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?

 

 

How To Make Good Friends: A True Friend Will Bring Out The Best In You

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:9 ESV)

There is something pleasant about what I like to call, “smell good.” There is cologne, perfume, and body spray all designed to get you smelling good. Then there are air fresheners, scentsy pots, candles, etc. all designed to get a room or a space to smell good. My favorite is coffee. I have an automatic coffee pot that goes off in the morning and part of waking up is noise of the grinder and the smell of Starbucks brewing in the kitchen. Those aromas are welcoming scents. You smile because the room is pleasant to be in, the person next to you smells like flowers or a forest, and you know you are about to get a cup of coffee.

A good friend is like that. You smile when you see them, because you know that you are about to get good advice from them. They know you. They know what your goals in life are. They know what you need. When you are confused and don’t know what to do… they remind you of who you are.  When you are scared because you don’t think you will do well or are good enough, they remind you about what you have already overcome.

advice on friendship

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17 ESV)

You probably don’t know much about ancient metallurgy so I’ll help you out here. You used to use something iron to sharpen iron. By scraping two swords together for example it made both sharper… it didn’t make them duller. That’s how a good friendship works. You bring out the best in each other. You share what you’ve read in your quiet time and it challenges the other one to get serious about their quiet time. They share about an encounter they had at school where they got to share the gospel and you start looking for ways to share at your school.

The coolest thing I ever got to see was there was a youth group who went to about 12 different schools who decided that their first group of friends was going to be each other. This was difficult since they didn’t see each other every day at school.  So one would have a birthday party and they would invite the whole youth group! It was hard to tell what was a birthday party and what was a youth group activity. This group challenged one another to read their bibles and study the word. They raked widow’s yards, they hung out at each other’s houses after church. They went to camp together and mission trips together and then they went their separate ways. Some went to college, some went to work, all but one not only go to church, but are leaders in their church in some way. One is a music minister, a couple are youth ministers, one is a Christian counselor, Several are teachers and coaches, some are on the mission field, some are nurses that do medical mission trips every year…

They’ve all moved on in their life and friendships have changed as is the course of things, but when they run into each other and when they do get together there is so much joy and laughter. There isn’t a bunch of regret.

Recently I ran across a guy I knew several years ago and he couldn’t look me in the eye. He had done something terrible in the past to hurt someone I love. He didn’t know if I knew or not (I knew). As soon as he saw me you could see the shame cover his face. He still lives with the regret today. I bet if he could take back that moment, he would. He made a very clear choice in the 6th grade about what type of friends he would have and as a result he ended up in something worse than a “kitten killing” type situation that really has caused a lot of damage in his own life and in the lives of others.

The question is, what will you do? What type of friends will you put on that first level?

 

Why Dealing with your Sin is more important than your Desperate Wishes (Mark 2:1-12)

Mark 2:1-12 ESV  And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.  (2)  And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.  (3)  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  (4)  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  (5)  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  (6)  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  (7)  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  (8)  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?  (9)  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?  (10)  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the paralytic–  (11)  “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  (12)  And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The Desperate Wish (1-4)

The first thing we notice in this story is that there is a man here with a desperate wish. He wants to be healed! It’s unspoken, but seemingly obvious. He is paralyzed. He can’t much move on his own…not in the same way that everyone around him can. He has to dependent on four of his friends to carry him to Jesus.

Just for a moment, I want you to visualize what it would be like to be paralyzed in Palestine during this time. There are no wheelchairs, no ramps, no building codes, no privacy stalls in the restroom. You can’t work. You either depend on the charity of your family or the generosity of strangers as you lay out by the street.

You don’t get to look people in the eye, that’s a luxury not afforded to those who can’t stand on their own. Everyone looks down on you whether they mean to or not. And you lay there on the dirty floor. You recognize people not by their faces but by their feet. All day long you see them. You see other people using their legs, their feet, their toes. You look at your own and wonder, why don’t they work? 

