Friday, June 29, 2012

Being Like David: Being Used by God

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49 As David’s train through live takes him toward kingship, this stop at the fields of Ephis-dammin is one of the more important stations. This is the one event in David’s life that moves him from being sheep herding, harp playing youngest son of Jesse the Bethlehemite to being the champion of the Hebrew peoples. This event moves him from the fields outside of Bethlehem into household of king Saul himself. It is a caption of a young boy full of vigor, faith, courage and insurmountable gal. Perhaps here we get a glimpse of the seed in David’s heart which God saw inside the boy when Samuel anointed him king. Here truly is one who is willing to be the king God will have for Israel. The scene begins with the armies of Israel encamped between Socoh and Azehah, doing nothing. There is no battle there is no fight. Just a call from the enemy to settle this thing like civilized people. A battle of the best. One from each side comes to the field of battle and dukes it out. Apparently this is the philistine’s idea. The philistine’s have already chosen their champion but the Israelites have not chosen a champion and Goliath, the philistine champion has taken to mocking the armies for not having a champion to send for. So each day he comes out calling for their bravest and best to come fight, to settle this disagreement between two nations with as little waste and blood shed as possible, and then taunting them for their lack of response. What is interesting is that the people of Israel wanted a King who could lead them in battle; a king so that the other countries would respect them. But here not only do we find that having a king does not keep other nations from disrespecting them on the battle field, but King Saul is not even attempting to lead them, he just sitting there waiting for someone else to step up to the challenge of this philistine. In fact, if King Saul had not directly disobeyed a command from God, Israel would not be in this battle at all. So here is the entire Israelite army daily being taunted by this philistine, while they are just sitting around looking at each other wondering who is crazy enough to step up to this giant of man and take his challenge, because crazy is exactly what it would take to do this. Not only could stepping up mean death, but it could also mean shame for your entire family, better to sit in communal shame than to have the entire shame of Israel poured upon your family for generations to come. Who wants to take this risk. It is not just a risk of one’s own life but it is the risk of the lives of all those in your line from now until forever. Untold shame, in this situation, seems much more likely than untold fame. Who wants that? Then in walks this impetuous boy who comes to the field to bring provisions to his brothers and news back to his father about what is going on with the war. After witnessing exactly what is going on with the war, this boy just has to do something. This is an outrage, this Philistine can’t talk to the people of God like that! What nobody is willing to fight him. Well then if no one else will, I will. And after some discussion with his brother and then the king, a failed game of dress up, he heads out to the battle field with some stones, a sling and his shepherds rod. Goliath takes offense to the Israelites sending this boy out to fight him, like he is nothing more than a dog that needs to rounded up and showed his proper place. If the Israelites had wanted to purposefully insult the huge warrior and the entire Philistine army, they could not have done better if they had tried. I mean think about what it would be like. The Philistines have sent out their biggest, best, scariest warrior and after many days deliberation the Israelites send out this boy, as if saying, “We really don’t take your or your threat seriously, even this boy could take you out, with nothing more than a stick and a pouch full of rocks.” But what adds injury to insult is the fact that this boy with his sticks and stones actually succeeds in taking down this giant of a man. David makes short work of him and defeats him without much trouble at all. You may or may not have noticed that I skipped over a very important little speech David made before he headed out to defeat Goliath. When questioned by Saul about how exactly a little wisp of a boy plans on killing the Philistine champion. David explains to him that as a shepherd he has on more than one occasion needed to take down a bear or a lion, and this Philistine is not all that different than a bear or a lion, besides, that same God who helped me when I was defeating the bear and the lion is the same God who will take down this Philistine. As he begins this speech David almost comes off as a swaggering braggart, not all that different from Gaston, the antagonist in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, he is a mighty hunter who has taken down all these animals and now he is going to take down this beast. But David does not list off the many bears and lions to let Saul know exactly how big and bad he really is, he brings up the bears and lions to let Saul know that if God can help him with some