Scripture Reading Challenge (#31)

The story of Samuel is one of my favorites.  Here is a man who both began and finished well.  That is a rare feat among today’s leaders and even many of the leaders in the Bible (of course not all the leaders in the Bible are trying to be good).  However, Samuel is one whose life is thoroughly committed to God and even more, during a time when it seems God was no longer working with Israel.

Read 1 Samuel 1:1-3:21

It is no wonder that Samuel turned out to be such a great follower of God.  Look at the example that was given to him as a child.  Hannah’s approach to prayer and praise before God is worth noting and modeling.  Fervent in prayer and quick to praise.  Many times we are apathetic in prayer and slow to worship.  Probably, much faster to complain.  We should learn more from Hannah.

Hannah had a severe burden on her heart.  In ancient times, being childless was considered a curse, and today it is no less heartbreaking.  The Scripture does not hide this reality.  In fact, through the many inclusions of this issue, it may be one of the most noted effects of the fall of man.  But notice, the Scripture changes tune after Jesus.  The last barren woman mentioned is Elisabeth (Luke 1:7 & 36).  There was another miracle birth from a couple in their old age.  Then, through Mary we see Jesus, and that was a miraculous conception all by itself.  But, the picture is painted all through Scripture, that God is greater than any barrenness.  I know there are not many words of comfort for someone having difficulty to have children, but remember this, God is on your side.  The Lord was able to create a man without anyone else, and he created a woman using only a man.  Jesus was born of just a woman.  God gave children to couples beyond their childbearing years.  I believe God’s message to women is the same thing He told Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).  Keep your faith in God, and He will make something beautiful happen.

Samuel received his calling from God amazingly and audibly.  The calling is not the only thing I notice.  It’s the age of Samuel.  He was most likely around the age of twelve.  God can and will work with young people.  It is also great to see Eli recognize and respect this about Samuel (even when Samuel told Eli that he and his sons would no longer be priests).  As a pastor and professor, I am always reminded of the openness youth have in following God’s leading into new methods and areas of ministry.  We could shut them down for fear of them getting hurt or messing things up.  Or, we can bless and empower them to get things done.  I choose to bless and empower.

The last thing that jumps off of the page is that there was no open vision in the land (1 Samuel 3:1).  Meaning, there were no prophets with a fresh word from heaven.  First, it was as though God was silent.  But, we see God is moving and working in the life of Hannah and Samuel.  So, we learn that when it seems God is silent, he is still working.  Secondly, it could also mean that the teaching of God’s Word was not up to standard.  Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”  These verses imply there was no available teaching or preaching.  We know for sure that Eli’s children were not doing the right thing as priests.  However, Eli seemed to be complacent and by his silence and inaction, permitted this dearth of God’s Word.  Oh God, do not let us be silent in our words or actions but let us declare you faithfully through our words and deeds!

Scripture Reading Challenge (#14)

God does not point out our sin to laugh at us or scorn.  Instead, he reveals our issues so that we can deal with them appropriately.  That is, to be cleansed and forgiven.  In the story of Genesis, the brothers need to make a second trip to Egypt.  They will face their sin one way or another.  Joseph is building with excitement to reveal his unfeigned love for his brethren.

Read Genesis 43:1-44:34

Something that should be jumping off the pages of the Bible to us about this story is Joseph is dropping hints to his brothers all the time.  In Genesis 42:18, he says, “for I fear God.”  The word used for God is Elohim, which can be a generic term to identify any God. However, the writer of Genesis uses it to signify the One True God of Israel.  It’s possible that Joseph is letting his brothers know that he fears their God.  We also see in our text today that He knows that his brother’s and father’s God blesses (Genesis 43:23).  This Egyptian is very well acquainted with the Hebrew God.  Egyptians probably had cultic practices and perspectives against Hebrews.  Finally, the individual interest he took in his full brother, Benjamin, and the extra food he gave him (Genesis 43:34).  All I can say is Joseph may have disguised himself from his brothers, but at the same time, he is trying his best to get them to recognize him.

