Monday, July 27, 2009

God-Impacted Life: Perception

Scripture Readings: ! Samuel 17:1-58 (“The Message”, Eugene Peterson); Mark 9:14-29

The story of David and Goliath is a story about belief and unbelief; or faith and unfaith. The story about Jesus healing the possessed boy is also a story about belief and unbelief; or faith and unfaith. Remember that, when Jesus tells the boy’s father, “All things are possible to him who believes,” the father becomes desperate and he cries, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24)

Now, think about this drama of belief and unbelief, faith and unfaith. Imagine a world where you have two kinds of people: believers and unbelievers; people of faith and people without faith.

Now set the story where David comes to the rescue in that world where you have these two kinds of people; people of faith and people without faith. Except for David, where do you find the people of faith? Where?

It is the Philistines who are the people of faith! They believe in themselves. Or they believe in their giant Goliath, and Goliath believes mightily in himself.

Now apply this same test to the second story; the one where Jesus heals the possessed boy. Where do you find the people of faith and the people of unfaith?

That is a harder question. Until Jesus comes into that story, I think it is the father who is the one who believes: “I believe, help my unbelief.”

In both of these stories, where do you look to find the unbelief, the people without faith? The people who don’t have faith are the army of Israel, led by King Saul. The people who don’t have faith are the disciples of Jesus.

The only unbelievers we need to worry about are ourselves. We are the ones who don’t believe: “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19) This is Jesus talking about his disciples; talking about us.

Now what does Jesus (known in the gospels as the Son of David): what does Jesus do in the presence of the unbelief, or the partial belief and unbelief of his people? The answer is that Jesus does his gracious work, and he brings healing.

Actually Jesus does something else first. Jesus enters into his disciples’ little crisis world of frustration, and irritation, and finger-pointing, and sense of failure; and Jesus changes that into a different sort of crisis. He creates this crisis in the hopes that some sort of choice will be made.

What Jesus finds is paralysis or a spiritual lifelessness; not in the boy, and not even in the boy’s father, but in everyone else. And it is as if Jesus asks, “Is this what you want, or do you want something else? Will you choose between belief and unbelief; faith and unfaith?”

What happens is that the father responds immediately, and chooses faith by asking for it. “I believe, help my unbelief.”

He came with his child, to ask for healing for that child. Now he comes for his own healing. He asks Jesus to help his faith.

And that is the right thing to do. Faith comes from Jesus. You know, faith doesn’t come from yourself. Faith isn’t really a possession. You don’t own your faith. Faith is supplied.

On a much more human level, David did the same thing. He comes into the battle camp and he creates a different sort of crisis.

There is a crisis as it is. Nobody knows what to do. Everybody is afraid, and embarrassed, and ashamed. David’s brother is in a nasty mood. And I think this is due to much more than the fact his baby brother has just shown up and the fact that brothers often find each other to be annoying until they all grow up.

David brings the supplies to the battle camp and finds out that everyone is spiritually paralyzed. Everybody is thinking about the problem. Everybody is thinking about Goliath, and nobody is thinking about God.

David is the first person there to even mention God by name. He is the first to see the Lord being involved in the problem. David is the first one to see that there is hope because God is real; God is alive. David is the first one there who will point out that nobody is thinking about “the living God” (God-Alive). (1 Samuel 17:26)
Once David, in his faith, brings God back into the picture, the others start to do so, as well. David budges God’s people out of their habitual, chronic unfaith into faith.

For Saul and his army, in their state of paralysis, faith came as a gift. David brought them faith. And, again, I am sure that there was this crisis of choosing. Would they choose to stay where they were at (in unfaith) or would they seek to be people of faith and act accordingly?

The first part of faith is perception. Will we see that the living God is with us? But I think that, even before this, the first part of that perception is self-perception; and the first part of self-perception is to realize what we really need, or what really matters most.

It is true that the need of the father who brought his child to Jesus was the need for the healing of that child. But, even deeper than that child’s need of healing, was the need of that child for a believing, trusting father.

The father also needed to see that he was not a possessor of faith, but that he needed to be a receiver of faith. He needed a supplier of faith. The Lord is the supplier of faith. The Lord is the supplier of what you need. The father needed to perceive that.

