DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

The Main Thing (John 13:1-17, 33-35)

A few years ago, I thought I would have some fun, so I purchased one of these flight simulator programs for my computer. Most boys of any age love the thought of flying an airplane. I figured the closest I would ever get was to fly on a computer. But that was good enough to me.

I got the program home, skimmed through all the instructions, and began to fly. I discovered that the Cessna was the easiest plane to fly, and was often used as a training plane, so I chose that one, picked the city I'd like to fly out of, and commenced my inaugural flight. It was then that I discovered another important fact. Flying isn't so easy. As I taxied and eventually took off, I discovered that there was a confusing array of displays and gauges that all required careful attention. I do remember some fairly significant crashes (aren't you glad I was playing on the computer rather than really flying?) before noticing the 30-day return policy on the game. I returned the game for a refund, and thus ended my flying career.

I sometimes feel like life is like the flight simulator program, don't you? There's the initial excitement and anticipation. But life is full of crashes, and life is also full of gauges that need attention. There's health and work, family, devotions, nutrition and exercise, plus any other number of complications that all seem to need attention. What's worse, when one gauge is doing well - say, when family looks okay - inevitably, another gauge is begging for attention. It's difficult, even impossible, to pay attention to all the gauges that seem to need attention in daily life.

Then there's church. When we come to the church, there's another big set of gauges that we use, and somebody's supposed to be in charge of those gauges. Two of the gauges are in the bulletin: offerings and attendance, nickels and noses. We watch those gauges, and if things are going okay, we breath a sigh of relief and sit back comfortably. If things are going the wrong way, then there's a cry of "Alert! Alert!" and people begin to panic.

There's this other gauge, which for lack of a better word, I'll just call contentment. There seem to be some times that everything's going okay, and people seem generally content. Then there are times that the wheels fall off and it looks like everything is falling apart. One of the gauges that we look at is how good we're feeling about the way things are going on.

Then there's other gauges - the gauges that we as leaders sometimes use to measure our church's health. These are good gauges, such as the Natural Church Development survey we use to measure factors such as small groups, empowering leadership, relationships. These factors are all important, even though I wonder if God is more interested in us joining him on the mission field, in joining him in what he's doing, than in how well an organization is doing.

There are countless gauges that we could use to measure ourselves - individually, and as a church. The problem is that the gauges can be confusing, and so numerous, that it's impossible to pay attention to them all.

What if I were to tell you that there's one gauge that we're naturally drawn to, that is our default gauge, that's completely wrong? And then, what if I were going to tell you that there's another gauge - more important than your health, your income, your job, the church's offerings, attendance, or health - that is really the gauge, the one that we must pay attention to? As we head into another Fall as a church, as we probably are looking at all the other gauges as we begin to get busy, it's time to refocus on the gauge that Jesus has given us; the one that really matters.

OUR NORMAL GAUGE

Before we look at the important gauge, I'd like to look at the gauge that all of us default to. I've realized as I looked at all the gauges in my life this past week that this was probably my favorite one, even though it's clearly the wrong one. Yet it's the one I'm drawn to in my life again and again and again.

If you have your Bibles, open them with me to John 13. I want to give you a bit of background to what we're about to read. This was the last week of Jesus' life, the same night as his betrayal and arrest, the night before his crucifixion. Jesus knew what was about to happen, and it was so important to him that John introduces what we're about to read with some background about what Jesus was going to accomplish. Read with me verses 1-3:

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He now showed the disciples the full extent of his love. It was time for supper, and the Devil had already enticed Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to carry out his plan to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.

What's about to take place isn't just another day. It's one of those moments in which life stands still, and in which something very significant is about to happen. Because it's his last night with his disciples, Jesus is about to focus on what's really important. He's about to clue us in on what we should really pay attention to in our lives as his followers. Let's see what happened.

But before we do, I need to give you a bit more background. Back in those days, it was customary that when you arrived somewhere, a servant would wash your feet. It was considered the most humiliating, disgusting work that any servant could do. It was usually reserved for the servant with the lowest status. Some believe that Jewish servants were exempt from having to do this task. It would be a little like the job I saw somebody doing last week, as we drove home from the States and stopped at some rest areas. It would be a little like cleaning the public washrooms in a very dirty rest area. It would be beneath our dignity or desire to do such a thing, at least for most of us. But in this case, one of those gathered with Jesus would have to do this demeaning job, because the meeting was so secret that no servants were present.

