The Iron Giant

I don’t use notes when I speak, and I get a lot of questions about this. By far, the most common question is this, “Are you just making it up in your head as you’re talking up there?”  The answer is, “Absolutely not.”  While all I have on stage with me is a copy of the text, A LOT of writing takes place throughout the week.  Each sermon begins and ends as a manuscript.  I write out the entirety of what I’m hoping to say, and then begin the painful process of removing everything that I feel “doesn’t need to be said this Sunday” or “Gets said nearly every Sunday.”

This leaves me with “What I’m going to say.”

Each speaker has a unique approach that is fairly representative of how their mind works and how they work best.  For me, the writing process gets “it” out of my head, and the editing process locks “it” into my heart.  To avoid rabbit trails and maintain continuity during the three services I try not to say anything that wasn’t manuscripted.  Because several of you have asked to see it, here is the manuscript for last Sunday’s sermon “The Iron Giant”, followed by the Audio from the 11 o’ clock service.

“The Iron  Giant”

I Samuel 17

There’s a moment as a kid a when you realize that the adults are lying to you. You initially resist this moment, like the day you had serious doubts about Santa, or the tooth fairy, so you asked the adults about it. While all of the circumstantial evidence pointed towards the mythology of leprechauns or the Easter Bunny, that adult, whom you had recently seen performing the duties of said imaginary creature, gave you some half-cooked excuse about “filling in as a favor” and you thought to your self, “Well it must be true, because grown ups don’t lie to kids.”

The day I realized that the grown ups were lying to me was also the day I realized that I was never going to be a basketball star. I was in the 6th grade and while all of the circumstantial evidence pointed to the fact that my future didn’t lie down the road of competitive athletics; I really hoped to someday play alongside Michael Cooper for the LA Lakers. This was never going to happen because I was about 4 feet tall, wore glasses with a retainer strap, and my legs looked like toothpicks with milk duds stuck on the end.

Our middle school boys basketball team had a big game across town against Challenger Middle School and we were pumped to take them down. We got on the big yellow bus, changed into our reversible jerseys with the numbers that stuck to your chest, went into the gym and got into our lay up lines. We were having the best time making our bounce passes and hanging our layups off the front of the rim, heaving shots from half court and blocking each others free throws, when there was a deafening boom behind us.

The doors at the other end of the Gym blew open and the Challenger Middle School Cheetahs took the floor to the tune of Sweet Georgia Brown. They were wearing tear away warm ups and high top sneakers. Several of them had Afros. They ran a lap around the gym and when they got to half court the coach threw the first kid in line a ball and he threw it off the backboard and the kid behind him caught it and threw it off the backboard and this happened 9 other times until the kid at the back of the line, who had an accidental moustache, caught the ball in mid-air and dunked it.

My friend *Sammy started to cry. The rest of us were shell-shocked.

Our coach knew we were in trouble so he called us over to the bench and got us into a half circle facing him. He told us we could win this game if we stuck to the game plan and believed in ourselves.

The game plan was “get the ball to Danny” a kid who had me beat by 3 inches and 5 pounds, so we knew that wasn’t going to help us. We were left to “believe in ourselves.” We took the floor armed with our “self belief “ intact and walked off of it at the end of the game with our “self belief “ in tatters because we scored 5 points to their 96.

That was the day I realized that grown ups were capable of telling me what they thought I needed to hear. I wondered at that moment if I believed in myself enough to accomplish anything I put my mind to, because that’s what they had been telling me. I realized that day that no amount of believing in myself was ever going to make me fly, or shoot laser beams from my eyes, or stop the electrical outlet from shocking me when I stuck a key into it.

Believing in myself had led me not only to the place of failure, but also to a place of disillusionment with myself and the leaders around me. It took years to understand that they weren’t just telling me what they thought I needed to hear to be successful, they were also telling me what they needed to believe to make through another day.

