The Unexpected Role

When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

1 Samuel 10:20-22 (NIV)

Over the past few months, Wendy and I have casually watched a six-part documentary on Netflix about the history of the classic British comedy troupe Monty Python. I found it both interesting and funny.

One of my favorite Monty Python scenes (among many favorites) is in their first movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which King Arthur comes upon some of his “common” subjects. They ask who he is and he tells them “I am your king!” They shrug this off saying “I didn’t vote for you!” and discuss the socialist constructs of their local, communal government system. It’s brilliant.

That scene came to mind this morning as I was pondering the events in today’s chapter. The Hebrew tribes are in process of migrating their system of government from a tribal theocracy to a monarchy. Samuel calls the Hebrew tribes together to give them what they wanted: a king.

In the ancient Near East, studies have shown that there was a common, multi-stage process for the ascension of a person to becoming a king. First, there was a divine designation. Second, the candidate demonstrated their worthiness in some way that drew public attention and support. Since the people’s primary goal for having a king was that of protecting them from threatening enemies and defeating those enemies, the desired “demonstration” was often a military victory of some kind. Finally, there would be a public affirmation or confirmation of the new leader.

The appointment of Saul to become Israel’s first king followed these same general steps. Saul had not led any battles or demonstrated victory over the dreaded Philistines, the casting of lots was used by Samuel to show that Saul was God’s choice along with Samuel pointing out to them that Saul was a head taller than anyone else.

Like the commoners in Monty Python’s sketch, some of the Hebrew people were less than impressed by Saul. He was just some tall kid from the smallest Hebrew tribe whom they never heard of. They begin to grumble and complain that Saul hadn’t proven that he could “save” them. Welcome to politics, Saul! The oil from your anointing hasn’t even dried and your people are already complaining about your leadership.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about multiple things that stand out to me in this fascinating transition of government.

God makes it clear through Samuel that they are rejecting Him as their king by wanting a human king. One of the metaphors often used among followers of Jesus is that “Jesus sits on the throne of our hearts.” But saying that and living that are two different things. The reality is that my words and actions are often key indicators that I really have something or someone else ruling my desires, choices, actions, and relationships.

Then there is Saul, on whom God’s Spirit descends to “change” him “into a different person.” This foreshadows the transformation of a follower of Jesus in which I, indwelled by God’s Spirit, become “a new creation” in which “old things pass away” and “new things come” (2 Cor 5:17). For Saul, the events and transformation appear not to have a desired effect of strength or confidence. When the lots were cast in his favor he was hiding. It’s no wonder he didn’t make a good first impression on some of his new subjects.

Along my life journey, I have experienced the call to positions and purposes for which I had little self-confidence. I have found myself in Saul’s sandals a time or two. “Really, God?! Me?!” A prophet once gave me a metaphor saying that God had picked out something for me to wear that I never would have chosen myself. I’ve learned along the journey that sometimes God does this and the reasons aren’t always clear. The metaphor that comes to my mind is from theatre. Sometimes I get cast in a role when I had my eyes and heart set on another character I wanted to play. Looking back, not once did I get to the close of the show and regret playing the part I was given. There has always been things for me to discover and learn in that “unwanted” role for which I was grateful.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

What the Camera Sees

What the Camera Sees (CaD 1 Sam 9) Wayfarer

Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
1 Samuel 9:2 (NIV)

The other day in my post I mentioned how much change I have observed in our world and culture with the advent of the internet and social media. It has been fascinating to observe the dawn of such a powerful, global medium of communication. As with every communication medium, it has both the potential for so much good and the potential for so much evil.

Like most people, I have enjoyed exploring, learning, and using different online tools and social media like this blog I’ve been writing now for sixteen years. With two grandchildren living on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, I am so grateful for photos, video, and FaceTime. I’ve enjoyed that social media has allowed for closer, more frequent direct connections with family, classmates, and friends. I have been amazed to watch groups of people supporting others in times of need and crisis that never would have been possible before the internet because everyone was scattered around the world and we simply lost track of one another with no good way to effectively and easily communicate with so many people.