We also know what the disciples were thinking about last night. Luke 22:24 gives us the topic of discussion as the disciples entered the room that night: "And they began to argue among themselves as to who would be the greatest in the coming Kingdom." After three years of intensive training by Jesus, at the most critical night in Jesus' life, this is where their minds were - about themselves, about who's the best.

It hit me this week that of all the gauges that we look at, in our personal lives and in the church, this is the one that we default to. When all the gauges start to overwhelm my attention, and half of the gauges are going the wrong way, my attention swings back to the gauge that's dearest to my soul - who's the greatest? How are my needs being taken care of in this situation? How am I feeling? Are my rights being respected? Is there any complaint that I can register, any way that I can enhance my position and move ahead? The gauge that I normally look to is my own self-interest, and it's the wrong gauge. It's dead wrong. It will destroy my own soul and those around me. But it's the gauge that all of us are drawn to over and over, unless we make a conscious decision every day to ignore it. It's the gauge that kills churches and destroys souls, yet it's the gauge that's part of our lives unless we naturally resist it.

Whenever a church begins to experience grumblings and complaining and disunity, it's because people are looking at the wrong gauge, the gauge of self-interest. It's never the issues that are the issue. Why do I say that? Because you can always disagree and deal with the issues without grumbling, complaining, and disunity. Whenever a church begins to experience grumblings and bad attitudes, it's because people are looking at the wrong gauge. They're wanting to be the greatest, and for others to serve them. James 4:1 says, "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?" We answer that question, "Because I have this issue." "Because I don't like the way this is being done." "Because I disagree with what is happening." James says that this isn't why. Listen to what James says:

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (James 4:1-3)

Whenever we're part of grumblings or complaints at a church, rather than dealing with the issue sacrificially, honestly, and with integrity, it's because each of us possesses a whole army of evil desires that are ready to go to war, and will scheme and kill to get my way. It's possible to be so deceived that we even pray to God that he'll give us what we want - not because it's right, but because it's what I want. I'm not saying that we can't disagree and try to resolve issues. That's not evil; that's a good thing. But what's wrong is when our concerns take us over to wanting what we want, and when we begin in any way to participate in fighting and grumbling and complaining. It's then that the issue isn't the issue. The issue is our own hearts.

Jesus responded to this by doing what Jesus can do like no other. He responded with his actions. While others were fighting about their position, what they wanted, what they thought, read what Jesus did in verses 4-5: "So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him."

The gauge isn't me. The gauge isn't my concerns. The gauge isn't even the issues that I'm concerned about. The gauge is ultimately about one thing: how much I'm willing to give up my rights, my agenda, my position and my pride to become a servant of others. Jesus said later, in verses 15 to 17:

I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you [not literally washing feet, but giving up my self-interest to willingly serve others.] How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing.

THE GAUGE THAT MATTERS

There's another gauge that really does matter. When you get down to it, it's the only gauge. We could do everything else right, personally and as a church, but without careful attention to this one, we'll crash. This isn't just an important gauge. It is the gauge. Without it, we're nothing.

Don't get me wrong. We're still going to follow through on what we've set out to do. We're making good progress in our task forces, and some exciting things are happening. While we honor our past as a church, we look forward to becoming a church that's on target in serving him and others, that is leading people to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. But today I'm asking you to step aside from watching the gauges of how well our church is doing, even how well you're doing, and to look at the only gauge that really matters. If we don't do well here, nothing else is important.

Jesus says in John 13:34-35: "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."

Jesus calls this "a new commandment." I've always thought that new here meant recent, that it was new information. But it wasn't a brand new commandment. All the way back in Leviticus 19:18, the Bible said, "Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD."

When Jesus said it was a new commandment, he wasn't saying that it was recent or brand new. It's a new commandment because it's fresh. It's new because it's supposed to characterize the new era that began with Jesus' death and resurrection - the era of the church.

