Tuesday, July 31, 2012

David and Goliath, part 2

Good afternoon friends,
This is a familiar story for many of us: the story of David and Goliath. Notice that David trusts God and gives the glory to God, not to himself. We can do a lot more when we don't worry about getting the credit.
God bless,

1 Samuel 17:40-51
40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. 41The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.”
45But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
48When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. 50So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. 51Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.

Monday, July 30, 2012

David and Goliath, part 1

Good morning friends,
In our daily reading yesterday we heard one story of how the future King David gets introduced to King Saul: as a musician and "warrior" who will play the harp to soothe Saul when the evil spirit is on him. Today we begin a more familiar story. As we talked about in worship yesterday, the Philistines were a stronger nations to the west of Israel. The conflict between Philistia and Israel provide the setting for Saul's reign and the beginning of David's as well. As the nations lined up for battle, one giant, Goliath, taunted and threatened the Israelite soldiers. Saul promised his daughter in marriage to anyone who would kill Goliath, but no one was up for the challenge. David was a young man, probably a teenager, at this point. His three oldest brothers were in Saul's army, but David stayed home keeping the sheep. One day he went to visit his brothers to take them some food from their father. There he heard Goliath's taunts and decided to do something about it.

Blessings as you face the day's battles,


1 Samuel 17:1-11, 32-36
Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. 3The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. 

4And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. 8He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

32David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

David comes to court

Good morning friends,
As you can see, we're getting ahead of ourselves in the daily readings, but the story of David is much more involved than the story of Saul. We've seen that God has rejected Saul and chosen David to be king. The story now turns to how God's plan will unfold practically. You notice if you read this whole story that there are some seams in the narrative as we've noticed in some other places too. In this story King Saul's servants bring David to court to play music for Saul. They praise David saying that he is a mighty warrior. Later in the story when David gets ready to kill Goliath, David is a young boy (not a warrior) and Saul doesn't know him.

The most likely explanation for these seams is that two or more older traditions were woven together when the story was written down or edited. David's story as a whole is rich and full of complexity. Here's a good start to that story.

See you in church,


1 Samuel 16:14-23
14Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15And Saul’s servants said to him, “See now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16Let our lord now command the servants who attend you to look for someone who is skillful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will feel better.” 17So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me someone who can play well, and bring him to me.” 

18One of the young men answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the Lord is with him.” 19So Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David who is with the sheep.” 20Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a kid, and sent them by his son David to Saul. 21And David came to Saul, and entered his service. Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. 22Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” 23And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Good morning brothers and sisters,
We've been reading about Saul's downfall as King of Israel. Now we find out how God will anoint a new king to lead the people of God. God calls all of us to service, and calls some to particular service at a special time.

God bless,


1 Samuel 16:1-13
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”  

11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

obedience is better than sacrifice

Good evening/morning brothers and sisters,
We read yesterday how Saul and the Israelite army did not totally destroy the Amalekites, but took the best animals. When confronted with this, Saul claims the intention all along was to sacrifice them to God. It's hard to say if he's being honest here. In any case, Samuel claims that sacrifice isn't the most important thing to God; obedience is. In a similar way, all the worship in the world is not as important as following God's calling in our lives. We need to walk the walk and talk the talk.



1 Samuel 15:13-23
13When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” 14But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” He replied, “Speak.” 17Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”

20Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” 22And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. 23For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”


Good morning sisters and brothers,
We read one story yesterday about Saul's fall from grace. Today we get a second story. This whole idea of total destruction of an enemy by God's command is extremely troubling. The idea is that in certain settings every person, animal and piece of property had to be destroyed. It was said to be "devoted to the Lord" and the way it was devoted was through destruction. Ideas like this in the Bible are dangerous and hard to deal with constructively. For me it helps to remember that these passages were written much later than the events they describe, in a time when Israel was in danger because they were seduced by the gods and ways of life of their neighbors. Passages like this emphasize the call to be different from the world around them. There is not any archeological evidence that suggests that Israel ever actually destroyed enemies like this, so it's likely that the idea came later, in response to new threats.

