2014 – Davis Mountains State Park, TX
1 Samuel 9: He had a son, Saul, a most handsome young man…he literally stood head and shoulders above the crowd!
Since I know where this story’s headed I tend to brush past the way the Bible introduces Saul. Here’s a good man. In spite of his physical domination and naturally handsome good looks he’s humble. We meet him taking care of his father’s business, looking for some lost donkeys, but also concerned that his father might be worried about him. When it’s suggested that he visit the man of God, Samuel, and ask for help in locating the animals, he goes with offering in hand. When I read this introduction to Saul I’m impressed with him. He has the potential of being a terrific leader of Israel who’ll guide the people to a close, faithful walk with the Lord. As I begin reading the story of Saul I find no reason to expect failure on his part. Instead, everything’s in place for success at every level of his life. In choosing him, the Lord isn’t setting him up for failure. Instead, Saul’s being set up for success. That’s true, too, I think, in the lives of followers of Jesus. No one is saved to ultimately fail. In fact, success is guaranteed by the blood of Jesus. The only way my spiritual journey can end badly is if I sabotage it myself. Sorry to say we’re about to see an illustration of that from this capable young man.
Take Away: The Lord gives us everything we need to live for him and then live with him in eternity.
2014 – Davis Mountains State Park, TX – Skyline Drive View
Vacuum of leadership
1 Samuel 8: They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King.
Samuel has been a faithful, capable, Spirit-filled leader of Israel for decades. Now he’s getting old and some of his responsibilities are falling on his sons. But they aren’t up to it. They have the authority of their father but lack his relationship with God. Ever since the great revival and victory over the Philistines many years earlier, Israel has served God under the faithful guidance of Samuel but now people are wondering what’s coming next. Clearly, Samuel can’t continue forever and his sons are miserable spiritual leaders. So what will they do? The decision is to ask for a king. Samuel is heartbroken but takes their request to the Lord. God says, “Samuel, don’t take it personally — this is about my relationship with them and isn’t about you.” What’s going on here? We have before us a failure to trust God. The people are correct in recognizing the leadership problem. However, they’re mistaken when, instead of going to the Lord and asking his direction, they come telling him what they want done. As we turn the pages of Scripture to look into their future we see that there are some good kings coming. However, by and large their kings fail them, leading to their destruction. How different the story might have been had they come to Samuel and said, “You’re getting old and your sons aren’t the spiritual leaders that you have been…pray to the Lord and ask him what we’re to do next.” How often do I limit what God can do in my life by telling him what I want him to do rather than asking him what he wants me to do?
Take Away: The Lord is willing to work with us; to hear our requests. The wiser route though, is to seek his will first.
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.
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 – 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 – Monterrey Peninsula, CA
Judges 4: God will use a woman’s hand to take care of Sisera.
It comes as a surprise that we must journey into what might be called the “dark ages” of Israel before we find a genuine woman hero in the Bible. I guess it could be argued that Moses’ sister Miriam qualifies, and maybe she does, but Deborah really shines here. Sisera is the commander of an occupying army that’s dominating the Israelites and Deborah is their recognized leader. She calls for Barak, another well-known Israelite, and tells him that it has become clear to her that God’s going to deliver them from Sisera and his army. Barak, though, is afraid to proceed without Deborah at his side. Deborah replies that because of his fear, God will use a woman’s hand to take care of Sisera, and she, not him, will get the credit. It all plays out as she said and, not only does Deborah go down in history as the one who leads the way to freedom a woman named Jael finishes Sisera off. Long before the promise of “daughters prophesying” is fulfilled in Acts 2, we find God using women as leaders in his work. Thank God for women who are willing to be used of God to accomplish his purposes.
Take Away: The Lord uses willing people, and there’s to gender qualification in it.
2014 – Yosemite National Park
Come on guys, be a real man
Joshua 24: As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.
Here’s the most famous thing Joshua says and what a glorious declaration it is. He’s come to a decision and now he’s making a firm commitment to abide by that decision. While Joshua can’t control what others do Joshua knows what he and his family are going to do: they’re going to worship God. I know some might squirm a bit at Joshua’s including his family in his declaration of intent. Our Western culture says, “But Joshua, everyone has to make their own decision — you can’t just unilaterally speak for your family.” The fact of the matter is that, in his culture, he can do just that. He’s the leader of his family, and his worship of God isn’t built around a 21st century reading of John 3:16 anyway. In fact, while I know this concept can be abused, most families need the man of the house to stand up and say, “We’ll worship God.” Fathers and husbands need to show some leadership. Men need to make a commitment and to take action. I doubt that there are many wives who would be offended if their husband showed some of the manly leadership Joshua shows here. “Alright family, I’ve come to a decision: we’re going to worship God.”
