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Hot Dog Faith: Jephthah

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
The Truth Network Radio
June 14, 2015 6:00 am

Hot Dog Faith: Jephthah

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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Well, for all of you Type A members of the Summit Church who have been obsessing about what happened to our series on the Book of Judges. Are we ever going to come back to that?

You don't ever have to worry about stuff like that. I am extremely Type A about things like that and I have to finish them. They say that Mozart was a perfectionist and he had to have things finished and his dad, who was evidently something of a prankster, would, after Mozart, his son, had gone to bed, would go up and he would go on the family piano and he would play one of Mozart's pieces. And he would get right to the end and then just not play the last resolution to the last chord and then he would just stop.

Because he knew that Mozart, his son, would have to get up, come down the stairs, play the resolution of the chord, and then go back before he could go to sleep. So I feel a little bit like that when it comes to sermon series. So we return to the Book of Judges. If you have your Bible, I want to welcome you to all of our campuses. We are in Judges Chapter 10 this weekend. Take out your Bible and then find Judges Chapter 10.

If you have a notebook, something to take notes with, that would certainly be helpful for you to have out now. I can't prove this, but I am pretty sure that if you take a lot of sermon notes, you get in the fast pass line for all the cool rides at heaven. Again, I can't prove that. I think it is somewhere in Deuteronomy, which is where pastors quote from when they make stuff up. But anyway, a lot of the stories in the Book of Judges people know. Stories like Samson or Gideon and maybe even the story of Deborah. Almost nobody knows the story of Jephthah in Judges chapters 10 and 11 because it is terrible.

I mean terrible. It is going to leave you feeling deeply unsettled, downright disturbed. Sometimes at night my wife and I are putting our kids to bed and I will start in on some story. Sometimes a Bible story, sometimes a story from my life. I will look over at my wife and she'll be shaking her head like this is not appropriate for kids at this age because we have a different filter for that kind of stuff.

Well, let's just suffice it to say that this story would not make for a great bedtime story for your 7-year-old. But first, before we get into it, I want to talk with you about hot dogs. Americans can eat them some hot dogs, can they not? On the 4th of July alone, Americans consume 150 million hot dogs.

They say that if you line them up end to end, they would stretch from where I am standing to Sydney, Australia. Frankly, we love them. Thank you for that, for those of you that got that. If you have ever looked on the package where it tells you the contents of a hot dog, however, the first component that you will notice that goes into a hot dog is mechanically separated chicken or turkey, which the USDA defines as a, and I quote, a paste or batter-like poultry product manufactured by forcing turkey bones with attached edible tissue through a sieve under high pressure, a process called advanced meat recovery. Mmm, advanced meat recovery, doesn't that make your mouth water?

Other ingredients include corn syrup, beef, salt, sodium phosphate, sodium therobate, sodium nitrate, and what makes it so tasty, maltodextrin. Now, I just know that makes you hungry and ready to get out of church and go eat something. I actually like hot dogs.

The coaches at Iron Tribe Fitness have tried to get me to stop eating them, but I tell them the only reason I work out is so that I can eat stuff like that without guilt, so layoff. But the point is, a hot dog is not pure meat, and there are some who would say that eating that kind of stuff is not good for you, and by some, I mean the medical community. Many Americans, I share that because many Americans build their faith like a cheap hot dog. They take a little bit of something from this and a little bit of something from that, and they mix it with a little bit of something else, and the result is a concoction that you could hardly call Christian.

It's more than simply bad for you. It is spiritually toxic, and that is what you're going to see with Jephthah today. He's got a little bit of the meat of Christian faith that has been separated from true Christianity through advanced faith recovery system or whatever, mixed with a whole lot of the sodium nitrate and the maltodextrin of his culture. Keep that in mind as we get into Judges chapter 10. We'll begin in verse 6. The people of Israel, again, did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they served the Baals and the Ashtoreth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, and the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. They forsook the Lord, and they did not serve him, if you were counting, by the way. That's seven different kinds of gods that they served. Seven in Hebrew is, of course, the number of completion, which is a way of saying they had completely abandoned God. There's symbolism in the seven there. Verse 7, so the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year.

Now, here we see a familiar pattern. The Israelites serve false gods, and they end up in slavery. We've seen that all through the book of Judges, but now the author inserts a little twist. The Israelites begin crying out for deliverance to the very gods that have enslaved them. The Ammonites are the ones who enslaved them, and the gods of the Ammonites are the very ones they cry out to for deliverance.

