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Jesus and the Beanstalk
Overcoming Your Giants and Living a Fruitful Life
By Lori Stanley Roeleveld
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2016 Lori Stanley Roeleveld
All rights reserved.
Living in a Land of Giants
We live in a world populated with giants.
Giant obstacles to true faith.
Giant barriers to godly lives.
Giant strongholds of sin — in our lives and the lives of loved ones or neighbors. Giant worries. Giant fears. Giant problems such as human trafficking, political corruption, racial division, raising pure children, what to serve for dinner tonight.
So even when we come to Christ, even when we know and love Jesus, even when we know his Word, worship with his people, and pray — we still live in a land populated with giants, and in comparison, we don't stand a chance.
Or do we?
Up Against Giants
In my forties, I studied karate. I was new at it, but I'm competitive. I entered my first tournament as a lowly orange belt. I won first place in two divisions: kata (a series of choreographed moves) and weapons. With only the sparring division left, I felt confident. Sparring occurs when two opponents don protective gear and score points by throwing kicks and punches at each other, making contact without intent to injure. It was in that division I encountered a giant.
I entered the ring for my bout and turned to talk with other students as I waited for my opponent. When the warning bell rang and I whirled to face her, I was looking square into her belly button. I stood opposite an unnaturally tall, refrigerator-shaped, twenty-five-year-old farmwoman, looking as if she'd trained by hauling small tractors at the county fair. At that precise moment, I lost the bout.
I don't recall much about the actual match except I never moved. I could hear my karate teacher shout, "Do something! Anything! Aw!" It was over with breathtaking speed. Technically my opponent won, but really, I defeated myself the second I contemplated her navel.
Flash forward two years. I faced another giant in a similar karate tournament. I had two more years of training, but I was still outmatched. Again, I opposed a woman who was more skilled, younger, and in better shape. She exuded confidence. But one weapon I'd learned to engage was my mind.
It was clear this girl believed I was no match for her. I might not have been if she'd been prepared for me to come at her like a middle-aged female spinoff of Jackie Chan. I caught her completely off guard by displaying no fear and blitzing her the moment the bell rang. Without hesitation I attacked. I scored two points, and she was so rattled, I managed to sneak in a third to win the match within seconds. There I stood, still the lesser fighter, but now the victor. What changed between my first match and my second is this time I had refused to defeat myself. I might be out-skilled. I might fight out of my league. I might still go down, but I will no longer do the work for my opponents.
We Christians do that though, don't we? In a land of giants, too often we spend so much time contemplating our opponents and weighing the odds, we defeat ourselves. Let me save you some time. The odds are always in favor of the giant — always — but odds don't win battles. Ask David.
God's Word says there are giant forces of evil at work in this age. In Matthew 13, Jesus gave us the parable of the sower and told us the evil one will carry off some of the seed planted in peoples' hearts. In the following parable, he describes an enemy who plants weeds among the good seed in a farmer's field under cover of dark. These stories speak to a relentless, invasive enemy at work in our midst. Battling such pervasive evil will require diligent persistence on our part. There's nothing easy involved in what we're about these days. We face aggressive, abominable giants. We will surely be defeated if we do their work for them!
I hear what you're thinking: we have to face reality. Living in a land populated by giants, we are small, outmatched opponents. That is a fact, the powerful truth. All right, I'll give you that.
Individually we're puny compared to the evil giants at large. Even when we combine forces, we're still small compared to the truly big forces of darkness. Working together can sometimes produce (short-term) a promising start on a magnificent tower, but it doesn't take long for it all to dissolve to babble. Even on our good days, we struggle to get along and stay out of our own way. Not to mention we're frail, sinful, and limited. We mess up. We get sick. We tire. We die. How can we hope to defeat giants?
God Loves Small
There's good news in this too, though, because God loves small. That's right. The great God of the universe is passionate about working small. Consider the biblical proof of this fact.
First, there's a mysterious little verse in Zechariah 4:10: "For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. 'These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth'" (ESV). Now Zechariah was looking at more extensive issues with this verse than our individual consolation when opposing giants. But the sense of it is a warning to beware of writing something off because it starts small. God repeats this theme in numerous Bible stories, so many we can't ignore the truth that Scripture as a whole testifies to God's love of working small.
God didn't make Gideon's army bigger before leading them into battle; he made it smaller (Judges 7). King David was the youngest, the runt of Jesse's litter of sons, but God chose him to succeed Saul as king (1 Samuel 16:1-13). The Israelites started as a puny, seemingly inconsequential tribe, a fact God relished repeating to them (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Zacchaeus was so small he had to climb a tree to see Jesus, and yet Jesus singled him out for the gift of his presence (Luke 19:1-10). Five loaves and two fishes were a small offering for thousands of hungry people, and yet, in Jesus's hands, it became an abundant feast (Matthew 14:13-21). Bethlehem is a small city in which to be born (Micah 5:2), and Nazareth was a no-account place to be from, like every other Podunk town from which a person can hail (John 1:46). Yet God chose to grace them with his glory.
