So you’re not Ken or Barbie?


Photographer Bill
Stylist Susan Kurtz

Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:When (the sons of Jesse) came, (Samuel the prophet) looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Observation: Earlier in this book we were told that Saul, Israel’s first human king, was head and shoulders taller than any other man in Israel – and was handsome as well. One assumes he looked the part of a king. However, despite is favorable appearance, Saul failed miserably. In looking for Saul’s successor as king. the prophet Samuel sees Eliab – another tall, handsome man. Hard to blame Samuel for assuming Eliab must be the one God would choose. He was not. Instead God chose a boy named David, Eliab’s youngest brother. David did NOT look the part of a king, but no matter. As the end of the passage says, “the Lord looks on the heart”.

Application: It’s been documented that people with good looks tend to get a leg up in the world. People respond to them differently, more favorably. In my experience, this is especially true for women. I have two daughters, one 23 years old and one 17 years old. As a father I see the pressure they feel to look a certain way. As they’re finding their way in the world, they want to be accepted. I get it. But it worries me. In any case, today’s passage is good news for many of us. You don’t have to be Ken or Barbie to find the favor of God, for God wants your heart – not your looks.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, in a world that values beauty that is skin deep, give us beautiful hearts that are faithful to you. Give us the grace of your favor that we might glorify you before others. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rationalizing disobedience…



Scripture: (1 Samuel 15: 5-9) Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ” So Saul summoned the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand foot soldiers, and ten thousand soldiers of Judah…Saul defeated the Amalekites… He took King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was valuable, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.

Observation: King Saul mostly followed the direction of God, but not quite. This was not the first time. So God would later replace Saul with a young man named… David.

Application: If you follow this blog you know I’ve been making an effort to take rest/Sabbath – which is hard to do as a pastor (well, for everyone really). Fridays and Saturdays are my stated days off because Sunday is an obvious work day. Yet on many occasions there are church activities I feel I need to participate in on Fridays and Saturdays – which means I don’t really have my days off. And I rationalize this behavior as unavoidable, but he main reason I skip days off is because I don’t want to disappoint people. Truth? I should know better. I know that continually skipping time off will lead me to burnout – and possibly having to leave my church, and the church having to call another senior pastor. I’ve seen it many times in my years of work across the national church. It’s awful. It’s certainly not what I want.

Question: Where are you rationalizing disobedience?

Prayer: Lord, many of us are experts at rationalizing disobedience. Give us grace to follow your ways when our own thoughts lead us away from you. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Never tell me the odds!



Scripture: 1 Samuel 14:Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will act for us; for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”

Observation: The Philistines garrison, thousands of warriors strong, had run the Israelites out of their homes up into the hills where they hid out in caves. Jonathan (the young son of King Saul) believed God could give him victory over them – using just himself and his armor bearer. Two guys and only one armed! It’s an act of incredible faith. When God gave him a sign he would be victorious, Jonathan acted and sent the Philistines to flight. I was particularly struck by the final verse in the passage “for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few”. We tend to get hung up on numbers. To defeat a garrison of thousands we would expect to need thousands. God doesn’t see it that way.

Application: I’m a Star Wars buff, as are most people of my generation. One of my favorites lines from the original movie comes when Hans Solo is flying the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field. C3PO says the odds of survival are 3,720 to 1. To which Hans Solo replies, “Never tell me the odds!” Our God is all about doing the impossible. Some of us right now are facing some pretty long odds and we’re feeling discouraged. Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Today’s story reminds us that, with God, all things are indeed possible. That was true for Jonathan. It’s true for you and me too.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when we’re in a difficult place in life with long odds, give us grace to trust you for the impossible. Amen.




Scripture: John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

Observation: Nathanael is presented as quite the character. First, he starts banging on Nazareth – which was a town of little consequence in ancient times. What’s funny is that Philip was from Bethsaida, which wasn’t much bigger than Nazareth. But then Jesus describes Nathanael as one “in whom there is no deceit”. In other words, he tells it like it is. No B.S. from this guy. Nathanael was clearly a guy with some rough edges to him. He was perhaps a bit judgmental, but he was also honest. I suppose Jesus saw in Nathanael someone he could work with, so he called him as one of his disciples.

