It was the second week of freshman P.E. After the requisite number of push-ups, sit-ups and burpies, Coach Bishop led us to the back of the Tokay High School gym, where he pointed to a rope dangling from the ceiling.
The coach made our task sound easy: Grab the rope, pull yourself up, touch the beam on the ceiling and let yourself down slowly to the ground. He demonstrated and made it look easy. I did a quick computation, measuring the distance to the top and the coach's biceps against mine, and concluded he was asking the impossible.
As I stood waiting my turn in nondescript gray gym shorts, a question formed in my mind: Do I have what it takes? I was pretty sure the answer was "no."
I was right. Almost no one made it to the ceiling that day. One guy with obvious simian abilities went up like a monkey at the Micke Grove Zoo. But he slid down, ignoring Coach Bishop's instruction about coming down slowly and got third-degree rope burns as a result. Somehow that made the rest of us feel better.
My turn finally came. It wasn't pretty. I went up 10 feet and hung on for dear life.
When the whole class had finished the ordeal, Coach Bishop had the audacity to say, "By the end of this semester, you will all go to the top."
We thought he was nuts.
Have you ever had someone tell you that you have what it takes, even when you're pretty sure you don't? That they see something in you that no one else can see? That was Gideon's experience.
The marauding bands of Midian had stripped the land bare like an army of locusts. No place was safe. So Gideon cowered in a winepress, out of sight of the enemy as he threshed enough wheat to stay alive. At this moment, God appeared with the remarkable greeting, "Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!"
To Gideon, it sounded like a cruel joke. God had been with Israel once upon a time, but in the harsh reality of this world he was nowhere to be seen. Furthermore, Gideon was no superhero, and he knew it. He didn't even qualify to be a sidekick.
Born into the weakest clan, he was also the runt of the litter. There was simply no way Gideon could do what was being asked of him. It seemed clear. If this was God, which seemed highly questionable, He must be nuts.
Then God said something that changed everything: "I will be with you."
It was hard to believe at first. Gideon had a lot of doubts, but God worked with him. Over time, he learned to take some big risks and grow in faith, but the mission would be accomplished because God was with him.
The other judges of Israel had to learn the same thing. God wanted to use them, but the ability and strength for the challenge came from Him. Samson learned this the hard way when he woke up one day hairless, powerless and then eyeless. Yet even then, God didn't give up on him.
We thought Coach Bishop was nuts, but he was right. By the end of the semester, we all made it up the rope. He saw hidden potential in a bunch of freshmen and was there every day, calling out push-ups, sit-ups and burpies. It was a painful process, but in the end, the coach knew what he was doing. We would never have made it, though, if he hadn't been with us.
You may not know it, but there is a God who is with you and sees something very special in you. It may seem nuts, but he wants you to trust Him with your life. Join us this Sunday to hear His Story.
You can hear Week 8 of "The Story" at five Lodi churches — Vinewood Community, Temple Baptist, First Baptist, Emanuel Lutheran and Ham Lane Church of Christ. It is part of a 31-week series.
Rod Suess is the pastor of Vinewood Community Church.