Goliath’s Head

There was this strange moment at a men’s small group where we got into a discussion about Goliath’s head. 

Let me give you the setting of this conversation.  A group of men were relearning the story of David and Goliath.  We talked about David’s faith, Saul’s armor, five smooth stones, and the lack of action by the warriors of Israel. Then, we started discussing how David put the stone in the right spot through the power of God.  Then, he took the giant’s sword and cut off his head. 

This is the place that I usually end the story.  Until someone asked, “What happened to the head?”  Well, the end of 1 Samuel chapter 17 says that Abner, the commander of Saul’s armies, grabs David and takes him to the king’s palace in Jerusalem, and verse 57 says, “he was still holding the Philistine’s head.” 

Apparently, David had picked up Goliath’s head as a trophy.  This might seem shocking to us, but scholars tell us this was a common practice at that point in history.  A victor would take his opponent’s head and put it on a pole near his home to demonstrate his power and warn off any other enemies. 

At this time in the Bible, Jerusalem is not yet controlled by the Israelites.  It will not be until 2 Samuel chapter 5 that David is victorious.  Some have speculated that he put the head up there to declare that this city will be his one day.  It was a warning sign that no enemy would stand against David and the God he served. 

The Bible does not give us any more details about what happened to Goliath’s head, but there is a great deal of speculation.  When Jesus is taken out of the city to die on the cross, he is crucified at “the place of the skull.”  This has explicit imagery back to Genesis 3 and the work in which God will crush the skull of Satan.  But is that it?  Many guess that the name may have come one of two ways.  Either this is where David displayed the head, or this was the place where it was buried.  Thus Jesus gains victory over Satan and all the enemies of the people of God as he establishes his new kingdom. 

There is no concrete proof of this theory, but it is interesting to ponder.  The God of the Bible weaves together an intricate tale of his work and victories.  Everything seems to point to his salvation through Jesus, possibly even the head of Goliath too. 

Building Spiderwebs

This year my house is surrounded by spiders.  I have seen them everywhere, along with their signs.  Their webs have adorned my trees, back porch, flower garden, and any space they think they can catch a meal, including my van. 

In the morning, their delicate creations show the intricacy of the spider’s work and the beautiful craftsmanship of each tiny arachnid.  Then an amazing thing happens.  As the sun climbs in the sky, out comes people, birds, pets, and their webs are quickly destroyed before they catch their first teeny bug.  The one on my van got taken for a high-speed car ride that I am sure he was not expecting. 

All their work is gone in minutes.  Hours spent toiling and spinning to build something with fleeting beauty but no lasting impact. 

The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, and in his first letter, he says that on the Day of the Lord, everything will be tested by fire.  In other words, God is going to judge what we have spent our lives doing.  If what we have built survives, there will be a reward.  If it does not, then we will suffer loss (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). 

Looking out my back door while sipping a cup of chocolate milk, I saw the spider web and wondered how many people were building their human web.  They are giving their life to constructing things that will not last.  Houses, businesses, and bank accounts have beauty, but it is only temporary. 

When you decide what you are going to do with your one life on this earth, you need to ask yourself, “Is what I am doing going to last, or is it like the spider’s web?”

Fighting With Myself

James, Jesus’ half-brother, writes a letter to the followers of Jesus that is designed to help them practically live out their faith.  Near the beginning, he writes something that caught me off guard when I read it recently.  He writes

“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (James 1:13-14 – NIV 2011)”

Within its context, he reminds us not to blame God for temptation.  What also caught my attention is what he doesn’t say.  There is no finger-pointing at the devil or his demons for the temptation we feel.  His pen does not tell of the evil people surrounding us that drag us down with their poor choices.  While both have some Biblical truth, he says that temptation results from our own evil desires. 

The greatest battle most of us will fight is the war within ourselves.  The attack from the desires that burn inside us are far greater than the enemy outside of us.  Lust, pride, anger, doubt, bitterness, envy, and a host of other ungodly passions can burn within us.  Most of these are unknown to the people around us.  They are private battles fought in the recesses of the heart and mind. 

I wish there were some easy remedies for the warfare of the soul.  If only there were a simple prayer to offer, a three-step program or accountability app that could make the struggle go away, then the journey of faith would not be so difficult.  All those things can help depending on your issue, but there are no quick, easy solutions. 

I don’t know what is tempting you, but I know that the issues arise from your soul.  Those evil desires locked inside your heart that no other person knows.  As it has been said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” 

The good news is that the first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. 

