Monday, November 12, 2018

Samuel the Boy

1 Samuel 3:1-21

Quick Summary:
Right at bedtime, God called out to Samuel, but Samuel thought it was the priest Eli. After three times, Eli finally realized it was God who was calling Samuel. The next time God called, Samuel said, “Here I am, Lord!” God wanted Samuel to do something very hard. God wanted him to tell Eli that his family would no longer be priests because they didn’t follow God. Samuel did it, and he kept telling people hard things for God for the rest of his life.

The Point:
God calls us, even when we are young.

Questions for Family Time:
1.     Who was the person you learned about? What made him special?
        a. Samuel was really young, but God called him.
2.  Did Samuel recognize God’s voice?
            a. No! God had to call him 4 times before he knew it was God.  
3.     What was Samuel called to do?
        a. He was called to tell the priest Eli hard things.    
4.     What is God calling you to do?

            Samuel is the last of our series of Judges. He is not actually recognized as a judge, though he falls in that time period. He is considered a prophet. In the Old Testament, prophets are people who take God’s word to the people. Priests are people who take people’s words to God. In the New Testament, first Jesus and now the Holy Spirit act as both prophet and priest. Through Jesus, we have full communication with God. We can be prophetic by speaking God’s truth into the world. We are also part of the priesthood of all believers, which means any of us can act as priests for each other by praying and helping them see God’s presence.
            Samuel has an amazing call story. God called him and he didn’t recognize God’s voice. It wasn’t until Eli told him, that he realized it was God talking to him. I think many of us have this experience. We may feel God calling us to do something…in our neighborhood, for someone else, or even change jobs. How do we know if that is really God or just a whim we are having?  It is something most of us struggle with as we sort out what God wants us to do.  It even happens to us who are called to be pastors.
            Just like with Samuel, most of us need someone like Eli who helps us discern God’s call. In the UMC, laity and clergy must confirm someone’s call to pastoral ministry throughout their candidacy process, which last from their call all the way through their education and three years of full time pastoral leadership. Pastors review their work and theology and then finally agree with God that this person is called and gifted to serve as a pastor.
            While not all calls are such a long process, every day God calls people in the church for specific jobs to bring his kingdom to earth. Whether it is a specific day job, or a job within the church, God calls all of us to use our abilities, personalities, knowledge, and passions to bring his glory. This week, our project leader is a member of our church that God called. She never thought she would end up in jail, but God called her to lead a bible study there. The church helped her follow that call by recognizing how she would be good at leading, and helping her with supplies.
            God is calling all of us. I hope we have the courage to follow those calls. Just as important, I hope God is using us in each other’s lives to confirm those calls.  

Personal Reflection:

What is God calling you to? Who else’s call can you confirm?

Monday, November 5, 2018

Hannah the Troubled

1 Samuel 1

Quick Summary:
Hannah couldn’t have a son. She went to the temple and cried and prayed so hard, the priest thought she was drunk. God heard her prayer and she had a son! Just as she told God she would, she gave him back to God at the temple. Then she sang God’s praises. Her son would be the last of the judges, Samuel.

The Point:
It is important for us to pray from our heart, even if others think we look silly.

Questions for Family Time:
1.     Who was the person you learned about? What made her special?
        a. Hannah prayed so hard, the priest thought she was drunk.
2.     What did she pray for?
        a. to have a son.  
3. What happened?
        a.   She had a son named Samuel.  
3.     What did she do next?
       a. She gave him to God and he grew up in the temple. Then she sang God’s praises.

            Hannah is a very important woman in the Old Testament. She is considered a model for a faithful woman by New Testament writers. Mary’s song found after she discovers her miraculous pregnancy is considered to be modeled after Hannah’s song for her miraculous pregnancy.  After Jesus birth, a woman very similar to Hannah, named Anna meets Jesus in the temple. Anna was widowed young and chooses to not remarry. That means she will never bear a child. We discover her as a woman of prayer in the temple, like Hannah.
            As important as she is to New Testament writers, Hannah should be an important model for our faith as well. She had nothing but faith. In her worship, she poured out a broken heart so earnestly, the priest told her she should be embarrassed of herself. She comes to the Lord with her anguish and grief.
            Despite the priests’ disgust, God hears her cries and blesses her. She keeps her vows made to God. Can you imagine? She had waited so long and tried so hard to have that baby, and she gives him back to God. We know she never stops loving her child. We discover as he grows us, she brings him a new robe every year. Her faithfulness is in stark contrast to the priest’s own sons who seem to be forgotten.
            Hannah teaches us so much about worship. Worship is not just joy, thanksgiving, and praise. It isn’t just saying how great God is. It isn’t just celebrating. True worship is when we come to God honestly. When, with raw disappointment, we pray and plead. True worship is not looking like everyone else on Sunday morning. It is not being silently reverent or singing loud. It is not standing or sitting at the right times. Rather, it is being who we are in our brokenness and our joy regardless of who else is in the room. It is meeting God and talking to him about the state of our hearts. It is giving up pretenses and forgetting about what others think to speak with God.
            Hannah’s story is about redemption. Her prayer that was ridiculed found its way to God’s heart. And when God blessed her, she came to God singing his praises.


