By James F. Gentry Jr.
Tuesday, July 01, 2003
Friday evening, Jackie, Nicholas, and I went to see the movie, Bruce Almighty. Problem is we didn't get to see it. There was a technical predicament of some sort that hindered its showing. How disappointed we were. Stuart Morris was there with his brother Steven to see something. Stuart, being the kind-hearted fellow that he is, invited Nicholas to stay and watch a movie with him — he did ask his mom first before he extended the invitation, thoughtful young man and son that he is. Nicholas got our permission and then readily accepted Stuart's invitation resulting in our having to fork over some cash to our son. Stuart didn't invite Jackie and me to go. I suppose he surmised that we were adults and could take care of ourselves.
What to do now? Blockbuster! What better time to have a date with my wife. Being the man, I got to pick the movie — with Jackie's permission, of course. I don't know if you've seen Roman Polanski's The Pianist or not. If you haven't, you should. It's based on the true story of a brilliant Polish pianist who spent the entirety of World War II surviving in Nazi-occupied Poland. As I watched, I was reminded, again, of how inhumane humanity can be to humanity. It is beyond me that people can actually view other flesh and blood people as sub-human. The Nazis did in gypsies, homosexuals, and Jews to name a few. We've done that here in America. Remember slavery? How about segregation?
This pianist, whose name was Wladyslaw Szpilman, was a Jew. He stood confident in the midst of giants — giants like bigotry, forced labor, harsh winters, hunger, loss of family and friends, physical as well as emotional abuse, prejudice, and sickness. Forced to live in the heart of Warsaw's ghetto, he survived against all the odds — sharing in the suffering, humiliation, and struggles with fellow Jews. He managed to escape and hid himself in the ruins of the capital city.
The greatest irony in this story came near the end of the war. A German captain discovered Szpilman in a bombed-out house, questioned him, and discovered he was a pianist. He insisted that Szpilman play since there was an unharmed piano in that house. Moved by his giftedness at the keyboard, this officer provided bread for the pianist as he hid in the attic. The captain made arrangements for the Nazis to use this house as their headquarters in Warsaw. Szpilman would, in all likelihood, have died had this officer of the Third Reich not helped. It's a testimony to what God can do with an evil giant or one who represents "The Evil Giant" whatever or whomever that giant may be. This German captain was taken prisoner by the Russians at the war's end and died in a Soviet POW camp in 1952. The pianist survived to return to the piano in the concert hall and live out a testimony to the fact that it is possible to stand confident in the midst of giants all of one's life. Szpilman did all the way until his death at age 88 in July 2000.
Standing confident in the midst of giants. It's not the best title for a Father's Day sermon — if you want to call this a Father's Day sermon. The Pianist may not be the best movie to accentuate the joy of fatherhood and the importance of dad's presence in the lives of his children while they are at home in their most formative years. Certainly the story of David and Goliath has nothing to do with Father's Day.
The truth be known the sermon title, the movie, and the ancient story of a little guy whipping a big guy against all odds do have something to do with Father's Day — and life for that fact of the matter. It is Father's Day — yes. But first and foremost it is "The Lord's Day." So is there a word from Him about standing confident in the midst of giants as we parent and live life? Of course there is and I'm glad because fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles and cousins and brothers and sisters face a few giants — every family does. Even the family of faith faces giants. That's right. The church struggles to survive in a world of giants. So how can we, how do we stand confident in the midst of giants and survive like a Polish pianist did?
Enter a young man named David who faced off with a giant of a man named Goliath. It's a remarkable story about a guy who had remarkable faith in a remarkable God. It's the best known of the stories about David. This saga has inspired painters, sculptors, musicians, and poets throughout the ages. This story has served as a metaphor for the possibilities that lie in the underdog. The victory of the USA Women's Gymnastics team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta was praised by the media as a "David over Goliath" victory. You can think of other examples, can't you? I saw this in the movie I watched with Jackie Friday night.
What I want us to observe today, however, is that
David was able to stand confident in the midst of a giant named Goliath who stood 9 feet 9 inches tall because of his faith in the Lord God of hosts. He told the Philistine as indicated in
The fellow, described as a man after the heart of God, stood confident because he came with the right stuff. He simply, yet profoundly, came in the name of the Lord God. That was enough. Yes King Saul offered David his armor and weapons and David quickly discovered he couldn't carry all that stuff, so he said, "With all due respect, your majesty, I have to do this my way." His way was the way of faith.
Father's Day is a reminder that parents do stand in the midst of the giant called parenting and if we are to do it and do it right, we are to be equipped with the right stuff — namely, the way of faith. This culture is, as a book title noted back in the mid-nineties, a "fatherless" one. Many fathers — not all, but many — aren't around like they should be. Or if they are around, they have so detached themselves from their children that their presence means absolutely nothing. Questions abound. "What to do? What not to do? Do I be a father? Do I be a parent? Do I be a friend? Do I establish boundaries? Do I give in to everything?" It's not easy being a parent today, is it? Parenting can be one of those giants that taunts us. Perhaps what all parents are to learn is that presence alone is not enough. There has to be the modeling of faith. There has to be an example set. And I think David and his brothers had a good example set for them by their father.
