Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sinking Sand: Why We Need a Return to Christian Education

     In this week's news, my facebook and twitter have blown up with outrage over students walking out of schools to protest gun rights.  The thing that has most struck me has been the outcry that, "We need God back in...our country, our government, our schools, etc."  While I agree with that sentiment, I have found myself wondering if the majority of us truly believe a post on social media will actually bring about change.  Please understand that I am not blind to the power of words.  Thankfully, we have had men and women begin some of history's greatest movements with words.  But, if those men and women could raise from their graves and speak to us today, I believe what they would most want to impress upon us is the fact that their words were only the starting point for the change they desired.  The pen can be a great catalyst.  Words are a call to change our situation, but unless we sacrificially live out the physical and social requirements they demand, they are merely ink on a page or words on a screen.  They may raise our ire, but will they lift us from our seats to actually live out their call?  Social media has deceived us all into believing we are passionate about things because the other guy's post make us mad...and we either post back or brood over it the rest of the day.  We have been duped into believing the lie that our passions are enough.  Our good intentions have become a cop-out and a balm spread over our eyes while the Enemy puts feet on his agenda.  We are proud of our stand, but we are wrongly convinced that shouting loudly enough or posting often enough will actually change the situation.  We are building platforms on sinking sand.
     Because I am a teacher, this week's news reels struck a personal cord.  As an advocate of Christian education, I have read post after post decrying student walk-outs, peaceful and violent.  While I know this will draw criticism, I must say that my emotions have gone from frustration to disgust to discouragement...because very few of those posts on social media were from people I have seen personally sacrifice or step out to change anything, educationally or socially.  When you post about needing God back in schools, I am left wondering what you have done to place Him there. Because, again...words are only empowered when they are believed AND acted upon.  The same is true of the Word of God.  Faith without works is dead.  (James 2:17) 
     A return to Christian principles will begin by doing more than telling our kids not to follow the crowd.  That advice is only effective when we, as parents, lead by example...breaking the trend and leading them onto paths that are out of the ordinary.  That may, in some rare cases, be ministering as an individual or family in a public school atmosphere, but unfortunately, public education has become the norm for Christians, and I say it is unfortunate, because we would be deceiving ourselves to pretend a public education is built on a biblical foundation.  It is easier to follow suit and SAY we want the spiritual state of our nation to change, instead of taking proactive steps to change it.  Because God is known through His Word, a revival in our nation will only take place as a result of everyday commitment to educating ourselves and our children from God's Word.  Unfortunately, most believe that the principles and ideas our children are being taught 40+ hours a week can be offset by 1 to 3 hours of church a week or praying over our dinner each evening.  (For most, it's one hour or less, and families eat in front of a screen, if they eat together at all.)  When the majority of our lives is removed from God's Word, we are building lives on sinking sand.  And let's face is so busy, we are all struggling to keep our heads above water.  That's where the ministry of the Christian school is so beneficial.  Christian education can never take the place of godly parenting, but it is an invaluable resource in coming alongside parents in the task of raising godly children and leaders.
     I have heard the arguments.  I would send my kids to Christian school, BUT..."The public school's facilities are nicer." - Usually...but isn't education and spiritual maturity the primary objective?  "My tax dollars go to that school." - Let's work to change that by our choices and actions.  "Christian education is expensive." - When compared to free public education, it is, but its price would decrease as its support increased, but someone will have to make the initial sacrifice. Right now, the average tuition (in this area) per student is $2,500/yr. plus a $600 book fee.  (That comes to $2.46 an hour...far cheaper than daycare.)  And, believe me, you will spend less on uniforms than you will on name brand jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies.  "My kid doesn't stand a chance of being recruited from a small school team." - Untrue.  And the biggie..."If we take all of the Christian kids out of public school, who will reach the unsaved students or change the public schools?" - Churches, Christian teachers, and even Christian school students who form outreaches to those schools will reach them when they have matured enough to do so. I can also say from personal experience that the testimony of a Christian student is most effective when they take advantage of Christian education and then live that out with their public school friends.  That is the whole point of this blog post, and the objective of a healthy  Christian school is to equip students spiritually and physically to influence the world spiritually and physically.
     I will be the last to pretend that placing children into Christian schools is an instant cure for them, individually, and it will certainly not cure our society, as a whole.  God's work is heart-work.  We are changed as we surrender our hearts to Him.  That is an individual choice for each of us to make, and there will be students and staff that come in and out of a Christian atmosphere that do not choose Jesus.  Even one of Christ's own disciples ultimately rejected and betrayed everything He was.  I do believe, though, that a Christian school motivated and led by biblical principals (not outward legalistic standards), paired with parents who do their best to support that ministry and teach Jesus at home is our country's greatest hope for revival.  But, it will come at a price.  The same way our nation's forerunners were willing to sacrificially stand, speak, and work to build and change our nation, we must be willing to step from our comfort zones and bring about solutions.  There will be condescending comments and confused glances when you tell someone what you pay to send your children to Christian school or when you admit you make a fourth (or less) what an average public school teacher makes on staff at a Christian school.  Most people won't "get it," and I am far from foolish enough to believe it is a choice that will ever find you in the majority, but I do believe things can improve if enough people decide to work toward change. 
     I hope this post will not be mistaken as a criticism of all public educators.  I have many fellow believers serving as faithful witnesses in public schools.  I pray for them every single day along with Christian educators.  I also believe, despite what our media seems to push, the majority of Americans want a return to the common good, basic respect, and higher standards taught in scripture.  But, desire is simply not enough.  Good intentions will not accomplish the work, and morals will not save a nation.  Until we see a return to everyday biblical standards and teachings which are (at this point) unwelcome in public schools, I see little hope of these principles returning, nationally.  Some are capable of establishing and holding biblical principles in their homes without the help of Christian schools, but consider this...if you feel like you are doing a good job of it in the few hours you have with your children in the evenings before bedtime and on the much better equipped would your children be if they were kept in those principles the other 40+ hours of the week they are away from you?  Our task is daunting, but what our children are already facing and stand to face at our age is nearly unimaginable.  I hope you will pray with me for a revival OF and IN Christian education.  It will be hands-on, exhausting, expensive, and out of the norm, but I pray we are willing to prayerfully consider the outcome, follow the Spirit's leading and do everything we can to see that they build on Jesus.  All other ground is sinking sand.

"Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works:  shew me thy faith 
without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works." ~ James 2:18



Thursday, February 15, 2018

Battle Cry

My mind keeps thinking of how Jeremiah pictured Rachel, risen from her grave, weeping over the children of Israel being carried into captivity in Babylon. How many times have we wept with Rachel for Israel? Surely, now is a time for us to rise and weep over the captivity of our children. The captivity of their hearts and minds...the seemingly unstoppable procession of children marching off to their deaths at the hands of drug addiction, sexual perversion, and a world system deceived by relativism. The parents, grandparents, and friends grieving today will tell you that there is nothing at all relative about what happened at that school in Florida, yesterday. The hands they held for the last time were very real flesh and blood, and the caskets they'll close in the coming weeks are very material testaments to a very real and present evil.
In Jeremiah 31:16-17, God comforts Rachel with the promise that "they shall come again from the land of the enemy...there is hope in thine end...thy children shall come again to their own border." We must weep with the promise in mind, but the weeping is a prerequisite of the promise. God help us and guard us against minds that are desensitized and hearts hard to the reality of what evil unchecked is determined to accomplish. The days of nominal Christianity are over. Today, we repent and we weep...and our weeping serves as a battle cry to the God of Heaven. He has been ready to avenge, but He is waiting for our cry.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Rebekah: How to Raise a Schemer

