Friday, May 26, 2017

EmmDev 2017-05-26 [Lessons from Samuel] Receptive

Receptive

After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. 25 When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, "As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. 27 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD." And he worshiped the LORD there.      (1Samuel1:24-28)
The time has come for Samuel to be dedicated to the Lord's service as Hannah had promised. This happened after he was weaned (which, in the culture of the day, was somewhere between the ages of 3 and 4.) We will still consider the implications of this for Hannah, Elkanah and Samuel, but today I'd like to consider Eli the high priest.

Eli is the busy high priest of the tabernacle at Shiloh. He has two sons, who, as we will see, were not good priests. They were in a spiritual drought - the "words of the Lord had been rare." (ch.3) and the future of the nation is uncertain.

I would think that the last thing Eli needed was a three-year-old little boy hanging around and needing to be nurtured in ways of the priesthood. In Eli's shoes I might have been tempted to graciously let Hannah off the hook and there is precedent for this in the story of Abraham and Isaac: "Hannah and Elkanah, the Lord sees your hearts and sincerity and is pleased with you - you are released from your vow."

But Eli accepts the responsibility.
He recognises God at work.
Maybe he even sees that he has been given a second chance.
Why do I say this? Well, in the next chapter we will see that Eli's sons are corrupt and Eli knows it and is ineffective in trying to correct it. Maybe Eli recognised that God was giving him Samuel so that he can try again.

The last phrase in v.28: "And he worshipped the Lord there" is ambiguous.
It could mean "Samuel worshipped" or "Eli worshipped".
If it is that Samuel worshipped then we must either think of a three year old worshipping or that it refers to his whole life as a living sacrifice.
Alternatively it is Eli worshipping - receiving the child that was an answer to prayer - a word from the Lord - and intuitively realising that God is at work...

Sometimes God works in mysterious (and even mischievous) ways in our lives sometimes bringing awkward situations into our worlds, but we like Eli, should be open to God working in unusual ways!



Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ascension: The Crown of the Priest-King

Ascension: The Crown of the Priest-King

(This is a rework  of something I wrote a while ago...)

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.      (Hebrews1:1-3)
This passage brings together the importance of the the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension. It portrays Jesus as our King and Great High Priest. We're going to focus on Jesus' priesthood.

A priest has two important functions: to represent and to sacrifice.

As a representative Jesus represents God to us and us to God. In the incarnation He reveals the fullness of God to us and in His humanity He stands in our place before God.

The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear - Jesus is fully God:

  1. He is heir of all things;
  2. the universe was made through Him;
  3. He radiates God's glory
  4. He is the exact representation of God's being ("If you've seen me you've seen the Father" Jn14:9)
  5. He sustains all things by His Word ("The Word was with God and was God" Jn1:1)

But He also represents our humanity fully: "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." (Jn1:14)

He represents God to us and us to God.

But He also made a sacrifice. In the Old Testament the High Priest made the sacrifice of a lamb in the Holy of Holies on the day of Atonement for the sins of the people. This sacrifice was imperfect and had to be repeated year after year. BUT Jesus' sacrifice of Himself as the Lamb of God was sufficient. He has provided ultimate purification.

In the ascension Jesus does not discard His human body, but takes it to the right hand of God. The work is complete. As death-overcoming-King and successfully-sacrificing-Priest He sits at the right hand of God because the sacrifice was sufficient. The job is well done. He is our sacrifice and our representative forever.

HALLELUJAH!



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

EmmDev 2017-05-24 [Lessons from Samuel] Parallel

Parallel

Luke 1:38 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her
----------------
Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
The story of Hannah, Elkanah and Samuel is a foreshadowing of another beautiful story - the birth of Jesus.

Just as Hannah was faithful and responsive to God, so Mary is faithful and dedicated to God - trusting God through a pregnancy she could not explain and praising the God who works mysteriously and miraculously in our lives. Both Hannah and Mary burst into spontaneous songs of praise and Mary's song has many similarities to Hannah's. They are women of great faith, courage and devotion.

Joseph, like Elkanah, is loving and attentive. He loves Mary and when she falls pregnant he aims to divorce her quietly - not wishing her any harm - indicating his deep love for her. His attentiveness is shown when God speaks to him numerous times in dreams: confirming Mary's miraculous pregnancy, urging him to flee to Egypt, prompting him to return to Israel and warning him to go to Nazareth and not Judea.

