Bringing Down the House (Judges 16)

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In today’s chapter, we see Samson’s weakness for Philistine women show up for the final time. The first one was labeled as a prostitute. The Philistine men learned that Samson was with her and decided when he came out, they would ambush and kill him. However, Samson outsmarted them all and snuck out in the middle of the night. The second woman is far more well-known, Delilah. She was the woman Samson fell in love with. She asked him three separate times what made him strong, and on each one of those occasions she sold him out to the Philistine leaders. The fourth and final time, he actually told her what made him so strong. She again sold him out, but this time the Philistines overpowered him and gouged out his eyes.  During a time of feast, the Philistine leaders brought Samson out to “entertain” them. Then Samson, realizing who he was in front of prayed, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.” (16:28, NLT).

I think that there are a couple powerful messages in this text. The first is that God can use a man, so covered in sin, to do great things. Of all the things that Samson was good at, he was really good at committing adultery. We all have a sin that we must fight all the time, and Samson’s was obviously lust and the lure to adultery. But God saw him, and used him to bring Israel out from the oppression of the Philistines. We know that we are all right there with Samson, just as guilty. Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, NASB). Since “all have sinned”, that puts us right in there, just as guilty, just as sinful. But God has another promise for us, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NLT). This says to me that, no matter our sinfulness, no matter how bad we’ve been, when we trust in the Lord, He will come to us and help us. “Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV).

The second point I wanted to make comes from a psalm for today. “Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? You are the God who work wonder; You have made known Your strength among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:13-14, NASB). Our God is mightier than anything else. He is even more powerful than all the gods of this world. In our story of Samson, he was brought into a place where the Philistines were worshiping their god, Dagon. But what happen when Samson prays in v. 28? God brings the entire temple down upon them. I’m reminded of a message I heard about how great God is. The speaker was using the majesty of outer space to convey his point. He also used this passage from David that conveys the absolute wonder anyone has when they look at the night sky, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day the pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2, NIV). There is no way that a deity, that created all of that, could be overcome by our own imaginings of what a god is. Our God is powerful, and He will bring down our temples to false gods.

This chapter really urges me to realize that, despite me sin and guiltiness, God still wants me. He will even still use me to accomplish His goals! The other thing is to take a moment to sit back and marvel at the glory of God. He truly is glorious, and all our praise should go to Him. I’m going to put a song up here. Take a moment to listen and think about the Creation that God has made. Both around us, and including us. And if you have time, take a listen at night and look at the stars (hopefully its a clear night). Even include reading Psalm 19 if you’d like.

Also in this series

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 74-77

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Need Some Help (Judges 12)

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After Jephthah received victory over the Ammonites, he was approached by the people of Ephraim (one of the twelve tribes of Israel). The asked him why they did not call upon them to help with their enemy. Jephthah responded, “I summoned you at the beginning of the dispute, but you refused to come! You failed to help us in out struggle against Ammon. So when I realized you weren’t coming, I risked my life and went to battle without you, and the Lord gave me victory over the Ammonites. So why have you now come to fight me?” (12:2-3, NLT). This encounter turned into a war among the two groups of Israelites. Jephthah once again became victorious, but at the cost of 42,000 Ephraimite lives. After Jephthah’s death, Ibzan became Judge. Afterwards Elon became Judge. Than after his death, Abdon became Judge.

Have you ever had people question your motives, or why you did something? Even to the point where you begin to doubt yourself? Well I certainly have. It’s not a great feeling. This is what the Ephraimites were doing to Zephthah. But we can take a lesson on how Zephthah handled the situation. I’m not saying we should go to war with people over this, but he gave us a good example to live by.

Sometimes we simply need help. So what do you do when you need help? You ask. This gives people the opportunity to either be apart of what you are doing or not. The problem always comes with success though. When things start going well, or we are recognized for our achievements, we never run out of people offering to help. People always want to help when they can receive some positive views on their reputation, but don’t want to take risks when the future seems uncertain or unfavorable.