bears and lions, God can surely help him defeat this lousy Philitine. This is not about what David can do, this is not about the strength, intelligence and ability of this young man. This is about what that young man can do when God is his strength, when God is using him and directing him. David knows that God will be with him, that God has helped him on many occasions before and David knows that God will be with him now. And resulting death of the Philistine champion is not a victory for David but a victory for God. This is what we can learn from this young boy. We as Christians know that God is with us, giving us strength and ability beyond our own to help us accomplish the things God is calling us to do. Now let me make myself clear. I am not saying that because we are Christians God will assure us that everything we set our hand will succeed because God is with us, that God’s hand goes where ever we go, that God’s strength is backing us no matter what. It doesn’t work quite that way. This is not a blanket approval and support from God in all things. When we follow God, when we rely on God, when we are going where God is directing us, doing the things God is calling us to do, then we will be able to accomplish that which God has set aside for us to do. God’s strength will be our strength, God’s power is our power, God’s comfort, and guidance will be with us each step along the way. But it begins and ends with God, not with us. Anyone can invoke God’s name, anyone can do just about anything and say they are doing what they are doing in God’s name, but saying you are doing something in God’s name is not a “magic spell” that infuses the task you have before you with the power of God, or procures the will of God for this thing you are about to do. Doing something in God’s name means that you are going where God leads, doing what God is calling you to do. Saul, said that he was going to defeat the Philistine in God’s name but God had directly told him to not attack the Philistines. Those events surrounding this decision are what have led to this battle. Saul is at this battle, God could have just as easily used Saul to defeat Goliath, but Saul had come to the battlefield against the will and the wishes of God. God’s strength was not with Saul, but when David stepped up and relied on God, then David was able to succeed where Saul could not. When we are doing what God has called us to do, then God can and will use us to do the things to which God has called us. God will be with us, God will guide us and direct us, God will carry us all along the way. It might be difficult, David’s call to be king has a little more than a few difficulties along the way but God still leads David each step, along this journey. Good continually puts David in positions and places where if David trusts and relies on God, they will ultimately lead him to the kingship over all Israel. Here God brings David to the fields of Ephes-Dammin, God gives David the courage to speak up and volunteer, and the strength and ability to defeat this man no one else is even willing to dare to face. David trusts and relies on God. When we trust and rely on God not only can we take down the lions and bears that we find in lives, but we can win battles and take down giants as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Being Like David: Being Chosen

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 We saw the prequel last week and these next few weeks we will watch the part of the trilogy (aren’t all good – and bad - movies trilogies these days?) that is the Making of a King. The movie opens with a stranger coming to town; after all there are only two stories: a man goes on a journey and a stranger comes to town. This story begins with a disheveled old man walking up a dusty road toward a town. There is a man in his field on the outskirts of town; he can see the dust rising before the stranger comes up over the rise. He stops leans on plow and watches for a minute to see who it is. He strains his eyes and as the man makes his way up the road, he comes into view piece by piece. It takes a second for him to recognize the stranger, the realization shows on his face. He calls one of his boys over to him. You can see him say something to the lad and the young man takes off up the road. Before the stranger can reach the man and his field, a group of men have gathered they are conferring. You can hear them identify this stranger as “the profit,” “the judge.” There is a mumble about how his sons are no good but he is God’s man, but what is he doing here? The king has fallen out of favor with him. He is displeased, says God is displeased. He hasn’t spoken to the king in quite a long time. What is he doing here? What does Samuel have to with us? They talk and come to a decision. As Samuel approaches them one of them calls out, “Do you come in peace?” Seriously a screen play writer could not have written this better. “Yes I come in peace, I have come to make sacrifices to God, sanctify yourselves and come with me.” And as things progress you see him making a point to assure that all the boys from one particular family are sanctified. After the sacrificing is done, he calls Jesse, the father of this family over and one by one inspects his