July 19, 2018

The Giant David Could Not Kill

We heard earlier this week from guest poster Matthew Redmond on why he is not excited about church. Oh how I echo his feelings. I have been in church, involved in church, serving the church, working for the church, sweeping up after the church for going on 40 years now. I’ve been in the back-room meetings that dictate what happens on the stage. I’ve been in meetings that discuss how to market the product we were selling (the Sunday service) to attract more customers (tithing members).

I have worked with numerous motivational speakers who call themselves pastors, but who do all in their power to avoid ever having to even brush up against a sheep. I have seen lighting schemes in sanctuaries that put some Broadway theaters to shame. Video cameras TV stations would love to be able to afford. I’ve even known churches to rent those hideous spotlights that rotate on the night sky like the Bat Signal.

I go to a church that, for the most part, avoids being a full-blown circus. But even there I’m tired of singing the same emotionally-soaked songs week after week. I don’t need to watch movie clips during the sermon. And I really don’t need a comedian using the pulpit to try out his stand-up routine. Yet still I go—at least, most Sundays.

Why? Why do I keep going? I know that my salvation does not depend on my attendance record at church. I didn’t use to know this, but I do now. And to own the truth about this, most Sundays I’d rather sleep in, or go take a walk, or read—anything but go to church yet again. After 40 years, I don’t think I’m going to see or hear anything new.

And yet I do keep going (most Sundays). And here is why.

War broke out again between the Philistines and Israel. David and his men went down to fight. David became exhausted. Ishbi-Benob, a warrior descended from Rapha, with a spear weighing nearly eight pounds and outfitted in brand-new armor, announced that he’d kill David. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to the rescue, struck the Philistine, and killed him. (2 Samuel 21: 15,16, The Message)

David was a giant-killer. He had done so when he was a young man, before he was king of Israel. His reputation as a giant-killer had preceded him for years. It was a given: David was a great king in battle. But the years and the battles had taken much from David. His family in-fighting, the wars with other nations, the civil war he had put down (but would not stay down for long) drained David’s strength. And now there was yet another war with the Philistines. David once again was facing a giant, this one by the name of Ishbi-Benob. We’re told David was exhausted. There was no fight left in him, no energy to defeat this giant. So Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, rushes to his side, kills Ishbi-Benob, and saves David’s life.

How must David had felt at that time? Humble, or humiliated? Grateful, or frustrated? How about all of the above? This event came near the end of David’s reign as king. He was king over Judah, then all of Israel, for a total of (wait for it) … 40 years. Now he needed the help of others. Or perhaps it’s better to say he had needed the help of others all along, but was just now realizing it.

And maybe I’m just now realizing how much I need the help of others. I am fighting giants on a number of fronts, and to be honest, I’m exhausted. Ishbi-Benob is bearing down on me, and I need an Abishai. Like it or not, I can’t defeat the giants in my life by myself any longer.

This is where my church comes in. These are people who know me, know my faults and failures, see me as I really am and still accept me. They are there to stand with me, encourage me, fight with me. They are not afraid to tell me when I’m doing something in a wrong or hurtful manner. Their encouragement at times is hard to swallow, just like medicine that could save my life, but they give their encouragement still.

I need my church. And, somehow, I believe they need me. Me, as I am, with all of my failures, all of my warts, all of my scars. I’m not as strong as I think I am. I cannot do this faith thing alone. I wasn’t meant to. And yet that is my temptation these days. Just let me have my books and blog sites and fellowship occasionally over lunch or coffee and I’ll be fine. But Abishai sees right through me to my exhaustion, pushes me aside and kills the giant that would have killed me. I don’t always like that. I still like to see myself as a giant-killer, but life has taken its toll on me, and I really do need others to help me.

So that’s why I go to church. That’s why I can’t turn my back on this faulty, failed institution. I need the broken church because I, too, am broken. Go ahead and tell me all of the reasons you can no longer go to church. I know that church has hurt many of you. That’s because it’s made of others who have been hurt. And hurt people hurt people. Yet it is still the way God has made for us to receive the help we need.

