2015 – Pinnacle Mtn State Park, AR
Being spiritual about things
1 Samuel 14: Saul did something really foolish that day.
It’s war. Saul’s army is in battle with the hated Philistines. Saul’s son Jonathan leads the way. Single handedly he’s killed about 20 of the enemy. God’s working here, bringing confusion to the enemy army. In addition to the damage Saul’s army is doing them they seem to be at war with one another. It’s now that Saul does a “really foolish” thing. He commands his army to fast while they fight. His men are in hand-to-hand combat all day but eat nothing. When the battle ends at the end of the day they’re so hungry that they’re eating raw meat, meat with the blood still in it, which is contrary to God’s Law. The writer tells us that it’s all Saul’s fault. He’s in charge and they depend on his leadership. He’s let them down by adding to their burden in an attempt to make their effort seem “more spiritual.” It’s important that leaders be spiritually sensitive. We’re not to dress things up to make them seem more spiritual than they already are, but at the same time, we’re to take the lead in recognizing God’s work in even supposed “non-spiritual” efforts. Saul overplays his hand here and the result is near disaster. I pray that God will help me to be sensitive to spiritual things and to be a leader who “is” spiritually minded rather than a person who is foolishly, like Saul, merely “acting” spiritually minded.
Take Away: Spiritual leaders don’t play the role of someone who is spiritually minded; rather, they ARE spiritually minded.
2014 – Davis Mountains State Park, TX
1 Samuel 10: Saul among the prophets! Who would have guessed?!
The young man Saul is not a leader and he isn’t especially known for his spirituality. On this day, after his meeting with Samuel, Saul is headed home when he encounters a group of prophets on their way to worship. Before he knows it, Saul falls in with them, and then to everyone’s surprise he joins them in their religious expression. This is an unlikely event and word of it spreads throughout his family and friends. People are surprised at “Saul among the prophets.” After he becomes king a saying based on this incident becomes common. Anytime a person is surprised at something they shake their heads in wonder and say, “Saul among the prophets! Who would have guessed!” I’ve seen God do some surprising things in people’s lives. When I was a kid I knew a man who had been the town drunk. He was wonderfully converted and became the Sunday School Superintendent in the church where I grew up. “Saul among the prophets! Who would have guessed!” Another man, who was raised in the church, got away from God. His mother never stopped praying for him, but for years he seemed distant. One night he came to revival and responded to the invitation. A few years later he was a terrific youth leader in the church. “Saul among the prophets!” I love it when God does stuff like that and look forward to more “Saul among the prophets!” events in the days to come.
Take Away: The Lord does wonderfully surprising things in the lives of those who cooperate with his purposes for them.
2014 – Jerome, AZ
Caution, God at work here
1 Samuel 7: Throughout Israel there was a widespread, fearful movement toward God.
The enemies of Israel, the Philistines, have had enough of the Ark of the Covenant. Not only have they had to repair their idol Dagon, things are not going well at all throughout their territory. There’s general sickness and death and they know that it’s related to the captured Chest. They decide to send it back and be rid of it once and for all. It ends up at the town of Beth Shemesh, but not without incident. Some of the locals look inside this holy relic and are struck dead for their irreverence. This causes the fear of the Lord to fall on that place. It also reminds them that God is real and not just the product of old stories. The Ark is moved to Kiriath Jearim, where it remains for 20 years. It’s during that time that people become more and more “God aware.” It’s been a long journey from the dark ages of the book of Judges to this point, but, once again, these people are becoming a people of God. The words, “there was a widespread, fearful movement toward God” are the result of God’s faithfulness to a people who don’t deserve it. Even though they’re far from God, he’s at work and the boy Samuel is part of his plan. When they use the Ark as a good luck charm, and thus lose it, God is working. Even when the men at Beth Shemesh treat the Ark in an inappropriate way and lose their lives, God is working, setting things in motion to change the attitude of the nation. I pray that God is working in my nation too. I pray that he’s doing things in places and in ways that I don’t even see, changing attitudes, preparing the way for a “widespread, fearful movement toward” himself. And, if he can use me in any of that I want to be available to him, a willing partner in his gracious work in my society.
Take Away: The Lord sometimes works in ways unseen by us and only recognized after the fact.
2014 – Monterrey Peninsula, CA
Generation to generation
Judges 5: God chose new leaders, who then fought at the gates.
Following the defeat of the oppressor Sisera we hear a duet being sung by Deborah and Barak, the two people instrumental in the victory that has been won. It’s a war song, all about how God fought for them and how he empowered them to do what needed to be done. The book of Judges gives us history in 40 year or so chunks, so, while I earlier walked with Abraham year by year and traveled with the children of Israel in their wilderness journey at a much slower pace, each page of the book of Judges represents the rise and fall of an entire generation. In this song, I find a description of how “God chose new leaders” to fight for him in their generation. While there’s a lot of ugly stuff in this book of the Bible, I’m reminded that God continues to be active in Israel. Even though it’s sometimes hard to spot, I see the golden thread of God’s grace here. A set of leaders fail and Israel plunges into the darkness of sin. Then, the Lord graciously reaches down into that darkness and lifts a new leader to call his people back from the brink. This is far from ideal. It could and should be so much better. Still, the grace and faithfulness of God shines like a beacon against this bleak backdrop of sin and failure.
Take Away: God’s grace is seen in dark places. It fact, it shines there, bringing both light and hope.
2014 – Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve – near Birch Bay, WA
Exodus 40: …the Glory of God filled The Dwelling. Moses couldn’t enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud was upon it, and the Glory of God filled The Dwelling.
