Friday, December 23, 2011

One Last Resource...

 A friend of mine attends Colonial Church of Edina.  She passed this link on to me - and I think they have some wonderful devotionals!

I thought I'd share it with you:

http://www.colonialchurch.org/category/adventdaily/

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sunday Recap

Another wonderful Sunday (I love the Advent season...)!

The choir performed their Christmas Cantata - bells, choir, solos - beautifully done!  And a thoughtful, unique program.  Jennifer does a splendid job providing us with magical moments of music!  Thank you, Jennifer, Choir, and Bells!

After worship was our cookie party - a fellowship hall full of amamzing treats!  Cookies, reubans, shrimp, and...  Egg nog!

Such joy filling our spaces - such blessings.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Transforming this Christmas

Another neat devotional resource...  Great for those experiencing challenges and struggles this time of year.

http://www.adventdevotions.net/default.asp

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent Smartphone App

I'm liking this one!  It's great for kids - little games, stories, videos, etc. for each day of Advent!

(And fun for those of us who are kids at heart!)

“The Journey” Smartphone app is based on the new book by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, but it also functions as a standalone Advent calendar. The app, available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices, opens with seven unlocked activities for children. A new one (videos, coloring sheets, puzzles, cards, Bible quizzes) opens daily starting Dec. 1. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Following the Star

As we take a break from "The Story" until January, I thought I'd post some wonderful Advent resources.

This is a devotional that you do online, piece by piece...  Beautiful and peaceful.

Enjoy!

http://www.d365.org/followingthestar/

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sunday Recap

Ohmygosh!  What a spectacular Sunday!

Pastor Deb was here to present the check from the sale of First UMC's building - a time of honoring the heritage and ministry that the building served in that community and prayerfully passing on the gifts to be used in ministry in our now-merged congregation.  Tears were shed, smiles beamed, and joy was shared at the possibilities of a future together!  (And thank you to Jim T. for the kind words of thankfulness - a shared sentiment from all our hearts, I'm sure.)

The Children's Christmas Program was amazing - beautiful, funny, and so wonderful.  The speaking parts were right on, the solos were perfect, and the little angels were adorable - as always!  (If anyone has pictures they could share - please send them to me!)

After worship, we partied in the Fellowship Hall with a chili lunch, table games, rewards for the picture project, and making new friends.  A lovely way to spend part of our afternoon!

The Holy Spirit was present in joy and laughter today!  A great kick-off to the holiday season!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Don't Forget to Wish for the Best



Here’s something that might bring back memories for some of us. Think back to Christmases of our

childhood: what was the symbol of all our Christmas wishes? How about the Sears Wish Book? Do you
remember it from when you were young? We would hopefully page through the giant catalogue, circle
our choices in pen, and pray that Santa would deliver our requests on Christmas morning.

The first Sears Wish Book was printed in 1933. Over time it has diminished in size and was even discontinued at one point. It was revived in 2007, but the current books are nothing in size compared to the
books some of us can remember from our youth. Children today don’t really need one. They have the
Internet and their high tech toys to cruise the information highway to identify their holiday “wants.”

But “back in the day” the Sears Wish Book helped us answer the seasonal question: “If you could have
anything for Christmas, what would you ask for?”

You may not need the Sears Wish Book today, but you have some wishes too, don’t you? Next Christmas
how would you answer the question, “If you could have one thing in the world, what would it be?”

Solomon had to answer that one. He asked for wisdom. And God gave it to him. But by the end of his
life he had accumulated more and more: more gold, more horses, more wives. He had it all and wanted
more. In the midst of all these gifts he lost sight of the Giver. He turned away from God and lost it all.

Another King gave us another path to follow. He had it all and gave it all . . . for us. In the Christmas
season, or any season for that matter, you can guard yourself from the tyranny of too much stuff by giving.
Simply give so that others can simply live. That’s what the King born as a baby in the manger did.

And my wish? That you visit the manger and find him.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Time to get BOLD

Wanna follow in David's footsteps and walk closer to God?

This is a big and bold action challenge. 

If you have a person or two in your life who are mature in faith and really care about you, consider meeting with them and humbly inviting them to speak truth into your life...  any time.  Let them know that you will seek to prayerfully listen and receive their words, even when those words are difficult.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Trials of a King


Our role in life is to point people to God by the way we live our lives, prioritize, make decisions, treat people, and speak to people.  This is how we align our lives to the Upper Story.  We live each day with the notion that we are to be Jesus to the people around us.  This also includes how we handle life when we sin.  The world is watching.
David's response to the consequences of his sin reveals the character of God.  We see that God maintains God's role as holy and just.  We see a gracious and loving God who restored the relationship between God and David.  We see God redeeming the scandalous relationship between David and Bathsheba by placing their son Solomon in the lineage of God's son, Jesus.  We see God doing this over and over again - in addition to Bathsheba God placed Tamar in the lineage, along with Ruth and Rahab.

Applications for this week:
God wants us to walk in righteousness so others can see God through us.  God wants us to be like Uriah, who does right and lives his life with integrity, even when he could get away with things.  God wants us to be like Nathan, who had courage to confront a friend who had taken a wrong turn.  But God also wants us to be like David when we sin and hurt others.  The way we respond in those times can also give people one of the best glimpses of God.  God is gracious, forgiving, restores us.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Confrontations

This week, in the story of David and Bathsheba, we see David commit a series of horrible sins...  And later, when God sends the prophet Nathan to confront him about his sins, David simply says, "Yes.  I have sinned."

No excuses.  No lies.  No rationalizations.

"I have sinned."

Ask yourself:  How do I respond when people confront or correct me?  Am I like Saul, covering my tracks?  Or am I like David, listening, receiving, and repenting?

Pray this week that God will put people in your life who love you enough to confront you about your sins.  Invite the Holy Spirit to soften your heart so that you will humbly receive their words of conviction and correction.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sunday Recap

What a lovely Sunday!

We started during the Education hour with Jake and Melissa sharing their life and faith story - and what a story it's been!  We thank them for letting us be witnesses to their faith in times of struggle and challenge - and for letting us surround them with love and prayers!  Everytime their beautiful kids come running through the church door, we are reminded that God is present - everyday.

Worship was filled with Sandy's beautiful harp music and the sacrament of Communion; as well as one more story about King David (the juicy story about Bathsheba - and the amazing forgiveness that God gives) before we take a break from "The Story" for the rest of Advent.

After worship about 16 people went out to lunch at Old World Pizza and enjoyed a meal over wonderful conversation and lots of laughter!  12 of us then went over to the AMC theatres to watch some movies!  I haven't heard reviews on "Arthur Christmas" or "Happy Feet 2" yet, but "The Muppets" was a blast!

So many wonderful things happening at St. Paul's UMC - stories shared, stories read, and new stories being written!  It's a blessing to be a part of this community!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chapter 12 Reflections

1.  List 3-5 lessons that you can apply to your own life from the episode of David's sin.

2.  God used Nathan to confront David about his sin.  Has anyone ever confronted you about a sin in your life?  Who has permission to be your "Nathan"?

3.  Compare David's confrontation with Nathan to Saul's confrontation with Samuel (p. 133 and 115-116).  What does David seem to understand that Saul does not?

4.  Psalm 32 (p. 135) shows what David felt like when he kept his sin a secret.  Do you have a secret sin?  How does keeping it secret affect you?

5.  After David's baby died, he arose and worshipped (p. 134).  What does this say about the nature of worship?  About David's ability to release the past?

6.  King David grieved over his son Absalom's death, even though Absalom had betrayed him.  Why do you think he reacted this way?

7.  David was not excited to give his time, money, and effort to building a temple he would not even live to see.  Is giving easy or hard for you?  How can you be a more cheerful giver?

Friday, December 2, 2011

What To Do With Your "Third Week Of March"

When Pope John Paul died, a man named Rogers Cadenhead quickly registered the web address
http://www.benedictxvi.com/, thinking this might be the name chosen by the new pope. When Cardinal
Ratzinger was elected Pope, he did choose the name Pope Benedict XVI, causing some to question what
the Vatican would do to get the rights to that domain name.

