I’m starting possibly a 2 week series today called “I’m a Fighter”
I have not, in my 40 years of being on this planet, ever closely followed the sport of boxing.
I’ve respected it, but like many of you, spending $80 for a pay-per-view of grown men punching each other in the face has not been my first choice in entertainment.
But just about everybody on the planet in familiar with the man known as Mike Tyson.
It’s one of the most unfortunate tattoos I’ve ever seen in my whole life.
And many are familiar with his 2 world famous fights in 1996 and 1997 against Evander Holyfield.
Many of you know, Mike Tyson lost the 2nd fight when he bit a piece of Holyfields ear off.
And an often quoted Mike Tyson said when discussing his plan going in to the fight that:
“Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.”
Of course the implication being that nobody enters a professional boxing match with the intention of biting someone’s ear off.
And that’s just funny.
But tragically, all too often, we see people who have perfectly reasonable plans for their life, and it’s all going fine, until they get punched in the mouth, and they don’t know what to do.
People who find themselves in life’s great battles, not knowing how to block, not knowing how to Bob and Weave, not knowing how to jab, not knowing how to uppercut, and as a result, life comes, and our adversary comes, and smashes us to pieces.
Pastor / Church
And part of what being a pastor is, (not all of it, but a part of it), is training you how to conduct yourself in the “ring” of life.
When you find yourself in seasons of opposition and challenge.
And one great thing about the Christian faith, is that we come from a vast heritage of fighters.
Page after page after page of your bible is filled with men and women who are fighting in the ring of life.
And I’d like to introduce you to one of them this morning. And his name is Joseph.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)
Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19)
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, (Matthew 1:20a)
Now just briefly, I want to point out that often times in scripture, when a man or woman of God is presented with a battle that they will fight, the forces of heaven will first remind the fighter who they really are.
“Yeah you’re Joseph. But you’re a son of David. You come from a long line of fighters.”
… do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20b)
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Watch this verse 22. This for everybody who wants a destiny, everybody who wants a purpose.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: (Matthew 1:22)
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:23)
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)
But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:25)
I want to ease into my subject this morning, with something that Jesus says that’s recorded in the Gospel of John. Jesus says “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
The word truth here, etymologically, is a word that means reality.
So Jesus here is saying that we will enter into season of life where in order to be free, we will need a revelation of reality.
Where I’m going to have to interrupt your sense of truth, with what’s really, actually true.
And I think we can underestimate the number of things we ASSUME are true, that we really just learned from the world.
Let’s use relationships as an example. In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul dedicates an entire chapter to relationships.
He’s talking about Christ’s relationship with the church. But he uses marriage as a metaphor.
And there’s all kinds of opinions on what it takes to make a relationship work.
Well Paul comes and says “Marriage isn’t just for two people in love. Marriage is for two MATURE people in love.”
He says “Two selfish people that are in love doesn’t work.”
“Marriage is for two people that are committed to SERVING each other.”
Now look, Paul’s not saying that to be mean. He’s trying to save you years of trying to work something in a way that doesn’t work.
So Paul comes and offers not what you’ll see on the Hallmark channel. Not what you’ll read about in a Nicolas Sparks novel, but what’s actually true.
And the longer you try to create a reality for yourself that it separated from the truth, the less FREE you’ll be.
Jesus said the truth will set you free.
In the Christian faith, there is no alternative to the truth.
And you can bang your head against the wall for years and years only to find there is no escaping the truth.
And most concerning for me as a leader in a church, is when people misunderstand and miscommunicate what the Christian life really looks like. And then at some point, life brings you something that is incongruent and inconsistent with what you believed to be true, and it can cause you to question not just what you believe about life, but what you believe about God.
Worship – “God is Good”
A recurring theme in all worship songs that we sing at this church is that God is Good.
And that’s a critically important truth that every Christian needs to ‘rest in’. The revelation that God is completely GOOD.
However, God is the one that determines what’s good.
So God is saying “I’m completely good. But I determine what good is.”
You thought me being good means you never cry. But I was clear with you, me being good means I’ll wipe away every tear from your eye.
You thought me being good means you never go into the fiery furnace. But the truth, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is that me being good means that if I don’t get you out, I’m coming in with you.
I’ll be there with you in the furnace, and I’ll be there with you when you come out of the furnace.
And so I want to loving challenge the notion that if you love God and have faith, you’ll never have a battle to fight. That’s not the truth.
And if you THINK that’s true, and you follow God for any amount of time, you will inevitably find yourself in the middle of a fight, and you’ll be too disoriented by the arrival of the fight to actually perform well in the fight.
