“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”     “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”   1 Samuel 17:32-33

Goliath had challenged the Israelite Army to send one man to fight him – winner take all. The stakes were high. No one wanted the responsibility that would come with fighting Goliath. No one had the confidence they could defeat Goliath. And this included King Saul. After all, the warrior who lost that battle would not only lose his life, but doom all of Israel to be the slaves of the Philistines.

But along came David, a shepherd boy. You can put the emphasis on both “shepherd” and “boy.” Notice the lack of warrior in his curriculum vitae. Yes, he claimed to have killed bears and lions in defense of his sheep, but who could be sure? He was only a boy. He was only a shepherd. So why did King Saul allow David to fight Goliath? If David were to lose, the entire Israelite nation would be in bondage to the Philistines. Certainly it would be irresponsible of a leader to empower a youth who had been untested in battle to take on such responsibility. 

We are often encumbered with concerns about the qualifications of others in the service of Christ. We are often afraid to empower the called. Perhaps we don’t trust their calling. Or just maybe we want others to conform to our preconceived ideas of how to slay the giants in our lives, our churches, our communities. Even when Saul had decided to empower David to fight Goliath he gave him the traditional warrior’s garb. But David shed it quickly in favor of his own garb in which God had empowered him to fight lions and bears, and on this day, Goliath himself.

How quickly we are to judge the aptitude of others for service based upon the tools we think are needed to accomplish the task. But the only aptitude anyone needs to serve in God’s church is to be called by God. We are too often enamored with the tools people possess to slay the giant in our midst to even recognize whether or not they are called to the task at hand. If God can use David to slay the giant, he can use anyone He calls to perform any task He chooses. We focus on talent and giants. God focuses on the heart where His call will find residence. Perhaps if we were to learn to recognize God’s call in our own lives, we would recognize it in the lives of those around us. Perhaps our questions of one another seeking to serve in God’s army would focus on the call in our hearts rather than the talent in our heads.

I don’t know why Saul allowed David to fight Goliath. I suspect he was not focused on David’s call from God. But whatever the reason, it was the right decision and one for us to prayerfully consider as we seek to empower others in God’s service. May we always remember the lessons from this battle between David and Goliath. May we remember that battles are won by God through us as He empowers us to use the tools that we already possess. That is why spiritual gifts are fundamentally different from talents. The soldiers in Saul’s army had plenty of talent with all of the right tools. But it took a shepherd boy who knew God’s voice and responded to His call to slay the giant.

Israel didn’t learn the lesson inherent in the victory that day, which doomed them to defeat after defeat. But we don’t have to repeat history. We can learn the lesson. We can seek to know God’s voice, hear His calling, and allow Him to defeat the giants in our own lives. And then when He calls us to slay even bigger giants in the world around us, we will be ready with our sling shots and pebbles. 

 

When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”   

“Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.   1 Samuel 15:13-14

King Saul had been given the mission to completely wipe out the Amalekites. He was to take no plunder, receive no personal gain other than the eradication of sin in the lives of the Israelites. He did indeed destroy everything that was not of value to him. But he kept the best sheep and cattle for his personal gain. Of course he was going to use some of these prized animals to offer sacrifices. But even in offering them for sacrifices he knew that his stature would increase among his people. How often do we serve others for our own gain? How often do we obey God’s commands to the extent that we profit?

I have often gone on God’s errands as I hear His calling in my life. Just like King Saul, I have fought battles and won victories for the glory of God. I look back on my time as a pastor and am thankful for the calling and the opportunity to grow. But truth be told, there have been too many times when I have fought God’s battles with my armor. I have too often confused my agenda with His agenda. I have too often co-opted His mission for my selfish gain. It is easy to rationalize the meaning of love and service for others to fulfill my own needs. There have been times when I felt the need to DO something rather than wait for God’s clear direction. And I must admit that there have been times when I sought personal recognition as the spoils of battle while on God’s mission.