Having said all of that, turn with me to the book of Samuel where we are going to look at the story of David and Goliath. David and Goliath is such a great story that you don’t even have to have been to church to have heard it before. In fact it’s such a good story that I can’t even surprise you with the ending where a kid kills a giant. See you already know that because you’ve heard this story a million times.

You know everything there is to know about the story, in fact let me bang it out for you in 1 long run on sentence:
“David is a little shepherd boy who the king asks to kill a giant and it seems impossible because he’s such a little shepherd boy and the giant is so big, but David gets a slingshot and he runs out and hits the giant in the head and kills him and that’s why you need to know that no matter what “giant problems” you are facing don’t give up, believe in yourself, and if you never give up you can achieve anything.”

Which would be great except the Bible doesn’t teach that, the Tortoise and the Hare teaches that. What’s worse is that the Tortoise and the Hare isn’t giving you a formula for success, it’s describing an exception to the rule that comes when prideful people slack off. The truth is that in life, Tortoises don’t race against hares and Giants usually crush shepherd boys.

Let’s crush that story of David and Goliath this morning.

Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. -1 Samuel 17:1-4

So to understand the conflict between the Philistines and the People of Israel you need to know two things, the first is this: The Philistines are seafarers who live near the coasts and the people of Israel live inland on the most fertile land in Palestine. Number two: Whenever the Philistines get tired of seafood they invade Israel looking for fresh grain and slaves. This means that during the harvest, the Hebrews had to pick their fruit and defend their land.

The Philistines brought their army to invade and camped on a hill on one side of the Valley of Elah, and the Israelites under the command of King Saul camped on the hill opposite them.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield-bearer went ahead of him.

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. –1 Samuel 17:5-11

So Goliath emerges from the ranks of the Philistines. The Bible tells us that he is 6 cubits and a span tall. This is roughly 9 feet in today’s measurements. Goliath taunts the people of Israel, and challenges them to send out their best man. If he can be defeated in single combat then why waste any more blood? The people of Israel are terrified.

Why are the people of Israel terrified of Goliath? Some of you are blinking at me right now like I just asked you a question with the most obvious answer ever. The most obvious answer is clearly that Goliath is a 9 foot tall Giant. We think that because if we had to go to war and fight hand-to-hand and the enemy produced a warrior that was 9 feet tall, we would be terrified wouldn’t we?

I’ve learned that in life that sometimes the most obvious answer isn’t actually the best answer. Logically speaking, as soon as the two armies begin to fight, a group of 20 men could easily defeat 1 large man. So logically speaking, the Israelites have a better chance of victory in they reject the single combat option.

What if I told you that as scary as a giant is for us today, the people of Israel shouldn’t even blink when they encountered one? It sounds crazy right? Think with me on this for a minute though. If you’ve paid attention to the stories presented in Sunday School you know that Giants are not an uncommon occurrence in the Old Testament.

When the people of Israel arrived at the Promised Land and Moses sent the 12 spies in to scout out the land, what kind of report did they bring back? They reported that the land was filled with giants living in giant cities. Remember the coloring picture of the two spies carrying the big stick with the giant grapes on it? They were bringing back giant food as proof of the giants they had seen.

They said they were so terrified they should turn around and never come back, but Joshua and Caleb argued that God was greater than any giant so they should attack. The people refused and as punishment God had them wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all of the people who refused to trust him had died. When they returned, Joshua and Caleb led the invasion that took the land from the Giants.

To top this off, the Bible makes it clear in the book of Deuteronomy that the Israelites had already killed a giant king named Og who was roughly 13 feet tall. In fact the Bible mentions another Giant who had 6 fingers on each hand and 6 toes on each foot. When you start looking into this, you see that Israel is a nation of giant killers and Goliath isn’t the biggest or the freakiest Giant that they’ve seen and conquered.

Beyond this they weren’t surprised by the fact that Goliath was at the battle because when David goes into Saul’s tent to tell him that he wants to fight Goliath, Saul tell David that he’s not allowed because David is just a boy, and Goliath has been killing men since his youth. Topping this bit of information is this juicy tidbit: David collected 5 stones before the battle with Goliath because they all knew that Goliath had 4 other giant brothers. So what was everybody trembling about?