Jesus gave this command, and it's almost like he wants us to bake it fresh every morning. Yesterday's love is stale. Keep it fresh. Love one another today. Then, next week, when last week's love is old and crusty, love each other again. Keep it fresh. Keep it new.

Jesus said, "Just as I have loved you, you should love one another." How does Jesus love us? Jesus loves us without reservation and without limit. Jesus loves us without reservation. When he looks at you, there's nothing that causes him to hold back as he pours out his love on you. When he washed his disciple's feet, he washed the feet of Judas, even though he knew that Judas was about to betray him. There is absolutely nothing that you have done or will ever do that causes Jesus to hold back in his love for you. He calls us to love others without reservation as well - even the people who don't love us, even the people who drive us crazy.

Jesus also calls to love without limit. Our love has limits. Jesus' love was so strong that he gave up his life for us. That's the model for our love - love without limits, love without reservations.

Jesus also said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." The best way that we could become an attractive church is if we became a church in which we truly love each other. Instead of a church that's known positively for it's programs or services, or negatively for its fights and disagreements, this is supposed to be the proof positive that we are the people of God: that we love each other.

Think about a church like the church we read of in Acts 2:44-47:

And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group

An early church historian wrote, "It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand on us! 'See,' they say, 'how they love one another…see how they are ready even to die for one another.'" (Tertullian, 3rd century)

I'd like you to look up here for a minute. It's very possible that many of us may have been reading what Jesus said, and today we may have been thinking, "Right on. Preach it. I wish that others in this church were more loving. Pastor, I wish you were more loving." But Jesus is calling you to look at your own gauge this morning - to examine your own life, to see how you're doing with this love. He's calling me to do the same. The real issue today isn't how loving other people are. It's how loving you are.

The good thing about being in a church is that you never run out of opportunities to love. There's always somebody hurting. There's always something to annoy you. There's always someone to forgive. There are always opportunities to step outside the fight of self-interest, to wrap a towel around our waists, and to begin laying aside our dignity to serve others, to give up our rights and concerns for their sakes.

I was trying to think about how to apply this. It's obvious here that we have a choice whether or not to obey Jesus' command. We sometimes think that love is a feeling, that we can't choose whether or not to love, but Jesus would never command us to love if it were impossible to love. Love is a choice.

The most obvious application is to receive the love of the one who gave this command. He demonstrated his love for you by dying for you. You can only love others as Jesus loved you. I invite you to respond to his love today.

But for those of us w ho have already received Christ's love, there are three aspects of our life that we need to change:

Our conversations - Proverbs 10:32 says, "The godly speak words that are helpful, but the wicked speak only what is corrupt." Proverbs 18:4 says, "A person's words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook." Ephesians 4:29 says, "Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them."

You have no idea how much power your words have. You can use them to cut others up, and you will end up no only hurting them but also endangering your soul. But your words also have the ability to bring healing and life to others and the church. How can you express love through your words? What damage control do you have to do because of words you've already spoken?

Our actions - "Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions. It is by our actions that we know we are living in the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before the Lord" (1 John 3:18-19). Jesus demonstrated his love for us through his actions. What help do you need to give to somebody, even though it's inconvenient? 1 John 3:16-17 says, "We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us. And so we also ought to give up our lives for our Christian brothers and sisters. But if anyone has enough money to live well, and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help—how can God's love be in that person?" We don't love if our love doesn't show in our actions. What action is God calling you to take?

Our reactions - The hardest time to love is when we've been hurt, when somebody's wounded our heart. When somebody was wronged us, or wrongly accused us, has gossiped about us, the hardest thing in the world is to love that person. I know. Jesus said, "Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don't be concerned that they might not repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked" (Luke 6:35).

I don't think there's a person here who doesn't have to address one of these issues - our words, our actions, our reactions. The sad thing is that many churches are known not by wholesome words, generous action, and gracious forgiveness, but by grumbling and selfishness. How pleased God must be when his children come to him in repentance, who go back to people they've wronged or spoken poorly about, and make things right. How pleased God will be with those of us who respond in obedience to the command of Jesus to love.

