God’s expert slinger

The story of David fighting and defeating Goliath is probably the most well-known of all the stories about David. It is an important reminder Sling and stone graphic found via Googlethat God is in the giant-defeating business when those giants stand opposed to His plans. And it has inspired many underdogs to press on against a stronger foe.

But skeptics have asked: “Could a boy really have killed a mighty warrior with just a sling and stone? Does the author of 1 Samuel exaggerate what happened that day?”

David and Goliath by Malcolm GladwellIn his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell provides this research:

Eitan Hirsch, a ballistics expert with the Israeli Defense Forces, recently did a series of calculations showing that a typical-size stone hurled by an expert slinger at a distance of 35 meters would have hit Goliath’s head with a velocity of 34 meters per second [~75 mph or ~120 km/h] – more than enough to penetrate his skull and render him unconscious or dead. In terms of stopping power, that is equivalent to a fair-size modern handgun. (p. 11)

In layperson’s terms, David’s stone has some serious speed behind it!

While Gladwell examines the velocity of a rock being propelled by a sling, an episode of Ancient Discoveries on the History Channel examines the force of that rock. An expert suggests that an impact of a stone to one’s head at 3,000 newtons would be enough to kill a human being: A shockwave would go through the brain, damaging the brain tissue and causing death. A slinger then comes on the show and, using a sling and stone just like David’s, hits a target with a sensor that records the force of impact being at 3,600 newtons – deadly!

   …For the part about David’s sling and stone, begin at 10:58…

God has given David talent with a sling and stone. With it, he has defended his sheep from bears and lions wanting to devour them. God has prepared David in advance to now use his talent against an enemy that seeks to devour God’s people.

King Saul cannot perceive strength within David so he tries to fit David with his armor. But it is too big and cumbersome for David. Saul figures David needs greater size and weight to be successful against the fearsome giant. But David already has a secret weapon – his sling, yes, but even more critically, God Himself: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin,” announces David to Goliath, “but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty.”

This is the God who has been preparing David for this moment and in whom victory is assured against God-defying giants to this day. As William C. De Vries writes in his Bible study guide on David,

God will use His people with both their weaknesses and their skills [with a sling or a hammer, a football or a computer] to declare His glory and to work out His purpose in this world. (p. 23)

After God’s own heart

David of the Hebrew Scriptures is famously known as “a man after God’s own heart.” A great example of David living up to this description is when he oversees welcoming the ark of God to his capital city, Jerusalem.

That David is a man after God’s own heart is obvious in his excitement over bringing the ark of God to his home. For the Hebrew people of David’s day, the ark represents the character and very presence of God Himself. That it is coming to Jerusalem has David and all of Israel “celebrating with all their might before the Lord” (2Sam 6:5). Further, we see David “dancing” (6:14 & 16), “shout[ing]” (6:15), and “leaping” (6:16). David loves to worship in God’s presence; David loves God’s presence; David loves God. No wonder he’s called a man after God’s own heart.

Artwork of David dancing by Michael Yosef Robinson – yosefdreams.com

However, it takes David two shots to get the job done: The first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem was tragically interrupted when Uzzah “put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (6:6-7, KJV). It sounds to us like such a harsh punishment for someone who was just trying to help. David, it seems, feels the same way: He becomes “angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah” and he is “afraid of the Lord that day” (6:8-9).

Reading about David’s anger and fear also reveals how he is a man after God’s own heart: David is real with God – both in celebration and in lament. I learned from Mark Buchanan earlier this summer in a course on David he taught at Regent College how this was unheard of in the pagan religions of his day where people brought only their “best self” into the presence of their fickle gods lest they not get what they ask for. David, in contrast, brings his true self. And our gracious God welcomes David into His presence, even when David is angry and afraid.

God does not want us to think we have to edit ourselves or our emotions before we are welcomed into His presence. On the contrary, God invites us to bring all our messiness (to use Michael Yaconelli’s wording) into His presence rather than leaving it at the door, pretending it doesn’t exist or interest Him. Jesus confirms this truth in His conversation with the woman at the well where He refers to how “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” The truth to which Jesus refers involves facts – things that are objectively verifiable; but it also involves honesty, including honesty about oneself and one’s circumstances and emotions. David brings it all into God’s presence, presents it all in his sacrifice of worship. This kind of real worship of and love for God is what also makes us men and women and children after God’s own heart.

Real change

This past Sunday evening at Trinity CRC, I spoke on Psalm 51 and the events in King David’s life that precipitated him writing it. Graphic of Psalm 51 found at digitalsojourner.comAmong one of the penitential psalms, Psalm 51 is a deep expression of sorrow over one’s sin and the havoc it created. As the notes in my new NLT Parallel Study Bible explain, “This psalm expresses one of the clearest examples of repentance in all of Scripture. Countless broken sinners have found in these words an exquisite expression of their deeply felt need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.”

In many of our prayers, we ask God to change a situation or to change a problem: We pray for favorable weather and bountiful crops. We pray for restoration for a relationship that is at (or past) the breaking point. We pray for peace in places in the world where there is violence. And these are good prayers; indeed, other psalms ask for a change in the poet’s situation.

But I think Psalm 51 is so powerful because it acknowledges how my biggest problems are not external but rather internal: Don’t change my circumstances, Lord. I’m the problem. Change me.

When I make the words of Psalm 51 my own, I’m inviting God to do something new in my life. And, in Jesus Christ, that is the one thing our loving heavenly Father loves doing most.