This Sunday morning I’ll wake up and drag myself out of bed. I’ll tell myself all the reasons I don’t need to go to church, all the reasons why I shouldn’t go to church. Then I’ll shower, make a cup of coffee, and grab my Bible, and go. And my hope is that Abishai is there as well. I need him now more than ever.

Comments

  1. I have been a part of and still consider myself a part of several church families — both institutional and non-institutional — and, at this point in my life, I am coming to view “my church” as including every fellow believer with which I have any degree of relationship or fellowship. Official dividing lines of denomination or church membership really don’t mean anything to me anymore, and if I decide to get up and “go” to church Sunday morning, then I feel free to go fellowship and worship with any gathering of believers within reasonable driving distance. And, to me, sharing a pot of coffee and my heart with a good Christian friend on Thursday night is really more of the true reality of what church was meant to be than warming a pew among people I hardly know on Sunday morning.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing the need for local church bodies. I just think too many local churches are so focused on programs and performances and numbers and worship styles that they have neglected their own health and life as a body formed of real people bound together relationally in Christ.
    I could be wrong, but I’m willing to bet Abishai jumped in there for his king because he loved him. But it’s real hard to actually love people you don’t really know. And spending one or two hours a week together with a group people in a big air-conditioned room while everyone faces forward in theater-style seating while the elite and talented few perform on a stage — that just doesn’t seem to me like an environment conducive to getting to know people and forming loving relationships.

  2. I haven’t given up on church, but I do sometimes feel that churches have given up on me. Personally, I’d love to be involved in a church where I could have the sort of covering and protection you’re talking about, but it’s been very rare in my experience to find it. I am blessed to have some very good Christian friends whom I can fall back on, so I consider myself fortunate in that regard.

    I just think that American society itself makes it very hard to get to know people. It’s not just in churches. Often times we hardly know the people we live next to. We hop in the car to see the people we really want to see, and we talk to other people on Facebook or whatnot.

    • sarahmorgan says:

      I feel the same way about church…come to think about it, rather than simply given up on me, my bad experiences here makes it difficult to shake the thought that local churches have outright rejected me. I have zero desire to involve myself with any of those churches again, but in the past, in other places where I’ve lived, I *have* been part of the kind of church family that Jeff describes, and I miss it very much. 🙁

  3. Is it possible that intimacy with other believers and care offered (or given) is a function of size?

    It seems to me that if you use typical marketing techniques (great programs, worship band etc) you are creating expectations that sooner or later will be unmanageable.

    In my area there are 3 or 4 large churches and people shuffle around them based on who has the latest or best offerings. So they come with huge expectations.

    And I feel for the pastors of some small churches. You have a congregation of middle/old aged people who watch their favourite teachers on TV that sound so good. Then they are dissatisfied with their own church. Almost reminds me of Christian porn, the idea is that the fantasy world creates dissatisfaction with the real.

    • Geez, I feel like I’m doing shameless plugs today, but see my link above…I’ve been having the same thoughts recently. ” Almost reminds me of Christian porn, the idea is that the fantasy world creates dissatisfaction with the real…” is powerful wording. Larger, more lucrative churches mimic the culture around them in their efforts to out-entertain that culture, then smaller, less financially prosperous churches either make half-hearted attempts to copy the larger churches, or at worst, feel jealous and effectively neutered in their ability to be “relevant”.

      Good post today, Jeff.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I greatly prefer smallish-to-middlin sized churches. What I tell people is that the big advantage of a smallish church is that they notice whether or not you are there on Sunday. That is also the big disadvantage.

      On a different note, most of the ecclesiastical foibles I see discussed in this post and the comments are peculiarities of American Evangelical Protestantism. In most parts of the country it really is not all that hard to find alternatives. They will have their own foibles, of course, but at least it will be a refreshing change.