There is no doctor to tell you it’s an issue with your spine, your muscles or a birth defect… it is a mystery. There is no surgery or hope of a surgery that can give you back some of your mobility. There is no physical therapist who will painfully manipulate your legs and offer you a hope, painful hope, but hope that maybe you can walk again, or shuffle yourself from one bed to the next, or not have to depend one someone to take you to the restroom. No one in your life can offer you any real sense of hope that you will regain or obtain your mobility.

Then one day you hear the news. Jesus is in town. He has healed people. He cured leprosy (the cancer of the day). He had healed the blind. Maybe he can work on motionless limbs too? All of the sudden, there is hope. So you get a plan. You have to go see Jesus. You have four friends or cousins or friends of friends who also see the hope and they are willing to carry you to see this Jesus. This healer.

You try and hold your emotions in check. Something in you knows that this man can heal you, at the same time you don’t want to get your hopes up. Street magicians have come through town before. Charlatans, fakes, frauds who gather the ill around them, perform miracles and yet somehow the same numbers of people leave on their beds as were carried in. But this Jesus seems different.

You are discouraged when you get there. You see the crowd packed around the house. There is no way that you can even get in, but that doesn’t stop your friends. They run around back of the house where there is an external staircase and they carry you up. One of them listens intently to find out Jesus is in the house and then he starts to claw and pry at the dirt, sticks, and straw that makes up the roof. Then they begin to lower you… and for perhaps the first time ever you are looking down on people, not in a mean way, but for a moment you see them as they have seen you your whole life. You strain your eyeballs to see their expressions.

Then you see Him. You see Jesus. You don’t know what he looks like, but this must be him. He is sitting there in the teacher’s position. Your eyes meet. You don’t say a word, but look with earnest expectation. Finally as your body hits the dirt floor and you find yourself in front of a large crowd staring out at their feet again you wonder what it will be like when you are healed…will it be sudden or will it be slow. So you look up with longing and expectation. Now trapped on the floor, your friends who brought you here didn’t travel with you on this journey. They only came to the roof. You alone descended into now silent shadows of the house. You alone lay helpless before the crowd. You lay helpless before Jesus… Silent and expecting.

And you can see that he is moved by what you and your friends have done. He is smiling. He recognizes your faith in Him. You can see it in his eyes. And as he speaks the first word is so tender, He call’s you “son”. A tear is forming in the corner of your eye, partly out of expectation of what Jesus is about to do and partly because you are so vulnerable. Your weakness is on display for everyone. You can’t crawl away from this. Your deepest wish is either about to be granted or you are to be rejected.

Let’s pull out of the story for a moment because some of you have been here. You have been to this point with Jesus. You have a strong felt need or desire in your life. You are running on empty. You are longing for something to fill you. You know that if you just had that one thing you would be happy. Some days it’s just having a car that would run without breaking down. Some of you seek it in relationships. You bounce from one to another hoping to be filled. Some of you it’s landing the dream job, graduating school, it’s finding reconciliation with a loved one, it’s getting that house. You know that if you just had that one thing that life would be better. It has been the subject of your prayers for nights on end….

so because this man’s one thing is so obvious and you share a desire for God to grant you your One thing, that Jesus says next confuses you…

Jesus says to this man…, “Your sins are forgiven.”… Not “your body is healed” and it looks like Jesus missed the obvious

 

 

The Deeper Issue (5)

Jesus saw what this man didn’t see. He saw the deeper issue of sin. He could heal this man, but he would really just be empty again. It would be just a few short months and he would find something else in his life that would cause him to feel empty. The matter of needing to be healed was a surface issue. It was apparent to everyone that the man came there that day hoping to walk, skip, or at least limp out of there. But Jesus wasn’t as interested in the surface issue as he was the deeper issue.

You see God does have the power to grant all of those requests we see as pressing issues. God has the power to grant us our desperate wishes. But sometimes they would be no favor to us at all.  Jesus is looking at this man and saying I see the deeper issue here and I am going to reward your faith in me by going deeper than you thought I could go. I’m going to the very heart level and I’m going to forgive your sin. I’m going to get to the root of the issue here.