God is doing the same thing.  First Timothy 1:17 and Colossians 1:5 reminds us that God is invisible.  He has dropped hints all the way through the Old Testament about his character in that is it claimed, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1)  The Psalms also teach, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1).  God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:5).  The Father has made himself known fully in the Son and witnesses in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  Even more, Christ has left us the Church, His literal body on earth.  First John 4:20 says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  It is difficult for me to believe someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in

It is difficult for me to understand that someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in fellowship with a local congregation).  We have faith in the invisible head of the Church but no faithfulness to the visible body.  God has revealed Himself fully in time past through His Son.  Today, God continually reveals Himself through His people.  Our bodies are the temple His spirit dwells in now (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Not something made with human hands but fashioned by God.  So, again, how are you living out the faith you claim to have?  God has given us the Church as the community where we are to live out our faith.

The Water in Your Marriage 

My wife and I recently celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary.  We had courted several years before we were married.  In our marriage, we have experienced many beautiful moments and challenges.  Three children, a few pets, and plenty of adventure have blessed us in our journey together.  I love her more and more each day (I know that is mushy).

It is interesting is that there is a common misconception that marriage for Christians is no different than unbelievers.  The caveat to the stats is that those Christians most likely to end their marriage are nominal believers.  Meaning, they may identify as Christians but do not actively participate in the faith.  Recent research (click here) showed that “Catholic couples were 31 percent less likely to divorce; Protestant couples 35 percent less likely, and Jewish couples 97 percent less likely” (Stetzer, 2014).  The pastor’s marriage has also been seen as difficult. However, Barna research showed “Most pastors – 96 percent of whom are married – are satisfied with their relationship with their spouse” (2017)

Periodically, I speak with new and veteran couples about their relationships.  When the conversations turn toward my wife and my experience, I share my life verse for marriage.  It came from King Solomon when he was teaching his sons how to live well.

“Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” -Proverbs 5:15

Chapter five is one of the few chapters were Solomon seems to focus on one subject.  Yet, a significant portion of all his teaching centers around purity and faithfulness to your spouse.  He geared his instruction toward his sons specifically and his children in general, however, I believe what we see in this passage is helpful to both husbands and wives.

After a simple reading, we quickly note that Solomon is encouraging fidelity.  In light of the whole chapter, the challenge is put forward to be faithful in your relationship marriage.  You will be tempted to stray, but the end is filled with pain.  Remaining faithful in the good and bad has its own reward.  To understand that reward we need to dig a little deeper.

We understand the need of water for the body, and this is why Scripture is full of references to spiritual water for our souls that only Jesus can provide.  Solomon in another place of Proverbs wrote, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (25:25).  Water refreshes and satisfies.  Marriage is provides the same thing.  To demonstrate this, Barna Research found that 75% of women say their marriage is their strongest form of social support by helping them be satisfied with life, understand priorities, be the best person they can be, set healthy boundaries, live out purpose, and connect to a community (2017).  When we enjoy those intimant moments and conversations we share only with our spouse, we are refreshed and deeply satisfied as our reward.  To be unfaithful will corrupt the waters of our marriage.

Still, there is one more thing that stands out to me in this passage about marriage.  Solomon is keen to use specific words to separate cistern from well.  In the Hebrew, the word he used for cistern (בּוֹר bôwr) can also be translated as pit or well.  Also, the word chosen translated for us as well (בְּאֵר bᵉʼêr), can be translated as a pit.  I like to think that Solomon is demonstrating to different containers for water.  Wells and cisterns both hold water, but, they receive their water in various manners.  A well receives its water from an underground source like a stream or lake.  Well water springs up from itself.  Cisterns, however, must receive theirs from an outside source above the ground.  Typically, brought in by a water truck.  

What I hear Solomon saying, be faithful and enjoy your marriage by pouring your life into your spouse.  The picture is we view self as a well and our spouse a cistern.  If we do not pour our love, energy, time, and focus on our partner, they will dry up.  We will no longer be satisfied with them, and we will try to wander and find other sources to quench our thirst.  Being faithful is also about being intentional.  To have a great marriage, you must continue to invest in your spouse, even after you have said your vows.

References

Barna (2017) The State of Pastors: How Today’s Faith Leaders are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity.  Barna Group

Stetzer, Ed (2014) Pastors, that divorce stat you quoted is probably wrong.  http://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/163047-pastors-that-divorce-stat-you-quoted-is-probably-wrong.html