Monday, January 31, 2011

Storyline: Hagar

Storyline:  Hagar

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; and the angel of the Lord said to her:  “You are now with child and you will have a son.   You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard my misery.” And Hagar gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her:  “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me... So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.
Genesis 16: 7, 11, 13, 15

Peeking across the yard out of Sarah’s tent, we find Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian maid-servant. Ever wonder how she might have felt about being a pawn in Sarah’s forced, and frantic, arrangement to have a child?  Let’s saunter over and see if we relate to her in any way... 

Here are a few questions for you:
r  Have you ever felt as if your life had been completely ripped away from you?
r  Ever felt that everything near and dear had been stripped away?
r  Have you ever felt that even your identity was stolen from you, and now, you are a complete non-entity?
r  In fact, have you ever felt that you were nothing more than a poker-chip? A pawn in someone else’s game of life?
r  Have you ever felt devalued?  Insignificant?
r  Worse, have you ever felt invisible?
r  Have you ever felt unheard or unseen?
r  Ever felt trapped...forced to go where you didn’t want to go; to do things you never wanted to do?  Enslaved?
r  Have you ever felt completely alone?
r  Have you ever longed for compassion and come up empty...every time?
r  Have you ever felt so completely hopeless, like you were really just hanging onto life by a single thread...and even it was beginning to splinter?

This was Hagar’s day to day existence.  She was a slave.  Probably part of the “loot” Abraham received from Pharaoh after he tried to deceive the ruler with lies about his wife, Sarah.  She was forced to leave home, family, country, comforts of a palace-life, and everything familiar to live a nomadic existence.  She was also forced to obey the whims and fancies of her mistress.

It’s difficult to judge her reaction when she found out she was pregnant with Abraham's child.  “When she knew she was pregnant she began to despise her mistress (Gen 16:4).”  She began to look on Sarah, perhaps in the way she felt looked upon...with an inner attitude of “smallness.”  She probably didn’t have to say a word; her demeanor said it all.  She pushed Sarah’s core fear button with a vengeance, and Sarah (like all of us who have our core fear buttons pushed) reacted back...harshly.  So Hagar ran.  BUT GOD!  God came to her in the desert - the driest place of her life!  He “looked” at her as no one else had.  Verse 11, Ishmael means: "The Lord has been attentive in my humiliation.”  God saw.  Verse 13,  “You are El Roi – the God who sees me.”  Read into this carefully.  The Lord didn’t just hear – he listened.  He didn’t just see – He looked right through her, examined her heart, paid close attention to her “woundedness.”  Sarah was God’s princess.  Hagar was the slave.  Yet, never once did God appear directly to Sarah, and twice (again in Genesis 21), God appeared to Hagar.  Truth:  God doesn't look at status, when it  comes to the cry of the human heart...

Seeing and hearing her misery would have been enough in itself, but God went even further.  He restored her significance and her hope – she would mother a line of descendents too numerous to count.  Hagar had a reason to return to Abraham and Sarah.  Her son needed a father.  With a restoration of her dignity, her humanization, a future and a hope, and having been comforted by the One True Comforter, Hagar could return with submission, until her next steps were revealed, as God ordained them to be.

This is our God. El Roi!  El Ysma! The God who Sees - me!  The One who Hears – me!  Do we run to that God when in need of compassion and hope?  He’s waiting!  And, you will not come up empty!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Storyline: Sarah #3

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews 11:8-10

I can’t just walk away from Sarah, yet.  Listen, I admire this woman!  While she made some HUMONGOUS mistakes, she rose above them in many ways.  Look at the passage written out above.  The bold print and underlining are my emphasis.  Do you read between the lines when you read Scripture?  We need to!  I know this passage is about Abraham, but where Abraham went, Sarah was.  What Abraham was involved in - well, Sarah was smack dab in the middle. a woman, I ask you, How would you respond if out of the blue, no warning, your husband told you one day to pack up, because you were moving!  Maybe you’d be delighted, because you are ready for a change.  But then, your next question would be, “Where are we going?”  What would you do if he said, “Dunno!  God just said move and he’d show us as we went.”  I’m not sure your reaction would have been to just submit, and with a quiet and gentle spirit leave all you knew behind.  On top of that, please remember, Sarah was a Chaldean woman (this is where she and Abraham lived...probably right near current day Baghdad).  She could have not even known who God was, let alone trust him enough to just “go.”