So Jesus doesn’t say, “Be Healed.” He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” And the crowd around him begins to react. There are two issues at stake here that we might miss if we are unaware of the historical context.

One: The people of that day commonly thought that sin and hardship went together. If your car just slung a piston rod, well it’s because you are sinful. If your child is born blind, well, it’s because you did something very bad. So when Jesus here addresses sin, they don’t necessarily see it as an unrelated issue in the minds of the people. And the truth be told, sometimes bad things do happen because of sin but alot of bad things happen because of other peoples sin or they just happen.

Sometimes bad things happen because of our sin and our deepest wish is to undo the hurt we have done to ourselves. Sometimes bad things happen because of other people’s sin, and our deepest wish is to remove the hurt from their actions in our life. And sometimes bad things just happen and our deepest desire is that we wouldn’t have to face this kind faultless adversity.

The second thing we don’t need to miss is that the people in Jesus’ day knew that only God could ultimately forgive sin. Up until this time Jesus was loved by most everyone. He’s a likable guy. People are coming out to see Him perform miracles. They want to be there when a blind guy gets healed. They want to tell everyone what they saw. They listen to his teaching and marvel because it’s unlike anything they have heard before.

But now he just forgave a man’s sin and that is something only God can do. The religious leaders on the edge of the crowd are processing what he just said. They are contemplating that perhaps Jesus just committed blaspheme.  They were mulling over the difference in claiming to be God and claiming to do what only God can do in their minds. They were ready to see the healing, but reluctant to accept that He could forgive sin.  

This leads Jesus to ask a Difficult Question…

 

The Difficult Question (6-12)

Which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven or to tell the man to walk? Think about that question for just a moment. What does this paralyzed man want to hear? What is the desire of his heart? What has he come all the way here carried by four friends, and lowered through a roof for? He has come for healing and so if Jesus just merely wants to please this man all he has to do is tell Him to get up and he’s got a fan.  I bet if Jesus went around answering your desperate wishes that you would be his fan too!

But Jesus isn’t looking for a fan, he is looking to bring real healing into this man’s life a healing that is deeper than this man even knows to look. He has come to heal the rift in his soul. He has come to forgive his sins and reconcile him to God!

Look again for a moment. What does it cost to heal this man? Seemingly it’s just a few words upon the divine lips and this man is restored to health? What does it take to forgive this man of his sin? The story of the gospel of Mark is not over. This pronouncement sets Jesus on a course for the cross. To forgive this man’s sin, he must be obedient where we weren’t. He will be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. No my friends. To purchase the forgiveness of sins was not an easy thing to do, but it was a necessary thing to reconcile us to God!

 But what is Jesus doing here by answering the crowd? They haven’t asked a question? They are just thinking in their hearts… you see. Jesus knows our hearts. He didn’t just come to grant our desperate wishes. While He has no problem healing broken bodies, it isn’t just the sick and the lame that need to come to Jesus. It’s everyone who has sinned against a holy and righteous God… and that is all of us! For this moment, Jesus looks over this broken man and in the silence is asking, why aren’t you coming too?

You will rip open roof’s and labor to carry your friend to the feet of Jesus in hopes that his desperate wish will be fulfilled, but will you do that for the sake of your own soul? Will you do that for the sake of your friends and neighbors or even for those on the other side of the world?

Think about your neighbors and coworkers for a moment. The people you see every day. Think of the folks who don’t know the Lord. They may be healthy. They probably smile and wave in the drive way. They probably seem like they have everything together. What if I were to place a picture of them up here and then were to place a picture of a poverty stricken  Hindu mother half a world away and say to you, “Which one has the greatest need?

You know the answer. They both need the forgiveness of their sins. The Hindu mother has physical need that you might be able to take care of, but both have a need to be forgiven and that only comes from Jesus.