Apart from the disturbing command, the thing to take away from the story is that Saul and his soldiers didn't obey God's command; instead, they kept the valuable things that their enemies had. Selfishness took the people away from following what God had commanded.

blessings as you follow God today,


1 Samuel 15:1-11
Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 2Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. 3Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

4So Saul summoned the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand foot soldiers, and ten thousand soldiers of Judah. 5Saul came to the city of the Amalekites and lay in wait in the valley. 6Saul said to the Kenites, “Go! Leave! Withdraw from among the Amalekites, or I will destroy you with them; for you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites withdrew from the Amalekites. 7Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt.

8He took King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was valuable, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed. 10The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11“I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lord all night.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Saul's fall

Good morning friends,
We've read a bit about the good beginnings of Saul's reign, now we read about how things began to unravel. Remember that the first job of Israel's King is obedience to God. I always feel sorry for Saul in this story because he seems to be trying to do the right thing, but doesn't quite get it right. In this case Samuel, the chief prophet of the land, instructed Saul to wait for him to come to his camp and offer the sacrifice before he went to fight the Philistines. Instead, Saul became scared that his people would leave and didn't wait for Samuel. Fear is a powerful force and it's easy to give in to it. As people of faith we are called to see the world and its risks realistically and follow God's calling in spite of our fear.

God bless,


1 Samuel 13:1-14
Saul was...years old when he began to reign; and he reigned...and two years over Israel. 2Saul chose three thousand out of Israel; two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin; the rest of the people he sent home to their tents. 3Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba; and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear!” 4When all Israel heard that Saul had defeated the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become odious to the Philistines, the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal. 

5The Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude; they came up and encamped at Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. 6When the Israelites saw that they were in distress (for the troops were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns. 7Some Hebrews crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

8He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people began to slip away from Saul. 9So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the offerings of well-being.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived; and Saul went out to meet him and salute him. 11Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul replied, “When I saw that the people were slipping away from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering at Michmash, 12I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down upon me at Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favor of the Lord’; so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” 

13Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you. The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, 14but now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Saul's first test

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Yesterday we read how Saul became King of Israel. Today we read the story of his first leadership test, an attack on Jabesh Gilead. The people of Jabesh Gilead never forget Saul's rescue. At the end of 1 Samuel, when Saul is killed in battle and the Israelite army thoroughly beaten it is the men of Jabesh Gilead who take Saul's body back from the Philistines and bury it.

Under the Judges, Israel was a fairly loose association of tribes more than it was a nation. During Saul's reign they become more of a nation, though there is still a distinction between Israel and Judah, which we see here when the narrator tells us how many soldiers come from Israel and from Judah. That separation continues throughout the time that Israel is one nation, and after Solomon's reign the kingdom separates fully into Israel and Judah.

Blessings on your week,


1 Samuel 11:1-11
About a month later, Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.” 2But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, namely that I gouge out everyone’s right eye, and thus put disgrace upon all Israel.” 3The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days’ respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.” 4When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the hearing of the people; and all the people wept aloud.

5Now Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen; and Saul said, “What is the matter with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the message from the inhabitants of Jabesh. 6And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7He took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one. 8When he mustered them at Bezek, those from Israel were three hundred thousand, and those from Judah seventy thousand.

9They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus shall you say to the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have deliverance.’” When the messengers came and told the inhabitants of Jabesh, they rejoiced. 10So the inhabitants of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.” 11The next day Saul put the people in three companies. At the morning watch they came into the camp and cut down the Ammonites until the heat of the day; and those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

a king

Good evening friends,
We read a few weeks ago about Moses' warning to the people of Israel about the risks of having a king. In our reading for today we move into the story of Israel's first king. The lack of structure under the judges was a problem so Israel asks their prophet and last judge, Samuel, to appoint a king for them. God leads Samuel to connect with Saul, who will be king. The story is an interesting one; I hope you enjoy.

