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GOD of the UNDERDOGS
When the Odds Are Against You, God Is For You
By MATT KELLER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Matthew William Keller
All rights reserved.
UNDERDOG EXCUSE #1
"I'm Not Qualified Enough" (DAVID)
They asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will." Acts 13:21–22 NKJV
I HEARD THE BIG METAL DOOR ON THE BACK OF THE Ryder truck slam, and the sound rang through my ears. It was six in the morning, and it was moving day. Tightening the latch on the back door of that truck represented the end of one chapter of my life and the beginning of the next. To say I was scared is an understatement. After all, inside that Ryder truck was every earthly possession that Sarah and I and our eighteen-month-old son had acquired.
We knew when we crossed the Indiana state line that cold morning in January 2002, we were saying good-bye to the only home we had ever known. Until then, we had been pretty successful. For the previous three years, we had spent our days traveling and speaking in churches and at youth camps across the country. For those years we had the backing of a small fellowship of churches behind us.
But when we made the decision a few months earlier to resign as national youth director of that fellowship to pursue the dream of planting a church in Fort Myers, Florida, it wasn't received well. Leaders and mentors told us it wouldn't work. We knew we were on our own in moving to southwest Florida.
Well, not completely on our own. There was our son, still wearing diapers and learning to walk, and there were two college guys we had convinced to move with us. They liked the idea of doing ministry in a spring break town. Dave had been an intern with me for a couple of years, and the other guy, Mike—well, let's just say Mike felt a call to ministry but was definitely rough around the edges.
As for money, we weren't broke, but we were close to it. We had managed to raise $9,200 to start the new church. (We later found out that was not a lot of money!) Other than that, we had no jobs, no insurance, no guaranteed salary, no connections, and no clue what we were doing. In addition to feeling alone and broke, we felt unqualified for the journey ahead. I remember driving that big Ryder truck over the two days and fluctuating between exhilaration and I think I could throw up right now about every ten minutes.
We were scared to death. We had no idea what the future would hold; all we knew was that God had placed a dream in our hearts, and we had to obey. On January 15, 2002, we crossed the state line into Florida to begin our new life. We were underdogs. Underdogs with hearts to be used by God, but underdogs full of fear and excuses.
I'm guessing you've felt the same way at some point in your life. Perhaps it was your first day on the job or the first day of school. Maybe it was the day you brought your first child home from the hospital. (I know I was thinking the whole time, They are really going to let us take this kid home with no more instructions or practice?)
Maybe you were chosen to give a speech or make a presentation, and you questioned yourself the entire time. Perhaps someone actually told you that you weren't qualified. Or you made it through the first interview, but when the senior manager took one look at your resume, she called you out like an umpire ringing up strike three.
Every one of us has had those moments of feeling unqualified. That moment when we looked at what was ahead or needed in a situation and thought, Surely I'm not the one God would want to use right now. Not this time. Not in this instance. Not me. Human beings in every period of history have felt that way, even in Bible times.
DAVID, THE UNDERDOG
When you think of unqualified underdogs in the Bible, you have to look no further than David. David has always been a favorite Bible figure for me. I can relate to David on a lot of levels. He was a real guy with real flaws and a real heart for God and for people. I get that.
David was a guy who came from humble beginnings. He was a no-big-deal kind of kid who was thrust into the limelight in a Price Is Right "Come on down" TV-game-show moment. I like David because he was a world changer, but he wasn't perfect. In fact, he was a screwup in many ways. But somehow, in the midst of the multiple messes he seemed to get himself into, God still used him. God still said he was "a man after My own heart" (Acts 13:22 NKJV).
King David changed the world. He took his nation in a whole new direction and changed the face of the world from that time on. Jesus was a descendant of David. Forty-two generations after David came Jesus. And Jesus changed the world as well. But here's the thing about David. Long before he changed the world, led his nation in a new direction, and became Jesus' ancestor, he was a whole lot of nothing special. Actually, that's probably still overstating it a bit. See, when we first meet David, he's anything but a world changer and a king. When we first meet David, he is an underdog. First Samuel 16 tells us the story.
THE FIRST KING: SAUL
In ancient Israel, a few centuries before Jesus came on the scene, God's people started grumbling about wanting a king. Until that point, God had been their King. He spoke and led them, and it had worked out fine. Except for one small detail: they couldn't see him. So over an extended period of time they began asking for a king they could see. They wanted to be able to see and feel and touch the king leading them, not just hear from him or about him.