  4. I’m uncomfortable as I read this and Matthew’s article. Part of that, I’m sure, is my own sin. Another part, which I can’t silence, is I hear echos of the older son resenting the party his father throws for his brother. I agree that I need Abishai, and I apologize for responding in a critical way to an excellent and thoughtful post. I think, however, there’s another question I need to ask as I try to get ready for church service Sunday morning. Who’s throwing the party? If it’s my Father, than I need to join in with joy. I don’t want to find myself complaining to Him that I’ve been so faithful in the face of all this entertainment nonsense that I can’t enjoy His feast. If He’s not throwing the party, if the party is a distant shadow of the ones that He throws, then sadness, loss and despair seem right.

    • “Who’s throwing the party? If it’s my Father, than I need to join in with joy.”

      Exactly. Joy. Not excitement. Not ecstatic happiness. I totally get where Jeff and Matthew are coming from. I found the manufactured excitement so exhausting, and it was making me really cynical. Then I ended up becoming Catholic.

      The Mass was so much less stimulating. No videos, no rock ballads, just people standing, kneeling, and reading out loud. (And, oh yeah, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. But that’s not exactly what we’re talking about here.) Sometimes they read badly, with mispronunciations, and awkward pauses that had nothing to do with the sentence. The homily was usually mediocre. To go from rock ‘n’ roll evangelicalism to the Mass was, in a word, boring.

      And I gloried in it. I needed it. I could be quiet! I could be happy if I was happy, but I could also be bored, or sad, or thoughtful. And I wasn’t being assaulted by smilies and “isn’t being a Christian just the super happiest thing evar?? OMG!1!”

      Now, as I’ve figured out the rhythms of the Mass, it isn’t boring at all. And if I’m engaged with what’s going on, usually I do feel better. But I know I’m not a bad person if I don’t.

      Anyhoo, I didn’t mean for that to become a Catholic advert. I agree with what you’re saying about joy, but I think it’s worth pointing out that manufactured happiness doesn’t equal joy.

      • That is indeed worth pointing out. I think I know some of what you mean by quiet. That may seem a little odd for a feast, but I need the quiet, perhaps because my world is so full of noise.

      • Holy cow! (Can I say “Holy Cow” here at iMonk?) Very well said, Michael. Thanks for sharing.

        • Rick, it’s ok to venerate the cow, as long as it’s not worshiped.

          • What if you worship a cow while you’re eating it — preferably with some A1 and a big, loaded baked potato on the side? Then you could be one of those people Paul talked about “whose god is in their stomach.”

  5. Jeff,
    I really appreciate this post and your thoughts.

    The cure for obesity is not anorexia.

    I don’t say “I just age some spoiled food, therefore I don’t need anymore food at all”.

    I like how you “cut to the chase”, and how you appealed to the way that God designed us. How can we function as the body if we are not together.

    I totally resonated with what you said about being alone with your books and your blogs and fellowship on your terms. I am prone to that, as well, but as you said we are not created to be like that. “It is not good for man to be alone”.

    Keep on writing, and God bless,

  6. Matt Purdum says:

    Well, I left. I like to think I’m moving out in faith, moving from “what is” to “what is becoming.” I’ve mentioned before that America’s churches, based as they are on the corporate-profit-growth model rather than the NT model, should simply be torn down or turned into playgrounds, homeless shelters, clinics. Christ is for everyone, not just temple-attendees.

    • Brian Bertrim says:

      I agree with Matt. I may have missed it as I was scanning the replies but I didn’t see any small group or house church models discussed. Do we really need to exhaust ourselves and spend the money we do just to try to meet together and be supported and loved by a church community? As we’ve been reading on imonk recently, isn’t there a simpler, more natural (and effective) way to be in community?

