Audience of One: How We Kicked God off the Stage in Worship

What would happen if we were to subtly change the way the church goes about worshiping God? What if we were to remove an emphasis on the objective truth of the Bible and place a subtle emphasis on personal experience? What if we did this in a way that on the surface seemed like we were worshiping God, but in the end actually removed God from worship and put us on the stage instead?

I am afraid that is exactly what is going on in many congregations across America. We are seeing popular pastors abandon Biblical authority in honor of individual subjective experience (Rob Bell and more recently and to a different degree, Andy Stanley). What bothers me the most, is that I think there are many pastors and worship leaders with good intentions, who are taking us down the path of looking for subjective experience instead of objective truth in weekly congregational worship.

For me, this can most clearly be seen in the rhetoric of “Audience of One” on the lips of pastors and worship leaders. Typically the “Audience of One” illustration is described this way: We gather for worship and it seems like the audience is the congregation and the actors or entertainers are the musicians, worship leader and pastor. But in this illustration, the roles are redesigned to account for God in the room. The congregation becomes the actors in worship, God is the audience, and the musicians, worship leader, and pastor are all prompters whose function is to provide the script by which the congregation performs worship.

Cool concept right?  It sounds cool to say that “God is the only audience we seek.” But is it right? More importantly is it Biblical? Before you assume I’m crazy, hear me out. I’ll explain to you that when we say, “Audience of One” that the whole illustration is a complete misunderstanding of worship that ultimately moves us away from an emphasis on truth from God (God’s Word) to our own subjective experience of “worship” and personal interpretation of that experience. My real concern is that we may have just kicked God off the stage and replaced Him with pathetic individual experiences of worship that are more about us than they are about the God of the Bible. Like I said hear me out.

 

I want to level a serious contention: What if the illustration of God as the “audience of One” in our services was originally a thought experiment designed to introduce a philosophy that would eventually  come to be known as existentialism to Christianity? Think I’m off the mark? Let’s look at where the illustration originated.

Audience of ONE_ How WE Kicked GOD off the Stage of Worship(1)

The History behind the Phrase. The concept behind the phrase “Audience of One” first appears in Soren Kierkegaard’s book, “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.”  Kierkegaard in his own words:

 It is so on the stage, as you know well enough, that someone sits and prompts by whispers; he is the inconspicuous one; he is, and wishes to be overlooked. But then there is another, he strides out prominently, he draws every eye to himself. For that reason he has been given his name, that is: actor. He impersonates a distinct individual. In the skillful sense of this illusionary art, each word becomes true when embodied in him, true through him—and yet he is told what he shall say by the hidden one that sits and whispers. No one is so foolish as to regard the prompter as more important than the actor.

Now forget this light talk about art. Alas, in regard to things spiritual, the foolishness of many is this, that they in the secular sense look upon the speaker as an actor, and the listeners as theatergoers who are to pass judgment upon the artist. But the speaker is not the actor—not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart. The stage is eternity, and the listener, if he is the true listener (and if he is not, he is at fault) stands before God during the talk. The prompter whispers to the actor what he is to say, but the actor’s repetition of it is the main concern—is the solemn charm of the art. The speaker whispers the word to the listeners. But the main concern is earnestness: that the listeners by themselves, with themselves, and to themselves, in the silence before God, may speak with the help of this address.

The address is not given for the speaker’s sake, in order that men may praise or blame him. The listener’s repetition of it is what is aimed at. If the speaker has the responsibility for what he whispers, then the listener has an equally great responsibility not to fail short in his task. In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener … is the actor, who in all truth acts before God. (Kierkegaard, Søren, trans. Douglas V. Steere. Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. 180-189.) * bold print and underline added for emphasis

Existentialism: A Shift to the Subjective Human Experience Over Objective Truth.
Soren Kierkegaard is regarded by many as one of the first existentialist philosophers. Though, the word “existentialism” never appears in any of his works, the concepts of existentialism are core to many of his writings. In a nutshell, existentialism emphasizes the right of the individual to discover truth for themselves. Truth doesn’t come from an objective outside source (Like the Bible, institutional religion, society, etc.) but through individual experience and our subjective interpretation of that experience. Because of this, there is actually a broad spectrum of philosophers who can be classified existentialist, but would hold a different understanding of life (Nietzsche was another early existentialist philosopher).

