The LIFE TRANSFORMING Lesson I Discovered While Reading a List of Names in the Bible!

Have you ever caught yourself reading through the Bible and you come to a long list of names and you think, “Do I still get credit if I skip these? There are a few passages in the scripture that can make you pause and wonder if there is really anything to be gained by reading a particular list of hard to pronounce biblical names? (Before you comment… I know all about the genealogy of Jesus and the four women mentioned there as well as characters of biblical  significance.) I’m talking about the lists in the Old Testament where someone’s name is mentioned once and never seen or heard from again! Places where we have NO history other than a name thrown in among dozens if not hundreds of other names. To be honest, I never doubted that these lists were scripture and were profitable some way, but I figured that I didn’t have the biblical chops to know exactly who Nephishesim was and why his name was in the bible. But then I messed up…

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I told a bunch of students that we would go chapter by chapter through the book of Nehemiah! I had read Nehemiah dozens of times, but I always skipped the long list of names, therefore I forgot that Nehemiah chapter seven actually contains a long list of names! (It takes up over two whole pages and four columns in my bible!) So there I was, stuck with a commitment to go through this book chapter by chapter and I came to chapter seven and I had to prepare a message for our students or eat crow and explain that I had forgotten about this chapter or worse, I would have to admit that I was in over my head. I firmly held then (and even more so now)  that ALL Scripture is, “God-Breathed and useful” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)but this put it to the test.

I stared blankly at the text. I begged God. I looked up name meanings realizing that perhaps this was a stretch. I asked “Why?” a whole lot. When I was about to give up… He Spoke through the names!

They were there, because they mattered! I know, simple right? These people were listed because they were there! In this instance, they were there building a wall with Nehemiah. Then it hit me, the book might have Nehemiah’s name as the title, but it was just as much about the faithful who responded to his leadership. These folks weren’t only witnesses, they were participants.

I realized a two things:

  1. God cares about people.
  2. It’s incredibly good leadership take time to recognize and remember the work of the people you lead.

I still can’t pronounce half the names on that list, but I know this, seeing their name has impacted me and changed the way I lead. Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to tell them that God used a list with their name on it to bless me! Until then, I write thank you notes, applaud and do my best to encourage everyone who participates in the life of our church. After all, these people belong to God! I may be the leader up front at our church, but I am not the only one serving God.

So today I am thankful for a long list of names in the bible because it helps me really see the people around me.

Beautiful Daughters and Impure Sons: Who Does the Modesty Debate Really Hurt?

In a few short months, spring will be here and then summer and arguments are going to take place across our homes. Daughters will want to wear things that father’s suggest aren’t appropriate. Youth Pastors will break out slogans like “Modest is Hottest” when going over the rules for trips involving fun in the sun. I wish the church were free from debate on the issue, but it is often the center of every summer youth trip. I can’t think of a single issue that caused more tension in the nearly 20 years I spent as a student pastor.

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I have both a daughter and a son who are perhaps too young to feel the sting of this debate but as they grow older, they will hear many things and so I write mostly for them. You see the debate often stings both our girls and our guys because it reinforces negative perceptions about what it is to be male and female. If I can, I want to wade in and address this issue not by proposing a modesty rule (please read all of the post), but by proposing that Jesus should guard the hearts of both our girls and our guys when it comes to what we wear and how we view others.

First let’s talk about why a simple clothing rule isn’t enough (notice I didn’t say necessary, please read the entire article). For starters lets just imagine that you can put the same bathing suit on two different people and it is completely possible that your heart will be tempted towards lust with one and repulsion with the other. There is a difference between a hairy overweight old man in speedo’s and cowboy boots and a male model wearing the same thing… the same is true for an attractive young girl vs an overweight grandmother wearing the same designer two piece. Neither the outfit, nor the skin it reveals, prompt lust… It is already in the heart of the one lusting! It simply doesn’t help our daughters to tell them to “cover up” because their flesh is like kryptonite to young boys.  May of them struggle with their body image as it is. For the most part, they already compare themselves to other girls, super models in magazines, and have a part of themselves that they think is ugly. I can’t think of a genuine benefit derived for our daughters by treating all girls/ body types the same.  Before you set out to stone me, read the rest of the article.

Let’s also imagine for a moment that lust isn’t a particularly male issue. I know that guys are stimulated visually, etc. but many of our girls experience lust issues that are very similar to how our boys are visually stimulated. If we are honest, it has never been a single gender issue! We do our girls a huge disservice when we imagine that only boys deal with lust and treat it like an exclusively male problem. Our girls can privately feel even more ashamed and never seek help with their temptation to lust. In this generation, more than ever, the conversation about lust is one that must take place with both our daughters and our sons.  That might be news to you, but I challenge you to research it. (I wish I had listened sooner to parents of daughters who said that this was just as much a valid issue for their daughter as their sons).