      • I wonder, though…those small communities are made up of messed up people, too. Messed up people mess up. I think even the smaller groups and house churches would have some similar “toxic church” issues pop up. “Welcome to our house church, where you can feel a more intimate connection with people and God.” Then later: “We share God’s love better than larger churches do.” Then later: “You know, I understand you haven’t been baptised yet. I understand you don’t speak in tongues. I hear that you don’t (insert doctrinal issue here).” Then later: “You need to help more, be here more, pray more, read your Bible more…”

        So I guess I’m just wondering if size of church automatically makes it unhealthy or not. My guess is No. It’s how a church body and leadership deals with messy people that will dictate health or toxicity. Small churches are maybe more intimate, but bring other problems.

      • I’ve been “house churching” for the past 5 years. One thing for sure is that you don’t have to worry about being overly entertained ;o)

        Meeting with other believers in a living room certainly provides a better environment to get to know each other and be more involved in each other’s lives. However, even that “perfect” environment doesn’t guarantee greater spiritual intimacy with each other and God. That environment does make it impossible to hide brokenness and failure. At times it’s gory. At other times it’s boring and tedious. Sometimes wonderful things happen on the interpersonal level that transcend ordinary categories of church.

        Based on where I’ve been and presently where I’m at I think it would be nearly impossible for me to go back to church-as-normal, and I would rather go nowhere than to attend a mega-entertainment enterprise of the North American Evangelical Circus model.

        I think church should be the fruit of the Spirit’s work in the lives of people rather than thinking of church as the means by which the Spirit works.

        Tom

  7. My wife and I had to take some time away from church earlier this year. At the time, I didn’t care if I ever went back. Thank God that we have found a community of folks whose focus is on the Gospel and helping each other follow Jesus. We’re going to stay for a while.

  8. Jeff, this was so simple and yet so profound that it left me almost speechless. Thank you for the wisdom of your words and insight!

    If I may paraphrase, “Do church this Sunday because you have no idea who needs you there to slay a giant that’s about to break them.” I know of several people in my church who are going through the proverbial wringer and near breaking. I am nearing depression myself because of the “mourning” I’ve been feeling lately for the people in pain and suffering in this broken world of ours. Your insight helps me realize, “All the more reason to go, and to go filled with God’s grace and to show God’s grace.”

    God’s grace, peace and mercy to you and your family, Jeff.

    • Very well said.

      Me too.

    • Another Mary says:

      I so agree. I love the post and have also experienced much of what Jeff said. And then today as I spent hours in a hospital while my husband endured yet another surgery, I had that experience of peace one gets when others are offering prayers for you. I drove home tonight with a full heart grateful for the knowledge that friends in this body of Christ were holding us up when we didn’t have the strength on our own. I am sure it was the prayers of others on our behalf because I have walked too long in this faith, and seen the truth of my own frailty and repeated failures to think my faith or performance in it was the key. The truth is I need the body of Christ and they need me.

  9. Very moving, Jeff. I honor your faithfulness in sticking with your imperfect church — the only kind of church there is, after all.

  10. Lovely post.

    The key, as you state it, is understanding the brokenness both in the church and in ourselves.

    Where it gets scary is when we proclaim the church as a cure-all, or we play pretend and don’t make room for brokenness.

    The willingness to work through brokenness is what makes the church beautiful and truly an example of God’s grace.

    Conversely, I would say that if you find yourself at a church that fails to acknowledges its faults, puffs itself up, or simply dismisses it’s failings as “we’re all imperfect, get over it”, the warning sirens should go off.

  11. It’s heartwarming to find so many like minds! I sense that our disconnect is, for the larger part with a generation of self-centered, entertainment seeking, celebrity mesmerized, uber-materialists and those who profess faith and their leaders morph these values into church culture. Anybody over age 50 can contribute zero because even recent history does not inform them. The obsession with secular celebrity gets translated into, “Dynamic ministry personalities,” that have cult like followers. Any of us who are from the builder generation (’38-’45) wake up each morning and have to check which planet we’re on. If you’re driving anything older than 2 model years from the showroom models you can even feel ostracized in the church parking lot. The church disaster is only a microcosm of the much larger and more profound North American cultural slide into oblivion.