Friday, June 22, 2012

Caution and Challenge (1 Samuel 17)

“David and Goliath” is one of the world’s best known Bible stories.  It is the classic story of victory for the “underdog.”  David and Goliath are now part of the global vocabulary.  When a small company enters a new market, reporters call it a “David and Goliath” situation.  This is a “feel good” story that we all love to love.
But this very familiarity creates a problem.  We are so likely to hear this story wrong.  We are so likely to apply it incorrectly to our lives.  If we take the simple childlike version of this story and apply it to our grown-up lives, we could get a gross distortion of the Christian message.  This story has an important message for us, but we have to be careful how we get there.  Today, as we talk about David and Goliath, I want to offer us four cautions and one challenge.  
First the cautions.
Caution #1: Don’t assume using God’s name leads to victory.
History is littered with people and nations who got this wrong.  Even the Bible tells one story after another of people who misused God’s name in battle.  
In the book of Numbers, when Israel finally got to the borderland of Canaan, they chickened out and decided to go back to Egypt.  God told them to go into the desert for more lessons in faith, but the people changed their minds again and decided that they would try to fight the Canaanites after all.  “‘Let’s go,’ they said. ‘We realized that we have sinned, but we are ready to enter the land the LORD has promised us’” (Numbers 14:40).  They marched forward in God’s name as God’s people to the land God had promised, and they were soundly defeated.  They used God’s name, but they were still not faithful to God.

