Did a medium really conjure up the spirit of Samuel?

Our men’s Thursday morning bible study was deep into our study of 1 Samuel when we got to the account of Saul finding a medium to conjure up the spirit of the prophet Samuel who had died (1 Samuel 28:3-19).

Saul is in a bad spot. The Philistines have gathered to attack. Saul has exhausted every way he knows to contact the Lord, to no avail. Now what? He tells his servants to find a medium, so he can contact the departed spirit of Samuel and find out what’s going to happen.

Even though Saul has eradicated all the mediums and “fortune-tellers” from the land, his servants find a medium in Endor. According to the text, she conjures up the spirit of Samuel, who gives Saul the bad news: Israel is going to lose the battle to the Philistines, and you and your sons will die.

Here’s my question: did the medium really get in contact with the spirit of Samuel? Is that even possible? What is really going on here?

First of all, this is not a permissible practice. In Deuteronomy 18:9-14 God commands his people not to do this. They are not to consult mediums or spiritualists (Leviticus 19::31).

But it seems that the medium had indeed summoned the spirit of Samuel. Saul recognized Samuel. And the spirit’s prediction came true: Israel was defeated and Saul was killed. So God allowed this to happen? It seems so.

Well, that opens up a can of worms. Are spirits real? Are mediums real? Is there validity to those who read palms and gaze into crystal balls? In just about every town I’ve ever been to you can find a fortune-teller who is able to afford a storefront from those who pay for this kind of information. Is this real? A scam? Just business?

Here are a few things I’ve learned and concluded:

  • The spirit world is real. Satan’s minions were ejected from heaven when they lost their battle to Michael and the angels. Jesus dealt with demons in his ministry. They may be on a short leash, but they are real.
  • God has a handle on our future. When I surveyed the class, asking, “Would you want to know the day of your death?” all answered, “No.” Who wants to live in the shadow of their death? It’s better not to ask.
  • God wants us to trust him. Nothing can separate us from his love, so what else do you need to know. Just enjoy the ride. You may be surprised. You may scream. You may throw up. You might just love it. But it’s worth it. You were made for this.

When it come to the occult, I am very quickly over my head. Not a place I want to be. I’ll trust God with my future, thank you very much.

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“You better put a piece of tape over it.”

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Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

We got into a pretty interesting discussion at men’s bible class last Thursday morning. We are in the last few chapters of 1 Samuel and were impressed at how King Saul was often able to find out where David was. With no satellites, drones, electronic listening devices, GPS — just a few spies, probably on foot — Saul repeated tracked him down. In like manner, David knew where Saul was and stayed a step ahead of him.

In the course of this conversation, someone mentioned that we should put tape over the cameras on our computers. A new story reported that without us knowing it, someone can use it to watch us. I asked, “Why would someone want to watch us? What do they think they’ll see?”

Someone else said, “It’s not like we’re taking it into the shower with us or anything like that.”

I said, “If we did, they’d want to cover their screen with tape!”

Best laugh at the table in a long time. Thank God for humor, laughter and great conversation!

Can I have your attention?

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Photo by Loren Joseph on Unsplash

Post-Easter Sunday excitement, wiggles and sugar-hangovers made the Good News Club a little more challenging last week. After a few songs and teaching about the resurrection via the account of the two disciples who met the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, it was craft and review time. The room divided up by grade to work on a few peel-and-stick crafts and see who could remember a few things from the story that day. Conversation and laughter filled the room, but everything remained under control — except for a few boys in the second grade group. The adult working with that group could have used a few dogs from the herding group to help corral those nine children. I was done teaching for the day so I tapped the four boys on the shoulder and said, “You guys come with me.”

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What happened on Sunday?

IMG-8774This is kind of a sequel to yesterday’s post. It’s mostly highlights from my Easter Sunday. Not necessarily exciting, but a debrief for me nonetheless.

The alarm woke me at 4:30 am. I get up a little earlier on Sunday mornings so I have time to read and write a little before I get ready for the day. First things first, though: feed and walk Samson who is willing to get up whenever I do.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I am a few weeks ahead in my “Today’s Light” readings. I read Deuteronomy 27 today, taking note of the altar Moses instructed the leaders of Israel to built after they crossed the Jordan. It was to be made of uncut stone, a reminder that no human effort would make a sacrifice acceptable to God. It’s all grace.

I then pondered who I would see and wouldn’t see in church today. I’d see a bunch of once-a-year attenders, visiting family and other guests. I wouldn’t see some who were traveling, some who have died and some who I don’t know why they weren’t there. I made a mental note to watch and listen to all the Easter stories going on around me.

After showering and dressing, I got to church about 6:15. I love being the first person there, walking up to the church while it’s still dark as the birds are just beginning to sing and a gentle breeze nudges the flag from its pole. As I was walking to the front door, I noticed a car pull in the parking lot. About half-way in, they turned around and left, and drove to the church next door, which was still dark and vacant. After driving around the parking lot, they drove away. Looking for a sunrise service I guess.