Faith is the perception that God is the supplier. God is the source. Jesus supplied a faith that the father of the child could not possess, or call his own, and, then, Jesus brought a gift of healing to the child.

Saul and his army went through a similar process. Their perception of the problem was that it could only be solved by a warrior who could beat Goliath. Their real problem was that they were not able to talk about God as “the living God”, and, if they did so, it was only talk and not the sign of a living faith.

Through the faith of David, they saw themselves. They saw that they needed to turn to God as the supplier of the help they needed.

David lived by faith, put his faith into action, and showed them that God was indeed the living God. With David’s help they saw things a new way. They saw the Lord at work. The God-impacted life is a life of perception; a life of seeing; a life that sees (whatever the problem) that God is present.

We all have our own Goliaths. In the face of our Goliath we forget the living God; we forget to be receivers of faith and receivers of help.

Our Goliaths can be anything at all. They can be illness, in ourselves or in others. Our Goliaths can be any issue we struggle with; our work, our relationships; our sense of identity, and ability, and value, and purpose.

We can (all of us together) share a common Goliath (a collective Goliath): a world that seems to be the enemy of faith, or of freedom, or justice, or compassion, or purity and innocence. Our Goliath can be all the trends that threaten the ways of life that we hold dear.

If these Goliaths make us forget the presence of the living God and forget to be receivers of faith, then they have done their work. Except for this; that there is a living God whose very nature it is to show up, and to come to us, or to send people of faith to us when we have forgotten how to believe and receive.

The Bible tells us about a God whose nature it is to enter his own creation. The God who exists beyond time and space, who created everything that exists, find nothing strange about becoming a particular human baby in a manger in a Middle Eastern village. He finds nothing strange to be a human among us and to die for the sins of others, on the cross. The scriptures tell us that there is a living God whose nature it is to gladly enter a ruthless and unbelieving world, and speak to that world, and to invest himself in that world. To see this is also a change in perception.

Another part of our perceptions change when God impacts our lives. God gives us a different perspective on the solution to our Goliath; of how to face our Goliath and do battle with him.

Saul had his own perception of how to face a Goliath. Saul was an expert. He knew the methods, and techniques, and technologies of armed combat. Saul was a seasoned warrior. He knew how to fight. He knew his arsenal of weapons and how to use them. He knew his armor and how to use the protection it gave him to face an enemy in the field. He was the perfect advisor for David.

He must have used all his expertise, all his technical knowledge to advise David as he dressed him for battle. He gave David his own well tested armor, and armed him with his well tested weapons. But the fact is that all of Saul’s expertise, and resources, and advice would do nothing for David but get him killed.

It is important to listen to wise counsel and advice. It can be a great thing to read wise books. Experts can tell us a lot that’s worth hearing. But they can also be just as useless as borrowed armor and weapons.

David listened to Saul, but he had to set Saul’s expertise, and techniques, and methods aside. David had his own history of fighting the enemies of his sheep and surviving. David had a God-given pattern of gifts woven into his life story. David’s own personal history gave him the resources and methods to face Goliath. But the greatest resource he had, the one that held everything together, was his faith in the living God: God-Alive.

In this matter of facing Goliath, Saul (for all his good advice) was not a friend to David. Saul was an expert. Saul possessed a sort of “one size ought to fit all” plan. We live in a society that worships experts, with their methods and techniques, when those experts really do not know us at all.

My first church, after I was ordained, was a small, struggling church on the Oregon coast. I was at some presbytery conference for ministers, and I was sitting at a table with an older minister who was talking about the congregations he had served, and how he had dealt with a number of problems that came up during his pastorates there. He was a person who radiated a lot of confidence. He knew just what to do and how to do it.

I had some challenges for which I had no solutions. I didn’t know what to do. And another thing is that this pastor had once served a congregation in a town near to mine, so he knew my church and my community. So, I asked him, “What would you do if you went to Lakeside?” He looked me in the eye and his answer was clear and simple: “Dennis, I would never go to Lakeside.”

I have always been very foolish. But so much for experts! I just did the best I could, fool that I am.

