Monday, May 23, 2005


Martha couldn't seem to step out of the heaviness of the last few days and nights. Her brother Lazarus was dead. A message was sent to Jesus when Lazarus became seriously ill, but the Lord failed to arrive.

Lazarus didn't make it. The empty house was full of mourners. A weight like wet wool settled on Martha's chest. Food didn't interest her. Neighbor women arrived and took over her kitchen. What did she care? Ever since her brother Lazarus died, all she could think about was him and the Teacher, and neither were in Bethany. She spent the last few days weeping and exchanging glances with her listless sister Mary.

Day and night, guests, community comforters filled their home. Martha accepted food, hugs and prayers. But Martha had no appetite, no warmth left in her body, no more soaring prayers.

Several days after the burial, Martha's thoughts were interrupted by a buzz of conversation from the household guests. Someone saw Jesus. He was on his way to them. Martha's lethargy left. She knew Jesus loved Lazarus, possibly more than she and her sister Mary.

She grabbed a wrap and left to meet him. When she first saw him, she blurted out, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Not an accusation, just intimate knowledge of his power and authority. "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

Jesus said, "Your brother will rise again."

Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

"Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

She went to get Mary. When Mary saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said exactly what Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Moments later, Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, and three siblings may have hopped, skipped and jumped home from the cemetery. I can see them. Arms linked. Mary and Martha tiptoeing up to kiss Lazarus' cheek.

After once more reading this account in the Bible, I was struck by the sister's identical confessions. "If you had been here" each sister had said, "my brother would not have died."

This family had entertained God in their home, and they knew it. God had relaxed, laughed and took nourishment at their table. They had taken bread from his table, too. They had listened. They knew. They anchored their hope in him. He had the words to life eternal.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Battle Cry or Quiet Obedience

The giant Goliath taunted the Israelite army for 40 days.

David reached the camp when the army of God was going out to rank-up against Philistine enemies. Israel's soldiers went to the battlefield "shouting the war cry" (1 Samuel 17:20). Young David ran to the battle lines to greet his brothers. He heard the latest war tales, and when Goliath rumbled forth and bellowed his challenge, the Israelite soldiers "all ran from him in great fear" (24).

With his shepherd's staff, slingshot and five smooth stones, David approached the belligerent champion of the Philistines. Compared to armored Philistines who had blacksmiths, David looked vulnerable. Out of all of Israel's soldiers, only Saul and Jonathan had swords.

The winning tools were not in David's hands. The winning force was in his heart. His speech to the giant was not a war cry. He didn't run with blind rage at the tree trunk of a man. He gave a speech in God's name. "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied."

David continues describing how the giant was about to lose his head in battle, and concludes with a sweeping news release. "The whole world will know that there is a God in Israel . . . that it is not by sword or spear the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's"(45-47).

Israel shouted war cries, but their retreat from the enemy didn't match their shouts. A quiet trusting lad, his chest clad only in shepherd's clothing led an army by example. Eventually, the army with only two swords, a faith-filled David and God on their side prevailed against their enemies.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Camouflage and Spurs

"Do you think it's OK for Adam to go to church with his spurs on?" One Sunday morning, my daughter Sheryle phoned to ask that question.

Five-year-old Adam chose his outfit for church: cowboy boots with spurs, camouflage pants, a Scooby Doo T-shirt and a button-up Spiderman shirt. Mix and Match clothing on the rack at Sears is cute. But this kid has an eye for the eclectic. For any mother who is delighted her children are dressing themselves, this presents a challenge.

The whole picture is about a child with five years of godly training, who is ready and willing to go to Bible class and worship. His heart was right, even though his sense of fashion lagged behind.

A familiar lesson, one from God to Samuel, comes to mind. When the prophet Samuel went to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king, he saw seven fine looking sons. In Samuel's eyes, each looked suited to wear the royal robe. But God had the eighth son in mind.

The seven sons who were present in Bethlehem were consecrated, set apart, for a sacrificial ceremony. Clean clothes and baths were often part of the ritual. So they were spiffed up, ready for the big announcement. When the eldest son went by, Samuel thought he must be the chosen one, but God spoke to Samuel.

"Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (16:7). God had the boy David in mind, the one rubbing shoulders with sunshine, sheep and shepherds.

Views about proper attire for worship are wide ranging. Some think we should always wear our best. Others are concerned about overdressing and making visitors who have less feel their dress is inadequate. The tendency is to notice folks who vary from my choice of clothing. Noticing is OK. Judging their character by their dress is not.

Did Jesus see a prostitute and think "unworthy"? Or did Jesus see thieving, gaudy tax collectors and think "He'll never change. He's not like the people I know"? Jesus saw potential in people. Willing hearts that could be loomed by the Lord, woven into servants.