The last place is where God likes to put us. He loves to ask us to do things where we can’t see the outcome. I think that this places us in a place of dread or fear. Things will be risky and they may seem unfavorable. I think of the Apostles in the book of Acts. Jesus told them to go and make disciples, and off they went. But I’m sure each one of them had a certain fear for their lives. Especially Paul. He knew first hand exactly how far the Jews were willing to go to put a stop to the followers of Christ.

But how do we deal with these “glory seekers”? If we follow Zephthah’s example, the answer is quite simple. Our task/goal has not changed from the beginning, so why do they want to help now? They want to look good. We have to call each other out when we are not seeking to glorify God. If that is the true reason for the new offer of help, you will know.

Is God asking you to help someone today? Or maybe he’s asking you to take on a whole new venture, and wants you to seek help. So let’s spend some time in prayer today, to discern God’s direction for our lives; how we can help glorify Him, or new ways we can bring Him glory.

Also in this series

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 66-67

UPDATE I forgot to mention this when I originally made this post. Since today is Shine a Light on Slavery Day I suggest going to this site and seeing if you can get involve to help stop slavery in the world! http://www.enditmovement.com/

Are You Ambitious? (Judges 9)

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In today’s chapter we see some what happened after Gideon’s death. Abimelech went to his relatives on his mother’s side and asked them a simple question,  “[Do you] want to be ruled by all seventy of Gideon’s sons or by one man?” (9:2, NLT). His intention was for them to give him their support, so he could overcome all of his half-brothers. After they said they wanted Abimelech to be their ruler, he hired a band of “reckless trouble-makers” (9:4, NLT) and killed all but one of Gideon’s other sons. Jotham, the one who survived, made this proclamation to the people of Shechem, “If you have acted honorably and in good faith toward Gideon and his descendants today, then may you find joy in Abimelech, and may he find joy in you. But if you have not acted in good faith, then may fire come out from Abimelech and devour the leading citizens of Shechem and Beth-millo; and may fire come out from the citizens of Shechem and Beth-millo and devour Abimelech.” (9:19-20, NLT). After three years of ruling, Gaal came up against Abimelech. Two battles are recorded, with the last one taking Abimelech’s life.

Abimelech was acting in his own interests. He had no concern for other people, he simply wanted power. He clearly did not learn from his father. We saw in the last chapter that the people asked Gideon to become their king. He refused and requested that they put their faith in God to rule over them. Abimelech acted completely differently. He sought power, and was willing to do anything to take it. He even went to the extreme of killing all of his brothers!

There are many examples in the Bible that warn against this kind of ambition. I believe that ambition can be good, if used for the glory of God. But Abimelech only acted for himself. Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3, NASB). When we think of only ourselves, we hurt others. This is the opposite of what it means to be a follower of Christ. To follow Christ means that we should first be seeking God’s interests, which most often means to put others before ourselves. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled’ and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” and “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 23:12, 6:33, NASB). This says to be that God wants us to care for others above ourselves. It also shows me the importance of being ambitious, so long as it is ambitiousness for God.

Ambition can be a great tool, it’s only when it is used for personal gain that it is bad. If we constantly focus our lives on God, our ambition will follow after Him as well.

 

Also in this series

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 57-58

For Whose Glory Are We? (1 Thessalonians 2)

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In today’s reading, Paul is speaking about the work that he, Timothy, and Silas had done in Thessalonica when they were there. But there were a couple verses that grabbed me to bring to focus today. “Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.” (2:5-6, NLT).

These verses speak a simple enough message for us to just read and understand. But it goes a bit deeper than that. Paul is saying that at no point in their ministry in Thessalonica, did he tell the people what they wanted to hear. He didn’t try to gloss over the ugly parts and highlight the nice bits. They didn’t just come to them and ask for money. Pretend to be their friends as long as they listened to they listened to Paul’s teachings.

