Tag Archives: army

Distraction from the main thing – Characters: David & Goliath, Part 2

26 Nov
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Have you ever had this happen: you’re in the office drafting an email about an rather tricky interpersonal relationship in your company, and you have a flash of brilliance. You’re about to solve the problem. As you’re typing your thoughts, the phone rings. You answer it, and the call lasts for a few minutes. That’s not very long, but long enough to divert your attention. You hang up the phone, turn your eyes back to the email, remember that you were on to something good, but you have no recollection of that thought. It’s gone. The phone call distracted you.

Distraction is rampant in our world. In our examination of David and Goliath, we’re going to see how distraction rears its ugly head. Watch David, though, and perhaps we might learn a thing or two about how to deal with distraction in the middle of important or tense situations.

In Part 1, we set the stage for our famous story. David vs. Goliath. But so far we’ve only met Goliath, this hulk of a man who struck fear in the hearts and minds of the armies of Israel. Now, as we continue the story as told in 1st Samuel, chapter 17, verse 12-24, the scene shifts from the battlefront back to the town of Bethlehem, which is where David’s family lives.

We learn that David’s father, Jesse, is well-advanced in years, and David’s three oldest brothers were serving in the army. Jesse gives David some food to take to his brothers who were in the army with Saul.  David takes the food from Bethlehem to the battle ground, and he gives the food to the keeper of supplies.

Then David runs to the battle lines and greets his brothers. At the same time, Goliath steps out from the Philistine side and calls for an Israelite to fight him, like Goliath has been doing each day, morning and evening, for 40 days.  As they have done every one of those 40 days, the army of Israel runs from Goliath in great fear. 

There is David watching all this.  We think David is in the vicinity of 16 years old at this time.  I’m guessing he is wide-eyed, as this situation plays out in front of him.  We don’t know if this was all new for David.  Maybe he had observed the army before, but maybe this was his first time with his brothers and the army.

In verses 25-27 it seems that, though Goliath had been defying the army of Israel for 40 days, this was the first that David is learning about it.  Look at what David says in verse 26:

“What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Hear that?  From David’s mouth, a beacon of trust in God in the middle of what had been nothing but fear for 40 days.  David is incredulous that anyone, even a massive giant like Goliath, has been allowed to defy God.  It is a glimmer of righteous anger, of a new day. 

Before we get too excited about David, though, we need to remember that David’s three oldest brothers are right there too.  Imagine how they felt when their little teenager brother starts in with his righteous anger!  David’s questions, whether he meant it this way or not, are essentially confronting his brothers too for not stepping forward to fight Goliath!  And if you have siblings, you know how that could go over.  You think his oldest brother, Eliab, is going to look at David and say, “Thank you, little brother.  Thank you for asking those hard questions.  Thank you for pointing out our weakness and our failings.  I needed that.  I will go fight Goliath.”  Ha!

Not a chance.  Here’s what Eliab says in verse 28:

“Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

Oh man, Eliab is hot. It is entirely possible that he is not just making stuff up to get at David because he was embarrassed that his little brother called him out.  It could be that Eliab had watched David for years and knew this was a tendency in David.  Maybe David was nosy, maybe he was annoying to his older brothers.  We don’t know.  It could be that Eliab is just angry that David confronted him, and so he is playing it off by accusing David of being irresponsible with the sheep, and just coming to the battle to be entertained.  Eliab has a point. David could have left the food with the keeper of supplies and returned to Bethlehem.  But he didn’t.  He ran to the battle lines.  His brothers know this.  They probably saw David do this kind of thing back in Bethlehem many times.  This is such normal sibling drama. 

How will David respond?  Look at verse 29.  At first he responds exactly like you would expect in a sibling fight: “Now what have I done?”  That line is loaded with history.  You only say that if you’ve been confronted many times before.  So this was clearly a repeat issue between David and his brothers.  Then he says, “Can’t I even speak?”  Also a loaded statement, right?  My guess is that David had opened his mouth in front of his brothers many times, and they didn’t appreciate it.  We are on the brink of a full-blown fight between brothers, which is kinda crazy when you consider that the setting is a battle between two armies, and Goliath is out there in the middle calling for someone to fight him.  But just as quickly as the fight between David and Eliab flares up, it is done, because David makes a very interesting choice at this point. 

