Not the end

Stories to Live ByLazarus was sick. Maybe it was staying out late fishing in the rain that turned his cold to the worst. Maybe the infected cut on his hand from mending the nets had turned to gangrene, or a pounding ache in his head that won’t go away.  But now, his sisters Mary and Martha had exhausted their salves and home remedies.  They sent for Jesus.  They needed the Healer.

But Jesus didn’t show up.  It wasn’t for lack of love for Lazarus, but because he loved him.  He wanted Lazarus to experience God’s glory.

When Jesus finally made his way to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days.  Mary and Martha’s grief overwhelmed them.  They both came to him with questions…

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Luke 11:21 and 32).

Lovingly, Jesus met them in their pain. He mourned death. He wept. But Jesus knew something they didn’t know.  Jesus knew about belief so strong that it conquers death. Jesus knew about resurrection and life — real life.

At the tomb, Jesus showed them.

He told them to roll away the stone.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (Luke 11:39-40)

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Oh, how many times I have faced a brother’s tomb and come to Jesus with questions?

When a brother betrays his wife with years of a secret addiction; when a brother takes a joy-ride in his father’s sports car and kills his best friend in the accident; when a brother smiles, but in the end sees no option but to end his own life…

I ask, “Where were you, Jesus?  Couldn’t you have seen what was happening and stopped it?  Couldn’t you have stepped in?  You’ve healed others, why not my brother!”

Patiently he tells me roll away the stone of my doubts. Gently, he asks me to believe.  Quietly he whispers.

“I know it hurts. Remember Gethsemane? But I know how the story ends.  It’s for God’s glory. Trust me. The grave is not the end.”

empty_tomb_wide

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Luke 11:25-26).

 

This, friends, is the beauty of Easter.

What a wonderful Savior.

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boy walking photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

empty tomb photo credit: icr.org

Check out Institue for Creation Research for an article on the impact of the empty tomb.  It’s a great read!

What God Saw

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David’s circuitous  route to becoming king fascinates me.  I’ve often wondered how he held onto the vision he had received when Samuel anointed him quietly in the family tent.  God saw something in David that he didn’t even see in himself.  Actually, I think David’s ability to worship the Lord “with all his might” enabled him to hold onto his faith, even in the face of incredible odds.  In the end, it makes me wonder, what does God see in me that I haven’t yet experienced?

Enjoy this third story for children on the life of David.

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based on 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 15

Trumpets pealed throughout the city announcing the king’s arrival.  Children raced through Jerusalem’s open air markets, calling, “The king has returned!  The king has returned!”  Eagerly, people gathered in their doorways to catch a glimpse of their king and the priests as they maneuvered through the narrow streets.

Disinterested, Michal heard them through her balcony window as she lounged among silk cushions.  “So King David has brought back the sacred Ark of the Covenant,” she mumbled to herself.  “I can’t figure out why he’s so interested in that old chest.  In fact, I can’t figure a lot of things about David these days.”

Michal’s confusion about David was understandable.  A lot had happened since she had married him 10 years ago.  She was shyly impressed when he had killed 200 Philistines to earn her hand in marriage.  Her father, King Saul, had set a high price, and the courageous, young David had boldly met every demand.  And when her father had become insanely jealous of David, she had selflessly put her own neck on the line to help him escape.  But the years on the run had changed David.  His youthful fire was gone, and he was more cautious now.  Once her father and brother, Jonathon, had been killed in battle, the elders in Israel placed David on the throne.  Becoming the wife of the king pleased Michal, she always knew that she belonged in royal robes.  But David’s fascination with this fancy chest annoyed her, and she couldn’t wait for this meaningless celebration to be over.

For David, the celebration was anything but meaningless.  It symbolized his gratitude to the Lord God for keeping His promise.  It seemed so long ago that Samuel had secretly anointed him.  None of them could have predicted the twists and turns the road to become king would take.  But God’s hand had never faltered.  God had established him as King of Israel, and David had to let everyone know of the marvelous works God had done.

So once David had made a home for himself and his family in the capital city, Jerusalem, he had looked for a way to honor God and bless the people.  He had built a special tent to house the Ark of God’s Covenant, an elegant and holy chest decorated with golden angels that stood for God’s presence among His people.  With great care David called together the priests and holy men of Israel to plan a splendid parade honoring God.

Early in the morning, all the best musicians in Israel assembled with drums, cymbals, trumpets and harps eager to make joyful music for the Lord.  David and the priests left to retrieve the Ark from its storage place in Obed-Edom.  As they returned to Jerusalem, David offered a sacrifice of an ox and a young calf.  The golden Ark glistened in the sunlight as the hold men carefully carried the sacred object.  The worshippers streamed into the city, shouting and cheering, playing every kind of musical instrument.  Beautiful melodies filled the air celebrating the God of Israel.