Where I Am Today

I could not have imagined where my faith journey would lead me when I first decided to follow Jesus. First, it led me to Bible college and then into the arms of a beautiful woman who became my wife. Next, the path took me to five states and gave me four children.  Together my wife and I have bought and sold houses, moved across the country and back again, lost our fathers, saw the boys graduate high school, and two finish college while starting careers. 

During this journey, God has allowed me to have made a positive impact for His kingdom.  I have participated in about 250 baptisms, witnessed people coming back to faith, and ushered a couple of dozen people into Church leadership.  I started a Church that still exists today.  I have helped a few people enter full-time ministry and guided Churches to support missionaries across the world.  I have had the opportunity to speak to thousands of people from multiple states, three countries, and from every age of life. 

I am writing all this because I could never have imagined the path my life has taken.  I am not bragging about the blessings in my ministry because I am as astounded as anyone.  As an 8-year-old boy who became a Christian, I did not dream of ever going to Bible college.  As a Bible college student, I never thought I would become a preacher.  As a preacher, I could not have imagined the impact I might make in people’s lives.  Even today, I am shocked to lead and work with people I didn’t know just a few years ago.

A journey of faith does not sound like something adventurous that will be very exciting.  In reality, following Jesus and letting him guide you is the most incredible journey you can make.  My younger self could not fathom where I am today, and it only happened by letting God lead me wherever he wanted me to go.  My encouragement to anyone is to trust God and hold on for an incredible ride. 

Truly Attractional Ministry

Over 25 years ago, when I graduated from Bible college, I went into a world where attractional ministry was the norm.  Churches would do things to attract people to enter their building.  They would hold big events, have give-a-way Sundays, get a special speaker, or do just about anything to get people to walk in the door. 

This was not just true for Sunday morning but was used the most in youth ministry.  The youth leader would play games, go on trips, and spend every extra dollar to get people to attend their group meetings.  Some groups and Churches went to extreme lengths to attract people to their events. 

Through the years, the mindset has shifted dramatically.  Most Churches today speak of going out and serving their community with the hope of making an impact.  Their service would then lead people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus. 

I am not a prophet from God, but I have one prediction for the Church.  I believe that ministry is going to become attractional again. However, this time the attraction will be different. In the early days of ministry, people were drawn to contemporary music, fog machines, candles, and fun.  I think the return to attractional ministry will be a quest for people to find genuine relationships.  People will seek places to find connections and community with other people.    

Individuals can find almost anything online spiritually.  They can find the best preacher and videos of his best sermons.  Then they can listen to excellent worship music recorded professionally by extremely gifted singers.  They can give online.  They can even take communion at home with a little travel cup sealed for their health and convenience they bought at Amazon. However, there is one thing online people will not be able to find adequately online:  Human relationships. 

Sure, they can have friends online and share a virtual connection. But these interactions lack the dynamics that make friendships special.  I heard a preacher one time say that Jesus was continually offering three things:  a look, a kind word, and a touch of his hand.  These are things you cannot get online in the same way you can in person. 

The Church stands at a place where it has more appeal than it has in years.  It can attract people to come and hear about Jesus simply by offering people the relationships they desire.  This will be true on Sunday morning, in small groups, and even in youth ministry. 

People long for a community where they can experience human connection.  In a world like that, we will once again see the true beauty and wisdom of the Church.   

Understand and Apply

A friend recently shared something with me about reading and teaching the Bible. This person said that other people accuse them of trying to apply the Bible too much. Other believers were encouraging them to read the Bible without being concerned about its application.

The concern is understandable. Our first goal should always be to understand what the Bible says. We cannot rush to application. To understand a passage, we need to get the context, historical background, learn words and phrases that the writer uses, and make sure we interpret the passage correctly. The first step in reading, studying, teaching, or preaching is to understand the Bible clearly without concern for what we will do with the information.

The second step is just as important as the first. We must always seek to apply the Bible. It is not good enough for us as believers to know what the scripture says. We must always strive to use it. Jesus preached his longest recorded sermon in Matthew chapters five, six, and seven. As he reaches the end, he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 – NIV 2011) The power of the word of God is found in its application to our lives.

It is a repeating cycle. First, we read to understand so that we will properly know how to apply it to our lives. Then, as we live for Him, we will want to understand more so that we might do more of what God desires. Read, understand, apply, and then repeat.

It has been said that the Bible is like paint. It is great to find the right color. It is fun to buy the paint and bring it home. But, as long as it sits in the can, it is worthless. The only way paint adds value to someone’s life is when it is applied. The same is true with scripture.

Be Like Jesus

A lady was sharing her story of evangelism.  She had answered God’s call to share her faith with another woman she knew through school.  The second lady was known for dressing in “goth” fashion. Her regular attire was all black, including black shoes, pants, shirt, lipstick, nail polish, and hair. 

