And the mighty men of valor go after them, and the 10,000 will look at one another like, “Either we’re about to get torn up or these guys are crazy.”
Let me give you an example of a mighty man of valor: Joab. Now, Joab was a different type of mighty man of valor because he was a thug that got legalized to use weapons and it’s not against the law for him to use weapons. I’m just telling you right now, you don’t want to put the AK-47 in the hands of a thug. But anyway, so Joab goes. The way you know he’s a thug is because one time David was getting cussed out from the floor because Absalom got him kicked out of the kingdom because of what happened. And so one time, after this dude cussed him out, Joab said, “David, please say one more thing. I’ll just finish sharpening my sword. I’ll cut his head off right here right now, have it at your feet in a few seconds.” I mean, this dude is nuts, right?
God calls Gideon this type of guy. Hold on, how does God call a punk and a sucker and a scared dude the best type of warrior? Because God doesn’t see us merely where we are, but he sees us in what it looks like when he gets to us, and change happens.
That’s what I like about being in Christ: God is always pushing his people forward to be what he wants them to be and casting vision. If God just comes to us in our strongholds and doesn’t cast a vision of what we can be in him but only casts a vision of where we are, we’re in big, deep trouble.
And so what’s beautiful about God is God is the worst picker of people on the planet. Now, I’m just being honest. I mean, in man’s eyes, God doesn’t know how to pick people to do anything. I mean, he wants to run the universe, kill it for his glory, change the world through the gospel, and he always picks the bottom-of-the-barrel people.
Now, what’s interesting is, in Philly, when we go on the basketball court, either you’re going to bring your team, or you’re going to come out and bring the best team, and you’re going to watch cats for awhile. You’re going to do like this for awhile and bounce your ball for a little while and look at some people and see who are the best dudes so when you get your turn on the court, boom!, you’ve got a phat team.
But see, God comes on the court with his sweatband on, you know, his Jordans on, and he’s like, “Man, he can’t play. Come on!” “You, come on, come on.” He’s like, “Who me? I’ve been here for five hours, ain’t nobody picked me. I’m coming!”
Listen, God is spooky weird because God doesn’t look at people’s potential. Never. He looks at their potential when they’re in him, and he looks for his potential to put in them. So when he goes out, he doesn’t scout like college scouts for NBA guys or NFL guys, who go out and look for people with skills to add to the repertoire of what they’re already doing. No, God is the worst talent scout because he goes and looks for the worst people because he’s going to give them gifts, not look for gifts. He’s going to give them talent, not look for talent, so that when they start killing it on the basketball court of life, the glory goes to him and not them.
And so this crazy picking technique that God does is just phenomenal to me because God is a phenomenal God who looks at himself and not merely man. And then after he says this to him, you’d think he’d be excited—”Somebody called me a warrior.”
Gideon didn’t respond like I thought he would respond in the passage. Watch how Gideon responds: “And Gideon said to him, ‘Please, sir.’” You ever met somebody who was just waiting to vent? I mean, this dude just has a verbal enema right here in front of the living God. So, check it out. He says, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” He’s like, Wow. You ever ask somebody a question, they told you more than you wanted to know? You know what I’m saying? I mean, this is it right here. But what’s good is this is God asking a question.
Now, this is beautiful, because God already knew how he felt. In an encounter with God, God always wants you to see how he sees you. Now, it’s two-fold here in relation to what comes out of Gideon. You see what comes of Gideon is two-fold.
Number one, you see that Gideon—it’s crazy to me—recognizes and he begins telling God the issues that are closest to his life, which is actually unbelief. If you look at every single one of these things, he’s venting his unbelief to God.
Listen, many of us need to learn how to do that. See, what I’m finding is that Christians aren’t real. You know, we’ll come in like everything’s all right. “How you doing?” “I’m blessed and highly favored in the Lord.” “Man, the Lord has been taking care of my house.” “He’s been doing a great job.” “I’ve been watching Christian television.” “God has been providing. So many things have been happening.”
But every now and then, you’re just on pins and needles, and somebody says, “How you doing?” “Hey, man, I’m two minutes away from tripping.” “Man, I want some drugs. “Man, I’m going to do—man, I’m tripping.” “I’m angry at God. I’m frustrated with him. He hasn’t provided this week. He made me angry.” “I’m fussing with my wife. My family’s sick.” You need to begin to vent your unbelief. We try to protect God from our unbelief when he already knows that you don’t believe.
Some of you need to be honest. “I was raped, and I’m pissed with God because he saw it, and I was crying out for him or someone to help me. And I just finally gave in, and then everybody around me said that I gave it up for real, but really, I didn’t. I just gave up because nobody would help me. And God is the one that sees more than everybody and did nothing.” If you got molested, you need to admit to God, “The moment you frustrated me was when you let that keep happening to me.”