Yet, the passage we looked at last week said that part of Sarah’s inner beauty was her submissive heart - a heart that yielded and “did not give way to fear.” maybe you could see yourself going, but what would be your “fear temperature?” 

Does the word submission* make your blood boil?  I know it does for some women!  Yet Sarah, in spite of not really having a known faith (at that time) in God, was able to submit and go into the unknown without fear.  I desperately want to be like that!  The unknown is always the thing that scares me most.  It is the one fear that is often at the center of my core, because it means I have no control over my next steps.

I guess my question is this:  what, besides God’s grace, increases my capacity to submit and walk willingly into the unknown fearlessly?  I have a few thoughts based on past experience.  Indulge me, please.

TRUST.  We can’t submit unless there is a level of trust.  Sarah trusted Abraham. We know this because in the passage we looked at last week, Peter says that Sarah called Abraham, Lord.  No, that was not the term of endearment she used...but rather an expression of her faith in her husband.   One can’t say the words, “No, Lord.”  So, obviously, it speaks to how Sarah felt about Abraham.  Then, as that trust proved out, she began to develop trust in the one that Abraham put his faith in – the Creator God, Adonai.

KNOWLEDGE.  We can’t submit without trust; we can’t trust without knowledge.  The more I know you, and see your character, the more I trust you.  It is that simple.  Knowledge breeds respect; respect leads to trust; and trust yields.

VULNERABILITY.  Knowledge involves risk-taking.  It involves opening myself up to someone else and taking a chance on them.  It’s a process of shared information, and finding complete safety and protection within that openness. 

This says a lot about Abraham...but it also says a lot about Sarah.  She was willing to take a chance on her very fallible husband, and the end result was BEAUTIFUL!   (It is also our greatest expression of worship...where our relationship with the Lord is concerned.)

*Remember, submission does not mean being a door mat.  It does not mean I cannot express my opinion.  It does not mean that I am silent, passive, and just roll over and play dead.  It simply means that I choose who my “headship” is and willingly let that one make the decisions.  Takes a lot of pressure off of me, for sure!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Storyline: Sarah #2 (God's Princess)

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, let your beauty come from your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.  They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him lord.  You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
1 Peter 3:4-6

Let’s talk about beauty.  Every woman longs to be beautiful.  It’s why the beauty industry is a multi-trillion dollar one.  We women will try anything to enhance the way we look.  We spend a fortune to look like we weigh less (or have a perfectly curved body), have a flawless complexion, as well as, perfectly coiffed hair and painted acrylic nails.  Yes, even boobs have become a “fashion accessory.”  We women amaze me.   And, lest you think I think there’s something wrong with this, I am just like you.  I work hard at looking good, particularly for my guy; and, it is a LOT OF WORK – exhausting and expensive.  The guys don’t make it any easier.  They want us to look good.  No question, the outside is important to them.  In one book I read recently, a number of men were surveyed, and the author concluded that well over 80% of men connect how much their wives love them with how well they continue to take care of themselves physically.  This can be a bit disheartening.

So, I find it refreshing that a man, Peter, to be exact, wants women to know the balance between outside appearances and inner beauty.  Remember God, the Holy Spirit is directing his writing, so it’s really God trying to tell us something...  The example God, via Peter, picks of a beautiful woman is Sarah, the wife of Abraham.  We know Sarah was physically beautiful.  So much so that when a famine hit the land where Abraham and Sarah lived and had to trek down to Egypt for a time, Abraham convinced his bride (then in her 60’s!) that she needed to lie about their relationship and tell folks she was his sister.  He was afraid Pharaoh would kill him in order to take Sarah as his wife. Really??!  Abraham nearly escaped by the skin of his teeth (taking Sarah with him) when Pharaoh discovered the truth.  But, Abraham hadn’t learned his lesson. Nope! The story repeated itself nearly 20 years later.  Again, God protected Sarah from Abimelech, but barely.  No question, Sarah was a good looking woman; but, her beauty was more than skin deep.  It surfaced from the depths of her heart.