Samuel is the child who brings God's word to the people after there had been a long period in which words from the Lord had been "very rare" (See ch.3) Likewise, Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God. He is God's "final word" (Heb.1).

When one sees parallels like this, the main event (Jesus' birth) being foreshadowed more than 1000 years before it happens by Samuel's birth, one can only conclude that this is not just a story, but His story.

The last thought that this parallel brings to me is that when God calls people to accomplish His purposes in the world, He seems to find ordinary people who then do extra-ordinary things with His help. Hannah and Elkanah along with Mary and Joseph are remarkable parents to God's prophet and God's Son. They display remarkable devotion and attentiveness to God and He helps them do these great things.

May it be that we also will be available to God like they were!


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

EmmDev 2017-05-23 [Lessons from Samuel] Attentive

Attentive

Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, "Because I asked the LORD for him."
21 When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, "After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always."
23 "Do what seems best to you," Elkanah her husband told her. "Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good His word."      (1Samuel1:19-23)
There are many words we might want to use to describe Elkanah, the husband of Hannah. We could call him a "loving" husband because of the affectionate gestures he makes towards her. We could call him "devoted" because of the annual pilgrimages of worship he took his family on. We could call him "humble" because he is willing to take a back seat in all that happens here. We could call him "genuine" because he does his best for Hannah (even though the double-offering he'd give her at sacrifice time was a bit like salt in the wounds, it also revealed his loving attempt to help.)

But I think the word that best describes Elkanah is "attentive". Elkanah is deeply attentive to Hannah's pain. He is also attentive to the pain caused to Hannah by Peninnah, his other wife. Furthermore, when Hannah goes to the temple without him and hears from the Lord through the high priest, Elkanah doesn't pout or sulk.

And then the miracle happens and the baby is born! It's a boy and one only has to think of how besotted Jacob was over Joseph, the first-born from his beloved wife, Rachael, to imagine how Elkanah felt over Samuel! The name "Samuel" sounds like the Hebrew for "God heard!"

You can imagine it would have been hard to let the boy Samuel go to the temple. But Hannah is quite clear about what the boy's future is to be. Significantly Elkanah's response is not typical of the strong patriarchal culture of the time - but Elkanah is not "hen-pecked" - he's listening to God - He's attentive to what God is doing:

  • He's seen Hannah's sincere relationship with God
  • He's appreciated that God did something at the tabernacle to "upcast" Hannah's face.
  • He's experienced the miracle of Hannah's pregnancy.
  • He's not too proud to let God speak to the woman in his life and not him.
  • There is just the smallest hint that God may have spoken to Elkanah too ... We see it in his phrase "may the Lord make good His Word" which may refer to Eli's word or what Hannah has heard, but it could also indicate that God has spoken to Elkanah too

This account of Hannah and Elkanah reminds one of another attentive husband... (More on this tomorrow...)

Elkanah is an attentive man. May we, like him, be attentive to what God is doing in others...


Friday, May 19, 2017

EmmDev 2017-05-19 [Lessons from Samuel] Whispers

Whispers

As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."
15 "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."
17 Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."      (1Samuel1:12-17)
When Eli saw Hannah praying - he 'missed' when he assumed she was drunk, because, instead of praying out loud and/or asking the high priest to pray for her, she prayed silently, passionately and tearfully. But when he talks with her, her sincerity and devotion becomes clear and Eli scores a double 'hit' when he sees her clearly and when he hears God's whisper.

Hannah doesn't tell Eli what she has been praying about and from his prayer it is clear that he doesn't know what Hannah had been praying about or about the promise she had made the Lord. Maybe it is just as well...

  • He might have tried to dissuade her from making her vow to the Lord, after all, her vow meant that, down the line, he would have a 3 year old boy to take responsibility for.
  • He might have tried to correct her theology: "You can't bargain with God you know. You can't just say 'Lord, give me a baby and if you do then I'll make him a priest'."
  • He might have brought her husband in and made a big deal of praying for them both.

Instead Eli hears God's Spirit whispering to his soul: "Eli, I'm busy here - something significant is happening. You don't need to know the details, you can't control the process or the outcome, but you can bless and you can pray."

  • And so Eli blesses: "Go in Shalom!" (This hopeful word means wholeness, peace and restoration)
  • And Eli prays: "May the God of Israel (The mighty God of our history) grant what you have asked."