Cadenhead didn’t ask the Vatican for money. Instead, in a humorous manner on his blog he suggested a
few things he would trade for:
1. Three days, two nights at the Vatican hotel.
2. One of those hats (referring to the bishop’s hat).
3. Complete absolution, no questions asked, for the third week of March 1987.

Wonder what Rogers did the third week of March in 1987? Me too, but does it really matter? Most of us
have at least a week for which we’d love to have total forgiveness.

We discover in The Story that David did. One day when the army is at war, David, who is the commander
of the nation’s military, neglects his duties and stays behind. He sees Bathsheba, seduces her, gets her
pregnant, murders her husband, and tries to cover up his actions by deceiving his general and soldiers.
Then he marries Bathsheba and she bears their child.

It looks as if David will get away with all of this. But he doesn’t. God sends his prophet Nathan to confront
David by telling him a story about a poor man with one lamb. David knows something about sheep
and shepherds, so he listens. Nathan says that the poor man has a rich neighbor who needs to slaughter a
lamb to feed a guest, but instead of taking one of his many sheep he steals the poor man’s one lamb.
David is incensed and says that man should be put to death. Nathan then declares, “You are the man!”

At that moment David must have wished he had bought a domain name that he could swap for absolution.
He may have wanted to make excuses. Explain things away. Blame it on Bathsheba for taking
a bath in broad daylight where he could see. But instead of making excuses, David confesses. “I have
sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13).

And God did with David’s sin what he will do with yours and mine. He put it away (Psalm 103:12-13).

You can do what David did. Whatever your “third week of March” might be, sit down with it, yourself
and God. Confess your sin. And then let another shepherd from Bethlehem forgive it. That’s better than
any domain name you might secure.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

God's People Are Walking With Us Too

In our personal deserts and seasons of waiting, we need to remember that God is with us.  But we can also take comfort in knowing that God's people are walking with us too.  Think about a family member or friend who is in the midst of a hard time.  Pray for them.  Ask God to use you as a conduit of God's love, a visible reminder that God is with them, caring for them.  And ask them how you might come alongside to offer care and support.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From Shepherd to King

Although Saul was tall and handsome and LOOKED like a great choice for a king, he distorted the character of God by acting in a cruel and greedy way.  God replaced him with someone who would more accurately represent God's character and God's plan, but he was the last person people would have picked to be king.

God's criteria in choosing the second king was to find a man after God's own heart; a person with the same priorities that God has; someone who loves people and cares for people.  If David would risk his own life to get one of his dad's smelly sheep back, God reasons, "To what extent would he go to get one of my people back?"  God knows that's the kind of king Israel needs, because that represents God's heart accurately to the world.

God can use our disobedient lives as God did Saul's to work out God's upper story plan, even though we miss out on the blessings.  And on the flip side, God will likely take us through a season of testing, even when we're being obedient, in order to equip us for the assignment ahead of us.

David is a good king, but that's not all there is to his story.  As we have been seeing in our journey through the Old Testament, this story carries clues in it, pointing to what is yet to come:  God's ultimate plan to redeem everyone.  David was from the tribe of Judah, from the city of Bethlehem.  The prophets in the Old Testament are going to tell us that the one who provides a way for us to come back into a relationship with God will be from the tribe of Judah, born specifically in the city of Bethlehem, and he will be the king of all kings.  In addition, kings in the Old Testament are referred to as the "anointed one."  When Samuel anointed David with oil (1 Samuel 16), the spirit of the Lord came upon David.  As he led Israel in obedience to God's work, he was empowered by the Holy Spirit.  He was the anointed one.  The Hebrew word for "anointed one" is "messiah."  David was the messiah in the lower story of the Old Testament.  His reign points us to the Messiah in the upper story, the one who is God incarnate, who we will meet in the New Testament.

Application possibilities for this week:

* God wants to use us like God used David.  God wants to use us to point others to Jesus.
* Don't underestimate the younger crowd!  Remember, David was only 16 years old when God first came to him.
* God doesn't choose us by our outward appearance, but God looks into our heart.
* We need at least one Jonathon in our lives, who sees God's good plan for us and believes in us.
* If God is going to use us, it will certainly involve a season or two of testing and equipping.
* We must keep pointing people to God no matter what season we are in.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Reflections

Think about a time of waiting in your life, when you felt that God was refining (working on you, making you better) you.  Reflect on the lessons you learned while you waited.  Have you carried them forward into the present day?  Were there any lessons you missed that God stills wants to teach you?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reflections on Chapter 11

From Shepher to King...

1.  Contrast God's view of David with man's view of David.  Would you say you are winsome in the world's eyes?  How does God see you?

2.  Who or what are the giants in your life that need to be faced with courage?  How can you equip yourself to do this?

3.  Think of a time when jealousy has somehow overtaken you.  How can focusing on the Upper Story help you conquer those feelings?

4.  Review the exchange between Saul and David at En Gedi (p 123-134).  What does Saul's response to David's offer of grace teach you about God's grace?

5.  "The Lord does not look at the things human beings look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (p 117)  What words or acts of encouragement can you offer today to others (from family to strangers) based on God's view of them?

6.  When David wanted to build God a temple, God redirected him, just as God sometimes constrains our best intentions because God wants us to serve God in other ways.  How has God redirected you?  Looking back, was this initially disappointing?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

An Example

Just like the people of Israel in Samuel's day and junior high school kids today, we can be prone to imitate and follow bad examples.  Think through your behaviors, practices, shopping patterns, clothing choices, language, hobbies...  anything you might do because someone else does it.  If you identify something that is unhealthy, ungodly, or offensive, commit to ending that behavior!

Let's shine God's light from the ways we share love, hope, and grace in our lives! 

Happy Thanksgiving!  May your day be blessed with all that God offers you - in family, friends, shelter, food, warmth, and love!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Standing Tall, Falling Hard

It would appear that when Hannah's womb is opened, it is simply a matter of a tender God working things out in the lower story for a desperate woman, which would be partly true.  She gives Samuel to God, makes him a new little robe every year, and God gave her five more children.  But there's an upper story going on at the same time.  Samuel grows up to be a man who will deal with three distortions in Israel.

When God allows the people to have a king, that's not the way God envisioned the lower story of Israel, but it's not going to change the outcome of the upper story.  Even when God allows things that aren't God's perfect will, God will still accomplish God's desire to provide a way back to relationship with God.  The BEST way for people to see God is for God to be the king of Israel with no layers of management between God and the people.  But God honors our free choice, and allows us to try things our way.  Even when God allows us to follow God's conditional will instead of God's perfect will, which is a change to our lower story, we still have to follow God.  As long as we do, everything will work out.

Saul misrepresents or distorts God.  God's upper story plan is to reveal God's self as just and holy, and get us back through God's relationship with Israel.  But people are going to get the wrong idea of God because Saul is misrepresenting God as cruel and greedy.  Once we start messing with the upper story image of God, God steps in and stops us.  God honors the lower story distortion of asking for a king, but now that it's affecting the upper story plan, God intervenes and makes a change.  The upper story WILL take place.

Application tips for this week:

1.  We are all representatives of God.  The New Testament church is the body of Christ.  We represent Christ to others.  If we are the only "Bible" some people will ever read, then we don't want to distort the image of Jesus to others.  This doesn't mean being perfect, it means not pretending we are!  Authenticity is the mark of a true representative of Christ.  Phoniness in Christians keeps people from Christ.

2.  We need to be more like Samuel who walked with God all the days of his life.  In preparation to take our story into our whole community, let's agree together that we're going to trade all phoniness for authenticity; we will not conform to the world, but be transformed by God.  We will not misrepresent Christ but portray a pure picture of him that shows acceptance, love, grace, and the offer of life that is truly life!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reflections on Chapter 10


The human capacity to self-deceive and rationalize wrong-doings is staggering.  This pattern cost Saul his kingship.  Reflect this week on any patterns in your life where you tend to rationalize those things that separate you from God (sin).  If God convicts you of an area of your life where this is happening, honestly confess and ask for God's strength to change.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sunday Recap

Yea for new members!