Along the way, I have also observed how things are communicated on social media. I have thought long and hard about how I want to use this tool and what I choose to communicate. I’ve observed that it is easy to start living life almost completely online. For those who are physically isolated for one reason or another, that brings incredible freedom. At the same time, I’ve observed that it becomes a dangerous escape for others.

In the early days of the internet, I was part of a group chat with people from all over the world. What I discovered over time was that some individuals in the chat were themselves, while others in the chat had created a persona they wanted others to believe was them. One member messaged me privately to confess that everything they purported to be in the group was a lie. The person was lonely, depressed and life was out of control, so they lived a fantasy online life in a group chat, hidden behind a username.

I have also been fascinated to observe how people present themselves online and how “likes” and “views” have become intertwined in a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. I’ve also learned that young people will sometimes have two social media accounts on the same platform. One is for the general public and parental viewing/oversight while the other “secret account” is for their private group of friends to post the things they don’t want mom and dad to see or read.

In my mass communication classes in college, I was drilled into me that we only see what the person behind the camera wants us to see. My professors in the 1980s were talking about news editors, publishers, and filmmakers. The internet has brought the power of mass communication to every person in the world and put it right in the palm of our hands. With our posts, tweets, and photos we project ourselves to the world. Our followers see and hear only what we choose to show them. So what am I choosing for others to see, and why?

In today’s chapter, the first thing we read about the young man who will become Israel’s first king is that he is tall and handsome and from a prominent family in the tribe of Benjamin. What a perfect description of an ideal political candidate. But what if underneath that handsome face and six-foot frame there lurks a tortured soul, hidden rage, or mental health issues? We only see what the author of 1 Samuel wants us to see. Just like me and my social media feed.

Over time, I have found myself posting far less on social media than I once did. It’s not that I made a specific rule for myself. I simply began asking myself honest questions about my motives and my choices, and I began to embrace that no one really needs to see a photo of my suitcase on a business trip or the cowboy guy on my flight. I want to be present with loved ones and friends in the moment, and less worried about making sure the world knows who I was with and what I was doing.

What do I want others to see? Just another wayfaring stranger with very normal problems, faults, and shortcomings. I’m following Jesus. I’m pressing on this earthly journey one day at a time, reading the Great Story, pondering things in the quiet, and trying to enjoy life and my good companions with whom I share this journey and whom I endeavor to love well.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The “Human” Problem

The "Human" Problem (CaD 1 Sam 8) Wayfarer

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
1 Samuel 8:19-20 (NIV)

As a youth, I was always involved in student government. I served regularly from junior high and into my college years. There was a period of time in those years that I dreamed of running for elected office as an adult. A few years ago I ran into one of my high school classmates at a coffee shop. As we enjoyed a casual conversation and caught up on each other’s lives she asked me if I still thought about running for office. I told her that the desire left me a very long time ago. She graciously teased me about reconsidering. It was kind of her.

Along my life journey, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem with any human government is the fact that humans are involved. It has been famously observed in history that power corrupts, and it is true. Even with all the checks and balances the founders of the United States placed in the Constitution to diminish the possibility, an objective glance at Washington D.C. reveals all kinds of waste, fraud, and abuse that result from corruption at all levels.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrew people come to Samuel, who was leading the tribes as a Judge, and demand that he appoint a king and establish a monarchy. This didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been brewing for some time.

What I found fascinating in today’s chapter was the fact that what brought the issue of national governance to a head was the fact that Samuel’s own sons, whom Samuel had appointed as his successors, were corrupt, just as the sons of Eli had been corrupt in the time of Samuel’s childhood and youth. I don’t think it is a coincidence. It’s a pattern and a very human one, just as it is tempting to believe that another form of human government will be better than the one under which you’re living. But I cannot escape the “human problem” on this earth. I can discuss the relative merits and downsides of every form of human government that’s ever been tried in the history of civilization, but there are always downsides to every system of government because human beings are involved and no matter how much I want to believe that humans can be good and altruistic history has proven that at some point the one(s) in power take advantage of their power in the system to personally benefit.

