Receiving the Signal

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. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

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

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever becau1 se of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God,[a] and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

1 Samuel 3:1-21 (NIV)

In the day when transistor radios were common, the familiar sound of trying to precisely locate a station on the radio dial included a lot of static and distorted sounds. Car radios of today can still provide a similar experience if you do not use the automatic search feature on them. Anyone who has manually adjusted the dial of a radio knows that often you  have to fine tune the radio in order to receive a clear signal which produces the best sound quality. If the signal is not on the exact frequency, the message or music will be garbled or mixed with annoying static. Getting and understanding a clear signal is important to the listener.

The Bible passage presented today involves a signal and understanding that signal. God had told Eli that because his sons were corrupt and Eli did not put an end to their corruption, Eli’s family would be stripped of their priestly duties. God also said that both of Eli’s sons would die on the same day. Time passed and the boy, Samuel, was living with and ministering alongside Eli. Samuel had been given by his parents to serve the Lord when he was an infant. One night Samuel heard a voice call to him while he was sleeping. Samuel assumed that it was Eli so he went to Eli. Eli told Samuel that he had not called and the boy should go back to sleep. This occurred three times. On the third time Eli figured out that the Lord was calling Samuel. So he gave Samuel a response for the next time the voice was heard. When God called again and Samuel responded as Eli instructed, God told Samuel of the fall of Eli’s family. The next morning when Eli asked Samuel what he had been told, Samuel did not want to give the message but Eli pushed the boy until he shared God’s words. This began the path which would lead to Samuel being seen as one of God’s great prophets.

Have you received a message which you would rather not share? Maybe you have been prompted by God to take a stance or an action which you wish to avoid. God’s calling of people did not end with Samuel. The Lord continues to call out to people each and every day. Some are called to speak at specific times about difficult topics. Others are called to respond or take actions which may place them in an unfavorable light. Like Samuel we may struggle to understand the source of the signal or what it means. We may need a mentor such as Eli to help us understand and know how to respond. We may also feel the fear which Samuel felt so we need to be prodded to follow through. Some fine tuning may be needed for clarity to exist. Whatever our situation, we must always be ready to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Jesus Knocking

A famous picture painted by Warner Sallman is entitled, Christ at Heart’s Door. Sallman completed this painting in 1942. Many churches and some homes can be found with this painting hanging within them. There is much symbolism found within the painting. Take a moment to study the image here. Then respond to the following questions:

  1. What do you notice missing? Why may it not be there?
  2. What shape can be found created with the light and architecture?
  3. Why are there blooms on some of the stems and some have no blooms?
  4. What is noticeable about Jesus’s hand? Does that communicate anything to you? 
  5. Why might Sallman have chosen to include the plants which he did?
  6. What change would you make to the painting in view of Jesus’s heritage?
  7. The imagery in this picture is to communicate a message. How would you articulate the message?

Communicating A Message

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 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. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father”?

Or again,

“I will be his Father,
    and he will be my Son”?

And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

In speaking of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels spirits,
    and his servants flames of fire.”

But about the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
    therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
    by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

10 He also says,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
12 You will roll them up like a robe;
    like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.”

13 To which of the angels did God ever say,

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet”?

14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Hebrews 1:1-14 (NIV)

There are a variety of ways to communicate a message. The introduction of the internet, smart phones, and online meeting places have only multiplied the options. Throughout the course of my life I have seen significant changes in message delivery. As a child, the available options for an average person included letter writing sent through the postal service, phone calls on landlines, or face-to-face conversations. After graduation from college, the use of early design mobile phones began to add a new dimension to communicating a message. A few years later personal computers and the advent of the internet took us tremendous steps forward through AOL and Netscape Messenger. We then moved from mobile phones to cellular phones as the phone size decreased. Then an explosion occurred and the social media platforms opened hundreds of ways to communicate a message.

The delivery of a message is the subject of today’s reading. The message is coming from God to the people. At the start of this letter to the Hebrew people, the writer points out that the preferred method of communication God utilized was the prophets. But God has chosen to change the performed spokesperson to the Son. Through the Son, God has revealed God’s self to the people. The letter continues to give a description of the exalted Son who has communicated God’s most important message for the people, for us.

Here the actual message is not detailed. Instead we are pointed to the exalted Son, the Christ. As we look to Christ, we are drawn to examine his words and actions. In the midst of this examination, we discover the message. The message of love is what is presented to us. In Christ we see God’s love demonstrated through word and action. This love is for us from God, and this love is what we are to extend to God and one another. It is Christ who tells us that the greatest instruction is to love the Lord, our God. He then continues by saying the second greatest is to love our neighbor. The message which God gives through the Son is LOVE.

Everywhere But Home

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matthew 53-58 (NIV)

Growing up in a small town has advantages and disadvantages. Small towns provide a sense of safety and familiarity. While common sense in regards to caring for your personal property still is important, crime is not a major feature of a small town. The familiarity is a double-edged sword. You are easily recognized and trusted. At the same time, people tend to know more about you and your activities than you may like. When you leave the small town, people who remain always identify you with the characteristics and behaviors you exhibited when you lived there.