Personal Reflection:

How do you pray? Have you ever been embarrassed when praying in front of others?
Prayers to Practice:
1.      Adoration – “God you are…”
2.      Confession “God I am not…”
3.      Thankgiving “God thank you for…”
4.      Supplication “God, please help…with…”

5-Finger Prayer
1.      Thumb: Pray for those who are closest to us
2.      Pointer: Pray for those who point to God
3.      Middle: Pray for Government leaders
4.      Ring: Pray for the weakest (sick, grieving)
5.      Pinky: Pray for self

Breath prayer:
            (breathe in) Jesus Son of God
            (breath out)Have mercy on me, a sinner

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Samson the Strong

Judges 13 & 16

Quick Summary:
Samson had everything going for him. God promised his mom that he would begin to defeat the Philistines for Israel before he was even born. He came from a great family, he was strong and popular. But Samson chose to date a girl who was friends with the Philistines. She talked Samson into telling her the secret of his strength. Then while he slept, she helped the Philistines cut off his hair, and the spirit of God left him. He was imprisoned and tortured. He was brought out for entertainment. He grabbed the pillars and when the building collapsed he killed over 3,000 Philistines, dying with them.

The Point:
Samson wasted his potential by allowing himself to be influenced by the enemy. Like Samson, we chose who we allow to influence us.

Questions for Family Time:
1.     Who was the judge? What made him special?
        a. Samson was strong and promised to begin defeating the Philistines.
2.     What did Samson do wrong?
        a. He chose to hang out with people who didn’t want what was best for him, like Delilah.
3. What did Delilah do?
        a.   Delilah got Samson to tell her the secret to his strength (his hair) and then told the Samson’s enemies the secret for money.   
3.     Who influences you?
        a.      (Our project should have them thinking about influences in their life.  


            Every time I hear the story of Samson, I imagine that scene in Star Wars when Darth Vader joins the dark side. His teacher, Obiwan Kenobi, yells at him, “You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them…bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness.”
          Samson was kind of the Darth Vader of the Judges. He had everything going for him. Promised to greatness before his birth, his parents did everything right. He is the only judge we read about who is not described or known chiefly for their faults. Instead, he is known for his strength, for the spirit of God that rested on him. He is perfect.
          But just like Darth Vader, he disappoints us. He chooses to ignore the influence of his parents and his Israelite community, and instead chooses to associate with the enemy. Delilah wasn’t his first girl outside of Israel, but she would be his last. She would “wear him down” until finally he gave his secrets to her…and to his enemies.
          Samson would suffer the consequences of his choices. Imprisoned. Tortured. Displayed. Only in his death would he fulfill the promise from his birth. I guess he has that in common with Darth Vader too.
          Our kids will be talking about who we allow to influence us this week. I encourage my kids to be friends to all kinds of kids from all kinds of backgrounds. With some of those friendships, I remind them that they are the ones who should be influencing. They should be leading the group to do what is right.
          As a parent, though, I look at Samson a little differently. Samson reminds me that even though I may do everything right, my kid is going to grow up to make their own decisions. A parent can do everything right, and their child may still fall short of what we hoped for them. That actually brings me a lot of peace. We have been entrusted with these lives, and it can be overwhelming. Samson’s story reminds me that I do not hold their fate. God reminds me that while I can try to make them perfect, that may not be what God really wants. And it may not be what I want, not really. God reminds me that the imperfect, the humble, the incomplete are often his choice for leaders. God reminds me that he holds them even when they fall short. He reminds me that he can use them even if I give them to him broken.

Personal Reflection:

How have you tried to make your kid perfect? How has God stopped you? How has God shown you how amazing your imperfect kid is?

