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.

Do You Belong Here? (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

Do You Belong Here? (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

I was out to eat a Cracker Barrel as a young teenager. I had to use the restroom and so I excused myself and went in what I thought was the “men’s room” it was on the left just like the “men’s room” at the Cracker Barrel back home. If I had looked around I would have found it odd that there were no urinals, but I had to go! After I finished business I was washing my hands and a woman came in the restroom. Feeling slightly embarrassed for her I said, “excuse me, I think you are in the wrong restroom.” She did a double take stepped back out, came back in and said, “No, You are in the wrong restroom!” Horrified I looked at the wall and where the urinals should have been, there was a mirror! I sheepishly tried to escape the bathroom without anyone noticing that I had gone in the wrong restroom but I couldn’t help but feel like everyone was staring at me. I had gone to the wrong restroom!

I don’t know if that has ever happened to you, but I can let you know that it’s a life scarring event that you will need to blog about or seek therapy for later. As bad as it was though, can you imagine what it would be like to be cheering on the rebuilding of a city only to find out that you don’t belong there? It comes time to fill the city of Jerusalem and only those who meet the qualifications can live there.

Cover

The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. (Nehemiah 7:4-6 ESV)

The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. (Nehemiah 7:61-64 ESV)

There was a shortage of people in Jerusalem. This was a problem because if the city came under attack it would need able bodied people to defend the city. Rather than putting out a call all over the land to allow anyone to live in the city. Nehemiah goes back to the records to determine who had the right to live there. It was important that those who lived in the city had a genealogical right to live there. If they allowed anyone in, they may as well have not built the wall because the enemy would be living inside with them. It was important to know who your ancestors were.

In the New Testament Jesus sets up a different standard for the Kingdom of God. He tells a man named Nicodemus that genealogical pedigree doesn’t matter as much as if he has ever been “born again.” Jesus issued a new standard: Not, who were your parents? But, who is your Savior? To be part of the kingdom of God, Nicodemus would have to recognize that his Jewishness wasn’t enough, that he had to come by faith in what Jesus could and would do for him on the cross.

Like Nicodemus we will be judged not on our birth, but on what we have done with Jesus. Like Nehemiah we will or won’t be allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven based up on our qualifications. Either we will try and enter on our own merit or we will plead that Jesus is all the merit we need.

Who or what are you depending on getting you to Heaven today?

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.

 

The First Thing You Should Ask When Approaching God

The first petition in the prayer is “Hallowed by your name.” This is not in the language of a statement, but a request. Everyone knows that we pass around petitions when we want folks to sign their name to something that we will be presented to a governing body. It can be a petition to remove the coke machine from the cafeteria lobby or it can be a petition for congress to address an issue. The idea is the same. It is a request. After the introduction the model prayer becomes a list of six petitions. These are the sorts of things that should be at the top of our prayer list. These are the sorts of things that we should ask from God.

The first thing Jesus lists has to do with the name of God. The word “hallowed” simply means holy, set apart, special, revered, honored. Perhaps the best synonym for this word is “glorified.” You could read this petition as, “May your name be glorified.” The implication of this are profound. The very first thing that we are to ask God for is more glory for his name!

I don’t think you can utter this with sincerity without first looking inward and asking, “do I glorify God?” Do my actions point to Him? Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has already told those in attendance:

Matthew 5:16 ESV In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

There is a contrast here between the deeds of a disciple and the deeds of a hypocrite. Hypocrites perform their works in the hopes that you will give THEM praise. Those who follow Jesus recognize that all Glory, all honor, belong to GOD ALONE!

We should honor God with all that we do in His name. There has been much done in his name that does not bring Glory and Honor to him. Folks have picketed funerals, held up signs that “God hates fags.” Armies have waged wars in the name of God. We should be careful what we say and do in the name of God. Just because we use his name, it doesn’t guarantee that God is with us. Many people who have done things in his name will find themselves kicked out of the kingdom because they never really knew the king (Matthew 7:21)

One of my favorite phrases is, “I don’t have the answers, but I know who does.” This simple response to a friend in crisis has a way of pointing them back to the truth. This was what Joseph said to Pharaoh when he had a dream that needed an interpretation. This is what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar when he had a vision that needed interpreted. Both men put the glory back on the father and said, “We are powerless, but we know the one who has the power.” This was a way of bringing both kings to glorify God.