Some of you have financially tanked out. You need to be honest and say, “God, when this happened to me, I got really, really angry with you, and it ticked me off that with all your power, with all your strength, with all your miracles, and with everything that you are, you let me down, you hurt me, you disappointed me. I’ve been coming to church, I’ve been reading your word, I’ve been praying, I’ve been doing all of these things. Where in the world were you?” He can handle it. He can handle it.
Vent to your God today. Tell him the greatest mark of unbelief in your life. Tell him all about your struggles, your frustrations, and your anger that sparked that place in your life of deep bitterness toward his glory, deep bitterness toward his grace, deep bitterness toward his mercy, deep bitterness toward his spirituality, deep bitterness toward his omniscience, deep bitterness toward his omnipotence, deep bitterness toward his omnipresence, because you didn’t feel like he came through like you wanted him to come through, when you wanted him to come through, and how it came through. And now, you have areas of your life where you’re functionally an unbeliever.
And you know what? He still will be there with you and will allow it to be an encounter. Listen, your encounter with God is not just “hallelujah” with tears running down your face and feeling tingling in your fingers. Sometimes, encountering God is letting him know that you’re pissed with him, and he can handle it.
Gideon does it, but it gets comedic again. Right after Gideon shares his heart, God answers him in a way that you wouldn’t think he would answer him. Look at what he says right here. Gideon asked all those questions. And it says, verse 14, “I just poured out my heart to you and you’re gonna tell me to go save some people?” And you know what God is telling Gideon? “Your mess and your excuses, even though I’m going to listen to you and I love you, aren’t enough to stop me from coming after you and using you.”
Ain’t that crazy? God is weird to me. Hold on, you’re not going to get me all the way right and then use me? You’ll use me while I’m positionally right in Christ but practically I’m about one-tenth of decent practically and 90 percent a mess? And you’ll still use me in the 10 percent because I’m positionally presented and positioned in Christ in the 100 percent, and you can use me because the glory goes to him, not us.
That’s what I love about the living God. He’s a monster of a picker. I mean, Jesus picked the worst people to start the church. He picked the worst people. He picked religious skeptics, businessmen, Hebrew fundamentalists, a thief, thugs, shady government worker, radical Jew, mama’s boys, spoiled rich kids, prostitute, former demon-possessed people, aristocrats, a legalist, and licentious people into being a crew for him.
Now, if he picked those kind of people, that should encourage us. I mean, that should encourage us to death because God’ll use all kinds of crazy, twisted people, but God untwists them, and unbinds them. And what’s beautiful about being in Christ is it’s a consistent road of being untwisted.
I just preached a sermon recently on Proverbs 3:5–6 in our worship series. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will cause your paths to be straight.” Well, interestingly enough, the word “paths”, or “roads,” isn’t a road outside of you. This is powerful. “Road” or “path” in Proverbs means personal behavior. So, God isn’t unbending something outside of you, he’s unbending you. Isn’t that crazy that the Christian life, walking with Jesus, is about consistently being unbent?
Listen, my son’s got some Slinkies. Y’all know nothing about that; don’t even act like it. Slinky used to walk down the stairs. I always wanted to get my four-year-old a toy that’s unbreakable because if it has an issue he’s going to keep coming to me about it. So somehow, somebody thought it was a good idea to get him a Slinky. Now, when they gave him a Slinky, the Slinky would go down the stairs. He laughed.
But then, you know, boys get new ideas with toys that the creator didn’t make them for, then want to reuse it back for the original reason, wondering why it’s not working anymore. And he got the Slinky all bent up and said, “Daddy, it won’t work, Daddy.” And so I’m like, “OK.” So what I began doing, in order for the Slinky to work again, is I had to unravel it. I hate that. He had to unravel like this, respiral it out, and then clean off the joint, then, pow!, push it back together, hold it, hold it, hold it, and then give it back to him. Now it’ll work again.
The reason why it worked again because it got unbent. That’s what God does with humans. That’s what he’s doing with Gideon. He’s unbending us to be used for his original use.
This brings me to my last point, then I’m out of your way. We saw first that if you’re going to break free from strongholds, you’ve got to have an encounter with God. You’ll see later in the passage—we don’t have time to talk about it, but Gideon, when he knew that he had an encounter with God, it changed his perspective on his questions. God’s presence was enough to shut down all of his questions because God was there.
And when you know you’ve had an encounter with him through whatever his means—I’m not one of them punks who don’t believe the Holy Ghost don’t do nothing no more. “The miracles have ceased, and the power of God has ceased, and all we do is just preach and that’s it, and people learn, and learn, and learn.” Their heads get bigger, and they’re sanctified by information only. I believe that the Holy Ghost transmits information through miraculous works of God’s presence.