I was really puzzled about why everybody was so scared so I started doing a little research.  As I was looking into this I found that the Israelites had stopped finding their security in what they had, and started living in fear because of what they didn’t have.

If you look at the text, you are going to notice that in the entire chapter, the fact that Goliath is nine feet tall is mentioned only once. What you’ll also notice is that the Bible goes into great detail describing the armor and weaponry that Goliath is carrying into battle.

Let’s flip back a couple of chapters in the story and get a little more info on the conflict between the Philistines and the Israelites. We’re going to go back in the story a few months so turn back with me to chapter 13 and we’ll start reading in verse 19:

Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!” So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plow points, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. The price was two-thirds of a shekel for sharpening plow points and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads. So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them. -Samuel 13:19-22

So the story of David and Goliath takes a technological turn for the worse for the people of Israel. The Philistines, who live in only 5 coastal cities, have come to dominate this time period because they have become an Iron Age culture while keeping the people of Israel in the Stone Age. The army on one side of the valley is an Iron Age army while the army on the other side is a Stone Age army.

Now this isn’t to say that a Stone Age army is full of sissies, in fact a Stone Age army is armed with wooden clubs and spears. Putting some lumber up against the side of somebody’s head or running them through with a giant toothpick is a pretty good way to win an argument.

The problem for the Israelites is that the Philistines have access to the raw material to produce armor, and helmets. They are armed with swords and metal tipped spears. In the battle for the Valley of Elah, it’s not going to be a fair fight, and Goliath is not just a giant, he’s an armored Giant who’ll serve as a tank against men with sticks and stones. That my friend is substantial reason to be frightened about the battle.

Now before we go much further into the battle, you have to ask yourself how a shepherd boy ends up in the tent of the king of Israel, and how that boy convinces the king of Israel to let him be the one who goes out to face Goliath alone?

Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.” -1 Samuel 17:17-19

David was sent to the war by his father. His father sent a boy to the war. Think about that. Most of us don’t want a 15-year-old behind the wheel of a car. This man had raised the kind of son that you can say, “Take this cheese to the war,” and feel reasonably assured of his ability to carry out the task and return home safely.

Have you ever considered that David accomplished something great that day, not because he set out to kill a giant but because he set out to be responsible and obedient to his father? Most of us want to achieve something great, but we are completely untrustworthy with the simple things we’ve been asked to do. Obedience in the little things is most often the sign of future success in great things isn’t it?

David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear. Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.” -1 Samuel 17:22-25

David arrives in the camp and notices that every day at specific times this guy comes out and taunts the entire army and everybody seems to be sitting down taking it. In fact, the king is so desperate to get someone to go out to fight him that he’s offering a reward, a tax break, and eliminating the marriage penalty! This is indisputable proof that Saul was a republican.

The Bible tells us that David is incensed that Goliath defies Israel, curses God, and everybody sits back and lets him do it. So he tells the soldiers that if none of them are going to man up, then he will. The soldiers hear this and take David to see King Saul. Now we learn something else about David, something a great children’s pastor pointed out to me years ago. David understands that ignoring it does not defeat evil, nor does resisting it; he knows that evil is only overcome by doing good. The Bible tells us this in Romans chapter 12 verse 21 that we are not to be overcome evil but to overcome evil by doing good.

David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” -1 Samuel 17:32-33

Saul is a great king isn’t he? Cowering in his tent, he finally gets someone who will stand up for God and the nation and he says, “You can’t do it.” “I can’t do it, so I know you can’t do it.“ Check David’s reply:

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

“I hear you Broseph, but I’m not going to do it, GOD is. Let me tell you something Saul, Sometimes animals mess with my sheep. Because God is with me, I’m not scared, I whoop up. I hit them with sticks and rocks, grab them by the face and kill them.”

I don’t know about you, but even when I’m dealing with tame animals, I try to keep my hands away from the “mouth” part of their faces, especially if I’m trying to take away something they are eating. David is taking sheep away from lions.