Sue and Denny
Chuck
Mary K. and David

Welcome to all of you - and thank you for choosing to join the family!  We're delighted at the gifts, talents, personalities, and enthusiasm each one of you brings to this community! 

Whenever someone new joins the team - it's like a ping pong ball being thrown into a pile of ping pong balls!  Nothing will stay the same!  :)  New ideas, new stories, new ways of doing things, new friendships, and new hopes are brought into the circle - and we all are affected.  I'm so pleased to welcome these individuals and the change they will bring!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thinking About Chapter 10

Some personal devotion questions as you read Chapter 10...

1.  Hannah wanted a child so badly she promised God that she would give the child over to God.  Have you ever made a bargain with God?  What thing do you want the most?

2.  What do we learn from Hannah about how to pray?

3.  How did Eli help Samuel know when he was hearing the voice of God?  How can you tell when God is speaking to you?

4.  The Ark of the Covenant was treated like a good luck charm.  Do people treat God, or symbols of God, like that today?  What is the difference between giving God the respect God deserves, and treating a symbol like a rabbit's foot?

5.  Samuel was hurt that the Israelites wanted a king, instead of remembering God was their king.  Why was this such a temptation for them?  When have you found it hard to trust God to take care of you?

6.  Why do you think it was hard for Saul to admit to Samuel when he was in the wrong?  Rate yourself from 1-10 on your ability to own up to your mistakes.

7.  God repeatedly chooses the least and the last to accomplish God's will.  What could God do through you today?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Giving An Undistorted View of God

Ever since Peter Stuyvesant visited the Palace of Versailles the world has had a distorted view of itself.


Peter was the governor of New Amsterdam—later to be renamed New York City—beginning in 1647.
He was visiting France to discuss colonial land agreements. While at Versailles he was awed by the Hall
of Mirrors.

Peter was determined to bring a similarly amazing showcase to his city. In 1651 he founded the Peter
Stuyvesant’s House of Mirrors. He charged one Dutch gulden for admission.

This house of mirrors eventually morphed into what we know as a Fun House of Mirrors seen at many
carnivals. For a few tickets the fun begins by walking into a maze of mirrors, both convex and concave.

We amuse ourselves by looking at distorted images of our figure.
Today you don’t even have to go to the carnival for this experience. A laptop with a webcam and a silly
photo feature will allow you to take a picture of yourself that you can manipulate to look odd.

It’s all fun. But sometimes distorted pictures can cause trouble. It did in Israel during the time of the
prophet Samuel. One of the major distortions was found at the Tabernacle, that portable place of praise
for God’s people.

It was parked at Shiloh and was meant to be a clear picture of God’s holiness and grace. A system of
sacrifices had been established that foreshadowed the coming sacrifice of the Messiah. Yet anything but
holiness was found there.

Eli the priest had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who dishonored God in their treatment of the sacrifices
and also engaged in immoral sexual activity with women at the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:16, 22).
Because the picture of God they were giving was distorted, these two were killed in battle against the
Philistines. When news of their death reached Eli, he fell over in his chair, broke his neck, and also died.

Just like Eli and his sons we are representatives of God. We represent Jesus to others. You may have
heard it said that you may be the only Bible those around you will ever ‘read.’ The question is, “Are you
giving a clear or distorted picture of the One True God?”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Be a Boaz

Be a Boaz.  He showed compassion to a person in need.  Think through the coming week and identify one or two acts of compassion and generosity that you can extend to a person who is hurting, marginalized, and in need.

(Psstt...  One thing you could do?  Check out the "Adopt a Family" Christmas tree set up in the entryway at church!  Purchase one gift for a family member that otherwise may not have had a gift on Christmas morning...  Give a little joy through your compassion!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We're All Outsiders

God again uses a lower story famine to work out God's upper story.

In the lower story, the decision the family makes to move out of Israel is a mistake, because it places them in the context of pagan worship.  But in the upper story, we will see that God is going to do something through this poor decision...

Everything works out for Ruth and Naomi in the lower story, but there is an upper story going on at the same time.  God is working out God's plan, not only to get Ruth and Naomi back, but to get everyone back, to provide a way. 

There will be one born who will provide the way.  The Lamb of God, the deliverer, the redeemer.  All these Old Testament stories point to that one person.  We are told he would be born out of Israel, out of Judah, in Bethlehem.  Do you see where this is going? 

Ruth and Boaz give birth to a son named Obed, who gives birth to a son named Jesse, who gives birth to a son named David, King David.  The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 says he comes from the line of David, the tribe of Judah, born in Bethlehem.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate kinsman-redeemer.  We were slaves to sin, we were outsiders, we lost our inheritance in Adam, then Jesus redeemed us with the price of his life.  Just like Ruth became the bride of Boaz, so we become the bride of Christ and we can say, "I am accepted" and "I know where I'm going."  God uses outsiders in the unfolding of God's grand plan to redeem everyone.

Not only did God go out of his way to include a Moabite woman in the lineage of Jesus, God used Boaz's mother, Rahab.  When Boaz took Ruth in, he knew what it was like to be an outsider from his lower story life as the son of a prostitute.  He also knew what it was like to be accepted, not only by the Israelites, but by the God of the Israelites.


Application for this week:

There are a lot of lonely people in our community today who feel like outsiders.  They want to feel accepted, they want to know where they're going but they are outsiders and feel like they have no hope.  God calls us to be agents of acceptance on God's behalf.

God is calling every one of us to be a Boaz to somebody.  Here are some ideas for how we can be agents of acceptance in someone's life:
* Take time to talk to a child at their level.
* Volunteer at a halfway house as a mentor.
* Volunteer in our children's or youth ministry.
* Mentor a teen.
* Go on a short-term mission trip.
* Do chores or a project for a single mom.
* Invite a single parent family over for some relaxation or even on a vacation.
* Speak encouragement to a person who is struggling.
* Invite a widow over for dinner.
* Have your family or your life group go to a nursing home and visit those who are alone and celebrate the special days in their life.
* Sit with a kid in school who is new or alone in the lunchroom.

What's the point here?  There's 2, actually...

1) Align your life to the upper story of God, even when it means surrender and sacrifice, to extend acceptance to someone in hopes that God will use you to bless them.
2)  God could have chosen anyone to use, and God chose some messed up outsiders.  Think you're not good enough to be accepted by God?  Think you're not good enough to be used by God?  Ask Ruth and Rahab and think again...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

God-Honoring

Some personal reflections on Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz...
Reflect on some of the main characters in this amazing narrative and pray for your life to reflect some of the same God-honoring  attitudes and behavior:

* Naomi:  Learn from her example of faith even in the hard times, from her care for her daughters-in-law, and from her honesty about her pain and loss.

Ruth:  Learn from her devotion to Naomi, from her commitment to work hard, and from her trust in God.

Boaz:  Learn from his compassion to a person in need, from his generosity, and from his integrity.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thank You, Veterans

Another powerful moment in worship yesterday...
Our Veterans stood, their family members stood, and any who have been affected by life with a veteran stood...  And we prayed for them.  They were blessed and thanked for their service - as well as for all the ways their lives have been changed by their experience.  They were blessed into knowing that God goes with them now, is in the memories of their time of service, is with their families in the love and thankfulness of having them home.

We prayed for all the ways their lives have been affected - the good and the bad.  And we thanked them for all they have done to ensure our freedoms and life as we know it.

Thank you, Veterans.  You are a blessing to all - and you don't get thanked often enough.  We treasure you, bless you, and honor you - today and everyday.  May you know God's blessing in each breath you take.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thinking About Chapter 9

Some reflection questions for the chapter...

1.  How would you describe the relationship between Naomi and her daughter-in-law?  Is there anything you can apply to your relationship with your in-laws or future in-laws?

