Samuel receives his call

Monday, April 13, 2015

What Kind of Mother Was Hannah?

I have been enjoying a chronological Bible reading plan this year. I've been using it for a few years now and it's getting more interesting each year as the cohesive story line of the Bible plays itself out step-by-step. This year has been a little different. We started a group-read at our church with the idea that we would be encouragers to each other. Daily emails on what passages to read developed into a daily commentary/devotion. Writing the commentary has forced me to stop and consider, for each reading, what was going on and how it fit into the big picture. I'm not sure everyone is reading it - I have a tendency to ramble - but the exercise has been good for my daily reading and meditation and I've enjoyed the process. 

A few days ago, I came across the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel.  I love Hannah's story, a girl who desperately wanted a baby, living in a culture that saw barrenness as a curse. Hannah prays fervently, in front of Eli, a priest. God grants Hannah's request and gives her a son, Samuel. 

Hannah's vow to God was to give her son to the Lord, devote him to a holy life (1 Sam 1:11). In Israel, this meant taking him to the  tabernacle at Shiloh and leaving him in the care of the priests. 

Hannah was a good and godly woman. I can't begin to imagine what it was like to hold her baby in her arms, grow him, wean him, then give him away. 

The world would see this as foolish. Some might even accuse Hannah of being an irresponsible mother. Perhaps Hannah had some of the same doubts. Perhaps she wondered, incessantly, whether or not she did the right thing,
whether or not she should have done something different. Knowing Hannah was a godly woman but a human being, as well, it would not be hard to imagine Hannah, on the way to the Tabernacle to leave little Samuel, wondering if she had prayed correctly, second guessing whether or not God had answered her prayer or it was just a coincidence and she should keep Samuel. After all, who was better equipped to raise him, his mother or some old priest?

Hannah is no different than any of us who love our children and want the very best for them. It's always a guessing game as to what to do for them, how to help them, how to show our love for them without holding them back or hindering them. 

Ultimately, Hannah had made a vow, back in a time when vows truly meant something. So, she gave her baby to Eli. The rest of the story is an incredible tale of a young boy who would be called, by God, to anoint kings.

Hannah made the right decision. She released Samuel, not into the hands of Eli, but into God's hands (1 Sam 1:28. The Hebrew word for "lent" means "to dedicate").

I think releasing Samuel to God was one of the biggest struggles Hannah ever had. Still, she was a godly woman and did it as an act of worship (see 1 Sam 2). 

Likewise, releasing our children into the hands of God is probably one of the greatest struggles in our lives. It doesn't mean we are bad parents. It's actually the opposite. Hannah
got it right. She never stopped loving or caring for Samuel. He was still a large part of her life. We know Samuel was always on her mind, always in her heart when we read  about the gift she took to him every year, a "little robe", a reminder that he would always be clothed and warmed by the love of his mother. But Hannah knew Samuel was special. The "robe" was a little priestly robe, worn by young boys in training for the priesthood, a reminder that Samuel was in the care of God's hands, as well.

Hannah was a wise woman. She loved her son. She knew that love could watch over him, provide for him and protect him...for a while. I like to think that Hannah knew this as well: her love could not change him or mold him into the man he was supposed to be. Only God's love could do that. Once Hannah released Samuel into God's hands, God took Hannah's offering and did something far more amazing than anything Hannah could have dreamed of.  

It all started with Hannah, taking her fondest desire, the most precious thing in the world to her, and giving him to God. Once she did, Samuel was free to be who God would make him. The double blessings is that Hannah is free as well, free to savor what God does in Samuel, free to receive further blessing. None of it means she forgets about Samuel, he is always in her heart and thoughts. Samuel is blessed and his mother, for her faithfulness, was blessed in a mighty, mighty way (1 Sam 2:21).

What kind of mother was Hannah? The greatest kind of all. The kind that loved her children profoundly and trusted God completely.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Let's Talk About That Fleece!

I've heard it so many times, it's almost become a spiritual principal. I've even done it a few times myself, laid out a fleece before the Lord in order to determine His will and my direction in some matter or decision. 