It occurred to me that something is often overlooked in the story of David's confident stand in the midst of a nine-foot giant. It is the influence his dad must have had on him. Not much is known of Jesse other than he was "an Ephrathite, of Bethlehem in Judah…" (
Obscure as he may have been, I do think Jesse did something right. He taught his children to trust in the Lord God. I realize that simply because you are taught something by another does not mean you put into practice what you have been taught. I have no idea who said it, but I remember reading it right after I graduated from high school over 28 years ago: "Jesus Christ came to teach humankind a lesson that humankind still hasn't learned." I think you would agree with the truth of that statement.
I can't help but sense that Jesse rehearsed the faith stories with his eight sons. If it were in this day and time, Mrs. Jesse would have rehearsed those stories with them as well. Had those boys forgotten? Did they not believe? Surely they were aware of the faith of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel. Surely they remembered God's deliverance from famine through Joseph. Surely they remembered God's deliverance from bondage down in Egypt through Moses. Surely they were aware of Joshua's challenge to be strong in the Lord and serve Him and Him alone. Surely they knew of all the judges that God raised up to deliver a most foolish people.
Obviously three of Jesse's children — Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah, who were fighting with Saul — had not "learned the lesson" of faith that must have been taught by their daddy. They weren't standing confident. They, like Saul and the rest of the army, were relying upon their military strategies to conqueror. Faced now with what seemed to be an insurmountable challenge, they were beside themselves and struck with fear and awe as they listened day in and day out to the insults of the Philistine giant. You would think all of them — Jesse's three sons, Saul, the army, all of Israel — would have remembered the Lord God in such a time. It's interesting that nowhere in this story is there even the slightest hint of faith in the Lord, let alone mention of Him, until David shows up.
If our children are to stand confident in the midst of giants — and there are a lot of them out there in the world — then we are to tell them about the God who is capable of outdoing any of us and especially that He is capable of taking down any giant that is an affront to His character and our well-being. I don't think David could have stood confident in the midst of a giant like Goliath unless he had allowed his faith in the Lord to be a growing one — one that had been planted by his father, Jesse.
The same is true for all of us — parents or not. Our faith should be such that whatever giant we come upon in life can be taken down because our faith is in and inspired by "the name of the Lord of hosts." I suppose the biggest giant we face at Tabernacle Baptist Church is lack of faith. It's true that none of us has the faith we ought to have. Too often, though, we hind behind our "lack of faith" and convince ourselves that something can't be done. And so we start talking with a secular vocabulary instead of a spiritual vocabulary. We begin to "market" instead of "evangelize." We look for a "CEO" instead of a "Pastor." We base everything on what the "stock market is doing" instead of faithfully giving a "tithe." That may be what was going on with the Israelites as they began to loose hope in the midst of a giant like Goliath. Their vocabulary had changed.
As I indicated in my column in The Tidings last week, there are people to reach in Carrollton and the world, there is a ministry budget goal to be achieved by year's end, and there is a new addition to be built. These can be giants if we're not careful. There's a stewardship campaign to be conducted at some point in the future, prayerfully, within the next nine months for the sake of our personal stewardship integrity as well as for raising monies for that new building. It will cost some bucks — bucks we already have, by the way. Maybe these really are giants. I like to think of them as opportunities granted in the power of the Presence of God through His Holy Spirit as a reminder that there is nothing too big for God and His people.
As we ponder these and other matters, like parenting and remembering that it does take a village to rear children — a faith village to be precise, matters that will always be before "The Tabernacle," if we aren't careful, we may find ourselves on the sidelines, maybe up on a hill looking down into a valley and hearing these so called giants taunting us into believing that we can't do anything because it's too monumental and there is nobody who can handle such giants, just as Goliath thought nobody could handle him and just as Saul and his army thought nobody could handle him either. Little did any of them know that all it would take was a slingshot and a few smooth stones — more precisely, one smooth stone — in the hands of a fellow who believed in "the name of the Lord of hosts."
Something caught my eye in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday. There's an organization called "Plant A Row For The Needy." Gardeners are encouraged to contribute their extra produce to one of metro's charities that handles food. Last year's campaign resulted in more than 10,000 pounds of fresh produce. This year's goal is 12,000 pounds by summer's end. Gardeners simply take their vegetables to one of 19 drop-off sties served by the Atlanta Community Food Bank. What a way to stand confident in the midst of a giant called hunger. Hunger may never be totally eliminated because of sin, but at least an effort is underway in our midst to stop some of it dead in its tracks.
Let's do something today. Let's plant some extra rows of faith and begin dropping some of that growing faith off here at The Tabernacle and everywhere we go. Our faith and our acting upon our faith will stop a lot of giants dead in their tracks — just like David stopped Goliath. Let's also remember something today. On this Father's Day let's remember what old Jesse taught his sons — at least one of them remembered it and sought to live it. Like David, let's remember that we come and go in "the name of the Lord of hosts."
And we are at an advantage, mind you. We know His name, this Lord of hosts: Jesus Christ. Remember that Name will enable us to do what we think can't be done or what others think can't be done. There are all kinds of giants out there. Let's believe that each of them can be brought down. So in the spirit of a Polish pianist of Jewish descent named Szpilman and a young shepherd, also of Jewish descent, named David, go ahead and stand confident in the midst of giants — even the ones you create yourself. The ones we create, by the way, are the worst. Let's go through life, Tabernacle, standing confident in the midst of giants! I'm confident we can!
All scripture references, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised Standard Version, 1989.
James F. Gentry, Jr. is pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church Carrollton, GA.