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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hearing and Knowing the Voice of God

1 Samuel 3:1-10
What I notice first in this passage of Scripture is Samuel resting in the temple after he helped Eli to bed. Why was Samuel in the temple? Maybe he was there to make sure the candles on the altar did not go out. Maybe Samuel was in the temple because there was no room elsewhere for him to lay. Maybe God designed it that way so he could be even closer to Eli. I am not sure any one of these is correct nor if all of them are incorrect. God’s ways are mysterious. We do know Samuel was close enough to Eli to be able to hear him should Eli call out for him. If he was close enough to hear Eli, was he close enough to hear God? We are soon to find out.
We see three times Samuel ran to Eli, assuming Eli called him. We see Samuel as a dutiful boy. He took care of the elder priest, even to being willing to wait upon him instead of sleep. Who was Eli that Samuel would live with him and obey him? Eli was not his father. Eli was the priest who prayed over Samuel’s mother, Hannah, when she cried to God regarding not having a child. He prayed for her and told her within the next year, when others came to the temple, she would have a child from her own body. This raised the spirit of Hannah. Hannah did have a child and Samuel was that child. When Hannah weaned Samuel, she did what is very difficult for mothers; she gave her son back to the Lord, in prayer and in action. She took Samuel to the temple one day and gave him into Eli’s care to use for the service of Yahweh in the temple. Hannah experienced the blessing of God and wanted to give the blessing back to Him for His use. What a great thank you to God. She gave back to Him 100% of what He blessed her with, a child, so Samuel began his service to Eli. Samuel helped Eli as he aged with things an old man finds difficult to do. Eli taught Samuel the ways and rituals of the Lord’s temple. He taught him how to read the Torah and to write. Eli was raising Samuel to be a priest.
At the time of this chapter, Samuel was perhaps aware of how God spoke to prophets of old based on his learning from the writings in the Torah and from stories handed down by Eli. Samuel was aware of God’s love and mercy through the stories of His love leading the Israelites out of Egypt. God shows He is a covenant God through the stories of Adam, Abraham, and Noah. I am sure Samuel was told, as well, of Yahweh’s personal interest in the lives of His people by the example of his own conception in Hannah. Samuel was acquainted with God through what he learned and read. Do we share the stories of God’s care, love, and mercy to our children or to the children of God with whom we have contact?  
Eli continued to teach Samuel; he was not finished with his job on earth yet. On this night in chapter 3, we find a voice calling out to Samuel three times and, each time, Samuel ran to his master, Eli. Eli did not scold him for waking him, but sent Samuel back to his bed. On the third time Samuel heard someone calling out to him, Eli discerned Samuel must have heard the voice of the Lord. When was the first time you heard the voice of the Lord and understood it to be God? Samuel was acquainted with Eli’s voice but never before heard Yahweh’s voice. Eli knew God’s voice and discerned God was calling for Samuel, the child given back to God by his mother. Eli instructed Samuel to answer God that he was listening and for Him to speak. Did Samuel follow Eli’s instruction without question or did he query Eli? Scripture does not say Samuel questioned Eli and he had no reason to doubt Eli’s instruction; Eli had been faithful to him these few years of Samuel’s time with him. Samuel trusted Eli. That is why Samuel responded the fourth time to God by saying he was listening. Samuel learned for himself the sound of God’s voice because Eli, his master, taught him. Samuel trusted Eli; long before he knew the sound of God’s voice, he trusted Yahweh because of Eli’s teaching. He trusted His heart. Do we teach others to trust God’s heart? Do we go beyond even that and teach them to take notice of God’s voice? 
Eli may well have been afraid and refused to teach Samuel to discern God’s voice; yet, he was still faithful to Yahweh and to his charge, Samuel. He doubtless understood, though, if Samuel was hearing a voice and he, the priest, was not, the message doubtless had something to do with him and his family. Remember, Eli’s sons were corrupt in their service to the Lord in the temple. Eli ignored this issue and did not reprimand his sons. God took issue with Eli for not disciplining them and with the sons for being unfaithful to Him and corrupting the temple worship. God spoke to Eli in the past and said he, his sons, and his bloodline would no longer be priests in the temple of God. To this date, God’s punishment had not occurred. Eli sensed, by God speaking to Samuel and bypassing him, God would be talking to Samuel regarding him and his sons. Eli was curious the next day and requested Samuel to tell him what God said to Samuel. The message from God was as Eli expected; God had told Samuel of the evil in the house of Eli and His punishment of them. 
There had been prophetic silence in the land of Israel for many years. The Israelite’s hearts were hardened and their ears were deaf to God. God spoke to them in the past, but they did not heed Him and listen. By being closed to the Israelites, God was possibly disciplining them. We do not know for sure, but we do know through Samuel, God began speaking to the Israelites again. Samuel would become a prophet for almighty Yahweh in the midst of a hardened nation. God wanted to speak with Israel. He wanted to be in a relationship with them. The Israelites would not hear Him; they could not hear Him. God had to remove from the Israelites the evil that led them, the priests, and raise up a prophet who would give voice to His words. God determined Israel would hear from Him.
With this story come questions. Are we training our youth to recognize God, to know His heart and to be still and know and heed His voice? If we do not teach them to discern His voice, we are failing them and the Lord who tells us to teach our children to know Him and to love and serve Him. Are we as the Israelites, unable to perceive God anymore, or do we strive each day to keep in tune with Him so we can take notice of and be acquainted with His voice amongst the many others that clamor for our attention? With your consideration of this last question, you may have realized your heart has become hardened. Are you ready to turn around and open yourself for Yahweh God to remold you to be His child, to hear His voice? I challenge you today to ask yourself when the last time was you heard God’s voice. It is not too late today to turn around and look to God, to reacquaint yourself with His ways and His word. He wants to be familiar with you and you to Him.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I Choose Life

