Devotional on 1 Samuel

2014 – At Chapel of the Holy Cross – Sedona, AZ

Spiritual Springtime
1 Samuel 3: God continued to show up at Shiloh.
God’s presence has been rare and, as a result, even those who desire righteousness have blindly stumbled through life. At our best humans are still pretty pitiful and, in this distant day, most people have no interest in striving for anything close to “the best” anyway. Because of that spiritual darkness dominates. Then, in the figurative and literal night God speaks to young Samuel. Even better than that: God speaks and then continues to speak. There’s something wonderful about the phrase, “God continued to show up at Shiloh.” It has the feel of springtime in it. After the long, cold winter, the sun is shining and new life is breaking out everywhere. I’ve journeyed through my share of spiritual winters: times when God seemed far away and unreachable. But I’ve also enjoyed spiritual springtime. Frankly, my experience was more like Samuel’s than I care to admit, because in my case, like his, I didn’t have much to do with the dawning of the new day in my heart. All I know is that, after the night, God showed up and then continued to show up. By his grace, I will be faithful when spiritual winter comes, but, oh, how I love the spiritual springtime!
Take Away: Spiritual winter comes to just about everyone. How good to be reminded that after the winter season, springtime arrives.

Devotional on 1 Samuel

2014 – Chapel of the Holy Cross – Sedona, AZ

Can you hear me now?
1 Samuel 3: Then God came and stood before him exactly as before calling out, “Samuel, Samuel!”
It’s as Samuel sleeps that God first calls him. The lad hears the Voice of God but doesn’t recognize it as the Lord’s call. The old priest, Eli, (in spite of his failings) solves the riddle. Something unexpected is happening. God is calling. I wonder how often God speaks to me and I mistake his Voice for something else? “Now, there’s an unusual idea” or “Where did that come from?” Samuel mistook the call of God to be the call of Eli. Have I misidentified his voice to be my own rambling thoughts? I’ve learned something about God’s Voice in my own life. While God speaks fairly often I don’t listen very often. It’s as Samuel sleeps, unencumbered with the thoughts of everyday life that God calls his name. Could it be that my prayers are so full of my own wants and wishes that I drown out God’s Voice? It’s as I pray with a listening heart that I’m most likely to hear the Divine Voice in my own life.
Take Away: Prayer is as much about listening as it is about talking.

Devotional on 1 Samuel

2014 – At Chapel of the Holy Cross – Sedona, AZ

God moves first
1 Samuel 3: This was at a time when the revelation of God was rarely heard or seen.
The negative momentum of the book of Judges reaches beyond its pages to the books of Samuel. Although there are a few positive pictures: Ruth and Boaz and now Hannah, in general, the nature of spiritual life is in terrible condition. There’s a central place of worship, Shiloh, but the way in which things are done there is more discouraging than encouraging. Eli is the priest, assisted by his two sons. Eli is permissive and disconnected. His sons are dishonest and immoral. The fact that the people of Israel have a place of worship and that people are coming to worship there is somewhat positive. The fact that worship is led by the likes of these men tells us that things are still in a pitiful condition. But that’s about to change. The change isn’t coming because key people are deciding to seek and find God. It isn’t coming because someone is pushing the right religious buttons to bring fresh life to a dead worship experience. The reason that the spiritual sun is about to rise is because God is about to move and, in fact, is already moving. God is always the First Mover. He doesn’t respond to what we do. Rather, we respond to what he does. Revival will come to Israel because God’s going to bring it, and then, Samuel and others will respond in obedience.
Take Away: It’s a wonderful thing when the Lord begins to move in new ways in a life, church, or nation.

