Monday, August 31, 2015

Hagar - I'm not invisible

This week we return to the (dysfunctional) family of Sarah and Abraham, but this time we will study the life of Hagar . . .
                Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.  And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
 The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery.
 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
    his hand will be against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
    toward all his brothers.
 She 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.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

The rest of Hagar's story is in chapter 21, verses 8 through 21. There we read about the second time that Hagar left -- this time she was shown the door . . .

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.  But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking,  and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.  But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.  I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes.  Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.  While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

We might be wondering about the story of Hagar . . . why is it in the Bible? Yes, it overlaps our story of Abram, to whom God made a promise, and who stumbled a bit, but was finally on the right path and passes the blessing to Isaac, who passes it to Jacob, etc.  That's kinda what Genesis is all about, no?

So, why Hagar? Why all the details, when she really doesn't contribute to the Abram (Abraham), Isaac, Jacob part of the story? She's actually a side story, because of Sarah's mistakes, which we studied in past weeks. Ishmael, Abraham's son, won't be the bearer of God's blessing; he won't be in the genealogy of our Lord, Jesus.

Although Ishmael's descendants are in the news daily in our world, there's just a "dead-end" here in the Bible as far as he is concerned. We humans might scratch our heads and wonder why; should we spend time studying this story?

An emphatic yes!
Hagar, an Egyptian slave girl, was not considered important back then. She was about as low on the "pecking order" as one could get in that era. Did you see that Abraham and Sarah never call her by name?
To them, she is simply "that slave girl."
To God, she was more. She was not invisible. She counted for something.
That is what we will study this week.
Please read and consider the passages above, and join us next time to study Hagar.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The widow who gave all, conclusion

Money, money, money!
It's necessary in most cultures, but the Bible warns us against placing more importance on it than it should rightfully have.
The widow in our passage this week gave all. She has given us a good example, hasn't she? She recognized the need for money, but she held it lightly in her fingers -- she very willingly and lovingly gave it all.

Peter tells us not to be greedy:

                  Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over
                  them--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God
                  wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;
                  (I Peter 5:2)

We read in Hebrews that we shouldn't be greedy:

                  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with
                  what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you;
                  never will I forsake you."  (Hebrews 13:5)

These might be the most famous words about money:

                  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people,
                  eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced
                  themselves with many griefs.  (I Timothy 6:10)

The lure of money is just as prevalent today as ever. But God's truth is still the same: He will provide for us. The widow had no one else to rely on, only our Father. But that is true for us, too, is it not? It doesn't matter if we are rich or poor; it makes no difference if we are always scrambling to make ends meet or if we have oodles of cash, we really have no one else to rely on.
Real security is not in our belongings, or our house, or our money -- real security is in God alone.

                   The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He
                   will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not
                   be discouraged.  (Deuteronomy 31:8)

                   Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the
                   name of the Lord our God.  (Psalm 20:7)

                   For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life,
                   as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body,
                   as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body
                   more than clothing? “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not
                   sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father
                   feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
                   (Matthew 6:25-26)

The widow gave her two mites out of poverty. She gave all she had.

Is there some part of our lives that feels empty, impoverished? Are we lonely? Are we financially stretched thin? Are we worried about the future?

Whatever it is, whatever area of our life that feels empty . . . let's pray about it. Let's listen for the still small voice of the Spirit. Perhaps God will invite us to do something that will express our trust in Him. Perhaps we need to simply tell Him in prayer that we need for Him to solve the problem -- there's no more that we can do on our own. Or perhaps it will be a tangible something that we can do. What kind of offering would please our Father? Once we hear His voice, we need to follow through and give Him our all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The widow who gave all

Today, we're going to look again at the widow who gave two mites, tiny coins, in the treasury of the temple, as Jesus observed the people. 
The widow would have made her way through the temple grounds, which probably still resembled a bazaar, with the haggling of vendors and the noises of the animals.  Travelers who journeyed there from far away would need to exchange their money so that they could pay the temple tax - every Jewish male over twenty was required to pay.  It was also required that it be paid in Jewish or Tyrian coins, because of the purity of the silver content in those. And the money changers charged a high fee for the service. These travelers would also need to purchase animals for their sacrifices; it would be difficult to bring animals all that way. Those animals were sold for premium prices, too. All of this led to the religious leaders and priests living lavish lifestyles, while the average Jew scrabbled to make ends meet. What had started as a service to worshipers had devolved into a very corrupt system.