Our reading today comes at the point when Jesus has ended his most recent session of teaching and returns to his hometown. After he arrives, he starts going to the synagogue which is his custom in any town he enters. It only seems natural for him to teach the people while in the synagogue. They are amazed with his teaching. This is the general response he receives everywhere but here is a little different. When the people saw and heard Jesus in this synagogue, they saw and heard him filtered through the memories of the boy who had grown up there. They knew his parents and siblings well. They knew he had wisdom and power which he did not obtain in Nazareth. So they began to see him as someone trying to be something he did not have the background to be. As it states in the passage they were offended. You can almost hear someone ask, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus is aware of their disbelief so decides he will discontinue his work in Nazareth because they have failed to see who he really is.

How often do you fall into the same category as the people of Nazareth? Jesus seems to indicate with what he says that this is common with others, not just himself. It can be very easy to have preconceived notions of who a person is, especially if we have witnessed them growing up. Sometimes a person can also revert to their characteristics and behaviors from childhood when returning to their hometown. A message which seems to come from this passage is that we must realize that people change, discover new gifts and skills, and can offer more than we think they are capable. Trying to keep a person in the mold we saw created when we knew them before does a disservice to them and us.

Imagery

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”[b]
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”[c]
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[d] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels[e] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Revelation 1:4-20 (NIV)

The city in which I currently live is the home of some amazing art museums. I have enjoyed going to two of them so far, one containing American art and the other one containing art from world renown artists including Monet and Picasso. I enjoy viewing the work, imaging what the artist is trying to communicate, and reading the information on the card next to the piece. Imagery is an amazing way to communicate a message. I struggle with abstract art because it is difficult for me to find the message in the imagery. 

Our passage today comes from a book of the Bible which can be confusing to some readers. The writing here is filled with imagery because it comes from a vision. The intent is to communicate a message, a telling of a story. Today we read about the very beginning of the vision, John, the one who is having the vision, finds himself in the heavenly throne room of God. He hears praises being sung, declarations of the wholeness of God made, and sees seven golden lampstands. Among these lampstands is a human whose description seems to indicate he is Jesus. John is told to write down all that he sees and hears so it may be shared with the churches. At the sight of the man, John falls to the ground because he realizes he is in a holy place before the Lord. The Lord touches John’s shoulder with the hand containing seven stars and tells him to not be afraid. Continuing, he explains the stars are the angels of the churches and the lampstands are the churches. The imagery here is magnificent. The use of the number seven in the Bible is meant to represent perfection and wholeness. Having the Lord stand among the lampstands communicates that the Lord is among the churches. The lampstands remind us that the role of the churches is to bring light to the world. The stars provide the reminder that there are messengers from God in the churches. As a whole, we are given a set of messages through the imagery of John’s vision.

Receiving a message through imagery is great but more important is what we do with that message. When an artist uses imagery to communicate a message, the intention may be to remind us of the beauty of creation, or it may be to make us aware of the plight of certain people, or it may be to prompt us to remember an historical event. If this message is received by us and we are moved to action or better educated, then the imagery works. In the words of this section of Revelation, we are reminded to be lights to the world, that the Lord is in our midst, and to listen to the messengers of God.

What are you going to do with this?

Need Patience

I struggle with being patient most of the time. If I decide to buy an item, I do my research, I spend some time going back and forth, I work through the financial aspects, and then I head to the store to make the purchase. Once I have gone through these steps, I expect to walk out of the store with the item I have chosen. If for some reason I do not have the opportunity to get the product or I have to wait for some reason, then I become extremely frustrated. My patience does not hold out well for me at this point.

Recently, I was reading a passage from Habakkuk. In this passage, the prophet complains against God because he feels that God is not listening. He has made request after request for life changes but the changes are not coming. He is losing his patience with God. The prophet is speaking for the nation of Israel but I could relate to the complaints on a personal level. Like my shopping routine, if I take a request to God, I have the expectation that the request will be fulfilled in the time frame of my choosing.

Following Habbukuk’s complaints, God responds. In God’s response, God reminds the people that relief will come but it will be according the correct timing. The people are told that they are to await this right time. God tells them that the source of their agony has not escaped notice. If the people will wait and remain faithful, the relief will arrive.

The words recorded in Habakkuk often convict me. I am reminded that I need to have patience. The message of God’s faithfulness and listening to my requests comes through these words clearly. I need to remember to wait on the Lord and I will not be disappointed.

This is not a new message to me. While I can understand the message and I believe the words to be true, putting them into practice in my life is not easy in any way. As I stated at the start of this post, I struggle with patience most of the time. I am convinced that this will be a lifetime struggle for me. Reading this passage often will be a valuable reminder to me. Being reminded that God’s time is much better than my time will assist me in my efforts to be patient.

How do you do with waiting on the Lord? What do you use as reminders of God’s faithfulness?