Devotional on 1 Samuel

2014 – Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, AZ

Making the most of what God has given
1 Samuel 2: I’ll establish for myself a true priest. He’ll do what I want him to do, and be what I want him to be.
The priest Eli is an interesting person in the story of Samuel. He presides over the worship activities at Shiloh but is a deeply flawed individual. He has some spiritual insights, but won’t control his own sons who make a mockery of spiritual things. At the same time, he’s entrusted with the young Samuel who’ll usher in a new day in Israel’s relationship with God. I want to cut him some slack because he lives in these days of transition but it’s plain that the Lord holds him accountable for his failure. I don’t have to judge him because the Lord already has. Eli is, I think, a person who has great potential that’s never realized. He has position, insight, and opportunity to make a real impact for God. Instead, he shows only occasional flashes of that and is ultimately told by the Lord that he and his family will be replaced by someone more worthy. Frankly, I think one reason I want to go easy on Eli is that I fear my life also sometimes fails to measure up. God has been good to me and blessed me in many ways. I don’t want to someday look back and see years of wasted opportunity.
Take Away: Make the most of opportunities the Lord gives you.

Devotional on 1 Samuel

2014 – Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, AZ

When God says “yes”
1 Samuel 1: Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried — inconsolably.
As I begin reading the books of Samuel the first thing I hear is the prayer of a broken hearted woman named Hannah. Young women across the ages have longed for children and that desire is especially true in this age, 3000 years ago. In her society much of Hannah’s worth as a human being is dependent on her ability to have offspring. Even her good husband’s efforts to make her feel better about herself fail. On a trip to Shiloh everything comes to a head. In her misery Hannah pours out her heart to God at this place of worship. The Lord hears her prayer and answers, bringing not only relief to this good woman, but the beginning of restoration to Israel which has fallen far from God. I wish I understood why God hears and responds to Hannah’s prayer and not similar prayers prayed by people just as good and just as miserable as she. I know that God cares for hurting people and provides strength and comfort for them, and, sometimes he says “yes.” The rest of the time, we do the only thing we know to do: we trust him with that which we don’t understand.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the times when the answer is “yes” – trust him in the times when the answer isn’t the one we want.

Devotional on Ruth

2014 – Sedona, AZ

Happily ever after
Ruth 4: Boaz married Ruth.
It’s a happy ending. The sadness of loss is replaced by a new, glorious day. Ruth, who lost so much, is now experiencing God at work in her life. In Boaz, Lord has a good husband for her. The Lord’s working in ways no one could have imagined. The result is, well, a match made in heaven. God is the God of Second Chances. For Ruth it’s another chance for a happy life. For Naomi, it’s a grandchild, the continuation of her family. Then, one more thing: you see there is more going on here than anyone knows. We finish the story with the future family tree. Boaz and Ruth’s great-great grandson will be a fellow named David who’ll be King of Israel and one of David’s descendants will be Jesus, our Savior. Oh yes, God is at work here.
Take Away: The Lord works at multiple levels providing for things we may never live to see.

Devotional on Ruth

2014 – Sedona, AZ

People are watching
Ruth 3: Everybody in town knows what a courageous woman you are.
There’s a lot of cultural stuff in this story that seems odd to me. Apparently, even though Ruth is a widow, she’s still considered to be “married” to her husband’s family. If she marries again, it needs to be “in the family.” Naomi tells Ruth it’s time to act. Boaz is eligible to marry Ruth and he’s shown kindness to her. Maybe even more than kindness is in the air! Ruth makes herself as beautiful as possible and attends his harvest party. As the festivities wind down, Boaz finds a place to sleep and that’s when Ruth makes her move. She quietly lies down at his feet. Again, there’s some cultural stuff happening here that feels strange, but apparently this is a way for Ruth to let Boaz know she’s interested in him. When Boaz sees her there he’s quite pleased and promises to pursue the legal side of marrying her. I find his comment that “everyone knows what a courageous woman you are” to be interesting. Apparently, from the time Ruth arrived with Naomi people have been watching her. She’s not an Israelite; in fact, her people have been sometimes enemies of Israel; so they’ve kept an eye on her. At first, she was possibly even unwelcome but little by little her faithfulness to Naomi, her solid work ethic, and her courage have won them over. People may not be interested in hearing me tell them about Jesus. They may think I’m strange and not worthy of their trust. However, they are watching. As I go about living for the Lord in good days and in bad and as I concentrate on doing the right thing whether or not it’s convenient doors will open for me that were closed in the beginning.
Take Away: A life lived for Jesus will open doors for spiritual conversations with people who have been watching.