All of this would have drowned out the sounds of heartfelt praises and adoration. And it was not a secret. It was widely known. You see, the temple tax was mandatory. Yup. You do it or else. And it was especially hard on the poor, who were often forced to sell their land, or worse -- sell their children into slavery to pay the tax. And no one was more vulnerable than the widows. They had no rights, because they didn't have a man to go to court for them.
Yet the widow still brought her offering. 
Two mites.
What are mites?
We know from Mark's gospel that they are "lepta," Greek coins that were made from copper, and worth less than a penny. Israelites typically used the coins of the nation that ruled over them, but they also had their own system of currency, which we see mentioned in the Word: shekels.
So mites are even smaller (in value) than shekels . . . she didn't have much, did she? Yet Jesus said that she put in "everything, all she had to live on."  Perhaps as he watched the widow, He thought of His own death, which would happen in just a few days. On the cross, He would give everything, all He had to live on.
The widow gave for the temple. And you and I and other Christians are the temple for which Jesus gave His life. The temple of stone was understood to be the place where God dwelt -- for Jesus, we are the new temple, the place where God dwells.  The old temple, built by horrible Herod and his descendants, was far from perfect; we are far from perfect, too.

That temple that the widow gave her mites to was supposed to be a place of justice and generosity; it was supposed to be a place where strangers and the poor were welcome. It fell way short of what it was supposed to be, didn't it? But don't we, too? We are sinful, spiteful, vengeful humans. But Jesus loves us so much that God gives everything, in spite of ourselves. Just like the widow, who knew the ancient temple for what it was and gave anyway, Jesus loves us and gave everything for us.

We also see in this passage that God truly cares about how we give. In Mark, it says Jesus saw "how the people put the money into the treasury." That word is translated "in what way." With a sad face? With reluctance?
The attitude of our hearts will make all the difference. Paul tells us:

                       So let each one give as he has purposed in his heart, not
                       grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful
                       giver. (II Corinthians 9:7)

Even though Jesus' words make it sound like she would have nothing more to buy food with, she gave cheerfully, sacrificially. The others might not miss what they gave, but she sure would.
How we give is even more important than how much . . . let's think on that and finish up tomorrow. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Verses that inspire

Recently I was sitting on our screen porch when a summer thunderstorm rolled in. The sky darkened, and the rumbles of thunder grew louder. I heard the rain coming across the forest toward our home, quietly at first, then louder, and as the drops reached us, it became a roar of water.

Our Father is in the lightning and thunder, and the rain that soaks the earth -- all of these are His gifts. I thought about the sound of the rain, and I remembered this passage:

                   Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and
                   all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all 
                   the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes, for He
                   comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and 
                   the peoples in His faithfulness.  (Psalms 96:11-13)

Has a verse or passage inspired you this week?

Monday, August 24, 2015

The widow who gave all

[A personal note, here, if you will bear with me. Jessica Munden, you and others who have commented, I want to tell you that your words are appreciated....if I can't respond to your comment, due to interwebs issues, I hope you will be forgiving.
Each of you that pauses here to read and to pray, each of you that takes a moment to comment; I am grateful for all of you. I can see on the blog statistics the traffic and the numbers of people who read, and I am humbled and motivated. At a moment when I am rushed, or worried, or even panicked(!), I remember that you are all there, and it makes me so thankful. The blessings I receive from leading this group of Christian women (and some men!) are so precious to me. Please know that I am here for you; I pray for all of you; I thank God "upon every remembrance of you."]

                    As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.“Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All                     these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)
For such a short passage, there is a lot packed into our study this week!
Let's dive in!

Jesus and his disciples were seated in the temple, near the treasury. Offerings were given in a very different way then from what we may be accustomed to now. No ushers bringing offering plates to the seated worshipers. Nope.

There were thirteen receptacles for the offerings. Try to imagine the scene . . . this was a temple that was known for its opulence and the fact that it was SO BIG. (To show you how far they had come, Herod's temple mount encompassed 35 acres! The tabernacle in David's day was 3 x 5 cubits. Solomon's altar was sixteen feet tall, and Herod the Great's altar was a whopping 45 feet in height!) No expense had been spared in its construction, nor in its outfitting. Only the best materials, and a lot of 'em. Ornate decorations, gold and gilt, expensive marbles and stones. The special offering holders were an example of the over-the-top showmanship here, inside what was supposed to be "God's house." They were large, metal containers with funnel-shaped openings on the top. When you put your offering in, the metal coins would clatter and clang all the way to the bottom. Especially if you put them in, in a particular way that enhanced that noise. (Not sure why Blogger messed with my font here...can't seem to fix it. Oh well.)