You saw he had the Bible. He said, “Where all the stuff my parents taught to me?” So he had the theology about Egypt and the redemptive history. He had all of that, typology and all of that, but he didn’t have an encounter with God. An encounter with God changes your view of what you heard about the word of God. (I wish I had some time. Help me, God, today.)
But then he goes to the second point. And this is my last point. If you’re going to break free from strongholds, it demands a radical commitment to face your strongholds head on. Look at verse 25. What I like about this passage in relation to this is my sovereignty of God. Guys get all scared when you talk about participating. Because when you talk about the sovereignty of God, “Oh, God does it. You know, God just does it by sovereignty,” but God is calling for participation under the power of his sovereignty.
And so what he does is he calls Gideon to cut down, to tear down the altar to Baal. Now, history will tell us, and based on background information, that Asherah was a multi-breasted deity that they believed for fertility of their fields. But Baal would activate himself through a certain act, in their mind, to cause it to rain or be intimate with Asherah, to cause their crops to grow.
So God started disciplining them, and instead of running to God, what they did was create new ways outside of God to be provided for versus going to the provider. So, what God does is send them in to deal with root issues. God never deals with symptoms; he always deals with root issues.
Now, check this out: in the text, it says he told them to “pull down.” This term “pull down” is a ferocious term. It means to attack. It means to decimate this altar of Baal. It means to break it into pieces. It also means to take it from its status.
Remember, I said the word “stronghold” here is interesting. This word “stronghold” means fortified or heightened place of height. That means everybody has a high place in their life, the epicenter or the central control center of the soul where we put the most important things. So, even though he’s doing a physical act in the earth, he’s really doing a spiritual act because behind all of these strongholds in the Old Testament was a demonic force that was being worshiped. So when he was tearing down a stronghold, he was actually enacting in spiritual warfare. Powerful, powerful.
So, he tears it down in his root, tears it down in his root. He didn’t talk like some of the people: they over-deal with the devil. He didn’t do that. God had him pull that thing down and tear down the altar of Baal in that particular area of his life. But not only that, he dealt with Asherah.
Now, it said, “cut down.” Notice it used “pull down” on one, or “tear down,” then it says “cut down.” Now, “cut down” is interesting because it means to sever objects from its source. That’s what it means. You know, one of the things that beautiful about Christ’s gospel is that God didn’t just deal with our external sins on the cross. He didn’t, he dealt with our sin nature on the cross, which automatically deals with our external sins. If he only dealt with our external sins, we’d sin again because we still have a sin nature.
But the cross brings new life, through giving us a new spirit, by killing the old spirit, and getting us reconnected to the living God. And then he raised us from the dead with Christ, why? Because God always calls us to remove something of value out of our life. He always replaces it with something from him that is of greater value and can nurture the greater redeemed passions that he’s redeemed through Jesus Christ. Because Gideon was going to the epicenter of worship in his father’s house.
It’s interesting that he said to go to his daddy’s house. His daddy’s house was probably the epicenter. His father was probably a priest of Baal and Asherah. The Bible said earlier that he’s the least in his house. God used the least one in the house to deal with the greater issue in their whole environment.
Listen, whenever God takes something away from you, causes you to tear something down, to cut something down in your life, he always gives you the grace to have something right to replace it. That’s why he says right after that, “Build an altar to the Lord your God in place of it.”
What did the altar represent? It represented three main things: worship, sacrifice, and spiritual identity. Sacrifice is to say “yes” and “no” at the same time. And that’s what beautiful about being in God is God gives us the ability, through his power, to experience beautiful pleasure that only can come from him that our substandard pleasures can’t provide.
When I was in college, I was dating this chick, man. I was out there, I was a serial monogamist. Now, some of y’all are like, “What’s a serial monogamist?” You’ll get it on the way home. But I thought I was OK because I was just with this one chick. So what happened was the Lord—I trusted Christ as Savior—started excavating my life of all kinds of encumbrances and sins. He started calling for immediate obedience by the Spirit of God, immediate obedience.
I’ll never forget, this girl and I were wild and out together, and the Lord said, “I want you to get rid of her.” And I was like, “Huh?” And the Lord said, “I want you to let her go.” And you know, I was in that early stage where, you know, you’re just like, “I’m gonna just whatever. All right, whatever, God, but I’m hurting.” And I had one of them whooping cries. Now, there are levels of crying that you go through.
Now, where I’m from, you know the cry where you put the chest up like this, and you go [chest up]. I don’t know if you all cry like this in this neighborhood. My neighborhood, you cry like this when something’s real bad. When my father used to beat me—You ever had one of them cries where you’re—I was like that.