Now imagine the negative stereotype that we reinforce with both our girls and boys when we make such a big deal about how boys are so easily tempted into sinful lust. When you teach them the solution is not to flee, but for girls to wear more clothes, you treat them as if they have NO control over the situation at all. I choose to teach my son and daughter that they have NO control over what other people wear, but they CAN control where they look and they should start by seeing where there mother and I choose to look (we still go to the beach where other people don’t obey “the one-piece” rule).  I do this because I think the real issue is in their heart and it doubly damages their heart when we place the emphasis on a rule concerning what someone else wears. First they can deny any real responsibility for their own lust and second because now they get to feel superior to someone else who dresses like a “skank.”

Finally, I want to imagine that the best way to address lust in one individual is not to put more clothes on another. This simply doesn’t solve the problem, it masks it. That would be like looking at the mirror, realizing you are naked and need clothes and painting clothes on the mirror… You are still naked! All you have done is cover the law that exposes the real sin that is in your heart and in the process you put a false law on someone else.  I read a book one time by a woman who lived in the middle east and she commented about how a man stared her up and down lustily while she was wearing a burka! His lust, was his lust and it wasn’t her fault. It’s apparent that no matter what you wear some people will choose to lust (this is particularly true in a generation that has been exposed to pornography over and over again). Keep Reading.

So now lets address 3 things that are present in this debate from a biblical perspective because ultimately for the believer, God’s Word should guide our actions and reactions.

1. The bible has a lot to say about authority.  (We won’t cover everything but we will hit a few highlights. ) We are reminded by Paul in Romans 13 that all authority ultimately flows from God. This begins in the home where we are to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Ephesians 5:2). So if our dad or mom asks us to wear something “less revealing,” while we live under their roof, the moral, right thing to do is to change our clothes. Doesn’t matter if you think they are wrong, or they don’t understand that it’s the style, or what other reason you might have. The real question is, will you obey the authority placed over you?

It is not different if your church has a rule about bathing suits or mixed bathing or whatever it is. If you disagree with the leadership on how they exercise that rule, have a conversation about it. Appeal through the appropriate channels by going to leadership over you, but most importantly abide by the rules and respect the authority over you. In this context you may find that there is very good reason for the rule. When I was a youth pastor, it was simple, I didn’t want the job at looking at all of our daughters and determining if their swim suit is too revealing or not. A simple clothing rule allows female leaders (who may have differing opinions) a consistent standard to coach girls through as a matter of respecting authority on youth trips. (Of course you should also have standards for guys as well, that the male leaders should oversee.) Does this prevent lust? I imagine that it doesn’t. It simply gives us a standard we can appeal to. Just like principles of public schools who don’t want the job of examining everyone’s leggings or saggy pants, sometimes it is better for the organization as a whole to have a dress code for both girls and guys. If you are going to participate in a function of that organization, you should submit yourself to their dress code.  I am very appreciative of parents, girls, and guys who acknowledge the struggle of leading a group this age.

2. Let’s talk about modesty from a biblical perspective. Most often we refer to 1 Timothy 2:9-10 when we talk about modesty in the church: “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). I think a few things are apparent in these verses. First, modesty here has nothing to do with swimsuits. Second, it’s in a list that gives us a clue to what the word modest might mean. It is included with words like self-control, gold, pearls, costly attire. Paul is addressing the “over dressing” of women in church. Modesty in this context is “don’t flaunt your wealth at church so people will look up to you.” The take away would actually be to wear less jewelry, less expensive clothes, do less with your hair, etc. so that your focus is on worshipping God, not seeking the attention of others.

While this passage doesn’t directly relate to modesty in a lust context, it does give us a good guideline to examine what we wear in light of our own hearts. When you pick out clothes or even apply make-up to say, “Hey look at me!” you place too much emphasis on your appearance. It’s good to put in a little time into your hygiene and some thought into your clothes. There are even good reasons for dressing up But when your heart’s desire is overly focused on garnering the attention of others rather than exalting God, you are looking for your esteem in the wrong direction. You will never be truly satisfied with what others think of you. Only when you are satisfied in Christ will you begin to overflow into these works that Paul talks about.

Biblical modesty is found just as much in what you do as what you wear.

Biblical modesty is found just as much in what you do as what you wear. we should want our girls and guys to be modest in this sense. Pay less attention to “dressing to impress” and more attention to “serving God by serving others”

On a very practical side note (because my daughter & son may read this one day).  Physical beauty is fleeting (James 1:11). That is why there are make-up artists for movie stars and many have had plastic surgery. We all age! The character of a life submitted to Christ will always attract the right kind of folks and will maintain a level of beauty that surpasses anything that make-up and clothes can do. It doesn’t matter what’s in your DNA or your body type, good works will always look good on you (1 Peter 3:4).