Application: I’m a flawed person, that’s for sure. I tend to talk when I should listen. Patience is not my strong suit. I’ll start things but not always finish them. I can be abrasive with people, though I don’t mean to be. I could go on and on. I leave a lot to be desired – yet the Lord has called me anyway. As the Lord has called you. We are his representatives in the world. God uses us to bless others – to love them, support them, challenge them. To introduce them to the Lord Jesus. Nathanael reminds us that we don’t have to be perfect to be useful to the Lord.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, use us for your purposes today – warts and all. Amen.

Becoming a “different person”…



Scripture: Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on (Saul’s) head, and kissed him; he said, “The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel. You shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies all around. Now this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you ruler over his heritage… the spirit of the Lord will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with (other prophets) and be turned into a different person. Now when these signs meet you, do whatever you see fit to do, for God is with you.”

Observation: God’s people were continually being defeated in battle due to their unfaithfulness to God – who would withdraw his support. In their hardship they would repent of their sin and God would save them. This happened over and over again. Since the whole “God is our king” arrangement didn’t appear to be working, the people asked for a human king – as neighboring nations had. God relented and chose Saul to be Israel’s first human king. But before Saul could assume this role, God had to do a work in him. God sent his Spirit into Saul, which made him into “a different person”.

Application: I’ve never served as a bishop myself, but I worked on a bishop’s staff for six years. Having seen that job up close, I know it’s a difficult one. So this past weekend, as I witnessed the installation of a new bishop for this region of the Lutheran church, I found myself praying fervently for him, for his family, and for those who will be part of his staff. As is true for many jobs, there’s really no way to understand it until you do it for a while. Yet, our passage for today reminds me that God will not call someone to do a job without giving the resources and personal wherewithal needed to complete it.

I think this is a good word for many of us today. Feeling overwhelmed? In over your head? Pray for the Lord to make you “a different person” as he did Saul. That’s what I’m doing this morning.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, let it be so. Amen.

Starting well, ending badly…



Scripture: I Samuel 9:15 Now the day before Saul came (to see the prophet Samuel), the Lord had revealed to Samuel: 16 “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have seen the suffering of my people, because their outcry has come to me.” 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people.” (After Samuel told Saul he would be king) 21 Saul answered, “I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin. Why then have you spoken to me in this way?”

Observation: Saul didn’t expect to be anointed king over all Israel. In his own mind he was not worthy. He came from a small family of humble circumstances from the smallest of the twelve tribes. It’s possible this is one reason why God chose him in the first place. He was not full of himself. However, once he was king for a while, Saul lost his way. He started  well, but finished poorly.

Application: This sort of things happens all the time. Good people assume positions of authority and, over time, lose their way. Happens in politics, business, academia, even the church.

Prayer: Lord, too many people start well but finish poorly – leaving under a cloud. As many of us reading this blog today have positions of leadership and some measure of authority, give us grace to stay grounded. Bring people around us who will speak truth to us in love. We want to give you glory from beginning to end. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“He opened their minds to understand…”


open mind key locked un locked brain mind

Scripture: Luke 24:36 While they were talking about (reports of the resurrected Jesus appearing to some of his disciples), Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…

Observation: After receiving Jesus’ teaching for years the disciples STILL didn’t quite understand what was going on. Since they would be tasked with spreading the message after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, it was critical they “get it”. How did the message finally sink in? Jesus “opened their minds to understand…”.

Application: Ever have trouble understanding scripture? I do – and I’ve been studying God’s word for decades now. And unlike most of you readers, I have a vast library of biblical resources to turn to when something in scripture doesn’t make sense.

Studying is a good thing. No doubt growing in faith requires effort. However, human diligence is really not what gets us over the top. Comprehension comes as a gift from God. Maybe like me, there are some areas of life that don’t make sense right now. Things are confusing and unclear. While diligence on our part is a must – revelation from the Lord is key.

Prayer: Gracious God, your word is often hard to understand – as is much of life. We have so many questions and struggle to comprehend. Give us grace to receive your revelation as you make it available. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.