Here is what is being taught, and it's very important. It's not just that idolatry leads you to enslavement. It's that your enslavement usually leads you to more and more idolatry. You see, when sin enslaves you, you usually will end up looking for deliverance to the very things that put you in slavery in the first place, and you think, if I just try harder with these same gods, then they will deliver me.

Now, let me stop for a minute here because some of you think, well, what's that got to do with me? I don't have any idols in my house. I don't bow down to any statues, and I'm not anybody's slave.

That's the question, and it brings up a really important point, one that is absolutely foundational if you're going to understand what the Bible teaches about sin, and that is that an idol in the Bible is not just a statue to which you bow down. An idol is anything that you look to in your life for power or joy or significance apart from God. For example, some people think, if I have success, then I'll have power and security and safety and joy.

If I have some academic recognition or if there's some talent that I have or some gift, maybe it's my personal beauty or the beauty of my spouse or maybe it's that I'm athletically fit or whatever. These things will guarantee for me power and joy and significance in the future. Now, those things are all fine in and of themselves, of course, but when you look to them instead of God for power and joy and significance, they will always enslave you. What do I mean by enslave you? Well, you start to feel like you could never be happy until you have that thing, and so you'll do anything to get it, and that's kind of the definition of slavery, is that when it speaks, you obey. I've got to do that, what it says, because I've got to have it.

When you do get that thing, you never feel like you have enough of it or you're always worried about losing it, so you begin to make really destructive choices to hang onto it or to get more of it. You feel like I have to be beautiful if I'm going to have power and joy and significance, so I will, for example, starve my body even though it's bad for it so I can be a certain size because I couldn't be worth anything if I don't weigh that, or I'll hate myself when I'm not at that weight, or you say I need more money so I will work until I destroy my family, or I will cheat. People, by the way, who cheat in business are not usually inherently dishonest people.

They're just people who want something so bad that they're willing to compromise their integrity to get it. James, who is not a Christian, he's a postmodern philosopher, said that success is the primary god of the Western world. He said, and I'll use his words, I'll be careful how I use them, he said success is a B-I-T-C-H goddess. He said because no matter what you give to her, she always demands more. He said for me, on the altar of success, I first gave my family. Then the goddess said I need more, and so I gave them my integrity, and then the goddess said more.

He said then I finally gave my health and my life, and the goddess never quit demanding more. Have you ever stopped to consider the right error of judges as implying to you that maybe the idol itself is wrong? Maybe you've chosen the wrong thing in which to find power and joy and significance.

Maybe the reason that you're unhappy in love is not because you haven't found Mr. Right, it's because ultimate happiness was not found in him anyway. Jeremiah 2.13 probably gives you the clearest description of sin anywhere in the Bible. Jeremiah 2.13, a verse I think you ought to have memorized.

My people have committed two evils. The first evil, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and they have hewed out evil number two, cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water at all. In those days, water was a precious commodity, and the best thing to do was to find a natural underground spring. That's living water, constantly flowing, constantly fresh. He says that was me, that was God, that was my love.

I was the one who gave you power and joy and significance and security and safety. But you forsook me, and then because that left you parched, you started to dig out cistern. Now, a cistern was what you would dig in the desert to collect rainwater, and then the problem is it would leak through the ground, it would become muddy, it was terrible.

It was not nearly what you would compare to a natural underground spring. And he's like, so the evil number one was you forsook me, and then that left your soul parched, and you just dug cistern after cistern after cistern after cistern to try to get enough water to satisfy your soul. It's the wrong well. You think I got to dig, dig, dig deeper, deeper, deeper, deeper. There's got to be some kind of satisfying water in here somewhere. And God says it's the wrong well.

I created those things in me. I'm the one who gives you power and joy and significance, not those hued out cisterns that can hold no water. Verse 10, the people of Israel cried out to the Lord then, saying, We have sinned against you because we have forsaken our God and have served the false gods. The Lord said to the people of Israel, You have forsaken me and served other gods. Therefore, I will save you no more. Why don't you go cry out to the gods whom you've chosen? Let them save you in your time of distress. For the first time in the book of Judges, God says no.

Why? Well, see, it's one thing for the wayward prodigal to come home in true repentance. God will always receive someone like that. But imagine a wife who has been unfaithful again and again and again and again, and she is caught in the midst of her adultery, and so she pleads with her husband for security and provision just until she finds somebody else to take her on.