3. Finally, let’s address lust. This seems to be where this whole debate started. Let’s understand that lust is a problem for girls and guys. If we are honest, it has been this way for a long time. We know of at least one Egyptian woman from antiquity that had the hot’s for a certain guy named Joseph (Genesis 39). Then there was also the woman from Proverbs 7.  So it’s not like the Bible doesn’t mention female lust at all. It is in there and even more grossly represented in passages that I didn’t feel comfortable listing here. Lust is not a male only sin.

So I think first, we should recognize lust as something that we may be tempted too. With that in mind we are told by Paul that believers will always have a way of escape from their temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). We need not use the excuse that, this is just what guys do. Or that we can’t help ourselves. If you are a believer you have control over your body and your thoughts. We can choose to flee this temptation (1 Corinthians 10:14). In fact this is exactly what Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife approached him (Genesis 39:12). Paul says to flee sexual immorality (I Corinthians 6:18). He reminds Timothy to “flee youthful passions and desires” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul addresses lust in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 and he says that you have control over your body and that to deny this reality is to ignore God! In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus addresses lust he says that we are to fight it to the extent that we would cut out our eye or cut off our hand (notice that he doesn’t say that we should put the burden on someone else). We must flee temptation! We must control our own bodies through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us! We must commit to radical means to root this form of idolatry out of our lives! This is the counsel of scripture on dealing with individuals who are prone to lust.

I grew up in a Christian home. We talked a lot about God. My mother gave me the “Birds and the bees” talk when I was very young, perhaps too young to understand what she was eluding too (I am thankful for her attempt at what must have been a very awkward conversation). However, later when my heart was awakened to be attracted to girls I didn’t have any guidance from my father on how to guard my heart from lust, or that it was even possible. I struggled for a very long time in a cycle of lust and guilt. It was easy to judge girls as being “skanks” for what they wore and who knows, maybe they had their own heart issues, but it didn’t do my heart any good to remove the sin label from my heart and place it judgmentally on theirs. I wouldn’t find freedom until I dealt with the lust in my heart on Jesus’ terms. That is what I long for most for our sons and daughters, that they would deal honestly with their sin and temptation before our Savior.

So if I were to wade into this debate for the sake of my son and daughter, I would say, “Submit to whatever authority is over you. Examine what you wear and why you wear it so that you might reflect a godly character more than you seek personal attention. Flee temptation to lust. It may seem like you are powerless, but if you are a believer you have the Holy Spirit of God in you and He is more than enough!

Your comments and thoughts are welcome. Please keep them civil and to the point. Please also read the entire article before you comment. I didn’t cover anything exhaustively so I’m aware that the issue is bigger than a 2500 word essay.

You may also be interested in this blog post:

How do you Respond when your child tells you they have viewed pornography?

The Second Best Thing In My LIFE

Thirteen years ago today I was running around a church as nervous as I had ever been in my life.  My family and friends had driven from all over the Southern United States to be with us.  I wish I could say that I remember all the people who were there, the truth is their names and faces were all blurred. I stood at the front, ready to speak my part but I couldn’t be settled down until I saw her. Then it happened. The music played and she floated down the isle to me (escorted and tethered to the earth by her father).  It was a great day in the history of great days and the best part is that even though it seemed like a dream… it was all true!

We stood in front of a crowd and took our vows.  The pastor pronounced us husband and wife and let me kiss my beautiful bride for the first time.  We ran out the front doors and then came back into the sanctuary for a few last-minute pictures.  At the reception I learned about just what all came with marriage.  Her grandmother engaged me in an awkward dance of avoidance as she zeroed in for a kiss on my lips. unfortunately she won and pinned money on my awkwardly as if to claim here prize.

We headed out the door, where we were pelted with birdseed and were well on our way to our honeymoon.

As beautiful as that day was and as wonderful as it is to retell the story, it was just a day.  You see the second best thing that ever happened to me wasn’t a wedding, but our marriage. And marriage is one of those things that you don’t just look back on, you live it.  Everyday growing, learning, loving, giving, forgiving, holding, sharing, caring, hearing and walking together. Some days better than others, but always together.  And that’s the point.  Always together, through thick and thin, an ever-loving, never giving up, kind of bond that holds husband and wife together.  Its one of the most awesome things I have ever experienced on this earth.

Today we are celebrating 13 great years of marriage and looking forward with anticipation to God’s plan for our life together.

What’s the best thing that ever happened to me you ask? It’s the day that I learned that God really loved me like that.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
(Ephesians  5:25-27, ESV)

When God Fights Your Battles

When we get to Judges four, we see the ‘Judges cycle’ repeating itself. Ehud dies and the people again go after false gods. God allows them to be under the control of the wicked king of Canaan,  Jabin. Jabin has a captain named Sisera.

Sisera is a really bad guy! He roams the land with a crew of about 900 iron chariots. For the Israelites it’s like someone let the Hell’s Angels MC have free range with no police force to stop them. They aren’t there to help you, they are there to take from you, exploit you and hurt you.

