Sunday, February 6, 2011

David's imagination

Good Morning, and welcome to all…

The last time that I was up here, I told you about a boy named Samuel. Of course, that boy named Samuel became a man named Samuel, didn’t he? You may recall that the Bible had lots to say about Samuel when he was really young and lots to say about Samuel when he was really old, and not much to say about Samuel in the middle. Now this, of course, is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect if you listen to television. Now notice that I didn’t say “watch television” which can sometimes be harmless – instead, I said “listen to television”. You listen when you start believing that what happens on television is real. It isn’t, you know. On television, you’d learn that the job of someone who is really young is to play and to be entertained. And on television, you’d learn that the job of someone who is really old is to relax and to retire. But we learned from the life of Samuel that God wants both the really young and the really old to be available for His work.

And nobody who has ever truly been available for God’s work has ever been disappointed. Nobody ever says, “instead of doing God’s work, I wish I had just tried to entertain myself.” I can tell you that there is nothing in this world nearly as interesting, or challenging, or rewarding, or fascinating, or delightful as doing God’s work and seeing Him at work in your life.

Sure, there is great value in play, and in recreation. But that’s not what life is all about. Hey, chocolate is fun, too, but just try living on chocolate for a week. Now, some of you who know me might be thinking “Oh sure, you can talk – you don’t have a sweet tooth!” But there is a reason that I don’t. Let me tell you the story: One afternoon about two months before I was three years old, my Mom found me at the back of the closet. There I was, hiding under the coats with an almost empty double layer deluxe box of Black Magic chocolates. Those were my Mom’s favorite chocolates, and she had received that box for Christmas. But now they were gone. And. I. Was. So…. In trouble! But even more than that… I was SO sick. Seriously. Finishing off an entire box of Black Magic chocolates is asking for diabetes. At two years old, you can imagine that finishing off an entire box of Black Magic chocolates just isn’t very healthy at all. My Mom says I wasn’t able to look at another chocolate for months!

A chocolate is nice at the end of a good healthy dinner, for sure. But don’t try making a diet of chocolate. And it is exactly the same thing with playing. Playing is good; playing is fun. But we weren’t put on this earth to be spoiled. And you know? Those people who see play as a reward for good hard work always enjoy their play more than anyone. Learning to work, and to work hard, and to enjoy hard work is one of the most important lessons in life. Of course, it is also a very Biblical lesson, too: Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”

And that just might be the lesson this morning – a lesson from the life of someone who appears in the Bible after Samuel. And, like Samuel, we meet our hero this morning when he, too, was very young. But instead of Samuel, who we first met in the temple serving the Lord, this morning’s hero from the Bible is first met looking after some sheep. Who can tell me his name? That’s right, this morning we are going to look at the early life of David. Has anyone in this room ever been a shepherd? Has anyone in this room ever hung out with shepherds? Me neither. The only place I’ve come close to sheep is in petting zoos, but that’s it.

But occasionally people with real experience with sheep share their experiences with the rest of us, and it seems that all of those people with experience with sheep agree on one thing. Sheep… are really… really… stupid. Seriously. They just aren’t smart. But you know what that means, don’t you? It means that looking after sheep can be really, really boring. According to Wikipedia, which has an entry on “sheep husbandry” (I kid you not), sheep need three things – air, water, and food. If you needed Wikipedia to tell you that, you should feel… sheepish!

An ordinary shepherd might awake every morning and say, “water: check; grass: check; air: check. Just 23 hours and 59 minutes left in today.” And then the ordinary shepherd would turn his off brain and let the sheep be sheep. In other words, being a shepherd would make practically every living Canadian teenager cross-eyed with boredom. But David, our hero this morning, was no ordinary shepherd. Instead of being bored, David decided that he was going to be the best shepherd ev-er. He looked beyond his job description. This is always a good idea, incidentally: looking beyond the job description. The job description says “air, water, and food.” But that’s just for the ordinary shepherd. Besides keeping the sheep in water, grass and air, David knew that there were two other things that a shepherd was responsible for – two things that could be challenging at times, and two things that kept David from ever being bored – even while looking after sheep.

Number one: a shepherd needs to gain the sheep’s trust and keep those sheep calm. Animals that aren’t super-smart can panic easily, and panicking is usually not what a shepherd wants his sheep to do. So David thought of at least one way to keep the sheep calm. Do you know what farmers do today to keep their animals calm? They often pipe music into their barns, especially gentle classical music. It seems to work. So one of the things that David did while watching sheep was that he became very good at playing the harp. He practiced. And he practiced. And he practiced. And he became g-o-o-d. He became SO good, people began to notice – so much so that he even scored a concert at the palace. He became SO good, that he started to write songs – and he started to become really good at that, too. He became so good, that one of his songs has been on the top of the all-time charts for literally three thousand years – seriously: Psalm 23 in your Bible is the most quoted song in all of time:
The LORD is my shepherd [being a shepherd, himself, David knew how important he was to the sheep, and he realized that God is even more important to us].
The LORD is my shepherd, so I have everything that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along good paths, bringing honor to his name. Bringing honor to God’s name – that’s what happens when we decide to work at things and get better at them.

But I said that there were two things that kept David from being bored, didn’t I? Number one: David worked at his music until he was really, really good at it. But the other thing was even more important for a shepherd than keeping the sheep calm.