        Everyone has joined the conversation this week and I thought I had had enough.  I must, though, add my heart thoughts to this matter.  I will try to be brief.  Yes, women should have the right to their bodies.  Women should have freedom of choice.  At what point, though, does freedom of choice cross over the very first freedom, freedom of life?
        Some people say that the sperm and egg, the fertilized egg, the embryo, or the fetus are not a person.  I differ with that thought because once the male sperm with 23 chromosomes and the female egg with 23 chromosomes join together in an a cell formation, then that singular entity with 46 chromosomes, just like a born human, is a person.  If you choose to biologically take a fertilized egg apart you will find all the genetic material for a person to be developed into a fetus, a baby, a teenager, an adult and then a senior adult.  All this is the process of life from the point of ffertilization and God declared it as good.  He did create humans in His image.  So at what point of the maturing process of life is abortion not killing a person?

        I think that we cannot take away a woman's freedom of life, in whatever form she wants, without giving her ethically moral options for this human being, this person, should she choose to not to want to parent and train the child maturing through the decades.  What are alternatives to raising this child herself?  Adoption comes to my mind immediately.  There are many adults who want to have children and cannot conceive.  Co-parenting with someone like the grandparents.  This would have to have the permission of all those with whom she would want to coparent.  Asking another member of the family to raise the child as their own.  This also will require the cooperation and permission of the other family member.  By doing this, the plans of the woman can go forward such as high school, college, or career ladder climbing.

       I also think the woman who does become preganant and finds herself in this crisis needs a support system to help her through this 9 month period and help her with making a decision as to what is best for the child and herself.  In the norm from the past and even somewhat now, women are called names and looked down upon for becoming pregnant out of wedlock.  As a Christian, I do not believe a person should sleep with anyone but their spouse.  However, humans are sinful and things do happen.  When a woman finds herself pregnant without desiring to be, that is not a time for ostracizing her or making her feel ashamed.  That is a time when we should come around her to support her and guide her to all options that are available should she not want to raise the child.  The act of sex outside of marriage is wrong, see Leviticus 18, however, it has been done and a human being has come into existence because of it.  the job of others is to support her and help her choose a healthy life for herself and the baby human growing within her.  It is not a time to make her feel guilty.
        There are two humans now who need to be nurtured and protected.  When God had finished creating Adam and Eve, He gave them a charge to take care of all that is on, above, and under the earth.  That includes other human beings.  Also when God made Adam and Eve, He made them in His image.  Nothing else God created was said to be created in His image therefore He put a high value on humans and on His relationship with them.  This is why humans were created, to be in relationship with Himself.  We were also given a commandment by Jesus in the New Testament to love our neighbors as ourselves alongside out love of God.  If you will notice, the ten commandments are based on these two pillars.  The first pillar is about our relationship with God.  The second pillar of 6 commandments is about our relationship with other people.  Therefore, we are to value others as God values all humans, with great care and love.  We are to make sure that even the weakest in society is taken care of and not pushed to the boundary of society and life.  Jesus came to "the least of these." 
       Abortion does not show God's love to "the littlest of these."  Nor does it show God's love when we ostracize the woman who has become pregnant outside of marriage.  Additionally, it does not show God's love and care when we don't help the woman who has chosen life for this little human.  We must be there for all but we must be even more careful to show love to those who would be most likely to be made an outcast.  If we was to make a statement that abortion is killing a person, then we must also make the statement that God through us loves the mother and child by helping them get through the pregnancy and the next years until they become stronger in Christ and can stand on their own feet. 
        I choose life and if I choose this, I will purposefully be available to support and love a woman and the human growing within her and then help support her as she chooses to raise or adopt out the child.  I choose life.  Jesus chose life for us, too, when He gave His life to be the sacrifice for our sins.  If Jesus chose life, how can we do differently?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Know, Hear, Wait, Arise and Go