When the Lions Club in Washtucna was planning its 50th anniversary, we looked at the sort of plans that other clubs had used, and none of them fit; and Dick Coon spoke up and said a very wise thing. He said: “We won’t do things the way others have done them, but what we do will be good in its own way.”

That is why David could fight Goliath as he did. He saw that something could and should be done, and he did it, trusting in the presence of the living God. He did it, in his own way, with God’s help. And it was good in its own way. He used what he knew best, and it worked. This is the kind of confidence that is rooted in God, and in faith, and we see it in David.

A Quaker from centuries past, named Isaac Pennington, said this: “There is that which is near you which will guide you, O! wait for it, and be sure ye keep to it.” (quoted in ”Quaker Spirituality, ed. Douglas Steere; New York: Paulist Press, 1984. p. 155)

David was just a kid. He was no good with techniques, and methods, and systems. He was good with a sling and round, smooth stones. And he knew he was good enough with God’s help to face Goliath and win.

With the impact of God in your life you will perceive things differently. You will know yourself. You will learn the presence of the living God. You will find the tools that are near you to face that giant Goliath.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"God-Impacted Life: Essential Work"

Scripture Readings: 1 Samuel 16:14-23; John 9:1-7

When I was a kid, I loved playing checkers, and I loved to win. Part of the strategy for winning, at checkers, is to get as many of your pieces through your enemy’s territory to the other end of the board, in order to make them kings. You make it across, and you say, “King me!” and your opponent puts one of the pieces you lost or sacrificed on top of the victorious one, and you try to do that over and over again. I loved saying, “King me! King me! King me!”

David never gave the impression of being someone who went around saying, “King me! King me!” He was just a kid when the old prophet Samuel anointed him as king, to replace King Saul who would not listen to God, or trust God. And the strange thing was that, when Samuel anointed David, the word “king” was never used. So maybe it wasn’t strange that David never talked about being a king during those early years.

David never acted like someone who always seemed like he wanted to say, “King me! King me! King me!” David never seems to have tried to be a king, not even on the day when the tribe of Judah anointed him as king, at Hebron, after Saul died. (2 Samuel 2:4) In the years after he became king, it was the people around David who had to remind him that he was the king and that he needed to assert his kingship.

When the boy David was first anointed king by Samuel, he went back to herding sheep. All David was, was the eighth son of his family; the spare boy. Nothing seemed to change. If he had a kingdom to rule, it was only the kingdom of the sheep.

Even when David came out into the open, for the first time, and killed the giant Goliath, he still went back to the sheep. He was still only a kid. His brothers didn’t think of him as a man at all. (1 Samuel 17:28) Nothing changed for David. If he ruled a kingdom, it was only the kingdom of the sheep, but he ruled that kingdom very well.

Time passed. David continued to grow; and get stronger and tougher. He became what other people could at last recognize as a man of war (1 Samuel 16:18); and I think it would have looked like this. In those days, every village or town needed to defend itself against raiders from the cities of the Philistines on the coast, or raiders from the desert tribes. Every able-bodied male of the village took part in this defense.

Every boy practiced for this in ways that were more like playing games. First he played with slings, then with blunt arrows and spears, and maybe short wooden swords (but real swords were weapons for the rich or well funded).

In time, the boys were judged to have become young men, and so they practiced in earnest. They knew that they were no longer playing games, and they practiced with real weapons. This work was as important as any other work they did.

When the raiders and marauders went to work on the Israelites, they swept from village to village. Some villages were easy pickings. They just handed over their food, and livestock, and jewelry, and maybe their daughters too. Some villages put up a fight before they surrendered. And some villages fought, and could not be defeated.

The raiders and marauders would test each village, and size it up for its strengths and weaknesses. Their experience with each village became a part of their strategy for future raids. Every village had its reputation for good or bad.

Bethlehem proved to have men living in it who could truly be called “men of war.” The sons of Jesse were among these. And David became one of them too; one of the men of war.

The other villages must have envied Bethlehem for the quality of its militia, and admired it greatly. They talked about those sons of Jesse, and especially his youngest son, David.

When King Saul needed fighters, or supplies, or other resources, he would send to the villages, and the villagers would come and bring what he asked. There was a continual coming and going between the villages and the castle of Saul at Gibeah.

