Killing Goliath

David and Goliath Capture

David & Goliath -Osmar Schindler, Public Domain

David and Goliath is Sunday school material – at least it was a story I heard a lot as I spent just about every Sunday in some sort of church experience.  It frankly never occurred to me to think of anything but the heroism of the boy David defeating a giant who terrorized the troops of Israel who included members of David’s family.

Only recently have I thought about what the story of David and Goliath really entailed.  And it’s not pretty or romantic.  You can read the full text here.  Think about it!  This ginormous creature like human had managed to traumatize an entire army of warriors into absolute submission.  The intimidation was beyond his size – it was  an energy depleting force that made grown men cower as he raged day after day.  They felt so helpless that when young David arrived on the battlefront questioning what this human was threatening against his God – they wanted to silence him! The giant after all could not be confronted by threats from a mere boy.

Everybody has a Goliath…

It occurs to me that all of us face a Goliath at some point in our lives.  Some of us may find ourselves confronting many giants.  Giants of envious agents, contemptuous and arrogant attitudes, prideful forces which taunt the idea of our existence with venomous hatred.  Or Goliath may present as a difficult situation, a personal loss, the pain of a failed marriage, financial difficulties or illness.  The common denominator is that the situation appears to be insurmountable.  And the awareness of the pain, torment and taunts ever present. The reality is none of us get through life without some scars to prove we graced the planet.

Confronting the giant…

So, what does David do when he decides to confront Goliath.  Well, before he could get to the giant, he was reported.  Yes, the word got back quickly to King Saul that there was this little chump who was willing to put his head on the line.  Because that was what Goliath promised he would do to anyone stupid enough to confront him – ‘feed their flesh to the birds.’ An indelicate and unpleasant prospect indeed.  David was invited to meet with King Saul who noted immediately that he was a mere kid.  But the situation was so desperate, the King was willing to allow David to go to his presumable slaughter.  He even offered David his armor.  But when David tried on the armor, he couldn’t move.  The heavy metal must have felt so weighty, it was hard to breathe. The killing Goliath exercise would require him to rely on what he knew and the God he served.

That nugget of information from the story is worth a lot.  Although the world hadn’t heard about David, he had street cred where it counted.  This young man had spent much time in prayer, meditation and psalms.  It’s easy to think that prayer is simply mouthing words.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I’m sure there was plenty of prayer when David found himself confronted by the bear and the lion while he was alone caring for his Father’s flock.  Vulnerability has a way of getting our attention and clarifying our absolute dependence on God.

A sordid cadre…

I have faced many situations where dependence on God has been all I’ve had.  And it has been enough.  David was targeted because he was there and wild animals were hungry.  He stood in the way of their meal ticket.  That’s still the case today for many attacks.  Thinking or wondering why you are being targeted or traumatized is as ineffective as wondering why the wind is blowing.  You cannot appease the devil or his agents who include according to God’s word, rulers of darkness, principalities and powers.  A sordid and wicked cadre of agents whose only passion lies in deception, theft and destruction.

Killing Goliath…

Killing Goliath requires strong faith in God AND indignation at the absolute arrogance of powers that mock and oppose him.  It also requires a different mindset.  While the army troops of Israel were frightened by the threats of Goliath, they also became blinded to the vulnerability of the enemy.  You see, every enemy has a terrible vulnerability.  One which they hope you don’t expose, because if you can see it, you can attack them successfully.  Fear and intimidation blind us to this reality and keep the focus on what seems to be impregnable.

Killing Goliath requires the willingness to not only expose the vulnerability but to be ruthless in dealing a death-blow to it.  For David, it required exactly one smooth stone, polished by the relentless flow of  water, and aimed with precision at the one spot on Goliath’s head that was uncovered – that space on his forehead between his eyes.  What’s interesting is that there were probably several skilled warriors who could sling a stone with lethal accuracy, but they were so focused on what they couldn’t do that they forgot to look at what they could have easily picked up and used with their own hands.

Facing Goliath requires facing issues which may be longstanding.  Remember this – Goliath was once a baby, who became a boy and finally a man.  Even if he was a big baby, he could have been dealt with earlier had Israel’s troops recognized the enemy growing up before their very eyes.  It’s important to note that most Goliaths don’t emerge overnight, although the severity of the threat may appear to do so.  Most of the enemies of our soul are issues we have tolerated, grown up with, made excuses for, ignored or refused repeated entreaties from the Holy Spirit regarding a need to change direction, course or action.  Then one day we wake up and recognize that we’ve got a big problem on our hands.  Or someone who has appeared to be benign and harmless Isometimes someone who is close to us) reveals their true nature and intentions towards us.  Either way, the revelation of Goliath is scary.