boys. The eldest one is tall and strong and handsome, an obvious leader surely, Samuel examines him closely, looks up into the man’s strong face, the voice of God speaks quietly to Samuel telling him to not look at outward appearance because God looks at the heart, Samuel looks away from the man disappointed, shaking his head, “no, no he is not the one.” He looks at the next son, shakes his head again, “no, not the one.” He goes through the next, and the next, and the next until seven of Jesse’s sons have passed before Samuel, each one is not the one. None of these are the one, do you have any other sons, (are you holding out on me?). Jesse is slightly taken aback and a little shame faced, yeah he has another son, the youngest, “he is out tending the sheep and playing his harp, he really is of no account, but if you want me to call him in from the fields I can.” He sends one of the others and shortly our hero, a handsome young man, with a beautiful smile and captivating eyes comes up over the hill running, wondering what his father wants with him. The boy is still out of breath as Samuel looks him up and down, looks him in the eye and says, “You, you are the one.” Samuel anoints this one to be king. We all remember grade school gym class, I know I do, I remember when the teams were being chosen, whether it be kickball, dodge ball, or esp. basketball, as you can imagine I was not the first to be chosen, or the second one, I was almost always the next to last, you know right before the girl who broke her foot last week. This is what is going on here except all the kids who are used to being to being picked aren’t being picked and you can’t help but wonder why. What’s wrong with them? Are they, like Saul, out of favor with God? What hidden flaw do they have? What malady of the Spirit does God see that Samuel and the onlookers are missing? It is easy to get caught up on why God does not choose Jesse’s other seven sons, and why God chooses David instead. Since God looks at the heart and not outward appearance, the assumption is that there must be something defective with these young men that only God can sees and David must have some phenomenal inner trait that only God can see. But the text does not say that. Nothing bad is said about any of these young men, just that they are not chosen. David is said to be handsome and have beautiful eyes, we do not know what God sees when God sees into David’s heart but God chooses David, and the story of that David’s slow progression to Kinghood begins. And Jesse’s other sons are left standing in the field unchosen and not good enough, or at least from this point on we forget about them. But it is not so much that they were unchosen, just that they were not chosen to be king. I am sure if they followed God and were faithful to God they were chosen to something else in their lifetimes, to live quiet lives as strong men of God, leaders in their town, in their clan, in their tribe, to be good farmers or shepherds, husbands, fathers. They have stories, they have callings, they were chosen but not chosen to be king. That is the thing to remember when we look at this anointing story, this story of the choosing of David. David was not simply chosen, as if being chosen is an end in itself. No one is ever chosen just to be chosen, David is chosen to be king. David is chosen to be king, because somewhere in that harp playing sheep tending heart God sees that this one, this one can make a good king. David is not simply chosen he is chosen to do something specific. You can imagine as David kneels before Samuel, out of breath from running in from the field, the scent of sheep still on him, and the notes from the last song he was playing on his harp still in his mind that he is thinking to himself, ”is this guy for real? God has chosen me? To be king?” It is not so much that when God looks into David’s heart, God sees a phenomenally spiritual man who is so amazing that God just has to choose this one to be king, but more along the lines that when God looks into this young man’s heart, God see in him the potential to be a great man of God, an excellent leader, the king of God’s people. David is not chosen to be king because he is already amazing but because God knows that this harp playing shepherd has the potential, if he trusts and relies on God he can be the king these people need. When God looked into the hearts of his brothers, God saw something else for them, something else a little less flashy, a little less remembered for all time, but important, pertinent and valuable each in their own way, just not chosen to be king. The fact of the matter is not everyone is chosen to be king. There is only one king, that is one of the things about being king, all things are going peaceably there can be only one, when there is more than one there is a problem and things don’t go down so peaceably. God chose David to be king. But God also choose Jesse to be the father of a king and God choose David’s brothers to do other vital things in their community and in the lives of their loved ones. God chooses and God chooses based on criteria we may never understand. We may not understand why God choose those around us to do the things that God is choosing for them to do. I may never really know