Look at verse 30.  David turns away.  It seems he knows nothing productive will happen in a spat with Eliab, so he shuts it down and moves on.  Wise move.  Siblings, are you paying attention to David?  Most sibling fights are totally unproductive and unnecessary. So David chooses to disengage, to turn away. But David is far from done.  He could just take Eliab’s words as a verbal spanking and return to Bethlehem in frustration.  Instead, he moves away from the distraction of his brothers because there is a much more important matter at hand: the defiant enemy giant, Goliath.  And David is incredulous that no one is stepping up.

In the next post, David faces even more distraction!

Do you have crippling fear? – Characters: David & Goliath, Part 1

24 Nov

What seemingly impossible situations are you facing?  What is causing you fear?  What keeps you up at night?  What gives you an upset stomach?  Fear is a powerful force that affects so many of us.  Fear of losing our health.  Fear of losing control.  Fear of poverty.  Fear of death.

In our Characters series, we come to a famous story of David who was confronted by a soldier named Goliath who drove fear into the hearts of the whole Israelite army. Their story is found in 1 Samuel chapter 17.  We actually met David last week.  Very briefly.  Last week we studied the amazing story of David’s great-grandmother, Ruth

Ruth lived in the period of the nation of Israel when judges ruled the land of Israel.  The very last judge was a man named Samuel, who was also a great prophet.  During his years he led Israel in victory over the Philistines, and he eventually anointed the first king of Israel, a man named Saul.  As king, Saul had some victories, but he also disobeyed God, and so in 1 Samuel chapter 16, we read that God instructs Samuel to anoint a new king to take over after Saul.

In nearly every nation in the history of the world that has a monarchy, they almost always use the same system for picking the next king or queen.  Do you know what it is called?  Primogeniture. 

My wife, Michelle, and I have been watching The Crown on Netflix, all about the life of Queen Elizabeth of England, and in one episode they show a flashback when Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret are girls, and they are discussing how Elizabeth will someday take over for her father.  They both agree that with Elizabeth’s personality which was more quiet and reserved and Margaret being more the people person, Margaret, the younger sister, should be queen.  So Margaret goes to an official to make this request thinking it is for the best.  The official has to break the news that primogeniture is the way it is, and Elizabeth will be queen.  Margaret is crushed.

Primogeniture means simply that the first born child takes over as the next monarch. 

Interestingly God instructs Samuel not to follow primogeniture.  Saul’s son Jonathan would not be the next king.  In fact, no one from Saul’s family would be king.  Instead God directs Samuel to go to the town of Bethlehem to the house of Jesse, whose grandmother was a Moabite (a non-Israelite) lady named Ruth, and Samuel anoints not the oldest of Jesse’s sons, but the youngest, a shepherd poet named David.  Then we read that the Spirit of the Lord came on David in power.  1 Samuel 16 concludes with David traveling to Saul’s house from time to time to play the harp for Saul, because Saul was regularly afflicted with what seemed to be a combination of spiritual and psychological oppression, and David’s music would calm him.  That brings us to 1 Samuel 17, and the famous story of David and a man, named Goliath.

How do we normally understand the story of David and Goliath?  It is perhaps the classic underdog story, right?  In sports, in war, in a political election, and in just about any arena where one weaker, smaller person or group is pitted against an opponent that seems bigger, wealthier, more experienced, or more famous, we say that it is David vs. Goliath situation.  A famous example is from a few years ago when the Eagles were considered underdogs in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. 

But what we’re going to find is that the original David vs. Goliath story is almost certainly not an underdog story. 

