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.


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