Foreshadowing: Wisdom, Folly, and One Heck of a Court Case

This past Sunday, our children learned about Solomon and how God gave him wisdom. God came and found Solomon, which shows us that God knows what we need.

A quick reading of this passage, 1 Kings 3, will give you the idea that Solomon was a great guy, much like his father. And you’d be right… but he also had some of his father’s more dangerous flaws.

We learn pretty quickly that Solomon has some political savvy in that he immediately looks to seal an alliance with Egypt, still a powerful player in that area of the world, through marriage. We’d think that marriage to keep the peace is an ok deal – excepting the fact that God warned against this sort of thing because sharing a life together often means sharing a faith – or a couple of faiths in this case. We should also note that Solomon already has a penchant for visiting shrines – not all of them dedicated to the one, true God. In this regard, we are shown the two things that will bring Solomon down – his lust after women (which he inherited from his dad), and his fascination with foreign gods (which he did not get from his dad.)

It was at one of these shrines where God approaches Solomon and offers to give Solomon a blank check. What will Solomon ask for, we wonder. Riches? Long Life? Power? Security?

“Wisdom,” answers Solomon. Sure, if you read the passage, he’s much more eloquent. Despite my poor paraphrase, the fact is that God is pleased with his answer and gave him wisdom, along with all the other things. The long life bit comes with a catch – that Solomon would remain faithful as David did. Again, for all of David’s mistakes, being unfaithful to worshiping the one God was not one of them.

After this vision, Solomon jumped up and sprinted back to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Ark. Seems as though Solomon figured out where his loyalty needed to lie pretty quickly.

The rest of the chapter deals with Solomon’s effective, but troubling method of solving a court case involving two women. The world was a much more brutal place historically speaking.

God saw that Solomon needed wisdom and approached him. God often does that with us. Now, we may not always recognize what we need, but God does know what we need. Paul writes that the Spirit speaks for us in groans that words can’t express. In a way, that’s very comforting to know that my deepest needs are constantly being communicated to the Father.

When has God met your needs lately? How have you been surprised by God meeting your needs? Take some time and share around the dinner table times when God met your family’s needs.

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Protesting Christmas?

If you must know, by the time you’re reading this, I will have been listening to Christmas music for a couple of weeks. Yes, right after Halloween does seem a little early, I agree. And I will also admit that my taste in Christmas music usually errs on the side of older carols and orchestral arrangements (with some Harry Connick Jr. and John Denver added for good measure.) So if you don’t want to hear Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, avoid my office at church until then.

One thought that struck me this July (yes, July) was just how many Christmas songs (modern, anyway) are protest songs. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was written around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and was protesting the nuclear situation during which the world sat with bated breath hoping for a peaceful solution. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is another song that attempts to call the listener’s attention to the problems of poverty, sickness, and a lack of hope that some might feel. There are plenty of lists on websites all over the web with more examples.

It’s important to note that the first Advent song was also pointing out that God sees the poor and lowly and seeks justice for them. Mary sang the Magnificat (Luke 2) which is a song declaring God’s saving power and action on behalf of his people, particularly those who have no voice or power of their own. It’s a song born out of a lingering sense of exile, despite living in the land of promise, despite having a reconstructed Temple, despite having many of the blessings that God had promised, despite their hopes and beliefs. Things still weren’t quite right.

And they still aren’t. But. And I love this “but.” God is working. God is on the move. Jesus has come. Jesus has defeated the great enemies of sin and death. Jesus has risen again, bringing with him new life and the promise of complete restoration! But not yet. (And that “but,” I’m not as fond of.)

As Advent approaches and we think about how God’s people waited for years for God to appear, to return to His people in a new way. We also wait for something similar. We wait for God to appear in His glory to finally make everything right, to bring history to its brilliant climax – bringing with Him justice, along with mercy.

And so we wait. We, too, wait for that day. And we work. We follow. We seek. Keep watching. Keep praying. Keep serving. The King is coming. May you be blessed this Christmas season.

Women Get What Men Miss [Sunday School Review]

Our children heard the story of God sending Abigail to make peace during a tense situation. Through her actions and bravery we know that God helps us get along. If you’re not familiar with the story in 1 Samuel 25, take a sit and hear what happened.

The story starts with a rough punch to the gut: Samuel is dead. The last of the Judges is no longer with God’s people. Suddenly, Saul is at a greater loss than usual. David has lost an advocate. The people have lost a leader, a voice raised up by God.

And David is out hiding in the wilderness from Saul because of differences of opinion of David’s living status. Saul would rather David be dead, but David much preferred to be alive, as has been pointed out in many of the Psalms. Anyway, David’s men have been out in a particular area – near a man named Nabal’s flocks.