This is what God tells Samuel to remind his fellow Hebrews. Having a king will bring certain benefits, but the monarchy is also going to have negative consequences that the people and their descendants will experience acutely. This is correct. The rest of 1 Samuel and the next five books in the Great Story (2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles) are a testament to the truth of Samuel’s words.

As I ponder these things I am reminded of the Apostle Paul who was, himself, a citizen of Rome and took full advantage of the exclusive rights and benefits that came with it in his day. He also reminded Jesus’ followers in Philippi that they were citizens of God’s heavenly Kingdom. In that same vein, I consciously consider myself as having dual citizenship with the rights and responsibilities that come with both U.S. citizenship and citizenship in God’s eternal kingdom. One of those citizenships will end at some point while the other will not.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Change

Change (CaD 1 Sam 7) Wayfarer

Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life.
1 Samuel 7:15 (NIV)

What is the most acute example of change that you have experienced along your earthly journey? That’s the question that came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter.

I thought of the time the place where I worked went through a transition of leadership that was tremendously difficult for everyone involved. It personally rattled me enough that I started looking for another job.

Then there was the experience of moving to a small, rural town (just over 300 people) after growing up in the city of Des Moines and going to college in the Chicago area. There were so many things that I had to learn about the culture and realities of small-town life. It was a completely different paradigm.

Going through a divorce brought both radical changes and unique challenges in virtually every area of life.

The changes I have experienced in daily life because of rapidly advancing technology and the internet are so great that it’s hard to believe.

Then there are the changes to our world because of a pandemic and a global shutdown that we’re still grappling with, and we will continue to realize its effects for some time.

There are days when I feel as if the world has turned upside-down in my lifetime.

Change is a challenge. I’ve observed it bring out the best and worst in people. I’ve had to learn how it affects me. I’ve grown to better understand how I handle it both positively and negatively. I’ve had to learn discernment between that which is ever-changing and those things which never change. I have had to gain wisdom to know the difference.

The book of 1 Samuel is about a massive change in the history of the Hebrews. For 300-400 years the Hebrews have lived and survived in a loosely structured tribal system with occasional national leaders, called Judges, who typically rose to power in times of war or crisis and who were recognized for their leadership through the rest of their lifetime.

But the times were changing.

It was clear to the Hebrew tribes that other city-states with the centralized power of a monarchy, a king, were able to both secure their kingdoms and increase their power by conquest. The tribal system was becoming untenable. They needed to change.

Samuel is the lynchpin of this change. He was the last of the Judges. He will consecrate the nation of Israel’s first two kings and continue to be the nation’s spiritual leader in the background. He also becomes the first of the prophets who will become key figures on both the spiritual and political landscapes of the kingdom for the next 600 years. Samuel is the agent of change.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel explains how Samuel rose to become the last Judge, leading the Hebrews in holding back the advancing Philistines and providing strong national leadership for the rest of his life. The author is setting the reader up for this massive change that is about to take place.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself coming back to the question of change in my own life and times. Having just completed this chapter-a-day journey through the book of Revelations, it’s clear to me that things will continue to change until the Great Story’s conclusion. As a follower of Jesus, I should expect it. And, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that I am called by Jesus to press on in this earthly journey with the dogged determination to live each day with the three things that will remain throughout this Great Story and into the next: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these being love.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

What Indiana Jones Taught Me About Holiness

What Indiana Jones Taught Me About Holiness (CaD 1 Sam 6) Wayfarer

But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them.
1 Samuel 6:19

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those movies I associate with my youth. It premiered in my Freshman year of high school and it became one of the biggest blockbusters of that era. It was also during this same era that the advent of the Video Cassette Recorders (VCR) allowed for renting and buying a movie to be watched over and over again at home. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s a lot.

There is a great scene towards the climactic end of the movie in which the villain archaeologist, Belloq, dresses like a Hebrew high priest to open the Ark of the Covenant and peer inside. He is surrounded by Nazis filming and witnessing the event while Indy and Marian are tied up a short distance away. There’s a moment at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark that is a brilliant piece of writing and filmmaking. It takes the audience on a roller coast ride of emotions from disappointment to wonder to horror and it ends with awe.