And so I want to drop a bomb on somebody’s theology this morning, with this anchoring statement:
Living well requires knowing how to win a fight.
Jesus said it like this in John 16:
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)
He didn’t say you might. He didn’t say there’s a possibility. He said, As long as you have a residence in this world, you will have trouble.
And he says “now before this sends you in a downward spiral, But take heart! I have overcome the world.
In other words, the gospel (the world gospel means good news):
The gospel (the good news) is not good news because we get to avoid. The gospel is good news because whatever we don’t avoid, we can overcome.
”Uh huh. And how exactly do we do that?”
for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4)
Faith and Optimism
Now look, faith and optimism are not the same thing.
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)
This is what distinguishes faith from optimism.
Faith produces optimism. But optimism and faith are not not the same thing.
Optimism is a positive outlook in circumstances that are under no one’s control. Faith is a positive outlook in circumstances that are under God’s control.
In other words: Optimism says “It’ll work out.” Faith says “God is going to work it out.”
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:2a)
Many of you know this verse in the king James – “The author and finisher of our faith”
So faith begins and ends with confidence in Jesus.
So if what you have in just a general sense that things will work out, that’s not faith, that’s optimism.
Faith is saying “God is watching out for me, and he is faithful. The universe didn’t work it out. The one who created the universe worked it out.”
No disrespect to the universe, the universe is great. But the universe doesn’t care about you. The one who created the universe does.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)
So faith differs from optimism because faith has a corresponding action.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. (James 2:18)
Ok, so what does faith at work look like? It looks like a fight.
Now look at me. Faith doesn’t always look like winning. But it looks like a fight.
Faith doesn’t always look like a door opening immediately, but it looks like somebody’s pounding on the door, kicking the door, punching the door, climbing through a window, breaking a hole through the roof.
The fight is evidence of faith.
All of the promises of God are possessed through Faith and Faith has to fight.
Talking to Teenagers parents – In my 10 years of youth pastoring I would talk to a lot of concerned parents that would say “My teenage is struggling with their faith.” And I would try to be sensitive to it of course but I would often say something to the effect of “Struggling is fine. The fact that they’re struggling with it means they care about it. If they didn’t care about their faith, they wouldn’t struggle with it. They’d just slowly let it die like a neglected plant. But if they’re struggling to find what they believe, you oughta thank God for that. They’re gonna be fighting that battle their whole life, and that’s a fight they’re gonna need to know how to win. And it’s not your job, parent, to save your children from ever struggling.”
Need to Learn How To Fight
And I encounter too many Christians that know how to sing, know how to sow, know how to serve, but don’t know the first thing about how to fight.
And so when they hit seasons where they have to fight, they don’t know how to fight.
They’re so disoriented by the fact that they’re in a fight, that they don’t know what to do in the fight.
We’ve been rebuking it and binding it and blowing it away. Which are all good, just incomplete.
And when you find yourself in a ring, you don’t know what to do.
Your adversary is not going to stop fighting just because you never learned how.
So as a long-haul Christian. Someone who isn’t just going to survive, but thrive in life, you have got to know how to bob, and weave, and punch.
See, some of us are hurt, not because we’ve been hit, but because we haven’t been trained how to block.
See, other people got hit with the same punch, but it didn’t knock them out. Because they knew how to block and we didn’t.
I’m sure you’ve experienced that in church life. Where someone in your circle gets hit with a huge uppercut, and you expect them to go down, but they don’t.
(Exhilda McKinley Example)
Ok so Joseph. I was thinking about this, this past week. And I’m thinking “Joseph, you’re one of the greatest fighters in the Bible. You make an essential contribution but you’re greatly under-appreciated and undervalued.
Because when we look at your story, we see that God told Mary that she was having a son. But God told you what to name him.
Not only that, Herod wants to perform genocide and murder all the babies of jewish descent, because he’s afraid one of them will become the king of the jews and threaten his power.
And an angel appeared to YOU to tell you to get Mary and baby Jesus out of there.
Thank God for Mary. We should never undervalue her contribution. Mary deserves her credit.
Yet at the same time, let’s give our boy Joseph a little credit. But she wasn’t the only one that contributed to the rearing and the raising of our Savior.
And you might be thinking “What does this have to do with fighting? There’s no fighting in the story of Joseph.” Oh yes there is.
See, every fight has an arena.
And some arenas are public. But there’s also underground fighting. Some fighting is obvious. Some fighting is in secret.
And Joseph is fighting. But he’s fighting a fight that nobody knows about but him and God.
What do I mean?
Well the Bible says this man is engaged. Even more than engaged, he’s betrothed. What’s the difference?