However, God, knowing what was best for them, was like, "Trust me. You don't want that. An earthly king will only mess things up. I'll be your King. Trust me. It's just better that way." Well, they didn't receive that, so they kept going back and forth with God about it. After much debate, God relented and basically told them, "Okay, fine, have it your way," and he gave them a king whose name was Saul.
Now, here's what you need to know about this first king, Saul: he was, by earthly standards, the ultimate king. He looked more like a linebacker than a king. The Bible tells us he stood a head taller than everybody else in the land. He was big and strong and happened to be a fierce warrior. By outward appearances, Saul was the man.
So Saul became the first king over the children of Israel. And for a while things were okay. The children of Israel were happy, Saul was happy, and everybody won—except that Saul started getting a bit schizophrenic in his leadership style. God spoke to Saul, and one minute he was cool with it, and the next minute he was doing his own thing and rejecting God's way.
This went on for quite a while. Saul went back and forth between wanting to please God and wanting to do his own thing. Back and forth, back and forth, like a tennis match. Obviously, this situation didn't make God very happy. So eventually, God decided his patience with Saul had run out, and he announced he was lifting his hand of anointing off Saul. God decided to go in a whole new direction and would choose a new leader for his people.
CUT TO THE PRESENT DAY
I believe we're living in a similar time. Unfortunately, our world is filled with one headline after another of leaders who have gotten a bit schizophrenic in their leadership. From political figures having affairs to corporate executives embezzling and cheating loyal employees out of millions of dollars, the world we now live in has chosen its own way over God's way and, consequently, has lost its way.
And sadly, the body of Christ is no exception. Not a month goes by that we don't read of yet another leader in the body of Christ who has decided to choose his own way over God's best way. Scandals, affairs, and embezzlement are terms used to describe far too many church leaders' actions today.
That was the case in ancient Israel with Saul, and that is the case today. But just as God stepped in to change a nation's course, so I believe God is stepping in once again to our world to change its course. God is doing a new thing in our world today. In the same way God moved in a new direction after Saul, God is moving in a new direction today.
He is looking for men and women willing to be a part of a new group of underdogs. And the first and loudest message you must get from this book is that you have permission to believe God wants to use you. Let me repeat that because I don't want you to miss it:
You have permission to believe God wants to use you.
Now, here's what I realize: right about now, you're probably thinking, Yeah, sure, Matt, I believe that on some level, but come on, it's probably not me. If you're thinking that, trust me. I understand. It's easy to dismiss the possibility that God might actually be calling us to lead and change our world. It's easy to see ourselves as underdogs.
But what if? What if it's true? What if it's possible God might want to take our world in a new direction? And what if he might place his hand on a bunch of underdogs just like you and me to do it? If that's true, think of the implications. Imagine what could be possible if a movement of underdogs across our world began to rise up and take our world in a new direction!
Imagine the life change that could take place. Imagine the problems we could solve. Imagine the impact we could make. Imagine the pains and injustices plaguing so many in our world today that we could alleviate if we, the underdogs, actually gave ourselves permission to believe we are the ones God wants to use.
MY PERSONAL STORY
Long before Sarah and I moved to southwest Florida to start Next Level Church, I wrestled with the kind of permission we're talking about. I began my relationship with Jesus Christ at the age of fifteen and felt a call to give my entire life to ministry the following summer right after I turned sixteen years old. I was inexperienced and naïve, but I knew God had called me to give my life to lead in my generation.
At the same summer camp a few years later, I felt that God gave me my life verse. I was kneeling in front of a chair during a worship time one night, and I sensed God telling me to open my Bible and read 2 Timothy 2:10. I reached down under my chair, pulled out my Bible, and turned there. When I read it, I sensed God speaking to my heart that this verse would become the foundation for the calling of my life.
When I read the verse, I instantly knew this was true. The verse says, "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory" (NIV). I knew the elect that Paul spoke of in this verse, for my life, was my generation. That hot summer night in a campground church service, I knew God was calling me, a kid from small-town America, to endure anything and everything so my generation could obtain salvation in Jesus Christ and impact the world for eternal glory. That night I received my calling as an underdog.