This sounds a lot like the human condition to me. I am of the mind that a consequence of our sinful nature is that we want people to like us, and we will only like others so long as there is something to be gained from that relationship. This is not a godly way to be. He calls us for more than that. Paul says “Never once did we try to win you with flattery”. As Christians, it is hard for us to understand this message. We know that our call to follow Christ means that we must love others, but what does it mean to show that love. The world tells us that if we love someone, we can never be against them or disagree with what they believe. A great quote from Rick Warren that speaks on this issue is this: “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” Paul is writing in this verse that he did not care what the people thought about his message, so long as he was giving the Word of God.

I feel that these issues cause leadership of the church problems. I know I have said myself, “But what if we lose people?” But I’ve realized where this question comes from. It is founded when we view the church as an organization, not the bride of Jesus! Who cares if we lose people? Yes, the money is necessary to keep our buildings running, staff salaries, ministries funded, and anything else that your church needs it for. But the Church is not an organization. It is people spreading the love of and teaching about Christ. Just as Paul came to Thessalonica not worried about money, I think we, as Christians, need to not worry about what we can get out of relationships. Instead, let’s worry about what we put into them. Trust me, no matter the relationship, there is someone wanting to “get something out of it”. But what are you contributing? Are you giving your all to help the Gospel, or are you just interested in your own salvation?

The last verse I feel is the real meat of this section, “As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.” I think of some famous worship leaders and pastors that get some great praise from their fellow humans (myself included), but do you know what they have in common? They aren’t doing for themselves. They are out there doing their ministry in order to further the name of Jesus! They didn’t set out saying, “I want the world to know my name”. Rather it was, “I want the world to know Your name.” If we want further proof that this is the way it is supposed to be, just look at the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19, NASB). It’s not baptizing them in the name of whomever brought them to Christ, it is in His name. All of this, everything we do, has nothing to do with us once we surrender our lives to God. We are meaningless. I am reminded of a book I read a few months ago that’s title sounds confusing, but means exactly what I am getting at here: I Am Not But I Know I AM. The pastor is telling us that if God is I AM, then we must be I am not. It’s about God, not me. We are here to further His Kingdom, not our own.

Please reread 1 Thessalonians 2 with me today. Let Paul’s words sink in and show us that it is not about giving people a message they will like, or us trying to get something from them. Instead it is about glorifying God’s name above all other names! We aren’t here for man’s glory, we are here for His!

Open the Eyes of My Heart

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There’s a song that has been around for awhile that it’s become a standard for all worship teams, Open the Eyes of My Heart by Paul Baloche. It’s a great request for God to open us up so that we can learn about Him. It expresses our basic need to see and know God in all His glory. God created us to not only care for His Creation, but to also be in communion with Him. We yearn to see God and know Him. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “I pray that they eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” (Ephesians 1:18, NASB).

Use this song as a prayer today, that we may come closer to God and learn more about Him.

 

The Letter to Philadelphia

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The second to last letter written in John’s Revelation was for the Church at Philadelphia (not the one in Pennsylvania). This church is the first church that Jesus didn’t have an issue with. He congratulates them on remaining faithful and encourages them to press on. But what can we learn from this letter? The previous ones were easy, since Jesus had a lesson and warning to give them. But this church gets its statement right at the beginning of the letter. “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close.” (Revelation 3:8a, NLT).

Christ opens doors for us. He offers us opportunities to further the gospel along. This could as simple as us talking to a friend, or could be a dramatic as becoming a celebrity. The focal point is that we use these opportunities for Christ. But the part that I love, that I believe truly makes the point is “no one can close”. This says to me that if Christ wants you to do something for him, not only will he give you the opportunity, no one will be able to stop you. The enemy will try to stop you, and believe me he will, but Jesus tells us “I will make [Satan and his followers] come and bow down at your feet” (Revelation 3:9, NASB). This shows that we will overcome against them as well. Jesus says that no one will stop us, so continue on in his power.