I need work in these areas. I need to pay more attention to this gauge. It's the only gauge that matters. Without love, we're nothing. I wonder if you would respond with me in obedience in a commitment to love others more.

[Prayer]

Famous Bad People: Samson (Judges 13-16)

As a kid growing up, I had one verse that really inspired me whenever I got to thinking what I wanted to do with my life. It's a verse that's stuck with me today, and I can never read this verse without getting a little bit excited. Let's read it together - it's up on the screen:

The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. (Daniel 11:32 NKJV)

Isn't that a great verse? I used to dream - I still do - about doing exploits for God. I love the world exploits. It makes me think of daring, courageous adventures into enemy territory to serve God. It brings to mind qualities like risk, adventure, courage, purpose. It's the very opposite of what I think about when I think of somebody drifting and wasting his life. Who wouldn't want to be strong and carry out great exploits for God? There would be no enemy big enough, no challenge too hard, no obstacle that couldn't be climbed for anybody who is on mission doing exploits for God.

I realize that I've grown up since then, and it's easy to begin to settle for just getting by than to live a life of mission and risk for God. But deep down, I don't think there's anyone who really wants to settle for that. Nobody wants to get to the end of life and feel like they've never really lived, they've never really found meaning and left something bigger than themselves. We were made to do more than just exist. We were built to want to do exploits with God.

If you are the type that would like to live a life like this, you have to like the man we're going to look at today. His name was Samson. If ever there lived anyone who could and should live a life of adventure for God, it's him. Look at some of what he had going for him.

HE WAS BORN FOR A PURPOSE. Imagine what it would be like to grow up knowing that your very life was a miracle from God, that an angel had announced your purpose. Most of us have to discover our purpose for living, and that's not always easy. Samson knew right from the start. His parents told him. Judges 13:3-5 says:

The angel of the LORD appeared to Manoah's wife and said, "Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink or eat any forbidden food. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will rescue Israel from the Philistines."

A supernatural start to life, announced by an angel, and with a clear mission - that's a pretty good start to doing exploits for God.

HE FACED A CHALLENGE. If you're looking for exploits, if you're really looking for something to challenge you and to bring out your best, you couldn't have picked a better time to live than Samson's time. The angel said, "He will rescue Israel from the Philistines" (Judges 13:5). The Philistines had been around for hundreds of years, but they had been growing over time to the point that they had become a clear and present danger to God's people, the nation of Israel. They were warlike and powerful, and they were beginning to apply pressure from their five western cities. Just five years later, they would begin to oppress and rule Israel. If Samson was looking for a cause to champion, he found it.

HE WAS DEDICATED TO GOD. Judges 13:5 says, "You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth." A Nazirite usually dedicated a certain period of life to God, and during that period, he would not cut his hair, would not drink beer or wine or even eat any grapes or raisins, and would not come near a corpse. But Samson was going to be a different kind of Nazirite. He wasn't going to dedicate only part of his life to God. His entire life was going to be an act of service before him.

HE HAD ENORMOUS STRENGTH. We read the story of Samson, and we picture somebody who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger on steroids, but that's not the point. I think that Samson probably looked pretty average. His strength didn't come from weight training, protein pills, and steroids. Samson possessed supernatural strength, which he could use to fulfill the mission God had given him.

By the way, what was true of Samson is also true of you and me. If we could see ourselves the way that God sees us, we would know that we were born for a purpose. God has put you here at the right time, with the right challenges, the right set of strengths, for a mission only you can fulfill. Yet there's a danger that we'll end up like Samson. Because Samson, for all of his strengths and for all of the things he had going for him, left a legacy that was mixed at best. On the positive side, he is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith. He did kill many Philistines, which sounds barbaric now, but back then was really a case of killing them before they came to kill you. Yet Samson spent most of his life either aimless or defeated. He did experience some success, and yet his life didn't begin to approach what it could have been.

Fatal Flaws

We won't take time to read Samson's entire story here today. I would encourage you to do so, though. But as I read his story, I noticed three fatal flaws that prevented him from becoming the person that he could have been.