However, killing Goliath requires boldness, courage and faith.  It requires the ability to see that no matter how powerfully formidable a situation seems, our God is greater!  He is sovereign and all-powerful.  David did not stop at the killing of Goliath.  No, this boy-man went up to that fallen giant and cut of his head with the giant’s own sword.  Absolutely ruthless and gory!  Necessary too.  Because the only language the enemy understands is violence!  The word of God reminds us that ‘the Kingdom of God suffers violence, and violent take it by force.’

The Goliath Killing methadology…

So while we may romanticize the story, there’s very little that is truly romantic about David’s encounter with Goliath.  And as you review your life, you will note that there’s been very little that’s nice or easy about the Goliaths you have faced or are facing now.  Take heart, God promises never to leave us or forsake us.  Here are some tips which are useful when dealing with threatening, depleting and wicked enemies:

  1.  Recognize them.  Preferably earlier rather than later when they have become deeply ingrained.
  2. Don’t tolerate Goliath.  While we are commanded to love people, this does not mean that we should make friends with wicked spirits which some choose to allow to use them.  The Bible instructs us to ‘Resist the devil and he will flee’.
  3. Be ruthless in using the weapons of our warfare.  There are many weapons in God’s arsenal.  Unfortunately, many Christians are woefully ignorant.  David used a weapon which totally surprised Goliath – a stone.  Learn about AND how to use God’s weapons including: prayer, the blood of Jesus, the name of Jesus and the sword of the Spirit.
  4. Don’t stop until there is total victory.  If Goliath had been merely wounded, it is likely that David would not have made it.  God has given us the victory in Jesus Christ death and resurrection.  We are victorious.  Now exercise the reality of that truth in your situation.
  5. Recognize that the key to the enemy’s defeat is to NEVER forget who you serve!  Goliath taunted the Israelites daily by reminding them that they were soldiers in King Saul’s army.  While that was true on one level, it left out an important fact – that Israelite army was God’s army.  Remember you are a soldier in God’s army.
  6. Turn the enemy’s weapon against him.  David cut off Goliath’s head with Goliath’s sword.  Ask God for wisdom.  For instance, when Goliath threatened David by telling him that his flesh would be fed to the birds, David returned the insult! There are many ways to turn the tables.
The Jonah Experiment and Unexpected U-Turns

The Jonah Experiment and Unexpected U-Turns

Some of life’s rawest moments lie within the slip.  The slip through the bloodied messy passage of the birth canal  as new life emerges underscores the whispered rasp as the last breath fades to release the soul into the cradle of death.

When numbness is raw…

17109860 - prison window. freedom conceptFor anyone who has experienced life come and go, the mystery of joy and pain is never more present than what is experienced in these moments.  When my mother passed away, the numbness which shrouded the first moments of disbelief gave way to pain and lots of questions.  But in America, time spent with reconcilling death is not an expedient option.  Burials are expensive and must be conducted quickly. Unlike the African tradition where time spent in palpable grief is thought to ease the transition. Which was why my grief was quickly swallowed into a whirlwind of urgent activities.  So much to be done, so many arrangements and considerations…so many to inform.  I could not reach out to everyone who needed to know.  My voicemail messages filled up as I filtered them through a sieve of who I had the strength to talk to that day.

Seeking help…

So when a friend offered to help spread the word to a church we had attended as a family for many years, I was grateful to catch a break.  That was one burden lifted – a group that would be informed with a note or  maybe a notation on a bulletin or whatever churches do to inform the members that someone they knew had died.

Except there was one problem.  Although Mom had been a member and served in various capacities for many years, when our family left to attend a church closer to home, she reluctantly joined us.  However she maintained relationship and prayer circles with members of the congregation till the end of her life.  So when our friend returned to inform me that the answer was ‘NO’,  – at first I scrambled to figure out what was being referenced.  My world had become warped by grief and the busyness that surrounds figuring out so much of what accompanies the business of death in America.

When ‘No’ is official policy…

As the mist lifted, I heard the words clearly – NO, the church will not honor your request to provide any information about your Mother’s passing.  You left the church.  They don’t provide that information about people who are no longer members.  It’s their policy.  My heart struggled to keep pace with the information – we were not asking for money, flowers or a card. Simply a notification to those who knew her, that their friend and prayer partner had gone to be with Jesus.  I was stunned, shocked and angry!  Where was the NO when we had attended the church for special occasions and made offerings after we had left?  Where was the NO when the same church made exceptions for high-profile funerals at their facility?