why God choose an ultimately, shy, awkward, geeky girl, who had few friends to be a pastor, but God saw something at 13 that those around me did not yet see and something that I most definitely did not see in myself. But God chose me, not simply for the sake of choosing, God chose me to do that which God enabled me to do. Not that which I could do on my own, not that which was with in my own power to accomplish but God called me to do that which could only be accomplished if I walked with God and trusted God. God calls us all. This is not like gym classes where some of us are standing last in line but God chooses us all first to do what it is that God calls us to do. When God comes before us he does not pass us by, but chooses us to do that which God knows that once enabled and empowered by God we can accomplish and will accomplish. It is an old worn out saying but it is true. God does not call the enabled, God enables the called. But God does call. God calls us all. In Ephesians Paul says some are called to be teachers, and some to be evangelists and some to be preachers. The fact of the matter is that we are all called by Go to do something, we are all empowered by God to do something. We are all chosen, but we are not simply chosen to be chosen, to be special, we are all chosen; chosen because God knows our hearts; chosen to do that which God will enable us to do; chosen to do the work and the will of God in this world, to glorify God and to further God’s kingdom. But we are all chosen we just need to trust and rely on God in all things to enable us to be the person and do the things God has chosen for us to do.

Being Like David: The Prequel; "How it all Began"

1 Samuel 8:1-20, 11:15-16 Every person’s story has a beginning. We like to think that most people stories begin with their birthday, but the fact of the matter, is that events that will shape the whole of their lives often are things that happen terciaryily to any given person’s life. The story of David begins here in the passage I just read, well, we can only guess that if these events had not happened David would still have had a story, but it would have gone quite differently. You see in order for David to really enter the historical scene, Saul and the Israelite armies have to be camped at Ephes-dammim so that David can, at a fairly young age, journey there and defeat Goliath, thus catapulting him into the public eye and beginning the journey that would eventually lead him to not only be the one truly great king Israel ever has, but lead him to be the spiritual leader we know. Before he is coroneted, before Saul tries to kill him, before Goliath, before Samuel can anoint him king, before God can get fed up with Saul, the people of Israel have depose God as their sole leader and demand to be ruled by a king. Every good story must begin somewhere, and this right here is where it begins. This is the prequel event that leads to all the good stuff that will one day be the story of David. This is the one event without which David’s life would not have been what it will one day become. So as we look at David we begin here, with this prequel story. We begin here so we know why it is that Israel, a nation, a different kind of nation, with a different kind of God. God had come to the Hebrew people when they were but slaves, working for the Pharaohs dieing for the Pharaohs and suffering all along the way. God brought them up out of Egypt, up out of the land of slavery and took them to Sinai where God pledged to be their God, to lead them to a land that would be their own, to help them conquer the people who lived there, defeat them and give the land over to them. God promised to protect them, to guide and to be their God and they promised to be God’s people; they would live as God called them to live, to live by God’s laws and God’s ordinances, to love and obey God in all things. God was to rule over them and they were to be God’s people. God would give them human leaders whom God would show how to lead and to guide them. God had given them Moses and Joshua, and then the judges Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Samson and now Samuel. God had never left them alone, had never disappointed or failed to be anything less than the ruler God had promised to be, but this was not enough. They are displeased. Samuel’s sons are not proving to be very wise and so the elders, gather together have themselves a little meeting and decide what they want. Perhaps they gather at the goading of the people of Israel, perhaps not, we don’t know. We just know they meet and come up with a plan. They decide what will be best for them, what will be best for the people. Up until this point this has been God’s job, the deciding what is best, but the elders don’t think that things are going to work out the way they want them to, so they decide to take control and they want things to be done their way. They want a king. Now what is a king, but a Pharaoh by a different name? They ran away from Pharaoh, because living in Egypt under a pharaoh was not working out so well for them. They did not like it very much. But learning from the past is not Israel’s strong suit, they want a king, they want a king so instead of being different, instead of being ruled