The idea is supposed to work like this, we lay out a "fleece", a set of conditions that, if met by God, we will know what to do. It all sounds so simple! It's a foolproof way of staying on God's good side and avoiding some dreadful error.

Or is it?

The whole idea of the fleece comes from the story of Gideon in Judges 6. 

Judges 6:36–40
36 Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said,
37 behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.”
38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.”
40 And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

In short, Gideon was not totally sure of what God wanted him
to do, so he laid out a fleece, asking God to do something special to it. When God did, Gideon...just to be sure...did it again with a different guideline. God met that one as well and Gideon went forward.

It's a beautiful example of God giving guidance. Isn't it? Hmmm....perhaps we should look closer.  

Gideon, by his own admission, twice (vs 36 & 37), has heard from God! God intends to save Israel by the hand of Gideon. Yet Gideon hesitates. He's not sure. He wants more affirmation from God than he already has. He's really asking God to prove Himself before he goes forward. Gideon does not have enough trust in what God has told him to act decisively. 

This reveals much about Gideon. In Judges 6:11, the angel of the Lord calls Gideon and "man of valor".  In vs 34, we hear that Gideon is "clothed in the Spirit of the Lord". He is valiant, clothed in the Spirit, has heard from God, been given specific instructions and received the promise of victory. 

Yet, by the time we get to vs 36, we see that, in spite of all God has done, Gideon is still Gideon. This is not to say God's work has not been effective. It is to show that Gideon is not yet perfect. He has not been made immune to the weaknesses and flaws we all experience when confronted with the major battles and trials of life. Gideon has been blessed mightily, seen the power of God, felt His presence and knows His word. Still, he hesitates and is unsure. We can plainly see all this in Gideon. He is, just as we are, a flawed, fallen human being, touched by God and being made new with some work yet to be completed.  

We can see, just as plainly, that God is gracious and His grace flows abundantly and freely. In spite of the clarity with which God has spoken, in spite of the calling on Gideon, in spite of the promise he has been given....when Gideon hesitates, God is patient and kind. He never reproves Gideon, never chastises him. His blessings flow and His promise is made good, not based on Gideon's new super powers or even Gideon's (lack of) confidence, but based on God's faithfulness and His grace. 

This is the point of the story, God's grace. The author of Judges does not intend to show us a way for making good and godly decisions in life. We are not called upon to emulate Gideon's behavior or example in this passage. What we are called upon to do in these verses, is to give thanks to God for His grace and mercy when we are weak and doubtful, when we stumble and fall.

Gideon was not just a recipient of a calling and power. He also received a saving dose of God's grace. We see, in the story of the fleece, God, instead of crashing down on Gideon for doubt and fear, giving him...and us...a lesson on patience and grace. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"I Am A Follower of Christ" by Scott Ferrell

I remember a commercial a few years ago that showed a string of people staring seriously into the camera saying, “I am a cancer survivor."

My mom was a cancer survivor who beat all the odds. She did so because she was well-grounded in her faith, she had a husband who deeply loved and cared for her, and because God had gifted her with a determination and grit that would make any Marine look namby-pamby.

But even with my front row seat to the fearful savagery cancer brought to my mom’s life, and her corresponding withering counterassault upon itI never really understood the full impact of what it meant to be a cancer survivor.

Now, I’m hoping to be one, too.

Tomorrow morning (March 26), I’ll go to Fauquier Hospital to have radioactive seeds implanted in my prostate to kill the cancer that’s there. My cancer is nothing compared to what my mom faced. Because of God’s providence and the remarkable knowledge that God has gifted us with in our country, mine was discovered extremely early, and it also happens to be one of the most treatable kinds of cancer, unlike my mom's. That makes me very confident that I’ll be able to say someday soon, “I’m a cancer survivor too."

Even as I say that, though,I hope that beating cancer, or living longer, doesn’t become my banner, my motto, my reason for being, a badge that I wear. That’s because as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is my reason for being, whether it’s to live or to die – "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). My goal in life isn’t to beat cancer, or even to live longer – it’s to live well for the glory of God.

