2014 – McDonald Observatory – Fort Davis, TX
By God’s help we can live steady, Christ-like lives
1 Samuel 7: Samuel gave solid leadership to Israel his entire life.
This is a powerful and important statement about Samuel. Only rarely do we encounter such high credentials, even in the Bible. Abraham messed up by trying to “help” God in his relationship with Hagar. Moses failed at the Waters of Meribah Kadesh. Just about all the heroes of the Bible have blots on their records. But it’s not so with Samuel. From the time that as a lad serving in the house of God at Shiloh he hears God’s Voice to the end of his life Samuel is faithful. As a result, some of the golden days of the Old Testament are before us in our Scripture reading. Of course, this is actually a God-story more than it is a Samuel-story. It’s God who answers Hannah’s prayer that brings Samuel into the world in the first place. It’s God who initiates contact with the boy Samuel. And it’s God who continues to lead Samuel even as Samuel leads Israel. We see today that spiritual failure doesn’t have to be part of anyone’s story. I know it’s true that just about everyone has a story of spiritual breakdown, but here we see that the Lord’s able to keep us as we allow him to work freely in our lives. Isn’t it wonderful to be reminded that because the grace of the Lord is freely available to us that we don’t have to stumble our way through life hoping we can hold it together just enough to squeeze through the Pearly Gates at the finish line of life?
Take Away: The Lord provides us everything we need to live faithful, victorious Christian lives.
2014 – Jerome, AZ
Not famous, but faithful
1 Samuel 7 They ordained his son, Eleazar, to take responsibility for the Chest of God.
The Ark of the Covenant ends up in Kiriath Jearim, the house of Abinadab. Someone needs to be responsible for the Ark. After all, during the seven years that it was in the hands of the Philistines tumors broke out among the population and when the men of Beth Shemesh treated it in an irreverent way they were struck dead. They can’t have the Ark just sitting around. Someone has to care for it. Abinadab’s son, Eleazar, takes the job. For the next twenty years Eleazar takes care of the Chest of God. We know nothing else about him. Not a single word from him is recorded in Scripture and he’s associated with none of the adventures of the Bible. He just takes care of the Ark. During that time a spiritual change for the better is taking place. Samuel is growing too — in spirit and in body. Soon, this spiritual giant will take center stage and will be the spiritual leader of Israel for decades to come. But, for now, God just needs someone to look after the Ark; to be a “place holder” for Samuel until he’s ready to assume leadership. Not many of us are “Samuels.” No doubt, God calls some to do the big stuff, and I thank God for them. Most of us are called to simply be faithful, serving the Lord every day, doing what he’s placed before us. It’s nice to be reminded though, that in this small way Eleazar kept things going for the good. His faithfulness held things together while God prepared the “big player” to come on the scene. I think that is pretty impressive.
Take Away: What an honor it is to be used of the Lord, even in some small, unnoticed way.
2014 – At Chapel of the Holy Cross – Sedona, AZ
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.
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.
2014 – Grand Canyon, AZ
Good old boredom
Judges 10: After him, Jair the Gileadite stepped into leadership. He judged Israel for twenty-two years.
I’m thinking today about the “one paragraph” judges of the book of Judges. I’ve already read about Deborah and Gideon. Jephthah and Samson are just a few pages away. Scattered throughout the pages of Judges are references to national leaders whose stories are summed up in one paragraph each. Usually the most prominent feature is now long these leaders ruled; around 22 years on the average. While it would be thrilling to watch Gideon’s 300 defeating the Midianites and Amaliekiets, I think I’d rather live under the rule of Tola or Jair. These folks quietly go about living their lives under the authority of the Lord God and lead their people in faithful worship of him. Today, I thank God for people like that and I’m reminded that without spectacular spiritual failure we don’t need to have as many stories of miraculous divine rescues.
Take Away: Good leadership sometimes means no big stories, no disasters, just lives quietly lived…
2014 – Sweet Creek Hike – Mapleton, OR
It’s a big deal
Deuteronomy 32: This is no small matter; it’s your life.
After the sermon comes a special in song. No, really. Moses finishes preaching and then teaches them a song that sums up all he’s said. It’s a song of God’s grace and faithfulness to them even in the face of disastrous failure on their part. After the song Moses tells them to take the words of both his preaching and the song he has taught them to heart. These aren’t the ramblings of a very old man. Rather, these concepts are life and death for them. I’m reminded today that most things in life are just “small matters.” In spite of the fact that I try to make them into big deals the fact is that they don’t amount to a hill of beans in the long run. However, there are big deals in life; things that last forever. Such things matter even across the scope of history. I must identify both the small and the big matters and deal with them accordingly.