2.  Ruth and Boaz provided for Naomi.  In what tangible ways can you provide for the less fortunate both in your family and in your community?

3.  Boaz praised Ruth saying, "May the Lord repay you for what you have done [for Naomi].  May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge," (p 101).  How did God answer Boaz' prayer for Ruth?  How does an "others-centered" life create blessings for the giver?

4.  As you reflect on times of need in your life, when have you experienced divine providence and unexpected provision?

5.  Character is revealed by what we do, what we say, and often by what others say about us.  How does Boaz serve as an example of a godly man or Ruth as a godly women for you?

6.  The theme of redemption is found throughout this story.  Compare Boaz' redemption of Ruth and Naomi to how Christ has redeemed you.

7.  Faithful Boaz and Ruth were great-grandparents to King David and therefore they were also in line of Messiah Jesus.  Who in your family tree has been a godly example to you?  Who in your church family stands as an example of godliness?

Friday, November 11, 2011

You Don't Have To Wait To Be Accepted

Anyone with college-aged kids knows the inundating routine that is college applications. Visit
campuses. Choose a few schools to focus on. Make applications. Fill out forms. Write essays.

For anyone who hasn’t “been there, done that,” the filing of the application and financial aid forms is
nothing compared to the waiting. It’s like the first time you look at your girlfriend or boyfriend and say,
‘I love you.” You’ve made the first move. And then you wait. You wait to see if they respond in turn.

For the college applicant, the end of the waiting is signaled with a letter in the mailbox – hopefully
saying “You have been accepted.”

We all have a desire to be accepted, don’t we? In fact, that desire made it into Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs. He theorized that acceptance is basic to our nature and to our psychological health.

Ruth had the same need as we do. She was a Moabite living in Bethlehem who we meet in The Story.
She ended up there with her mother-in-law Naomi when her husband died. And she found herself picking
up the leftovers after the harvest in a field owned by Boaz.

Boaz discovered she was an outsider—a Moabite—the same people who would oppress his nation for
eighteen years. You’d expect fireworks when they met. Instead, Boaz tells Ruth, “May you be richly
rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

His acceptance of Ruth goes a step further. Ruth finds him asleep on the threshing floor and lies down at
his feet. When he awakens, Ruth asks him to “spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a
family guardian.” The word for “garment” is the same Hebrew word for “wings” in the blessing Boaz had
pronounced over Ruth. God’s acceptance came to Ruth through Boaz.

Your acceptance did too. You see, Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of
David. In Matthew’s genealogy the lineage of Jesus is traced through David. Boaz is there too along with
his mother Rahab (Matt. 1:5). Yes, that Rahab. The prostitute that lived in Canaan and sheltered the
two spies Joshua sent into the land.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Actions in Song

Read and meditate on Moses' song found in Deuteronomy 32.  Let the message of this song move deep into your soul.  You might even want to write it down and put it somewhere you will see it on a regular basis.  If you are musical, you might want to set it to music.  Let the message of this short song remind you of God's goodness and our human temptation to fall back into the same sins over and over.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Few Good Men and Women - Recap

In the upper story, the surrounding nations are now watching with their eyes wide open how God deals graciously and justly with the nations of Israel.  They see how God disciplines them according to God's law, and how God intervenes and takes them back when they cry out for help.  This reveals the character of God and sends a loud message:  who would NOT want to be in a relationship with a gracious God like this?

Application:

Take some time this week to reconnect with the gracious God who walks beside you everyday.  What is standing in your way?

Also, try to establish a way to bring God to the forefront of your home.  How do you share your faith with your family as a way of nurturing the others in their faith walks as well?

Pray.  Ask God for guidance and wisdom as you seek to reconnect in powerful ways!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Struggle Reflections

Are there any patterns of rebellion and struggle in your life?  What does your personal life pattern look like when it comes to sin and wandering from God?  What is one step you can take to begin to break that pattern?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunday Recap

What a beautiful Sunday!

Together, as one united congregation, we took a moment to remember the saints who have gone before us.  During the sacrement of Communion, people took turns lighting candles on the altar...  Remembering loved ones they have lost, or lighting a candle in honor of someone struggling now.

65 candles were lit.  And it was stunningly beautiful.

So much love and celebration of life.  So much remembering and sharing stories.  Passing on the memories of lives well lived.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thinking About Chapter 8

Some reflection questions as you read Chapter 8:

1.  God used Israel's enemies to turn them back to God.  Have you ever had a painful or dangerous experience that led you back to God?

2.  Deborah's military leader was named Barak, which means "lightening" or 'flashing sword."  Did he live up to his name?  Describe a time when fear held you back from living up to the name "Christian."

3.  In the evil days after Joshua, "every man did what was right in his eyes."  In a pluralistic society, why is it dangerous when everyone gets to pick their own definition of right and wrong?

4.  What are some characteristics of Deborah that make her a good role model for young women?

5.  The angel of the Lord greeted Gideon as a mighty warrior though he was from the weakest clan and of the least in his family (p 89).  Do you tend to define yourself by your weaknesses or by the potential God sees in you because God is with you?

6.  Samson's strength did not make us for his moral weaknesses.  When has a strength of yours been insufficient to overcome your conditions?

7.  In examining Samson's marriages, what takeaways would strengthen yours?

8.  Think of some of the prayers in this chapter, such as Gideon's or Samson's.  What does this teach us about prayer?

Friday, November 4, 2011

When Your Mistakes Land You In Front Of A Judge

Have you ever had to own up for something you did wrong? Maybe you remember sneaking out to see an
R-rated movie and then confessing the truth to your seething parents after you crept in the house past
curfew. Or maybe, more recently, you lied to your boss and had to face the consequences once you were
found out.

We have all had to come face-to-face with an authority and own up to what we’ve done wrong. Palms
sweat, stomach twists and turns. It can feel like you’re going before the judge in a court martial.

Judges elicit a sense of fear, don’t they? They never call you in for something you have done right.
We think of them as someone who harshly tells us what we did wrong. And they seem to be everywhere
these days on television. There’s Judge Judy and Hatchett. Mathis and Christina. Judge Brown.

Then there are some judges you may not know. They even have a book in the Bible with their name on
it. Judges. These judges appeared on the scene to help sort out right and wrong. They also helped people
get out of trouble.

God’s people kept putting themselves into a never ending cycle of disobedience, discipline, declaration
of wrong, and deliverance. Judges like Deborah and Gideon and Samson helped them find their way back
to God.

What did the people do that was so bad they needed judges? Two things. First, they failed to put God first
in their lives (Judges 1:28). And secondly, they did not teach their children to know God (Judges 2:10).
These two “sins” led to their downfall and ruin.

Are you making the same mistakes they made? If so, you have a judge that can help you––Jesus.

The good news is that when he “calls” you into his office after you’ve messed up, you will look up to see
your judge’s face and see your savior there.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Battle Actions

In the course of talking about Chapter 7 of The Story, God might have brought to your attention an area of your life where you have given in and stopped swimming against the current of our world.  It is not that you don't care, but you are being swept downstream in the wrong direction.  If you felt such a conviction, make a commitment to take specific steps to follow God's will, resist temptation, and begin your battle against this particular area of sin or apathy.  Find a friend who will pray for you and keep you accountable to keep up the good fight.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Battle Begins - Chapter 7 Recap

Why, in the upper story, is God giving the Israelites the land of Canaan?

1.  God is not so much giving it to Israel as God is taking it away from the Amorites because of their wickedness (Genesis 15:16).  The conquest of Israel may seem unfair and brutal, but it reflects the justice and righteousness of God who steps in and removes detestable wickedness.

2.  God wants to establish God's name, in order to give the Israelites an identity in an identifiable land, and to make God's self known to the surrounding nations.

Application for this week?

God wants to make God's name known in our community, which God does through God's relationship with us, God's church.  God is inviting us to be strong and courageous as we face this giant vision!