Kierkegaard was really one of the first to press this idea into many different areas of society, including Christianity and religious practice.  You may have noted in the quote above, that it is said of the actor, who is pretending to be someone else, that “each word becomes true when embodied by him.”  At it’s core, Kierkegaard’s existential philosophy focuses on the individual to give the world meaning. In other words, an individual’s experience, and subsequent interpretation of that experience is more “authentic” and “meaningful” than objective truth. (Where have I heard those buzz words before?) To say it in terms of the illustration, the prompt (the sermon? the scriptures? he doesn’t tell us) isn’t true until acted out by the actor. Indeed, the prompt line become true “through” the actor. The actor’s experience is what defines truth for Kierkegaard. There is no truth in the prompt itself, only in the experience of the actor.

In Kierkegaard’s illustration the church goer is transitioned from a passive audience member to the main actor in the worship service.  The actor’s experience is where truth is produced and God now fills the role of the audience… an audience of One.

HOW DID THIS GET INTRODUCED TO THE CHURCH? I think that through ignorance that the “audience of one” terminology became common language to talk about how worship leaders are to lead in worshiping God.  What sounds cool often gets repeated. I’ve heard musicians such as Matt Redman, Big Daddy Weave, and others use the illustration. I am also aware that there are several books on “worship leadership” by authors that I very much respect that use the “audience of one” illustration as a description for worship leadership.

What effect has this had on the worship service? We have elevated to congregation to the stage to perform “for God.” So now, your experience of worship determines it’s worth, not God’s worthiness.  Now each individual is an actor for the sake of God who is our “true” audience… We have moved the emphasis of worship from objective truth of God’s Word in the pulpit to subjective experience in the pew.  In Kierkegaard’s view, the Bible isn’t true, unless it is acted upon by an individual, and thus experienced subjectively. While many of our pastor’s and music leaders wouldn’t say this out loud, we have used the metric of personal engagement and experience to determine the “quality of worship” (despite supposedly having an “audience of one”).

The flawed analogy: Why does God have to be the audience? Intentional or not, I believe Kierkegaard’s analogy is flawed. In the illustration that Kierkegaard gives, we have only two ways of seeing the room and all the participants. 1. Either God is the audience, the worshipers are actors, and the pastor is the prompter or 2. The audience is the congregation and the pastor is the actor and God is not present. (A not so subtle point of  Kierkegaard illustration: God is present as the audience or not at all).

WHAT IF THE ILLUSTRATION IS WRONG? Is there another way to see the room on Sunday morning? If you will notice the one thing really missing from Kierkegaard’s illustration is the Word of God.  It would be missing because Kierkegaard’s writing was trying to supplant the idea of “objective truth” and replace it with “subjective experiential truth.”  The Bible has long been understood to be objective truth (it is true weather you believe it or not).

What if we correct Kierkegaard’s view of the devotional service with the scripture as central? Has God not been present all along? Was he not always on center stage? Was the role of the pastor to ever entertain at all or was it to declare the word, work, and majesty of God through the Word of God? Was the role of pastor not to provoke our hearts to worship all along, not because God is in the audience but because God has commanded and invited us to worship Him?

Now let’s get down to the Scripture. Isn’t God the one who has invited (even commanded) us to worship Him (Exodus 20:3-5)? If we’d just read the Bible we’d see a divine plan of redemption unfolding where we who were separated from God, have no right or ability to reach up to God, but God reached down to us through Jesus Christ, who died on the cross, making payment for sin, rising from the dead, so that those who come to Him in genuine faith and repentance are reconciled to God (Romans 5:8). The very heart of worship is who God is (Revelation 4:11) and what He has done to reconcile us to Himself (Isaiah 61:10).  Even those who have rejected Jesus and will find themselves acknowledging that he is worthy of all glory and honor (Philippians 2:9-11).