Monday, October 22, 2018

All Saints Day Party

Junior Group
All Saints Day Party
October 28, 2018, 3-5

We have been diligently been planning costumes for Halloween in our house. I am sure you are too. What often gets missed in our trick-or-treating or fall parties is that Halloween is not the actual holiday coming up. “Halloween” comes from “Hallow’s Eve.” You may recognize the word hallow from the Lord’s Prayer when we say “hallowed be thy name.” It’s a word that means holy, or sacred. Holiday, likewise is “holy day” shortened. Hallow’s Eve is the night before the holy day…the night before All Saints Day. During the middle ages, it was believed that All Saints Day was the one day in the year when heaven and earth were the closest…when all heaven breaks loose. (The night before became known as the night all hell breaks loose, which you still see in the scary parts of Halloween.) You can see the Mexican Day of the Dead which arose from All Saints Day depicted in the recent movie Coco. All Saints Day is a time for us to remember that those who have died are alive in Christ. The saints are still connected to us through Christ. We will be celebrating this holy day in Worship on November 4th.

            In Junior Group on October 28th, we are going to have our own All Saints Day Celebration to remember those who have died in our lives. I think this is really important to do as a church. Our culture does not deal well with grief, especially where children are involved, so it is important for us to do this well in the church. In the church, we have a day every year to celebrate the life to come, to remember those we have loved, and to pass down our memories.

          For our celebration, I am going to need some help preparing the kids. I would like them to come with one or two people in mind, such as grandparents, family friends, etc. They are invited to bring a favorite food of that person for us to share as a snack. For example, my grandpa bought us a giant box of oranges every year growing up, so I might bring oranges to share. If you bring something sweet, please bring a small size. Then we are going to put together luminaries of those who have died to decorate the sanctuary with. These luminaries will be in worship on Nov 4th, and then your child can take them home.

           I am excited to give our kids this opportunity to remember those who have died and to honor them. As always, parents are welcome to stick around.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Gideon's Tiny Army

Judges 7:1-24

Quick Summary:
Gideon calls out an army to fight the Midianites, but God says it is too big. He doesn’t want the army to think they can win on their own.  Gideon sends home 22,000 men with only 10,000 remaining. God says that is still too many, so he sends home all but 300 men. The 300 men attack at night. God confuses the Midianites and they start attacking each other. God uses a measly 300 men to take down an army of 120,000.

The Point:
God can use us when we are few.

Questions for Family Time:
1.     Who was the judge? What made him special?
        a. Gideon was the smallest son in the smallest tribe.
2.     What job did God give him?
        a. To take out the Midian army
3. What was strange about how God wanted him to take them out?
        a.   God wanted Gideon to do it with a tiny army. Each man would have to defeat 400 soldiers!  
3.     Did it work?
        a.      Yes, God turned the Midianites against each other so the Israelites won.  

            Gideon started building an army for this job God gave him. He started small with just about 1 man to every 3 or 4 men in Midian’s army. Then God told him it wasn’t small enough. God didn’t want to win a war Israel could win without him. So Gideon had to decrease his army. He sent home those who were scared. Now each man would have to defeat 12 men. That is a tall order even for the bravest Israel had to offer. But God still thought bragging rights would go to the men. God wanted it to be clear. So one more time, he asked Gideon to thin out the ranks. Now Gideon’s army was a measly 300 men against 120,000. Each man would have to defeat 400 men. That was impossible. 400 trained soldiers to each man!
          Gideon was scared. How could his army possibly win? God knew his courage was faltering. God needed him to trust and hope in this wild plan. So God sent him into the edge of the enemy’s camp where he heard a dream. A Midian shared that a loaf of bread…Gideon…would roll into camp and knock down every tent. Gideon knew God was with his tiny army, and would help them against their enemy. That night, Gideon took his tiny army and encircled the enemies camp. They crashed pots and blew trumpets. The enemies woke up, and in the dark of night could not recognized friend from foe. God used the Midian army to take out the Midian army. God used the few to take down the many.
           That’s the God we follow. And just as he took that little group of men and conquered a massive army, he likes to take our little groups and conquer big problems. He takes little groups like Junior Group and uses us to make a big difference in our world. Will he use us to invite new people into discipleship? Will he use us to ignite the faith of the adults around us? Will he use us to stand up to injustice or help those in need? I don’t know what he might do with us, but this I do know: we are not too few for God to use in a big way.
          Just as God spoke and led Gideon and his army, God speaks to us today. What is he calling us to do? What is too big for us to do? Sometimes the answers to those two questions are the same. That is the sweet spot of faith.

Personal Reflection:

               What is God calling us to do? What is too big for us to do?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Gideon, The Wimp

Judges 6:1-16

Quick Summary:
Midian has taken the Israelites’ homes and keeps stealing all their food. Gideon is the smallest son in the smallest tribe, but God says he will help him defeat Midian. His first job is to take down the idols in town. The town people are mad, but Gideon tells them to let the gods of the idols kill him for what he has done. Because they aren’t real like God, he doesn’t get hurt at all! God has helped him through the first job God gave him!

The Point:
God can use us even when we are the smallest and even if we are scared.