And of course, many people did want to show off. So they would put in their coins in that special way, and enjoy hearing the jangle of the money as it made its way down the funnel. You could even tell by the sound if the worshiper had put gold or silver coins in! The rich would make a great show of putting in many coins, that clattered down as if to announce "this person is so wealthy that they gave a large amount today!" And the religious leaders would do it so that everyone would see that they had fulfilled their obligations.

That may be why Jesus chose the treasury as the place that He would give His final teaching before leaving the temple forever. He had just experienced a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the religious leaders had rebuked Him for the joyous celebrations of His followers. Here, Jesus contrasts the phony goodness of those leaders with the true devotion of one poor widow. He gives us some principles about giving that we need to know.  

This story is also told in Mark's gospel, and he writes that Jesus "beheld" (KJV) what the people gave. The root of that word gives us a meaning of "looking with interest and purpose, carefully observing." And of all the people that Jesus beheld, the poor widow was the one person who impressed Him. 
God is interested in our giving. He has a plan for our giving. Some people resist it and don't like to talk about it, but His plan is called tithing. It means one-tenth.

                     Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food
                     in my house, and try me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if
                     I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for
                     you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to 
                     receive it. (Malachi 3:10)

I guess it could be because people have heard preachers that really "battering ram" their congregations with stewardship sermons. Over and over again they are hollered at to make sure they tithe, and give for special offerings and efforts, too. 
Or maybe it is the terrible testimonies of some celebrity evangelists and personalities, who are routinely pleading with their listeners to give, give, give, all the while they are amassing fortunes from the offerings that are sent to them. They sit in tv studios with opulent sets and decorations, and ask for money from people who have far less to give than they do, themselves.

Some say that tithing is an "Old Testament thing." Yes, we can see that in Genesis 14, Abraham offered a tithe of all that he had. Tithing was practiced before the Law, under the Law, and after the Law in the New Testament. Others resist because they say it is "legalistic" and point to the religious leaders of Jesus' day, who tithed everything with great show, even to the herbs in their gardens, but did not have compassion on those around them in need -- remember when Jesus pointed that out?

And in contrast to this poor widow, some try to tithe the wrong way. They try to give a tenth, as long as it's left over at the end of the month. It's a step of faith to give that tenth at the beginning, before all the bills are paid, isn't it? 
I Corinthians 16:1-4 talks to us about setting aside at the first of the week, what we plan to give. That's giving our gift to God top priority.

This widow, however, didn't stop at giving a tenth. She gave all.
We'll learn more about this next time. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday slowdown

We closed our study this week with a very simple and sincere question: Do we trust Him? I've been so blessed to assist the Spirit in this study; I've learned much and stretched and grown. I have much, much further to go.
But I can shout with all my heart that He is faithful! He is good! And I place my trust in Him!

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Oh, Jesus, you're my God!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sarah - jumping ahead of God

We learned yesterday that we should expect the waiting on God to be difficult. We are, after all, human, and we "want what we want, when we want it!"  So it's only natural to chafe a little, and get impatient . . . but it can be easier, if we remember the possible reasons for God's silence, and if we pray for wisdom as He works to accomplish His purpose in our lives.

Another thing we can learn from Sarah is that when God is silent, we should NOT jump ahead of Him! Getting ahead of God, and jumping in front of His perfect plans for our lives can be nothing short of disastrous.
Sarah decided to do things her way, and in her own timing. She ended up creating a conflict that exists in our modern world, with the friction and hatred between the Arabic and the Jewish peoples. She thought up her own plan to replace God's plan -- that didn't work out too well. Many of us are guilty of doing this; we make plans and arrangements before we check with our Father.

                    Woe to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an
                    alliance, but not by My Spirit, heaping sin upon sin. (Isaiah 30:1)

Ouch. God was speaking there to the Israelites, but He could just as easily have directed it at us today. He's saying that we are making plans without even consulting Him. We're figuring out ways to get things done that are not His ways; we are using sinful means to accomplish what we want, and we console ourselves by saying that the end results are good, so it's OK.  (It's a sad fact that spiritual results are not achieved through sinful means.)

So what are we to do? If we don't want to jump ahead of God, what is our strategy?
Sometimes the best way to determine His will for our lives is to simply wait. It's hard. But it's wiser than jumping.