 

 

Observations:

 

Some people seek Jesus for desperate wishes and end up receiving far more than they had ever imagined in a relationship with Him.

Some people are brought to Jesus because they can’t get there on their own.

The only real power to overcome sin in my life,is not found in what I can do, but in what Jesus Christ has already done for me.

#ChooseTheBetter

All of us are in the process of becoming someone. You are not who you used to be and you are not who you will be. Each day your choices help determine the kind of person you become. All of us are becoming. The question is: what are we becoming or rather “who” are we becoming? Are we becoming a mean old drunk, a loving mother, a passionate follower of Christ?

These small choices are the sum of our lives. But not all of our choices lead us to places that we want to be.  For years I consistently made the choice that high fat, high calorie foods were worth the risk/reward and that I didn’t really have time to exercise. The result was that I became large in an unhealthy way.  I intended to be healthy, but I never actually made the decisions that it takes to be healthy along the way.

The sad thing is that most of us we aren’t intentional about what we become. I didn’t intend to get fat. I fully intended to get into great shape, tone down my 6 pack abs and be able to rip the sleeves of my shirt by just flexing… but I didn’t, I didn’t become that guy because intention wasn’t enough.  Perry Noble says it this way in his book “Overwhelmed” that whatever gets your attention controls your direction.[i] For years high fat food had my attention and exercise didn’t and it took my body in an unhealthy direction. I’m a product of choice. Now I’m making some healthier ones. I’m hitting the gym on a regular basis (and I found out that the gym hits back the next day) and working things like fruit and fish into my diet while trying to curb my enthusiasm for things like Ice cream and quarter-pounders.

Today we are going to look at the choices that two sisters made. They both had an encounter with Jesus. Jesus came over to their house and they had a choice about how they would spend their time with Him. One sister was filled with anxiety and was troubled, the other peaceful and content. It’s revealed by Jesus that one had chosen better. My prayer and aim in bringing this message to you is that we will find out for ourselves what the better option was in this passage and we find the key to help us choose the better in our own lives. So that it would be said of us as well that we, “Chose the better.”

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)

So Jesus comes over to Martha’s house to hang out. Martha is freaking out and making sure everyone is comfortable. I can imagine that she’s a checklist kind of person and having Jesus might have just added about eighty million things to her checklist. So she’s going through them as fast as she can and she notices Mary sitting over there at the feet of Jesus… listening, hanging on every word and she gets upset about it and so she goes to Jesus.

But Jesus doesn’t validate Martha, instead he reminds her about what is essential. Serving is good, but there comes a time where sitting at the feet of Jesus is better. What is scary to me though is that our lives are full of choices between good and better things. The defining moments in who you become won’t always be choices between right and wrong they will be choices between what’s good and what’s best.

No one sets out for mediocre. No one sets out for tired and boring. No one sets out to ruin a marriage or lose contact with their kids. No one hopes to pile on enough debt to go bankrupt. No one hopes to have a panic attack. No one sets out to sink the ship. But somehow we get there. We get there through choices big and small.

It will be a choice about how you spend your Sundays. It will be the choices you make about how to spend your money. It will be the choices you make about how you spend your free time. It will be the choices you make between things that are not bad, but are actually good.

The two sisters here both make a choice about Jesus. One sister chooses to listen to Jesus, while the other sister chooses to serve Jesus. Neither choice is a bad choice. They both seem good. But we are told that once choice is better than the other or as some versions translate it, “Chosen the good portion.”

If you had to pick who was doing something wrong here you might pick Mary, especially if you looked through the eyes of Martha. Mary looks lazy while Martha is busy working. Who would condemn Martha for working hard and serving others?  She isn’t breaking a law. She’s not committing murder or adultery, she’s not neglecting her children, she is actually being very vigilant. She’s making sure that everything and everyone is taken care of. She is pouring herself out… She is serving.