Before we even know Nabal’s name, though, the Bible points out that he is filthy rich. And then drops the name “Nabal” like an atom bomb, a name which has been translated several ways, but implies that Nabal is the kind of guy who would eat a meal in front of a homeless guy while smiling and making eye contact. In other words, he’s not exactly the kind of guy who you’d want to have dealings with on a regular basis. And, boy,  did this guy marry up! But we’ll get there.

So David, after having protected these shepherds and flocks and made no demands for months, sends 10 men to Nabal to ask for a gift. (Now, this was a bit on the assuming side, expecting a gift big enough that it would take 10 men, but that’s David for you.) Nabal hears this request and responds with, “Who’s David? Who’s his dad Jesse? And aren’t there some sneaky servants running away from their masters?” And he shuffles away with his nose in the air. Now, this is a complex insult. David’s a war hero at this point, known for taking down Israel’s enemies, so to deny that is a problem. To ask about his dad’s family, is an insult because David’s family would have been well-known in Bethlehem – and of the same tribe as Nabal, Judah. And lastly, to lower David down from anointed king to runaway servant was a pretty low blow.

The biggest issue at play here is the idea of hospitality. There’s an old Jewish saying that goes along the lines of “Putting God on hold to show hospitality.” One reading of Abraham’s welcoming the three men is that God comes to speak with Abraham, starts, but Abraham cuts God off and runs to show hospitality to these three men who showed up at his door. Hence, the importance of hospitality and serving those that come to you in need in the culture of this people. So Nabal not only insulted David, but refused hospitality to a fellow Israelite, a fellow Judahite – which would be one of God’s charges against Israel as a whole in the prophets.

David hears the reply from Nabal as reported by his men, turns and walks into his tent. David yells a few choice words and comes back out with his sword. “All right men,” he says with a grim smile, “If Nabal’s going to snub me like that. I’ll take a piece out of him. Let’s go.”

One of the servants who had heard all this go down ran to Abigail, Nabal’s wife. Unlike Nabal, this woman was wise, clever, shrewd, and also liked not being dead. She gathers up some trusted servants and grabs a huge amount of supplies and loads up some donkeys and heads out to meet David. Upon meeting David along the road, she gets down off of her donkey and throws herself to the ground in a low bow.

“My lord,” she starts, “my husband is an idiot – and an evil man. His name even means wickedness, boorishness. I get it. But, regardless of how he treated you, don’t take revenge yourself. His blood on your hands in revenge will come back to bite you later when you wear the crown. Be wise, my lord. Please, give this gift to your men as I know it’s not good enough for an honored man such as yourself.” She goes on for a while, mostly reiterating the part about not seeking revenge. Oh, and she seems to have an idea that God is going to repay her husband for his wickedness in the phrase, “And may your enemies be as my husband…” A little See, the prophet in Ezekiel 25 talks about God being the one who administers justice, and how God redresses revenge when humans take it upon themselves to serve revenge as a cold starter dish.

David actually seems relieved. He thanks Abigail, praises her wisdom and loyalty and blesses her. He takes the gift and leaves in peace, accepting Abigail’s bravery and quick thinking.

That night, Nabal has a huge feast, “like a king,” which he should have invited David to, but whatever. Abigail has enough tact to let her husband enjoy himself, get sloppy drunk, and have a good night’s sleep. The next morning, when Nabal is still shaking off the wine headache, Abigail breaks the news.

“Hey, honey,” she says, “you remember those young men who came asking for supplies that you rudely turned away while insulting their leader?”

“Yeah?” replies Nabal, rubbing his temples, “What about them?”

“Well, you ticked David off and he was ready to come down with all his men and slaughter the entire household. I ran some supplies to him and apologized for your buffoonery and David decided to spare us. I’m getting sick of your bad attitude, Nabal.”

Nabal freezes. He realizes in that moment how close he had come to death. But also doesn’t think that death is just ten days away either. He dies. David sends for Abigail to be his wife, and Abigail accepts.

And I wish the story ended there, but it doesn’t. The text points out that David now has 3 wives: Abigail, Ahinoam, and Michal. Here’s where we get the first glimpse of David’s weakness and where he will stumble later.

Abigail sees the big picture of the situation. She recognizes the wickedness of refusing hospitality, and rectifies it. She understand the evil of taking revenge on others, and seeks to stop it. She works for peace, but in a way that shows her to be a woman who not only understands the Law, but who puts it into practice in a way that calls the men in the story to the floor for their lack of self-control.