by God they can be ruled by a king. They want to be just like ever one else, being different is hard, they don’t like it. So they come to Samuel with their plan. They want a king; go tell God that they want a king. Notice they don’t care to tell God themselves. They send God’s messenger to go do their dirty work for them. I mean nobody wants to stand before a king and tell him that his people are deposing him as their ruler; you better bet that nobody really wants to be the idiot who goes before God and tells God that God’s own people are deposing him as their ruler. They still want him as God, but God and king should be separate. God, we will let you be God, but we don’t want you to rule us any more, we want to rule ourselves (yeah, because ruling yourselves is what having a king is all about). Samuel is a little more than miffed on God’s behalf. He sees what this is all about. They don’t trust God anymore. They are not willing to live up to their side of the covenant. They don’t like the arrangement they have made with God so they are choosing to alter it, for their convenience and they want God to agree and go along with it. So Samuel take’s their “plea” to God, fully expecting God to laugh in their faces and say, “No.” But that is not what God does. God says, “Yeah, sure, you can have a king, have all the kings you want. But I warn you this; will not; work well for you. Kings don’t work for you, you work for the king. Kings don’t rule for you, kings’ rule for themselves, to uphold and protect their power over you and will do everything they need to do to extend their power to make it greater. You may think that having a powerful king will make you look like a powerful nation, but having a powerful king will mean that you live and die to serve that power, to strengthen and ensure that power. Kings take your sons, they take your daughters, they take the best of your land, the best of your fruit, the best of your crops, the best of your animals and force you to work on their behalf. I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of slavery and because you request it, because you demand it, because you truly believe this is what you want, I will allow you to be slaves once again, because a nation with a king is a nation of slaves.” So Samuel goes back to the people and tells them all that God has told him. He explains to them in no uncertain terms how bad a king will be and how miserable their lives will be. And the people listen and cry out in a united voice, “Oh no don’t allow that to happen to us, we like things just the way they are!” No, they insist that God give them a king. Hang the consequences. They know that if God chooses the king, their king will be good. Their king will not be wooed by power and will not lord it over them, like the kings of all the countries they want to be like. Their king will be different. They just know it; besides a king is good when you got to go battle all those other nations with kings. They want a king, so God gives them Saul, well you know he was a great and awesome king, if you like kings who are narcissistic mad men who like to throw spears at their musicians, and decide that falling on their own sword is the good and proper way to end a loosing battle. And because Saul fails so miserably at being anything close to a good king, David becomes king after him and succeeds where Saul fails, and is the one king who truly lives up to the expectations the people has for a king. He is one of very few exceptions in a long list of kings who live up to the picture a King God paints here for Israel. It is sad to say, but the greatness of David, is rooted here in this horrible story of Israel’s rejection of dependence up on God for all things and in all things. Israel deposes God as their ruler, because they don’t trust God to be who God says God will be. They reject the kind of leadership God has been giving to them. They don’t like not knowing who will lead them. They don’t like not completely understanding how this system works. They don’t want God to lead them. They don’t like being different than the world around them. They want the nations around them to accept them and see them as equals, and they think they know how to do that. If they have a king, just like the other nations have kings, the nations will respect them. If they have a great and mighty king to lead them into battle these other nations will see that king and tremble and leave them alone. They know how the world works. They know how people think. God does not understand. God is all about being God. God lives in the heavens, where gods live and does not really understand how things work down here. Down here it is not good to have an unseen ruler, an intangible force with whom the other nations must recon. God does not understand, but they do. They need things to be the way they think they need to be and God needs to listen to them and do things their way. Their ways are the ways of the world, and God’s ways are well just God’s ways, they don’t work here on earth in the real world. Now don’t get me wrong trust is hard. We live in a world of empirical data. We need to be able to touch, see, taste and prove what we know, in order to trust that it is true. If an experiment can’t be set up to