WOMEN - Samson's fatal flaw was women - literally fatal. We read of three women in Samson's life, and all of them were disastrous for his life. Remember how he was supposed to conquer the Philistines? Judges 14:2 says, "When he returned home, he told his father and mother, 'I want to marry a young Philistine woman I saw in Timnah.'" He did marry her, although that soon turned into a disaster, as we read later on. They didn't end up marrying after all, she was given to the best man as a wife, and she and her father ended up burned to death. Not a happy story.

The next woman wasn't any better. Judges 16:1 says, "One day Samson went to the Philistine city of Gaza and spent the night with a prostitute." The third woman lead to his ultimate downfall. Her name was Delilah, and she ultimately betrayed him.

RIDDLES - At his first marriage, Samson really got into trouble for telling a riddle. The riddle probably started as some wedding entertainment - maybe the first example of "You solve the riddle, I'll kiss the bride," but it soon got out of hand, turning what should have been a festive celebration into a battle of nerves that led his new wife to spend her honeymoon week balling and nagging, and ultimately led to the end of that marriage and the death of his wife. You have to wonder when somebody so gifted ends up known for women and riddles rather than fulfilling his purpose.

REVENGE - Samson's entire life is the story of him getting revenge over and over again…burning crops, killing a thousand Philistines at one time, ultimately killing all the Philistine leaders in a crowded temple. Samson spent a good part of his life consumed with anger and taking revenge.

The result is that Samson spent most of his time in defeat. For all of his limited successes, he never fulfilled his mission. The two saddest verses about Samson are found at the beginning of his life - what should have been - and verse that summarizes what actually happened.

"He will rescue Israel from the Philistines." (Judges 13:5)

"Samson was Israel's judge for twenty years, while the Philistines ruled the land." (Judges 15:20)

Let's talk about you this morning. If there ever was a time for God's people to be doing exploits, this is the time. We have every ingredient necessary to live a life of exploit for God - courageous, on target, risky, and on mission. We are living in a day in which people are hungry for God. They want God's people to be God's people. There's a deeper spiritual hunger today t han has existed in recent memory. We, God's people, have been dedicated to him, and he has promised to use us. And to top it off, the Spirit of God has given us gifts to be used to build his kingdom. 1 Peter 4:10 says, "God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts."

Let me ask you three questions as you come to the Communion Table.

1. What's your fatal flaw?

Samson's was women. Yours may be different, but we all have one - a character defect that is keeping us from being who we should be. What is it in your own life that's keeping you defeated, from becoming what you should be? Envy? Love of money? Love of your own comfort? Pornography? Anger? Or, if you say that you don't have a fatal flaw, lying?

The good news is that God uses all kinds of people who have all kinds of fatal flaws. The only type that he doesn't use is the type that refuses to admit it - refuses to come clean with God. Listen to what God does with those who have fatal flaws who admit it, and who surrender their flaws to him:

How thankful I am to Christ Jesus our Lord for considering me trustworthy and appointing me to serve him, even though I used to scoff at the name of Christ. I hunted down his people, harming them in every way I could. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how kind and gracious the Lord was! He filled me completely with faith and the love of Christ Jesus.

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)

2. What's wasting your energy?

What's your version of Samson's riddles? What lesser things are keeping you from investing your energy in doing exploits for God? A poet once wrote, "Some men die in ashes; some men die in flames. Some men die inch by inch playing silly little games."

3. What grudges are you keeping?

Samson spent most of his life consumed with hatred against other people. If the truth were really told, there are a lot of us who are spending a lot of energy angry with a boss, a family member - even somebody else in the church. It's impossible to hate another person and be on an exploit with God.

God's given you one life. He's put you here for a purpose. We are coming to the table today of the one who died to make you right with God, to take you - fatal flaws and all - and make you an indispensable part of what he's doing in this world. "The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits." (Daniel 11:32)

Samson was born with a purpose. Thank God as you come to the table that you were not only born with a purpose, you've been born again with a purpose. "For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." (Ephesians 2:10)

Confess - what's been keeping you from doing exploits with him.

Thank you in advance for what you are going to do in and through us, for the glory of your Son. In his name we pray. Amen.