How do you work to diffuse situations and anger in your home? How do you model Jesus’ attitude to your family?

The Very, Very Unbalanced Title Match (Sunday School Review)

This Sunday, our kids heard the famous story of David facing down Goliath in 1 Samuel 17.  David’s attitude is exemplary in showing us just what trusting God can allow us to do. It allowed David to stand out in front of his own army and face down a giant. God is on our side, and if David can stare down a Philistine champion, maybe we can show some courage as well.

So the Israelites find themselves at war with the Philistines, there perennial rivals in the area. Who knows what had set off the conflict this time. Regardless, like many ancient battles, both sides were a little uneasy with the wholesale slaughter of their own army, so a challenge of champions fighting is put forward as a solution. Many cultures used duels of champions instead of all-out fighting in order to lessen the blow should they lose. Better to lost one guy and live than lose hundreds or thousands and be trampled.

Goliath, then is introduced, as a hulking tower of muscle, armor and weapons. I don’t know if there’s another passage that so thoroughly describes a man and his weapons in the Bible. So, who’s gonna tackle this one? Is it the tall, handsome king, Saul? Nope. Is it tall, handsome Eliab? Nope. Even with the promise of riches, marrying the king’s daughter, and tax exempt status, no one steps up to the plate.

In tromps David, carrying a load of supplies because the state of war is taking so long that families are forced to send supplies to keep their family members going. David has one job – deliver the goods to where they needed to go. He does his job, right as Goliath comes out for the challenge. David hears it and his heart starts racing with anger, at Goliath’s blasphemy and insults, and excitement, over the upcoming cage match with the giant. David glances around, and everyone is hiding. David is appalled and begins dragging men out, pointing at the giant and asking, “Tell me again, you coward, what do you get for fighting and winning?” The soldier would answer, then slink back into his tent. Eliab gets on to David charging him with malice, and disobedience, but David stood with a clear conscience, he had done his job.

Finally, Saul gets wind of David’s marching around the camp and calls him in. “David, what are you doing, boy?”

“Your highness, you and everyone else need not fear! I have arrived and will take on the giant!” exclaimed David. Saul spewed the wine he had begun drinking all over the tent.

“I’m sorry, David. It sounded like you said you would fight the giant? He’s been a warrior since he was a boy, and you’re still a boy.”

“The Lord is with me, Your Highness,” says David, his eyes narrowing. “I’ve handled bears and lions more fearsome than this braying donkey.”

Saul sighs and motions for his armor bearers to find some armor fit for David. They had their work cut out for them, but, after all of their effort, David walks out with no armor, in stark contrast to Goliath. David spends some time meditating down by the stream as he picks up five smooth stones and stashes them in his satchel.

Upon arriving to the edge of the valley where the combat would begin, David notices the world seem to dim as a great voice thunders, as music begins to play. “Weighing in at a terrifying amount, covered in armor, and with enough weaponry to spear-fish a whale, the Giant from Gath, Goliath!” The Philistines cheer as Goliath walks in, the lights playing off of his shining, well polished armor, looking like a rhinestone cowboy if there ever was one. Goliath stops and poses, letting his oiled-up biceps talk for a moment before delivering his speech upon seeing his opponent.

“Are you coming against me with sticks? Am I a dog to be played with? I’m gonna bury you, little boy!” shouts Goliath.

The lights shift and focus on David as his own song begins to play.  “On this side of the valley, coming it at a diminutive 105 pounds of pure sheep smell, David!”

“Oh come on! The announcer’s biased!” David said. “Whatever.” David shrugs, and walks down the valley, popping his neck on either side and loosening up his joints. When he’s within shouting distance, David calls out:

“Look here, Philistine. You come at me with an arsenal, I come at you with the God of Israel on my side. He will show you that this battle can be won without fancy weapons or… height. In fact, today, I’ll be feeding your corpse to the birds and animals. Your people will be decimated. And the Lord will receive victory this day! Come at me, bro!”

Somewhere, a bell sounds, and David rushes the field of battle. Goliath lumbers in, carefully picking his way down. Once situated, David sets is feet, loads a single stone in his sling and winds up for the toss. Goliath, not suspecting a thing, picks up momentum, and suddenly stops short of even being able to take a swing at David. Goliath stumbles, and falls. Having not brought a sword, David improvises, running forward, grasping Goliath’s own sword and bringing it down with a sickening shlup. David holds up the head of his enemy and lets out a cheer as the Philistines panic and run and the Israelites give chase.