Number two: a shepherd needs to protect the sheep. An ordinary shepherd carries a stick – not just to direct the sheep, but also to fight off a wolf who might want to steal a lamb. But a stick won’t get you very far with something bigger than a wolf. Suppose a bear came to have a sheep-snack – a stick wouldn’t get you very far with a bear. Or suppose a lion wanted to have a lamb-lunch – a stick wouldn’t help you against a lion. Now an ordinary shepherd would say “I’m not getting paid enough to take on lions or bears.” But David was no ordinary shepherd. And David had plenty of time on his hands out there in the fields looking after those sheep, so he used that time to become an expert, and not just with a harp, and not just with a stick, either.

In fact, David was so dedicated at becoming the best shepherd that he could ever be that God looked down and said “that’s just who I want to be the next king!” Imagine! That's like a promotion from the mail room to the CEO! You see, the king at the time, whose name was Saul, wasn’t paying close attention to God, and so God told Samuel to find another king to replace him. So, following God’s instructions, Samuel went to the house of Jesse to choose a new king. When he saw Jesse’s oldest son, he thought “ka-ching – king material here.” But God said to Samuel (and this is really important -- please listen carefully), “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. And God directed Samuel to choose Jesse’s youngest son, David, to be the next king. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” And David had the right kind of heart that God could use: he wanted to develop his abilities and worked hard to be the best at what he was asked to do – that’s the kind of heart that God is looking for.

Well, a few months after Samuel came to visit, David’s dad asked him to take a care package to his older brothers. They were in the army, and the army was off at war with the Philistines. So David left the sheep behind, and walked to where his brothers were camped out. But as he walked into their camp, he was greeted by a very rude spectacle indeed. Outside the camp there was one of the enemies – a Philistine, shouting insults at the armies of Israel and challenging them to a little one-on-one battle. “Choose one man to come down here and fight me! If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves!”

Hearing this, David turned to his brothers and said “Who is this guy, and why are you just letting him insult you? Hey – I’ll go fight him.” And his brothers said “don’t be ridiculous.” He knew his brothers well enough to know that they weren’t going to listen, so he talked to the soldiers close by, and they said “don’t be ridiculous.” And they stage an intervention, taking David to the king, who says to David, “don’t be ridiculous.” And David replied, “what?” and they all said “are you blind? That guy is enormous!” Sure enough: the Bible says that “that guy,” whose name was Goliath, was b-i-g – over nine feet tall!

The first mistake that King Saul and the rest of the army made was to think like the enemy. Whenever we do that, we’ve already lost the battle. Whenever we start thinking like the enemy wants us to think, the battle is lost already. But not David. David remembered the lesson that he had learned a lesson from Samuel just a few months before. Remember? God had said: “Don’t look at his appearance or his height [who cares if he’s big? Who cares if he’s mean?] – the LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” And David knew that no matter how nasty Goliath looked, God was bigger and stronger and tougher than any giant.

So David finally convinces Saul that he is serious and Saul agrees to let David go fight, and he wants to help David out. He helps in the only way he knows – and he piles armor onto David, and provides a weapon with proven effectiveness. Saul is the “expert” here. But as David does what Saul asks him to do, he discovers that he can hardly move. So David does what David has to do – even though it’s not easy. David takes off the helmet, unbelts the sword and removes the armor. It couldn’t have been easy for David to walk away from all that loving expertise Saul offers him. But to go meet Goliath wearing Saul’s armor would be a disaster. David needs to fight the battle using what he knows, what he’s practiced with for hours, and hours, and days, and weeks and months. And what he knows is the weapon of the shepherd – a sling.

Dressed only in a light shepherd's tunic, David runs down the hill to meet Goliath in the valley. Goliath sees him coming and, the Bible says, he disdains David. But Goliath reveals the weakness that David picks up on right away. Goliath says: "Come over here and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky." This is Goliath's weakness. He needs David to come within range because he can't get to David. And David knows it too. He’d rejected the offer of Saul's armor. If David gets close enough to Goliath to need armor, he’s already lost. It’s game over. But with a sling, he can stay out of Goliath’s reach, and literally run circles around him, waiting for the perfect shot. David would lose in a cage match but he’s not in a cage.

Goliath sees David’s footwork and gets nervous. And it shows. He says stupid stuff like “I will feed you to the cattle.” Even Goliath knows that cows don’t eat meat.

Then David said to [Goliath]. “You come to me with a sword, a spear and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down [so] that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and so that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or spear; for the battle is the Lord's and He will give you into our hands.”

At this point, I like to imagine that Goliath starts to laugh, and as he laughs, he tilts his head back and exposes his forehead from under his helmet. And at exactly that moment, David lets fly a stone from his sling, striking the giant on his forehead. The stone sinks deep into his forehead, so that he falls on his face on the ground – stunned. Then David runs and takes Goliath's sword from its sheath and kills him, and kills him with it.

The difference between David and the others is insight. David doesn’t only see the giant. He also sees the hand of God. He doesn’t measure by size but by opportunity. The difference between David and the others is that David didn’t arrive at the battle with an enemy-dominated imagination. David has a God-dominated imagination. God is the reality that David lives with. What is your imagination centered on this morning?

Let me finish up reading from another one of David’s famous songs, Psalm 56:
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
…I will present my thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

May David be our good example this morning. Amen.