IMG-8773After I unlocked the doors, turned on the lights and powered up the sound board, I practiced my sermon and then took a few pictures of the chancel filled with Easter lilies. I’m glad I got there a little bit early because some of the musicians began arriving about 7 to go over some music. A few folks from the hispanic congregation came to pray in the chapel soon after.

As the Praise Team ran through their music, I stood out front and talked with folks as they arrived for worship. At 8:11, I gave the musicians the thumbs up to begin their preservice song and we began our first Easter service.

Just before the sermon I invited the children to come and look at our last Resurrection egg (which was empty, just like the tomb), and search for the giant empty egg hidden in the sanctuary. Then I gave them their jelly beans and read them the Jelly Bean poem. As I prayed with them, my grandson Elijah, licked a green jelly bean, put it back in the bag, and then put half of the giant egg on my head like a hat. (I’m waiting to see if anyone got a picture of that.) Just another day worshiping with kids!

After the first worship service was over, one of our young men briefly presented to the congregation his eagle project of redoing our playground. I reset my children’s sermon props and headed over to the Fellowship Hall for a really nice breakfast prepared by our Parish Life board and served by our youth. I got to meet a few new families who had come to our area, checking out our church.

About 10:20, I warmed up a little on trumpet, set it out by the music stands, and greeted families beginning to arrive for the 11 am worship service. Straight up at 11 we began with a special cantor/bell/choir call and response, and then launched into the first hymn for a full house of worshipers. This year we had three trumpets and a baritone horn to accompany the the hymns. The choir sang two pieces and the bells rang a second at the beginning of holy communion.

29594660_10211761304368994_4027288363915323199_nAfter worship was over, I got to greet some of the Russian congregation who use our facility on Sunday afternoons. Then it was home for a nap and off to High Tides Snack Jack in Flagler Beach, our traditional Easter supper eatery. We beat most of the evening crowd, and had time to play on the beach a little, too.

29683255_10155600924063460_6691557633990882834_nA long time ago, I can remember Easter Sunday begin hectic, frantic and exhausting. But now with some ministry years under my belt, I just let it happen. Sure, it’s busy, but it’s fun, too. It’s fun to play my horn, meaningful to see everyone, and encouraging to speak and hear the refrain, “He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”

 

What happened on Saturday?

Holy Saturday. For we pastors who run the entire Holy Week race, we’re coming out of the final turn on the way to Easter morning. The week has been filled with extra worship services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and a few visits to some homebound members who won’t be in worship tomorrow, perennially the biggest Sunday of the year. What do pastor’s do on that in-between day?

For me, it’s pretty relaxing. I didn’t have to get up as early as I usually do. I did a little sermon review for Sunday. Then I oiled up the valves and blew a few notes through my trumpet, just staying limber for tomorrow’s hymns. I exercised, did some grocery shopping, bought a new tie for tomorrow, got into the Easter candy, and may still take a nap this afternoon. All in all, a pretty nice day.

What happened on that Saturday before Jesus’ resurrection? Not much. It’s the Sabbath, so it’s a day away from the regular routines of work. The reality of Jesus’ death is beginning to hit those who knew and loved him. Thoughts of having to get up early to finish taking care of his corpse were on the minds of some. Fear haunted those in hiding; “Now what are we going to do?” The Roman soldiers had to work, guarding the tomb.

The one thing that we do not see on that Saturday is any kind of celebration from Satan and his demons. Why not? The Christ is dead. This should be their moment. They can run amok  unhindered through creation and mankind. They’ve won. They should be celebrating. They should be planning the parade.

But they’re not. Maybe they knew. Maybe they knew that this pause in the story isn’t a good thing. When Jesus said he’d rise, the disciples didn’t get it. Maybe the demons did. From the beginning they knew who he was. And they knew they didn’t have a chance.

In a sense, much of life is Saturday. We’re waiting for resurrection, for the return of Christ. For some, it’s relaxing. Others have to work. Some are afraid. Many hope it comes soon. We’ll get a taste of it tomorrow, in word and sacrament and song, and be reminded that death doesn’t have a chance!

My Good Friday Bible

Today, I dusted off what I call my “Good Friday” bible and took it into the sanctuary in preparation for tonight’s Tenebrae (darkness) worship service. I call it my “Good Friday” bible because that is the one day a year when I use this massive volume. It measures about 12″x9″x3″ and weighs about 8 pounds, easily the largest book on my shelves. It has more than enough power for the end of the worship service when in complete darkness I slam it on the altar, reminding us of the closing up of Jesus’ tomb.

I received this bible from my mom and dad on my wedding day, nearly thirty-four years ago. They, too had a large bible like this at home that had been given to them. I don’t remember ever reading from it much. We had plenty of other bibles that we used for our personal and family devotions. The large bible contained a little bit of family tree names and dates, plus a couple of inspirational bookmarks.