God bless,


1 Samuel 9:1-3, 5-6, 15-21, 24b-10:1
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish son of Abiel son of Zeror son of Becorath son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

3Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys.” …5When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to the boy who was with him, “Let us turn back, or my father will stop worrying about the donkeys and worry about us.” 6But he said to him, “There is a man of God in this town; he is a man held in honor. Whatever he says always comes true. Let us go there now; perhaps he will tell us about the journey on which we have set out.”…

15Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: 16“Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have seen the suffering of my people, because their outcry has come to me.” 17When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people.” 18Then Saul approached Samuel inside the gate, and said, “Tell me, please, where is the house of the seer?” 19Samuel answered Saul, “I am the seer; go up before me to the shrine, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind. 20As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, give no further thought to them, for they have been found. And on whom is all Israel’s desire fixed, if not on you and on all your ancestral house?” 21Saul answered, “I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin. Why then have you spoken to me in this way?”

So Saul ate with Samuel that day. 25When they came down from the shrine into the town, a bed was spread for Saul on the roof, and he lay down to sleep. 26Then at the break of dawn Samuel called to Saul upon the roof, “Get up, so that I may send you on your way.” Saul got up, and both he and Samuel went out into the street. 27As they were going down to the outskirts of the town, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the boy to go on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God.” 10:1 Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said, “The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel. You shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies all around.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today our Muslim brothers and sisters begin the holy month of Ramadan, a time dedicated to fasting, charity, prayer and reading the Qu'ran. As you may know, my brother and sister in law have long been passionate about peace and justice in Yemen. During Ramadan the Yemen Peace Project, an organization they helped start, encourages people who are fasting to donate the money they would have spent on food to people in need in Yemen. For those of us who are not fasting, we can also participate by skipping a meal each week and donating the proceeds. There's more information about the program here; fasting of any kind can be helpful in reminding us of God's blessings and of the struggles many people around the world face.

Our passage for today is a strange one that illustrates the near chaos Israel faced at the end of the time of the Judges. It also reminds us that for many people in early Israel there may not have been a clear division between God and idols. The same can be true today: our spiritual ancestor John Calvin wrote that the human mind is a factory for idols. An idol is anything that threatens to take God's place. Sometimes even things like the Bible or a church building can become idols if they become our focus rather than a way to connect with God.

Blessings on your day,


Judges 17:1-6
There was a man in the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah. 2He said to his mother, “The eleven hundred pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and even spoke it in my hearing, —that silver is in my possession; I took it; but now I will return it to you.” And his mother said, “May my son be blessed by the Lord!” 

3Then he returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother; and his mother said, “I consecrate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make an idol of cast metal.” 4So when he returned the money to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver, and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into an idol of cast metal; and it was in the house of Micah. 5This man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and teraphim, and installed one of his sons, who became his priest. 6In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

power and corruption

Good morning sisters and brothers,
After Gideon (nicknamed Jerubbaal) defeated Midian to rescue Israel, the Israelites wanted to make him king, but the narrator tells us that he refused. Interestingly, he named one of his sons Abimelech, which means "son of the king." This suggests that there may be two different stories about Gideon and in one of them he does become king. Abimelech embraces his name, kills all his brothers and begins to rule an area of Israel. With a beginning like that, it's no surprise Abimelech's reign doesn't end well.

God doesn't forbid Israel to have a king, in fact the closing stories in Judges are all about how too little leadership can be dangerous. At the same time, God does warn the people that power can corrupt, so if they do have a king they have to help him by limiting his power. That's true for every human system; authority and leadership are necessary, but power is dangerous.

Blessings on your day,

Judges 9: 22-31
22Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian.” 23Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” 24Then Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you; each of you give me an earring he has taken as booty.” (For the enemy had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25“We will willingly give them,” they answered. So they spread a garment, and each threw into it an earring he had taken as booty. 26The weight of the golden earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold (apart from the crescents and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and the collars that were on the necks of their camels). 27Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his town, in Ophrah; and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.