One key to facing giants is understanding that God revels in using small people, places, tribes, and churches because, through them, he reveals even more of his glory. Isn't that the point? Not to draw attention to great men, women, tribes, and nations but to draw attention to the Creator God and his plan of redemption.
Small Acts Can Have Big Impact
Imagine a writer coming from a small village in the smallest state and hoping to be of any use in furthering the kingdom of God. How would such a small-town girl even think God might notice her and use her for his glory? Yet God has given even this minor author great stories to tell.
When I started blogging, I knew my friends read my work, along with my family. After several months, my readership grew to about thirty readers a day. It didn't get much higher for years except for occasional flurries of activity. Even now, I don't have a large readership compared to those of major bloggers. When I petition the heavens about this and slip my complaint into God's suggestion box, he whispers a reminder: I don't have to be big to be of use to him. Sometimes I pout about that because, boy, those big numbers come in pretty handy down here. But I'm learning to see things from his perspective.
For example, God sometimes uses my small blog to affect others whose numbers are more impressive. Best-selling authors, filmmakers, and bloggers with greater audiences have read my posts and let me know a post influenced them. In this way, God multiplies the impact of my small blog, as he multiplied the impact of Ananias.
Ananias understood feeling small. We don't read much about him in Scripture. Several short verses in Acts 9 describe how he received instructions from God to go to "Judas' house on Straight Street" and lay hands on a certain man (v. 11). Ananias was understandably daunted because he knew the man God sent him to heal was aggressively persecuting followers of Jesus. Out of obedience, Ananias went to Saul, laid hands on him, and influenced the man who would become the apostle Paul. Ananias had to affect only one person in order to have a part in changing the world. If we embrace this truth, it will free us to find the courage to obey when God sends us to our Straight Street.
One night, a blogger in Aurora, Colorado, with a (then) small audience, commented on a post I wrote that she was thinking of giving up writing. Afterward, she attended a movie with her teenage daughters. They were sitting in theater 9 to see The Dark Knight Rises when James Eagan Holmes shot into the crowd. Ironically, my post had been about how some people will always choose evil. The next day, this woman wrote a post about God's protection — a post that went viral. Although up until then she'd had only a few readers, hundreds of thousands read this post. We never know the day God will hand us the story he wants to reach many, so we must remain faithful to the everyday few.
God further illustrated the nonissue of my small beginning in March of 2014. I wrote a post about a news report that the government of North Korea had sentenced a group of Christians to execution. My post explored the question of what difference their deaths would make to us in the West. How would we live differently knowing North Korean believers face prison, torture, and death? I posted the essay, sent the email out to my modest group of followers, and went on with my day.
That evening, I chatted online with another author while I checked my blog numbers for the day. "That's funny," I messaged Aaron, "a post I wrote today had over three thousand views. Wow, I've never had that happen!"
We continued chatting, and Aaron urged me to check the stats again. "Guess what," I responded. "It's up to eight thousand views. What's going on?"
God taught me a lesson that day about what he can do when he wants a message to fly. Over the next three days, readers viewed that post over one million times, and today, people are still reading it. Several months later, readers shared one of my posts so many times it went viral over Facebook. The numbers of readers for those posts defy their starting place. No one who knew my daily following would have predicted that any single post could reach that wide of an audience, but God loves to reveal himself by using those of us who are small in big ways. If he can use this little-known writer, he can use you, loved one.
We live in a land populated by giants to which we are small in comparison, but God loves taking what is small and glorifying himself through smallness. Who dares despise the day of small things? Not I. When I'm tempted to despise my smallness, I resist because I know my size isn't what matters. God's vision of me is the only important thing.
There's a second reason we have every reason to hope even though we live in a land of giants: we come from a long line of giant-killers. We'll explore that truth in the next chapter.
Small Steps Toward Slaying Giants
1. List the giants in your life. List the problems, people, habits, and barriers overwhelming you. Then add the giants you wouldn't even imagine you could take on — maybe diabetes, racial reconciliation, or human trafficking. What feelings surface as you compile this list?
2. Read the story of Gideon in Judges 6–7, taking special note of Judges 7:2. Why is it good for us, as well as for God's glory, for God to work using those of us who are small?
3. Keep track this week of all the times you feel incapable, insignificant, or as if you will never make a difference. What would happen next week if each time you felt that way, you thanked God that he sees you, praised him for his greatness, and intentionally focused on his power instead of your own limitations?
4. Look at the list of giants you've compiled. Is any one of those too great for God? After you read the name of each giant, read 1 John 4:4. Ask God for the faith to believe, in a life-altering way, what he says in that verse.
* * *
One Stone for Your Sling: The odds are always in favor of the giant — always — but odds don't win battles. Ask David.CHAPTER 2
A Long Line of Giant-Killers
We live in a land populated by giants, and we are small in comparison. But we have hope, first, because God loves taking what is small and glorifying himself through smallness.