Then after I stopped crying, the Lord said, “Now I’m gonna show you your wife.” I was like, “Whatever. I mean, bye”—you know, home girl. Then I’m going to the Student Union, and I’m walking toward the Student Union, and this little honey-coated, caramel-dipped, something or another walked out and the Lord said, “That’s your wife.” I said, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Whoo!” I was happy, right? And God said, “How does she compare to her?” He said, “You let her go, but I gave you something greater, someone greater.”
Jesus understands that too, because when Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil—to be tempted is the key—he was led to be tempted. The devil was trying to get Jesus to set up some strongholds. And one of the things that the devil said was, “Listen, if you bow down and worship me, I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the”—key word—”earth.” That was funny. He said, “I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the earth.” But Jesus said, “Be gone from me, Satan.”
Why could Jesus not enact a stronghold that the devil was trying to put on him to believe that he could rule without God, why? Because the devil always presents to us on a temporal level something that God has promised on an eternal level.
Jesus knew that the Holy Ghost was going to get sent to earth and he was going to meet a dude on the Damascus Road called Paul. Paul was going to do some missionary journeys and Paul was going to go through Philippi. And later on, Paul was going to get put in jail, and he is put in jail to be put in a study leave so that he can write Scriptures, and he was going to write a prison epistle called “Philippians,” and Jesus was going to be mentioned in chapter 2. And in chapter 2, it says, “Because he died, and was raised from the grave, and he was obedient to the point of death, God exalted his name above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Hold on, hold on. Now, that’s tripping me out because the devil wanted to give him earthly kingdoms, but God wanted to give him all kingdoms.
Let me just tell you something: Don’t you let the devil make you believe that God doesn’t have better for you. Don’t you let the enemy believe that the devil has greater passions for you. Don’t you let your disappointments hold you back from everything that Christ wants you to experience. Don’t you let the enemy hold you because the God who exalted Jesus is the same God yesterday, today, and forevermore. And he’s still doing a passionate work to change lives, to transform people. And he always has something better to give, because the devil always gives a counterfeit bill, but God owns the treasury.
I’m just trying to let you know. I’m just trying to let you know that you need to go into some areas of your life today, family. You need to go to some uncharted areas. There are some doors in your heart that you haven’t opened in a minute. In a minute, you haven’t opened some areas of your life. If you’re like me, when I’m opening a door I ain’t opened in a while, I say, “Now, God, you know I ain’t been in here in a minute. I’m about to open this door. I don’t know what’s going to run up out of here, right?”
But we had an exterminator come to our facility when we first bought the facility on 17th and Diamond in Philly. An exterminator said to me, “Pastor, I need you to guide your team to open up every door in the building.” I said, “Why?” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because if I exterminate one part and another part is closed, the placed that I’ve cleaned off will get destroyed because you didn’t open up everything.”
Some of you are looking at me right now. God is saying, “Open up everything,” but you’re still scared.
But God ain’t like everybody. Some people come over, sometimes my house gets messy because my boy put toys and stuff everywhere, and we don’t get a chance to clean up. I don’t like people popping over to my house. So somebody’ll pop over to my house, “Yo!” I’ll be like, “Yo!” And then I’ll go out and close the door behind me. And I hate that when I close the door behind me, they’ll be trying to look over your shoulder. Now, I closed the door for a reason. I didn’t want you to see.
But every now and then, somebody will come over, and they’ll knock on the door, and I’ll say, “Oh, it’s just you. Come on in. It’s a mess in here.” I said, “You know what it is?” And they’ll say, “No, it’s all good.” And they’re such a good friend that they’ll clean up and help us to clean. They’ll say, “Where’s the trash bag?” and they’ll start helping us to clean or put away toys, whatever, because they don’t judge our mess. They come in to help us take care of the mess.
That’s what Jesus Christ does. Jesus Christ didn’t just come; he’s not coming now to judge your mess. He’s come now to give you life and life more abundantly, to give you a relationship that you never had with him, never had with God through him. And God’s wrath is satisfied on the cross so that our mess, past, present, and future, was placed on him. And when the wrath of God was poured out on him, our mess was dealt with in the sense of eternal penalty.
But there’s still practical issues that we have to work through as believers. That’s what’s beautiful about being in Christ. Christ will come in lovingly and deal with your mess.
Father God, I pray today for the people in this place that you’ll transform lives, that you’ll challenge lives, and that you’ll strengthen lives. And God, I pray that if anyone doesn’t know you who’s under the sound of my voice, I pray that they would meet Jesus today, that they would come to know Christ as Savior, that they would put their confidence in his finished work on the cross, where God’s anger and hatred toward sin was excruciatingly poured out on Jesus, where Jesus did in six hours where it would have taken an eternity in hell for us to pay for our sins. He paid for them in six hours, and the debt was removed, if we repent and believe that his death is sufficient to bring us back into relationship with you and that he was raised from the grave as vindication that the sacrifice was accepted.
Father, may someone trust you today, and may believers trust you more deeply today. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen, amen, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.