28So Midian was subdued before the Israelites, and they lifted up their heads no more. So the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. 29Jerubbaal son of Joash went to live in his own house. 30Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

a new leader

Good afternoon friends,
Yesterday I talked a little bit about the over all pattern of the Book of Judges. Today we begin looking at a specific example. At this point in the story the Midianites are oppressing the people of Israel. God goes to a young man named Gideon and calls him to lead Israel to freedom by defeating the Midianites. Gideon has some doubts and questions, but God is ready to work through this young man. God's strength is more than enough to lead Gideon and the Israelites to victory. What struggle do you need God's help with today?

God bless,


Judges 6:11-16
11Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. 12The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” 13Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” 

14Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” 15He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Good morning friends,
This is week 2 of the New Beginnings small groups. One group met after church on Sunday, another group meets at Pete and Laura Braggins' house at noon today, and two groups meet Wednesday, one at 5:30 at the church and one at 7 at Susan Orr's condo. I hope you can make one of them; it's good and important conversation.

Today's reading gives us the brief summary of the Book of Judges. Israel followed Joshua like they had followed Moses, and under his leadership they took possession of the promised land. After his death and the death of others in that generation, the problems God warned Israel about started to take place. The people became complacent, forgot God and worshiped other Gods. Throughout Judges the pattern repeats itself over and over: the people turn away to other gods, God allows them to be oppressed by other nations, God hears their cry and sends a "judge" to save them, the people follow God and the judge during his (or her) lifetime, but then abandon God again. How can we return to God today? How can we pass our faith down to our children?

God bless,


Judges 2:7, 10-19
7The people worshiped the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. …10Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

11Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals; 12and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. 13They abandoned the Lord, and worshipped Baal and the Astartes.

14So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress. 

16Then the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them. 17Yet they did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their ancestors had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord; they did not follow their example. 18Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. 19But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.

Friday, July 13, 2012

be strong and courageous

Good evening friends,
Since I'll be on the church camping trip this weekend, I figured I'd send tomorrow's reading early and Sunday's late. I'll be out of email touch the next couple of days, but sporadically reachable by phone. As I hope I mentioned, Deuteronomy is sort of Moses' long good bye to Israel. He is saying final things to get them ready for life in the Promised Land without him. In our reading for today, Moses is dead and the torch of leadership has been passed to Joshua. 

It would be easy for Israel to feel really stuck now since they had gotten used to following Moses. It's always easy to look back on the past and think how much better it was. Instead, the leaders of Israel consistently encourage Joshua as he steps up to lead. Over and over they promise to follow and support him as long as he is "strong and courageous" as he follows God and leads Israel. Maybe that's a good mantra for all of us as we face the future. There will be challenges, but we are not alone. So trust in God, and be strong and courageous.

God bless,


Joshua 1:1-9
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, 2“My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. 3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. 4From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.

7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”


Good morning friends,
Today's reading is the mirror image of yesterday's. Yesterday God promised Israel blessings of every kind if Israel obeyed God. Today God promises curses if Israel turns away. Israel and God have made a covenant with each other. God's faithfulness is clear, but Israel's isn't as certain.

God bless,


Deuteronomy 28:15-25
15But if you will not obey the Lord your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you: 16Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.

19Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. 20The Lord will send upon you disaster, panic, and frustration in everything you attempt to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. 21The Lord will make the pestilence cling to you until it has consumed you off the land that you are entering to possess. 22The Lord will afflict you with consumption, fever, inflammation, with fiery heat and drought, and with blight and mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. 23The sky over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you iron. 24The Lord will change the rain of your land into powder, and only dust shall come down upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.

25The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out against them one way and flee before them seven ways. You shall become an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

final blessings

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today's reading comes from the closing section of Deuteronomy and summarises the blessings God will give Israel if they follow and obey. Tomorrow's passage is the mirror image curses they will face if they turn away from God. As Moses prepares to die he wants to get Israel on a firm foundation for their new life in the Promised Land. He wants to make it clear that they will find amazing blessings as God's people if they stay faithful.

God bless,


Deuteronomy 28:1-14
If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; 2all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God: 3Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. 5Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

7The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. 8The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 9The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. 10All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. 