By the way, there is something in our hearts that rebels against this notion. Apart from the wonderful work of Jesus in our lives we are very self-centered individuals. We want the glory. Often we make ourselves the center of prayer. The first petition out of our mouth is for something we want. It’s not even for something we need. We beg God for a raise, a promotion, peace to cover over the anxiety in our hearts, we come upset over how we’ve sinned against him again. We offer prayers to him like he is a genie and he has to grant us wishes. I think a large part of our population miss God because they have this preconceived notion that God is like a generous grandpa who is supposed to give us what we wish for without asking too many questions. And so those kind of prayers go unanswered they give up and assume God isn’t real because he didn’t clean up the mess they made. It’s not a prayer aimed at Heaven, it’s not a prayer centered on God’s glory rather it’s focused and motivated on an exchange. “I pray, you give.” It’s how a consumer mindset hijacks prayer. It’s also arrogant because we assume that this is how God operates. We don’t consult him. We don’t go to his book. We don’t seek him out. We simply make demands. We’re like children accusing our parents of unusual cruelty because we’ve been ordered to eat our green beans or even worse we’ve taken a gun and blown a hole in our leg and complain to the surgeon that it’s his fault that we are in so much pain.

Isaiah lived in a society that had experienced decent economic growth for its time. Then when the king died he saw a vision of God in the temple and all he could utter in his presence was:

Isaiah 6:5 ESV “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

The first thing he could utter from his mouth wasn’t, “Man this is awesome!” but a very real prophet of God all he could think was that his mouth had not done justice to the holiness, the glory, the worthiness of God. I wonder if we were to truly grasp the glory of God if we would not have the same utterance. It’s not like Isaiah cussed. He was a prophet and he had treated the name of God casually and when we saw a very real manifestation of the presence of God he couldn’t help but utter a curse on his own head.

Does it surprise you that God cares so much about his name? I mean you care about your name right? I’m fortunate to have one of those simple names that almost anyone can say, but I remember this one time when my wife and I had started dating we went to go see her grandmother. And for the life of me, she could not get my name right. She kept calling me “Jeremy.” At this point a little back story is helpful. Jeremy was the name of one of her’s Ex-boyfriends. Every time this sweet lady said Jeremy part of me was very offended. I had to take a moment to calculate whether or not she was doing it on purpose or if she was truly a forgetful woman. (Now that I know her, there is a very good chance that she did it on purpose).

If you and I can get that way over our name being misrepresented, pronounced wrong, or forgotten, how do you suppose God ought to be over his name that is to be the most highly respected name in the whole universe? Do you think he’s glorified when we let his name slide like a curse word? Is he honored when we use his name to mock others? Especially the name of Jesus when the bible says that at His name every knee will bow and that there is no salvation in any other name.

One of the joys of my job is that I get to coach students on how to impact their campus with the gospel. I’m at three or four schools each week. One week I was at one of our local schools and a student was in the club and he was saying things like, “Oh my G___” and using Jesus’ name as a cuss word. We quickly jumped into a conversation about what it means to “Not use the Lord’s name in vain.” Which is also one of the ten commandments. This particular day was a leadership meeting and we were meeting to establish which students would lead in prayer, and the other various aspects of the club. This student wanted to pray. And we quickly got caught up on the Model Prayer. I said, “Man you can pray, but only if you are repent of how you use have used God’s name. When Jesus teaches us to pray the very first thing we are supposed to ask God for is that his name would be glorified and I don’t see how you can do that while using his name as a cuss word.”

Philippians 3:1-3 (Devotional Thought)

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh- (Philippians 3:1-3 ESV)

Christians should be good, but being good isn’t what saves us. Jesus is the one who saves us. There are people who think that Christianity is all about seeing who can be the best at being good. They like rules and have made up extra rules along the way. They look at how well you can keep the rules and that determine how good of a Christian you are… Paul has a big problem with that, being a Christian isn’t about keeping rules as much as it is about loving Jesus.

You see the whole point of the gospel is that while you are unable to do anything to save yourself, Jesus willingly went to the cross as a substitute for you, died, and rose again from the dead. To be admitted into the kingdom of God by God’s grace you have to receive what Christ has done. You actively trust in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. There isn’t anything that you can point back to and say, “I’m saved because I DID THIS, I KEPT THIS RULE.” You can only look back and say, “I’m saved because JESUS died on the cross for my sin, and rose from the dead! I’m trusting HIM!”

Paul writes to remind the church at Philippi that their joy comes from the Lord. We may get a certain sense of joy from knowing that Jesus changes us. After all you can’t follow Jesus and be the same. But the focus, the joy, comes from a real relationship with Jesus, not in being good at being good.

Think of it this way. I love my wife and so I do certain things that I know she likes. I buy her flowers and small gifts from time to time. I wash dishes so she doesn’t have too. I pick her movie to watch instead of the one I want to see, etc. But what if I became obsessed with how good I was at becoming a good husband? so much so that I stopped actually loving my wife! What if I cared more about doing dishes than actually loving my wife! Something would be wrong. I would have replaced a relationship with my own set of rules.