Famous Bad People: Rahab (Joshua 2)

When I was a kid, the teacher would sometimes decide to take us outside to the field so that we could all play baseball. The first task to be completed was to form two teams. That wasn't as easy as it seems. I don't know how you did it when you were a kid, but we always formed teams by picking two captains. The captains would then look over the rest of us and begin to pick players, one by one. Do you remember? Finally, you'd get down to the dregs - the people that neither team really wanted - and you'd take turns until everyone was on a team. Then the teacher would yell, "Play ball."

There were two parts of this exercise that I hated: waiting to get picked, and then when it was my turn to bat. I hated waiting to get picked because it was humiliating. I was never the first to get picked, and it was embarrassing to wait and wait until it was my turn. I was never the last, either, but it was humiliating enough to be a middle player.

The other part that I hated was going to bat. I used to like fielding most of the time, because you would spend a lot of the time just watching the others do their thing. If the ball ever came your way, you could look at the person standing next to you and glare at them like, "What's your problem? Why didn't you catch that?" But when it was my turn to bat, there was no question about who was supposed to perform. I couldn't glare at anybody else when I struck out. The pressure was immense. I mean, nobody else could play worth beans, but that didn't matter. I didn't want to be the kid who struck out at the bottom of the ninth. I was always glad when gym class was over when we were playing baseball.

Sometimes in the major leagues today, a manager will take a utility player and put them in a critical place in a game. The game may be a washout, and the manager doesn't want to waste a pitcher's arm to complete the game, so they put in a third baseman to pitch the rest of the game. The expectations are never that high, but occasionally strange things happen and that player does fairly well. Most of them are just happy to make it to the end of the game.

If you take a step back for a minute and think about God, I think you would agree that God has a lot of choices when he wants to build a team or accomplish something in this world. There's no doubt that God is on the move. The Bible is all about God moving throughout human history, and the Bible teaches that he is actively working in human events to accomplish his purpose, and that God uses people in order to move his plan ahead. When I look around me, I see some great people that God has used - people who are gifted and capable. And sometimes I wonder, "Can God really use me?" God can use others who are more capable than me, for sure. I'm pretty sure that God would pick other people first to take the critical roles in what he's doing, and that I'd be a middle player - part of the team, but mostly somebody who would glare at the other players when a play isn't made. If I ever got up to bat, I would worry that I wouldn't connect, wouldn't do as well as others. It's easy for all of us to think that God couldn't use us.

Thousands of years ago, God was at work in the nation of Israel. God promised Israel that he would lead them to the Promised Land, and when we pick up the story today, they're finally ready, after a forty year wait, to enter the land. They had a new leader, and that new leader was about to lead Israel to risk everything to enter into the land. At this crucial, pivotal point in history, God could have chosen to use anyone. Today we're going to see that God chose a very unusual person to play the main role in a decisive moment in history. This individual actually became part of history because of what she did. Here's the lesson: At pivotal points in history, God uses unlikely people who risk everything to serve him. That's just the way that God works.

If you have your Bibles with you, please open them to Joshua 2 (page 241 of your pew Bibles). Joshua had just completed a big speech to encourage his people as they were about to begin battles to win the Promised Land. This was the first test of Joshua's leadership. Joshua did something smart. Joshua 2:1 says, "Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia. He instructed them, 'Spy out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.'" It says that he did this secretly - not just secret from the enemy, but also secretly within Israel. Nobody knew about this reconnaissance mission into enemy territory. Verse 1 continues, "So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night."

This is one of those times that you stop when you read your Bible and reread the verse again asking, "Does it really say what I think it says?" Some people try to soften the way this verse reads, but it does mean exactly what it says. Staying at the house of a prostitute actually made a lot of sense. It was probably the only house that they could visit without being detected. Nobody would ask questions about a couple of men going to visit a prostitute. To top it off, we find out later that her house was located on top of the wall, so it had an easy escape root. It was the perfect place for them to carry out their mission.

Unfortunately, their plan to remain undetected didn't work. Verse two says, "But someone told the king of Jericho, 'Some Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.' So the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab: 'Bring out the men who have come into your house [your clients]. They are spies sent here to discover the best way to attack us.'" Under law at that time, a prostitute was required to hand over any men who were accused of spying. The spies were in a very precarious position at this point. I certainly wouldn't want my life placed in the hands of this woman at this point. But then again, GOD USES UNLIKELY PEOPLE - PEOPLE I WOULDN'T CHOOSE - TO DO HIS WORK. Let's read what happened.

