Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Story #11: Facing Your Giants

Imagine the scene: a scrawny sixteen year old shepherd boy takes out a 9’9” tall giant with one rock and a sling. You may not have a gigantic giant taunting you to come out and fight. But you are probably facing a few giants of your own. Giants like the stack of past-due bills glaring at you. Like the divorce papers waiting on your signature. Or the depression that looms over you like the Hulk. It could be low self-esteem or insecurity or child abuse in your past. But you have your giants. And so do I. And we would do well to learn from David. He could face his “giant” because he had spent time in the quiet with God. When he arrived at the place of the standoff between the Israelites and the Philistines, he talked about God. He told Saul that “The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (1Sam.17:37). He did not hesitate to confront Goliath, saying he came “in the name of the Lord of host, the God of the armies of Israel.” David was God-focused instead of giant-focused. He mentions Goliath two times and God nine times. He knew the giant was there and recognized his presence. But his thoughts were twice as much on God. That focus led him to confront his giant rather than run away. For forty days Goliath continued to challenge Israel’s army. And for forty days everyone hoped he would just go away. But giants don’t typically go away until we face them. So David stepped into the gap and slung one well-aimed stone at him. It helps to have someone in your corner that believes in you. David had his Jonathan. You need yours. You need at least one person who believes in you and that also believes in God. Someone who can encourage your faith—give you courage—when you most need it. And you will need it. Because after you slay one giant, there will be more. You may wonder why David picked up five stones from the river bed. Was he afraid he might miss? Not likely. He was skilled in his use of the sling. 2 Samuel 21:18-22 hints that Goliath may have had four brothers. David was ready. He could take on one giant. You might say knew how to get a head of his giant. And then he was ready for more. And you can too. Just follow the shepherd from Bethlehem.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Story #9: The Original OUTSIDERS

Most people read the Book of Ruth and forget to put the story in context. Certainly Ruth is the prominent figure, with Naomi playing an important role... and then there is this guy named Boaz. If you read Boaz's acceptance of Ruth at face value, it seem quite strange. Let me explain. Ruth was a Moabite living in Bethlehem who we meet in The Story. She ended up there with her mother-in-law Naomi when her husband died. And she found herself picking up the leftovers after the harvest in a field owned by Boaz. Boaz discovered she was an outsider—a Moabite—the same people who would oppress his nation for eighteen years. You’d expect conflict or rejection when they met. Instead, Boaz tells Ruth, “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
His acceptance of Ruth goes a step further. Ruth finds him asleep on the threshing floor and lies down at his feet. When he awakens, Ruth asks him to “spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a family guardian.” The word for “garment” is the same Hebrew word for “wings” in the blessing Boaz had pronounced over Ruth. God’s acceptance came to Ruth through Boaz. It should not surprise us that his heart and attention extended to an “outsider”. Why? His mother came to Israel as an Outsider as well. His mother, Rahab, is the famous prostitute in Joshua 1-6, who hid the spies, as they came to Jericho. She (and her family) were spared and they were accepted to the nation of Israel. They were the original Outsiders. I expect that Boaz was taught by his mother to accept outsiders, because they were outsiders themselves. So I ask you, “who in your life is a Spiritual OUTSIDER?” Once, you were also on the outside looking in, but Jesus extended his hand of acceptance and brought us to the “INSIDE”. Because we were accepted, we can also accept others with grace and love.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Story #8: Our Judge's Way of Escape

Judges elicit a sense of fear, don’t they? They never call you in for something you have done right. We think of them as someone who harshly tells us what we did wrong. And they seem to be everywhere these days on television. There’s Judge Judy and Hatchett. Mathis and Christina. And my favorite—Judge Brown. We even get to see the real-to-live cases being tried live. This began back with the O.J. Simson case and has continued with high-profile cases like the Casey Anthony, in which we heard the play-by-play. Every waits with baited breath to hear if there is enough evident for the guilty verdict, or will the be deemed innocent. In the court of law, the judge (as well as the jury) declares if you walk free or not. However, God's Judges in the Bible (as well as God, Himself) did much more than that. In the same breath as “guilty” comes a way of escape/deliverance. God our judge takes no pleasure in punishment, but we often see it necessary for Israel for them to come back to God in repentance. God’s people kept putting themselves into a never ending cycle of Sin, Oppression/Trouble, Crying out to God, & Deliverance. Judges like Deborah and Gideon and Samson helped them find their way back to God. Our God provides a way of escape and forgiveness as long as we call out to Him in repentance. What did the people do that was so bad they needed judges? Two things. First, they failed to put God first in their lives (Judges 1:28). And secondly, they did not teach their children to know God (Judges 2:10). You see, there is a difference between knowing about God, and Knowing God. Many today have embraced the first, while abandoning the later. These two “sins” led to their downfall and ruin. Are you making the same mistakes they made? If so, you have a judge that can help you––Jesus. The good news is that when he “calls” you into his courtroom after you’ve messed up, you will look up to see your judge’s face and see your Savior there.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Story #7: Strength and Courage

When someone keeps telling you to “be strong and courageous,” you might suspect you are up against something big. And the Israelites were.
About to enter the land that had been promised them 600 years before, they had a giant-sized task awaiting them. Literally. Forty years earlier ten spies had come back and told the Israelites that the inhabitants of the land were so big they felt like they were the size of a grasshopper in comparison. Fear took them captive without a battle and sent them off as a group to wander around in a wilderness where they took their chances against wild animals rather than face their giants. They wandered so long that those who had grasshopper-sized faith died out. Forty years later their children were ready to take the land. They were physically no taller than their parents had been. The enemies in the land were no smaller than before. But the Israelites’ faith muscles had grown. There were two spies who had reported the land was theirs for the taking. One of them, Joshua, is now the Israelites’ leader. He was courageous. And God wanted to keep him that way. So God tells him three times in the first nine verses of the first chapter of Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” He also reminds him “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” My guess is you have a few giants in your life too. Some uphill battles that appear insurmountable. A task demanding more than you think you have to give. One too many things on your “to do” list than you have the time or energy to do. Unemployment is staring you down. Depression has a grip on you. Bills have raided your bank account and left it empty. An illness hovers in your life like a threatening storm. You’d rather just run and wander. Instead, be strong and courageous. You have a Joshua that will lead the way. The New Testament equivalent of the name “Joshua” is “Jesus.” And he has promised to be with you always (Matthew 28:20). Jesus knows how to lead you through battles. He had a few of his own while he was on this earth. Enemies attacking him with accusations (Mark 3:22). No home and no bed (Luke 9:58). Crowds and expectations pressing in on him (Luke 8:45). The religious establishment eventually insuring he was sentenced to a brutal death. (Mark 15:14). Yet he took on the most barbaric giant there is, death, and lived to tell about it. He can help you do the same. You need only be strong and courageous in your faith.