That’s like what people were doing in Paul’s day. They were going around following the Apostle Paul where ever he went and right after he left they would swoop in and tell the new church he had started that God was all about rules, not a relationship. They insisted that for people to truly follow God that they had to follow their own prescribed set of rules. The problem was that all their talk about rules actually lead people away from JESUS and into trying to live a moral life without Jesus at the center.

Paul reminds the Philippians, “Rejoice in Jesus” (“the Lord” is another way of referring to Jesus). Don’t take your eyes off Jesus. He is where true Joy is found. Don’t be distracted by people who talk about how good they are and how good you can be. Sure when following Jesus you can’t help but become a better person, but its because of the work of God in your life… not because of all the stuff you do.

So here is the deal. You may wrestle with a habitual sin. You think. If I can just quit ____ I’ll be ok. And maybe you do need to quit whatever you struggle with, but don’t let the struggle become your focus and steal your joy. Paul says it’s no trouble for him to remind folks where the real joy is… Jesus.

Philippians 2:25-30 (Devotional Thought)

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (Philippians 2:25-30 ESV)

Who are your heroes? What did they do to become your hero?

We look to all different kinds of people as heroes. We honor men and women for all kinds of different achievements. We give athletes awards like “most valuable player” and “rookie of the year” we give singers music awards, we give awards to actors and actresses, and we bury men and women who have served faithfully in our military with military honors.

While these awards and recognition are nice, Paul lifts us a different sort of hero to us. To the church at Philippi he held recommended a guy by the name of Epaphroditus. This guy traveled to Paul on behalf of the church at Philippi and he almost died. He got sick, but even when he was really sick, even to the point of death, he was concerned about everyone else. He was still thinking of Paul’s needs and church at Philippi. I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, I’m not on my A game. I’m usually cranky or sleepy. My fuse can be shorter than normal… but Ephaphroditus was actually concerned that people back home will be worried about him.

So now that Epaphroditus is better, Paul is sending him back home and he reminds the church to honor this guy. We don’t really give out awards in Christian circles. As far as I know there aren’t any missionary honors at missionary funerals, your pastor isn’t secretly hoping for the “pastor of the year” award, and that dear sweet lady at church that is faithful to give above her tithe to missions each month isn’t doing it so she can get a “Widow’s Mite” award… but when we know of people in our midst who put the needs of others above their own, we should be thankful for their example, and we need to honor them.

How do you honor someone who puts the need of others above their own? I think it begins with joy in their presence. You rejoice to be with them. Count it a blessing when you come across someone who is proficient at true humility, you will learn a lot from them. I think you also thank them, especially if they have imparted some gift or words of wisdom along the way. Epaphroditus carried a gift from this church to the Apostle Paul. Obviously he was serving God, but at the same time he was serving those who had partnered together in the gospel at Philippi.

Who do you need to honor today?

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Philippians 1:27-30 (Devotional Thought)

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:27-30 ESV)

“Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel,” have you ever thought through this statement? Have you ever pondered what it means to live worthy? It’s not like we could pay Jesus for what he has done for us. We could never make up for our sin! This verse isn’t asking us to do that, but Paul is commanding us to move forward in the power of the gospel!

I once heard a story about identical twin brothers. As they grew into adulthood they took two very different paths. One was a very moral, upstanding man the other became a drunk, was caught up in illegal gambling, and would often get in fights. One night the less moral brother got into a fight over a gambling debt and killed a man. He didn’t know what to do so he ran to his brothers house in the middle of the night.

“Brother, Brother, what do I do? I killed a man!” By now they could hear the police sirens in the distance and knew that they must be coming for the murderer. The good brother quickly insisted that they change clothes. “Here put on my clothes and I’ll wear your blood stained garments.” The murder sobbed and said, “No, their must be some other way!”

The good brother insisted that they change and soon the good brother was wearing the murders clothing complete with blood stains and the murderer found himself in a nice white shirt and slacks. Just before the police entered the house and began to take away the good brother and the murderer spoke up, “What do I do now?”

“Live like the man whose clothes you wear.” And from that day on he became someone different. He was often tempted to settle into old habits and go back to a lifestyle that he was familiar with, but he reached down and would feel the buttons on his shirt and remember, “I am someone different now.”

We were once guilty of great sin before a holy and righteous God. Jesus paid for our sin by his death on the cross and credited us with his righteousness so that not only are our sins not counted against us, but his goodness is counted for us. Sometimes when we are tempted to sin, we need to remind ourselves that we are different than we once were. The gospel gives us power to live every day different than we were before Christ. The gospel gives us boldness. We used to care what people think but now we care more about what God thinks. It doesn’t mean that at times we won’t be tempted, but the ability to resist the temptation comes from trusting that Jesus is enough. We need to be reminded of the gospel everyday because the gospel is important everyday.

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