One of the things that I always loved about Raiders of the Lost Ark is that it is rooted in events from the Great Story like the events in today’s chapter. “Didn’t you guys ever go to Sunday School?” Indy asks the government officials who come to him asking about the Ark.

The Philistines, despite moving the Ark around to different towns had experienced an ongoing outbreak of a plague of “tumors” since they took the Ark captive at the battle of Ebenezer. Scholars over the years have proposed that either both bubonic plague or bacillary dysentery could be the culprits as they could easily have been carried by rodents on ships from other regions. The Philistines were coastal people heavily involved in sea trade.

The Philistines return the Ark with a guilt offering to the Hebrews at the border town of Beth Shemesh which happened to be one of the Levitical towns, one of the towns scattered through all the Hebrew tribes where Levites would be living among them. According to the Law of Moses, only Levites would be allowed to handle or move the Ark.

While the Ark is in Beth Shemesh, curiosity gets the better of some of the residents who take the opportunity to peek inside. The chapter says they died, though the specifics are not recorded so we have no idea whether Hollywood pyrotechnics were involved.

This string of Ark stories is fascinating because of the attitudes of the human beings in each scene. Last week I observed that the corrupt priests and Hebrews treated the Ark like a good luck charm, and God remained silent, allowing them to be defeated, the ark taken captive. Then the Philistines treated the Ark as the trophy of a defeated God. The result was the destruction of their idol and an outbreak of plague. In today’s chapter, the residents of Beth Shemesh treat the Ark as an object of trivial curiosity and meet with similarly disastrous ends.

At the end of today’s chapter, the residents of Beth Shemesh observe, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” The Hebrew word for holy is qādôš and its meaning is a fascinating subject of study. When Moses stood before the burning bush God told him to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. The Ark was to be kept in the “Most Holy Place” in the Tabernacle and only the High Priest was to enter its presence once a year because it was holy. Holiness is often thought of in our culture as simple moral purity, but it’s so much more than that. I love that the makers of Raiders of the Lost Ark seem to have captured it. Even Indy, who must have learned something in Sunday School, knows to close his eyes and tell Marian to do the same. They can’t look. It’s holy. They, like we the audience, get to the end of the scene with an overwhelming sense of awe and wonder. That’s qādôš.

In a bit of synchronicity this morning, the devotional that Wendy and I read at breakfast each morning spoke of Rudoph Otto’s description of “holy.” It sounds like spells from Harry Potter’s world. He says that that which is “holy” is a paradoxical experience of the opposites mysterium tremendum (scary mystery) and mysterium fascinosum (alluring, fascinating, seductive mystery). Otto argued that if you don’t have both you don’t have the true or full experience of the Holy.

The problem with both the Hebrews and the Philistines in the opening chapters of 1 Samuel is that they arguably had neither as it related to God and the Ark of the Covenant. At best, they had the latter and not the former.

In the quiet this morning, I enter another day and another work week as a follower of Jesus endeavoring to think and speak and act with regard for the fullness of His mysterium tremendum and mysterium faschinosum.

Note: A new message from 7/31/22 was added to the Messages page. CLICK HERE

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

God in (and Out of) a Box

God In (and Out of) a Box (CaD 1 Sam 5) Wayfarer

…the following morning when [the Philistines] rose, there was [their god] Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.
1 Samuel 5:4-5 (NIV)

For many years, I’ve had an idea for a book about the things the contemporary church continues to get wrong. If I ever do write this book, one of the chapters would be about church buildings themselves. From an early age, I was taught to treat a church building as a sacred space. The church building was and sometimes is, referred to as God’s house or the house of God.

In yesterday’s post/podcast I spoke of treating God like a good luck charm. I like to think of our perception of church buildings as God’s House as the notion of “God in a box.”