That's a totally different scenario. These people, God sees their heart. They don't want God for God. They're just in pain.

And they want somebody, anybody, to make it stop. There's no change of heart toward God. This is God I'm going to use you to get out of trouble. There's a difference, you see, in using God and worshiping God. This is very, very important for many of you.

Listen. It is possible for you to come back to God in an idolatrous way that he will not receive. I see it all the time, to be quite honest with you. You see a man whose marriage begins to fall apart, and he panics, so he runs into church, and he begins to make promises to God. God, just give me my family back. Or maybe he's out of a job, and so he comes in, and God, I'll do this, I'll do whatever. And the repentance looks so sincere, but it's not, because the moment that the immediate danger is gone, and he gets his family back, or he gets his job back, he goes back to the independent way that he was living to begin with.

You see, you've got to evaluate, and this is a huge, huge question. Are you using God, or are you worshiping God for God? Because God can tell. Whether you come to God in pain is not really the issue.

You'll go to anybody you think can get you out of pain. The question is, will you follow him the same when the immediate danger has passed? Are you using God, or are you worshiping God? Verse 15, the people of Israel said to the Lord then, we have sinned, so do to us whatever seems good to you, only please deliver us this day. So they put away the foreign gods from among them, and they serve the Lord.

Well, believe it or not, they get it. Do you see how different what they said in verse 15 is from what they said in verse 10? In verse 10, they said, we want peace from you. Verse 15 said, we want peace with you, even if it continues to mean trouble for us here. Do whatever you're going to do.

You see, that's a huge difference. We would rather not have trouble, they say, of course, but having you, having peace with you, that's the essential part. You see, that's true repentance. I don't care if life gets easy or life gets hard.

I just want you. There are some people who talk as if when you come to Christ, he just makes everything in your life easy. You hear them give testimonies, and I think they don't mean harm, but when I came to Jesus, my marriage just turned awesome, and my kids started to show up at my bedside quoting scripture, and my boss gave me a raise, and we discovered oil under my house, and it was just awesome. Listen, that is not always, in fact, it's not usually the way that it works.

A friend of mine calls it a train wreck conversion. God lets most people have a train wreck conversion, where things in their life just start going wrong, and one of his purposes in that in scripture is to see if you're coming to God for something he can do for you if you're coming to him for him. Sometimes the things in your life begin to go wrong, and you don't get the raise, and the marriage doesn't turn immediately better because God is saying, are you in this for me? Are you in this just to use me for something? Are you using God or worshiping God?

That was the question. Well, Israel genuinely repents, and so the Lord becomes impatient over the misery of Israel, or the NIV says he could bear it no longer. I love that phrase because it just shows you how God feels about his people.

He hurts with them. He says, enough, your pain is painful to me, and he rises to his feet, chapter 11. Now Jephthah was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead, who was Jephthah's father, had many other sons by his wife, you know, is not the prostitute, and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out because they said to him, you shall have no inheritance in our father's house, for you are the son of a prostitute. So Jephthah fled from his brothers, and he lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and came out to him. He becomes a kind of crime boss, a land pirate is what we would call him, verse 4. But after a time, the Ammonites made war against Israel, and so the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah back, and they said, hey, come be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites. I apologize for this, but I can't help being reminded of season 7 and 24 where they go back to Jack Bauer, and they say, we don't really like you, but we need you to come fight the terrorists. Verse 7, so Jack Bauer said to the elders of Gilead, did you not hate me and drive me out of my father's house, and now you come crying back to me when you're in the hour of pain?

No deal. By the way, Jephthah's responding just like God did. Jephthah's like, oh, you didn't want me for me, you just want to use me. So verse 8, they say, I don't know, we're really sorry this time. If you come home, you can be in charge.

I don't care who your mom is, you can be head of CTU or be president for all we care, whatever you want. And so Jephthah agrees, and Jephthah says, I'm taking my talents back to Cleveland. At first, he tries diplomacy. He tries diplomacy with the Ammonites, and he says to the king of the Ammonites, why are you attacking us? And the king of the Ammonites says, well, because you took my land. Jephthah responds with three, I think, rather compelling points of reasoning. He says, number one, well, as a point of fact, it wasn't your land we took, it was the Ammonites, and not Ammonites, but Ammonites.

