Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The process of change is often difficult. We can see this in the Old Testament story of David and Saul (see 1 Samuel 16-31). God has already anointed David king of Israel but Saul is still the King. Saul, being the jealous type, attempts to track David and his men down and kill them. This was common practice in ancient times -- it was an efficient, if not brutal, way to keep dissent and rivals out of the way.

The kicker here is that even though David has Saul in his power on two occasions, once in a cave and the other time in a tent late at night, and could easily have killed him -- and would have been expected and even encouraged to do so by his followers -- on both occasions David refuses to take his throne by killing its current occupant. This behavior was exceptionally unusual for this time and place but David is an extraordinary individual. He won't do it because he "won't touch the Lord's anointed." This decision helps to establish David's reign and kingdom in his later years.

David is trying to live into change in a healthy way. He is working a healthy process that delays his own ascension to the throne by several years but minimizes the transition when his time fully comes.

I wonder how this applies to the American political scene? How might it apply to the Church in its institutional form? How might it apply to your life.

"There may be change without growth but there is no growth without change."

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vanquishing the Giants

1 Samuel 17 gives us one of the great stories of the Old Testament's history section. It is the story of young David (15?16?) against the very large (9 feet?); very experienced; and very confident Philistine giant named Goliath. This is the metaphorical image we call on whenever the small school is going up against one of the big boys; or when the small company takes on a Fortune 500; it shows up whenever the odds are stacked against the little guy and somehow the little guy manages to come out on top. This is a story that begs to be preached, discussed and taught.

Simply put, the army of Israel is camped on one hill and the army of the Philistines is camped on the other with a valley between them. The Philistine champion, Goliath, stomps into the valley and challenges King Saul or his chosen champion to one on one combat, winner take all. If Saul's champion wins the Philistines become slaves if Goliath wins the Israel army become slaves. Goliath is described in archetypal terms. He is 9 feet tall, his armor weighs over 100 pounds the head of his spear weighs 15 pounds. He is nasty taunting the Israeli's as the cower on their hill top. He is offensive. He appears unbeatable. No one will go except the youthful shepherd named David son of Jesse. David, using a sling and a small smooth stone, kills Goliath and the victory is won. The Philistines flee, the Israelis pursue and David's reputation is established.

Every time I read the story of David and Goliath I am struck by the lack of faith of the majority of people in the story. Too often we think that the opposite of faith is doubt. But some doubt makes every faith healthy (it keeps us exploring, asking, seeking). The opposite of faith is fear. The Army of Israel is afraid (after all by the biblical account Goliath is over 9 feet tall and a famous warrior). The King of Israel, Saul, is afraid to take on the Philistine champion. How many times do we stop trying, quite, give up, withdraw because some seemingly giant of a problem is across the valley taunting us and laughing at us? How many times do we focus on the big ugly giant and cower in fear? That giant could be our health situation, our marriage, fear that we might lose our jobs or have them suddenly change, fear that we would be able to perform, to act, to do what needs to be done to care for those we love. That giant could be anything. David, like many before him and after him, chooses to face his fear in the name of Almighty God. He chooses not to be afraid and to take by faith that God will see him through. He chooses not to focus on how big and ugly the giant is. He chooses to focus on how big God is. The God who saw me defeat the bear and the lion will surely see me through this battle as well (1 Samuel 17:37). One central message of the scriptures is "do not be afraid!" Jesus said "Do not be afraid I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)"

Dr. BJ

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Forshadowing of trouble

In 1 Samuel 8 -10 we read about Israel's first King. Saul son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin is the one chosen. The situation is a common one. The people want someone to lead them and fight their battles for them. They want a "king to govern us, like other nations.(1 Samuel 8:5)" On the surface, this does not seem to be too ominous. Who, after all, doesn't want to fit in, to feel like they are normal and part of the "in" group? Unfortunately this choice is a rejection of God. The design of ancient Israel was that God would be their only King and ruler. Samuel explains to the people what a king will do and the burden a royal family will be on the people but the elders and the people insist they want to be like everyone else. Even though it is a rejection of God as their ruler the people persist in their request and God gives them what they want.