Overcome with his love for the Lord, David removed his velvet robe and humbly put on the rough linen prayer vest of a priest. Then David danced.  He stomped his feet and waved his arms and used his whole body to express his joy before the Lord.  His voice soared above the din as he sang, “I will praise You, Lord God; You have shown Your faithfulness to Israel!  Oh how wonderful are Your works!”  He didn’t care how silly he looked or how undignified his dance.  His heart felt as if it would explode with thankfulness for all God had done.  He had to show it.

The priests climbed the hill on which the great tent was pitched and carefully placed the Ark within it.  Then David honored God with peace offerings, and he blessed the people in the name of the Lord.  Graciously he gave everyone gathered a loaf of bread, barbecued meat and sweet raisin cakes.  David’s joy was contagious.  He taught them a praise song calling them to tell all people everywhere the fabulous things God had done.   All the people joined him with a resounding, “So be it!  Amen!”

When the celebration had come to an end, the people left for their homes, and David turned to his home to bless his family.  A cold and condemning Michal greeted him.  “My, how the King of Israel showed off today,” she sneered.  “I would think you knew better than to take off your royal robe and dance like a fool before common servant girls.”

Grieved by her words, but confident in his actions, David responded, “I danced before the Lord God today, who chose me as king over all Israel instead of your father.  I will gladly play the fool and humble myself as I worship the Lord; and my people will honor me for it.”

All his days, David sought God with a whole heart.  Without ever looking back, in a lowly shepherd boy, God found a king to shepherd His people, Israel.  And with a view to the future, God sent another Good Shepherd for His people — even, you and me.

God’s Woman

 

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God’s hand remained evident on King David’s life in every season of his life — even when he was on the run.  Here’s the second of my series, Stories to Live By.

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based on 1 Samuel 24

David and his band of rough and ready men propped themselves around crude campfires amidst the Rocks of the Wild Goats.  They deserved a rest.  Saul had been mercilessly hunting them throughout the wilderness of Judah, over jagged mountains, into deep woods.

David listened to his men settling in for the night.  They tried not to grumble, but constant nights in the open air were taking their toll on his men.  With the sounds of sheep bleating in the distance, David stared into the flames and let his mind wander into prayer.  “Father God, how did I end up here?  I know You have written out each day of my life like pages in a book, and that Your plans for me are good.  But, my enemies still chase me, and I’m tired.”

The journey to this place was indeed a strange one.  David had recalled the stories so many times, they now haunted him like nightmares.  But his men loved to hear him tell about conquering the Philistine giant, Goliath, with a single stone. They listened as he played calming songs on his harp like he had for King Saul when he was in the king’s favor.  They cheered as he recounted the thousands of Israel’s enemies he had slain in battle.  They marveled at his narrow escape when the angry king threw a spear to take David’s life.  That’s how David found himself here in the caves of En Gedi, hiding like an outlaw, running for his life from a king who was angered by his success.

Startling David from his thoughts, a scout entered the camp, alerting David to oncoming soldiers.  “It looks like three or four thousand of Saul’s elite men, and King Saul himself is in the lead, sir.”

 

“Wake the men and take cover in the caves,” commanded David.  “We’ll hang low and hopefully avoid a fight with the king tonight.  We cannot hope to overcome a force of that size.”  David quickly snuffed out his fire, gathered his sparse belongings, and hid with his men in the crevices of a large cave.

Within the hour, Saul’s entire battalion approached.  Saul instructed his commanders to let the men rest among the rocks.  “We’re hot on the trail of that scoundrel, David,” he growled to his chief officer.  If we march through the night, we’ll overtake him by morning.  I’ll retire in that cave to do my private business.  No one disturb me.”

Amazingly, Saul entered the very same cave in which David and his men huddled.  David’s men were astonished at their luck. They had been running from this mad king for months, and here he sat – an easy target.  Anxiously they whispered to David, “Here’s your enemy!  God has given him to you!  Pounce on him!  Do whatever you want to him!”

Listening to their advice, David saw a chance to teach Saul a lesson.  So, quiet as a cat, he crept up and sliced off a corner of Saul’s royal robe.  Immediately, David wished he hadn’t done it.  In his heart, he knew it was wrong.  He confessed to his men, “I shouldn’t have raised my hand against Israel’s king.  God choose him for this role.  And as long as he lives, I will honor him as my king.”  So David and his men let Saul leave the cave unharmed.