Your name was never on the title deed, so get off your high horse. Number two, when we took their land, we were simply responding to their aggression against us when we passed through their land. They attacked us, and we kicked their tails, so we kept their land because God had given it to us anyway.

Number three, if this land is really a gift from your God, commosh to you, why don't you come and get it? And verse 30, he said, okay, we're coming. Verse 30, Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and he said, Lord, if you will give me the Ammonites into my hand, whatever comes out from the doors of my house to greet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall belong to you, the Lord, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.

So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord indeed gave them into his hand. And Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah, and behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child.

Besides her, he had neither son nor daughter, and as soon as he saw her coming out after the battle, he tore his clothes. And he said, alas, my daughter, you have brought me very low. You've become the cause of great trouble to me, for I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and now I cannot take back my vow. Verse 36, and she said to him, my father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord, so do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you and your enemies on the Ammonites. So she said to her father, let this thing be done for me first. Leave me alone for two months, that I may go up on the mountains and weep for my virginity with my friends. And so he said, go, and he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions.

And she wept for her virginity in the mountains, and at the end of the two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. Sometimes commentators try to soften what has happened here. They'll say, well, Jephthah must have expected it to be an animal that came out of his house first, and that's what he's promising to God as a burnt offering, but animals would not have been kept in the house. They didn't have pets like we have pets, so he's not talking about that. By the way, when he says whatever greets mean, the word he used for greet definitely connotes a human encounter.

It's not a word you would use with an animal. So he's definitely thinking human sacrifice. Or commentators will say, well, Jephthah didn't actually kill his daughter. Sacrificing her just meant that she had to die as a virgin, like she just would remain unmarried for the rest of her life.

Well, if that's true, why the two-month hiatus? That wouldn't make any sense. Obviously, we're talking about human sacrifice, and obviously, he actually burnt his daughter. He killed his daughter. It's just that he expected the first one out of his house would not be his daughter. He thought it would be one of his many servants or one of his many comrades in arms. So a couple of questions I want us to consider.

Here is the first. Why did Jephthah make this vow? And I'm going to show you. You're thinking, this has nothing to do with me. It has a lot to do with you. I'll show you that toward the end. But why did Jephthah make this vow?

I'll give you two reasons. Because he was desensitized to violence. He was desensitized to violence.

This is just the way they did things. Human life was cheap in those days when it came to obtaining the idol of military dominance. Now, it seems unspeakably horrific to us, but that's just because violence is no longer our idol of choice. And before you and I shake our heads in bewilderment and say what a backwards, primitive people we ought to consider that we commit similar excesses with our idols and we do not wince nearly as much when we do. For example, a woman can tear apart her family and devastate her kids because she finally realizes she's been married to the wrong person and that's why she's not happy and she's got to be true to herself. And so she's got to go find true love even if it devastates her kids.

And we kind of shake our heads and say, well, she's got to be true to herself and I guess that's just what she's got to do. Let me talk about this for a minute because our culture idolizes romantic and sexual fulfillment to the point that anything you sacrifice on the altar to that is okay because that idol is enthroned and unquestioned. For example, if I, as an evangelical pastor, decided that I preferred sex with men and I left my wife and my kids for another man, by the end of this month I would be celebrated as a national hero. I would be on Ellen, I would be on Oprah, and they would say things like, well, he's just being true to himself.

What a courageous guy to come out and just acknowledge the truth about who he is. The fact that I had to abandon my family, that's just the price you've got to pay for true love. That I devastated my family would be totally insignificant. What if true love meant that it's not actually about me anymore?

Our culture confuses true love with self-love and you can't wrap up self-idolatry in the close of romance unless you call that true love. Or in another sphere, a man can neglect his wife and kids in order to get ahead. And we say, well, that's just what it takes to get ahead to survive in this business.

You'll never succeed in the finance world unless you work till nine every night, unless you never take days off. It has been easy for me to justify the sacrifice of an awful lot on the altar of ministry success. Like Jephthah, I'm like, well, I've got to succeed, I'm doing God's work, and if that means I've got to sacrifice relationships and family and even integrity, well, that's just the price.

I've got to do your work, God. Somebody in our culture gets pregnant at an inconvenient time and they eliminate the child in an abortion. And we say, well, only she has the right to determine what shape her life will take.