                   LORD, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God. (Psalm 38:15)

                   I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put 
                   my hope.
                   (Psalm 130:5)

There is one very effective way to make sure we don't get ahead of God: prayer. It's not only a sweet communion with our Father; it's not just a way to receive comfort and strength; it's also a key discipline in the life of Christians. We can communicate with God and acknowledge (both to Him and to ourselves) that we are striving to follow Him.

                   .... in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths
                   straight. (Proverbs 3:6)

(Raising hand)  Too many of us would have to raise our hands and admit, if asked, that we have directed our paths and then asked God to walk along with us! Hey, God, I think I will go this're coming along, right? That's not how it works! We never saw in the scripture that Sarah prayed about her barrenness . . . maybe she did, and it just wasn't recorded. But maybe she got tired of praying about it -- and that might be why she got ahead of God.

Lastly, when God appears to be silent, we need to remember that we can't always understand Him. Sarah assumed that she understood God, and that His silence meant He had changed His mind, perhaps. That she was not going to have a child. But she was wrong in her understanding! Look back at that verse: "The Lord has prevented me from having children." She made the wrong conclusion. I guess it's important for us to realize that we may never fully understand His ways. Sometimes His heavenly plans make no sense to us earthly creatures.

                      For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways
                      my ways, declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)

                      For now we see through a glass darkly . . . (I Corinthinans 13:12a)

His ways may be completely beyond our comprehension. We may never truly understand His plans for us completely. Maybe we won't understand His plan until we see Him in heaven. God never promises that we will fully understand what He's up to. He just asks us to trust. And surely we have less reason to distrust than did Paul . . .

             all things God works for the good of those who love Him.
                      (Romans 8:28)

Paul was imprisoned. Tortured. Hated. Stoned. Rejected. Ill. Alone. But somehow he was able to trust and to write that verse that so many of us cling to, in our times of difficulty.

I found this illustration that really brought this concept home:

                    In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom wrote about an
                    incident in World War II that taught her to trust that God knows
                    what he is doing. She and her sister, Betsy, had been sent to the
                    Ravensbruck concentration camp by the Nazis. The barracks they
                    were assigned were not only over-crowded, but flea- infested. As
                    Corrie lay in the dry straw she had made for a bed, not only was she
                    suffocated by human bodies, but fleas bit away at her skin and she
                    got so frustrated and complained to God. “God why these fleas?
                    Haven’t I gone through enough God!I can take anything but fleas.
                    You’ve got to be joking God.”

                    It was there in Ravensbruck that Corrie and her sister Betsy started a
                    Bible Study in their barracks for Jewish women. It was illegal to study
                    the Bible in those prison camps and if the guards came into the barracks
                    and found them, death was certain. But to Corrie’s surprise the Bible
                    Studies grew and grew and no guard ever interrupted, never came into
                    the barracks. After weeks and weeks of the Bible Studies, Corrie and
                    her sister finally found out why the guards never came into their barracks.
                   One of them overheard a guard say, “We don’t go in there because of the
                    fleas.” She could not understand the reason for the fleas at first but it all
                    made sense to her now. God had worked it all out for good.

We may never know the full extent of how God is orchestrating His plans and His will in our lives. He is "behind the scenes" making everything work out for good. We simply have to grow our faith, and trust that He knows what is best for us, even when He is silent.

After that horrific world war that we mentioned above was over, these words were found on a wall in Cologne, Germany, where Jews had been hiding from the Nazis:

                    I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even
                    when I don't feel it. And I believe in God even when he is silent.

What happened to our barren princess, Sarah? God worked it out for her good, and she gave birth to a son; Isaac would be a focal character and so important in the Bible, and in the lineage of Christ. See, Sarah, God did have a plan for you, and He was keeping watch over you the whole time. He promised. And His promises are true.

Just as He had a plan for Sarah, so, too, God has a plan for each of us. He loves us. Do we love Him? Do we trust Him?
Thanks for joining us in our study this week.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sarah - jumping ahead of God

Back to our story of Sarah, and how she had been waiting for ten years now for a promise from God to be fulfilled . . .
Let's dive in!

                       She (Sarah) had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so 
                       she said to Abraham, ‘The Lord has kept me from having 
                       children. Go sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a 
                       family through her.” Abraham agreed to what Sarah said. So 
                       after Abraham had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarah his 
                       wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her 
                       husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar and she conceived.
                       (Genesis 16:1b-4)       

You know how in the old movies, there is always some very dramatic music that plays when our main character has made a mistake? Some bombastic, tell-tale music that says, "Watch out!" Yep, I think that music is playing right now for Sarah.