As Saul and his soldiers headed down the road, David stood at the mouth of the cave and cried out,  “My master!  My king!”  Saul turned as David bowed down on his knees in honor.  David called,  “Why do you hunt me?  Why do you think I’m out to get you?  Why do you waste your energy chasing me like a dog?   Just now, your life was in my hands, and I spared you.  See, I have the corner of your robe in my hand. But I am no rebel!  God is my judge — I am loyal to you and your family.  I will never raise my hand against you!”

When Saul recognized the voice of David, he wept aloud and said, “Oh my son, David, you are right.  I have done evil to you, and all the while you have only brought good to me.  What a noble man you are, to have the chance to kill me and not do it.  May God bless you.  Now I know for sure that you are God’s man.  He will set you as king over Israel.  Just promise me that you will protect my family.”

David gave Saul his promise, and they each went their own way, thinking about the choices made that day.  Saul turned his whole army around and headed for home, but David and his men went up to their stronghold.

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This story from King David’s life is a lesson for us in restraint.  Really, I think it’s a challenge to be the man or woman God wants you to be, even when you’re wrongfully accused and persecuted… even when everyone around you encourages you to take matters into your own hands.

O God, give me the grace to be your woman, even when it’s easier not to be. Amen.

Tending Sheep

 

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A while back I wrote a few stories from the life of King David for children at our church.  I thought I’d post them as Stories to Live By.  Here’s the first of three.

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based on 1 Samuel 16

In the days when Saul was King over Israel, God told his prophet, Samuel, to anoint a new king.  God had rejected King Saul, because he had not followed God’s commands. Although Samuel the prophet had warned Saul about the choices he was making, he knew Saul’s kingdom wouldn’t last and that God had his eye on a new man to be king.  So, when God instructed Samuel the prophet to find the new king among Jesse’s sons, he started the long journey to Bethlehem in the hill country.

Unfortunately Samuel the prophet had a reputation of being a bad-new bearer.  So when the town leaders in Bethlehem heard that he was coming to their dusty little village, they were worried.  Trembling, they greeted Samuel and said, “Why are you here?  Do you bring trouble or peace?”Tired and a little bothered that he had to come to this lowly, out-of-the-way village, Samuel assured them.  “Oh don’t worry,” he answered.  “I’ve come to worship the LORD with you.  Get cleaned up, and we’ll sacrifice this young cow to the LORD.  Be sure Jesse and his sons come to the ceremony,” he added.

So the townspeople washed themselves and put on clean clothes to be ready to worship the LORD with Samuel.  Decked out in their finest clothes, Jesse and seven of his sons also showed up for the sacrifice.  When Samuel spied Jesse’s oldest boy, a handsome, strong young man who looked like he could lead an army, he thought to himself, “This must be the one the LORD has chosen.  He looks exactly like a king.”But, knowing what was in Samuel’s heart, the LORD corrected him.  “You are only looking at his face and body to see if he fills the role as king.  You don’t see what I see.  I’m looking into his heart, and I and tell you this isn’t the one I have chosen.”

So Samuel asked Jesse to parade his sons before him, waiting for God to show him whom to anoint as king.  Jesse didn’t know God has his eye on one of his sons.  And he silently wondered what the great prophet could be looking for.  In spite of young men’s good looks and splendid clothes, as each son strutted by, Samuel simply had to say, “No, this isn’t the one.”

Now, seven smart and smiling sons is a lot to look over, and it took awhile.  When the last one failed to be God’s chosen, the exhausted prophet groaned,  “Jesse, are all your sons here?  Aren’t there any more?”

Jesse quietly conceded, “Well, there is my youngest son.  But he’s just a boy and is out tending the smelly sheep.  He isn’t cleaned up and ready to come to the sacrifice.”

“That doesn’t matter.  Quickly bring him to me,” commanded Samuel.  “We won’t begin the sacrifice until he is with us.”  With that, the weary prophet turned to rest in Jesse’s tent while Jesse fetched his youngest son from the hills.

Just as soon as David arrived before Samuel, tanned and healthy-looking from being outdoors all day, God immediately told Samuel, “Get up!  Anoint this one.  He is the one I have chosen to be king.”  So, right there in the family tent, Samuel gently poured the anointing oil on David.

In those days anointing with oil meant that a person was set apart for a special purpose from God.  None of the people there really knew what God was up to, but from that day forward, God’s Spirit was moving in David in a powerful way.

Although this seems like the beginning of David’s story, it’s really not.  Quietly and creatively, since he before he was born, God had been shaping David to be a king who would shepherd the people He loved – Israel.

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You know, God has a plan for each of us like that — something he’s shaped into us quietly and creatively since before we were born.

We just have to be still enough to see it.

Huh… maybe there’s something to tending sheep.