What God has already done with this trial is to sharpen my resolve to do so, to spend the rest of the time the Lord gives me studying his word, preaching his truth, demonstrating the same love and grace to a lost and broken world that God has manifested to me – showing anyone who’ll pay attention how true is my hope in one who is far greater than beating cancer or living longer: My hope is in the one who is life – "Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

My hope is the hope of every believer, an assurance that is faith (Heb. 11:1), a faith that convinces us through the testimony of scriptures that God is, and that he is sovereign, and that he keeps his promises through his only son, who gives us power to live well for his glory by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

In light of this I have nothing at all to fear, nothing, whether I live another day or another half century.

As we walk this walk that God is laying before us, Leslie and I have taken great comfort in your fellowship and prayers. We have never felt more loved and cared for in all our lives, and we are eternally grateful. Thank you for sharing our burden! May we all continue to extend that Godly love to each other.

I truly hope I can say that I’m a cancer survivor soon, and the prospect of that is excellent, thankfully. But who I am now is far more important, because it’s who I’ll be for eternity. I am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Open Letter to My Grandson

Alistair, I watch you gaze in wide-eyed wonder at the world and the people around you and realize that there is so much that lies before you, waiting for you, as you struggle to crawl, then tentatively step, then walk confidently, and finally run toward it. Take your time, savor the love and warmth of your home and family. All too soon, the running will come, decisions will have to be made, roads chosen and new homes occupied. Don't disdain these years. Don't hurry to get through them. They are important and will teach you the things you will need to get you through those that are coming. 

I've been praying for you, praying you will come to know and love the Lord the same way your Mom and Dad do and like your sister is learning to do. Follow their example. There will be times when it won't be easy, even hard. If you start reading your Bible early on, you'll see that God promises to usher us through those hard times, showing us grace when we stumble and strengthening us when we need Him. He's always there, always listening, always loving us, always planning the very best for us, even if we don't always feel like it's true. The only path to Him is in His only Son Jesus Christ. I praise God you are surrounded by people who have fully embraced this awesome truth. 

All these things are important. I don't think your world is going to be much like mine. My world is a place where I can share my faith freely, without reservation or fear of persecution. I've had the blessing of living in a society that has respect for God and His church, even if they didn't always like either. My walk of faith, like so many others, has been relatively easy with little need for sacrifice, discipline and dependence on the promises we read in the Bible. 

I'm not sure that has served us very well. 

Even as I watch the gospel become increasingly self-centered with self-serving promises and benefits, I realize there is much my generation may have gotten wrong. There are certainly those who have been sounding the warning. There always are. God promises there will be. Your Dad is one of them. He knows God's word will never die or fade away. 

Few have listened to them. Many have embraced half-a gospel. I see a lot of self-congratulatory, self-exalting,  high-fiving going on in the church of the early 21st Century and not a lot of humility, nor love for the lost nor desire for holiness. I fear all this may be backfiring on the church.

It's just that...well...I also see the world we live in reacting to the church and believers in a different manner than what I'm used to. We're no longer tolerated as nice-but-ill-informed folks. This has been growing for a number of years. I fear that the intolerance of the move toward tolerance is intolerating us out of the mainstream. I always have to smile at the thought that it seems to be OK to be anything, anymore, just as long as it's not Christian. This is a new thought for me and a lot of other Christians. The reality of this sad new state of affairs may be dawning on us a little late. 

Your walk of faith may be quite a bit more difficult than mine.

If it is, I'd like to think you'll be able to recall the days when it was such a struggle to crawl your way across the dining room floor in that beautiful, comfortable home in Rutland, VT. You literally dragged yourself, with tremendous tenacity, but with such incredible joy and eager anticipation at where you were headed, it was infectious and exhilarating, making me warm inside just to watch, giving me hope for you and your generation.

Drag yourself into the word of God, daily, Alistair. Do it with that same tenacity, that same eye on where you're headed and that same joy at being able to move down the path to get there. Whatever deep or dark waters you navigate, it will get you through them. Whatever giants you may face, it will equip you to battle them. Whatever joys you may be blessed with, it will show you who to be thankful to for them. It is the answer to every question, the solution to every problem and the key to every door you encounter. If your world is dark, it is the light. If your world is light and glorious, it is a brighter light and a greater glory than you can possibly imagine. 