Perhaps an elder from one of the neighboring villages near Bethlehem was present when Saul was trying to solve a problem he had. Saul found himself at the mercy of an inner crisis that often overwhelmed him. It was a deep, frightening, spiritual struggle, a dark emotional torment. It made him unable to function. It made him unsafe.

Whatever threatened the heart and mind of the king threatened the whole kingdom. How might the king find a cure? How might the king find relief from this dangerous problem?

And so Saul heard about David. David sang and played the harp. Music was a gift from God. Music was powerful, and often healing. It could be strong medicine. And, more than that, David was a valuable man of war. Perhaps David could help, and so the king sent for him.

Now, if you read ahead, you will see that in the next chapter David is a boy again. The story seems to take us backward. But here we see an almost grownup David playing the harp and singing for Saul. This is important. This is the first picture that the Bible gives us of David as the real king.

In this picture we have two kings in one throne room. One king wears the crown. He does his royal work with that crown. The other king plays the harp. He does his royal work with that harp.

The king with the crown is not doing his work very well. He cannot rule himself. The king with the harp is successfully ruling over the king with the crown: bringing that king health, and bringing the kingdom safety. He is doing his work well.

Saul is living the God-avoiding life. David is living the God-impacted life. The Spirit of God has departed from Saul, as we read. (1 Samuel 16:14) But the Spirit of the Lord is living in David. (1 Samuel 16:13) David has received what Saul has lost. Saul is running on empty, and David is running on full.

In a way, Saul is able it do the royal work of kings because David is the one making it possible. David is the one doing the truly essential work, God’s work, in that throne-room.

Without either of them knowing it, David is the real king in that room. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit in David that makes this possible.

Jesus came to make it possible for us to do the really essential work, God’s work, the royal work, in this world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus used the blind man to tell his disciples about this work.

The disciples saw a man who had been blind all his life, and they asked Jesus why this had happened. Jesus said, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day we must do the work of him who sent me.” (John 9:1-4)

In this case, God’s work was to make a blind person see. In a larger sense, God’s work is to see a need and fill it, to see a wrong and right it, to see a chaos and bring order to it, to see hurt and bring comfort, to see weariness and bring strength, to see darkness and bring the light.

This is God’s royal work of creation. It is also the work that God did when he came down from heaven and lived, for our sake, as a human being, in Jesus, and gave himself on the cross for our forgiveness and to make us a new creation. This is God’s work as the real king. This is royal work.

Royal work is what Saul was anointed to do as king and failed to do, because he saw protecting himself and his position as more important than the work that God had given him to do. Royal work is what David was anointed to do as king. And he succeeded at doing it whenever he saw it as God’s work first and foremost
Jesus included us with his disciples when he said, “We must do the work of him who sent me.” In the second chapter of Genesis, in the creation, the Lord took mud and made life. In the Gospel of John, the Lord took mud and made healing, and eye-sight; and he brought the blind man light. “Let there be light!” God’s work is the work of being life-giving and life-saving.

This is king’s work. This is royal work. Saul worked and brought anger, and doubt, and despair. David did his work and brought calm, and faith, and patient hope. David’s royal work meant walking into the life of Saul the mess, and using his gifts for healing. Jesus entered the mess of this world with his plan to give us a new life, and set us free through the cross and the resurrection.

Our royal work is to enter into messes that confront us with the strength that comes from the Spirit of the Lord who is with us. It is really only Christ’s work, and we are anointed for this work as David was.

He did his work wherever he went, whether he wore a crown or not: and, so do we. We do the work we are anointed to do in Christ, wherever we go; whatever conditions and opportunities we have.

We have this royal work to make things work, to mend what is broken, to right what is wrong; to bring order to chaos and peace to conflict. This is the essential work that God wants done. This is the essential work at home and in our families, among our neighbors, in our communities, in our livelihood, in our church, and in this world that God has given us.

The royal work that the Lord gives us does not depend on how visible we are, or how much we own. The royal work that the Lord gives us has nothing to do with paychecks, or profits, or time-clocks, or calendars.

The royal work that the Lord gives us to do comes from the royal work he does within us. His royal work is a love that empowers us and makes us new creations every morning.