This is God’s message to you and me.  We are definitely to be caretakers of the temple he’s given us – the outer man.  He doesn’t tell us not to braid our hair, nor to wear pretty jewelry.  A better translation reads – “Don’t let your beauty come merely from the outside...”  In other words, be a good steward of your outer appearances; just don’t become a slave to them.  Don’t spend so much money, you go into debt.  Keep things in perspective (i.e. I find it really hard to spend money on having beautiful nails, when what I’d spend a month could support a child through Compassion).  Or, don’t spend so much time on yourself that you don’t have time for things that are of greater importance – developing depth of character, for example.

Peter says the following three things are characteristics of a truly beautiful woman:  gentleness (which can also be translated humble), quietness (one who is undisturbed, at peace), and submission (intentional choice to come under the authority of another in obedience). much time do you spend in front of the mirror as opposed to spending time in the mirror of God’s Word?
How much time do you spend looking for the right clothes to wear instead of taking time to “clothe yourselves with kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col 3:12)?”
How much time do you take with personal hygiene as opposed to being “cleansed with the water of the word?”

I think you get the idea.  I have some adjustments to make.  You?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Storyline: Anna, the Prophetess

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was 84.  She never left the temple, but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.  Coming up to (Mary and Joseph) at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 
Luke 2:36-38.

As we look to a new year, it is quite appropriate that we return to our theme (Storyline: What’s Your Story) with that of the prophetess, Anna.  The words written here are all we know of Anna, but they are enough.  Remember, our goal as we look at these diverse women of Scripture is to learn some truth of application for our own transformation.  It doesn’t take more than a verse or two to inspire exactly that.  Here are some of the facts we can pull out of this passage:
1)        Anna was a prophetess.  In the biblical sense, she was a truth-teller, not necessarily one who foretold the future. However, we do catch a glimpse that Anna believed what she’d been taught of God’s Word, enough to know that there was One to come who would be the “redemption of Jerusalem.”  Anna spoke truth that would encourage hopefulness in the future of her people.  She pointed them to Jesus!

2)       She was from a Northern tribe (Asher), which meant somehow, though her people had been dispersed to Assyria under the siege, she returned.  Anna was a survivor.

3)       At one time Anna had been married.  Though widowed at a very young age (young enough to re-marry and still of child-bearing age), she intentionally chose a life of dedication to the Lord.  She probably lived at the temple, spent her days living out her calling of instruction, and “grace-giving” (the meaning of her name).  Anna knew her calling (God’s intended purpose for her life) and she lived out that purpose daily.

4)       This brings up one last point.  By living at the temple, Anna had no physical husband to depend upon.  The Lord was Anna’s complete source of provision.  She depended on him for her every need.  Yet, Anna seemed to be content.  God’s goodness, faithfulness and sufficiency were enough for Anna.

Welcome to 2011!  It is my prayer as we begin this New Year that we learn from women like Anna.  It is my prayer that when all is said and done in my life, others can say these same things about me.  In fact,  I’d like to make it my resolution this year to speak truth and encourage hopefulness; make it my choice that with God I will overcome all obstacles life throws at me; fulfill God’s purpose; trust Him fully; and always point others to the Savior!

P.S.  Did you also notice how God blessed Anna with feasting her eyes on the very one she looked forward to with great anticipation!  I, too, look forward to that day when my eyes will behold my Savior, whether his return (Maranatha! – maybe this year?), or my home-going...  One day, I will see him face to face, and like Anna, will give thanks to God for his remarkable gift of grace!