Sometimes we try too hard to control and know all the details. Both of these are actually God's department. He knows and He's in control. Eli is content to be used by God without fully knowing all the details - it is a great lesson in trust.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

EmmDev 2017-05-18 [Lessons from Samuel] Upcast

Upcast

Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."
18 She said, "May your servant find favor in your eyes." Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, "Because I asked the LORD for him."      (1Samuel1:17-20)
"Downcast" is a word. "Upcast" isn't really, but it should be - especially for us who believe in God!

As Eli interacts with Hannah, having first "missed" when he thought she was drunk and then scoring two "hits" when he sees her clearly and hears God's whisper, he pronounces a blessing over her: "Go in peace (SHALOM) and may God grant you what you have asked." (Did you notice he offers her a prayer and not a promise? More on this tomorrow...)

And Hannah took her encounter with God through Eli to heart and although nothing had happened yet, her face was "no longer downcast".

Why was her face "upcast"?
What brought back her appetite and brought her to joyful worship?

The answer lies in the name she gives her miracle child:
She calls him "Samuel" - which sounds like the Hebrew word for "hear".

Hannah was "upcast" because she believed that God had heard her. She had been desperate, alone and hopeless and God, through Eli, heard her and gave her a blessing of peace. And she believed it before she went home, before her husband lay with her, and before she knew she was pregnant. She believed because Eli, serving as God's representative, saw her and heard God for her.

We can do the same for others.
When we put aside our preconceived ideas and theories.
When we stop being armchair psychologists and amateur therapists.
When we just make time to see people and understand their stories
When we just listen to them and to God, beautiful things can happen.

How do downcast faces become upcast?
When we know and believe God hears us.
Today we might be able to be the vessels of God's "seeing" and "hearing" for someone who is lonely or in need.
Don't miss the chance to bless them with peace!



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

EmmDev 2017-05-17 [Lessons from Samuel] Misunderstood

Misunderstood

As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."
15 "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."
17 Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."      (1Samuel1:12-17)
Eli is a fascinating character in the Samuel Saga. There are moments when he is spot-on, on-the-ball and in-tune and other times where he misses it - sometimes by a bit and sometimes by a mile!!!

In our passage today, he is both hit and miss.

Hannah is praying - and she prays in a revolutionary way for her times. She prays silently, her lips moving as her heart cries out to God and her tears fall silently to the ground. She's at the place of worship, without her husband and without an offering (that had been done earlier) and without consulting the priest.

All of this leads Eli the priest to a miss. He assumes Hannah is one of the feast attenders who has had more to drink than eat and is now filled with "dronkverdriet" (the drunken boo hoo hoo's). He misunderstands her, prejudges her and treats her harshly.

But the moment Hannah responds he realises his mistake. Hannah's integrity, earnestness and great heartache is clear to Eli. Eli has the sensitivity and insight to realise this straight away. So after his initial miss, he scores a hit.

The other hit that he scores is that he accurately portrays the grace and power of God. Having sensed that Hannah has had a clear encounter with God, and, having been prompted by the Spirit (he doesn't even ask Hannah what she was praying about), he promises Hannah that God will grant her need.

In many ways we hit and miss too. It's easy to misunderstand.
But, if we will just listen, God can use us to minister life and blessing to others.

May we hit more than we miss today.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

EmmDev 2017-05-16 [Lessons from Samuel] Praying

Praying

Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD's temple. 10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head."      (1Samuel1:9-11)
The major religious festivals of Israel: Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost involved feasts - meals eaten together in the presence of the Lord. After the sacrifices were made, the people would eat and drink together in joyful celebration of all that God had done.

But Hannah is still struggling.

And so she gets up from the meal and goes to the tabernacle. Although the text uses the word "temple", the temple had not been built yet - it is the author's slip of the pen - but it is a helpful one - what he means is that she went to the place of worship.

There at the place of worship Hannah wept and Hannah prayed and Hannah surrendered.

In her weeping she trusted God with her pain. She brought her sadness and grief to Him and poured out her "bitterness of soul". Very often we try to carry pain and grief on our own and we drown in it. Hannah releases her pain to God because she trusts Him. She's convinced that God will love her even through her tears.

In her praying Hannah expresses her deepest longing to God and expresses her wishes to Him. Tomorrow we'll see how she prays in her heart, whispering to God so softly that Eli the priest only sees her lips moving and accuses her of being drunk. (In those days people prayed out loud.) Hannah is so absolutely sure that God knows her and loves her that she's convinced that He hears her heart's whisper.