Isn’t God at the very center of the stage of worship in Heaven? (Revelation 4:11, 5:12-14, 7:9-12, 19:1-10, Isaiah 6, etc.)  You won’t and can’t have an “audience of one” in Heaven because God is the only act! You will fall on your face and you will worship because He is worthy! If anything we will be part of the audience applauding Him. His glory demands an audience of worshipers (Luke 18:40)! 

What if we meant something other than worship by “audience of one?” If you mean to say that, “Gods opinion of you is the only one you care about,” do you not recognize the emphasis on a subjective individual experience in that statement as well? Would you not recognize that God has given us each other to be the voice of reason, accountability, and reminder of who He is (1 Timothy 4:12, Matthew 18:15-20)? I care about God’s opinion of me, but I also recognize that He judges my heart better than me and this attitude might be more about resisting accountability than it is about truly seeking the Lord.

If you mean to say, “Only God can Judge you perfectly,” then I think you are right (Romans 14:4). But there is a huge difference between God as a just judge and God as your audience. Judges render verdicts, audiences by nature observe and applaud (or heckle)… either way the verdict of a judge is more serious than applause of an audience.

I pray that we would all be aware that God is a just judge and we would strive to have pure hearts, but not in the way that Kierkegaard suggests. I would that we had them in the way that Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount. I would love to have a pure heart that doesn’t do deeds so as to be seen by others, but to be seen by God (Matthew 6:1-6) and simultaneously loves to do good works that are seen by everyone and point to God (Matthew 5:13-16).  Only God can judge a heart like that and to be clear only God can create a heart like that in me (Ezekiel 36:26, Psalm 51:10, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Jeremiah 24:7) . I reject the “Audience of One” illustration for worship because it is a dangerous philosophy that removes God from the act of worship and puts us center stage.

For more on the topic of an undue emphasis on the individual subjective experience in American Christianity check out this previous blog post: Who are you really worshiping?

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.

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?

 

 

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)”

In Need of a Savior (Judges 1)

In the book of Judges, the nation of Israel has entered the promise land. They have had two outstanding leaders, Moses and Joshua. Joshua stood in the Land and declared, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). The people of Israel responded with an overwhelming sense of, “We are with you!” It seemed like the young nation’s future was bright.

Judges

They still had one task to finish; they had to push the Canaanites out of the land. Some people read this and they are concerned. It’s important to know that God wanted the Canaanites pushed out, not simply because they were in the territory that He wanted to give Israel, but because their sins had become so great. You see the Canaanites worshiped the false gods of Baal and Ashtoreth, and sometimes Moloch. It can be helpful to know how they worshiped these false gods. If you were sick and wanted to get better you would take a child and place him in the hands of Moloch and offer its life for yours. In essence you were saying, “I want to live a more comfortable and disease free life, take the life of this child so I can have the life I want.” You would then be appeasing the gods by giving the child’s life for your own.[1]

The temples for worship were full of pornographic art in the form of idols and carvings. The way they worshiped was through prostitution and perverse sexual acts that could even involve family members. It’s too gross and ugly to describe in detail here. It’s enough to know that many of the ways that these people would worship is against the law here in America and punishable by serious time in prison. [2]

God had commanded the nation of Israel to push the Canaanites out. First, for justice in the case of those who had been oppressed, injured and even murdered as part of the pagan worship practices.  And second, so that the nation of Israel would not be tempted to worship false gods and follow the Canaanite ways.

That’s the background. Take a moment to read Judges 1:1-2:6. Read the whole thing and then come back and we will look at some important details togetehr. For the sake of brevity I’m just going to reference parts of the this passage as we talk about it and so I want it open before you and in the back of your mind as we discuss everything. So go ahead and take a moment to read. This page will still be here.