Take Away: A man’s influence over his family is powerful.
2014 – Redwoods National Park, CA
God’s faithfulness continues
Joshua 1: Moses my servant is dead…In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you. I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you. Strength! Courage!
Some people cast long shadows: David, King of Israel; Abraham, Father of Faith; Moses, Law Giver. The only leader the people of Israel have ever known is now dead. Getting used to life without the steady guidance of Moses is going to take some getting used to and that’s especially true for their new national leader. Joshua’s already a proven leader but that leadership has always been under the authority of Moses. As Joshua staggers under the weight of his new responsibility the Lord speaks to him, probably in a way and at a level that Joshua has never before experienced. The great Promise Maker makes a wonderful commitment to him. Moses is gone but God is not. The same God who spoke to Moses now will speak to Joshua. That same Presence will remain. God’s faithfulness continues. Today, I thank God for the “Moses figures” in my life. These people have provided me with leadership, advice, and strength. Still, humanity is limited. Things, and people, change. Sometimes, in fact, with the passing of time our roles reverse. As it was for Moses and then Joshua I place the weight of my hope on the firm Rock of my Salvation. He won’t give up on me and he won’t forsake me.
Take Away: Thank God for people who influence our lives for good, but even more, thank God for his steady faithfulness through the years.
2014 – Sweet Creek Hike – Mapleton, OR
Follow the Leader
Deuteronomy 31: Be strong. Take Courage. Don’t be intimidated…God is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.
There is a bit more to the book of Deuteronomy, but this is the conclusion of thirty chapters of preaching that makes up most of the book. As Moses preaches the people are looking across the Jordan to the Promised Land. They know who lives there and they know that their army isn’t ready to face the superior forces of Canaan. Beyond that, Moses, who is the only leader they’ve ever known, isn’t going with them. The new battles will be fought without their old leader. Well, not quite. Their real Leader is not only right there with them; he’s already confidently marching ahead of them preparing the way in places like Jericho. When Moses at 120 years of age breathes his last God will remain their strong leader. Even as Moses is about to commission his successor, Joshua, he reminds his listeners of God’s faithfulness to them. I thank God for people who have influenced my life by providing vital spiritual leadership along the way. Even more important, though, is the awesome steadiness of God. The finest, most dedicated person has their limits, but not the Lord. As Moses says, “He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.”
Take Away: The Lord is our faithful Leader and as we follow him, we can do so with confidence that he won’t let us down and he’ll never forsake us.
2014 – Along Oregon Hwy 101 – north of Florence – Heceta Head Lighthouse
Deuteronomy 17: Make sure you get yourself a king whom God, your God, chooses.
I’ve read the Bible through several times in my life so I know I’ve read this passage, but it never occurred to me that when the people of Israel demand a king during Samuel’s life that provision was made for it in the giving of the Law. Apparently, wanting a human leader rather than living in a theocracy under the rule of God alone is just human nature. Here, we have the aged Moses going through the worship ground rules with his people and the topic of kings comes up. Moses doesn’t tell them they shouldn’t have a king but he does frame the issue. He says such as desire is the result of their wanting to be like the heathen nations around them. Then he sets up some ground rules for that eventuality. The king must be a part of Israel and he isn’t to spend the resources of Israel in building up a war machine. Nor is he to amass a large harem. He’s to have his own personal copy of the Books of Law that he keeps by his side all the time. The number one requirement is that God, himself, is to pick their king for them. Obviously, hundreds of years later when the people of Israel demand a king these guidelines are only loosely followed. Solomon, in particular, leads the way in building a large army and a large harem. I find it interesting that long before Saul becomes the first king of Israel the Lord, through Moses, gives directions that should have been followed. Had they been followed Israel would have been protected from a lot of the bad stuff we find in the books of the Kings and Chronicles of our Old Testaments. This passage reminds me that God knows what he’s doing and that his ways are best in every eventuality.
Take Away: We always pay a price when we neglect the Lord’s instructions for our lives.