Remembering Jonah…

It would take time to absorb the incredulity of that experience.  Except God has a way of working through the threads of the heart in remarkable ways.  Remember Jonah?  That was the question that pressed urgently into my heart as I prepared for devotional meditation nearly a year after the funeral rites.  I hadn’t planned on studying the story of Jonah that morning, but of course I remembered Jonah.  My remembrance was specifically brought to bear about an incident at the end of the book (Jonah 4: 1-11) during which a reluctant Jonah, having delivered his message of destruction to what he felt sure was a damned city, went outside the city to watch and wait for the judgement which he was sure God was going to rain down on the sinful city of Ninevah.

Pondering fate…

While pondering the gruesome fate he anticipated witnessing, God allowed a vine to grow up so swiftly, that in hours it was large enough to provide shade from the blistering heat.  A grateful Jonah acknowledged this providential blessing presumably for a job well done!  However the next day, an ugly and ferociously hungry worm ate up his plant umbrella and, along with a scorching wind, withered his shade plant to a crisp nearly as quickly as it had grown into being.  And Jonah was angry!  Angry that he was being punished while the sinful city of Ninevah was still very much alive and well due to a last-minute mass repentance by just about everyone.

As I thought about the story, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said,

‘So, why are you being like Jonah?  I allowed that church to be a blessing to your family and your mom in many ways.  When your son was very ill, a Pastor from that church prayed for you and your family.  If another pastor from the same church determines that you are not eligible for any consideration during this current situation, what is that to you?  Do you have the right to label an entire church and my children whom I love because of the actions of a few?  I raised up a vine for you (which like Jonah, you had no rights to), if I choose to allow it to be taken down – what is that to you?  You didn’t create or pay for my grace.  Nor do you have a right to determine when, how or to whom my grace will be extended next.”

When rebuke is a stern grace…

Sometimes, the stern rebuke of God is a gift.  Self-pity and offense are easily justified, but they mask a trap designed to entrap and deplete life; especially potent when the object of our wrath seems justified. God reminds Jonah of his hypocrisy in appreciating the grace of some shade which he had nothing to do with, but being incensed at the grace that God was willing to give to Ninevah.

Breaking brass and cutting iron…

The Psalmist references in Psalms 107: 15-16 NASB the following:

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his loving kindness, And his wonders for the sons of men. For he has shattered the gates of brass, And cut the bars of iron asunder.  Fools because of their rebellious ways and because of their iniquities were afflicted.”

I realised that almost a year had passed, and I was nursing a smoldering flame against ‘those people at that church‘.  Yet God’s grace had framed so many gifts of compassion, support and love in many unanticipated and unexpected ways.  Prayer support, comfort, encouragement and financial assistance were gifted to our family by so many and included individuals from that church.   It was absolutely time to allow his grace to shatter the gates of brass and to cut the bars of iron asunder that I had allowed to imprison my heart.  Inexplicably, the story of Jonah resonated in a different way.

You see, offenses in life are guaranteed.  Choosing to be offended is not. It’s not easy to forgive.  But it is better than living behind the brass gates of unforgiveness and the iron bars of bitterness.

image credit 123rf

 

Choose to Bloom – No Matter What!

25793902315_8d81dfa3ec_z

The truth is that I would prefer to choose where I was planted rather than where I bloomed.  But life’s not wrapped up with a shiny bow like that!  In fact, many aspects of life are not chosen.  We don’t get to select our parents, our skin color or place of birth.  Things which turn out to be pretty significant in life.

However, we do get to choose our responses.  Free will is one of the greatest blessings or curses depending on how you look at it.  As 2017 has already started emerging on the planet, we stand at a new threshold.  2016 has revealed some of the ugliest underpinnings of the human experience both domestically and abroad.  A New Year presents new opportunities to make new choices.  We can’t always choose where we’re planted, but we can make a decision to bloom anyway.

A prayer for 2017

When life requires bold strokes,

May we meet the threshold with

Courage and Bravery.

When tensions rise and tempers flare,

May the power of Grace + Peace

Put out the flames.

May we rise to unite

When division threatens to undo us

And may we re-find our voice

And blend the hot tremors of our harshest tenors

To speak with each other again.