She couldn't wait any longer on God, so she tried to help matters along. She was tired of being patient and she came up with a horrible solution! Sarah gives her husband permission to sleep with her servant; Abraham agrees (I wish he hadn't, don't you?) and Hagar becomes pregnant. Now, the customs of the times allowed for this to happen -- a woman could do exactly what Sarah did. A barren wife would often offer her servant as a substitute, and the resulting child would become a legal heir of the family.

Oy vey. Didn't Sarah do the same thing that most of us would do?
I don't mean that we would offer a servant girl to our husband! (Who has servant girls, anyway?)

Seriously, what I mean is that often we are tempted to (and do) take action when it seems that God is silent. Why not? The Bible tells us "God helps those who help themselves," right?

Um. Nope.
Instead it says, "Wait patiently for the Lord."

                      Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
                      (Psalm 27:14)

Oh, I believe I can identify with Sarah. I've been there. Have you?  Haven't we all been in situations where we were waiting for God to help us? When we knew that as the best Father ever, He would want things a certain way -- but they weren't that way yet? Times when we looked in His word and saw a promise, but we knew that it hadn't yet been fulfilled in our lives?

Sarah did what most human beings (because we are human, and we are sinful) would do. She took action because God appeared silent. She couldn't stand the "mark" of being barren any longer, and so she thought up a plan to make that disgrace go away.
But she soon finds out the folly of her own way. Desperation makes us do stupid things sometimes. Plus, we can't see the future, and the results of our decisions. Little does Sarah know that her efforts will only fuel bitterness and heartache. Sarah begins to resent Hagar and her husband.

                      Then Sarah said to Abraham, "you are responsible for the wrong 
                      I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows
                      she is pregnant she despises me." (Genesis 16:5)

Say what?
Who is responsible?
Who offered her servant to him? I think Sarah has it a little wrong here, but I can get her drift. Can you see why she was upset with him? I think she would have preferred that her hubby say, "No, dear, if you and I can't have a child together, we just won't have one. After all, we're waiting for that special child that God promised us. Let's wait a little longer."

Well, he didn't say that. He didn't take charge. He agreed to Sarah's terrible plan. And he even ends up telling Sarah, well, if you aren't satisfied with how things are, do whatever you want to, with your servant.
Sarah (according to verse 6) mistreated Hagar, and so the servant girl ran away. Does that sound like what we do sometimes? When we make a mistake, do we sometimes take out our frustrations on others? Do we get irritated and take it out on whomever is standing nearby? Hagar eventually returned from the desert and gave birth to a son, named Ishmael. He became the father of the Arab nations, and the children of Israel are still fighting them today. So Sarah's plan ended up having some very long-reaching consequences; in fact, the world is still feeling those results today.

What can we learn from Sarah this week?
I think the first thing is that when God seems silent, we need to expect it to be difficult. We noted that the ten years Sarah waited for a child probably seemed like ten times ten, or even more. It was so hard to wait, after hearing His promise. She knew what He had said -- she would give birth to a son -- but it was driving her crazy to wait. Yes, it is difficult sometimes to wait on God.

Some people will paint a rosy picture of life as a child of God. They will use lovely colors and lovely words, and make it seem that it will always be sunshine and lollipops. But it isn't always easy to follow God. Sometimes He is testing our faith. God often uses trials and difficulties to mature our faith. Sometimes He is silent because it actually helps us to mature.

                      Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you
                      face trials of many kinds . . . (James 1:2)

We can count it joy because those trials are for a purpose. They help us develop and mature. If we are in the midst of a trial, Charles Stanley writes that we should "ask ourselves and then ask God, what is He trying to accomplish in my life?"  And as James says a few verses down, if we ask God for help, for wisdom, He gives freely to those who ask.

God's silence may be that He is "growing" us so that we can encourage and instruct others. Aren't the best people to help us with a situation, the people who have already gone through it, and come out on the other side? We will have insights that can bless others, if we will wait and work through it with Him.

God's silence may have been His way of finding out if Sarah and Abraham were going to be faithful to Him, and trust in His promises. After all, how do we really know if we trust God, unless that trust is tested from time to time?

We'll conclude our study of Sarah tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Prayer requests and praises

This week as we gather to share prayer requests and praises, I'd like to thank everyone who joined me in praying for our son; he recently took the bar exam, and now is waiting (a full month! oy.) for the results. Thank you for your prayers . . . he says that it was very difficult, but he hopes he did well. I know that the Lord blessed him with clarity of thought and a fast-moving pencil. (Grin) Now I'm praying for the examiners as they grade the appliants' essays!