It is important for the nation of Israel to obey the Lord and push the Canaanites out of the land. They are in the middle of the task when Joshua dies and a crisis emerges. Joshua was a brilliant military leader who walked with God. Now that he is gone, there is no clear leader and no clear way forward. What do you do when you lose the leadership of someone you love and trust as a godly leade

You may lose a leader, but you won’t lose the Lord.

I think at this point it is important for us to draw on the fact that all godly leaders always point to the One greater than themselves… they point us to Jesus. In my case I had a great and godly dad but a stroke really changed his personality. Just because I lost my dad’s leadership didn’t mean that the Lord stopped caring about me. I might have lost a leader, but I didn’t lose the Lord. In fact my dad’s mission as a godly father was to point me to the Lord. He was like a shadow. The real leader was Jesus and my dad was evidence of what it looks like when God moves in someone’s life.

A couple of years ago, my son asked why he couldn’t see God. (It’s been a long standing rule in our family that you don’t draw God).  I explained that God is like the wind.[3] You don’t see wind; all you see are its effects.  It fills a sail and moves a boat. It blows a hat off a man. It pushes a windmill. There are lots of ways to see the wind move even though you can’t see it. It’s the same with God; there are lots of ways to see Him move, even though you don’t see him with your naked eye. There are miracles of healing, there are miracles of reconciliation that take place in our families, there are changes in your temperament and attitude as you continue to submit your life to God. Each one of these things are finger prints, evidence of God’s work.

Godly leaders are one of those things that God gives us that point to Him. We see God move in their life and our lives our better because of it. They bring the best out in us. They point us to the scriptures. They challenge us. They help our faith grow. Leaders like this are like shadows. Their substance, their influence, their weight isn’t rooted in who they are, but in who God is. Their whole life, their whole existence is to point us to the greater reality… God. When we lose a godly leader to sickness, death, or even God’s call to go somewhere else it can seem like God has abandoned us, but when this occurs it is important to remember, “we may have lost a leader, but we haven’t lost the Lord.”

It seems like at first the nation of Israel totally gets this. Joshua dies, they seek the Lord, they get directions and they start to finish the job of pushing the Canaanites out.  We get a snapshot of the conquest. They are kicking booty and taking names. All is good in the land of Israel.

Not long into the conquest, the nation starts to make compromises. Instead of looking fiercely different than the people they are kicking out, they start to behave like them. Then they allow them to live in the land. Finally we have a land of Canaanites and Israelites. This mix of people leads to a mix of worship. It isn’t long before the people of Israel are lead into the worship of false gods and a wicked kind of worship which I described earlier.

Today’s Compromise is tomorrow’s Corruption! Put another way. Your children will practice in excess what you do in moderation.

Along the way some unsightly things happen. They torture a guy but cutting of his thumbs and toes before killing him. It’s important to know that they weren’t looking for information! The city had been captured. They were having a little bit of sport at his death. This wasn’t God’s design; it was how the Canaanites did things. Indeed this poor guy understands and thinks it is alright for his captors to do this because he has done the same thing to seventy other kings (Judges 1:6-7).[4]

Then when they see an enemy that has superior battlefield technology known as the iron chariot, they choose not to fight (Judges 1:19). This is actually in direct violation of one of God’s commands to his people as they enter the land. It was spelled out for them in very clear terms by Moses:

“When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 20:1 ESV)

The people in Joshua’s time went up against unbeatable odds and won. They took down the wall of Jericho just by marching around it for a week and yelling at the top of their lungs. The people of the land were afraid of the Israelites because God was giving them amazing victory after victory in the land. Yet here Israel stops and their knees knock together and they pee their tunics because in their heart they think that there is no way they can take on an army with chariots. They have forgotten that the Lord can take care of any challenge that comes their way.

They make further compromises by allowing a guy to live if he just tells them where the secret entrance to his city is (again they are dealing with their own military brilliance rather than relying on God). He tells them and so they let him and his family go. He goes down the road a little way and then sets up shop, builds a homestead and names a town the same name as the one the Israelites have just destroyed (Judges 1:22-26).