Peter wrote a message to the women of his day, appropriate for all centuries. When he wrote about "fine women's apparel," he laid out a pattern for an inside garment, an echo of God's message to Samuel. (I Peter 3:3). Instead of the latest fashions, Peter encouraged the unfading loveliness that comes from a gentle and quiet spirit. Real beauty fabric.

On that Sunday morning, little Adam walked into Bible class with a slight spur-jingle. He brought smiles to his teachers' faces. I picture a grinning Jesus, too.

For it was Jesus who placed his hands on children and blessed them. Children finding their way to Jesus were rebuked by some adults. But a child's humility became an object lesson for his disciples. "For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Mark 10:14).

Monday, May 16, 2005

Little Boy David

The prophet Samuel is told by God to go to Jesse's household, the reason, the next king would come from that clan. Samuel arrived and because his mission is pivitol for the future of Israel and he plans a sacrifice, he consecrates Jesse and seven sons. A cleansing ritual takes place, often including baths, clean clothes and abstaining from sexual relations.

Jesse and seven sons are set apart, ready to join in the worship sacrifice, Samuel is poised, ready for God to point out the next ruler. Samuel had on his king colored glasses. He saw that the oldest son Eliab was a fine looking man. Sovereign material, or so he thought. Good looking and the oldest. Ready to annoint him, God said, "Not so fast."

Ok, so it wouldn't be the firstborn. Samuel sized up the rest of Jesse's male offspring. Broad shoulders. Tanned. Steady gazes. Personable. Soldier material. The annointed would lead troops into battle. Each was considered eligible.

Again, Samuel had his horn of oil, aloft and ready to annoint. All he needed was a word from the Lord. But none came. He knew he was at the right place. Samuel had listened to the voice of the Lord since he was a young boy. This time, he'd heard God say, "Be on your way. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king" (1 Samuel 16:1).

Samuel is blinded by his sight. What is set before him is all he can see, but God's resources reach beyond Samuel's panoramic view. The youngest of Jesse's boys is out to pasture.

When Samuel saw the fine specimens of Jesse-clan genetics, he thought any one of them the next ruler, but that's when God teaches a lesson.

Monday, May 09, 2005

God has left

Today when studying the intertwined lives of Eli the priest and Samuel, Hannah and Elkanah's young son who lived and served at the tabernacle, a shattering phrase uttered by a dying woman caught my attention. The woman was the daughter-in-law of Eli. Her husband's name was Phinehas. He and his brother Hophni were wicked, seducing the young women who served at the Tabernacle. They also took the sacrificial meat offerings, early, before worshipers had time to complete the ceremonies. They skewed the choice pieces of meat from the boiling pots. They often took the meat before the fat was burned on the altar, so they could roast it.

God later accused Eli and his sons of making themselves fat at the expense of his people. Eli is described as "very fat" (NLT). Eli's wicked sons took The Ark of the Covenant into battle with the Philistines, and the Israelites were slaughtered, losing the battle and the Ark was captured. Eli's sons were killed.

When the courier returned to Shiloh with the news of 30,000 dead along with the two priests and the capture of the Ark. The news devastated Eli, 98, who fell back and broke his neck. Phinehas' wife was pregnant and near her delivery date. She heard that her husband and father-in-law were dead and that the Ark was in Philistine hands. She went into labor.

Closing the door on the delivery room for the moment, what happened in this community of believers? How did they get from holy to abominations at the door of God's dwelling. The Tabernacle, a place where God was to meet his people and forget their sins, became a place of vagrant sin. And all seemed to be turning their backs on it. But not God. He will not be mocked.

God sent Eli a message through a prophet one day. God's foretelling of the future did not sound pleasant. Eli's family would not be priests again. The men would die early deaths. Those who lived would be miserable. For God said, "I will honor only those who honor me, and I will despise those who despise me" (1 Samuel 2:30).

Under the old law, their rebellion should have been punished by death from the community, to purge evil acts and perpetrators from their camp. Their father should have carried out the sentence himself, even casting the first stones. Because Eli refused to correct his sons God withdrew his honor from that family.

Back in the delivery room, a son, fated to a short life, is born and his mother names him Ichabod, meaning "Where is the glory?" She said before she died, "The glory has departed form Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured" (1 Samuel 4:22).

A delivery room is a strange place for a prophecy about departing. It seems the proper place for joy, new birth, rejoicing. But on that day, a lot of departures took place. Thirty thousand of Israel's young men died, Eli their priest, his two sons, a woman giving birth, all departed. But the greatest departure was the Ark of God.

Foretold in the naming of Ichabod, Where is the glory? When God withdraws his honor from a family, where is the glory?