I, like King Saul, have argued that I am on God’s errands and thus have obeyed Him. It is true that God can use our actions to help others even when our motives are impure. But this is not an argument in favor of impure motives. This simply highlights the power of God’s love who can transform our acts that come from misguided motives into acts of redemption. But the fact remains that God still desires our heart above all else. He is only concerned with our actions as they demonstrate the condition of our heart. This is why Samuel replied to Saul’s protest that he had done God’s mission when his heart was not aligned with the heart of God:  “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”   1 Samuel 15:22-23

This may seem harsh until you remember that all God is seeking are men and women after His own heart. Enter King David. He had plenty of flaws, plenty of evil deeds. We could talk for weeks about the disastrous choices David had made. And yet David still lived from the heart and allowed God to teach him, mould him, grow him, and transform him. We can only be taught, moulded, grown, and transformed in the heart. God is a heart surgeon, not an orthopedic surgeon. It is with your heart that you submit to Him. It doesn’t matter what you have done or what you will do. The only thing that really matters is the condition of your heart. This is where the battle takes place.

It’s time we focus on matters of the heart, matters of being, and let the doing take care of itself. It’s time to stop judging one another’s actions and focus on allowing God to live in our hearts. It’s time we live from the heart, feel with the heart, and believe in the heart… of God.

Feel the Anger!

Then the Spirit of God came powerfully upon Saul, and he became angry.  1 Samuel 11:6

I had been studying the Bible with a James for several weeks. He was always happy, optimistic, and passionate about life. I thoroughly enjoyed the hour we would spend together studying God’s Word each week. But then there was the day that James came to my office with a heavy heart, a downcast spirit, and a sense of hopelessness in his eyes. He wanted to pretend that everything was okay, but we had bonded over God’s Word for too long for him to keep his hurt and pain inside. So he finally told me about his experience of being bullied on the school bus. The more he described, the angrier I became. I had grown to love James. The thought of a group of boys saying and doing cruel things to James broke my heart. I could see the pain in his face as much as he tried to hide it. My anger motivated me to spend extra time with James, give him advice, dig deeper into God’s Word for the promises of love and acceptance that James needed to hear. From that day forward, James and I talked about how to respond to the boys who would mistreat him, how to find himself in the midst of the rejection of others, and how to grow in God’s grace.

Saul had been anointed the first king of Israel. We read in 1 Samuel 10 that Saul was changed by God’s Spirit and that he was given a “new heart.” About a month after this transformational experience with God, Saul was plowing in the field when he was told that King Nahash of Amon would sign a peace treaty with the Israelites on one condition. He would gouge out the right eye of every person in Israel. This is when we read 1 Samuel 11:6 that Saul became angry. I must admit that most of the time I become angry it’s because of my own selfishness. I am concerned about my time, my money, or my reputation. But there are times, as in my experience with James, that I have felt God’s Spirit in me awakening a deep sense of anger due to the injustice around me.

Jesus, Himself, experienced the Spirit descend upon Him causing anger when He cleared the Temple of the moneychangers who were preventing people from worshiping God. There are times when anger is the only response appropriate for the situation. What should be our response to slavery, the sex trade, poverty, orphans, starvation, abuse, racism, and gender inequality in many places around the world? Perhaps if we allowed the Spirit of God to come upon us like Saul allowed in the early days of his reign, we would be angry. Not an anger that consumes our soul, but an anger that motivates us to love, touch, care, and be the hands and feet of Jesus.

I know this is a tough subject. I do not like being angry. And because I don’t want to be angry, I don’t let myself watch the TV ads about the starving children around the world, or the women being beaten in places I have never been to. I want to ignore the injustices in the world because I don’t like being angry. But there are times when anger is the only appropriate response. There are times when I need to care enough about the people around me to understand and feel their pain. There are times when I need to feel the anger that motivates me to love. There are times when I need to open my eyes, see the injustices around me, watch the TV ads, and feel the anger that comes from God.

Now in those days…

Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.  1 Samuel 3:1

My parents took me to college as a freshman, made sure I was registered and then made the 4 hour drive back home. I called them once or twice a week for the first two months as I was homesick. But before long, the dorm became my new home and my phone calls to my parents became less and less frequent. I found out later in life that my parents would call me frequently, but I never received the calls as we didn’t have call waiting or message machines in those days. I was rarely in my room except to sleep, which often was long past the time my parents had gone to bed for the night. And so contact with my parents became somewhat rare.