Readings: Genesis 15     Isaiah 40 

           Abram’s vision from Yahweh  terrified him. The might of God, the ability to tell of the future, the vengeance of God, is shown in vivid detail to him. Who would not be afraid of this God?  
Up to this point Abram had not seen God in action. He had only listened to God telling him to leave his family, his home, and his country. Now, God told Abram his future, being the father of many nations. Yahweh also told Abram the future for His children, Israel, and the punishment for humankind for disobedience, annihilation. In the midst of this, Abram was able to perceive the love of God, a God who not only calls out, but who protects and provides for His chosen ones. No wonder terror filled Abram. Abram glimpsed the judgment and wrath of God and, at the same time, the love and compassion of God. For people of that time, gods were neither loving, nor compassionate, but were an entity to be appeased. For Abram, this was a personal revelation.   

How awesome to be in the midst of God and be made privilege to receive a vision or word from God. The awesomeness comes from the fact almighty God deigns to speak to you, a created being, and shows His power and His heart. It is almost more than a human can take. No wonder when we read in the Bible of someone having had an encounter with God, their faces are aglow and they tell the tale of having had to hide. The glory of the Lord was too great for them to experience. It can be dumbfounding. “Awesome” describes this meeting.  

Abraham received this vision from God; he received a covenant promise from God. Next, though, we hear of Abraham taking matters into his own hands. He knew he had no heir yet, after God’s promise, so he took matters into his hands and lay with Hagar, his wife, Sarah’s, maid. Abraham could not wait the thirteen years for God’s timing, the right time, to create an heir for Abraham, a father of nations. He listened to his doubts and the counsel of his wife, Sarah, and lay with Hagar.   

Do we take matters into our own hands when we sense God must have meant for us to do the work He called us to do in our own strength? Do we strive to become the person we feel He meant for us to be? How many of us have forsaken patience and taken matters into our own hands? When God gives you a Word, wait on it. Seeking “wise” counsel from other humans, other created beings, is a downgrading of God’s counsel. Human counsel cannot understand nor make God’s Word to you come true. Other people cannot understand what God meant when He spoke to you. Wait. Be still and trust God. When the time is right, God will make the Word He gave you come to be.   

How easy for us to get busy for God. How many, upon recognizing and accepting Jesus as his or her Savior, rush to “work” for God just because “someone has to do it?” How many of us, even though we have been following Him for years, still jump in and do ministry instead of waiting for Him to tell us where He wants to use us? God did not bring to pass His Word to Abraham for thirteen years. He did not bring to pass David’s taking over the throne of Israel for nearly twenty years. During those intervening years, God was not sitting on his hands. He was busy preparing these men for His service. God was teaching them to trust Him completely. He taught them how to be leaders, how to be followers, how to be faithful in the midst of trials, how to stay tuned to and perceive His voice, and how to wait for Him to give His direction when to go and what to do. When Abraham applied human effort  to fulfill God’s promise, because of God’s seeming delay, he failed God. A new nation, the Moabites, was born of Abram’s union with Hagar. These Moabites became the thorn in Israel’s side through the centuries. We must wait. Waiting can be wearying, at times, to wait. Waiting appears to humans as inaction; however, in the peace of waiting, we learn many things; we grow.   

God spoke through Isaiah in chapter 40 regarding being in His service. If you think waiting is hard, then in the times to come, calamity and trials will find you disarmed. God had to encourage His people through Isaiah when he spoke in chapter 40, “Comfort my people.” You need to be familiar with God’s heart, His strength, and His purpose before you can go up against the foes of God. How will you understand this unless God prepares you for His purpose? In the walk with God, battles will become great and exhaustion and pain will look unending. You must know God well enough not to give up the fight and the walk. You must know the Comforter, the Warrior and Avenger, and the Provider before you can comprehend in your head, heart, and spirit God will be there with you and for you. Isaiah spoke in his book to remind God’s people He was still there and fighting for them. God had not forgotten or forsaken them. Yahweh said He had provided a place under His wing for them, and for them to take shelter and understand He is God. He said because they were walking and fighting for Him, they would run and not grow weary. “Wait for the Lord,” He said. Gain new strength, mount up with wings, run, and walk, for the Lord your God is with you, goes before you, and carries you.   

This was not just a promise for the Israelites, but a promise for today. God was foretelling, through Isaiah, He would send One who will lay mountains down and raise valleys up. He will be the One who fights for us and does not grow weary or tired. God is the One who will come after the voice crying out in the wilderness. This One is Jesus, the prophesied Messiah, and the Savior of humanity. If you have not waited for God to say go, then you have found yourself grow weary. You have most likely not heard much from God since then other than the small stirring within you, which tells you to return to God. God has already had One go before Him (Isaiah 40), now He wants someone to follow Him and declare the way of the Lord. 
We must be still and comprehend with our heart, soul, and mind He is God. We must be still and understand when and to what He is calling us. God is growing us as He makes us wait. He is making sure we recognize Him well enough so when the fighting for “right” gets fierce, we are acquainted with Him, really recognize Him, and are strong because He is beside us, before us, and behind us. If God is for us, who can be against us? This is the promise God gives us.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Can you Hear?