Questions for Family Time:
1.     Who was the judge? What made him special?
        a. Gideon was the smallest son in the smallest tribe.
2.     What job did God give him?
        a. To slay Midian…but first to get rid of the idols the Israelites were worshiping.
3. How did he get rid of the idols?
        a.   He was scared, so he did it at night. He cut them down and used them for firewood to burn God an offering.  
3.     Weren’t the people mad?
        a.      Yes, but Gideon told them to let the idol’s gods kill him…and they didn’t because they aren’t real. 

            “I can’t do it. I am not enough,” is said over and over again in the Bible. God calls someone, and we respond like God doesn’t know us. We remind him of our weakness and inadequacy. We remind him of our sin. We remind him of our fear and past failures.  Like he doesn’t know all that stuff about us. Like he didn’t know Gideon was a wimp? Like he didn’t know how small his family was or where Gideon fell in the pecking order? Gideon, like so many of us after him, told God he must have the wrong person.
            “I will be with you,” is said over and over again in the Bible. It’s God’s go-to when he sees we are filled with fear. With each judge, prophet, disciple who says they can’t do it, God reminds them they don’t do it alone. God doesn’t argue with their shortcomings. He just tells them those shortcomings are irrelevant with God at their side. When God is with us, our weakness is bolstered by his strength. Our fear his bolstered by his all-knowing. Our inadequacy is bolstered by his completeness.
            There is a popular saying, “God does not give us more than we can handle.” Gideon proves that is a big fat lie. God know we are wimps. Yet he sends us to do things we cannot do. At least not on our own. God gives us more than we can handle…but never more than he can handle. When we go before God saying, “God I can’t handle this,” he whispers back, “I am with you.” We can’t handle it, but God can. He can carry that weight that would crush us.
            Being called by God to do something isn’t nearly as glamorous now is it? It means that God may have called me because I am nothing, so his power can shine brighter. My excuses don’t work anymore either. It doesn’t matter that I am a wimp, because God will make up the difference. But it sure makes things easier knowing God’s got my back. He may call me to more than I can handle, but He doesn’t call me to go anywhere that he is not beside me making up the difference.

Personal Reflection:

               What has God called you to that you couldn’t handle on your own? How did you experience God with you in that moment?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Judge Deborah

Judges 4:1-23

Quick Summary:
Israel ends up under the control of the Canaanite king. Israel’s Judge Deborah calls Commander Barak to fight him. Barak says not without her. She says, “Only if you are ok with sharing the victory with a woman.” Sure enough, a woman named Jael ends up killing the enemy commander with a tent peg through his temple.

The Point:
Barak gave up his honor and asked for help. It’s hard to ask for help, but God’s mission is more important than our pride.

Questions for Family Time:
1.     Who was the judge? What did she do?
        a. Judge Deborah told Commander Barak to fight the evil king and free Israel.
2.     What did Barak do?
        a. He said ok, if you come with me. He asked for her help.
3. Why was that a big deal?
        a.   Because that  meant a woman would get the honor/credit and he wouldn’t. 
3.     Did a woman get the credit?
        a.      Yes, but not Deborah. It was Jael who killed the enemy commander with a tent peg through his temple. 

            Deborah is one of the first women in the Bible that God used in leadership in a world thick with patriarchy. In fact, even today with equal employment for men and women in just about every profession, the government and military still are heavily led by men and a macho-culture. It doesn’t take us much imagination to see how far out on a limb Barak was going. First, he receives his marching orders from a woman. Than he requests her presence as a leader during the battle. Deborah herself seems a little taken aback by this request. 
         She seems to say, “Are you sure you are going to be okay if I get credit for the win?” 
         Barak doesn’t back down. He knows who the leader should be. He knows he can’t do it on his own, even if he loses face. He needs help. Not just any help. He needs Deborah the Judge. 
In a wild turn, Deborah ends up right but not by the means everyone expected. It wasn’t the great leader Barak. It wasn’t the great leader Deborah. Victory would come from a quite woman without a sword or even a knife at her disposal. The only thing she had handy to slay the enemy was the very peg keeping her tent up. Jael would topple the great Commander Sisera while he slept sure he was safe in her care. 
This story, with all of its twists and turns, reminds us how important it is to receive help, even from the most unlikely of places. It doesn’t matter how grand our title, whether Commander or Judge or Housewife (Tent-wife?). God calls us to help each other and to welcome help, even when it may hurt our pride to do so. 
God wants us to use our gifts in leadership like Deborah. He wants us to ask for help like Barak. He wants us to fight his battles no matter how small we may think we are like Jael. 

Personal Reflection:

               Where in your life is pride keeping you from asking for help? Where is your humility getting in the way of you doing your part in God’s kingdom?