This experience reminds me of what life with God too often can become. He calls, but I’m too busy to answer. Sometimes I don’t even have the ringer of my phone turned on. I may even have my messages turned off. I am busy with work, pleasure, chores, ministry, thoughts, ambitions, dreams, heartaches, pain, failures, successes, and much, much more. Even if I did have my messages on, I wouldn’t have time to listen to them. Before I know it, I am “Now in those days…”

“Now in those days” has a context. Eli was so busy cleaning up the messes his wayward sons were making as priests that he didn’t have time to listen to God. His sons didn’t want to listen to God as they were determined to do as they pleased. Everyone else in Israel was busy with their lives as they had plenty to worry about with their crops, their own families, and hostile nations all around them.  And so the messages from God were either ignored, unnoticed, or deleted. “Now in those days” God must have felt isolated, rejected, and alone. I can’t even imagine the pain God must have felt in those days. His own children wouldn’t even pick up the phone when He called. Even though His angels were around Him and He experienced the love within the Trinity Itself, there must have been a huge hole in His heart to be cut off from His children. Nothing is quite right when you can’t talk with those you love so much. 

We know God was always there for the Israelites in those days because we read a few chapters later in 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the Lord will not abandon His people, because that would dishonor His great name. For it has pleased the Lord to make you His very own people.” Abandoning His people would dishonor His name because God is love. To stop calling on you and me is not in His nature, no matter how often we delete His messages. It would bring shame upon Him to stop contacting you because He is wired to connect, to love, to reach out, to talk and listen and understand you. 

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to listen to the messages God is sending me every moment of every day. But to do that I will need to turn on my awareness of God in the occurrences, circumstances, and conversations with people I have throughout each day. The best way I have found to do be aware of God throughout the day is to set aside some time each morning to listen to Him though prayer, meditation, and reading His Word. What steps will you take to ensure you hear the messages God is sending to you?

I have been in my new job for 5 weeks now working in a large hospital system. It has been challenging, rewarding, fun, and frustrating all at the same time. It’s easy in such transitions to focus on the difficult times and the trials. The trials of life can become heavy burdens that are overwhelming if we do not keep them in their proper perspective. 

And so I came across two verses in Scripture today that when placed side by side give me great comfort in my times of trial and discouragement. In Psalm 39:4 we read these words from David, “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.” When we get discouraged, realize our own shortcomings, face our personal failings, or experience trials that seem to weigh us down, life can feel eternal on this earth. We cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel at such times in life. And so David asks for God to show him just how short this life is. 

It reminds me of the pain in childbirth I witnessed so many times as an obstetrician. There were times the pain was too great to bare because there was no end in sight for the mother going through it. But as her physician, I knew it was actually brief when compared to the rest of her life. Many times I knew the pain would be over within 20-30 minutes. But when the pain is severe, even 10 minutes feels like a lifetime. And so it is with our trials in life. We tend to lose perspective as we experience the pains of our failings and circumstances of life.

It’s at such times that we can rejoice in the fact that this life is short. That would sound morbid if it weren’t for a verse written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” What a wonderful promise! Our trials are temporary. Our failings are fleeting. Our discouragements are dissipating. But faith, hope, and love are FOREVER! The really cool thing about these eternal aspects of life is that we can have them now. We don’t have to wait until we put on immortality when Jesus comes.  We can have hope that changes our outlook right now. We can have faith that changes our reality right now. We can have love that springs eternal right now.

And so as I experience the trials of transitions and face my personal demons that know just what to say to discourage me, I embrace the reality that the trials are brief, but the victory is eternal. I have experienced God’s love that is the foundation of my faith which gives me hope. The next time you are discouraged for whatever reason, remember that the source of that discouragement is temporary, but the Source of your courage is eternal because it is based in faith, hope, and love. Embrace your faith. Hold fast to your hope. And live in God’s love.