Right now, St. Paul's UMC is living out the vision of a unified community, a community seeking to be in the Book together, a community seeking to pray together, and reflect God's glory to the world - Together.  How are you living this out in your personal life - and are you sharing it with your family, friends, neighbors?

Be strong and be courageous!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Joshua Reflections

Joshua teaches us three ways to prepare for battle:  Be people of the Word.  Pray.  Reflect God's Glory. 
Take a moment to think about how these steps are lived out in your daily life...

How can I go deeper into God's Word and follow it with great passion in my daily life?

What steps can I take to make more space for conversation with God in my normal day, especially when I am facing battles?

When people look at me, in a normal day, do they see that I am a follower of Jesus?  What can I do to live and think in ways that will identify me more closely with the Savior?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sermon Notes

The Battle Begins:  Joshua 1:1-9
Reflections by Megan Adams

Wow! We’ve covered a lot of territory in the last seven weeks! And now, after 40 years with Moses leading the (grumbling) people through the wilderness, his time has grown short. We see him pick the man he thinks can lead his people. He picks the man with great faith and trust in the Lord. He picks the man that knows God will be with them when they need to overcome the cities that are in their way. He picks the man that has shown strength and courage in the past – and is still standing with him.

He picks Joshua. Moses introduces Joshua as the new leader and says to Joshua, in front of all the people of Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” And then, Moses finally climbs the mountain to get a glimpse of the promise land… Only to find out, that because of the few times he lost trust in God – he will not get to actually enter the promise land. And here, he dies.

Now Joshua is left alone to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land. He’s to take Moses’ place. Can you imagine?! The last paragraph of last week’s chapter said, “Since then, no prophet in Israel has risen like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

Those are some big shoes to fill! Can you imagine being Joshua? I don’t know about you, but I would be trembling in my boots! (But remember the words of Moses… Be strong and be courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not despair… We’ll hear those again somewhere…)

Have you ever faced straight on an overwhelming challenge that just about scared you to death? If so, did you confront or retreat? This week, in “The Story” we find Israel facing an overwhelming challenge… After 600 years of waiting for God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation – it’s finally happened! And the people of Israel are ready to advance into the Promised Land. But there is one problem. And it’s a BIG problem. Literally! There are wicked people already living in the land and among those people are some literal giants.

The children of Israel are under a new leader, Joshua, and are back to the spot they camped 40 years earlier – before they made a colossal wrong turn. Do you remember? 40 years earlier, they had been at this same spot – able to see the Promised Land, Canaan. A group of spies had been sent to check things out – and while the land was flowing with milk and honey, as promised… There were giants in the land. The other spies said, “I don’t think so!” While Joshua and Caleb tried to convince the Israelites that with God on their side, they would have no problem up against the giants! But alas… The Israelites couldn’t be convinced. And God, dismayed at their lack of trust AGAIN, let them wander another 40 years in the desert – until all of the untrusting, grumbling generation died off.

And now? God tells Joshua and the people of Israel that it’s finally time for this generation to take the land. Take Canaan. And in this speech, Joshua is told 3 times to “be strong and courageous.” Because now is the time for courage!

Here’s where we start today: Joshua 1:1-9
“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aid, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and be very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’”

So now Joshua is getting his marching orders directly from God. God gives Joshua a ludicrous plan – by our standards. After 40 years of wandering, God tells Joshua to: Cross the raging Jordan River with a million people. Once that’s done, set up camp and circumsize all the adult men. Once they’re feeling a little better, have them take the city of Jericho. But don’t do it with violence – just walk around the outside walls for several days, until you’re given the signal. Then? Make as much noise as you can! The city will be yours.

Joshua has to sell this plan to the people. Be strong and be courageous.

None of this makes sense if we look at it through the lens of the “lower story.” Remember – the lower story is the actual events that are taking place… Joshua’s life is part of the lower story. Taking an entire city by whooping and hollering is part of the lower story…

But what about the “Upper Story”? That part that is “God’s Story”? What is this teaching us about God’s nature? One of my favorite quotes in studying this chapter this week, was “In the lower story, the giants are bigger than the Israelites. In the upper story? God is bigger than the giants!”

We are learning, through the story of Joshua, that God is with us when we trust, believe, have faith – when we listen for God. Following God is full of ongoing battles – everyday. And unfortunately, this will always be part of our story… Our culture is one that is constantly pushing back against the values that God tells us to hold dear.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul – not easy in a world that emphasizes so many other things that control our destinies… Money. Success. Power.  Love your neighbor as yourself. Really? In a world where I come first? My needs, wants, desires, comfort? My neighbor can take care of themselves – right? I don’t have time for that…

The thing is, in our culture, following God first can be like a salmon swimming upstream – we can fight to survive and keep going, or we can give up and go with the flow… and eventually die. When we lose trust in God, when we lose faith , when we allow fear to control our choices… We don’t live in the light of God’s love. We forget what it is to shine and reflect God’s glory. We drown in grief and uncertainty. Life becomes something we wander through (much like the Israelites in the desert), without hope.

But this is not what God created us for! God is with us – in the darkest moments. The moments when we are most fearful and unsure of the future. God is there to guide us – we just need to do our part to be ready.  We need to be strong and courageous in our lower story lives! We need to know that God gives us the ability to be strong – when we lean on God.

The book of Joshua goes on to tell us how Joshua lived in obedience to God – how he was able to lead his people through battle after battle, winning city after city, by listening to God’s guidance and following God’s plan… The book gives us three ways to follow more closely in our lives, too. 1) Be people of the Book. 2) Pray. 3) Reflect God’s glory.

First: We need to be people of the Book! The Book, meaning The Bible. We’re coming together, reading The Story together to remember what it means to be people of the Book. We’re learning, talking, discussing, asking questions, sharing thoughts and ideas around these stories together – continuing to learn about God and God’s relationship to us.

A couple of weeks ago, we were reminded that the Book includes the Ten Commandments. We were reminded that these aren’t there to punish us or to take the fun out of life – but to be guidelines for a full and wondrous life with God and our neighbors. The Bible is there for us always – to read and memorize, to grow familiar with God’s relationship with us – so that, in times of fear and challenge, we are ready to continue to follow God’s guidelines for community. We are reminded, through scripture, how to live with grace and dignity – with one another and with God.

It’s easy when times get tough, when life is uncomfortable, when we don’t know where to turn next – to forget what it is that gives us life. But when we can remember how God came searching for Adam and Eve in the Garden – even after they messed up… how God gave Abraham and Sarah a baby even after they had given up… how Isaac was rescued from death when God provided another sacrifice… how Joseph’s life of grief and pain kept being redeemed again and again, and things that were intended for evil were always turned into good… how Moses became God’s most trusted man to lead God’s people out of harm, despite his insecurities… When we can remember and point to the stories where people (people like you and me) were hurting, scared, unsure, we can be assured that God was with them in those moments – and God is with me in my dark moments, too.

God told Joshua to “be strong and be courageous” 3 times. Oh, and by the way, “Do not be afraid!” We’ve heard that before, right? The phrase “do not be afraid” appears in the Bible more than 100 times! (You could say that’s a major Upper Story theme!) The thing is: God will not have his community characterized by fear – despite the fact that we will face many fearsome moments in our lives.

How do these fears affect the way we lead our lives? Are we afraid to try new things? Meet new people? Trust others? Are we scared to share our thoughts and feelings? Do we keep our money and time to ourselves – for fear there’s not enough to go around?

God promises us, “I will be with you.” And in these moments of fear, we are called to live distinct, wholesome lives that stand out from the norms of our culture. We are called to face the giants in our lives and reflect our trust in God. We are called to choose life over fear. To choose people over fear. To choose love over fear.

What overwhelming obstacles are present in your life today? What fears are holding you back? Where is it that things seem hopeless? What giants are presenting challenges? What would it take for you to be strong and be courageous in these places? How could God’s words “Do not be afraid” be allowed to sink in?

