Embrace Your Calling - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Embrace Your Calling

Lightning and the Bee.  One flashes, one stings.  One arcs across the sky, one delivers pinpoint irritation.  So, opens the story of a man who was afraid, a woman who was confident, a military battle that was bloody and a wooden tent peg that took out a general.  One of the most ancient, archaic pieces of authentic 3300-year-old language is found in this 4th and 5th chapter of Judges.  If you thought the Game of Thrones had drama, read this passage.  It has it all.

Within this drama, we begin to see a picture emerge of how God uses unlikely people in unusual situations.  When others may think there is no hope or that the battle is lost, the providence of God orchestrates a story of salvation and redemption.

Please stand with me as you are able as we read together only a portion of the story, featuring the four characters of Barak, Sisera, Jael, and Deborah, from Judges 4:6-9.

She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.

Let me give you an overview of this story.  This is set in the 12th century before the birth of Christ, in the area of the Northern tribes, near the plains of Megiddo and reaching across to the Sea of Galilee.
At this time in their history of the Israelite nation, the people are not unified by a central monarch, but the different nomadic tribes solve conflicts through regional judges.  The judges are a continuation of what was set up by Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, referenced in Exodus 18.  The requirements to be a judge was simple – someone had to be capable, honest, a person who loved God and hated bribes.  Moses selected the first group of judges during the time they wandered in the wilderness. The tradition of the judges continued on during the years after Moses, Joshua, and Caleb passed away.
This new generation of people, the earlier chapters of Judges reminds us, no longer remembered what God had done, how God had called them out of Egypt.  While they knew the facts of their history, they had forgotten the why and the who.  Since many of the northern tribes had not cleared their area of the promised land, they soon began to assimilate into the culture around them.  Traditions and laws of Moses were forgotten.  The people of Israel began to worship false gods, just as their neighbors did.  The Bible is very clear throughout, that our God is a jealous God – he desires our worship to be to him alone.  As the people, whom he called out of bondage in Egypt left the protection that worshiping provides, they became ensnared, enslaved, and embroiled in the regional conflicts.  It wasn’t too long before they found themselves powerless against King Jabin and General Sisera.  This is the way they lived for 20 years, under bondage, always paying tribute, and without freedom to the raiding bands equipped with the most modern instruments of human warfare – an armored division of iron chariots, 900 strong.

And while these geopolitical events raged around them, regional conflicts still happened.  People committed local crimes, inter-tribal disputes flared, and judges held court.  We don’t know much about other court cases that Deborah held, but this we do know…

The calling of a Woman.  This passage highlights one of the most famous female leaders of all time.  In a patriarchal culture, to have a female selected to a position of prominence was rare and unusual, but not without precedent.  She had been selected by the people because of her piety, honesty, and intellect as the best person to make major decisions.  We don’t get any major understanding of how she got here.  But we are offered a glimpse of her prophetic capacity that gives us a clue of her spiritual and devotional life.  It’s not because she has some uncanny to predict the future like a fortune teller.  Rather, it’s her ability to listen to what God whispers into her Spirit.  The calling is not necessarily a mystical process.  The calling of God can be very simple.  Love God, Love Neighbor.  Act Justly.  Engage in the talents you have.  Trust God.  Do what he says.  The people of Israel were tired of oppression and finally cried out to the Lord for help.  He heard their prayer and sent an answer.

Pay attention here – the people came to her to complain about disputes between them – but they didn’t come to her to solve the international issues.  Yet verse 6 shows us the calling God had on her life.  Good judges don’t make up facts.  They listen.  They ask pointed, critical questions.  The call people to look inside of themselves and to act.

So, when Barak gets a court order, a summons to appear before the regional judge, he goes.  And there, where he thinks he might be given advice about one thing, he is asked a disturbing question.  The conversation probably went something like this.  Hi Barak.  Hi Judge!  Thanks for coming today!  Sure, so what’s going on?  Well, I was praying last night, and God let me know that he’s been asking you to do something for Him.”  You can probably see Barak getting even more nervous. Deborah continues – So didn’t God tell you to put an army together and take care of this issue?  Long Uncomfortable Silence.

The calling of this woman was done by appointment and confirmed by her actions.  The calling of this man was done by showing him what could be in the future, despite his past.

God calls you, despite your past mistakes. (Barak)

Ever make a mistake?  I’ve made plenty.  We don’t have a lot of information about Barak’s background, but there is one interesting clue given by the name of the city he lived in.  Kadesh-Naphtali.  What is so important about that city?  First, we know from its name that it’s located in the tribe of Naphtali, near the sea of Galilee.  But more important than that, we know it’s one of the cities of Levi that has been set aside as a city of refuge.  A sanctuary city.  The Mosaic law from Numbers 35 describes these regional refuges.  There were cities where those who accidently killed a person, and who were being hunted by other tribes for revenge could find a place to live in safety, until a trial by an impartial judge could be arranged.  But they were also prisons – if the accused left the city, they would lose their protection.  Protection was permanent as long as he remained inside.

We don’t know Barak’s history, but we do know where he lived.  And if he had been on the Top Ten Wanted list in recent memory, you would understand the reluctance to accept the call that God was speaking to him.  This is the calling of the Out-law.  What, leave my place of protection?  Who would ever follow me in attacking an overwhelming force?  From the comments we see Barak saying, it appears that he feels powerless, afraid, unsure, trapped – just like a prisoner would feel.
The only way Barak would leave is if he was summoned to trial by the judge and granted protection for the journey.  If this was the case, imagine his surprise when the opening statement isn’t what evidence do you have that you are not-guilty, but why aren’t you doing what God has told you to do?
The implication is clear.  Whatever happened in the past, is in the past!  What matters is what you do today.  So, things went sideways last year.  What about now?  If your past isn’t perfect, how will you approach the future?