The problem with believing the church building is “God’s house” is, of course, that Jesus was very clear that He was changing the paradigm. In His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus addressed her question about the “right” place to worship God by saying, “…believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

Jesus doubled down on this when He and the disciples were leaving the Temple in Jerusalem. His disciples commented on the magnificent Temple and Jesus replied that it was all going to be reduced to rubble, and it was just 40 years later.

Jesus’ taught that the “church” was not bricks and mortar but flesh and blood. When the Jesus Movement was changing the known world in the first two centuries, it had no churches or temples, no basilicas or cathedrals. The “church” was millions of followers who met, almost clandestinely, in people’s homes. It was only when the church became the Holy Roman Empire that the institution decided that God needed opulent cathedrals. The motivation wasn’t divine. It’s what human institutions do to centralize power and control masses of people. Jesus’ successful paradigm was that of Spirit-filled people loving, serving, and sharing in every home, neighborhood, and business. God was released from a box and carried by flesh-and-blood “temples” everywhere in the world. Jesus was wherever His followers happened to be. In Jesus’ paradigm “sacred space” was now the coffee shop, the office, the home, the pub, the park; It was wherever a believer, filled with Spirit and Truth was physically present in the moment. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Wherever two or three of you are together, I’m there, too.”

The Holy Roman Empire put God back in a box. Then they made sure that only an institutionally educated and approved class of elites were qualified to be God’s representatives. Way too many people still believe that God is confined in the building on the corner and that only educated men in robes represent Him.

Today’s chapter is also about “God in a box.” The Ark of the Covenant was literally a box that represented God’s presence among the Hebrew people. The Hebrews reduced the notion of God’s holy presence to a good luck charm that would secure victory. They were defeated and the box was taken by the Philistines who put the Ark in the sacred space of their patron god, Dagon, underneath Dagon’s statue. Mesopotamian peoples routinely saw battles as not just contests between peoples, but contests between deities. The Hebrews’ God was now subject to Dagon.

But, God will never be contained inside a box of human design. The statue of Dagon fell, its head and hands breaking off. This was significant because heads, hands, and limbs were often cut-off and brought home by victorious armies as proof of victory and as a way of tallying up the body count. It was an omen the Philistines would have instantly understood. There was also a plague of tumors that broke out among the Philistines, which is ironically the outcome God warned His own people about in Deuteronomy 28, should they stray from His ways.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that if I truly believe what Jesus taught, then my home office where I’m writing/recording these words is sacred space because God’s Spirit indwells me. I take Him with me everywhere I go today. God’s temple isn’t a building, it’s my body, and that should change my perspective on everything in my daily life.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

My Good Luck Charm

My Good Luck Charm (CaD 1 Sam 4) Wayfarer

When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
1 Samuel 4:3 (NIV)

When I was a child I can remember praying for the silliest of things. I prayed for my favorite teams to win, sometimes fervently. I prayed for certain girls to like me. I was 10 years old when the United States celebrated our Bicentennial, and I have distinct memories of praying that God would let me live to 110 so I could celebrate the Tricentennial. That sounds more like a burden than a blessing from my current waypoint on life’s road.

In yesterday’s chapter, the author of Samuel made the point that while the boy Samuel had grown up living and serving in the Tabernacle of God, he did not yet know God. I find that an incredibly important observation. Looking back, that was one of the reasons my prayers were silly and self-centered. I didn’t have a relationship with God. I knew about Him, but I didn’t know Him. God wasn’t Lord of my life and I wasn’t a follower of Jesus. At that point in my spiritual journey, my prayers were indicators that I considered God my personal good luck charm.

Today’s chapter is the fulfillment of the prophetic words spoken against the high priest, Eli, and his sons. The people of Israel were embroiled in a battle against the neighboring Philistines. Remembering their history and the fact that in the days of Moses God brought victory when the Ark of the Covenant was carried before the people, they called for the Ark to be brought from the Tabernacle in Shiloh to the battlefield. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas are happy to oblige.

I think it’s important to note that those historic examples of the Ark being carried before the Hebrews were from the days of Moses and Joshua. There were men who knew God and their actions were sourced in God’s specific instructions to and through them. The Ark was carried before the people in the context of God’s divine revelation to God’s appointed ruler.