Has Jesus given you an opportunity to shine the light on him? Are you doing it? The Church at Philadelphia was taking the light shown on them for their good deeds, and reflecting it towards Jesus. We should follow this example, because when Christ has a will, there is no other way. So follow him, and let everyone know that  it is all for His glory (Colossians 3:4). Take no credit for yourself, because we are only able to accomplish what we do by the power of Christ working through us (Colossians 3:17).

Glorify Him! (Romans 11)

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There is a simple thought that is woven throughout Paul’s letter to the Romans. That idea is that no amount of works is going to save you, only faith in God can do that. This remains true even in this chapter.

Paul seems to recall Jesus’ teaching about being the vine (John 15:1-7). “But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree — some of the people of Israel — have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in.” (11:17 NLT). Paul goes on to remind the people that they are only allowed in because people had left. These people that had left, were the Jews that did not accept Jesus for who he was. Paul states “Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News” (11:28 NLT), but goes on to say that God still loves them, despite what they’ve done.

I love the way Paul ends this chapter, “For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.” (11:36 NLT). This is where the works come in. There is nothing that we can give to God, that He doesn’t already have. No amount of sacrifices, or bargains, or deals are to God’s advantage. He owns the whole of Creation and everything in it. The car you drive, the house you live in, and all the money in your bank account are on loan from the Almighty God.  So our call is to use these things for His glory, not ours.

When I joined my church I pledged to faithfully participate in its ministries by my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. I know that this is a pledge to a church, but honestly isn’t this what we pledge to God when we become His? I don’t know about you, but all I do is pray, be present, offer my gifts, serve, and bear witness. I don’t have time for anything else, do you know why? Because all we do is to be done to the glory of God. If God cannot be glorified, than there is probably something we shouldn’t be doing.

So there it is my friends. Let’s give God all the glory today. He woke us up, He’s the reason we’re here, He’s given us all we have, so why would we glorify anything else? We should be glorifying God at all times, if for no other reason than the face He saved you and me. We were dead, our sin made us that way. But God came to earth, and He gave us new life through His death. Now because of God I live! So all glory to Him, Amen!

Previous Chapters

For God or For Man

A servant's towel and bowl
A servant’s towel and bowl

Who do we serve? Seems like a simple question. God is the right answer, but do we really do that sometimes? There are times we come across where we really have to check our motives. As a worship leader, it is really easy to lose sight of God, and just become a celebrity. In today’s culture, it’s very easy. We have worship leaders out there, like Chris Tomlin and the group Hillsong, that have a celebrity status. There is a pull to become more famous, more popular, and more influential.

In his letter to the Galatians Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (1:10 NASB). This serves as a reminder that, quite often, what pleases God and what pleases man is different. So our focus and heart must be to seek what the Lord is calling for us to do.

This goes beyond the temptation for worship leaders. It extends to everyone. Paul also writes “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NASB). With these two verses in mind, going to work, caring for our children, eating at a restaurant, or running a few miles changes the way we should be viewing life. It is easy for us to say “it is my life” but really it is His life. He gave it to us as a gift. So just like the sweater your grandmother gave you that you don’t like that you wear around her because it makes her happy, we must live our lives for God!

I know its tough. The last few days have been pretty rough for me because I have not kept this focus. Instead I was being me-centered, when really I should be God-centered. Living a life for Him is the highest form of worship, because it shows our thankfulness that we are able to be alive. This is why I love the phrase “Worship isn’t what you do on Sunday mornings, worship is a lifestyle!” So as a Heart Man, that is to be our focus for the day; how is it that we can worship Him in everything we do? When we do this, that is when our lives become God-centered, and we are able to live out our purpose for life! It isn’t about what other people think anymore, it’s all about how He feels and what He wants from us.

So I ask again, who do we serve?