And if having a kid right now and her judgment is going to mess up her life, well, I guess that's okay, it's just the price of freedom. You see, before we shake our heads and be wilderment at Jephthah, we should realize that we're probably not as advanced of a culture as we think we are, we've just got different idols. Number two, here's the reason that he made the vow. It's because this is how you pleased pagan gods. That's how you pleased pagan gods. You offered sacrifices to gain their favor. The greater the sacrifice, the greater favor you could earn from your god.

So when you needed something big from him, you've got to sacrifice something big. But God, listen to this, never, ever, ever puts this out as a requirement to get his attention or his favor. In fact, he outright forbids it in Deuteronomy 18.10. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering.

You say, what about Abraham? That was a test of faith and obedience. This is an attempt by Jephthah to pay God off to negotiate with him.

It's totally different. Here is what has happened. Listen, Jephthah has mixed all kinds of sodium phosphates and poultry paste into his faith and come up with something that looks like the meat of faith, but it's really not faith at all because it's totally different than how God said that we should pursue him and do his work. Here's the second question. First question, why did Jephthah make the vow? Why did Jephthah keep his vow?

That's the second question. I mean, maybe you could excuse him for in his fear saying something stupid. But after he saw it was his daughter, for two months he sat there and considered it, and then he just went through with it?

Listen to this. He kept it for the exact same reason that he made it. There's no concept of the grace of God. He feels like he has to earn God's favor the way you earn a pagan God's favor by making sacrifices that merit it. Now he feels like if he doesn't keep his horrific vow, then God's going to punish him. But God does not give victory or favor or salvation because we earn it.

Never. It is not by works of righteousness which we have done. It is according to his mercy that he saves us. He bore in his own body the price for our peace. It's by his sacrifice that we were healed. Should Jephthah have kept this vow?

No. He should have said, God, you never told me you would give me victory if I would sacrifice something to get your attention. You give your people victory as a gift of grace. So instead of fulfilling this wicked vow in which I thought I could purchase your favor, I repent of making it in the first place. I repent of thinking there's something I can do to earn your favor, and I receive your grace for what it is.

An unmerited gift. This is the gospel. It's always been the gospel.

From Adam and Eve all the way straight through to the last human that's ever going to walk the face of the earth. You and I never have to make promises or sacrifices to God to earn his favor. And you're some of you that come into this place at one of our campuses today, and you're really thinking the same thing as Jephthah. You're like, I really need God's blessing. I need his favor. And so you're making promises to God as you came in here.

God, I'm going to do better. You keep your lunch money in the offering at the end of this service as if God's going to be pleased with the $23 that you put in the offering plate, and that's going to guarantee his favor on you. You keep your lunch money, okay? God does not give you his favor as a result of you making sacrifices for him. It's a gift. It's like the favor I give to my son or daughter. They don't earn it.

They just receive it. There is only one way, only one way to please God. Faith. Faith in his grace.

Faith in his loving kindness toward you. Ephesians 2.8, it is by grace that you have been received by faith, and that even not of yourselves. It's the gift of God.

It's not of works. It's not about you sacrificing things or giving things or promising God things or offering God yourself or your daughter or anything. It is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. We don't have to negotiate with God. You can't negotiate with God. A friend of mine says there's only one deal that God will ever make with you. His righteousness. His righteousness is a gift for your absolute surrender. That's the only deal God will ever make with you, so whatever deal you're trying to pull off with God, put it down.

He doesn't negotiate. He says, I'll give you my favor as a gift like I give it to a son or daughter. You just receive that, and you surrender to me.

This is the pure meat of the gospel with no poultry paste or maltodextrin mixed in. Well, as tragic as this story is already, Jephthah's family troubles are just the beginning. So chapter 12, the men of Ephraim, which is another tribe in Israel, fellow Israelites, called themselves to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you?

We will burn your house over you with fire. Jephthah, who has tried diplomacy with the Ammonites, isn't going to do that with his own people. He immediately calls his men to arms, and Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim, and the Gileads captured all the forts and the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites, and when any of the fugitives of Ephraim, so after they defeated them, all these Israelites, these Ephraims, are trying to get away.

They try to cross the Jordan, and they're like, let me go over. The men of Gilead would say, are you an Ephraimite? When he said no, they said to him, then say the word shibboleth, and the Ephraimite would always say sibboleth because he could not pronounce it right.