Be strong and be courageous. Be people of the Word. Pray. Reflect God’s glory through the life you lead. Do not let God’s community be characterized by fear – but stand together. Trust God. Trust each other. Lean on one another. Be a community that can tear down walls – by standing together with voices that spread hope.

Jericho was only one of many battles for Joshua. And in the end, he won them all – and Israelites were finally home. His trust in God, obedience to all God called him to do, his strength and courage in following through – against all kinds of obstacles – made Joshua the hero he’s still known as today.

For Joshua, living out his trust in God was what “stuck” for him. He knew the Book, he spoke to God, and he let his life reflect the glory of God. What is it about your faith that “sticks” with you? What is it about your relationship with God that you could not live without?

Before Moses died, he stood in front of the people – men, women, and children, and read the Book of the Law so all could hear it and know it – so they would have it written on their hearts again. Before Joshua died, he did the same.

On one hand, they were reminding the people of something they already knew. On the other, they were challenging the people to take their knowledge out of their heads and instill it in their hearts, their souls, wherever it would land… Let the words of faith take on a life of their own.

Reminders of how to love God and love neighbor are a daily part of our faith journey – and by living by these words, we find the ability to journey through life with strength and courage.

Today, as you ponder the life of Joshua… May you discover what it is about your own relationship with God that you cannot live without… And then, may you find the strength and courage to be that in this life.  Amen.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thinking About Chapter 7

Personal devotion questions to connect chapter 7 to your own faith journey...

1.  What can we learn about godly leadership and succession planning as we watch the batonn passed from Moses to Joshua?

2.  We often draw black and white lines when we disagree with others.  Read Joshua 5:13-14.  How do people today co-opt Jesus to ensure He's on "their side"?

3.  God gave Joshua assurances to face the coming battles, but Joshua still had to act in faith.  What battles are you currently facing?  How can God's presence and promises change the way you cope with them?

4.  Do you suppose God viewed Rahab as a woman of sin or a woman of faith?  Who in your life needs to be viewed through "grace-colored" glasses?

5.  How does the destruction of peoples and cities in the Promised Land square with God's Upper Story of redemption?

6.  Observe the battle between Israel-Gibeon and the five kings of the Amorites (p 78-80).  What human factors and what divine factors led to victory?  What parallels can be drawn between this battle and your own spiritual battles today?

7.  Joshua is known for the statement, "As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."  What habits and attitudes have you seen in other families that are good examples of leading a household in serving the Lord?  How can you emulate them?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Face Your Battle With Strength and Courage

When someone keeps telling you to “be strong and courageous,” you might suspect you are up against
something big. And the Israelites were.

About to enter the land that had been promised them 600 years before, they had a giant-sized task awaiting
them. Literally. Forty years earlier ten spies had come back and told the Israelites that the inhabitants
of the land were so big they felt like they were the size of a grasshopper in comparison. Fear took them
captive without a battle and sent them off as a group to wander around in a wilderness where they took
their chances against wild animals rather than face their giants.

They wandered so long that those who had grasshopper-sized faith died out. Forty years later their
children were ready to take the land. They were physically no taller than their parents had been. The
enemies in the land were no smaller than before. But the Israelites’ faith muscles had grown.

There were two spies who had reported the land was theirs for the taking. One of them, Joshua, is now
the Israelites’ leader. He was courageous. And God wanted to keep him that way. So God tells him three
times in the first nine verses of the first chapter of Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” He also reminds
him “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

My guess is you have a few giants in your life too. Some uphill battles that appear insurmountable. A task
demanding more than you think you have to give. One too many things on your “to do” list than you
have the time or energy to do. Unemployment is staring you down. Depression has a grip on you. Bills
have raided your bank account and left it empty. An illness hovers in your life like a threatening storm.

You’d rather just run and wander.

Instead, be strong and courageous. You have a Joshua that will lead the way. The New Testament equivalent
of the name “Joshua” is “Jesus.” And he has promised to be with you always (Matthew 28:20).
Jesus knows how to lead you through battles. He had a few of his own while he was on this earth. Enemies
attacking him with accusations (Mark 3:22). No home and no bed (Luke 9:58). Crowds and expectations
pressing in on him (Luke 8:45). The religious establishment eventually insuring he was sentenced
to a brutal death. (Mark 15:14).

Yet he took on the most barbaric giant there is, death, and lived to tell about it. He can help you do the
same. You need only be strong and courageous in your faith.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Actions in Wisdom

One of the best things we can do is listen to people of wisdom and faith.  In chapter 6 of The Story, Joshua and Caleb came back from their exploration of the land and gave wise counsel.  Unfortunately, the people did not listen to them.  Find one or two wise men or women of faith that know you well and ask for their insight and perspective on your life.  Share how you are seeking to follow God and where you feel you are wandering off course.  Invite their wisdom and prayerfully listen to them.  Consider asking if they will meet with you on a regular basis to be a sounding board as you seek to walk with Jesus.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wandering - Chapter 6 Recap

God's GPS is instructing us on how to live life in the upper story where we find blessing and purpose.  God has the whole journey mapped out, from beginning to end, and God knows the best way to get us to our destination.  God is with us every step of the way, whether we're aware of it or not.  When food and water were withheld from the Israelites, it was because God was testing them to see if they would trust God.  If they trusted God in the wilderness, they would trust God in the final destination.  Their wilderness experience was to be an indicator, a sign to the watching nations about how life works when you put trust in God, who desires to be in relationship with us.  In order for God's grand scheme to work out, God's plan to get all the nations back, the children of Israel were going to have to trust God.

Application for this week:

The Christian life is like a road trip.  God wants to lead us every step of the way from God's GPS.  God sees the whole picture from beginning to end and God wants us to make it to the final destination and enjoy the journey, but we must trust God.  When God says go left, we should go...  Left!  When God says go right, we should go...  Right!  When God calls for us to stop, we should...  Stop! (Dead in our tracks.)  When God tells us to go faster we should put the pedal to the metal.  When God tells us to break down the barrier in front of us, no matter how big and bad it looks, we need to charge ahead in faith.

There are others in the car with us, who are affected by our decisions.  They will experience the blessings of our good decisions and the pain of our destructive decisions.  What choices are you making today?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wandering Reflections


Reflect on any way your life has gotten off course.  Ask God to help you recalculate and get back on the right path.  Confess where you have been stubborn and rebellious, and think deeply of the grace you have received in Jesus.  Then, identify the ways you need to change your actions, attitudes, and motives to bring them in line with God's will for you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thinking About Chapter 6

Some personal devotion questions to further your journey...

1.  Israel's complaining is a reminder of how easy it is to become ungrateful.  List five things you are grateful for.  How does gratitude change your perspective?

2.  God punishes Miriam and Aaron for slandering Moses.  Have you ever had to deal with lies spoken against you?  How did you handle it?

3.  If you had been the 12 spies, how would you have described the Promised Land?

4.  How many examples of answered prayer can you find in this chapter?  Which most encourages you and why?

5.  Moses charged Israel to keep God's commandments and diligently teach them to their children.  How can you, whether as a parent, or a member of your church community, pass on god's commandments to the next generation?

6.  When he passed on the mantle of leadership, Moses told Joshua to be strong and courageous.  Is a lack of courage keeping you from becoming a leader?

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Decisions You Make Affect Those Traveling With You


Every parent has been there. The trip ahead is long. The travel schedule is tight. You hit the road with
a full tank, confident the plan you have crafted beats anything AAA could muster. But twenty minutes
down the highway you hear a small, squeaky voice from the backseat. The artillery begins to bombard
you. The questions.

Some you expected. Are we there yet? How much longer? Can we get something to eat?

The next barrage is unexpected. Who was the first person to decide to squeeze those things on a cow and drink whatever came out? Why does our dog get mad at us when we blow in his face but when we take him on a car ride he sticks his head out the window?

Every parent has been there. Questions from the backseat. You come to expect them. Every journey to a
destination includes them. The same is true for the journey of faith.

Just like kids on a trip we get tired of the journey. We want to know when we can stop. We get tired of
serving. We get tired of waiting. We get tired of the people we’re traveling with.