Rahab, who had hidden the two men, replied, "The men were here earlier, but I didn't know where they were from. They left the city at dusk, as the city gates were about to close, and I don't know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them." (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath piles of flax.) So the king's men went looking for the spies along the road leading to the shallow crossing places of the Jordan River. And as soon as the king's men had left, the city gate was shut. (Joshua 2:4-7)

People have debated for years whether or not Rahab was right to have told a lie to protect the lives of these spies. There are all kinds of theories to explain what she did and why she did it, but don't mistake what Rahab did. She didn't just lie. She just committed treason. She just turned her back on her own city and people, and sided with an enemy nation that was about to attack and destroy her own city. Why would she do this? We don't know the full story. We don't know how God had been at work in her life to prepare her for this moment. We don't know how long she had been debating how to handle this situation, or whether she had to decide on the spot. We do know what motivated her, though. Listen to what she said, beginning in verse 8:

Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. "I know the LORD has given you this land," she told them. "We are all afraid of you. Everyone is living in terror. For we have heard how the LORD made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. Now swear to me by the LORD that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that w hen Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families."

God uses unlikely people - people that you and I wouldn't choose - and he prepares them in ways that we couldn't expect to play important roles in his plan. If I were one of the spies, I would probably be thinking, "Wait a minute - isn't this a prostitute speaking?" Rahab talks as if God has already conquered the entire land. She makes an amazing confession of faith - "The LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below." Whenever I think that God couldn't use somebody like me, it's good to remember that God can do amazing things in the heart of the most unlikely person. God can work with people that you and I wouldn't even choose.

What is it that makes you think that God couldn't use you? We all probably have those doubts. You may think it's a question of your abilities. You may sometimes look at all the events that have happened in your past - the times that you haven't come through. It really doesn't matter if you're not the type of person who gets picked first, or if you've choked when you've been at bat before. YOUR CURRENT OBEDIENCE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR PAST FAILURE. When Rahab risked her life and confessed her belief in God, she became usable by God despite all of her past failures and mistakes. With God, your current obedience - your risk of faith today - can count more than any of your failures in your past. God could use an enemy prostitute at one of the most pivotal points of a nation's history. God can use you as well.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus looked at people like prostitutes and tax collectors - people that were called the worst kind of sinners, people who were far from the kingdom of God - and say that they would enter the Kingdom before the Pharisees, the religious leaders of thee day, who were presumably closer to the Kingdom?

It's because Jesus measures people differently than us. We measure people on their current position - what they've done, how they behave. Jesus measures people on their direction - their movement and direction. That's why God could use an enemy prostitute. That didn't count as much as the fact that she was willing to take a risk of faith and set her direction toward the true God. Your current obedience counts much more than your past failures.

A woman came to a church. She actively practiced Wicca; she always wore black; her body was heavily pierced. Normally, we would look at someone like that and say that she couldn't be reached, that she couldn't be used by God - just as we would have looked at Rahab. One of our interns at that church looked at her and said, "You know, she wouldn't be hanging around here at all except that God is at work in her life. And I believe that the trajectory of her life, even though she is far away, is in motion towards the center." Since then, she's continued to move closer to the center - closer to Jesus.

Let's read what happened next with Rahab. The spies made a pact with her, and in verse 15 we read, "Then, since Rahab's house was built into the city wall, she let them down by a rope through the window. 'Escape to the hill country,' she told them. 'Hide there for three days until the men who are searching for you have returned; then go on your way.'" The spies set a few more conditions on their deal, until we read down in verse 21, "'I accept your terms,' she replied. And she sent them on their way, leaving the scarlet rope hanging from the window." The plan worked. The men hid for three days, and then safely made their way back to Joshua and reported in verse 24, "'The LORD will certainly give us the whole land,' they said, 'for all the people in the land are terrified of us.'"