Right Time Right Place: Jordan Vogel

Jordan VogelI’ve enjoyed getting to know Jordan Vogel since arriving at Trinity CRC a year and a half ago. When we arrived, he was studying psychology and criminal justice at Dordt College and playing forward on the Defenders basketball team – the team for which his dad also played in the 1980s. Now Jordan is playing basketball professionally in Belgium. This past season he was with Mercurius BBC; later this year he’ll be playing for Gembo BBC. Here he reflects on the cool opportunities God is giving him in sports…

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name “Jesus?”
Surrender, giving your life’s control over to God.

Do you remember how old you were when you started liking and playing basketball?
I’ve played basketball as long as I can remember. My first organized team was at RVCS in 5th grade I believe, but it didn’t become a passion of mine until my junior year of high school at Western.

What is the most exciting part about being in professional basketball?
The most exciting part is the realization that I’m now making a career out of the game I love. I can remember when being a professional athlete was a dream, then a possibility, and now its actually happening. I feel so blessed to have gotten this opportunity and its very gratifying to know that all my hard work has paid off.

What do you miss the most when your career takes you far from your home in northwest Iowa?
The people and the knowledge of the area. All of my family and best friends are here and communication is hard because of the time difference, but I frequently use Skype and things like that to stay in touch. When I’m in Belgium and need to run some what would be simple errands, I have to ask somebody or look online to see where a store is located… It really turns into an ordeal sometimes!

What joys and challenges are there in not only being a basketball player, but a Christian basketball player?Jordan Vogel playing for the Dordt Defenders
My faith keeps me very grounded. The majority of people in Antwerp acknowledge religion, but they don’t practice any part of it. It was a challenge at times not to get caught up in that lifestyle because I was trying to make friends and fit in, which often meant staying home on Saturday nights so I would be rested for church on Sunday instead of going out with my teammates. So that is a challenge, but it is also a joy because I was frequently asked about my faith and it gave me the opportunity to tell people about God. Playing basketball really serves as my platform for ministry. Yes I am a basketball player, but I am a Christian first.

What advice do you have for anyone who hopes to play in professional sports?
First my advice is to make it your primary focus. If you want to be a professional athlete, then you have to make it your first priority and base your daily schedule and decisions around it. It’s a lot of hard work and the preparation for it isn’t always fun, but believe me its worth it. That being said, most importantly, keep God in charge. I was constantly praying and asking God to open doors and lead and that gave me a great sense of peace which allowed me to just focus on improving my basketball skills because I knew that if God’s plan for me was to play professional basketball, it was going to happen.

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Watch Jordan in action with the Dordt Defenders…

Relationship, not ritual

The setup of Jesus’ well-known parable of the Good Samaritan is a Artwork by Noah, a 2nd grader at Trinity CRC Rock Valleylawyer asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The question betrays the assumption that the lawyer can work to achieve eternal life. His faith is defined as salvation by works. Just as he worked hard to get where he is now, he figures he can also work his way into eternal life. And he thinks he can do it entirely by himself. It’s as though he says to Jesus, “Just tell me what to do and how much it will cost, and consider it done. Then I can tackle the next challenge that interests me.” For this man, salvation is not a gift to be received but something to be achieved.

So it’s interesting that he uses the word inherit. As pastor and author Gary Inrig points out in his book about Jesus’ parables, there’s a The Parables by Gary Inrig“contradiction implicit in the man’s question. You can’t do something to inherit a gift. Inheritance is based on relationship, not achievement” (p. 32). An inheritance is based on who you are, not what you’ve accomplished. The lawyer is asking for a list of things to do; Jesus prods him towards embracing who he should be.

Pastor Inrig continues:

Biblical faith does not involve primarily a series of ritual acts, but a heart relationship to God, which shapes every facet of life. And this relationship to God is inseparable from our relationships to people around us…

The [lawyer] wants a list of rules that people can keep. Jesus prescribes a relationship to God that shapes life. Eternal life is not earned by works; it is received in a heart relationship with God. (p. 33)

Pastor Inrig alludes to how our relationship with God revolutionizes our relationships with others – even our enemies, as the parable of the Good Samaritan demonstrates. We emulate the compassion of the Samaritan not in an effort to win God’s love, but because we want our lives to give evidence to the reality that we already have it.

Burn the plows, burn the ships

When the prophet Elijah calls Elisha to be his successor, Elisha makes a clean break from his past. Elijah finds Elisha “plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and [Elisha] himself [is] driving the twelfth pair.” It’s good, God-honoring farm work. But when God calls Elisha to something new, Elisha says good bye to his parents, slaughters the oxen, and burns his plowing equipment.

In short, there is no going back for Elisha.

Elisha reminds me of Hernán Cortés, the Spanish Conquistador who added large portions of Mexico under the rule of Spain. In 1519, he ordered that the ships that brought his troops to the Americas be destroyed. (It is commonly held that Cortéz ordered the ships burned, but historical records indicate he had them sunk instead.) In destroying his fleet, Cortés took away from his soldiers the possibility of failure and turning back. They had no choice but go forward with their mission.

Graphic of burning ships found via Google; artist unknown

I wonder what “plows” or “ships” Jesus is inviting me to burn. What things am I tempted to go back to instead of wholeheartedly pursuing Jesus’ calling on my life? Selfishness? Arrogant self-reliance? Pursuit of prestige? Idolatry of money? Desire for control?

In his song “Burn the Ships,” Steven Curtis Chapman ponders how Satan tempts us to turn back from following Jesus, exhorting us to burn the ships if it means staying close to Jesus.