Second, we come from a long line of giant-killers.
Scripture documents our lineage. What we know to be true is that if we have come to Christ, God adopts us into his family and, therefore, we share his family tree. So even if you're like me and don't come from a family steeped in missionaries, ministers, and upstanding citizens, you still have a worthy heritage, one that includes giant-killers.
Lack of Lineage
My parents have worked hard to contribute to their community and to honor God, but you need look back only as far as my grandparents' generation to find strange and ornery human beings. Honestly, my family tree is laden with fruits and nuts. I remember bringing homework to the corner store my grandfather owned and asking him, the butcher, what I should write in the blank about our family heritage. "What are we, Gramp? Italian? Irish? English?"
"Swamp Yankee," he told me, gesturing with a raw hotdog. "You put down we're Swamp Yankee." This is the New England equivalent of the Clampetts on The Beverly Hillbillies. The next day, my teacher shook her head and told me to take my work home again, this time to ask my mother. (When my grandchildren ask about our heritage, I plan to tell them to write, proudly, Swamp Yankee.)
Another time, as I shopped yard sales with my mother and aunt, I encountered a large, oily, one-armed man who greeted me with great enthusiasm. He embraced me and exclaimed how healthy I looked. I was accustomed to running into odd characters related to us, so I endured the awkward display. When the man left, I turned, expecting to hear our connection to him. "Who was that?" my mother asked.
"What do you mean, who was that?" I said, horrified. "Aren't we related?"
They shook their heads. Then my aunt asked, "If you didn't know him, why did you let him hug you?"
"He looked strange enough to be family, that's why!"
This shady lineage troubled me as a child. In school, I read stories of great families, people with long lines of upstanding ancestors with rich histories. I wished I'd had a noble, commendable ancestry.
So when I came upon Hebrews 11, which lists Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and more, I recognized the opportunity to come from something, to belong to a great line, to find identity in the context of a rich heritage of faith.
Heritage of Giant-Killers
This is the heritage we share, you and I. If we follow Christ, have received his forgiveness, and have been a recipient of his grace, then we are sisters and brothers in the family of God. We inherit this incredible legacy of faith. Here, in God's Word, those who came before us faced giants and found, by the grace of God, strength to defeat them. So can we.
When Moses sent twelve spies into the Promised Land, ten returned with the report that there were giants in the land — with large, walled cities. Caleb and Joshua, however, were giant-killers by faith. Their response after spying the land: "We can totally take those giants." (Admittedly, that's a paraphrase, but if you read Numbers 13, you'll agree that it sums it up.)
Of course you know about David, who, when he heard Goliath calling out the nation of Israel, responded like the giant-killer he was about to reveal himself to be: "And David said to the men who stood by him, 'What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?'" (1 Samuel 17:26 ESV). Absorb those giant-killing words!
Consider that when Jesus arrived on the planet, the nation of Israel was feeling particularly small, surrounded as they were by the giants of Rome, the Pharisees, and their own bitterness. Jesus, however, took on the giant prince of this world and made his redemptive plan clear to us. You, of course, remember he inhabited our smallness to do so (Philippians 2:5-7). Furthermore, in John 14:12, he promised we would do greater things than he: "I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father."
What's Our Problem?
We have within us the potential to be giant-killers. The Bible teaches this, and even when we forget it, we testify to it by populating our culture with tales of small heroes toppling giants. It's as if deep within our DNA God planted a reminder of our giant-killing heritage, and it surfaces in the stories we tell, the fairy tales we create, the movies we produce, and the longings we try to quiet when we're feeling especially small. Our original calling remains.
Let's recap. We live in a land full of giants and we're small, but God loves using small things to bring glory to himself. Furthermore, we come from a long line of giant-killers.
Excerpted from Jesus and the Beanstalk by Lori Stanley Roeleveld. Copyright © 2016 Lori Stanley Roeleveld. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Once Upon a Foreword ix
Why Atheists Fear Fairy Tales xi
Part 1 Jesus and the Beanstalk
1 Living in a Land of Giants 3
2 A Long Line of Giant-Killers 11
3 A Fairy Tale and a Promise from God 15
4 Where Peter Spills the Beans 25
Part 2 Trading in Our Cows
5 Loving Jack's Mom 37
6 Surviving the Famine 45
7 Jack Was Nothing Without the Vine 53
8 How the World Cries Out for Beans 63
Part 3 Clinging to the Vine
9 Faith Buries the Beans 75
10 Virtue from the Ground Up 103
11 Knowledge for the Climb 129
12 Self-Control for Repeat Offenders 153
13 Steadfastness in Slippery Times 175
14 Godliness for Giant-Killers 197
15 Brotherly Affection with Backbone 219
16 Love That Invites and Incites 243
Happily Ever Afterword: Ready to Face the Giants 267
An Invitation to Continue the Conversation 269
Word and Biblical Role Model Studies for the Eight Qualities Workbook Section 271
Hints and Helps for Using This Book Individually and in Small Groups 282