You understand what's happening here? Different parts of Israel pronounced words differently. It'd be kind of like if I was trying to figure out if you were from the country or the city. I would write J-E-S-U-S down and say, pronounce that word, and if you said it in two syllables, I'd say you're from the city. If you say it in six syllables, we'll know you're from the country.

Jesus, you know, I'd be like, you're from the country. That's what they did, and when they figured out they were from the Ephraim, when they couldn't say the S-H sound, they killed them, right? They seized them and slaughtered, and there at the Jordan River, 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell, and Jephthah judged Israel six years, only six years. They'd been oppressed for 18 years.

This is the first time in judges the deliverance is shorter than the oppression. Then Jephthah the Gilead died, and he was buried. There are four lessons, four crucial life-saving lessons that you need to learn from the story of Jephthah.

Number one, we are far more influenced by our culture than we realize. Jephthah didn't realize this, but his outlook on God and life was shaped by the culture he was in as God's, it was shaped by God's word. And so Jephthah ended up with a concoction of faith that may have looked Christian on the outside, but it was not Christian at all.

He's got a hot dog instead of the pure steak, and it ends up destroying a lot of people. Now, you can look at Jephthah and say, well, clearly I see that, but where have you done that? You see, Christians tend to, they tend to have different approaches to culture. And probably the most common is that we assimilate into culture, meaning we absorb the values of our culture, and we don't even know that we're absorbing them and how we think about romance and how we think about fulfillment, how we think about life as a shape by Hollywood and the New York Times as it is by the word of God.

Some Christians react to that by, if they say, well, we don't want to assimilate, so we'll isolate, and we'll pull out a culture. We'll take our kids out of the public schools, and we'll not watch TV. This is the way, honestly, I grew up. Our tradition tended more toward this.

You have your own music. You boys have their hair cut short. You've got to look like a Christian, and girls wear culottes and denim jumpers, and we're just different. We're like Neo Amish is kind of it, and that's just we're separate. I understand where that impulse comes from, but that's not what the Bible teaches either. Not assimilate, not isolate, it's recreate. It means you go into culture, but you do so very critically, and the only way for you to do that is to be more shaped by the word of God than you are your culture. You see, the answer is not to isolate yourself in culture because you can't ever do that. The answer is to know the word of God more deeply than you know the poison of the culture that is around you because Psalm 119, 105 says, how can a young man keep his way pure? By taking heat according to your word. You don't keep your way pure by isolating yourself from the world.

You keep your way pure by putting the word of God so deeply inside of you that you can resist the lies of those that are outside of you. You see, I know a lot of parents, they look at, you know, what's going on. There's a big discussion, you know, should you have your kids in public school or private school or home school, and that's a very good discussion, and there's no, honestly, one right answer.

Each, you gotta decide what's best for your kid, but I know that some will be like, well, you know, we just gotta pull them out and everything. What I wanna tell you is this, the most formative thing is not what the culture around them is doing, it's how much of the word of God you're putting into them, which means that whatever decision you make about your kids' schooling, the one thing that ought to be absolutely solid in their life is how much you are teaching them the word of God and how actively involved you have them in a place like this. They ought to be at every possible thing we do because our goal is just to stuff them full of Bible for every chance we get so that when the world's lies come upon them, they just exude God's word, right? So not the culture, you gotta do the word of God.

Here are number two. Our idolatry has devastating effects on those around us. We see that our idolatry has devastating effects on those around us.

The impurity of Jephthah's faith cost a lot of people, including his own daughter, their lives. My wife and I have realized that my idolatry as a dad and as a pastor is going to affect my kids and you because, you see, my idolatry as a pastor may cause me to do things that harm my children, it may cause me to pass on to them values that are not God's values. My idolatry as a pastor may cause me to make decisions for this church that are not in the best spiritual interest of what is good for you.

It may just be about my idolatry. The greatest gift that I can give to you and that I can give to my kids is a heart that is free from idols. Man, I will say to you specifically, there are many of you who your idolatry is destroying your children.

It's not only destroying your relationship with them, you're passing on to them a set of values that are not going to destroy their lives. You can talk all day long about God being the most important, but if they can see from your life that money and success are the most important, it doesn't matter what you say with your mouth, you're going to corrupt their soul and they give glory to money and not glory to God. And your idolatry is going to destroy them. The greatest gift that you can give to somebody else is a heart that is free from idols. The idolatries we cherish in this country have effects as devastating on others as Jephthah's was on his daughter.