The iron chariots were the brand new military achievement of the day. Nine-hundred iron chariots could easily take on ten thousand men. It just wasn’t a fair fight. No wonder the Israelites were scared. They couldn’t win!

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after Ehud died. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?”(Judges 4:1-7 ESV)

Then Deborah enters the scene. She is a poet prophetess ( Really! She drops some incredible Hebrew meter in chapter five, but we’ll get to that later.)

I don’t know if you noticed this, but Deborah is a woman. That’s an issue for some folks. They read into this passage things like, “Where all the men folks at, must be being lazy, or something. Only way God would raise up a woman was if the men was lazy.” Now look at your bible. Does it say the men were being lazy? Does it say the men were missing? No, we actually know that Deborah was married and she sends for a male military general who was anything but lazy

The author of Judges simply says that she was a prophetess, meaning she had a close walk with God and could discern His will. This helped her in her day job which was being a judge. She literally decided court cases and settled litigation. She’s an important figure in Israel at the time

Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.(Judges 4:8-10 ESV)

Deborah tells Barak that God has given Sisera and his cohort over into their hands. He only needs to meet them in a strategic valley in order to set a trap. Barak is all on board but he wants to make sure the Deborah is coming along for the ride. He says, “I’ll go, if you go.”

Now lots of folks think Barak is being a coward here.  It’s more likely that he wants to know God’s opinion in real time as things unfold.  In fact, the author of Hebrews includes him, but not Deborah in a list of those who had faith at the time of the Judges in Hebrews chapter 11!

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets (Hebrews 11:32 ESV)

If I were going to be bold enough to go against the iron chariots that stopped my ancestors and countrymen from completing the task at hand (Judges 1:19), I would want some assurances that God was with me too! I mean this man had one conversation and he was ready to take on the enemy that no one had been willing to take on. He really does have to have some kind of incredible faith to take on Sisera and his iron chariots, so we have to give the man some credit.

Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. (Judges 4:11 ESV)

So then out of nowhere appears this small verse that seemingly doesn’t fit. Barak is putting together his army, getting ready to take on these iron chariots and we learn about a dude who moved away from his family. Then we go right back to the story. It’s crazy. Everything is progressing. We’re gearing up for battle. If there is music in the background it’s building because troops are assembling…. Out of nowhere the scene shifts to a meadow with a bubbling brook, chirping birds, and a flute playing in the background… then back to building music. It’s weird.

When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.  (Judges 4:12-16 ESV)

Sisera finds out about Barak amassing the troops. He runs out the door hops on his hog, ahem, I mean he gets in his chariot and rallies the troops. They come barreling down the plain 900 strong ready to shred the troops that Barak has amassed! Thinking that they are going to surprise Barak and force him into a trap!

Then something strange happens. You have to go to chapter five to get some of the details but basically as Barak and his men come barreling down the mountain, the Lord goes with them in the form of a thunderstorm. 

“LORD, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled and the heavens dropped, yes, the clouds dropped water. The mountains quaked before the LORD, even Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel.  (Judges 5:4-5 ESV)

The battle has been tipped. It was supposed to be Sisera slaughtering Barak and his army, but a little mud and flash flooding goes a long way and now it is Barak slaughtering Sisera and his army.

You really want the Lord on your side when you go to battle. The Bible often depicts God as a warrior delivering his people. When they escaped Pharoah’s chariots through the Red Sea Moses sang a song depicting God as a warrior:

The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name. “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.(Exodus 15:3-6 ESV)

Something similar is happens here in chapter 5 of Judges as Deborah sings a song declaring that God was marching to battle!

“LORD, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled and the heavens dropped, yes, the clouds dropped water. The mountains quaked before the LORD, even Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel. (Judges 5:4-5 ESV)

From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on, my soul, with might! (Judges 5:20-21 ESV)

Mud stops the chariots from being able to escape and Sisera decides he can get away faster on foot. He abandons his horse and takes off. He runs and runs until he can run no more. Finally he comes upon a tent. It’s the tent we awkwardly heard mention of before. It belongs to a housewife who lives there with her husband, hours away from their nearest relatives.

But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple. So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan. (Judges 4:17-24 ESV)

Jael is what we would call a housewife. She doesn’t have a job outside the house. She’s a homemaker. She’s not a Deborah and people aren’t flocking to her for advice. She’s not a Barak; people aren’t looking to her for military leadership. She doesn’t have a lot of people depending on her. We don’t even know if she has kids depending on her.

Sisera stops and rests at her tent. He is tired and thirsty. He makes his way into her inner chamber to hide under a rug and asks for water, but she gives him some milk knowing that it will help put him to sleep. He lays down on the floor and goes to sleep. This is a very awkward situation for her.