David had courage because, for all his faults, David understood what it meant to trust God. David may have felt fear, he may have realized the cost and risk, but David trusted that God would come through for His people. David’s trust in God would serve him his entire life and would earn him the title of “man after God’s own heart” for his faithfulness and trust.

How do you model God being with you? Do you take faithful risks? Do you step out in faith? Do you encourage your kids to be brave and trust in God? How do you model the wisdom to know when a risk needs to be taken or avoided?

May you live as though God is always with you. (Because He is!)

Upgrading to a Newer Model (Sunday School Review)

This past Sunday, our kids heard the story of God sending Samuel to anoint David in Bethlehem. The main point, “God helps us to see people through his eyes,” comes from the key verse in this passage, 1 Samuel 16:7.

This passage comes during a crucial point in Samuel’s life. He has just had to deliver the devastating news to Saul, the current king of Israel, that God would rip the kingdom away from Saul due to Saul’s disobedience and unfaithfulness. Samuel finds himself in a tight spot being asked to anoint a new king even as the current king still lives and has quite a few sons capable of carrying on the family line. We feel for Samuel as he asks God, “So, yeah… Saul’s a bit crabby at the moment. How’m I supposed to cover this visit, cuz if Saul finds out I’m toast and You’re out a prophet.”

God tells him to grab the oil and a young cow and get moving. “Tell ’em your coming for a sacrifice. Nobody will even question it,” God replied. So, Samuel grabs the supplies and heads to Bethlehem. As he’s approaching, the elders of the town see him coming and panic. “Samuel’s here!? What did we do? Does someone have a idol? Has everyone been taking care of the poor? Did someone snub that Egyptian that traveled through last week!? WHAT!?”

As the elder’s draw close, they very subtly try to suss out Samuel’s intentions. “So, Samuel, nice to see you. Pretty cow you’ve got there. Have you lost weight? Are you here to announce imminent destruction on our poor little town?”

Samuel chuckles, but is a little irritated. “Why is it,” he thinks to himself, “that people get so uncomfortable around prophets. Sure, I called out a king and announce misbehavior and God’s response to it, but I’m really not a bad guy at heart.” He clears his throat, letting the silent pause sit, watching the elders squirm for a few seconds more, “I’m just here for a sacrifice and to celebrate God’s blessings. Jesse,” Samuel said, pointing to one of the men, “you and your sons are my guests of honor.”

Later at the meal, Samuel asks to see Jesse’s sons, since he’s going to need to dump some oil on one of them. He sees tall, strong, impressive Eliab, and thinks that’s the one, but God puts the kabosh on that one.

“Really?” asks God. “Picking the pretty one that looked and acted like a worldly king didn’t work out so well last time. I’ve got something else in mind this go around. Now that the people understand how rough having a king can be, I’m putting in a pinch hitter. You look at the appearance, Samuel, but I’m looking for someone with the right heart.”

Seven sons later, and still no king. Samuel shrugged, but thinks to ask, “Hey, Jesse, you got any more boys lying about anywhere?”

“Yeah,” said Jesse, “my youngest is out with the sheep.”

“Bring him here,” said Samuel.

The young man who returns is attractive, sun-tanned, with sharp eyes that command attention, his lyre is slung haphazardly over his shoulder and his hair gently blew in the breeze. (All he’s missing is the surfboard, if you’re catching the hint.) Samuel took one look, felt God’s spirit prod him, and Samuel anointed David. At that moment, much like baptism, David was “gripped” by God’s spirit. (One version I like says God’s spirit “bursts out on him.”)

David helped Samuel to see a pattern of God’s story. The youngest, weakest, least remarkable tends to be who God chooses. Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben. God looks at our character and our heart to see what he can use for his story. Like Jesus, we should spend more time getting to know others, regardless of their appearance. You might find a new friend, or someone who will pull you along further into God’s purpose. If we ask, God will help us to learn to see past the surface and see the depth in others.

How can you help your children see past the outside and into other’s character? How do you model not stereotyping or generalizing for your kids?

Naomi, Ruth, and Restoration

This past Sunday our kids talked about Ruth and Naomi and how God gives us friends. This is a great passage to discuss friendship, and much more.

See, the book is named Ruth, and deals with her actions, but the story centers around Naomi. Naomi went from fullness (family, land, etc) to emptiness, or finding herself in a famine, leaving home, her family dying, and making the humiliating walk back home. Consider that Moab was one of the Israelites oldest enemies and the blood feud had been going on for a long while. So, to have taken refuge there, married off her sons to Moabite women, and then to slink back home would have had Naomi eating humble pie with every step. Why were Moabite women so hated? Well… there was a point during the wilderness period where the Israelite men had become… infatuated with the Moabite women and had… well… decided that if these hotties were worth cavorting with, they might as well worship their gods, too. That hadn’t worked out well and several executions later, things got back on track. However, the memory of that event lingered on.