Well today, you give a girl a ring, but you don’t have to marry her if you don’t want. You can always just change your mind.
In biblical times, betrothal is different. You weren’t formally married, but you had a legal obligation to marry.
So in order to call off the engagement, you had to meet the requirements for divorce.
So think this through with me.
- This man dates this girl named Mary. This is not mother Mary at this point, this is just ‘pretty teenage girl named Mary’.
- You get engaged.
- Your wedding day is set. You have not been intimate with her sexually.
Then one day, she texts you and says “Can we talk?”
Every man in this room knows that text is bad news.
You get a text ‘Can we talk?’ you get nervous.
- So Joseph goes to Mary and says “What’s up?”
- Mary says “I’m pregnant.”
- Joseph says “Ok. Who’s the Father?”
- Mary says “God.”
Let’s not over-spiritualize the story. That sound ridiculous. Just about no man on planet earth would believe that.
Now remember, he’s legally required to marry this woman.
So he’s at home, fighting this internal battle. Because who would believe that?
How is he supposed to tell his parents that? Imagine if you’re a teenage boy who’s engaged and you gotta go tell your parents that your fiancé is pregnant, but it’s God’s baby.
So God’s gotta send an angel to talk to him.
And I’m thinking about this internal, underground battle that Joseph is fighting.
And while this exact scenario is unlikely to repeat, I can say confidently that this is the type of battle lots of men have to fight.
Look, we don’t make gender specific messages in this church, but let me comment on it for a minute.
Often times mens battles are more private than womens battles because of mens tendency is to not share when they’re struggling.
But just because they don’t tell their 50 closest friends doesn’t mean they’re not fighting. Men usually fight underground.
And I’m not saying that’s a good thing, it probably isn’t, it’s just the way that it is.
So just because your husband doesn’t look like he’s fighting, doesn’t mean he’s not fighting.
Just like Joseph, often times our battles are internal. Men or women.
The thing about internal fights is you don’t win anything when you win.
- You can battle with drugs, and you win that, and people give you a high five
- You can battle alcoholism, and you win that, people give you a high five.
- You can battle cancer, and you win that, people give you a high five.
because those are battles done in a public arena generally.
He’s fighting in several areas that I think that we must be prepared and equipped to fight it. We won’t have his specific scenario, of course. But we will have to fight his same fight.
I’ve got 5 Arenas that he fought in that we’ll have to fight in as well.
#1 His Faith
The first thing that that Joseph does is he teaches us how to fight in our faith.
“God did it”
So Mary comes to him and says, God did it.
And he is obviously having some trouble believing that. So an angel has to come. And the angel has to say, Joseph, the child is from the the Spirit, and I am calling you to steward what I put on the inside of her.
And so the first battle Joseph has to fight is believing God. That is not uncommon.
Men and Faith
I think the enemy uniquely attacks men in the area of faith.
Historically, women have had greater faith and had to bring men along.
Sadly, a number of men that are here in this church and in churches all around the nation, are here because their wives dragged them here.
See, the devil knows the power of a man operating in faith.
It’s difficult (doable, but difficult) for a mother to raise her family in the ways of the Lord without the help of her husband.
But man, you have a dad and a mom raising their children in the ways of the Lord, that’s a powerhouse right there.
Another aspect of Joseph fighting in his faith is Joseph believing in the calling of his child.
That he had to look at this little baby Jesus, that burping up, and pooping everywhere and driving them both insane and say “This child has a calling on his life.” – Not always easy when you’re raising a brat. But it’s the fight of faith.
#2 His Flesh
It’s my belief that Joseph’s desire to divorce Mary quietly probably wasn’t just a faith issue, it’s was a flesh issue.
It’s an ego issue
- It’s a “People around town are gonna laugh at me” issue.
- It’s a ”My friends are gonna lose respect for me” issue.
- It’s a ”My life would be a whole lot easier if I just left this woman and found someone else.” issue.
I’m telling you, his ego is crushed. He’s humiliated. As a man, he’s crushed. And he’s like God, I’m grateful that the Savior of the world is coming to the earth. But if he was being honest, he will probably say but I wish you would have put that baby in another woman. I want Jesus to come in the world but I don’t want to have to live through what I gotta live through.
#3 His Fear
Joseph had to fight fear. The text says the angel says to Joseph “Don’t be afraid.”
Now of course, angels have to say that often because people are frightened when they see an angel. But I think Joseph was scared of more than just the angel.
He’s responsible, not just for himself, but for keeping Mary and Jesus safe, in an unbelievably dangerous time.