The corrupt priests Hophni and Phinehas, along with the entire Hebrew army, are treating the Ark of the Covenant like their national good luck charm. It doesn’t go well for them.

The Hebrews lose the battle, Hophni and Phinehas are killed, and the Ark of the Covenant is taken as a spoil of war. When Eli hears that the Ark had been taken, the fat 98-year-old priest falls off his chair and breaks his neck. I find it an ironic, almost Shakespeare-like end to the house of Eli. The fulfillment of God’s prophesied end comes from the consequences of their own presumptuous, self-centered, and divinely ignorant actions.

In the quiet this morning, I find this sad end an apt reminder. As a follower of Jesus, I am to follow where I am led by Jesus, not take Jesus with me wherever I want to go like He’s a personal good luck charm.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Spiritual Sight and Hearing


Spiritual Sight and Hearing (CaD 1 Sam 3) Wayfarer

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
1 Samuel 3:1-3 (NIV)

One day Jesus and his closest followers were along the lake shore. Jesus had just addressed a crowd of people who had come to hear Him speak. His message consisted of a string of parables. Afterward, His followers asked why He told parables. This was His reply:

“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

Jesus was clear about the fact that there are different kinds of seeing and hearing. The physical sense of sight is obvious, but Jesus spoke of spiritual sight and hearing, as well. Today’s chapter provides an illustration.

The author of Samuel begins today’s chapter with three subtle statements about vision:

In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

Here he refers to spiritual visions, prophetic words, and dreams. From a historical timeline, we are at end of the time of the Judges. We just went through the book of Judges on this chapter-a-day journey last month. There were some great stories and lessons, but there was little evidence in the text of prophets, dreams, or spiritual visions. Spiritual vision waned after Moses and Joshua’s conquest.

Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see. (Physical)

Next, the author immediately mentions the high priest, Eli’s, waning physical vision. Having just told of God’s judgment on Eli and his sons in yesterday’s chapter, this might also be a not-so-subtle foreshadowing that the light is going out on his time as high priest. It also serves as a contrast to the boy, Samuel, whose spiritual eyes are about to be opened.

The lamp of God had not yet gone out. (Metaphorical)

The final in the author’s trinity of word images is the lampstand that stood in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. As the night wore on and morning approached the flame would dim, though it was unlawful to let it go out before dawn according to the Law of Moses. The author metaphorically tells me, as the reader, that while spiritual sight may have dimmed, it had not gone out. Samuel is about to have his spiritual eyes opened.

The trinity of images is followed by a trinity of instances in which Samuel’s spiritual ears are opened. He hears God calling his name, but he thinks it’s Eli. Once Eli tells Samuel that it’s God and how to respond to God’s call, God tells Sam that the prophesied doom on Eli and his house is about to come true.

For Eli and his sons, the Light is going out.

For Samuel, his spiritual ears and eyes have been opened. The Light has just dawned.

The author also makes an important observation between the second and third instances of God’s calling to Samuel:

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

Along my spiritual journey, I have learned that spiritual hearing and spiritual sight require both God and me. There is a “revealing” that comes from God. Samuel had been raised in the Tabernacle. He was there day and night serving God and Eli, yet he “did not yet know the Lord” and God had not yet opened Samuel’s spiritual eyes and ears. In the same way, it is possible to go to church every Sunday, hear the message, and participate in the service without ever knowing the Lord or having spiritual eyes that see or spiritual ears that hear.

But Jesus said there’s also a part I play in this revealing. Jesus told His followers to ask, to seek, and to knock. My spiritual pursuit of God plays a part in the opening of my spiritual senses. When I ask I will receive. When I seek I will find. When I knock doors open to reveal things I hadn’t seen or heard before.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of a friend who sat across my desk and asked me about the tinnitus and genetic hearing loss with which I’ve struggled for many years. I have asked for healing in prayer. I have sought the healing prayers of others, and I have had strangers approach me saying that they were led to pray for my ears to be healed. To this point, my prayers have not resulted in the restoration of my physical hearing.

My friend asked me how I felt about that.