That said, Naomi called herself Mara on returning home, a name which means “emptiness.” And she was, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Yet, there was a spark left – Ruth. And Ruth wasn’t a woman to take anything lying down. She got her happy self up, put on her farming clothes and went out to the local field to glean. The Mosaic Law had a provision for the poor in that edges of a field could not be harvested, but would be left out for the poor. So, being poor, Ruth collected what she could.

Here is where we get to what might be the start of a lovey-dovey romance story: man sees woman. And, yet, it’s more likely that Boaz really is a faithful God-follower and had an abundance of compassion because of that, hence his insistence that Ruth be given a little extra. Ruth comes back with a right haul, and Naomi is impressed.

“How’d you get all that?” said Naomi with huge eyes.

“Oh, this kind gentleman who owns the field left a little extra for me. He thinks he’s sneaky,” Ruth chuckled. “I’ll get dinner started.”

Naomi, however, began hatching a plan. If she remembered right, Boaz was related to her late husband, which meant that he might be next of kin to take care of both her and Ruth. After dinner she caught Ruth’s attention.

“Ruth,” said Naomi, “get your little black dress on, dust off the makeup kit, and we’ve got to do something with your hair.” Ruth, simply looked confused. “Don’t give me that look, you’ve got a mission tonight.”

Armed with her war paint and battle attire, Ruth went hunting. She crept into Boaz’s tent. He was in a tent out near the fields to prevent theft of the harvest, and so was mostly alone. Ruth threw the blanket off his feet and curled up at his feet. [If this sounds a little weird to you… good. Chances are it’s one of those biblical euphemisms like “he knew her” or “put his hand under his thigh.” One possible meaning is that feet is a euphemism for… guy parts. And, that would, in most situations certainly wake a guy up.]

Imagine Boaz’s surprise when he wakes up with a woman at his… feet. He did have the decency to ask her name at this point right before she asked him to “spread his cloak over her.” Ruth explained the situation, Boaz replies with a promise to solve the situation first thing in the morning. And Ruth stayed at his… feet… til the early morning, when she sneaked back home, with huge sack of barley from Boaz’s personal stash.

Boaz handled the problem and became Ruth’s husband. And then they had a baby, which Naomi cared for as her own. Naomi had now gone from empty to impossibly full again.

This is an amazing story about loyalty, faithfulness, and family. Ruth is loyal to Naomi, Boaz is loyal to his family, and God is faithful to Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, even though God isn’t really mentioned much as an actor in this story. God remains in the background, but has clearly worked in order to bring about this restoration of Naomi.

Do you have a friend who is that loyal? Do your kids have a friend that loyal? What does it mean to remain loyal in a family? Does it mean always agreeing? Does it mean always doing this a particular way? How do you model faithfulness and loyalty in your home?

How This Game Works

(A Note to those not at my church: these weird posts are part of a game we’re playing in our Children’s Ministry. Some parts will be difficult or impossible to play without actually being in our town/being a member here. But, regular blog posts will be coming out also, so just ignore any weirdness or odd grammar.)

Kids,

If you’re reading this, stop here. Don’t spoil the mystery.

 

Ok, now that that’s done…

Parents,

You are about to embark on an exciting adventure… hopefully.

We are starting an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) to help kids get more out of the take home materials and coming to church. An ARG is a type of game that uses normal, everyday items to hide codes or clues or puzzles for players to solve. The goal is to create an exciting alternate reality where anything could be a clue or message leading to one. For example, there might be a clue on the previous blog post… Or the handout you got this link from.

Each week, we will take advantage of technology, the Internet, our church building, take home materials, websites, and simple code-breaking ciphers to create a sense of mystery around the coming of Jesus as a baby, because that one moment in time changed everything. Suddenly, God has come as a human to share in our life, struggles, and pain to carry our suffering and share in our happiness.

Each clue will have some kind of information that leads to the next. If you miss a week/clue, please contact me and let me know. Your kids will need your help. Your family will also receive a prize for completing the search… but you’ll have to wait until the end of the game for that part.

Really, though, this is supposed to be fun, so if you get stumped, have trouble with tech or something doesn’t work right, let me know ASAP so we can get the game going smoothly. That said, make sure you’re part of the HVCC Kids Facebook group, make sure you keep and read all the hand outs, and be ready to help your kids search for clues!