David’s first royal work was music; and the job of putting that music into Saul’s heart and mind. The Lord’s royal work is to put his own music, the music of his life, into us so we can share it with others.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

God Impacted Life: Obscurity

Scripture Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; John 6:35-42

When David was growing up Saul was the king of Israel; the very first king of the nation. But the nation of Israel was more a collection of tribes than a nation.
There was no real capital in those days. Jerusalem belonged to a tribe of people who had lived there long before Israel came on the scene.

The tribes of Israel couldn’t work together, and couldn’t defend themselves. They came to their wit’s end and decided that, if only they had a proper government, like all the little nations around them, and a king to force them to work together, it would solve all their problems. So they asked the old prophet Samuel to give them a king.

God pointed Saul out, and had Samuel make Saul king. Saul was able to pull his people together by shear charisma and energy. They started to win when other people attacked. It seemed, for a while, that God blessed Saul with success, but success turned out to be not a healthy thing for Saul.

When the prophet Samuel would tell Saul about the way God wanted things done, God’s way always seemed (to Saul) to require a completely unrealistic amount of faith, and trust, and faithfulness. Saul seemed to have more confidence in choosing his own way of doing things, than God’s way.

In time, Samuel told Saul that God would reject him, as king, for this reason. So Saul broke relations with Samuel. Saul saw Samuel as a threat, so Saul turned and became a threat to Samuel. After all, a proper King couldn’t have someone going around disagreeing with him; talking as if God had a better idea of doing things. And so, Saul, who started out as a very brave man and a humble man, became a coward toward the truth and a very proud man, and then an enemy toward the truth and a very dangerous man.

So Samuel was in danger, and took danger with him, wherever he went, because he was the king’s enemy. And Samuel brought that danger along with him to Bethlehem, and to the family of Jesse, because the Lord intended to make one of Jesse’s sons a king, to replace Saul.

The town elders were sitting in their usual spot in the open place where the road came into Bethlehem. They would be like the town council in Washtucna, if the council members had the habit of sitting on the porch of the Java Bloom on nice afternoons. They trembled when they saw Samuel coming into town, with a couple of young men leading a red heifer in tow.

“Do you come in peace?” they asked. Was he going to do something to get them in trouble with the king? And Samuel said, “Yes, in peace.”

Well, he came in God’s peace, which does not always keep us out of what we call trouble. But he wasn’t going to explain the difference to them. Samuel did not tell them the dangerous nature of his business with them.

You know, I am not sure if there is any way to really know, when Samuel’s business was done, if anyone knew what he had done. We know what the Lord told Samuel, but we don’t know what Samuel said out loud to the others who were there.

We never hear Samuel say why he has come to Bethlehem. We never hear Samuel tell Jesse why he is inspecting his sons. He tells Jesse that the Lord wants to choose one of his sons, but he never says exactly what the Lord is choosing the son for. We never hear Samuel say anything to David when he anoints him. He just does it. He pours the symbolic olive oil upon David’s head that stands for the grace, and the transformation, and the abundance, and the gifts, and the setting apart of a life for a purpose that come from the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The scriptures tell us the story in silence. Everyone there was afraid that something dangerous must be going on, but we never hear that something ever given a name out loud.

Everyone knew that Samuel had been a kingmaker, once. But they may have gone home wondering whether he had actually done it again.

The fact is that knowing didn’t matter. David was anointed, and that was that; and we read that, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.” (1 Samuel 16:13)

From that day on, every day of David’s life was a day in the presence of the Lord. Every day was a God-impacted day; a day for coming to terms with God; a day which David had to face with the help or the challenge of God.

It is just as well if Samuel anointed and set David apart in silence. That anointing was going to have to carry David through many, many unkingly days and years.

David lived a God-impacted life when he was a teenager facing the giant; when he was a musician and singer driving away the despair and violence from Saul when he was overwhelmed in inner darkness. David lived a God-impacted life when he was everybody’s idol; and when he was on the run, or hiding in caves and desert hideouts. David lived a God-impacted life, a life in the presence of a God who was (for him) inescapable.