In her surrender Hannah, having expressed her longing, indicates that her love for God will surpass the gift He gives her. In other words, she is clear that she won't hold on to the gift (her child) more than she will hold on to the Giver (God). Some will see this as Hannah bargaining with God. But God doesn't need her child - it is Hannah, who can't hold on to the child too tightly. Hannah is willing to give her child back to God.

When pain and longing tear us apart - we need to learn from Hannah's prayer:
- Come to God and trust Him with your tears.
- Talk to God and know that He hears your heart's whispers
- Let go of the things you hold tightly - God is all we need.



Friday, May 12, 2017

EmmDev 2017-05-10 [Lessons from Samuel] Longing

Longing

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. 6 And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?"      (1Samuel1:1-8)
Before we can start the story of Samuel, we have to tell the story of Hannah, his mother.

We could say a lot about Hannah, but, at the start of the story, there is one fact alone that stands out: she was barren and childless. In a culture that measured wealth, security and success by family, Hannah, by society's standards, had no raison d'etre - no ultimate reason for being. Her husband, Elkanah, loves her, but his other wife, Peninnah, took advantage of her situation. And the fact that Peninnah had children placed the "blame" on Hannah.

It seems that this heartache grew hardest at the annual feasts of worship. Somehow, as Hannah came to worship it made the grief feel even harder to bear. Today it is still the same... When we have been through loss, when we have dreams that have crashed, when we've been hurt and betrayed then it is in coming to worship that the sense of loss and sadness intensifies. This is understandable: everyone else is celebrating God's goodness and love, and we believe this is true, but our own circumstances deny it and like a laughing bully our situations try to taunt us into believing that God doesn't care about us or that we don't deserve His love.

There stands Hannah, year after year, with her double sized meat offering given to her by a well-meaning hubby, feeling like a double-sized failure. And the pain is real real real.

It's tempting to end the devotion by pointing out that Hannah took her pain to God and then had many children, but I will leave that happy ending to Tuesday.

I want to end our devotion today by drawing our attention to this beautiful and gentle explanation of Hannah's heartache. It is, if you think of the patriarchal society it was written in, an incredibly sensitive and insightful explanation of her situation. It is an loving and caring explanation of the deep pain Hannah had.

When our lives are filled with sadness, longing and heartache this passage tells us - God knows and He "gets" it.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

EmmDev 2017-05-11 Thus far...

Please forgive me for being slow to get the EmmDevs going again after the break.
Here's a special one for today and then tomorrow we'll start a special series on Samuel.

Thus far...

Samuel took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer saying, "Up to here the Lord has helped us."      (1Samuel7:12)
Our text passage is part of the saga of the Ark of the Covenant being captured by the Philistines when it had been taken into battle by the Israelites. After the presence of the ark caused pandemonium in the cities of the Philistines, it was eventually restored to Israel. But the conflict with the Philistines continued and, after long desperation, the people gathered together to humble themselves before the Lord. But as they did this, the Philistines attacked!

BUT while Samuel makes the offerings before the people, God thunders out against the Philistines throwing them into disarray and confusion leaving the Israelites to do the "mopping up" of their fleeing enemy.

Along the way Samuel erects a stone, "Ebenezer: Thus far has the Lord delivered us."

It is worth celebrating milestones, victories and anniversaries - especially if it allows us the opportunity to acknowledge and praise the God who has brought us "thus far."

Twenty years ago today I preached my first sermon at Emmanuel Presbytery Church in Glenstantia Primary School as Brenda and I started our journey with this amazing congregation!

We blinked and 20 years later so much has happened! There is much to give thanks for and many amazing highlights in our journey thus far. But this has not only been Brenda and my journey, it has been our journey as a congregation and, most importantly, this journey would not have taken place if God had not been with us. So I don't want to draw too much attention to us or any person, but rather to the true Emmanuel - "God with us!"

Please join us today in a prayer of thanks and praise to a God who has brought us, Emmanuel and then Grace through so much in the last 20 years! It has been an awesome journey with amazing memories, wonderful friendships, but most of all we've been held, guided, accompanied, provided for, inspired, delivered and loved by our Glorious Father, Son and Holy Spirit to Whom belongs all glory, honour and power.

SOLI DEO GLORIA!