Lola Audu

Trapdoor Grace: Overcoming A Spiritual Siege

One of the most heart breaking news stories this year has been the on-going siege of the city of Aleppo in Syria.  Watching the daily distress of people trapped within the ruins of war without access to basic and vital necessities is a reminder of how despicable war is.

64481341_sTrapdoor grace is the kind of grace that happens when all avenues of relief are blocked.  The support systems which we have carefully cultivated spring leaks, the bank account is drained, the Doctor’s and experts don’t have solutions, the job has left the country.  When we are under siege literally or spiritually, it is important to know that God has avenues of rescue which open when windows and doors of escape are unavailable.

The weapon of a siege mounted against a community or city is an ancient one.  A siege can be mounted in a variety of ways, but always has one common characteristic – the enemy surrounds you. When a place is under a siege, every means of escape appears to be blocked in some fashion.  A siege not only blocks the path of escape, but also prevents anything from entering.  So, essentially, the community slowly starves to death without food, water, medical supplies and sometimes even means of communication with the external world.

A siege is effective because it eventually causes such despair, that in their desperation, people will even cannibalize themselves. We read about a situation like this in 2 Kings 7.  The siege against the King of Israel was ironically mounted by the King of Syria (some translations refer to him as the King of Aram).

As the two sides eyed each other, 2 Kings 6:24-33 tells the story of the King of Israel walking on top of the city wall and a woman calling out to him to tell him the dreadful tale of how she and another woman had agreed to eat their infant sons.  Her heart wrenching complaint is that the other woman reneged on her word and hid her son.  The King was overcome with horror. He vows to hunt down the Prophet Elisha who somehow becomes the scapegoat for the King’s frustration.

The meeting between the two nemesis is rife with mutual dislike and name calling.  But, the Prophet Elisha prophecies to the King that the impossible is about to take place.

Within 24 hours, there will be a turn-around that is so extraordinary that basic foodstuffs will sell at bargain prices!

The prediction is so bizarre that an officer who supports the King physically scoffs and in effect says, ‘that’s madness!’

And it did appear that there was no way out of this certain destruction.  But, that night God does something incredible.  Because mad situations need to be handled with equivalent or greater levels of mad power.

The Bible indicates that the well equipped Syrian army heard a sound and became convinced that the bankrupt Kingdom of Israel had somehow managed to hire an army and the tables were turned.  In their fear, the entire Syrian army fled at night to escape what they were convinced was certain annihilation.  The discovery of the situation was discovered by a most improbable lot – some Lepers who were considered untouchable and thereby consigned to the outskirts of the city.

The Lepers had decided to throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrian King and approached the camp, only to find the entire encampment vacated of people!  But thoroughly stocked with provisions, clothes and unimaginable wealth in silver and gold.  Wow!  Of course the good news is shared and the entire city rushed the city gates, trampling on the officer who scoffed at the idea that this kind of deliverance was even possible.

Trapdoor Blessings:

A trapdoor blessing reveals the God who makes impossible situations possible.  It also reveals a mercy which is super abundant and awe inspiring.  And often utilizes the most improbable persons or situations.  It’s never an avenue that you would previously seriously consider.  A trapdoor blessing has the ability to turn what appears to be a curse into an uncommon blessing.

Here are some elements of encouragement hidden within trapdoor blessings:

  1. God can handle our sorrow, despair and anger.  Be real.  Desperate situations call for a desperate response.  Pray and don’t stop. Seek counsel.  The Bible says that when waging war, we should have many counselors
  2. Be open to unexpected solutions.  Hidden within those who have been written off and marginalized may be some of the best talent available and hitherto unused due to our prejudices and preconceived ideas.
  3. Know this – God may not come within our time frame, but He is never late.  Examples of deliverance at the mid-night hour abound in the Bible.  Think – Daniel in the lions den, Moses saved from the water and certain death by an Egyptian princess, Paul and Silas escaping from prison while singing praises at mid-night, Peter being rescued from prison by an angel…
  4. Trapdoor blessings are generous!  And perhaps we appreciate them more because the contrast is starkly evident when you’ve experienced deep bondage.  This type of blessing can be so overwhelming that in receiving it, you must find a way to share it and give it away.  Similar to how the Lepers had to let the city know that deliverance was just a few steps outside the gates.

As we leave 2016 and approach 2017, there is a palatable sense of apprehension for many in our world.  It has been a strange year in many ways.  One filled with loss, unpredictability and dis-ease in various ways.  But it is in this type of darkness that light shines most brilliantly.  And it is here that Trapdoor grace reveals itself most readily.