I love you, Alistair. I hope to see the day you can love me. But, more than that, I pray with all my heart and soul that you love the Lord more than anything or anyone else. He is the light of my world, He will be the light of yours, as well. 

Much love, 
Grandpa K 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Ordination by the EFCA!

I was called into the ministry in 2002. Without any experience or formal training, a series of unexpected events placed me in the pulpit and in a higher position than I had ever anticipated or dreamed of. The excitement and adrenaline rush of emotions soon gave way to the stark realization that I knew very little about preaching, the Bible or being a pastor. 

After attending a conference at John MacArthur's church with Elder Peter Ristau, in early 2003, I saw a path forward. The Elders of WBF graciously agreed to allow me to attend a series of carefully chosen conferences each year in lieu of going away to seminary. These conferences have been, for the last thirteen years, my inspiration, my guidance and my ongoing education and equipping. I've had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of and, occasionally, sitting with some of the great theological minds of our time. 

The conferences led to the purchase of many books which morphed into the acquisition of a fairly large digital library through the help of Logos Bible Study Software and some pretty intensive training on how to use it.

Meanwhile, WBF was becoming part of the Evangelical Free
Church of America (EFCA), an association of autonomous churches bound together by a common statement of faith and an agreement to maintain unity on the essentials  while expressing charity on the non-essentials. 

In time, WBF became an active part of the EFCA and I became familiar with the organization and the benefits it offered. 

In 2010, I attended the EFCA's Gateway class, a class Pastor Scott Ferrell is currently attending. During my year in that class, I got to know the teachers, becoming friends with them, being led deeper into my studies as well.

The class work resulted in a doctrinal statement. I was encouraged to pursue ordination (credentialing) with the EFCA after class was complete. It is three year process of study, writing and refining my theology and doctrine. I had the privilege of working with some amazing men who were expert theologians in their own right.

The program was accelerated. Two years ago, I sat before an Ordination Council, ten men who examined me, my paper and my theology. 

That was quite and experience. 

I went into the council, fairly confident that I had done my study and was ready to be examined. I came out wondering what could possibly have led me to sit in front of a group of learned men and answer their deeply profound questions about the character and nature of God and the depth of the Scriptures. 

I waited in a small room while they deliberated, certain they would summon me at any moment to be placed in a stockade in the town square for wasting their time and penalizing me with personal, public humiliation. They were gracious, though, and awarded me a conditional approval based on further study in five areas. 

I thought the previous work was tough!

I commenced a year of detailed, in depth study and writing resulting in a revised personal doctrinal statement and submission of my application to the Board of Ministerial Standing (BOMS) with the EFCA. They took a few weeks going over my paper.   

This week, I received notice that I have been approved for ordination and will receive my credentialing once the District Office processes it!

I am humbled and awed at what God has done in the last fifteen years. I never dreamed I would have the time or aptitude to receive such an honor. I had so much help! My wife, the staff at WBF, the Elders, my teachers and more than a few members of our church family all provided input, feedback and critique. This was, in every way, a whole-body effort. 

As I've been able to share the news with a few people this week, I've come to realize that there is a lot of misunderstanding as to what ordination is. It is, in essence, the recognition, by the EFCA, that I am in alignment with their doctrine and theology. It is not a degree and does not allow me the honor of placing any letters before or after my name. However, it does say that I've been thoroughly examined in my theology and endorsed as a minster of the gospel and shepherd of the flock by a rigorous council of peers and highly educated men. 

I never thought it would happen. I am totally awestruck, honored and inspired to go deeper yet. My deepest appreciation and heartfelt thanks goes to our Elders, staff and the wonderful congregation God has blessed us with for all the support and encouragement that was so freely given. I also am truly thankful to my wife for being my greatest source of encouragement and most ardent supporter. The love and trust of all of you keep me faithful to my studies and excited about the future. 

I give all praise and honor to God! In Him, all things are truly possible!