While he is sleeping Jael slips up on him. She curls back his hair, finds his temple. Then gently places a sharp tent peg on the side of his head and forces it in. She uses a hammer to make sure the job is done and done right. She pins him to the ground.  This is the highlight of the story. The evil captain who wandered the countryside abusing Israelite women (Judges 5:30) is murdered in his sleep by an ordinary housewife.

Deborah writes a song about the whole thing that gets recorded as chapter five in your bible. It doesn’t look or sound much like poetry once it has been translated into English, but if you heard someone read it in Hebrew you would swear you could hear the tent peg being hammered in by Jael in the background as you get to this point.

Between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still; between her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell—dead. (Judges 5:27 ESV)

It stands as an incredible piece of poetry.  It’s the focus of a huge celebration. This man who murdered Israelite men and took advantage of Israelite women is no longer a threat and he didn’t go out guns a blazing, he died in his sleep at the hands of a woman.

So now let’s look back and see WHO delivered the nation of Israel. Was it Deborah? No she didn’t fight a battle or kill the commander of the army. Was it Barak then? He listened to Deborah and he did fight the battle, but he didn’t kill Sisera. Was it Jael? Well she did kill Sisera, but she didn’t hear from the Lord or command an army. I think as we look back on this we see that God didn’t just raise up Deborah, he didn’t just raise up a Deborah and a Barak, but he raised up Deborah, Barak and Jael all to work together! Not only that, he went with the army in the form of a Thunderstorm. God is the one who fought for his people that day! 

When you look at all three human heroes of this history, it’s kind of an odd picture. You get a prophetess judge. She’d be kind of like someone working for a parachurch ministry to place orphans into the loving arms of adoptive parents and helping families work through issues. Then you have an army commander who would be like a Sr. Navy Chief, used to barking commands and having people listen. Then you have Jael. She’s a housewife.

Now it makes sense! That awkward verse about a man who lived hours away from the nearest relatives in the midst of the battle scene… That was God! While everyone was sharpening swords and greasing up chariot tires God moved a man and his wife to the middle of nowhere, far from family, and set them up so that SHE could help deliver Israel.

So there are a few things we need to draw from this! First, God delights in using the most unexpected means to save his people. We saw it last week with Ehud and a sword, shamgar and a farming instrument, and now it’s a house wife and a tent peg… These are all shadows illustrating that there is a greater reality to come. One day God would save us all from an enemy even bigger enemy than Sisera. He would save us from our sins and He would do it in the most surprising of ways! He would win by losing! He would take an instrument of torture and death (much like we view the electric chair) and he would turn it into a symbol of victory! Jesus would go to the cross and die for our sins. He would rise from the dead. He would ascend into Heaven where He now stands at the right hand of God making intercession for us and he will return. The only way that Jesus’ victory counts as your victory is if you repent of your sin and trust him with your life.

We also need to know that God delights in using the most unsuspecting people to do the most miraculous of things. He doesn’t use princes and people with perfect complexions nearly as often as you would think. He uses ordinary people like you. You might not think you are anything special. You may in fact think of yourself as a nobody, but I guarantee you that God can use you. Not only would he, or could He use you, but He would delight in using you! See what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians who were boasting that they had it all together:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 ESV)

What if just one of the main characters in this story decided not to obey God? What if Deborah never called Barak? What if Barak chickened out and wouldn’t go to war? What if Jael never put a tent peg through Sisera’s temple? Any break in the chain anywhere and things would have been different. You see we all have people counting on us. We may know them or we may not know them, but they are counting on us. There are things that I’ve said and done that have had a ripple effect on others and set things in motion in the lives of others. Sometimes simply taking time to have coffee with a man sets a life, a family, a village of people on a different course because you were at the right place, at the right time, trusting God.

Ultimately I think what we are supposed to see here is that God fights for his people. If you are His and walking with Him, you are never in the fight alone! When we would repent of our sins and cry out to God for deliverance he will fight for us. Please know that when it comes to rooting habitual sin out of your life, that you are not in the fight alone. Indeed you could never succeed on your own. Christ is the one who fought for you at the cross and still promises to be with you even to this day. The great twist of the Christian faith is that we win by surrender. We give our lives to the Lord and then we see him conquer our enemies and it happens in everyday conversations, moves across the country, and even in the faith step to take on our darkest nightmares with the confidence that He will fight for us.

[1] In Judges 5:30, Sisera’s own mother is depicted as figuring that her son is probably off raping a few girls on the way home.

Somebody Has Got to do Something! (In Need of a Savior)

Have you ever observed a situation and thought to yourself, “Somebody has got to do something!” It might be something small like the dishes piling up in the sink or even something huge like a national crisis… but the thought emerges and might even escape your lips in the form of a phrase, “someone has got to do something!”

Most often when we make that statement or think it, it’s passive. What is implied is that someone ELSE should do something. It’s an indication that we are waiting for someone from the outside to swoop in and deliver us from our situation. We are expecting our husband to do the dishes or a politician to save the nation.