I responded by explaining that I’m not certain that there isn’t a relationship between the physical and spiritual. As my physical hearing wanes, I feel that my spiritual hearing has become more acute. If I were to choose between the two, I’ll choose acute spiritual hearing every single time. I’ll continue to seek both and echo Eli’s response in today’s chapter: “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Movement and the Institution

The Movement and the Institution (CaD 1 Sam 2) Wayfarer

But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod.
1 Samuel 2:18 (NIV)

As a follower of Jesus, I have been both grieved and incensed as stories continue to break regarding rampant, systemic child abuse that was both pervasive and systematically covered up by the Roman Catholic Church. No one really knows how pervasive it was nor how long it has been going on. The system still has its wagons circled all the way to the Vatican.

And, it’s not just the Roman Catholic Church. The Southern Baptist Denomination recently released a report of all the cases of child abuse and sexual assault that they had been keeping under wraps for years. To their credit, the leaders not only owned up to the truth, but also released a list of all pastors, leaders, and/or employees who were accused of sexual abuse over two decades. It is over 200 pages long.

I was a young man when I made the observation that ministry is a profession. A person with no real spiritual calling, gift, or even faith can go to school, get a theology degree, and get a job leading a church. Along my journey, I’ve met a few that fit this very description. They aren’t serving God. They’re just earning a living.

I would later go on to observe in my study of history that ever since the organic Jesus Movement became the both religious and political institution known as the Holy Roman Empire, professional ministry was conferred with a certain amount of worldly power. The higher up in the institution the more absolute the power became. You know what has been said about power: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Give a man a robe, a title, a dark place, and the perceived power of salvation, damnation, and absolution over a scared and weak child. Bad things happen. Sadly, the stories of Bill Hybels and Ravi Zacarias prove that I’ll find examples of this in any religious institution. The church is not only filled with sinners, it’s led by them as well.

Today’s chapter is a testament to the fact that the problem has existed forever. In the Hebrew religious system God set up through Moses, the priesthood was held by descendants of Aaron. The Tabernacle was served and maintained by the tribe of Levi. You didn’t choose the role, you were born into it. And so we end up with a couple of hypocritical dead-beat priests named Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of the High Priest Eli.

The author of 1 Samuel is careful to contrast the two adult sons of the High Priest and the boy Samuel:

Hophni and Phinehas demanded that people give them their uncooked meat designated for sacrifice. The fat was supposed to be burned as part of the sacrifice and the meat was boiled to get rid of the blood. Eli’s sons threatened pilgrims and worshippers to give them the uncooked and unsacrified meat so they could enjoy a nice, rare steak on the grill.

“But Samuel was ministering before the LORD – a boy wearing a linen ephod.” (vs 18)

Hophni and Phinehas also used their positions of power to coerce and seduce, or perhaps it was that they actually assaulted women who served at the entrance to the Tabernacle just like modern-day priests and pastors who abuse their power and position to prey rather than to pray.

“Meanwhile the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD.” (vs. 21)

Eli confronted his sons, rebuked them, and demanded that they change their ways. They were unrepentant and refused to listen to their father.

And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people.” (vs. 26)

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but meditate on this contrast. The paradigm that Jesus created with his initial followers was that of spiritual disciples whose lives had been committed and changed by the indwelling Holy Spirit and a dedication to love, humility, generosity, and spiritual discipline. His followers then passed it on to disciples who followed them who then passed it on to their own disciples.

When the organism became an institution Spirit was replaced by human knowledge, calling was replaced with credentials, humility was replaced with power, discipleship was replaced with academia, and spiritual authority was replaced by human bureaucracy. In the forty years that I’ve been a disciple of Jesus, I’ve watched many of the mainline church institutions and denominations splinter and implode. I personally don’t think this is a bad thing at all.

Personally, I have found myself avoiding institutional entanglements on my earthly journey. I like being a wayfaring stranger following Jesus where His Spirit leads me. And so, I press on pursuing that Spirit leading with as much love, humility, and spiritual discipline as I can increasingly muster.

May I never be a Hophni or Phinehas.