Each compromise is worse than the one before until they are finally the nation of Israel is able and powerful enough to kick out the Canaanites, but they decide to make them slaves instead (Judges 1:35). They had the power and dominance to kick these folks out just as God had commanded but instead they make them slave laborers. This is in total defiance to God’s command.

Imagine that you have cancer and the doctor has to go in to operate? He has to remove a tumor from your body and it is very important that he get all of it. In fact they go ahead and set up a chemo or radiation schedule for after the surgery just in case one tiny bit accidentally gets left behind. Cancer is BAD and they are willing to put you through some rough stuff just to nuke it.

Now imagine that you have had the surgery and the doctor comes in to tell you about the operation. He says that he has tickets to the Alabama game on Saturday and while he could have taken more time to make sure he got the entire tumor it was more convenient for him to be done so he could get on the road.  He’s pretty sure that he got at least half of the tumor but there is a pretty big amount still left… How would you feel?

Cancer isn’t a joke!!!  And neither was the conquest of the land of Canaan. By leaving the Canaanites there in the land, not only have they disobeyed God, but they have also left a dangerous cancer of Baal worship. It is a cancer that spreads and will plague Israel for generations.

      Disobedience in Deadly

So I’m sure the people of the nation of Israel were patting themselves on the back. They had successfully conquered the land… sort of. I mean they did leave a lot behind but it looked pretty good at the moment.

Our old house is for sale and I recently mowed the lawn. Right now the lawn looks amazing. My front yard is made up of mostly weeds and a little bit of grass. The thing I like about mowing is that for a short while the lawn looks semi decent because all the weeds are cut down to the same height as the grass. But give my yard a week and it will look like a jungle again. You see by mowing my weeds down, I haven’t taken the time to really deal with them. I’ve just made them look alright for a while. If you really want to deal with a weed you have to get to its root; either drop in some poison that will kill it down to the root or pull the whole thing out, roots and all. There is no way to effectively deal with weeds without dealing with the root.

It was the same way with the Baal worship in the land of Canaan. They settled for a good mowing back rather than a total removal. Their children would be plagued by the people they failed to remove. The Lord even appears to them again and says that since they didn’t remove the altars to the false gods that they would become a snare to their children (Judges 2:1-5).

You see our sin always affects more than just us. You may think that your private habit of looking at dirty pictures doesn’t affect anyone, but it changes your attitude, it changes how you see other people. Those private moments aren’t so private when they affect the way you treat your spouse, your sister, your mother, your girlfriend, your daughter, your neighbor.

Your gossip goes beyond your friends. It gets back eventually. You can’t be trusted even by your friends anymore because they are afraid you will gossip about them. It’s ruining your friendships. Those lies you tell, they’ll be found out. People will see you as a liar, but what’s worse is they will feel betrayed because they trusted you.

Here is what sin unchecked in your life does! It festers and grows. Anger begets anger, lust begets more lust, a sharp tongue only grows sharper.  You tell yourself that it will get better over time and that you will outgrow it, but the truth is without serious intervention you will repeat the same sins over and over. In fact you will perfect the  sins you dabble in. Unchecked, you will practice them until you don’t even think about what you are doing. Your conscience no longer pricks you when you berate your children, stare at someone elses spouse, or still from your employer.  Sin grows. It doesn’t die unless you rip it out by the root and ripping it out by the root is work.

One of the famous dead guys I like to read goes by the name of John Owen once wrote, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” The point is that apart from some serious intervention and honest reflection before God that the small sins in your life today will be full blown nightmares tomorrow.

So how do you kill sin? The answer is you can’t do it on your own. You must seek the Lord. He’s the only one who can truly take care of your sin for you. The nation of Israel should have trusted God to take on the iron chariots in the valley and you also to need to trust God and take on the sin in your life.  It begins with confession. You agree with God that you have sin in your life that needs dealt with. It progresses toward genuine repentance. Real repentance is turning from your sin and to God. So if you have stolen, you give stuff back. If you are a liar, you start telling the truth. If you look at porn you get accountability, You haven’t repented until you have turned from sin to God.