Granted on the dishes side of things we dismiss ourselves because we don’t want to do something, but what about those situations where we really wish someone would do something but we don’t see how it could be us. Maybe we dismiss ourselves because we are too old, or too young. We say things to ourselves like, “They would never listen to someone like me.” We make up all sorts of excuses about why we couldn’t be the one to do something and we end up sitting idly by and nothing ever changes.

But what if when we had that thought, we did something different? What if instead of being passive, we did something? What if we simply looked to God in the situation and asked him to intervene? What if after asking God to move we offered ourselves to be his agents of change.  What if we simply prayed, “God, someone has got to do something, I believe you have the only answer. Would you do something in this situation and because I believe you can and will use anything and anyone to bring yourself glory, I offer myself, I’m not giving you much to work with, but I’m banking on the fact that you like to use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. So God, Somebody has got to do something, I’m asking you and I’m offering me.”

In this post we’ll look at three different Judges who saw their nation in turmoil and just when things looked the worst and you could hear the cry of the people saying, “Somebody has got to do something!” We see God answer their prayer by raising up the most unlikely of deliverers.

Othniel  

Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.(Judges 3:8-11 ESV)

We have heard about Othniel before ( in Judges 1:13). He was a young man. He captured a mountain, won the heart of Caleb’s daughter and inherited some of the choicest land in the region. However things changed. The nation slid into idol worship and God gave them over to their idols.

When we hear these words, “He sold them,” they can ring kind of funny in our ears. Does God sell things? Who does He sell them too? Why? We can consider this an idiom. An idiom is when we say something like, “it’s raining cats and dogs.” If you say that to someone who barely speaks English they will look at you and wonder that you mean. They are looking for real cats and dogs to fall out of the sky, but what you really mean is that it’s raining really hard and you used non-literal descriptive language to express how hard it was raining. What this language, that God had sold them, means is that God removed his hand of protection from Israel.

Imagine that I have a dog. Because he is mine I protect him. I feed him. When he gets in barking matches with bigger dogs, I break it up and save his tiny little life, all because he is mine.

Now imagine that I put him up for sale and I sell him. He is now someone else’s to do with what they like because he doesn’t belong to me. He belongs to them. Because he belongs to them, they can do what they want with him. They can make him pull a heavy dog sled, feed him chicken bones, or even stroke his hair backwards.

When he was mine, there was no way I would let anyone mess with him. Now that I have sold him, I no longer possess Him.  Since he is no longer my possession there is no reason for me to act on his behalf.

So when we hear that God has “sold” the nation of Israel, we are to understand that while He loves them, he is allowing them to be handled by others.  He does not intervene. In essence if they do not claim Him, He will not claim them.

Some of you read this and you think. How could a loving God do this to His people? You’re missing a picture of love. How could a loving God not? Love is not bandaging the bruises, love is addressing the behavior that leads to the bruises time and time again. The Lord is not an enabler of this people, but a deliverer. The problem is that sometimes we don’t want to be delivered, we want to be enabled. We like our bad behavior, we like our sin. We want someone to hold our hand and tell us it will be ok. But the biblical truth is that sometimes God gives us enough leash to hit the bottom

The people of Israel end up serving a wicked king. The writer of Judges even comes up with a special nickname for him. His name literally means “twice wicked from two rivers.” It’s a hint that this guy is a bad dude!

How long does it take you to realize that you’ve really messed up and you need God to take you back? It took Israel at least eight years. God hears and he answers. He sends a deliver Judge by the name of Othniel.

It’s important to know that Othniel isn’t the same young man that he once was. He’s a bit older. In fact, some scholars think he might be as old as sixty five years old or older. Not the kind of guy you imagine strapping on a flap jacket and calling in for secret ops. This guy should be retiring, sitting back and telling war stories, not going to war. But when he looked around and saw the condition of his people he didn’t use his age as an excuse not to go to war, he strapped on his gear and lead the charge because somebody had to do something and He was confident that God would use him.

EHUD (Judges 3:12-30)

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, and the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes. And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. But he himself turned back at the idols near Gilgal and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence. And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. Then Ehud went out into the porch and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him and locked them. When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.” And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor. Ehud escaped while they delayed, and he passed beyond the idols and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim. Then the people of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was their leader. And he said to them, “Follow after me, for the LORD has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over. And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.(Judges 3:12-30 ESV)

Next we move on to Ehud. The story of Ehud has got to be one of my all time favorite stories from the bible. This is not a story to read at the dinner table before a meal. However, it’s a fun story.

So Israel sins again and God allows the Moabites to take over. They make the Israelites pay tribute and put a large military presence in the land, complete with forts, outposts, etc. The Israelites have to bring in sheep, veggies, money, etc. to pay them off every month or however often.