Listen to this. Today, one out of every three children grow up in a single-parent home and only a fraction of those are the result of one of the spouses dying. Most are because one of the parents, or maybe both, decided their desires were more important than what was best for the family. In Wake County, there are 23 abortions every day and almost every single one of those is the result of an idol that has been enthroned and it doesn't matter if you pay the price because I've got to have this. Our appetite for pornography has created a sex industry where the average age of the girl who enters that industry is 13 years old. You may think that the idolatry of physical pleasure isn't hurting anybody because it's just you and a screen. It is creating an industry that is devastating to daughters of this country. In our country, 30 million, mostly teenage girls, have been diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia, which happens in part because of how highly we have exalted the idol of a perfect figure in our culture that has created this sense that a girl has to be a certain size and it's our idolatry that is destroying them.

So I will say it again, we are not nearly as sophisticated as the culture as we think we are. Idols enslave, idols kill. They kill Jepa's daughter, they're killing our daughters, which means that you and I should be as zealous for God to work in us as we are for him to work through us because the greatest gift that we can give is not what we say with our mouths, it is a heart that is free from idolatry. Number three, we see from this story that we have a hard time believing in God's grace.

It's ironic because it's so simple. God's favor is a gift. And yet so counterintuitive that while a child can understand it, the most religiously sophisticated people miss it. Martin Luther said we're hardwired for work's righteousness.

It means that the moment we forget the gospel, the moment we quit consciously thinking about the gospel, our heart naturally goes back to this idea that we have to earn God's favor and that produces all kinds of destruction in everybody's life, including your own. And I know you're like, well, we're Christians, we hear you preach every week. Well, let me just tell you about the guy who's up here preaching. I forget it all the time because my heart is hardwired for work's righteousness.

Here's what happens, I'll prove it to you. I'm back here, I'm getting ready to come preach. And there are times I'm back here. And the last thought before I walk up here is, God, I need you to bless a sermon.

And here's what I'll think. Oh, I had a great week. Man, I did my quiet time every day and I shared Christ with like three of my neighbors and it was an awesome husband and I put my kids down to bed every night.

And my wife, I gave her the night off a couple times and I gave a lot of money in the offering and I read a book and I wrote a book. It's just been fantastic. And I recycled and oh God, and I can just feel the warmth of God's love and his acceptance all over me. And I'm just like, oh, you know. God's like, oh, he's awesome. And I'm just going to bless his sermon because he just drips an awesome spiritual sauce. And so I walk on the stage and I'm like, man, I'm preaching because I feel close to God. And then a couple weeks later, I've had a terrible week.

I didn't read my Bible every day and the person next to me on the plane wanted to have a conversation and acted like I was asleep because I didn't want to talk to him. And so it was terrible. And I was mean to my wife and I kicked the dog. And we don't even have a dog.

So it was a neighbor's dog, which makes it even worse. And so I just feel like, and I can just feel like, and so you know what I do back there? I start making promises to God. God, I need you to bless his sermon, but God, I promise next week I'm going to be really generous and I'm going to witness to everybody I see. And I just start making promises as if my promises are going to buy God's favor and his acceptance. I'm a works righteousness guy, just naturally.

So you know what I have to do? I have to consciously remember the gospel back there. And I say, God, listen, I will literally say this to myself sometimes. God, here's why I need you to bless this sermon.

Let me tell you about my week, God. I'm just going to remind you what I did. I walked on water. And I fasted for 40 days in the wilderness.

I did. And Satan came to me three times in the midst of that wilderness time and I resisted him every single time. I didn't sin, not one time this week. In fact, they nailed my hands to a cross and while I was on the cross, I just looked at the people doing it and said, Father, forgive them.

They know what they do. And you're like, when'd you do all that? Well, obviously, I didn't do any of that. That's Jesus' record that was given to me as a gift. And so now my pleas for his favor and acceptance are not based on sacrifices I have done or things that I have said or what I will do. It's his sacrifice that is given to me as a gift. God's righteousness given to you as a gift, that's the pure meat of the gospel. Religions are often divided into how to motivate people. Some religions think you use the carrot. Oh, you want heaven, you want God's blessing? Oh, go after it.

God's good, he's kind. The others are like, no, use the stick. You gotta threaten him with hell.

You gotta threaten him with cursing. The carrot or the stick, here's the question. Which one of those is Christianity, carrot or stick?