 

 

 

Soul Care and Sources ~

Mathew 13: 6b- “They withered because they had no root.”

One of the most daunting aspects of the Christian journey is the ability to discern correctly between the soul and the spirit.  Perhaps, more succinctly stated, the work of the human soul versus the direction of the Holy Spirit.

There is a type of good work that seems pious and godly.  To all outward appearance, the exterior trappings speak of exceptional outcomes and right intentions.  Our human tendency is to assume that all things which appear to give glory to God and call on his name also originate from him.

iStock_000023075153XSmall

However, the soul is highly versed in the ability to mimic and imitate.  It is afterall where personality is formed and groomed.  The soul is also the place in which the will exerts preeminence.  Thus, acts of the soul, even religious activities that are intended to ‘impress’ God may have nothing whatsoever to do with what God initiates, wants or directs.  These works will have no lasting impact or spiritual results and as a consequence must eventually wither.

What originates from the realm of the soul cannot by its nature (which is soulish) ever produce spiritual fruit. The origins (the seeds) are so different, it is like asking a banana seed to make itself into an orange.  They are both plants best grown in the tropics, but that is where the similarity ends.

When the assaults of life threaten, only what is born of the spirit has the power to prevail. While the works of the soul and spirit can appear to come from the same source (which is especially difficult to discern in religious work), the work of the spirit is refined by fire while the work of the soul disintegrates when severely tested.

So, we must learn to avert our gaze from what a thing seems to be and instead ask for the gift of discernment.  It is not what something looks like which is important.  Rather, the question to be asked is what does a thing originate from?  What is the source of this desire, action, reaction, intention?  Does it originate from the soul or from the spirit?

 

On Wheat and Weeds…

44371121_sThere’s a somewhat convoluted tale related in the Scriptures about a farmer who plants good seed in a large field.  However, as the seedlings begin to mature and ripen for harvest, it becomes apparent that the field has been contaminated.  Weeds (tares) are everywhere! With dismay, the workers who have labored diligently face the prospect of ruining the harvest.  The weeds are competing with the plants for nutrients, but if they are removed, the harvest will be ruined because the crops are not yet fully matured. (Matthew 13:24-30 KJV)

This crisis becomes an issue for the Master whose advise is sought regarding what to do.  As the Householder (as he is referenced in some versions) surveys the damage, he gives an interesting assessment.  First of all, he zeros in on the one responsible for the corruption.  ‘An enemy has done this’.  This damage is not a result of a lack of diligence or laziness on the part of the workers.  Rather, it is deliberate, mean-spirited and intended to cause harm.

This story came to mind recently as I contemplated the difficulty of setting things right, especially when these issues have become habits or patterns of thought and behavior that have been in place for a long time.  Not every issue that we face can be solved instantly.  Sometimes, the chaos is so deeply embedded within the psyche that healing requires more than simply applying standard or seemingly straightforward solutions.

There are issues in life which involve different parties, some which may be unwilling or unable to make wise choices.  Going in with the sledge hammer of human judgement can do more harm than good because discrimination is required when sorting out the solution.  Evil is not always obvious.  Nor is the task of determining who is the perpetrator versus the victim always clearly defined.

The fact is that we have all sinned.  We are all to some degree a mixed bag of tares and wheat.  When Jesus confronts a woman who has been caught in adultery and brought to him to pronounce judgement, he turns the table and asks the expectant crowd to cast the stones, but with the caveat that the first stone must be thrown by one who has never sinned.  Beginning with the oldest, the crowd begins to disperse. (John 8: 1-11)

Which brings me back to the wheat and tares.  The work of the Spirit of God here on earth is to gather the tares in our lives.  It is through grace, that we are even brought to an awareness of how deeply the soil of our souls has been contaminated.  As God matures us into his likeness, he uses various agents to identify and bundle together that which is not fit for healthy consumption.

I used to think that this parable only related to the end of time, but I see that the work of the Kingdom of God is ongoing, starting here and earth and on to eternity.  God loves us too much to simply let us be.  Just as spring time and harvest will continue, in the same way this process is ongoing in our lives and as we cooperate in listening and yielding to God’s inspired instruction will enable a true harvest of righteousness in our lives.  So within the despair of a life which seems to be so imperfect, there is really good news.  God is able, God is willing to perfect that which concerns me and you if we will let him.