1st Samuel 17, verses 1-3 tells us that two armies, the Philistines and Israel, are facing each other from opposing hillsides.  These two nations had been at war with one another for many years.  But this particular battle is unique. Why? Keep reading…

The Philistines have a secret weapon.  Well, a man.  A giant of a man.  Goliath.  And he is decked out in armor, armed with a javelin, and we later learn he also has a sword. He also has a shield bearer going ahead of him.  In other words, Goliath is an imposing soldier.  Intimidating.  Fearsome. 

Furthermore, as we keep reading, we learn that the Philistines use Goliath in a unique method of ancient warfare.  In verses 8-11, we learn that each side is to send out a single champion soldier to represent their army.  Whichever soldier wins the one-on-one fight, they will have won the battle for their whole army.  It is, in a way, a good idea to avoid loss of life.  But King Saul of Israel and his army are terrified.  Who wouldn’t be, right?  Goliath was a freak of nature!  Who would want to go fight him?

Here’s what is sometimes missed in the story: Israel had a giant too.  It’s true.  Israel had a tall man.  He wasn’t as tall as Goliath, but they had a man who we are told was a head taller than all the rest.  You know who it was?  King Saul.  In 1 Samuel 9:2, we read that Saul was impressive too, without equal among all Israel, as he was a head taller than the others.  He should have been the one to go fight Goliath.  But he didn’t.  No one from Israel’s army would fight.  They were all terrified. 

Fear is crippling, isn’t it?  Fear can cause you to forget truth.  Fear can cause you to fixate on disaster.  Think about that in your own life.  Have you ever succumbed to fear, to assuming the worst of things?  Assuming that things are terrible and awful and insurmountable, as if there is no hope?  I’ve been there.  If I’m driving down the road, for example, and I hear what seems to be a new noise coming from the direction of the engine of the car, my mind can go lightning fast down a negative path thinking, “Oh man…our car is dying and it is going to cost a ton to fix and it is going to ruin us financially.”  Because I heard one little new noise?  Fear can do that, if we let it.  Hear that last bit of the sentence?  If we let it. How have you let fear cripple you?

Saul and Israel allowed Goliath to fill their hearts with fear.  Jump down to verse 16, and we read that this was going on for forty days.  Forty days!  Goliath would come out twice a day, challenging any Israelite soldier to fight him.  That’s forty days of fear.  Forty days of Saul and Israel crippled by their fear.  Maybe you’ve been there.  If we allow it, fear can linger, and it can ruin our lives.  We can’t sleep good.  We can’t eat.  We can be very difficult to be around.  Our friends and family try to help us out, but fear can get a stranglehold on us and lock down our lives.  Anyone know what I mean?  We know it is no way to live.  We hate the struggle, but we can get so stuck that we have no idea what to do.  That seems to have been happening to Saul and his army.

As we continue the story, we’re going to learn an amazing response to fear.

Should Christians take up arms? [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 4]

10 Jan

How should Christians view war?  We are not the nation of ancient Israel which had a special covenant with God.  We are the church, and we are under a new covenant.  So from this passage in Deuteronomy, we can learn God’s heart, but we have to also take into consideration the new covenant we have with God, and that is found in the teaching of the New Testament.

There are those who look at Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament, especially in the Sermon on the Mount when he says to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, and to “Love your enemies.” These Christians look at the prohibitions against killing in both the Old and New Testaments, and they conclude that war is never right.  Our Mennonite and Amish and Brethren friends are examples.  They hold to what is called pacifism, or peace.  No war, period.  They would list Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr as examples of what is called non-violent resistance in order to deal with injustice.  They would not serve in the military, receiving conscientious objector status in a draft.  What they hold to is a completely legitimate and viable understanding of New Testament teaching.

Then there are those Christians who look to other teaching in the New Testament, and they conclude that war is right in certain specified conditions.  They see Paul, in Romans 13, for example, teaching that God instituted governments to restrain evil.  From that they create what is called just war theory.  Here “just” is being used not in the sense of “only”, but in the sense of “right”.  In other words, what are those are circumstances when it is just or right or legal for one country to wage war against another? 