The Courage that David has comes from his complete confidence that God is with him. That God is in charge of the outcome. David doesn’t have to be successful; he just has to be obedient.

Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.” Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. -1 Samuel 17:34-40

Having never grown up using a sword, or wearing armor, David flatly said, “I have no use for these things”, moreover his confidence wasn’t in his equipment, it was in his God. You have to love the fact that Goliath has 4 brothers and David only takes 5 stones. He’s not planning on missing a single shot.

Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield-bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” -1 Samuel 17:41-44

Now if you still aren’t with me on the whole stone age/iron age thing, Notice that Goliath is making it a point to ridicule David for his weaponry. Goliath isn’t saying, “Look at how short you are,” he’s saying, “You don’t possess anything that it takes to defeat me, I’m going to cut you apart and feed you to the animals.”

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” -1 Samuel 17:45-47

David’s response, “You’ve come out to destroy me with heavy metal but the God you’ve called out is coming at you, with me. And I’m going to kill you, and take what you believe in and use it to feed you to the birds so everybody knows the greatness of our God, What now?”

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. -1 Samuel 17:48-51

Without a sword in his hand David defeated the Philistine. Not because he believed in himself, or a piece of equipment, or his ability to get sheep from bears. He accomplished this because he had put his faith in and his confidence in the God that he served, the God that he was obedient to.

I think a lot of us go about living our lives the opposite of the story of David and Goliath. I know that for myself I’m consistently desiring to accomplish what I’m setting my mind to and asking God to bless my actions and make me successful. In those moments I’m actually pointing out that I believe that God serves me by giving me success based on my talents, abilities and equipment.

The Scripture reveals just the opposite though doesn’t it? The scripture reveals that the people who wait on the Lord, the people who follow his lead, move forward in courage and their courageous actions defeat evil. It defeats the evil that other men do and it defeats the evil desires that live inside of us. Specifically it defeats the desires to exalt ourselves by trusting in some device or accomplishment.

David wasn’t out to make a name for himself; he was out to make God’s name great. What happened as a result is that we remember him, we remember that when no one else believed that God was greater than the great power of the age, David did. David knew that God was greater than anything that he would encounter in life because he had committed himself to be a servant of God, not a servant of himself.

This passage doesn’t teach that courage comes from a strong belief in oneself. In fact I’d suggest that a really strong belief in yourself despite the odds and the circumstances is actually narcissism. This passage teaches that courage comes from a strong belief in the power that God possesses combined with our passionate desire to serve him.

When we commit ourselves to become servants of Almighty God, we move in obedience to the things he speaks to our heart through his word and the working of his Holy Spirit. Obedience to the things that God is commanding us to do leads to success, a success that belongs to God and that we experience as his instruments or righteousness.

So in what ways this week can you listen to the voice of God? In what ways can you move in obedience to that voice? I’ve often found that God’s Spirit speaks to me in moments where I can either offer condemnation or grace to a guilty person. He speaks to me when I have the opportunity to choose my way over the way of someone else. To speak negatively about someone who isn’t there. To take credit that belongs to others.

In those moments I have the opportunity to obey. To choose to believe that God has something better for me than this world does. That God is greater and more powerful than any other force or instrument in this world. I demonstrate that faith by my obedience. John tells us that those who love Jesus keep his commandments.

What we know from the story of David is that those people who keep his commandments live lives of courage. The don’t live their lives based out of fear about what might happen, they live their lives out of the conviction of what God can and will do.

I think if we are giving an honest appraisal of how Christians go about their business, especially here in America, we’d have to say that we are really focused on fear and we lack a lot of courage.

See we think that courage is “standing up for what’s right” and “carting bullhorns and placards” arguing and passing laws to defend ourselves and protect our opinions. But that that’s actually using our strengths and our possessions to defend ourselves out of fear. That’s asking God to give us victory as we fight our own battles.