Devotional on Ruth

2014 – Sedona, AZ

Ruth 2: God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!
A ray of sunshine in a dark place
Naomi and Ruth are destitute and alone as they return to Israel. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. They are two widows on their own. Ruth goes out to the fields hoping to find enough left over from the harvest to give her and Naomi something to eat. To her surprise, she finds herself talking to a wealthy landowner who welcomes her and treats her kindly. Upon returning home she tells Naomi of her adventure. It’s then that Naomi makes this wonderful statement concerning God’s grace. “God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all!” It seemed that way. Naomi has buried a husband and two sons. In Ruth’s surprisingly good day of gleaning, and especially in her encounter with Boaz, she sees God at work. “He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!” That, my friend, is pretty good theology from a widow woman living in the dark days of the book of Judges. I’m reminded today that my circumstances aren’t an indicator of God’s work, or lack thereof, in my life. Just because things get hard it doesn’t mean that God has stopped loving me. Naomi is wise enough to recognize this truth, and I need to realize it too.
Take Away: Even in the hard days the Lord, sometimes unseen, is at work bringing good to our lives.

Devotional on Ruth

2014 – Sedona, AZ

Full commitment
Ruth 1: Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god.
A family of refugees moves into her neighborhood and over time she falls in love with and marries one of the sons. Her in-laws often surprise Ruth. Their ways are different than hers. Most unique is their religion. They have but one God and they tell many stories of his deliverance of their people and his love for them. Their laws are just and intended to protect the weak. Even as Ruth is becoming a part of this family, the family begins coming apart. First, her father-in-law dies. Then her brother-in-law passes away and soon after that her own husband dies. In time, her broken-hearted mother-in-law declares that she’s releasing the wives of her two deceased sons. The young women can marry again and start life anew. As for her, it’s time she returns home. How sad: she left her homeland with a husband and two fine sons. Now she’ll return alone. Ruth is having none of this. In Naomi she has not only a mother-in-law but also a friend. Beyond that, going back to her old life, now that she’s had had a glimpse of something better, is unthinkable. So we come to her beautiful statement of commitment. She will cast her lot with Naomi. She will be her friend and she will make Naomi’s values and Naomi’s God her own. I wonder if my life, even in the face of heartache, has the potential to cause anyone to say, “I will serve and love the God you serve and love.”
Take Away: There’s something attractive about a God-centered life.

Devotional on Ruth

2014 – Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, AZ

A candle shining in the darkness
Ruth 1: It was back in the days when judges led Israel.
The stories in Judges get darker and darker, with the final one, the one about the Levite’s concubine, being the worst of all. It’s not only a story of civil war but one which also highlights just how terribly women in general are treated in this distant day. Then I turn the page and find myself reading a beautiful, gentle love story. Even in the midst of diminishing worship of God and the resulting lowering of morality in general, I find that God is still working in the lives of those who will walk with him. I see that some people aren’t absorbed by the common culture. Instead, some are noble and kind and generous even when, because of that, they are totally out of step with their society. This is a wonderful reminder to me as I reflect on my own culture — a culture that seems committed to remove God from all public life; a culture that “calls the darkness ‘light’ and calls the light ‘darkness.’ There’s still the possibility of purity and Christian gentleness, even in my culture. Not only is it possible, but a small, unnoticed act might just impact the world in ways I can never imagine.
Take Away: Even in the midst of a corrupt culture we can live clean, beautiful lives in Christ.