She reached out as a believer to this other unique lady and quickly became friends.  Soon she invited her to Church, and within a short amount of time, her new friend made Jesus her Lord and Savior.  Then began a process of transformation in her mind and soul.  Reading scripture, prayer, and Church attendance was all part of her new life. 

The original lady was perplexed as she shared the story and said something like, “she still hasn’t given up her goth dress yet.”  As she shared that line, I froze in stunned silence.  The thought in my mind was specifically, “Are you trying to make her like you or like Jesus?”

One mistake that believers can make is to think they are living the exact way Jesus would want, and for people to convert to the faith, they should also become like me. Their clothes should change, the style of music become like mine, and what they do for fun should be things that I enjoy.  At one point in history, this problem was big among missionaries.  They would preach the gospel but also attempted to make people become American as well as Christian. 

God made us all unique.  We all have different likes and dislikes.  Everyone has things that are part of our personality that may never change.  Believers need to accept this truth and embrace it.  The work of grace in our lives is to make us like Jesus, not like each other. 

Faith is a Muscle

One of my favorite analogies of faith is that of a human muscle. 

Without regular exercise and use, muscles atrophy. They slowly deteriorate until they are unable to perform when needed.

To get the most out of them, they must be developed.  Proper development comes two ways.  The first way is through repeated use.  Take the time to use your muscles through regular exercise.  The second way is to use resistance.  Weight training is the use of artificially heavy objects to develop stronger muscles. For example, you pick the barbell up and down to gain strength.

Faith is developed in much the same ways.  You need to be regularly using it in some way through prayer or service.  Ask God to show up and see what he does.  Use what you know in some new and scary way and see how God makes it work out.

The other way to increase faith is to meet resistance.  This can be stepping out into the unknown with only God to catch you.  It can also come from walking through difficult seasons with only your faith to guide you.

Muscle development is not easy.  It takes dedicated hard work daily to develop a body you are proud to show off to others. 

Faith is even more difficult.  It takes a completely committed Christian surrendering their will to God daily to develop a faith that will shine a light to others. 

Faith is a muscle.  The follow-up question is, “Are you a weak or a strong person?”

A Round of Applause

In 1942, composer Aaron Copland wrote a piece of music for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra entitled “Fanfare for the Common Man.”  The music was supposedly inspired by a speech made earlier that year by then Vice President Henry A. Wallace, in which he proclaimed the dawning of the “Century of the Common Man.” 

Even if you do not immediately recognize that name, you have probably heard the music somewhere.  Ironically it is often played before the performance of professional athletes, which completely nullifies the title of the work.  The goal was to create music to celebrate common people who do ordinary things to bless their families and make this country great. 

I have often thought I should play a video of the song at Church.  Every week people will come and tell me how much they enjoyed the sermon, love the Church, or have been blessed by our community.  It usually feels like they are giving me credit for things of which I had no part.  This wonderful group of people allows me to be one of their leaders, but the real work of ministry is carried on every week by the “common men and women” who love Jesus and serve selflessly. 

Today I want to take a few lines and thank all the wonderful people who make, not just my Church, but every Church great.  The greeters, nursery workers, cleaning crew, kitchen helpers, snack makers, Sunday School teachers, worship singers and players, office workers, and prayer offering people.  Every week is the result of dozens of people giving their time and talent to the work of the Lord.

If you love the Church you attend, I strongly encourage you to thank those who serve behind the scenes organizing, preparing, and participating in the work of ministry.

If you are one of those people who do help to keep the ministry of the Church going.  Then I want to say “thank you” for all that you do.  The Church could not exist without you.  You deserve a round of applause.

Continuing to Worship

Like every other one before it, the Church will gather to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this Sunday morning.  In our setting, we will take about an hour to sing, pray, share communion, and listen to the Bible taught.  Some people will meet for a second hour with a small group to share their lives and look more intently into God’s word. 

I hope that this event will be the result of each individually worshipping Jesus throughout the week.  Our gathering is the corporate expression of what people have been doing alone with their Savior on Monday through Saturday.  Hopefully, people are setting aside time to pray and read the scripture on their own. In addition, they are listening to worship music and songs from the Christian community.  Each day is given to God in all they do, so Sunday is when they gather to connect with those of a similar lifestyle. 

Sunday morning worship is designed to be an addition to your faith and not a total expression. Unfortunately, Sunday will seem artificial and fake when it is the only form of worship in someone’s life.  It will be like speaking a foreign language for a high school class.  Sure, you know enough to get by and not look like a fool, but it is not your native tongue. 

If you want this Sunday to be a genuinely Godly experience.  It starts with what you do with your time every other day – even today.