Serving isn’t a dirty word. Jesus calls us to serve one another. Just before this account in Luke, we are told the story of the Good Samaritan. The whole point of the story was to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer… anyone you see in front of you who has a need that you can meet.  You certainly can’t meet needs without serving. Indeed, a few weeks ago we had some major flooding around town and several folks lost everything. Many of you showed up to move furniture, rip out carpet, provide meals and the dozens of other things that needed to be done for our friends and neighbors in need. You took days off work to help and to serve.

Jesus modeled servant leadership in John 13 when he washed the disciples feet. He said a servant isn’t greater than his master and just as he served them, so they should serve one another.   Serving is a great thing, so service isn’t the root problem in this passage. The root problem in this passage is that Martha was “distracted” with much serving.

You see a good thing “serving” became a bad thing “distracting” when it became the main thing. Her focus shifted from Jesus to the job. I think this passage is located after the story of the Good Samaritan to help us realize that while it is good to serve others, even our service must be done in such a way that it makes much of Jesus.

Distraction causes you to despise the things of ultimate value in your life.

It’s not like what Martha was doing was bad, she was just distracted. The funny thing about distractions though is that they cause you to look at the things of real value as distractions.

I have to confess I’m not great at this. I’m the guy who looks at his phone and his kids come up to show me something and I’m like… “that’s great but let me look at this” (holds up cell phone). And all the sudden my kids, who are not a distraction, become the distraction instead of the point.

Martha has done this with Jesus. She is so distracted with serving that she interrupts the Master. She interjects herself into the situation and says, “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” (Luke 10:40).  She sees Jesus as a distraction to Mary from what Mary should have been doing! She’s so distracted (and worried) by all her serving that she doesn’t realize that she just called Jesus a distraction!

What has happened to us when Jesus becomes a distraction? We are One of my long time mentors and friends Bro. Ed Lacy is just now getting into facebook. It’s really an interesting thing to witness because He is always so encouraging and Christ focused in person. He’s been posting some great stuff on facebook now as well. He wrote this the other night on facebook.

You will be fiercely opposed and continually hindered in the supreme priority of your personal prayer life, by the sworn enemy of your soul. He will bring many important things to your mind, that you are responsible to accomplish on this particular day. The deceiver will tempt you to do any other thing, instead of the “main thing” of a daily, priority and consistent time in the true intimacy of intercession. They may be good things; needful things; even christian things! The “father of lies” will attempt to entice you to do any other thing, but the preeminent priority of interceding about all other things. How should you respond to his wicked strategies? You should submit yourself to God; place your heart and mind under His absolute authority; and resist the temptations of the enemy to be negligent or to be detoured from this essential issue of prayer![ii]

 

Write this down. If you don’t get anything else from today’s message make sure you hear this. Put it on your bathroom mirror. If you drive, place it on the dash of your car somewhere. (Make sure it doesn’t cover the gas gauge or speedometer!) Put it on your x-box, your alarm clock, the fridge, your wallet, wherever you need this reminder. Are you ready for it? Ok here it is… Choose The Better

What that means is this. Every time you see that phrase in your handwriting, be reminded that Jesus said of Mary that she chose the better because she chose to be focused on HIM and ask yourself… Am I Choosing the better (JESUS) or am I choosing something that will ultimately lead me down a path that I don’t want to go down?

Look at Martha. She saw Jesus as a house guest and was trying to be a very good hostess, but this produced a lot of anxiety for her. She was running to and fro trying to get things done. Worry about stuff that she had no control over. The result was that she was filled with anxiety. I bet when Jesus first came into her house she wasn’t filled with anxiety. She was probably thrilled. But slowly her focus shifted from Jesus to all the stuff that needed to be done and in doing so she filled her heart with anxiety.  She wasn’t aiming for it… but she ended up there!

I remember I went to go pick up my mom form the New Orleans Airport one time in college. On the way back I missed the interstate interchange and ended up headed into North Mississippi. My intention was not to take the long way home. But my direction took us there.