In Poker, The Royal Flush is a perfect hand. When you get a perfect hand strait off the deal do you know what you have? You have confidence. You have courage. You know that there is no other hand at the table that can beat you. Do you know what else? You know that everybody else at the table is just bluffing. You know that they can’t possibly be winning no matter how hard they try. So you just keep raising the stakes.

In the poker game of life, if you have Jesus, you have the perfect hand. The problem is that so few of us have confidence in Christ, because we are actually living as our own masters, that we are actually sitting around bluffing as opposed to raising the stakes.

See a bluff looks like this, ”The problem with America is the Liberals, or the Gays, or the Muslims.” Don’t bring that garbage to Jesus because he gave his life for them just like he gave it for you.

Raising the stakes means knowing that that person’s hand is empty and they need the hand that I’m holding. So I’m going to do my best to befriend that person so I can love them in to the kingdom of God. They don’t have anything that can hurt or harm or kill my soul because I have Jesus.

Today God is still asking us to confront powerful Iron Giants. Giants of bigotry, selfishness, pride, and greed, and he’s asked us to confront them, not by might, not by power, but by his spirit. And God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of Power, and of love and a sound mind.

It’s time to play the game like you know you’re holding the winning hand. Jesus has already won the game, and he dealt you the winning hand straight off the deal. When you play the hand he dealt you, when you live as he’s empowered you, you have the confidence and the courage to accomplish all that he’s called you to.

 

Written:
10/26-28/06

Presented:
Grace Chapel 10/29/06
CMBC HS 10/3/09
BLBC JR HI 7/13/10
BLBC HS 7/27/10
NNU 2/3/11
WC 4/17/11

 

At Willamette Christian Church …- The Iron Giant

[audio:http://www.furmanifesto.com/wp-content/audio/JonFurman-TheIronGant.mp3|titles=Jon Furman – The Iron Giant]
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6 Responses to “The Iron Giant”

  1. Jeff Patterson April 21, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    Each speaker has a unique approach that is fairly representative of how their mind works and how they work best. For me, the writing process gets “it” out of my head, and the editing process locks “it” into my heart.

    Such good words. Thank you for sharing, friend. Learning much from your process, particularly how you start off your messages and how you wrap them up towards application.

    It’s also helpful to know that you take a core message and adapt and apply it to various groups — fit for adults and middle schoolers, and all of those in between who look like adults but may be more junior-high-ish in their maturity.

    Holding a Royal Flush in Jesus,

    JP

    • Jon April 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

      Thanks for being a solid encouragement!

  2. Sharon O April 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    I really miss your teaching style. It was so unique and so incredible it was very clear to me that you are gifted. (also reminded me of my speech class in high school) I loved and appreciated it always and you challenged our thinking too. Don’t ever give up on your teaching style it is a gift.

  3. Jesse April 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    Jon, this is such a great sermon. I especially love the last 5 minutes. If only all christian’s could live that way (which is incredibly hard and am I am not saying I come anywhere close). I think the world’s view of christian’s would be so much better. I seriously love this line in your sermon

    “See a bluff looks like this, ”The problem with America is the Liberals, or the Gays, or the Muslims.” Don’t bring that garbage to Jesus because he gave his life for them just like he gave it for you.”

    So many Fox news christians think that way.

    I so enjoyed listening to your sermon on my drive home today. Do you have any more of your saved or in podcast form? I would love to listen to you rather than Bay Area sports talking about how the Warriors are just a big man away.

    • Jon April 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

      Thanks Jesse, im continually struggling with “blaming” others for things not being right in the world, when Jesus is consistently pointing out what’s wrong with me. There are two more on the speaking page and there are more at http://www.willamettechurch.com, also The warriors might be a couple big men away!

  4. Tim Johnson April 22, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    Great sermon (listening on the road)! And a great way to do the writing. I came across this quote recently, from Aristotle’s “Poetics” commenting on how to write good plays back in the day/century. Still applies today to all kinds of writing, and you definitely got it:

    That which makes no perceptible difference by its presence or absence is no real part of the whole.

    — Aristotle

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