     As we move on in our review of the lives of the patriarchs, Genesis 24 finds Abraham "old, and well stricken in age."  Having just buried his wife, Sarah, he requests that his oldest servant find a wife for his son, Isaac.  The matter was so important to Abraham, that he made his servant swear that he would not seek a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites, but that she would only be sought from his homeland.  The obedient servant journeys into Mesopotamia with ten camels and many goods with which to impress the prospective bride.  In Genesis 24:12, the servant stops at a well in the city of Nahor and prays that God help him complete his task quickly, and that God show kindness to his master, Abraham.  This prayer is, doubtless, a testimony to the righteous testimony of Abraham and admiration of his servant.  The servant's prayer is that God will reveal Isaac's future wife by her willingness to give water to him upon his request, and that she would also offer to get water for his camels.  Verse 15 shows the immediate answer to his prayer, because "before he had done speaking, that, behold Rebekah came out...with her pitcher upon her shoulder."  In this seemingly mundane and everyday task, God would change Rebekah's life forever.  This place she had most likely visited every day of her life would be the place God would visit her and change her standing in society.  She would go from being the daughter of Bethuel to the wife of a patriarch.  And the tools God would give her would be a pitcher and hands willing to serve a stranger.  Long story short, the servant visits her family, they learn that they are family members of Abraham (further confirmation of God's leading), and Rebekah agrees to go with the servant to the land of Canaan, and Isaac and Rebekah are married.
    We soon learn that Isaac seeks God's face on behalf of Rebekah because she is barren, and God allows her to conceive.  Genesis 22-23 says the twin sons "struggled together within her," and she "she went to enquire of the LORD."  After twenty years of barrenness, Sarah is understandably nervous and confused at the physical pain she is feeling while carrying her sons, and she wisely goes to God with her concern.  God answers her, revealing that two nations were in her womb...that they would be two very different personalities, with opposing priorities and desires, and He informs her that "the elder shall serve the younger."  Rebekah...a girl who God has providentially placed in Canaan, and miraculously blessed to carry two nations that would forever change and influence our world history.  So far, her example is one of service and submission to God...a testament that God has an intended purpose for our lives...that He can send someone from another country to change our standing and fill our barrenness with blessing.  Now, we see her wisely go to God with her needs and receive very specific answers concerning His work in her life and in her children.  Unfortunately, we will see Rebekah change.  Partiality will overpower prayer, and her seeking will turn to scheming. 
     When the boys are born, the difference of their temperaments and desires is obvious, and the difference made by the parents is one that will serve as a strong warning to parents and everyone else for as long as His Word endures.  (That's forever, in case you're wondering.)  Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.  Ordinary, harmless similarities of interests between these parents and their sons would grow into a disease that would infect each to act outside of God's will.  We have already seen that God's will for the sons was that Jacob rule Esau...that, culturally and lawfully, the tables would turn.  As He so often did (and does), God would bless and use the least expected.  That was guaranteed back in Genesis 25:23.  Unfortunately, Jacob would feel the need to help God fulfill His Word by tricking Esau into selling his birthright for some stew.  I can't help but wonder if this was the event that set in motion Rebekah's determination to see that Jacob received the blessing, by hook or by crook.  I believe that, possibly, the success of Jacob's scheme served to justify any means to an end.   
     Rebekah plots a plan that results in deceiving her husband into blessing Jacob, instead of Esau.  (You can read the full account in Genesis 27.)  When Esau realizes what has happened, he determines to kill Jacob once Isaac has died.  Again, Rebekah takes matters into her own hands and to protect her favorite son, she sends him to Haran, supposedly to find a wife.  In Genesis 27:44, she instructs Jacob to "tarry with him a few days, until thy brother's fury turn away."  But Rebekah's scheming would cost her more than a few days with her beloved son.  Jacob would be gone fourteen years, and Rebekah would die before he could safely return.  There would be a price to pay for her plotting.  Rebekah would never see the face of her favorite son again.
       I believe we can take some practical steps from Rebekah on how to raise a schemer.  While there are countless other verses, I would like to site a few to carefully consider as you take on this task.  In your personal situation: 
1.  Resign yourself to the fact that God is not going to step in.