As Moses finishes the work God gave him to do, God moves in. Moses, through the God-given skills of the faithful workmen did what he could do. Moses led the project, the people funded it, and gifted men acted in obedience in preparing this place of worship. At this point they’ve done all that they can do, and the result is an impressive, lavish, and portable Worship Tent. Of course, that isn’t enough. Unless something else happens all they have is a fancy museum. Then God moves in. He fills the place with his glory – with himself. Now they really have a place of worship. A couple of things come to mind here. First, we do all we can do but it’s never enough until God moves. The best singing and preaching, the finest facility, the “best laid plans of mice and men” fall short without God. Second, we see an example of prevenient grace here. God not only graciously moves in, doing the “divine side” of this effort, but it was God who gave Moses the plans in the first place and enabled the people to do the “human side” of this project. It’s God who gifted the workmen. It’s even God who worked things out so that the Egyptians gave this nation of slaves the very items needed for the building of the Tent of Meeting before they ever left Egypt. Here’s a picture of God working on both sides of the issue. As always, in him we find grace, grace.
Take Away: We are recipients of grace all the way through.
2013 – Saylorville Lake – near Des Moines, IA
It’s God’s story
Exodus 2: God listened…God remembered…God saw…God understood.
The story of the Bible is God’s story. He’s the central player. In the book of Exodus we have the major, dominating figure of Moses, but he isn’t the star. The Exodus story is about God. It’s he who listens to their cries, remembers his promise to Abraham, sees their need, and understands their plight. And it’s he who acts. Decades earlier, when Moses tried to take on the role of deliverer, things didn’t work out. Now, God takes on that role. When the story of the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt begins, it starts with God in a burning bush and not Moses killing an Egyptian. Today, I want my story to be God’s story. I’d rather play a small part in his big story than have the leading role in a one man play.
Take Away: It’s about my cooperating with God, not about him cooperating with me.
2013 – Burgess Falls State Park, TN
Caution, God at work here
Genesis 39: As it turned out, God was with Joseph and things went very well with him.
When Joseph is sold into slavery the last word to come to mind is “blessed.” Things don’t look like they’re going to turn out “very well.” Being sold into slavery indicates one’s being cursed rather than blessed. However, God’s at work here and the first part of the story gives us little indication of what the last part’s going to look like. While being sold into slavery isn’t one of our common concerns, it’s true that life takes some unexpected and unwelcome turns. The thing is that such events are, in the least, God’s providential will. That is, he isn’t pulling strings, forcing people to do bad things, but he does allow it to happen. In fact, the Lord specializes in turning stuff like this upside down. Because of that, sometimes things start out looking pretty messy, more like a demolition project than any kind of construction. The key in the passage before us today is the phrase “God was with Joseph.” In fact, that’s the key to the whole Joseph story. It’s almost as though there’s a sign: “Caution, God at work here.” For every setback there’s a more than equal advance. When God’s at work, the end of the story is always “things went very well.” It may not seem to be that way at any given point along the journey, but that’s how it is going to end.
Take away: We don’t always understand all that’s happening, but when God’s at work, things turn out just fine.
Can’t we all just get along?
1Corinthians 1: You must get along with each other.
As I understand it, Corinth is a lot like the Old West of American movies. It’s a rough and tough place with lots of immorality. Paul comes preaching the Gospel of Jesus and many of these rowdy people become believers. For a year and a half (a long time for him) Paul stays, establishing them in the faith, teaching them what it means to be Christians. Now, he’s moved on, but has received word that things aren’t going very well in Corinth. One of the big problems is lack of unity. The Church of Corinth is splitting, not into two parts, but into several. In fact, if there’s an opportunity for discord, they’ve found it. Paul writes to them, saying, “You must get along with each other” and then both reasons with them and shames them into unity. As I consider this passage the call of Jesus to his followers to be one even as he and his Father are one feels quite distant. I share the Apostle’s concern as I look at the state of Christianity today. Sometimes “oneness” seems out of reach and I wonder if Paul was writing to the Church today what he would say. There is, though, a silver lining in these opening words of 1 Corinthians. It’s Paul’s sunny, optimistic approach to all this. He describes the church as “cleaned up by Jesus and set apart for a God filled life” and reminds them that Jesus “will never give up on you.” The Lord has already done a lot in their lives and Paul assures them that he’s going to keep right on working. So, as I read these words today I confess that the state of Christianity today concerns me. At the same time I’m infected by Paul’s optimistic view of the Church. It’s good to remember that God’s still at work today.
Take Away: The Lord is working inside the Church to make us one, and, as we cooperate with him, that’s just what he’s going to do.
Wake up and smell the coffee!
Romans 13: Be up and awake to what God is doing!
I’m chest deep in my life in the church. I’m a pastor so I have a love and responsibility for the flock I shepherd. Beyond that, I’m a denominational pastor so I have connections to maintain, meetings to attend, reports to do. I’m okay with it all. I pastor a fine congregation and I’m proud of my denominational ties. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, I have to be careful that programs and meetings and traditions don’t own me. Sometimes, I need to be reminded that God doesn’t exist to help me plan the fall program of the church and he isn’t waiting on the denomination to tell him what’s next. In fact, sometimes God sees trends and opportunities that aren’t even on my radar screen. I need to be careful that my religious life isn’t all about me performing as God sits in the audience wondering what I’ll do next. I belong, not to my local congregation or the denomination or even the Church universal, but to the Lord. I’m reminded of all that today in the words of the Apostle. What’s God doing right now and how does he want me to be part of it? That’s how the Church at large needs to operate. This is how the local church is to think. It’s how I’m to live my life.
Take Away: Don’t get so immersed in church culture that you fail to maintain contact with the Lord.