Of course there are many viewpoints on this, disagreements, but here are the most common points of what is called Just War Theory: 

  1. For one nation to go to war against another, they must have a just cause – Usually this boils down to self-defense.
  2. Next, war must be a last resort – All means of diplomacy must first be tried and tried again.
  3. War must be declared by a proper authority – A recognized sovereign nation.
  4. War must have right intention – The cause must be justice, not self-interest. 
  5. War must have a reasonable chance of success – Count the cost, particularly to human life.
  6. The end must be proportional to the means used – For example, don’t use nuclear weaponry for a small border dispute.

And in fact that last point is related to what we see in Deuteronomy 20 verses 19-20 where God says to Israel, “when you bring a siege on a city, don’t cut down fruit trees to build your siege works.”

On the one hand, this is simply wisdom.  You need food! So don’t cut off your source of sustenance.  Think about the needs of the army, and plan for the future because when you eventually occupy the land, you’ll need those trees for food. 

But on the other hand, there is also a principle: when in war use self-control, don’t allow yourself to use anything and everything to make war. 

So Just War Theory sets a high bar.  I once heard a lecture from a Christian speaker from the Center for Public Justice applying just war theory to some of America’s wars in the past.  The most obvious war considered to be just was our involvement in the Allied cause during World War 2.  In that war multiple unjust aggressors were not going to stop invading nations and slaughtering millions of people until they ruled the world.  After Japan bombed our naval base at Pearl Harbor, we committed our military to the cause, sacrificing much.  The Allied mission to defeat Japan, Germany and Italy in World War 2 is widely considered to be a just war. That doesn’t mean that every Allied action in the war was just.

But the speaker that day made a surprising comment.  He said that the American Revolution might not have been a just war!   Was it possible that our forefathers, when they rebelled against the British, did not meet those six standards of just war?  Maybe.  I’ll let you think on that!

My church and my pastoral credential is with the EC Church, our denomination, and we are not pacifistic.  We believe that when there is just cause, one nation can enter into war against another, to restrain evil, and we believe that Christians can in good conscience serve in the military.  But because this is an area of theology where Christians disagree, including Christians within the same church, each individual should hold their view with love and grace towards one another.

What I want to be clear about, though, is that Christians and the church should never use violent means to accomplish the mission of God. Sadly we have a poor track record of doing just that, most famously perhaps in the Crusades. We must call any military or violent action of the church what it is: sin. And we must repent of it, over and over. The mission of God is accomplished in love, humility, selflessness, following the example of Jesus who gave his life for the world.

The surprising weapon followers of Jesus arm themselves with

27 Aug

Photo by Cmdr Shane on Unsplash

One of the biggest questions followers of Jesus ask is: how much should we be in the world, exposing ourselves to the world, participating in activities or behaviors that are considered normative in the world?

And by contrast, how much should we remove ourselves from the world? Which behaviors should we stop?

How much should we play video games, watch movies and TV, and which ones?  Should we trust the ratings systems?  Is it okay for 13 year olds to watch PG13 movies, for example?

And what about the many varieties of food, drink and drugs available to us, for our pleasure?  How much of that should we partake of?  As substances like marijuana become legal, should we partake?

What clothing should we wear?  How much skin should we show?  What is modest?

This was as big a deal for the earliest Christians 2000 years ago as it is now.  How do we be in the world, but not of it?

Where it really gets tricky is in the area of friendships.  If you are a follower of Jesus, and you have friends who are not followers of Jesus, how much should you do what they do?

As we continue in 1 Peter, we have arrived at chapter 4, and Peter addresses these issues.

In verse 1, the NIV’s “arm yourselves” is a great translation of the word Peter used.  It truly has military overtones!  Think of soldiers preparing for battle.  Strapping on bullet proof vests, helmets.  Lacing up boots, attaching a knife, grenades, ammunition and of course their gun.  A backpack with all kinds of equipment.  They are ready for battle.  No doubt Peter is talking to those early Christians this way because he sees that they, too, are in a battle, but it is not a military battle.

So how should followers of Jesus arm ourselves?  How should we get ready?  What equipment do we strap on?  The attitude of Jesus.