Also, I had often asked for prayer for an unspoken request, and recently we've seen progress on that front. I can't share that with you, but please know that I am grateful for the prayers that you have spoken on behalf of that situation. God is good, and things are improving!

Lately I've been remembering these verses as I pray and as I thank Him for His involvement in my life. What an awesome thing to realize afresh, that the Creator of our world is interested in our tiny lives! His love is truly an amazing thing . . .

                   Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs 
                   And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (Isaiah 40:11)

                   I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
                   (John 10:11)

Leave a comment for us so that we can join you in prayer or praise this week.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sarah - jumping ahead of God

I know, I know, we studied Sarah last week!
But there is so much more than what we saw . . .

Have you noticed that some of the hardest times in our lives to handle are the times when our Father God seems to be a million miles away from us? Do you have difficulty when God seems to not answer your prayers? Then this week's study is for you.  And since I bet we all nodded yes to those questions, this study is for me, and you, and you, and you, too. (Grin)

Sometimes it seems as if God is giving us the silent treatment. Job must have felt something like this, when he wondered where God was. In his case, it was more like "where is God when I'm hurting?"

                      But if I go to the east, he is not there;
                        if I go to the west, I do not find him.
               When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
                       when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
                                                                                                              (Job 23:8-9)
We may be facing a difficult situation right now. We might be wondering where God is. Perhaps it is an illness that we are dealing with. In the midst of the pain and the fatigue, we may wonder if God notices. Perhaps we are dealing with a rebellious child, and we've asked God to help; but instead of coming back to their faith, they just dive deeper into rebellion. Perhaps someone that we love is unable to shake off the lure of drugs or alcohol; we may wonder if God is listening when we pray. Perhaps we ourselves are the victims of abuse -- the pain is deep, and won't go away. We might be wondering if God even cares. Or perhaps we have a decision to make, and there is no clear picture as to what direction we should follow.

And God is silent.

Sarah was a woman who became very frustrated with God's silence. She wanted desperately to have a child. In fact, the Lord had even promised her that she would have a son (remember last week?).
But it just hadn't happened yet.
The scholars tell us that ten years had passed. Sarah had yet to conceive a child. She was growing older, and each day it looked more impossible for her to get pregnant.
We can imagine how impatient Sarah and Abraham must have been . . . "God, we want a son so badly; where are you? What about your promise?"

Let's look now at Genesis 16:

                    Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no 
              children. But she had an Egyptian slave named 
              Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has 
              kept me from having children. Go, sleep with 
              my slave; perhaps I can build a family through 
              her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram 
              had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took 
              her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband 
              to be his wife.
                                                                                                      (Genesis 16:1-3)

Do you think at this point, that Sarah even remembered the promise from God? Remember where He took Abraham outside his tent, and told him to look at the heavens? He told him that his offspring would be just as numerous as the stars in the sky! (Genesis 15)

I know that she had nothing at this point that would encourage her to be optimistic. But what an awesome promise!

Many of us know from experience that one of the hardest things to do in this life is to wait on God. That was what Sarah was doing. Waiting for God to "come through" after His promise. Many preachers will intone, "God is never in a hurry, but yet He is never late." Oy. I always felt like that cheapened what some of us are dealing with. It's the truth, yes, but to make it into a cliche?

Here is what I'd rather think about: for us humans, dealing with God's timing takes knowledge of Who He is. And a realization that God's view of time is far different than ours.

                    But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is
                    like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 
                    (II Peter 3:8)

In other words, for a God Who spoke the worlds into existence, and created all that is on them, a thousand years is not really a long time! For an eternal God, that might just be like a day. So if we apply this to Sarah's situation, ten years of waiting must have seemed like an eternity to Sarah; anxious to bear a child and hold and love it, it seemed like such a long, long time. But to God, it was just a few seconds. To the great I AM, a few years on earth seems like a few seconds, because He holds eternity in His hands. And we must sometimes appear to Him to be impatient children, clamoring from the back seat -- when will it happen? When?

Well, Sarah got so impatient with God's silence that she convinced hubby Abraham to go along with a downright sinful plan . . .

We'll talk about that next time.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday slowdown

Our God is a promise maker, and a promise keeper. He is our Anchor -- we can trust Him completely.

NOTHING is too difficult for Him!

If you enjoy this song as much as I, click here and you can sing along for a little longer!