Where you can’t call the authorities if you need help, because the authorities will kill your child.
It’s the fear that comes with leading a family.
There is not a single husband, there is not a single father that doesn’t know what this feels like.
And this is what’s interesting: men don’t (generally speaking, there are exceptions of course) but men usually don’t show fear the way we assume fear will be shown.
You know why some men are workaholics? Fear.
LOOK AT ME sisters. He’s thinking about stuff he’s not talking to you about.
He’s thinking about _How am I do this? How I’m gonna move this around? How I’m gonna do this? If this happen, are we going to be okay? How can I protect us? How can I insulate us? How can I do this? How can I do that? If I lose my job, this is gonna happen?
It can be summed up like this: “How am I gonna not let everybody down?”
And on the surface, it just looks like a guy sitting in a chair. But all men have to fight fear.
I don’t care how prideful he looks, he’s fighting. Some of the most prideful men are fighting insecurity. That’s all pride is anyway. Pride is insecurity playing dress up that’s all it is.
You’d never know it. Because they think looking strong is one way they protect you.
It’s interesting, in the Hebrew, one of the word the bible uses to describe men is “Weight Bearer”. You’ve been born to bear weight. You’ve been built for it. You just need the skills to know how to manage it.
And as a man I can say that the stress that men feel, most often, is not even about them. It’s about the people God has trusted them with.
Ok, to the men: You gotta fight that brother. You gotta fight that. Because God always works it out.
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)
#4 His Feelings
He’s fighting his feelings.
You might assume that after the initial agreement, Joseph never again struggles with questions. He never again struggles with his assignment.
That is an unrealistic assumption, because even Jesus was ok with his assignment one moment, and struggling with it in another.
”God I meant it when I said ‘yes’ to you. But now I don’t know how I feel about it.”
#5 His Fate
Joseph is fighting his fate.
The Bible says all this happened to Joseph so that a prophecy would be fulfilled.
He’s wrestling with what’s been picked for him.
Think about this: “While you ultimately pick the life you live, you don’t pick the life you’re SUPPOSED to live.”
Think about that.
- You don’t pick your destiny.
- You don’t pick your calling.
You choose whether or not you fulfill it. But you don’t pick your assignment. You DISCOVER it.
I know that’s not what you read in some self-help book, but that’s the truth. You can design your life, but you don’t design your calling.
Think about Joseph’s assignment. His assignment is keeping Jesus safe. Wow.
God entrusts Jesus to Joseph. And to Mary of course. But God gives Joseph specific strategies for keeping Jesus safe.
So parents, that child? Those children of yours? That’s your child, but REALLY, that’s God’s child. And he trusts you with them.
His children are an assignment. God trusts you with them.
And sometimes the things that we’re facing, is not even about us it’s about what we’re supposed to help others carry.
Joseph’s fight wasn’t about him. It was about the people God entrusted to him.
Here’s the good news. Joseph won the fight. He had to fight, so he fought, and he won.
And I want to tell somebody in the room, I know you feel like this fight is gonna last forever. But of you don’t quit, with God’s help, you’re gonna win that fight.
Every Christ Follower who doesn’t quit eventually wins.
You might have to fight more rounds than you’d like. But keep punching. Keep blocking. Keep bobbing and weaving, Jesus told you you would.
I don’t know what you fight is this mornings. They may be fights no one knows about.
- Fighting to keep food on the table.
- Fighting for your kids
- Fighting for your family
- Fighting for your destiny
- Fighting for your healing
And some of you are deflated. But you can’t be defeated. There’s too many others that are depending on you.
There are people in your future that you haven’t even met yet that are depending on you becoming a better version of yourself.
Young people, you’re like I don’t have a family I don’t have people I’m responsible for. But listen, you will be. And those people are going to be either blessed or burdened by who you become.
And as I close, I want to pray for those of you who are fighting and need a second wind.
You know what a second wind is right? It’s something that comes right at that moment when you think you’re about to collapse, that fills you with energy, and power, and passion, and drive.
And in this case we believe it’s gonna come through the Holy Spirit to rejuvenate and revive your weary heart.
Pray Father, I pray right now in the name of Jesus for my friends here today. Every person who feels like their contributions are taken for granted. Lord, I pray for vitality and renewal and a second wind.
The person who’s fighting for his faith, the person who’s fighting fear, the person who’s fighting their feelings, the person who’s fighting their flesh, the person who’s fighting their fate, Lord I pray for them. Lord, revive these champions. We need them. Our churches need them. Our communities need them. Our families need them. Raise up powerful people who will embrace powerful callings to make your kingdom great.
I pray this in Jesus name. Amen.