Barak, convicted by the truth that was spoken, may very well still fear for his safety.  Even though his calling is confirmed by the words of Deborah, he has a hard time trusting God His request for Deborah to accompany him may not just be for moral support, but for his assurance that he is still under the court’s protection order.  He still doesn’t realize that he is under God’s protection order.
As we see in the rest of the passage, Deborah accompanies him, Barak enters the battle leading the army of thousands, and the victory happens.  Barak is celebrated and becomes respected.  What this shows us is that God is patient with us as we accept his calling into the future we have, even when we have doubts about our past.  People will say, God can’t use me because I did this, or that.  God can’t use me, because of this situation in my marriage, or with my kid.  God can’t use me because I spent time in prison, I’m not respected, people don’t like me.  That attitude is completely false.  God calls you despite your past mistakes.

The third calling we see in this passage is of the troops, the fighting forces of Naphtali and Zebulun.  God calls you notwithstanding your limitations.  It’s easy to get people to sign up for the winning side, after all the hard work is done.  But in this case, anyone signing up knew they were going against an overwhelming force that no one had beaten.  They did not have the technology, the weapons, or the resources to win. 

We define ourselves by our limits.  What we can and cannot do.  I can’t do this, I don’t have the time.  I can’t do that, I don’t have the money.  I can’t do this over here, I don’t have the talent.  Too often we spend too much time telling ourselves what we can’t do, then allowing God to use us doing what He can do!

If there is one thing we see across the book of Judges, it is that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary stuff.  If there is one thing that we see across the Bible, it’s that God works behind the scenes and shows favor upon his people when they live and act according to his purposes.  If there’s one thing that we see across scripture, it’s that God is providential and always provides a way of escape.

If you are a military planner, you will absolutely know that the forces of Israel have no chance against the forces of Sisera.  Except for one thing, God does the fighting.  He caused confusion among the foreign army.  An unpredicted unseasonable flood suddenly turned the hard, dry creek bed into a sea of mud.  Chariots were stuck, unmovable.  All of the wartime innovations were neutralized.  The Israelite victory was never in doubt.

What does this remind us – The limitations we place on ourselves are meant to be overcome with God’s help.  The providential power of God often has a third option we overlook.  When we get into his presence, into his will and follow his calling despite our limitations, we can achieve the impossible.

There is one last calling in this sage.  The calling of the In-Law.  God calls you, irrespective of your status.  This is the calling of Jael.  Jael is often overlooked in this passage.  Many people know who Deborah is and the mistakenly think that when she agrees to go with Barak into battle and states that a woman will receive credit, she’s referring to herself.  She’s not!

It’s Jael who gets the honors. Jael who writes the post-script.  Jael, who is not a judge.  Jael, who is technically not a member of the chosen people.  She is a Kenite, she is grafted in.  The Kenites are descendants of Jethro, the father in law of Moses.  Moses had married a Kenite.  The judges were set up by Kenites.  The Kenites were well respected by the Israelites – but they were not the same culture or tribe.  The lived on the far edge of the border.

If you haven’t read the end of this chapter, let me tell you what happens.  Sisera, the general of the Canaanite troops, fled and took refuge in the tent of Jael on his way back home.  It was there that she assassinated him, by driving a tent stake through his temple as he slept.  I’m not suggesting that you go do likewise!

But a principle does emerge here.  Jael is not part of the covenant promise to the people of Israel – but she is part of God’s covenant.  Jael is an echo of Rahab, a foreshadow of Lydia.  Jael is a reminder that God can call you to achieve his purposes even if you are not part of the in crowd.  This is a reminder that God uses every person, every tribe and nationality, to accomplish his purposes.  People might think you are too strange, or an outcast, or someone who doesn’t quite fit in and lives on the fringes of society. – but God doesn’t.   God see you as someone who has the capacity to accomplish the goals he gives you. 

Remember This Today.

The great Christian devotionalist, Oswald Chambers, wrote this in his classic My Utmost for His Highest: “The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. Whether I hear God’s call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends upon my spiritual attitude.”
Yes, God can use you.  Yes, God calls you.  He calls everyone equally.  Service in the Kingdom of Christ is not limited by gender, not hindered by your past mistakes, not limited by your self-impositions, nor affected by your status in society.  God calls each and every one of us to Love God and Love Neighbor.  He calls us to be bold in witness.  He calls us to serve in justice.  He calls each of us to work together to advance the powerful name of Jesus, Our Savior. 

I attended a commissioning service recently where one of my mentors led a charge to a new group of pastoral candidates.  He reminded them that God calls them to their action – the church affirms their call.  That is not just true of pastoral candidates, but for every one of us.  We, as a Christian community, walk in the calling that God has given us.  We recognize, affirm, and support those who have a call.  As a Pentecostal church, we also fully know that everyone has a call, a purpose, a mission that God has given them.  Our job as a congregation is to partner together with each other in mutual support.

As a congregation, we call this membership – I call it partnership.  I am often asked by people what is the difference between just attending church and becoming a member.  My answer is this – membership is just a public affirmation of how you are already fulfilling the call God has on your life through faithful service or support to the local congregation.

Embrace You Calling.