I have slammed this bible on the altar thirty-two times, the number of years I have been a pastor and led worship on Good Friday. You can tell from the cracked binding that this book was only designed to be slammed about twenty-five times.

As I opened it up, I saw the dedication page written by my mom, with the reference to Psalm 18:30-36 and her blessing and prayer, “May your children give you as much joy as you have me.”

This psalm reference contains one of her favorite scriptural images, “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places” (Psalm 18:33 KJV). One of my mom’s favorite books was Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds’ Feet on High Places, “a timeless allegory dramatizing the yearning of God’s children to be led to new heights of love, joy, and victory” (Amazon.com). She purchased and gave away dozens of those books. She knew well the difficult life in the trenches as a mom, wife and nurse. But she also knew joy. She knew the thrill of skipping sure-footedly across the mountains of God’s promises to see the past, present and future from a whole new perspective. I am thankful that she passed that thrill along to me.

By grace, God heard and answered her prayer many times over. My children and now my grandchildren continue to fill my life with so much joy! Thirty-four years later, I understand what mom was talking about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five things I learned writing daily Lent devotions

A week before Ash Wednesday (February 14 this year), I cast a line via my weekly email into the congregation announcing that I would be writing daily devotions on Mark’s version of the passion of our Lord during the forty-six days of Lent (I included the Sundays). About twenty replied and received a daily early-morning email devotion. This was a new project for me, and here’s what I learned from the experience. Continue reading

A busy Sunday morning

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I may only work one day a week, but that day is a lot busier than most people realize. Here’s what I mean:

About ten minutes before worship begins, I see a man in a wheelchair across the sanctuary trying to get my attention, wiggling his finger in the air, summoning me like a waiter at a restaurant. I make my way over so he can tell me, “Pastor, will you bring communion back to me” “Yes.” (Just like I do each and every Sunday morning. BTW, no tip, either.)

As I walk over to introduce myself to some guests, a woman bundled up in a coat and scarf stops me to comment, “Why is it so cold in here! We’re wasting energy on so much air conditioning!” I confess, I did not do well in the HVAC class at the seminary, but I do notice the woman behind her fanning herself with a worship folder. I promise, “I’ll see what I can do.”

As I head towards the vestry to put on my alb, I pass by someone who suggests that someone ought to update the bulletin boards, especially the empty black one in the entryway. “Well you see,” I explain, “That is actually supposed to depict the inside of the tomb on Holy Saturday. What do you think?”

Dressed and ready to begin worship, a couple asks me, “Can we borrow some chairs from the fellowship hall?” I shrug, “Ok by me.” An usher notifies me that we may not have enough weekly newsletters to give out. “I guess folks will have to share.” As I make my way to the chancel, someone comments, “My birthday didn’t get printed in the weekly newsletter. I guess that means I don’t have to celebrate one this year!”

After worship, a man mentions to me that I can go with the cub scout pack any weekend they are camping. Before, I would have said, “That’s great, but you know, I do work on Sundays.” But now I’m thinking that might not be a bad idea at all.

You couldn’t wait for me to get to “amen.”

caleb-woods-182648-unsplashThis hasn’t happened just once. I’d say it happens about once a month. I’ll be out visiting someone in their home or the hospital, and as I wrap up a prayer, they begin speaking less than one second after I say, “Amen.”

“Amen.” “Pastor, I have a question…”

“Amen.” “I’ve always wondered…”

“Amen.” “There was this guy…”

“Amen.” “I just don’t understand…”

So, you really weren’t praying along with me, were you? You were somewhere else, having boarded a different train of thought, impatiently waiting for me to get to “amen.” Anyone who knows me knows I do not say long prayers. It’s not that I lost you in a vast sea of petitions. You had just fast-forwarded through whatever I would say, biding your time until I finally finished.

I’m not really upset by this. It just surprises me. You’d be surprised if I didn’t pray with you, and yet your mind was wandering.

Good listening means you aren’t formulating a response when the other person is talking. You’ve set that aside, so you can pay attention to what the other person is saying. This is very hard to do. Listening is hard. I guess it’s hard to focus when someone’s praying for you, too.

Here are a few tips for the next time your pastor comes to visit and prays with you

  • Keep your eyes closed (if you pray with closed eyes) for just a moment after “amen.” Savor the blessing of a God who listens to and responds to your prayers. Just like a fine wine, prayers have a finish worth enjoying.
  • Take a couple of breaths after “amen.” Let the petitions echo in the room and in your mind for a moment. Let the dust settle before you speak.
  • Add your own prayer after “amen.” Keep the conversation going. Ask and seek and knock.
  • Embrace a few seconds of silence. It’s a noisy world and quiet moments are at a premium. Make the most of them.

I find great comfort and inspiration in knowing that a moment of prayer can turn an ordinary home, hospital room, nursing home or park bench into the holy ground of God’s presence. I know he loves those moments, too.