And we grumble. The Israelites did. They complained about the food, about the place they were traveling,
and about their ‘driver’ Moses.

Grumbling does not set well with God. In fact, our grumbling can lead to our wandering. When offered
the chance to leave Kadesh and enter the Promised Land, the Israelites listened to the fear-filled report
from ten spies instead of the faith-full report of Joshua and Caleb.

Kadesh means “Spring of Decision” and it was time for one. They were in the right place to make the
right decision. But the majority made the wrong one. The people wished they had died in the desert. So
God told them they would get their wish. They would wander until the unbelieving generation
died out.

And they did. They wandered in the Wilderness for forty years. And their children were impacted by
their decisions.

The decisions you make affect those around you, just like the decisions the Israelites made at Kadesh.
You can decide to grumble or be thankful. You can decide to turn away from God or turn toward God.
You can decide to wander without purpose through life or follow God’s vision for your life.
Just don’t forget that those in the backseat will be affected by your decisions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Commands and a New Covenant - Chapter 5 Recap

A little humor?  A little girl had been naughty and was sentenced to time in the corner.  As she endured her time-out, her mom called to her, "Sally, are you still sitting down?"  Sally called out, "I may be sitting down on the outside - but I'm standing up on the inside!"

During our journey through "The Story," instead of getting lost in the details of the lower story, we're rising up to the 30,000 foot level and connecting the pieces of the upper story in order to see what God is up to.  Chapter 5 will surprise you when you see what it is going to do for us in God's grand plan to get us back.

In Chapter 5, God wants to come down and dwell with Israel.  This is the big idea, the big vision of the whole story of God.  The trinity of God wants to extend their community to include people.  God wants to come down and do life with us.  That was the original vision of Genesis 1, and this is what God is desperately wanting to do, in page after page in scripture, chapter after chapter of The Story, God wants to get us back.

In Chapter 1, sin changed everything; it ruined God's vision and seperated us from God, and really, from each other.  In Chapters 2, 3, and 4, God interacted with people, but in Chapter 5 God is determined to come back down and dwell with the people.  But in order for this to happen, three things have to take place:

1.  The people must follow the guidelines on how to treat each other and God (10 Commandments)
2.  God needs a place to stay (the Tabernacle)
3.  Sin must be atoned for (through sacrifices)
What's the application for us today?

1.  We must atone for our sins...  Jesus' blood has already been sacrificed for us.
2.  Instead of a tabernacle, we get to be the place that God can dwell.
3.  In order for God to come into our lives, there have to be guidelines on how we treat each other.  But trying to obey the 10 Commandments without first accepting Jesus' sacrifice, and God's place in our hearts, is no better than the little girl that was "sitting down on the outside and standing up on the inside."  In order to outwardly conform to God's laws - we need to be inwardly transformed by God's presence in us!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thinking About Chapter 5

Some personal devotion questions to start you thinking about how your story fits into God' s story...

1. Moses said, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." Describe what it means to "fear God." How does your life show that you fear God?

2. Moses was an intermediary between God and Israel. Has there been someone in your life who prayed for you, helped you see God's will, or acted as a spiritual mentor? Would that type of relationship be a blessing to you today?

3. God continued to use Aaron, even after the Golden Calf debacle. Have you ever felt like your sin disqualified you for service to God? How does Aaron's story encourage you?

4. Moses prayed to God on Israel's behalf. Who in your life needs you to intercede for them? Make a list. Offer a prayer for them.

5. Could you be described like God: compassionate, slow to anger, gracious, abounding in loving kindness? Which of these traits best describes you? Which are most difficult?

6. God reminded Moses that children live with the consequences of their parents' sins. Identify a sin or unhealthy tendency in your own family line that still affects you. What measures can you employ to stop the cycle?

7. Moses' face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. What evidence for your relatonship with the Lord would others say they see in you?

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Home God Wants For His Presence

It was perhaps the greatest opportunity ever. God tells Moses that he wants to come to his people and dwell right in the middle of their camp. Not on the outskirts. Not in the 'burbs. But right in the middle of where they were living.

You might wonder, "what preparations would a people need to make for God to live in their midst?" Would it be like getting ready for weekend guests or someone special coming to dinner? You feel compelled to make sure your home looks as good as possible. You want to make a good impression and you want your guest to feel welcome.

God anticipated the question and told Moses what needed to be in place for God's coming. First, God wanted to be close to them but there was the problem of sin that created a breach between them. So God provided Moses with instructions about the practice of sacrificing, offering a covering for the people's indiscretions before a Holy God. Sin is serious stuff, not to be taken lightly, and the sacrifice of unblemished animals was necessary to give the people a picture of sin.

Second, God wanted to stay close to them. Moses was given the blueprints for the building of the Tabernacle. It's a big word for "tent." A portable place of worship. Kind of a mobile Motel 6. And God wanted to camp out right in the middle of where they were camping. God wanted to be close to God's people.
But God also wanted them to be close to each other. So God declared a third thing to get ready. God gave them Ten Commandments concerning relationships. The first four commandments focus on how we are to demonstrate our love to God. The second set of six have to do with how to show love to other people. In seeing these relationships of love it was God's desire that people would come to know God too.

Jesus said the same in John 13:34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another... By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

God gave the Israelites guidelines so that, when they sought to live by them, other nations would see them as different and know they were God's people. God gave us Jesus so that, when we live like him, others will know that we are God's people.

For those who know God, God took care of our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus. God tabernacles in the hearts of those who have drawn near to God. Could it be then that the degree to which we are obedient to God in this command to love each other is the degree of God's presence we will find among us? It could be our greatest opportunity ever!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taking Action

Part of faith is taking action. If you feel prompted by God to sing in the church choir or play an instrument on the worship team, open your schedule and start practicing!

If you feel God calling you to the mission field, surrender and commit to follow. In addition, contact some mission organizations, talk to the missions leader in your church, go on a short-term mission trip, or take some other kind of action that will help you prepare.

You get the point. Surrender to the leading of the Lord, but also take action. God will do God's part, but we need to do our part. God called Moses, but Moses had to head back to Egypt and stand before Pharaoh.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Deliverance - Chapter 4 Recap

A little humor for your week: Moses says, "Let my people go," and Pharoah says, "No way, Mosay," and Moses says, "Yah way!"

(Get it? "Yahweh"?! Ha ha ha.)


The Story tells us that God hardens the heart of Pharaoh. Why would God do that? God is using Pharaoh's disobedience to accomplish God's overall plan. God looks into the heart of Pharaoh and says, "Pharaoh has determined in his heart a direction in his life. He will not follow my upper story. Now, I'm going to use his disobedience to finish my overall plan." And God used his stubbornness to unleash not just one plague but ten, so that over and over again God has an opportunity to display God's undeniable power. The tenth plague not only reveals God's power but it reveals God's plan for the shedding of blood to deliver us from sin and restore God's relationship with us.

John 1:29 says, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

1 Corinthians 5:7 says, "For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed."

God was giving us one of the biggest clues so far of God's master plan to get us back and to remove the sin nature. Jesus is the lamb, without defect. It is his blood that was poured out on the cross that becomes the blood we need to apply to the doorframe of our soul.

Application: Is there someone in your life that could use the grace of God in their life? Pray for them - often. Ask God if there is a way for you to share the love of God with them... Ask God for the courage and strength to be bold in your faith!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Could NEVER!

We all have our "I could never" and "I hope God never asks me to..." moments. Where are the places you tend to resist God's call? What things are you sure you could never do? As you honestly reflect on these questions, place them before the Lord, one by one. Admit your fear and resistance. Ask for new boldness and courage to follow God, even when you feel that you have nothing to offer or that your past disqualifies you. Commit to follow God, as best you can, no matter what God calls you to do.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Wowsers!

164 in worship this Sunday!

Jill did a great job on the children's chat - reminding us of the difference between "wants" and "needs". (When you're really hungry.... Do you crave pizza? Ice cream? Cookies?) But God knows what we need - and God always provides. Just as God did with the Israelites.