What was his attitude?  It is most clearly described in a place called the Garden of Gethsemene, just a short walk outside the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was there on the night of his arrest, praying with his disciples.  Remember his prayer?  It was intense.  He knew that his arrest, beating and death were right around the corner.

How would you feel if you knew that within hours you would be severely beaten, falsely tried, and killed?  I would be freaking out.  While Jesus was definitely emotional, he wasn’t losing control.  The anxiety was massive.  And yet what did he pray?  “Father, not my will, but yours be done.”

In the face of severe bodily harm, Jesus remained 100% committed to do the will of God.  That is the attitude Peter says we should arm ourselves with.

Why?  Because, Peter says, “he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.”  But what does Peter mean when he says suffering in the body will lead to being “done with sin”?

Peter’s flow of thought from 3:18 all the way through 4:6 has Christians in mind, and how Christians can handle suffering.  In other words, he is saying, “Christians, when you suffer, it puts things in perspective.”  You’ve maybe experienced that yourself.  When you go through a hard time, you realize so quickly and clearly what really matters in life.

When you are suffering, you’ll realize that your previous sinful choices were so wrong.  We might even call this the process of sanctification.  Sanctification is a big long Christian theological word that refers to the process of being set apart for God.  During that process of being set apart, we are being shaped and changed, so that gradually we act more and more like Jesus would.  All disciples of Jesus are undergoing this process, where the Spirit of God, if we allow him, is at work in us.  What we find is that suffering, as painful and difficult as it is, actually grows us faster and more deeply, when we allow it.

Unfortunately, some people do not allow suffering to shape us to become more of what God wants us to be. Some people wallow in their suffering.  You know the Eeyore syndrome?  That’s when, instead of sitting in the suffering and listening to what God might want to teach us, we have a pity party.  Poor me.  We followers of Jesus should not approach suffering like Eeyore.  Instead, Peter says, we should have the attitude of Jesus, to follow God’s will no matter the difficulty.

Can we experience Jesus’ victory now…or do we have to wait till we get to heaven?

24 Aug

What is heaven like?  There is much speculation.  I wish the Bible was much more clear than it is.  Sometimes it talks about a supernatural dwelling place of God.  In the New Testament the word for “heaven” can also mean “sky”.  Is heaven up there somewhere?  But then other times the Bible talks about heaven as a new earth or new Jerusalem.

As we conclude 1 Peter 3:18-22, Peter tells us that Jesus is in heaven, at God’s right hand, with all other beings in submission to him.  Why is Peter bringing up this heavenly image?  Once again, as we have seen all week, Peter wants to encourage people who are feeling defeated that Jesus is clearly the victor, and in him they, too, can have victory.

At the time when Peter wrote, it is likely that they were not feeling all that victorious, considering the persecution they were enduring.

How about you?  You might not be feeling all that victorious either, but Peter wanted those Christians then to know, and by extension we can know, that there is victory in Jesus.

But note that Peter is not just talking about ultimate victory in heaven.  No doubt, he is referring to that.  Jesus wins.  In the end, Jesus wins.  There he is in heaven, the victor over all!

But Peter is writing to Christians feeling defeated and discouraged in their actual lives. He wanted to encourage them in a way that mattered not only in a distant future, but also so that they could experience victory right then and there.  They were not alone.  They had power in Jesus.  Jesus had suffered too.  They were not forgotten.  They were remembered.  And they had access to the same strength Jesus did.

Our oldest son is in the National Guard.  For his extended drill this summer, his unit went to an intense training center in California.  It’s been 118 degrees most days.  He is in full battle gear, there are long, exhausting days and hot nights.  For the past 2 weeks he and many others were out in the desert.  So no access to phones (meaning…no connection to home), faced with rough terrain, practicing difficult intense drills and so much more.  After that two weeks in the desert, they returned to base for at least another week and they got their phones back.  Our son texted us saying those weeks out in training were the toughest things he’s ever done in his life.  Tougher than basic training.  And then he went on to tell us how much he’d grown and how much God had taught him.