In chapter 4 of 1 Samuel, there is an intriguing story.  Israel went into battle with the Philistines, and 4000 Israelite soldiers died.  Then, they decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them.  This was the physical symbol of God’s presence with his people, and the people thought this would guarantee victory for them.  It didn’t work.  30,000 Israelites died, and the Ark of the Covenant was captured.  Maybe it didn’t work because the priests were corrupt.  Maybe it didn’t work because the people were treating God like a good luck charm for their own agendas.  
We aren’t exactly sure what to do with these stories, but they do tell us something about the David and Goliath story.  Not every battle is God’s battle.  We can read about David and Goliath and feel like God must be on our side in whatever battles or hardships we face.  But that’s not true.  We might say we’re working for God while all the while we’re working for ourselves, and we’re just trying to use God as a lucky charm.  Or we might have a good heart but be fighting in the wrong direction.  The first caution for the David and Goliath story is don’t assume that using God’s name leads to victory.
Caution #2: Don’t assume your victory will be physical.
Don’t assume God will defeat all your enemies or problems.  It doesn’t take much reading in the New Testament to realize that even the most faithful Christians still had huge problems.  In many cases, the most faithful had the most problems.   
But God can give a different kind of victory in a different kind of battle.  In Ephesians 6, Paul reminds us: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world ...” (6:12).  
In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul is very honest that true faithfulness doesn’t give freedom from hardship but endurance in hardship.  “We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind” (6:4).  I’m not sure what Paul thought about the David and Goliath stories when he was beaten, put into prison, or faced angry mobs.  And yet, there is another kind of victory in the midst of these hardships: “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.  We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others.  We own nothing, and yet we have everything” (6:10).
Sometimes God works physical miracles - like the calming of the storm (Mark 4:35-41), or like setting Paul and Silas free from prison with an earthquake (Acts 17:26), or like the many healings in the Bible.  I honestly believe we should pray for more of this kind of miracle.
However, even so, these miracles seem to be more the exception than the rule.  And many times, people who believe just as much or pray just as much, don’t get the miracle.  There is a song that explains this well:
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn't mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child.
Whatever the David and Goliath story means, don’t assume that it promises God will give you an outward, physical victory.
Caution #3: Don’t assume you need the same armor.
When Saul finally agreed to allow David to fight Goliath, the first thing he did was to outfit David with as much armor as possible.  David wisely refused.  Saul’s armor would have slowed David down, and besides that, as a shepherd, David probably didn’t even know how to use all of that stuff.  
David stuck with what he knew - his shepherd staff and his sling shot.  That may seem foolish to us.  It certainly seemed foolish to Saul and everyone else around.  David was basically going into battle unarmed and defenseless.  But he was being honest about who he was.  
I’ve heard a few modern proverbs about this story from some wise old Christian men.  My grandfather often tells me, “Every man has to fight in his own armor.”  And once I heard Brennan Manning tell about some advice he got from his mentor - and old African-American preacher from Mississippi: “If you aint who you is, then you is who you aint.”   
As David Wells says: “If you’re feeling burdened and heavy laden right now, is it because you’re wearing someone else’s armor?  Are you trying to be someone you’re not and never will be?”
Don’t try to wear someone else’s armor.  Don’t try to use someone else’s strategies.  Don’t try to live up to someone else’s expectations.  Just be faithful to who you are.  Be the best YOU you can be.  Don’t assume that you need to dress like Goliath to defeat Goliath.  This is the third caution: don’t assume you need someone else’s armor.
Caution #4: Don’t assume you won’t become Goliath.  
Didn’t see that coming did you?  David Wells is helpful again:  
99% of people who read this story identify with David.  We all think we’re the little guy. ...  And in movies, athletics, business and politics, we all feel the pull of that righteous cultural conviction: Stand up for the little guy. ... We want our movies to be about David, but we spend our lives trying desperately hard to be Goliath. We think it’s quaint and clever that David got by with five smooth stones and a sling, but we spend our own energies stockpiling swords and spears and javelins.
We celebrate David, but we live like Goliath.  We honor David, but we want to be like Goliath.  We don’t want to be the little guy.  We don’t want to be the guy who takes wild risks in the name of faith.  We want to be the guy who stands on top of the world without fear.  We want to be the guy who gets every question right and can go to any university in the world.  We prefer strengths to risk.  We prefer certainty to faith.  We all prefer power to weakness.  Deep in our hearts we prefer Goliath to David.
And the great tragedy of this story is that David became another Goliath.  The little guy became the big guy.  The champion of justice became the brutal ruler.  The poor shepherd became the rich abuser.  Just keep reading in 1 Samuel; it’s not a pretty picture.
Right now you may have some enemies.  People may be treating you wrong.  People may be saying all kinds of unkind things about you.  
Or you may be living with great uncertainty in your life.  Maybe a loved one has cancer.  Maybe your company is failing.  Maybe your marriage is on the rocks.  Maybe you are struggling with addiction.  Goliath can take many forms.
But don’t assume that if God helps you defeat this Goliath, you won’t allow Goliath to reincarnate in your life in another form.  Pride comes before the fall (Proverbs 16:18), but it also comes after the victory.  After the victory, beware of pride, and greed, and self-righteousness, and selfishness, and manipulation.  Victory is notoriously short-lived.  Staying in God’s state of humble victory requires a constant awareness of our brokenness and a daily repentance.  So the last caution is this: even if you defeat Goliath, don’t assume you won’t become Goliath.
Now, with those cautions in place, we are finally prepared to hear the challenge that the David and Goliath story offers us: Trust God with a bold, active, humble faith.
In many ways, David learned the lesson that we discussed last week.  David learned to see from God’s perspective.  Everyone else around David saw a giant with amazing weapons and armor.  David saw an opportunity for God to show God’s power.  David remembered God’s faithfulness in previous times of crisis and fully trusted God to be faithful again.  
But David didn’t just sit back and wait for God to do something.  David didn’t just pray for God to strike Goliath with lightening.  That would have been cool, but I guess David knew that’s not how God usually does things.  David prepared himself and walked into the battle.  His faith was active.
And last, David’s faith was humble.  When he explained himself to Saul, he talked about the times when he defeated the lion and the bear, but then he said, “The LORD who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).  David knew that his past victories were only because of God’s power working through him.  
And David projected that faith into the future as well.  When David and Goliath were giving their opening speeches, David said, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of heaven’s Armies ... Today the LORD will conquer you ... and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel ... This is the LORD’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (17:45-47).  David was very clear about the source of his power and who would get the credit for this victory.  David may throw the stone or strike the final blow, but God is the conquerer.  This is the LORD’s battle.
In fact, in this whole chapter David is the only person who even says the word God or mentions the name Yahweh.  Everyone else has their eyes fixed on the physical elements of the battle.  Walter Brueggeman explains, “The others are cowards because they have abandoned their only source of courage.”
  God is our only source of real courage and our only source of real power.  
Hear the challenge: Trust God with a bold, active, humble faith.  This will change your life, and this will change our world.
Let me close with a modern David and Goliath story.  Rosa Parks grew up immersed in Christian faith.  In her autobiography, Quiet Strength, she explains that every day, her grandmother read the Bible to the family, and her grandfather prayed.  She says, “I learned to put my trust in God and to seek Him as my strength.”
She would need that strength.  She lived in a time of deep segregation and ethnic discrimination in the American south.  On the public busses, there was a “white” section and a “colored” section.  If the white section got full, the bus driver could make the “colored” people get up and move to the back of the bus or stand.  Rosa Parks rode the bus to and from work almost every day, and she decided that if she was asked to move, she would refuse simply because it was not right.
On December 1, 1955, her faith was put to the test.  On her way home from work, the white section on the bus filled up, but then another white man got on the bus.  The bus driver told everyone in the next row to move.  3 people moved, but Rosa Parks stayed put.  The bus driver said, “Why don’t you stand up?”
Mrs. Parks simply replied, “I don’t think I should have to stand up.”  When the bus driver said he was going to call the police if she didn’t stand up, Mrs. Parks replied calmly and with great dignity, “You may do that.”  Looking back on that moment, Mrs. Parks said, “I did not feel any fear sitting there. I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face.”
Rosa Parks wasn’t the first black person to refuse to move.  One woman had cursed out the police during her arrest.  Another woman was drug off the bus fighting and clawing and kicking.  But Mrs. Parks was quiet and dignified throughout the whole process.
When Rosa Parks died a few years ago, leaders around the world stood up to give her honor and to explain the significance of her simple act of quietly resisting evil.  
Robert Anderson explained: “It was the bus ride that ended up changing history.... From that small act of defiance came a big act of deliverance, which would lead to the Supreme Court case in which they ruled segregation in public transportation to be illegal and unconstitutional.  That began to affect other things.  If it’s wrong there, on the bus, then it’s wrong in schools, it’s wrong in restaurants, it’s wrong in other places.”
Rick Lance said, “Her simple act of courage became the spark which lit the fire of the Civil Rights movement. ... She never sought fame or recognition; nonetheless, her name is synonymous with all which is good in the quest for freedom and individual rights.”
Rosa Parks had a radical trust in God in the face of a horrible system of injustice and fear.  She resisted Goliath’s power without picking up Goliath’s weapons.  Rosa Parks trusted God with a bold, active, humble faith, and God used her to change the world.
God can do the same through us.
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