The Call

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”   Genesis 12:1

The word “leave” evokes anxiety in me. I had two older sisters who would leave me to go to a boarding high school every year. I have fond memories of spending summers with my grandfather on the farm when I was a kid, but leaving was always difficult. My first airplane flight was to Atlanta when I was 16 years old to see my sister and her newborn son. I will never forget the sadness of leaving them the day it was time for me to go home. And then there was the day when it was time to leave home for college. It was a scary place. I had never lived apart from my parents, and now I was in another state – all alone. When I arrived at college I discovered my roommate didn’t want to room with me. And so there I was, in a new place, feeling rejected and all alone as my parents had to leave for home. 

And yet, with every “leave” is a new horizon. I would leave my grandparents to enjoy my friends at home. When it was time to leave my sister and nephew, I found myself back in high school. When it was time to leave home for college, I found a roommate who has been a friend for life. But even experiencing the gain that can come from leaving, I still find it very difficult.

As I consider how God calls us, I find it interesting that His call often begins with the word “leave.” We see it in Genesis 12:1. And every call from God that I have experienced has began with the same word, “leave.” God told me to leave my dream of being a doctor behind as I went to Andrews University to study theology. He then gave me permission to leave the pursuit of pastoral ministry in favor of medical school. But then He clearly called me to leave my medical practice many years later. I was in the wilderness of uncertainty about my future for over 7 months when I received a call from the Richland Adventist Church to be their pastor. Perhaps the most difficult call from God for me to hear and process was the call to leave this very church. But it wasn’t until I could clearly identify the fact that God was calling me to leave Richland that I could grasp where to go with any clarity. 

And so before I was ever called to Denver, I was called to leave Richland. When you are in a place you love, leaving is sad. When you are with people you love, leaving brings anxiety. But when God calls, He also supplies the courage, strength, wisdom, and gifts necessary for the way forward. He also gives peace in the journey. Following God’s call ultimately brings peace that covers any anxiety, and gives joy that alleviates any sadness. It is this peace and joy that ultimately confirms the call, and for me, the very existence of God in my life.

Perhaps, just perhaps, God calls us to leave what we are doing to follow Him in new adventures because He is calling all of us to leave this world for His Kingdom. On that glorious day when Jesus returns to gather those who have responded to His call home, we will have to first leave this home. Are you ready to leave? Are you listening for His call?

 

The Light of the World

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.   Matthew 5:14, 16

The church was the center of our lives in my family. It was rare for us to do anything with people who were not part of our church unless it was with Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren. The crazy thing is that Aunt Jackie and Uncle Loren were the coolest people I knew, but I was taught to feel sorry for them because even though they were Christians, they went to the “wrong” church. When I asked my mother why we didn’t hang out with anyone other than people who went to our church, she told me that we are the light of the world. This is when I became acquainted with Matthew 5:14-16. 

The thinking went something like this: Come to church, stick together, and let your light shine from within the walls of the church and somehow everyone in the community will see your light and realize they need it. That’s when they will decide to come to your church. Even as a kid I didn’t quite understand how that would happen. After all, when we are IN church, how can people OUTSIDE the church see or feel the light?

Through the years I have found this “we” versus “them” mentality to be arrogant and counterproductive. When I think I have it all together and you don’t then I have already lost the love God wants me to share with you. The truth is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. When I accept Jesus as Lord of my life, I also accept His mission. He came to this earth to be WITH us. Jesus took it the extreme by incubating in Mary’s womb for nine months and then worked as a carpenter until he was nearly 30 years old before beginning His mission. Talk about mingling with the world! It is when I live as Jesus did that I experience His love. When I walk with others, He walks with me.

And so I believe we have missed the point of the light in this passage. Jesus tells us that the light affects those around us only when we are WITH people, no matter where there happen to be. I can only shine my light on the path I happen to be traveling upon. If I want the light of Jesus to help others, I need to be walking on the same path they are walking on. In actuality, there is no difference between the light and the salt metaphor Jesus gives us to illustrate how we are to share His love in the world. They both require proximity to be effective. The “good works” in this passage can only be done as I mingle with those around me. If you want to know what Jesus considered to be good works, read Matthew 25 where He tells us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.

I believe the church is the hope of the world. But it can only be hope as we are led by God into the back allies and the out of the way places to share His light with His people in His world. Where will you shine the light God has given you this week?

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