That’s victory in Jesus.  That is finding God in the midst of difficult discouraging times.  That is what we have access to, a living God who is making things new in us and in our world.  We get to be a part of that.  A part of His living and breathing victory.  That is what Peter is talking about.

So we need to see that Peter is talking to people about how to live life now.  We can experience victory in Jesus now.  Remember that a major emphasis of Jesus’ death and resurrection is God setting things right.  The power of God that raised Christ from the dead that is available to us, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 1:15-19. Take a moment and read that.  Did you read how God’s power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us?  Amazing!

The big question, then, is how do we access that power?  For our son in the desert, he accessed that power a couple ways.  Prayer and reading about Christians who he looks up to.  He took a couple biographies of Christian athletes and read and was greatly encouraged.  Part of what made prayer and those stories of Christian faith so powerful was that Tyler was right in the middle of something extremely difficult.  And right there found victory in Jesus.

If you are going through a hard time, and even if things are good, how will you reach out to God to access the victorious power of God?  I highly recommend prayer as a starting point.  But also read the truth of God in his word, seek out stories of other Christians and how they placed their faith in God.  Then consider bringing other Christians into your own story.  Share your struggles, allow others to speak truth to you, and practice living out victory in Jesus.

That time a military recruiter called me with an amazing proposal

31 Dec

A couple years ago, I got one of those out-of-the blue calls that sounded legit, but also made me very suspicious.  It was from a military recruiter, the Army Reserves to be precise.

At the time I was 39 years old.  Not quite the age anymore to be considered for military service.  He explained that he was recruiting for the military chaplaincy, and at 39 I had a couple more years before I would be too old to start a career in the military.  He told me I didn’t need to worry…I wouldn’t have to go through basic training!

I would, however, have to go through a chaplaincy training program, but the Army Reserves realizes that its chaplains are usually already in full-time ministry, so they try to fit the training around a pastor’s schedule.

As a chaplain in the reserves, after my training was complete, my responsibilities would be just like any other Reservist, spending one weekend per month on base, and two weeks each summer.  Of course, if my unit got called up to active duty, I would go with them.  The recruiter assured me that many of their chaplains are full-time pastors, and their churches work around their Reserves schedule.

Additionally, and this piqued my interest, I would be qualified for a military pension if I served 20 years, and because I already had my master’s degree, I would start my military career as an officer!

I couldn’t believe it.  I had not sought this out.  I had not had a conversation with the chaplains in my denomination.  It came completely as a surprise.  How did he find out about me?

Maybe he just looked on my denomination’s website?  I don’t know.  And it doesn’t really matter how he found out.  What mattered was that this was a serious offer, and I needed to evaluate it.

I have to admit that there was an inkling of interest deep within me.  I liked the idea of a military pension.  I liked the idea of being an officer is the US Army.  And I’ve heard from my military chaplain colleagues how many wonderful ministry opportunities there are for chaplains.  I like all of that, and it excited me.

So Michelle and I needed to talk about it.  We needed to pray about it.  If I became a military chaplain, it could deeply impact my family.  Would my wife and kids be okay with having me gone so much?  And what if my unit got called up, and I went to serve in a war zone?

I also needed to talk with my church, or at least the group of leaders in my church that could give me honest feedback about this decision.  It was an opportunity that could also deeply impact our church.  My church already graciously and wisely allows me one Sunday off preaching every month.  It doesn’t always happen, but I’m very thankful for it.  This chaplaincy opportunity would go well beyond the once/month off though.  Would the church be okay with me being gone so much?  And what would happen to this full-time ministry that I committed to before the Lord and before the church if my unit did get called up and I would be gone for months?

Simply put, for an opportunity like this, I would have to count the cost.  And I would have to get others to join the evaluation process with me.  It was an amazing opportunity.  Very enticing.  But it came with a cost.

This coming Sunday at Faith Church we will study Luke 14:25-35, a passage about counting the cost.  Check it out before worship on Sunday.  Like that recruiter, God is offering you an amazing opportunity, as we’ll see in this teaching by Jesus, but we need to count the cost.

So we invite you to join us to learn more.