May I ever be a Samuel.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Valley and the Mountain

The Valley and the Mountain (CaD 1 Sam 1) Wayfarer

There is beauty and power in today's chapter that is easy to miss if you've never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. A chapter-a-day podcast from 1 Samuel 1. The text version may be found and shared at tomvanderwell.com. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/support

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. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year.
1 Samuel 1:4-7a (NIV)

When I was a young man, the opening chapters of 1 Samuel were all about the special circumstances surrounding the birth of Samuel. Samuel is important. Samuel is special, as was his birth. Samuel is the name of the book. Samuel was the last of the Hebrew Judges. Samuel established the Hebrew monarchy and crowned its first two kings. Samuel established the Prophetic tradition within the Hebrew monarchy. It was all about Samuel.

Then Wendy and I spent years on a journey through the Valley of Infertility.

I will never read the first chapter of 1 Samuel the same way.

There are things that couples experience on the infertility journey that are unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in this life. I learned along the way that it is an incredibly nuanced experience based on multiple factors in that journey. It makes a difference whether a husband is truly all-in (physically, emotionally, spiritually) with his wife for the long haul. The fact that I’d been previously married and had experienced the pregnancy and birth of our daughters was a factor in the relational equation. It’s also a very different experience for those who walk through the Valley of Infertility and find the path that leads to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood compared to those whose journey languishes in the Valley of Infertility seemingly destined to never find the ever-desired pathway to that mountaintop.

The first chapter of Samuel is about a woman named Hannah who is on this journey through the Valley of Infertility and the particular nuances that were unique to her experience.

Polygamous marriages among Hebrew “commoners” was relatively rare in this period of history. One of the exceptions was when a man first marries a woman who turns out to be barren. Having children, especially sons, was so important to the perpetuation of families and culture in those days that a man who finds his wife to be barren would be encouraged to marry a second wife so as to bear him sons. It’s likely that this was Hannah’s reality. She was not only shamed that she could have no children but shamed that her husband married another woman to do what she could not.

Not only did her husband, Elkanah, marry another, but he also married a woman named Peninnah who saw Hannah as a female rival. Although Elkanah was empathetic and generous toward Hannah, he was never “all-in” with her. His loyalties would always be divided between her and Peninnah, and Peninnah had plenty of children with which to claim and maintain her favored status as the wife who gave him sons.

When Elkanah and his household go to Shiloh for the annual prescribed sacrifices it was a harvest festival celebrating God’s abundant provision of fertility via life, crops, and children. As if Hannah’s everyday experience wasn’t hell enough having “mean girl” Peninnah rubbing salt in the wound of Hannah’s infertility, attending a national festival of fertility and harvest would be like descending to an even deeper ring of hell.

At this point in today’s chapter, Hannah is an emotional and inconsolable wreck. With Peninnah and all her children standing behind Elkanah as a reminder of Hannah’s shame, Elkanah says to her “Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?”

Oh, you stupid, stupid man.

A husband who has walked with his wife through the Valley of Infertility knows that words must be chosen wisely when consoling your wife in her grief. In fact, it was in the Valley of Infertility that I learned to embrace the truth that sometimes there are no words. In the same way, there are no shortcuts to making the pain of infertility “all better.”

In this context, Hannah’s prayer and commitment to give her son to the Lord takes on a whole new level of meaning. After all those years in the Valley of Infertility, Hannah finds that pathway to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. She should rightfully enjoy clinging to her boy and soak up the blessings of raising him along with the justice of being able to daily show him off to Peninnah and tell her to go take a long walk off a short pier.

But, Hannah doesn’t do that. She literally gives her son to the Lord, handing him over as a baby to be raised by the High Priest and the Levites in God’s tabernacle.

She becomes a foreshadow of what God will one day do when He “so loves the world that He gave His one-and-only Son.”

That is the beauty and power of today’s chapter.

It’s easy to miss if you’ve never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. Wendy and I never found that path to the mountain top of pregnancy and childbirth. We did, however, find a different path that led to a mountaintop called Joy. The view from there is pretty amazing.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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