11The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you. 12The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. 13The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom—if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today, by diligently observing them, 14and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I am commanding you today, either to the right or to the left, following other gods to serve them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

protecting the vulnerable

Good morning sisters and brothers,
The laws we read today from Deuteronomy further emphasize that God loves justice and watches out for the powerless in society. Not only does the law protect those forced to borrow money, it also commands employers to pay their employees quickly and fairly. For those of us who have never lived on a farm, the paragraph about harvesting crops and leaving left-over olives or grain behind might seem strange. We're used to efficiency and thoroughness being extremely important values. In this case, the produce left behind on the first pass through the field is left for those in need. We see this system in action in the book of Ruth, where two widows depend on gleaning (gathering the left-behind) to survive. Our calling is still to look out for those who are vulnerable in society.

God bless,


14You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. 15You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 

16Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death. 17You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

19When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. 20When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 21When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 22Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Good evening/morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading is a short sample of some laws God gave the people of Israel. Notice how the law protects the borrower more than the lender, because the borrower would probably be more vulnerable than his wealthier neighbor. The threat is that God takes the side of the weak and blesses those who treat them fairly. That's a good reminder for us in this time of ever growing wealth disparity. Who do our laws protect?

God bless,


Deuteronomy 24:5-13
5When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any related duty. He shall be free at home one year, to be happy with the wife whom he has married. 6No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge. 7If someone is caught kidnaping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnaper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

8Guard against an outbreak of a leprous skin disease by being very careful; you shall carefully observe whatever the levitical priests instruct you, just as I have commanded them. 9Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on your journey out of Egypt.

10When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. 11You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. 12If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. 13You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God.

kings and control

Good morning friends,
After God freed Israel from slavery God led them in the wilderness to shape them into the holy people God called them to be. A big part of that shaping was the Law, and Deuteronomy is a review of story and law as Moses finishes preparing Israel to enter the Promised Land. In this section, Moses talks about the rules for having a king. As we continue the story we'll see that the concerns expressed in this part of the law are well founded. Humans are addicted to power, so we need to approach any power with great caution.

God bless,


Deuteronomy 17:14-20
14When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” 15you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community.

16Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You must never return that way again.” 17And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.

18When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. 19It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Good afternoon friends,
I hope the weekend is treating you well. Our worship this morning was very relaxed, with "congregational choice" singing. It was great for me to be back at Laurelton after some time away. In our reading yesterday we talked about God making a covenant with Israel after bringing them out of slavery in Egypt. The next books of the Bible give more detail to God's covenant by telling stories of Israel in the desert following (and not following) God, as well as by teaching the laws. In today's reading we skip ahead to Deuteronomy where Moses makes final preparations for the people to enter the land without his leadership.

Blessings on your afternoon,


Deuteronomy 6:4-24
4Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

10When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, 11houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, 12take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. 14Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, 15because the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of the Lord your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth. 16Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.

17You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees, and his statutes that he has commanded you. 18Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may go in and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you, 19thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.

20When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household. 23He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Good evening friends,
I'm home after an exhausting week in Pittsburgh for the PC (USA) general assembly. It was a tremendous blessing to be there, but it's good to be home. There's so much to digest, both intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Tomorrow's worship will be very relaxed and we'll do some requests for hymns, so you might want to think of a favorite between now and then. In our reading we continue the story of Israel's liberation from slavery and formation as God's people. God continues his claim on us and covenant with us, as well as with the people of Israel. How is God calling to your today?

God bless,


Exodus 19:1-8
On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 

5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” 7So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8The people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Good afternoon brothers and sisters,
Blessings on the day as we celebrate and give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy in the United States and the courage of those who have sacrificed to secure those freedoms for us. I pray we would always use our freedom to serve others and to support peace and justice in the world. Our story today is appropriate as it continues the story of God bringing the people of Israel out of slaved into freedom. After the Israelites left slavery in Egypt the Egyptian elite decided they had made a mistake in letting their slaves go. The army pursued the Israelites and thought they had them trapped at the Red Sea. Our story reminds us that God can make a way where there seems to be no way. For that reason we can always be people of hope. I cling to that hope in the midst of the joys and sorrows of General Assembly and all of life.

God bless,


Exodus 14:21-31
21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 

24At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” 26Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea.

28The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 30Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.