Don’t get lost here. Don’t start down the path and stop. That’s like mowing the weeds. It will come back. You press into Jesus! You take every thought captive! You know the word of God so when a false guilt or shame arises you can say, “That’s not who I am anymore.”

The amazing thing is that he takes you as you are! He does all the real work! All you do is run to him and never look back. Are you there today? Are you ready to lay aside these things that have been holding you back and press into Jesus?

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[1] I think here it is important to note that we in America practice something similar. There are 1.5 million abortions performed each year. 1 in 6 women have had an abortion. To cause an abortion a provider may injects a baby with poison or  inserts a surgical instrument into the baby and tears it apart, or provides a poison for the mother to ingest which causes the baby to starve and suffocate to death.

[2] I think at this point it’s worth noting that the false gods/ idols that the people of the land of Canaan served required a lot of gross and immoral things at their hands including the burning children alive, child molestation, incest, sexual acts with animals, homosexuality, and necromancy  (see Leviticus 18:6-30, Deuteronomy 18:9-14). The Canaanites primarily worshiped Baal. Baal was a weather god. To a culture that depended on rain for crops, weather mattered. They believed that when Baal was aroused to make love with Ashtoreth (another Canaanite god) that it rained. To get Baal to do his thing, they would demonstrate perverse sexual acts in hopes that he would get the idea. The Canaanites believed the god’s must be manipulated into compliance. This type of worship of this false god destroyed lives.

[3] Actually I first explained that God is not visible to the human eye because he isn’t made of a material substance and thus not bound by the laws of physics, but the fact that physics exists is a sign of his existence. Then I went with the wind analogy.

[4] More than likely this is a slight exaggeration on his part.

The Power of Prayer

When we pray for others we don’t often know the outcome this side of Heaven. There were some women who prayed for me several years ago and I thought I should share the outcome of their prayer.

Around 15 years ago my mom went to a Christian camp in Montana. While she was there she came across a group of women who were serving at the camp. In the midst of conversation my mother mentioned that she had a son in Mobile, AL. She had always known that God had a call on his life and she had a burden to see him go to seminary. These women mentioned that their church had a seminary extension center. They then took the time for a special moment of prayer with my mother, asking God to birth a desire and work out a plan for me to go to seminary.

I was around 23 years old at the time and had absolutely no plans or ambition of going to seminary. At the age of 25 I was gloriously saved and had submitted myself to a group of men from my church for oversight and prayer. They came together after a year and confirmed my call to ministry but felt it essential for me go to seminary. Through these men, perhaps one in particular, God provided for the full cost of my first few years of seminary. (I could not have afforded it otherwise).

I attended seminary through the extension of the very same church that these women were from and eventually graduated in 2012!

Recently I was talking with my mother and she shared the incredible story I just outlined for you. She has always known God had a call on my life and she could often see my path clearer than I could at any given moment. She wisely takes everything to God in prayer and when her prayers are answered she quietly points back to God and in doing so she has proven to me over and over again that God hears our prayers.  I know this because for years my room was next to my parent’s room and I have silently witnessed her pray for many people and seen many things come to pass.

I know without a doubt that much of my life is a product of the faithfulness of a praying mom. When it came to praying for me to go to seminary, she enlisted the help of a few women from a particular church, that had a seminary extension. I ended up not only attending seminary, but attending through the extension center at the church these women attended. These women prayed a small prayer with my mom, but heaven was listening and they played a small but crucial role in seeing me go to seminary.

I am humbled and blessed that God would listen to the prayers of these women, that he would move on the hearts of a few men, that he would organize and orchestrate things so clearly that I could see His hand. In a very real sense my ministry is a fruit of their faithfulness. One of many I am sure.