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
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


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?


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?