prove that something is so and that experiment be replicated by many people in different places at different times then it is not true, it has not been proven to be true. We have a hard time trusting what we can not see, touch, smell, and prove to be true. My professor in seminary, as part of some illustration, told us about these straw bridges (as in bridges made from straw, you know the part of the wheat shaft you don’t eat, the stuff you make cow beds out of) he had seen on his journeys in some jungle land. He showed us a picture of a man leading a heavily laden donkey across one. Let me tell you something I don’t really believe in them. I have never seen one, I have never touched one and really I have only ever seen that one picture of one. I mean I logically can tell you that this professor is trust worthy and am pretty sure he would not make something up just to make point to us in class. But I do not really believe these things exist. I mean seriously a bridge made out of straw? How do I know this thing really exists somewhere out there in some unnamed jungle in some unknown part of the world? Ok, let’s say it does exist, somewhere in some deep dark jungle there is a straw bridge. For the sake of argument; I mean after all I do trust this professor, he has no reason to lie to us, and he did have a picture of one after all, so they must exist somewhere, right? But would I trust it? Would I step out on the bridge with some indefinably deep chasm below me and trust that it will hold me up. NO. I know for a fact I won’t. I know this because I know I have a hard time trusting things I know will hold my weight when that weight is slung our over say a 150 foot pit. In the time BC, Before Children, Mike and I went caving. That was our hobby. Now there is caving, which involves crawling around in various sized holes in the ground for fun and enjoyment and then there is vertical caving which is doing the former but when there is a rope and a pit involved at some point in the process. In order be able to go vertical caving the first time you have to practice and have to have spent so many hours “on rope” before you stick yourself out over a 150 foot pit and drop. The day I dropped down my first pit, two grown men (who each weighed at least 200 lbs) and Mike went down the same rope I was going down, before I did. But when it was my turn it took me 15 minutes (at least) to convince myself that when I stepped off the lip of that hole that the rope would indeed hold my weight and I would not plummet to bottom of that hole and die. This is why I know if ever faced with a straw bridge I would not be able to easily trust it. I don’t care how many donkeys carrying men and packs that weight three, four times what I weigh, just crossed that bridge. I would be frightened, scared half out of my wits to step foot on that bridge. I would really have a hard time trusting it. Assuming I am in that jungle and watched those donkeys and those men cross that bridge. I would have seen that the bridge was trust worthy. But it would still be hard, just as hard if not harder than trusting my weight to that rope and depending on it to keep me from falling to my death. So I understand the Israelites’ position here. Trusting and depending upon things we do see, do know and do understand is hard enough. Trusting in an unseen, unheard, unfathomable, hard to understand God is even harder. Trusting God is hard. There is no way to lay hands on God. God can not be seen. God can not be touched, tasted, smelled. There is no certifiable way to prove God even exists; there is no experiment you can set up that will prove that God is, much less can be trusted and depended upon to do the things that scriptures tell us God will do. Yet we are expected to do just this, trust God, depend on God. To believe what the scripture tell us about God is true. Trust in the unseen, believe in the unknown, depend up on the untouchable. This faith stuff is not easy. It is not a given. It is foolishness by all standards. We live in a world that believes in what it can seen, touched, tasted, heard and proved. We believe in a God who can not be known in any of these ways. We can want God to be different. We can insist on having a God that is seen, that is touched, that is tasted, heard and proved, but we would be doing just what the Israelites are doing here. We want God to be what we can understand. We want what we know we need, so that we can live in a world that functions and lives by a different set of rules. God needs to understand that, God needs to learn to function in ways that make sense to us and to the people of our world. We can depose God in our own lives in our own ways. We can choose to not trust God to be the God, to be the God says God is, or we can step out on faith, look at that bridge and start walking, look at that hole, lean out over it and trust that rope to do what you know it will do, hold your weight and allow you to do what you need to do to slowly be lowered safely to the bottom. Trusting God is not easy. Trusting is hard. But trusting is exactly what we are called to do; to believe, to trust, to depend on God, to be who God says God will be, to do what God says God will do, that God will be God in all things at all times. Period.