Ehud is left handed.  (I bet you didn’t know there was a specifically left-handed hero in the bible!) Being left-handed isn’t a big deal to you and I, but back in the day it was considered weird. The right hand was the way to go. Have you ever heard the expression, “He’s my right hand man?” It means that it’s someone you can count on. If you sat at an important person’s right hand it meant that you were important to that person. In fact there is a tribe of Israel whose tribal name is Benjamin.  Do you know what the name Benjamin means?… It means “Son of the right hand.”

So when we are told that Ehud is left handed. That’s a big deal, because the left hand is nothing. Some scholars believe that his right hand was disfigured in some way and he had to learn to use his left hand for everything. If this were the case Ehud wouldn’t have been allowed to serve in the military back then, or even now. But he was ok to help deliver the tribute to Eglon the king of Moab.

Now this is where it gets kind of funny. Eglon means “bull or cow” and the writer makes big deal about how fat he was. Eglon was a big man, but the writer goes out of his way in essence to call him a “Fat Cow.”  Now in our day that’s just a mean insult. It’s impolite. If my kids said it about someone, I’d tell them to hush.  Back in that day it had a double meaning. Not only was it an insult, but you killed “fat cows” to eat or to make a sacrifice. Like in the story of the prodigal son; when he returns the dad says go kill the “fattened calf.” The whole reason you get a calf fat is so you can kill it and eat it. By implication Eglon is fat for the slaughter.

So here is the irony Ehud the left handed man (who happens to be from the tribe whose name literally means “son of the right-hand”) takes the tribute to Eglon (the fat cow)  and drops it off. Everyone starts to head home, but when he reaches the stones at Gilgal, he turns back!

It’s easy to dismiss this as just the place that he turned around, but something you need to know about these stones at Gilgal. These were the stones that were brought up from the bottom of the river when God parted the Jordan river and the nation of Israel first entered the land. Gilgal was where they first camped out in Israel. Check out Joshua 4:19-24.

The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”(Joshua 4:19-24 ESV)

I can’t help but think that at least one little boy in the land had a father who walked by the stones of Gilgal and spoke to his son of the faithfulness of the Lord. One little boy that even though he was left handed, and perhaps even crippled and not fit for military service would grow up and find himself with the job that no one wanted, delivering tribute to the fat bull king. And one day after he has just dropped off the tribute he heads back with the other helpers and he passes these stones, at this place and he remembers! In his heart he knows that somebody has to do something!

Maybe he’s full of excuses on why not him, he is left-handed, he is cripple, he’s not trained on how to kill. However on this day, something comes over him and he doesn’t offer any excuses. He’s had enough. He doesn’t want to endanger anyone else, perhaps he thinks it’s a suicide mission, so he sends the other guys on ahead and doesn’t tell them of his plan, but solemnly turns back to face this fat bull king alone.  He goes to Eglon and tells him, “I have a secret message for you.

Eglon apparently loves secrets and so he sends everyone out of the room. He’s not threatened by Ehud after all… he’s deformed. Little does he know that Ehud has a sword strapped to his thigh. I’m sure the guards patted him down, but not too well, because he hid the sword on his other thigh.

Then Ehud says, “It’s a message from God.” Now at this point Eglon is really curious. He wonders what kind of message God might have for him. So he stands. This was probably really difficult for him to do. After all he was “fat for the slaughter.”

Then Ehud reaches in his tunic produces the hidden sword and with one quick motion plunges it into Eglon. He is not a skilled assassin. As far as we know this is his first attempt. He doesn’t go for the heart or the lungs or even the head. He goes for the biggest possible target and aims for the belly! He pushes it in so hard and so fast that he actually loses the sword in all the fat. There is no way to draw the sword back out again for a second blow. There is no need. Eglon is bleeding to death on the floor.

Now here is the thing. When Ehud plunged the sword into Eglon he actually ruptured his intestines, there is no polite way to say this, his poop starts to ooze out. I know it’s gross right? The whole thing is gross (but it’s in our bible and I think for good reason). Ehud locks the door and walks away. The guards come to check on Eglon and the doors are locked and they smell this disgusting smell so they naturally thing that he’s in the bathroom.

So can you imagine the conversation that goes on outside the door?

 

And all the while they were sitting outside smelling his poo; Ehud was running back to Israel with the news that he had killed Eglon! He rallies the troops and they stand at the Jordan River so as the Moabite troops start to make their way back they are captured and killed! So this possibly handicap, left-handed member of the tribe whose name means “son of the right-hand” who was probably not fit for military service ends up leading the whole army of Israel and gets the victory!

Don’t you get the picture? It’s GOD who delivers Israel time and time again. First he raises up an older man, next he raised up a left-handed guy, now he raises up a farmer. We have only one verse in all the bible to describe a guy by the name of Shamgar

SHAMGAR (Judges 3:31

After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel. (Judges 3:31 ESV)

Shamgar’s weapon of choice was a long pointy stick that you use to poke cattle with when they are getting kind of slow. It’s not really a weapon at all. It’s not that sophisticated. It’s really just a pointy stick. I’m sure when folks saw Shamgar coming they weren’t afraid.