This was his life when he was a man of courage, and when he was a man of fear. This was his life when he was successful and when he was a failure. David lived a God-impacted life when he danced for joy in God’s presence, and when he was crushed by his own sins, and his betrayal by those he loved. He lived a God-impacted life, a God anointed life, whether he was a king or not.

The anointing of the Holy Spirit, which brought the grace and the abundance of God, was a sort of blank check. It was meant for everything. It helped David meet whatever came, whatever happened. It helped David to be whatever he needed to be or to become.

When the scriptures introduce us to David, he is just a boy. He is a blank slate; and we love him for that, when we meet him, just as we love the innocence of any child. The gift of the presence of God in the Holy Spirit was a blank check for a blank slate, but also for David when his life was pretty well written all over, and there was no room to write any more. He lived a God-impacted life.

You are anointed. You are set apart for a God-impacted life.

God came down into this world to live as a real human, in Jesus, to give us this kind of life; in order to take away our old heart and life that lives in broken harmony with God, and with others, and with ourselves, and with the whole world. Sin means that life in this world and our individual lives are not what God intended them to be; and God himself has intervened, by dying for our sins on the cross, to make life new.

The Holy Spirit gives us the knowledge of our need, and the knowledge of what he is able to give us in Jesus. The Holy Spirit takes the life of Jesus, and the death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus, and makes these ours. The Holy Spirit puts Jesus in us, and this makes the God-impacted life possible, even more than David could have known. And this is an indestructible life, and an everlasting life.

If Samuel really told David what his anointing was all about, it would have been very confusing to David. It would have made no sense for the next years or decades of his life. Anointed for this?

Whether David knew or not, his anointing was obscure. There is a blessing, an advantage, in obscurity; in not knowing exactly what things are meant for. If we knew what everything was for, we would mess them up.

When the Lord sent Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse of Bethlehem to be king, the Lord neglected to tell Samuel the name of that son. He told Samuel everything but that one boy’s name.

God made Samuel go through the spiritual discipline of not knowing everything, but having to figure it out, and having to figure out how to figure it out. Samuel learned not to judge things, or events, or people by what he could see, but to act on the basis of what he could not see! What?

Samuel had to make the journey and the inspection of the sons with God’s help. David had to live all those ups and downs. David had to go through unbelievable dangers and detours; year after year after year. And even when David was king he had many occasions to wonder what his anointing was for. What good did it do him?

What are you set apart for? If you knew, you would probably mess it up.

The particular purpose of your God-impacted life is obscure because the most important part of it is to be impacted by the living reality of God.

Saul really got into trouble because he wanted to know everything, and understand everything, and be in control. Saul wanted this more than he wanted to live with God by faith. In this, Saul was not a man after God’s own heart.

David, at his best, always wanted God most; just as God wanted him. God wants relationship. When what you want most with God is relationship, then you are a man, or woman, or girl, or boy after God’s heart. When David did this, he was at his best, no matter where he was at. The same is true of you.

Everything else can be obscure and mysterious. This is one of the secrets of the God-impacted life.

One more obscurity remains. David was the eighth son. He was not important enough to be present for important things. He was the runt. He was the spare boy. He was invisible. David, himself, was obscure.

David, in the purpose of God, was one of the most important people in the history of the planet: not because he was a great king, but because he had the privilege to lend his name and his shaky reputation to Jesus, who is called the Son of David.

Some of the most important people in our personal history are people who will never go down in history, for any reason. The most important people in the world will never be in the news, not because they use their great power in secret, but because they have no power at all, except to love, and to forgive, and to teach, and to serve as an example to other obscure people.

Jesus came as a child of a village carpenter and a mother whose pregnancy was mysterious, and therefore the subject of much speculation and gossip. Jesus became a carpenter himself; not a rabbi, not a military leader. Jesus became a convict dying on a cross in great shame, and pain, and ridicule.

God’s grace is made perfect in obscurity. The future of everything that exists is built upon that obscurity.

This is for you and me; because life will make us feel obscure; feel like a runt, feel invisible, feel like a discarded spare. But this is where the grace of God is. This is where God lives, and this is the beginning of freedom, and heaven, and the kingdom of God. This is the quiet of being at home, in the presence of the family: the family of God. This is the quiet of the God-impacted life.