Then in chapter 6, we read what happened when Israel conquered Jericho. Joshua 6:21 says, "They completely destroyed everything in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, donkeys—everything." But read verse 25: "So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. And she lives among the Israelites to this day."

A happy ending for Rahab and her family, because at pivotal points, God uses unlikely people who risk everything to serve him. But even that's not the end of the story. There's more. I want to tell you what we know for sure about Rahab, and then I want to tell you about what tradition says about Rahab which may or may not be true.

Thousands of years later, just as Jesus is about to be born, the Bible records Jesus' genealogy - a list of his descendents, in this case to show that Jesus was a descendent of Israel's King David. In the middle of this list, we read in Matthew 1:5, "Salmon was the father of Boaz (his mother was Rahab)." This is probably one of those verses that you skip over when you read your Bible, but there is a point - a very deliberate point, since women weren't usually listed in genealogies. Rahab became part of the line that led to Jesus. Somebody who was part of an enemy nation, engaged in an immoral business, was used by God, along with some other shady characters listed in this genealogy, to prepare for the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Then we read more about Rahab later, in a book written to Christian Jews that lists examples of people who were motivated by faith to serve God, despite the difficult circumstances that they faced. Hebrews 11:31 says, "It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute did not die with all the others in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies." And then there's one more verse that singles out two people for their faith - Abraham and Rahab. There's a strange combination. Abraham, the father of the nation, and a prostitute. James 2:25-26 says:

Rahab the prostitute is another example of this. She was made right with God by her actions—when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without a spirit, so also faith is dead without good deeds.

This is what we do know for sure. She's mentioned twice in the Bible as one of the best examples of faithful obedience to God. She's also mentioned as part of a line that led to Jesus coming to earth. Here's what tradition tells us about Rahab. This isn't in the Bible, but according to Jewish tradition, Rahab married Joshua - the leader of Israel after Moses died - and became an ancestor of eight priests. She's mentioned as an ancestor of two Biblical prophets, according to tradition - Jeremiah and Ezekiel. She's also listed as one of the four women in the Old Testament of surpassing beauty

She was a woman, a gentile, an outcast - all strikes against her at the time in which she lived - yet she became one of the most dramatic examples of grace in the Old Testament. Even though God had commanded that all the residents be destroyed, she survived because she called out to God, just as Joel 2:32 says: "Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."

You may still doubt that you would be the first that God would pick as he forms his teams and looks at the available players. You may doubt your own abilities when you're up to bat, and even fear that you'll choke. You may look at your past - even your present - and think that disqualifies God from using you. But God has a history of using the most unlikely people, at pivotal points in history, if they will turn to him in faith and risk everything to serve him.

Picture again with me the image of a captain choosing a team. You're standing there. Maybe you're used to not being the one chosen during the first few picks. You're usually chosen in the middle, even the end. That's not how God works. God doesn't pick the people that you and I would pick. He chooses unlikely people. He does this over and over. He's choosing you.

Where you are right now, no matter what your past, no matter what your lifestyle, yo u can reset the direction of your life toward the center, toward Christ. Your present obedience can become more significant today than all of your past history. God's call to you today is to respond to his call in obedience, and to never again doubt that God can use you, because at pivotal points, God uses unlikely people who risk everything to serve him.

Let's pray.

Never again doubt God's love for you. Never again doubt that despite your past, despite even your present, that you can reset the direction of your life toward the center, toward Christ. Rahab is an example of the fact that "Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved." I want to give you an opportunity to call out on the name of the LORD today - to maybe even reset the direction of your life to follow Jesus Christ.

Ability isn't the key. History isn't the key. Your obedience - your willingness to risk everything in obedience to God - is what counts. Stop doubting your ability; that's not the key. Start by focusing on your ability - by committing today to risk everything for him - your house, your business, your investments. Because at pivotal points, God uses people just like you who are willing to risk everything to serve him.

Father, we want to serve you and be used by you. Forgive us for thinking it's a matter of our ability or our worthiness. It's a matter of making ourselves available for you to work through us.

Today we surrender whatever it is that's keeping us from serving you. May we be used to help build your Kingdom, to play a role in what you're doing. In the name of Jesus our Savior, Amen.