Saul is anointed by the prophet Samuel and, when it is time to introduce Saul (1 Samuel 10:17 and following) the tribes and clans are paraded past Samuel until he picks Benjamin, then the family of Kish and finally Saul (1 Samuel 10:17-21). The problem is that when they announce Saul is the chosen one to be king he is no where to be found. When they inquire of God if they have made a mistake God says "he is hiding among the baggage. (1 Samuel 10:22)" This should have been a "heads up" to the people of Israel that Saul might be something of an unstable leader -- reason for caution and second thoughts -- who wants a leader who is hiding among the luggage. But when Saul is dragged out he looks handsome, he is a head taller than everyone else -- in other words he looks the part. At the sight of him the people rejoice and he is declared king.

How many times to we fall for what "looks good" instead of looking deeper and exploring the kind of issues that God explores? We are told in the Bible that though human beings look at the outward appearance "God looks at the heart". God is looking for those of us who are right on the inside regardless of what the outside looks like. The foreshadowing of this story proves true in later chapters (as we shall see) as Saul is not a stable leader or ruler.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Why times are tough

In my journey through the Bible this week I came across two interlinking principles. The first is the last verse of the book of Judges: "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. (Judges 21:25)" The issue here is not the monarchy but a lack of leadership. In Judges we read that leaders were raised up to meet a specific crisis (foreign invasion or other difficulty) but otherwise people pretty much went their own way and did their own thing. I'm all for a little non damaging anarchy from time to time but for a people (whether a nation, a community, a church, a family) no leadership leads to chaos and a diminished hope for the future.

The second passage comes up in 1 Samuel 3 where Samuel receives his "call" from God. In 1 Samuel 3:1 we read "the word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread." I believe this passage is interconnected with the Judges passage. Here's how: Leaders are bearers of the vision, they are gathers of resources, people, ideas, possibilities, and they live out their lives projecting and promoting a different future. Leaders are agents of change and new possibilities. Because there is no king (read: leader) there is also no bearer of new possibilities (read: vision).

Leadership is the critical component of moving to a new future. Leadership is the bed rock foundation of new possibilities. When I look at the church in the world, and the floundering "Old Line" denominations, I see an organization lacking in leadership. We have no king (queen, even a crowned prince or princess might help); we have no vision for a better future; therefore we are floundering.

Back in the 1960's it was common to refer to governmental and other institutional leadership by the old parable of the emperors new suit of clothing. The tag line was that no one had the nerve to tell the emperor that he was naked. The line: the emperor has no clothes. Unfortunately, in our time, and, apparently, in ancient Israel, the phrase might need to be reversed. It appears that often the clothes have no emperor. We have people in positions of leadership who are not leading and have no compelling vision or plan for the future.

Everything rises and falls on leadership. Lord, send us leaders.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Cycle of the Spiritual life

I've been reading in the book of Judges this week as part of the Life Journal readings. One of the things that Judges makes clear is the cycle of faith, fear and reconnect that seems to be the normal pattern of any life in faith.

The cycle in Judges is this 1. God sends a deliverer to the people who rescues them from oppression of some sort (the Edomites, the Philistines, whoever). 2. God, through this mighty hero rescues the people and there is peace and prosperity. 3. In the prosperity the people turn away from their commitments to the Lord. 4. God permits some foreign people to attack and oppress the people. 5. The people cry out to the Lord for help. Repeat as needed.

It occurs to me that I live this same cycle, with some variation. I find that when I get in too deep and often way over my head, those are the times I turn to God and pray hard, and seek redress and help. Those are the times I realize I need a deliverer. God always comes through, lifts me up, gets me the help I need and I am again on the road to peace and hope. Then, when things are going well, and life is smooth I begin to think I can take care of myself, I can handle this deal on my own, all of that kind of thinking comes to the forefront and more often than not, I wander off or get ensnared in some other thing that is not good for me. I am in too deep and I cry to God for help. Repeat ad infinitum.

How is the cycle of your spiritual life? What can we do to stay true?

Dr. BJ