Take Away: Treat big deals as big deals and little deals as little deals and don’t mix up the two.
2014 – Florence, OR
Let’s make a deal
Deuteronomy 25: Don’t carry around with you two weights.
This portion of Deuteronomy is a grab bag of varied topics. Some of them are pretty hard to read as they deal with stuff like fluid emissions, forced marriage, and rape. Others strike me as mostly curious. The prohibition against plowing with an ox and a donkey yoked together and the one against wearing clothes of mixed fabrics comes to mind. Then there are the practical ones like what to do if a farmer finds his neighbor’s ox loose and wandering around, rules for charging interest on loans, and the prohibition on carrying differing weights. This is a simple call to honesty. An individual doing business isn’t to have two weights that he claims are the same but are actually different. A dishonest person might reach into bag and grab the heavier weight when purchasing, say, some silver. Then, when selling it, he might use an identical, lighter weight to measure the weight of the silver. That way he gets more silver than he paid for, and then cheats the buyer by selling less than what is shown on the scales. The Lord says, “don’t do that – instead, be honest in your dealings with everyone.” Some of the stuff in these chapters feels dated and even a bit weird. However, a call to honesty in business speaks to every person who’s ever filled out a tax return or sold a used car. In all of business God’s people are free to make the best deal they can; that is, so long as it’s an honest deal.
Take Away: Honesty is the best (and blessed) policy.
2014 – Along Oregon Hwy 101 – north of Florence
Deuteronomy 13: You are to follow only God…hold on to him for dear life!
Moses says that sometimes other gods look attractive and actually seem to deliver the goods. When that happens we’re tempted to abandon the Lord God and follow the latest trend of society. In fact, Moses says, God allows that to happen to test our love for him. If I’d rather have the latest fad I can have it — but it will be my loss. As a sports fan, I’ve learned that, even though the names of the players change, the game remains the same. With this passage in mind, I’m reminded that, while the latest gods are not the deities of Egypt or Canaan, the game is the same. My loyalty to the Lord God is tested by the lure of the gods of my culture. They seem to deliver the goods, and millions follow these gods named “Pleasure,” “Affluence,” “Success,” “Power,” and “Entertainment,” telling me how wonderful it is. As one of God’s people I must remain ever alert to the subtle influence of that which erodes my loyalty to the one true God. I must “hold on to him for dear life!”
Take Away: Only as we keep our focus on the Lord are we absolutely safe from being swayed by the false gods of our society.
2014 – Cape Meares, OR – in the fog
The path to the good life
Deuteronomy 10: …live a good life.
These days, “health and wealth” preaching is pretty popular. “Have enough faith, pray hard enough,” even, “Give me some money” and as a result you’ll drive a nice car, live in a big house, and never be sick. Moses, though, has his own take on “health and wealth.” In this passage he carefully lists the route to the “good life.” It’s all centered on doing what God expects. What does he expect?
1. “Live in his presence in holy reverence”
2. “Follow the road he sets out for you”
3. “Love…and serve” him “with everything you have in you”
4. “Obey the commandments and regulations of God”
It’s not about me taking advantage of some spiritual principle for my benefit or my tapping into some hidden potential within myself. It has nothing to do with driving off the spirit of poverty or illness. It sure isn’t about me manipulating God to get him to do nice things for me. When I align myself with God’s expectations my life is a good life. That goodness, by the way, may not be seen in temporary things like health or wealth but, instead, in my living a truly blessed life, pleasing to God. The path to the good life is summed up in four words: live, follow, love, and obey.
Take Away: Many spiritual “secrets” are hidden in plain sight.
2014 – Pacific City, OR
Deliverance, protection, provision
Deuteronomy 8: If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. All by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!” — well, think again.
The topic is God’s past blessings and his promise of future faithfulness. Their history is memorable: deliverance, protection, provisions. God has been good and that should be clear to them. After all, bread literally fell from heaven every day. But that may be the problem. Many of his listeners had not even been born when the bread started falling. A person in his audience can be 40 years old and every day (except on Saturdays) of his or her life they have gone out to collect manna to eat. These blessed people have never seen it any other way. Had you met one and asked them about their clothing: “Say, how long does a shirt last before it has to be replaced?” The response would have been one of confusion: “What do you mean, ‘last’ — I don’t understand the question.” Why? Because their clothing never needed to be replaced — ever! Is it possible that God can be so good to me that I forget that he’s the Source of the blessing in the first place? Once I forget the Source, the next step is for me to start thinking that I somehow deserve credit for it. Moses says that if I start thinking like that — well, I’d better think again.
Take Away: It’s okay to enjoy the blessing as long as I remember the Source of the blessing.