Isaiah 6:1-8 and John 2:24-2

In these passages, we distinguish who God is, Lord Almighty and Knower of men, and we perceive humans for what they are, doubters, instigators, and the called-out.  
Notice, the two passages do not show a different Lord from one passage to the other. In both, He is holy and all-knowing. Yahweh, in Isaiah 6, is so magnificent even the seraphim could not gaze upon His face; they covered their faces with two wings and their feet with two wings. Faces show one’s countenance and feet are unclean because of where they have been. This is reflective of human beings. In one’s countenance can be seen their integrity or deviousness, their honor or shame. Before God, every created being is humbled because they are in the presence of the Creator, Holy Yahweh. In John’s passage, before these two verses, we glimpse the hearts of the Jews in the temple outraged at Jesus cleansing the temple, as if He had the authority and power to proclaim what is unlawful. They were indignant regarding His placing Himself so high in power, yet, we find Jesus knowing their hearts and He did not entrust Himself to them. In both passages, we see holy God, Creator and Son, as all- knowing and holy, holy enough to cleanse a temple and holy enough that seraphim automatically know to cover their faces, whereby they hide their inner thoughts, feet, and their external dirtiness.   
What is different about these two passages? In Isaiah, the seraphim know, recognize, and relate to Yahweh as holy, Creator God. In John, the Jews did not know, recognize, nor relate to Jesus as God’s holy Son. Why is this significant? It is significant for what happens after. In the Isaiah 6 passage, Isaiah knows his unworthiness, uncleanness, and sin at once. Being in the presence of God, he recognized his sinfulness. The Jews, on the other hand, did not choose to observe or believe Jesus is the Son of God. They did not choose to recognize and proclaim their unworthiness even to be in God’s temple. The Jews even went so far as to insinuate Jesus did not understand His and their religion when they scoffed at His saying He would rebuild the temple in three days. These chosen people of Yahweh were arrogant and unclean and chose not to perceive or acknowledge their unworthiness to be in God’s temple.  
Why is this important? Consider Isaiah. Isaiah was a Hebrew man. God called him. When in the presence of God, he recognized God as Yahweh and he recognized his sinfulness and unworthiness to be in God’s holy presence. Note Isaiah said, “Woe is me! For I am undone and ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (AMP). It is this that made him able to hear God’s call, “Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?” Isaiah did not do something to enable him to discern God’s call; it was who God is and what God had done that made Isaiah be able to hear His call. After those things, it was Isaiah’s recognition of his sinfulness and unworthiness that made him understand the calling of the Lord was for him.  
Now, observe the Jewish men in the temple in John 2.  They were Hebrew men. God called them to be in a relationship with Him as known by them from the Mosaic covenant. When in the presence of Jesus, they did not recognize Jesus as God’s Son, the Messiah. They also did not recognize their sinfulness or unworthiness to be in His presence or His temple. Notice what they said, “What sign can You show us, seeing You do these things? [What signs or miracles can You show us as evidence of Your authority, that You are commissioned to cleanse the temple?]” (John 2:18 AMP) Note they did not consider whether they were “clean enough” to be in God’s temple. They did not consider themselves sinners nor did they have open hearts for God’s telling them they were unclean. These Jews were unaware they should ask for God’s forgiveness because their hearts were closed. They were arrogant. Their arrogance and pride blinded them to their sins and deafened them to God’s Word through Jesus. They could not hear and comprehend when Jesus said he would rebuild the temple in three days, He proclaimed He is the awaited Messiah. They chose to remain closed to this reality because they chose not to recognize their sin and seek forgiveness.  
It is our willingness to let God show us our sin, which makes us understand our need for forgiveness. It is asking and receiving forgiveness that allows us to be in God’s presence. Being able to take notice of God has nothing to do with the recipient and everything to do with God. God is the One who created us to be in a relationship with Him. God is the One who calls to us. God is the One who pricks our hearts when we are unclean and need to seek forgiveness so we can be in His presence. God is the One who speaks to us. Consider Isaiah; He recognized his unclean condition and was in awe in the presence of God and His majesty. Isaiah’s willingness to admit his uncleanness and unworthiness allowed him to discern God’s voice. The question today is can you perceive God’s voice? God is calling but you may not be able to take notice because you are unclean. Ask God to show to you your unconfessed sins and come clean before Him, then you will hear the voice of God calling to you, just as Isaiah did. Have you heard God’s voice lately?