So all this talk about the better and I guess we should probably define “Better” in this passage.  I think it’s obvious that Mary was at the feet of Jesus. But what does that mean? Mary set everything aside to hear what the Lord had to say, where as Martha laid aside what the Lord was saying to do something for Him.

I think Jesus Said it best this way:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

 

 

Some of us have gotten off the path. We’ve gotten focused on ourselves instead of Jesus. We’ve thought about pleasing others instead of him. We talk about family.

We’ve lost our first love. We need to repent and come back.

When we missed our turn it didn’t matter what we had intended to do. You might intend to fully explore the tenants of Christianity or you might intend to have a close relationship with God. You might intend to go on a mission trip one day. You might intend to share Christ with your neighbors… but intentions alone don’t get you there. You have to actually head in the right direction.

Jesus tells Martha that Mary was headed in the right direction and what she has done (sitting at the feet of Jesus) that will never be taken away from her. Mary’s memory and Martha’s memory of this same event will be different. Mary will remember when Jesus came over and what HE SAID AND DID, Martha will remember when Jesus came over and what SHE SAID AND DID. Mary will remember the peace of being at the Master’s feet. Martha will remember the anxiety of trying to get it all done.

 

I need tape #ChooseTheBetter on my phone so when my kids come up and ask me about something I won’t be that dad.

 

I need to put it on my TV. So when we’re watching something and it get’s close to bed time we still carve out enough time to read from the Jesus story book bible.

 

I need to put it right by the portion size on the icecream lable. I need to put it on my gym shoes and on my bible. I need it in a million small places every day to remind me that Jesus is Lord and that these small decisions matter and they determine the kind of person I am and the kind of person I am becoming.

 

Where do you need to #chooseTheBetter ?

[i] Perry Noble, Overwhelmed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2014), 5.

[ii] Ed Lacy, Facebook Status Update 10:10PM on May 5, 2014.

The Effectiveness of Preaching 

I used to look forward to hearing folks say, “good sermon” or “great job preaching” when I first started out. It helped me feel like I didn’t bomb and maybe somebody got some use out of how I delivered the passage. As I look back I realize I was a little too thirsty for affirmation or at least I was looking for it in the wrong place.

These days after I have shared a message I look to see how God might use the application of his word in someone’s life. I understand that might tell me it was a “good” message for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with real life application. They may have simply just enjoyed a joke or story.  In which case I’m glad I helped them laugh, but I’d rather help them live gospel centered lives. 

I find myself praying for people while I’m preaching to them. I know these people and some of their struggles. There are a few  who it doesn’t matter what I say, if I don’t say it in the style of sermon  (and it is just a style) to which they are accustomed, they won’t hear the passage. Their tradition has so elevated the platform of a particular sub-style of preaching that they have voided the Scripture of its power and so knowing this I call them out and say, “so maybe the Word just spoke to you today” hoping that the self-righteous heart might still hear from God, though they didn’t hear a “good” sermon in the style of their favorite pastor.

Then there are the folks who I know will shudder when I say “Holy Spirit” and talk about Him in personal terms. I know that their minds will explode with either amazement or anger when I tell them that the passage teaches that He isn’t far away and doesn’t need to be “fetched” when we need something. Rather, He is in the life of a believer and can be called on, or better depended on when it comes to living a God centered life. Indeed it’s at this point a new couple walks out. Either the sermon is too long for taste or I’ve just dropped a bomb and their reaction was anger rather than amazement. I didn’t seek to offend, but sometimes the Scriptures are not palatable to our preferences of preconceived notions. My personal preference would be for people to stay but I cannot apologize for the text and if I eclipse this truth for the sake of the audience then I have no business preaching.

So these days I don’t worry so much about hearing from folks on if it was a “good sermon.” I attempt to peer more into lives afterwards to see how God might have used the effective preaching of His Word to change lives. I look for comments on how the passage we have studied together has shifted attitudes and actions. I simply and quietly praise God when I hear that someone has repented of a particular sin and found Christ as sufficient in response to the preaching of His Word.