THE REASON YOU'RE HOLDING THIS BOOK IN YOUR HANDS
That's why you're holding this book in your hands right now. Because a long time ago God placed his hand on me, an underdog, and put a vision in my heart to inspire a group of underdogs to rise up and take the church of Jesus Christ and the world in a new direction. The world needs us. This is our time.
As you will see in the next few pages, God's not looking at outward qualifiers; he's looking at the heart. God's not looking for the obvious choice; he's looking for you. Believe it. You are the one God wants to use to change the world and, specifically, your world. God's into the whole underdog thing. God's into the unexpected. And David just happened to be an unexpected underdog.
BACK TO 1 SAMUEL 16
In the old days of the Bible, when God wanted to choose a king, he would speak to the prophet to anoint a new king. That meant the prophet was supposed to get a big bucket of oil and pour it on the new king. (I know it sounds like a crazy idea, but it's how they did it.)
So, in 1 Samuel 16, God had rejected Saul and was ready to anoint a new king, but Samuel, the prophet, wasn't so hip on the idea. After all, he had been a major player in getting the earthly king idea rolling for the children of Israel, so to hear God was breaking his end of the bargain made Samuel pretty upset. It's like being a real estate agent who puts together a multimillion-dollar deal and on the last day before the contract expires, one of the parties bails out. You've done all the hard work, and now it's disintegrating right before your eyes.
Samuel was moping around big-time. He was probably wearing pajama pants around the house and eating chips on the couch. There's a good chance he hadn't showered in a while. That's when God spoke to him. "The Lord said to Samuel, 'How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?'" (1 Sam. 16:1 NIV).
God was saying, "Hey, Samuel, you've moped around long enough. I'm ready to move on, and I need you to help me. We need to anoint a new king, so get up off the couch, take a shower, and let's get going." But notice Samuel's hesitation: "Samuel said, 'How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me'" (1 Sam. 16:2 NIV).
I love Samuel's reply to God. To paraphrase: "Um, God, love the idea. Thanks for the prompting, but if you haven't noticed, here's the deal: we already have a king! And I don't need to remind you that he's built like a linebacker! Great idea, God. Our present king is the best warrior our nation has ever seen. So as much as I appreciate being included in the new deal, when Saul hears about it, he's probably going to want to kill somebody. And if given the choice between killing you, an unseen God, and killing me, a mere mortal, I'm betting he will probably kill me! So thanks, but no thanks!"
Personally, I think Samuel's logic was solid. But God didn't even flinch. "The Lord said, 'Take a heifer with you and say, "I have come to sacrifice to the Lord"'" (1 Sam. 16:2 NIV).
God totally blew off Samuel's excuse and was like, "Samuel, zip it. Go get the cow and get moving." Then he gave Samuel very specific instructions on how to find this new king. He told Samuel to go to a little town called Bethlehem and get everybody together. But he was to make sure one family in particular was represented at the church service. God said, "Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate" (1 Sam. 16:3 NIV).
God told Samuel to make sure some guy named Jesse had his family there, and then at that point, stay tuned because he would tell him whom to choose. God had a plan for the direction he wanted the world to go, and he needed Samuel to listen and obey.
NO TIME FOR FEAR
What God wants to do in our world isn't fuzzy in his mind. It is crystal clear. It's easy for those of us living in this day and age to get freaked out by all the craziness happening around us, isn't it? But we must know this: God is not freaked out by any of it. God is raising up leaders, and one of those leaders is you. Regardless of how much of an underdog you may think you are, God wants to use you to do a new thing on the earth today!
If we're waiting for all the stars to align before we step out for God, we're going to miss it. If we're waiting for the economy to be better, we're going to miss it. There's no time to hesitate. Samuel hesitated. We must not. God is choosing new underdogs, and the ones he chooses just might surprise you.
DOWN TO BETHLEHEM
After a quick shower, Samuel went down to Bethlehem and announced a church service for that night. He probably rounded up an organist, a pulpit, and a choir, and then he found Jesse and slipped him some special front-row tickets in the VIP section for the whole family. Can't you see Jesse running home, going, "Honey, get the boys. We're going to church"?
Excerpted from GOD of the UNDERDOGS by MATT KELLER. Copyright © 2013 Matthew William Keller. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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