Neither. The gospel is that God took the stick and beat Jesus with it then handed you the carrot for free and then said, come and follow me. And that kind of gift righteousness produces a whole new kind of obedience in you. Martin Luther, the great reformer, said it this way.

The law says do, but it's never done. The guy, even when you sacrifice your daughter, it's not done. The gospel says believe and it's already done.

Works righteousness is hard to believe, but it's the fountain of the Christian life. Number four, we need a better judge. We need a better judge. This is a recurring theme throughout the book of Judges. Jephthah was a savior, but he was a broken savior and he wasn't the real savior Israel needed.

But he does give us a glimpse of a truer and better judge who was coming. You see, like Jephthah, Jesus would be driven out from his brothers. He was despised and rejected of men, but unlike Jephthah, we didn't have to plead to get him back.

He came running back to us when he could bear our sufferings no longer. Jephthah started his deliverance with diplomacy, but when that didn't work, he wasn't afraid to kill. And he killed not only thousands of Ammonites, but he killed fellow Israelites as well and eventually he would kill his own daughter. Yet with Jesus, when pleading did not work, he took the war into himself, but when it came down to die, it was not our lives, but his life that he took. I didn't have to offer my life. I didn't have to offer the life of my children to earn his favor. He had already taken that spot of sacrifice. It was his sacrifice, not mine. He did not take me to the River Jordan and threaten to kill me if I didn't say, Shebleth, right? He took me to the cross and pronounced Shalom and salvation over me as a gift. Jephthah believed that we could only find favor with God through extreme sacrifice. Jesus offered favor with God as a gift free on the basis of his sacrifice, which is why the kid's definition of grace is still the best, G-R-A-C-E, God's riches at Christ's expense. Jephthah was a savior of Israel, but he was a broken savior, and so he, like all the other judges, points us to Jesus, the perfect savior, who was broken for the broken.

Israel didn't see themselves as broken. They just thought they needed a savior to get rid of their enemies, and God said, No, I'm gonna give you a broken savior because you need to see that you're broken, and then one day I'll give you a perfect savior who will be broken for your brokenness, and that's the savior that we need, which is why Jesus is the only savior. He's the only one worth giving your life to. He's the only one who did what he said he did, who never backed down, never faltered, never failed, which is why he's able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him.

He's the only one you can trust because he's the only one that said and did exactly what he needed to do to save you. That is the meat of Christianity. It is the grace of God that is received as a free gift. Ultimately, Christianity takes you a lot of places, but you never leave that, and that's why we say that growth in Christ is never growth beyond the gospel. It's just growth deeper into the gospel. That's the meat. Peter calls it the meat of Christianity and the pure milk of God's word.

I love that. Two things. Babies drink milk.

They need pure milk. Adults eat meat, and they need pure meat, and so the gospel is as good for the new Christian as it is for the mature because ultimately it is life for the believer, and you just gotta keep going deeper into it because that is the substance of the Christian life. Martin Luther said the progress in the Christian life is always just to begin again, just to go back to that pure grace that becomes the fountain of life in you. Spiritual health comes from that.

Why don't you bow your heads at all of our campuses? If you've never received the pure grace of the gospel, today can be your day. It's a gift.

That's all that it is. It's just a gift. Jesus gives the gift when you acknowledge that he's the Lord. Surrender to him, and you receive him. If you've never done it, you can receive it right now. Just say, Jesus, I surrender it.

I believe. In just a moment at all of our campuses, our teams are gonna come, and we're gonna take the Lord's table together. If you're not a Christian, then here's what I want you to do. As others around you are taking the bread and the cup, why don't you, for the first time in your life, receive Jesus as Savior?

Why don't you just open your heart? You let other people take the bread and the cup, and you just say, yes, Lord Jesus, I finally receive and surrender. If you are a believer, as you take the bread and the cup, why don't you just feast on the knowledge again that God has given you amazing grace, and that his acceptance to you is given to you as a gift?

To progress is always to begin again. Father, thank you for the beautiful grace of the gospel, the amazing grace. God, what we need, what we need is not to sacrifice to you, but to embrace and go deeper in your sacrifice for us. God, we thank you. God, open our hearts to see how wide, how high, how deep, how long is the love of the Father for us. In Jesus' name.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-04 11:19:14 / 2023-09-04 11:40:14 / 21

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