We don’t know much about Shamgar, but we can deduce a few things. His name suggests that he was not an Israelite. He was possibly an Egyptian. He was probably a farmer and not a soldier given his weapon of choice. That’s all we really have to go on. We also know he killed over 600 Philistines. We don’t know if this was at one time, or in bunches or if he was alone and killed this many or lead a group of men, but we do know that he killed. When you hear Philistines you need to think Vikings. At this point in history they are really like southern Vikings. They would come in from the seas and rivers and take over territory. Everyone hated them.

So at this point it seems like God used an Egyptian farmer to chase off the Philistines. Isn’t that just like God to use the most unlikely of people with the most unlikely of weapons to save his people.

All of these judges foreshadow someone even greater. One day there would come a deliverer who would come from the most unlikely of places (backwoods Galilee) and he would beat the biggest enemy of all (Death) in the most unlikely of ways (dying on the cross and raising from the dead).

Unlike these judges, he didn’t come to provide temporary deliverance, but rather to set us free from our sin once and for all. Everyone who turns to him in trust will be saved and have ever lasting life. The real question is have you ever submitted your heart and life to Jesus Christ?

 

 

Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (A simple review of the book “ReSet”)

Do you find yourself burning out? Is Monday one of the most dreaded days of the week? Are you tired all the time? Are you short-tempered with the people closest to you? Do you find yourself stressed and anxious all the time? Are you drinking too much coffee, just to get through the day?  Those are just some of the questions that David Murray asks in his latest book, “ReSet: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture.”

reset bookDavid does a phenomenal job of writing specifically to Christian pastors about the need to rest and have a take a God-ordained Sabbath. Often, we find that those who preach well about taking a Sabbath break are it’s biggest violators. By outlining the different ways that burnout shows up and how it effects our families and our ministries, David helps the reader to understand that we weren’t designed to do ministry 24/7. Even the most gifted pastor is required to take a break. Mr. Murray even accuses pastors of not trusting in the provision of God and perhaps thinking we are more necessary than we are. By accepting our limits, we are accepting his grace and can be empowered to more effective ministry. 

Reset is full of relevant information about how to disconnect and recharge in a ministry setting. The author has gone out of his way to bring relevant resources and practices to the table and write not only a convicting book, but one with a clear path forward for working the Sabbath day back into the busy routine of being a pastor. 

As one that tends to burn the candle at both ends, I am very thankful for David’s book and the reminder and practical guidelines on how to “ReSet.” I’m not all there yet, but because of David’s faithfulness to write this book, I’m making strides and growing in my ability to reclaim the Sabbath rest in my life. I appreciate David and his pastoral heart as he writes from both experience and conviction to men in the ministry.

This is a great book for anyone in the ministry and a good reminder that those of us who are leaders in the church that it is good for our congregation and good for our soul to take a break and live in the power of grace.

In Need Of A Savior (part 2)

What are some of the things that have been passed down in your family?  Families pass down all kinds of stuff. We pass down our genetics; you might have your grandfather’s hair or your grandmother’s eyes. We pass down possessions; my grandmother handmade quilts and each of the grandkids have one now. We have traditions. We are Auburn football fans. I’m an Auburn football fan because my dad was an Auburn football fan. He’s one because his dad was an Auburn football fan. It goes back generations in my family.

Your family probably looks different, but there are things that are being passed down. It may be something like a desire to serving your country through military service, or it may be a watch from your grandfather, or it may just be your dimples, but you have something that has been passed down to you.

Sometimes what we inherit isn’t always good. My grandfather was an alcoholic. Fortunately, my dad decided he wanted his life to be different and so he avoided alcohol. I on the other hand found out at an early age just how easy it was to become an alcoholic when it’s in your family tree

But what happens if something really important doesn’t get handed down? What happens when something vital never crosses the generational divide? What happens when parents love God, but their children never develop a real relationship with Him? We are forced to look back and ask…Why? What went wrong?

We see exactly that scenario unfold in the book of Judges. The people of Joshua’s generation loved God. It was Joshua who stood up and made a decree to the people of the Land, “choose you this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). It really seemed like Joshua had long term plans for serving God to be a part of his family’s heritage for generations to come.  The book of Judges even tells us that even while there were elders living after Joshua that all the land served the Lord (Judges 2:7).  When the people were taking over the land it was men like Caleb who went through some means to ensure that his daughter would marry a God serving and brave young man (Judges 1:12-13).

Read Judges chapter 2

It’s hard to imagine how there would come a generation that didn’t love and serve the Lord like their parents did. We have plenty of evidence that this was something that was designed to be left in the family legacy. Certainly each person has to make their own decisions to follow the Lord, but it’s not like the parents were negligent about teaching their kids about God.

Continue reading “In Need Of A Savior (part 2)”