And the choir was Fabulous with "Go Down Moses"! Wow!

We continue to be honored and amazed at all the new faces gracing us with your presence week after week. It's simply wonderful to watch this faith family grow - with smiles, laughter, and growth in the Spirit!

Praise God!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Deliverance

Deliverance - Exodus 14:13-20
Reflections by Pastor Penny

Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his challenging twelve sons – featuring fancy-coated Joseph,
who declares about the difficulties in his life: “God intended it for good.”  This week we are in
Chapter 4 of The Story, with the focus on escape from slavery for the People of God.
 
Deliverance seems like a rather churchy kind of word – perhaps The Great Escape would be a better way to describe the excitement and drama of this section of our history.  Remember?  This is our story as well as God’s story.  Picture yourself in Egypt:  desert, cruel tasks for you as a slave, years of your personal history haunted by old memories of lost freedom, and God’s promises – perhaps forgotten?
 
As always, there is a multitude of ways to focus and turn in this section of the Bible.  I’m interested in the echoes of ‘hard hearts.’  I have a favorite heart-shaped rock, pulled from Lake Superior many years ago.  Hearts certainly take all kinds of shapes.

​The hearts in this week’s section of The Story start with heard-hearted Pharaoh.  
We are told that now a new Pharaoh is in charge, who did not know Joseph.  He fears Joseph’s
later generations because they’ve multiplied so.  Solution to the problem:  have the boy babies
killed.  But God is protecting and bringing hope.  Moses is born, and his mother and sister
manage to hide and protect him.  He grows up educated and pampered in the royal household.  
 
Fast forward to the burning bush, when Moses is called by God to go lead the Israelites
out of slavery.  Through the 10 plagues, the amazing Passover experience and frantic escape
from what had been home.  Finally, the People of God stand at the edge of the sea.  It looks
hopeless.  Water ahead (I’m guessing no live guards among them), Egyptian army behind –
ready to kill.  And Moses tells the people:  "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance
that the Lord will accomplish for you today…”  Exodus 14:13. And that’s just what happened.

So what?  This same promise is for us!  God is the same throughout the Bible.  We do
not have one God in the Old Testament, cruel and harsh, and a different one in the New
Testament, forgiving and loving.  The church tells us that we have one God, whose character
remains the same.  This God offers grace and radical forgiving love to those into whom God
breathed life.  That’s Me, You, US!

How is my heart being shaped?  Where and how do I open my life up to God, who
waits to offer me grace, hope, and a path through – or to walk with me through the dark valley.  
As always, it’s our possibility of choosing the path we take that can make a world of difference
in how our hearts are shaped.  When the Bible says “Do not be afraid, God will fight for you,”
that’s what it means.  Calm down.  Look up.  Stand still.  Pray. Worship. Sing.
 
​We choose!  God is always waiting…
 
​If you haven’t read this chapter yet, forge ahead for the next week:  The Story, Chapter 5,
“New Commands and A New Covenant”, p. 59 OR order a CD of the whole Story.  I’ve been
listening to it, and I love it!  (The audiobook can be found on amazon.com!)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chapter 4: When You Are Walled In


There's a wall in front of you. Behind you is a past you are running from. Beyond the wall awaits the promise of a new life. But you're not moving because there is this "wall". You feel trapped. No way out. This is just the sort of situation in which God does some of God's finest work.

You need only ask the Israelites. Behind them was a life of back-breaking work and slavery. Ahead of them was a life in the land of Promise. Behind them was the fierce army of a fanatical Pharoah coming towards them. Ahead of them was a wall. Their obstruction was made of water.

Your "wall" may be a fear of failure. Or maybe it's a lack of confidence that has grinded your progress to a halt. Or it could be merely too many problems that have piled up in front of you at the same time. And you have no clue which to tackle first.

So you stopped. And you aren't sure if there is a way over, around, or under this imposing impediment.

At this point many people panic. Anxiety coarses its way through the body, atrophies the movement muscles, and rigor mortis overtakes their resolve. Eyes which once had clear focus now only focus on the wall just inches away.

But some look elsewhere. The Israelites looked to Moses. They began belting him with blame. Have you done the same? Blame the boss. Blame a co-worker. Blame your dog. Blame God. Maybe even blame yourself? Blame all you want - but the wall still remains.

While the Israelites were body punching Moses, he opted to look elsewhere. His options? He could have looked at the enemy's army. He could have looked at the ungrateful people he led. He could have looked at the wall of water spread out before him, sat down, and given up.

Instead he looked to God. And God opened an unlikely route through the wall of water. Safely on the other side, the very wall that had halted their steps closed in on and covered the sources of their fears.

The very name of the book where we find this story serves as a reminder when we face our "walls". "Exodus" is a compound Greek word meaning "the way out". And in case you might have missed it, the way out was not a better job, a different spouse, or a victim mentality.

No, the way out is God. Next time you find yourself up against a wall try looking to God.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Forgiveness: It's Never Easy


Forgiveness is one of life's hardest actions. When someone has really hurt us, it is extremely difficult to forgive. During the next week read Genesis 50:15-21, Matthew 6:9-15, and Matthew 18:21-35. Pray for the courage and strength you need to forgive those who have wronged you. Meditate on Romans 5:8 and ask God to help you understand the depth of God's grace so that you can extend that grace to others.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recap of Chapter Three

Joseph was able to forgive his brothers because he saw that God was up to something; he had captured the Upper Story, God's bigger plan. What the brothers did was wrong, but God used their sin and jealousy to accomplish God's overall purpose, God's Upper Story.

The famine would have killed the little fledgling nation of Israel naturally, but supernaturally God made a provision for their salvation by putting Joseph in the right place at the right time.

Why didn't God just thwart the famine? It wasn't time yet for the nation of Israel to take ownership of the land of Canaan. And, they needed to be prevented from intermarrying with Canaanites, so their move to Egypt got them away from the Canaanites and living amongest the Egyptians who thought it was an abomination to marry shepherds. In Egypt they were given the incredibly fertile land of Goshen where they thrived.

Joseph had 22 years of a difficult life, but 71 years of a blessed life. He saw the Upper Story and it made his life in the Lower Story richer. It made all the junk that happened to him in the Lower Story survivable.

Application for this week:
The trials we go through test us and cause us to trust God and see God's power in desperate situations, and equip us for the very thing God wants us to do that we're not yet equipped to do, so that others will not see us, but God.

Huge consequences come to us when we do things in the Lower Story to hurt other people, even though God often uses our sinfulness to accomplish God's overall will.

For those whose life isn't turning out like you had envisioned it, you need the perspective of Romans 8:28:

"That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good."

Try thinking on this scripture this week... Do you trust God with all the details of your life? Do you look at how you can align yourself with God's will and prompts in your life - what small changes can you make to follow a little closer to God on a daily basis?

For me, just starting to read or study God's word everyday has helped immensely! What is helping you?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reflections on Tough Times


Reflect back on your life. Where has God been at work shaping and forming you... Even in the hard times? Are there lessons God was seeking to teach you that you might have missed? Ask for eyes to see them and a heart to receive and learn. Are you facing something tough right now? If God wants you to use this experience to grow you, ask for the courage to embrace it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What a Joy!

A great Sunday indeed!

The kids sang! They did a wonderful job - loud and clear with a fun song! It's amazing how far they've come in such a short time... I can't wait to see what comes next...

It was also Communion Sunday - and what a joy to finally share in the Lord's Supper as one big family! (Thank you, bell ringers, for the beautiful music during this sacred ceremony!)

As I read and listened to Joseph's story again and again this week, I couldn't help but see God's work in our churches... So many times we've been knocked down, but everytime, God has breathed new life into these faith families. Maybe through new staff. Maybe new members. Maybe new minstries. Maybe through new relationships. However it happened, God has brought us to this place, this day, together.

Let us rejoice, that like Joseph, we have not been forgotten - but that God has been planning for a good thing to happen!