  • Convince yourself that Deuteronomy 4:31 requires you step in and take charge. - "...he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them."  
  • Like Rebekah, value what God has promised, but don't leave it in his hands.  Because, according to Habakkuk 2:3, you may have to wait.  - "For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie:  though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry."  If you're goal is to raise a schemer, refuse to wait and raise a child who refuses to wait.   
  • Help God out, because He is only God.  Genesis 18:14 "Is any thing too hard for the LORD?  At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son."  Follow in the steps of Sarah and Rebekah, and take matters into your own hands.  This example will show your children just how needy your God is, and they'll be well on their way to becoming master schemers.    
2.    Usurp God-ordained authority.  (usurp - seize, hold power by force or without legal right)
  • Like Rebekah, manage your home with disregard to your husband's God-given authority.  Ephesians 5:22 commands wives to "submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord."  But the goal here is to raise a schemer, so disregard that.  You show everyone the new pecking order.  Your children will love you dearly for following this advice.  They will become master manipulators in your home, and this will reinforce their selfish nature out in "the real world," as well.
  • 1 Peter 5:5 "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.  Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility:  for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble."  This verse is a big no-no when raising schemers.  Steer as far clear as possible!  Just as Rebekah never reprimanded Jacob for tricking his older brother out of his birthright, be sure your children know they are on equal grounds with their elders.  Even adults.  According to this verse, teaching them that some privileges are for them to enjoy down the road at God's discretion, will only breed humility in them, which will only result in God's grace.  Totally not what we're going for, here.  Instead, allow them to move forward in their smaller schemes, and live out bigger schemes on their behalf.  I know it seems daunting, but you can be as successful a schemer as Rebekah.
  •  Be sure to lead by example by also usurping your pastor's authority.  Hebrews 13:17 "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves:  for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account..."  If you even bother with church at all, be sure your child hears you belittle and criticize everything this guy does.  They'll grow into healthy church members who sow discord among the brethren and blow out when things don't go their way.  Raise as many and influence families to raise as many of these as possible.  It will be a great lesson for the pastor.  He'll probably stop "watching for souls" (like that's difficult) and get a real job.
  •  Maybe this is a repeat of #1, but just a reminder that all of these (disrepecting the husband, elders, pastor) will flow out of usurping GOD'S authority.  James 4:7 "Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."  If you give into this verse, it will be tough for you to overstep bounds God has set in place.  So, just a reminder - it all starts here.  Get this one nailed down first of all.  Determine to ignore this one, and the others just sort of flow naturally.  
3.     Have respect of persons.  (Be partial.  Show favoritism.)
  • Romans 2:11 says "There is no respect of persons with God," but keep in mind, the goal is not necessarily godliness in and of itself.  The goal is to raise kids who get the best God has to offer by any means necessary.  Partiality is a great place to start.  Show it at home, at work, at school, at church...wherever and however.  Recognize and respect only certain races, classes, and individuals.  It opens social, political, and even ministry doors all the time.  You'll be surprised how this one brings out scheming potential and determination.  
  • Proverbs 28:21 "To have respect of persons is not good:  for for a piece of bread that man will transgress."  Except in raising schemers.  If it results in getting (immediately or eventually) what they're entitled to, go with respect of persons.  God wants us to have the best, even if it is at someone else's expense. Even Esau serves as a good example here, because he disrespected his father's birthright for his own appetite.  In a way, Rebekah can be commended for raising TWO schemers.    
  • James 3:17 "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."  This one's tough, because while we want God's blessing, we must be willing to step up and use our own wisdom...not wisdom from above.  So, partiality, hypocrisy, unmerciful...all good building blocks for schemers.  Like Jacob who never considered the heartbreak his deceit would cause his father, never consider what your blessing costs another.  
4.  Convince yourself and others that you're acting on their behalf.  Better yet, convince them you're 
     acting on God's behalf.
  • Genesis 27:13 "...Upon me be thy curse, my son:  only obey my voice..." We see our role model, Rebekah, takes full responsibility for anything that goes wrong.  Liz Curtis Higgs said in The Strong-Willed Mom, "We think we can stand up to any adversary on our children's behalf and weather any fallout.  But Rebekah was challenging the God of the universe."  (  If your goal is to raise a schemer to follow in your footsteps, convince them you can go toe to toe with God if things go wrong.  They'll eventually believe the same of themselves.
  •   At this point in the story, before the blessing has even been stolen, Rebekah is to be commended on grooming her scheming son, because Genesis 27:11-12 reveal that Jacob's only concern with the scheme is getting caught.  If your child only repents when they get caught, you may be raising a master schemer.  
  • Isaiah 55:8-9  "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."  If you're going to raise a schemer, you MUST convince yourself and your children that you can think and plan and execute just as well as God can.  Persuade them that the Word of God is flexible.  It can be bent to suit their desires...that God overlooks sinful methods if our motives and desires are right.  Know just enough scripture to distort, and let your own mind take care of handling the details.  
     If you're anything like me, you see yourself in everyone of these ladies we have been studying.  But, while I have never plotted a scheme comparable to Rebekah's, I am guilty of a heart equally as prideful and unyielding...especially when it comes to my family.  My prayer is that we will learn from her example.  That we will recall the heartache and sinful repercussions of partiality, willfulness, and a tendency to take things in our own hands that should be trusting to God's care.  

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Look Back at Lot's Wife

     Thousands of times, children have sat in small chairs in stuffy Sunday School rooms with coffee cans full of broken crayons and listened to the tale of the woman turned into a pillar of salt.  They have seen the illustration, whether it was flannel graph or a print on a page.  Like me, they wondered at the woman frozen in place, whose gaze, fearful and deliberate, would be the testament she would choose to leave.  Standing outside the place of destruction.  Delivered.  But unwilling to relinquish what God had destroyed.  Lot, a man of wealth, and possibly powerful in the city of Sodom had unfortunately become so acclimated to its evil, that the ten righteous God sought in order to spare it could not be found in his family or sphere of influence.  In mercy, God sends two angels to lead Lot and his family out of Sodom before its destruction, but his sons in law mock him and stay behind.  We can never take for granted the potential influence we hold as families, organizations, and individuals.  Every decision, priority, conversation...each one is piecing together the memorial we will leave behind.  Earlier in Genesis, (19:29) we see that Lot's family had already been delivered from captivity for the sake of Abraham's righteousness, and now they would be delivered as a result of his intercessory prayer, but Lot and his wife would leave a very different legacy.
        In Luke 17:32, while discussing his second coming with some Pharisees and disciples, Jesus tells them to "Remember Lot's wife."  To understand what He means, we must study the context.  (What did Jesus say before and after this verse?)  In verse 31, Jesus says a man may be on the housetop and his possessions will be in the house, but he is not to come down to take it.  He adds, "and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back."  Then he says, "Remember Lot's wife."  The implication of the context is that the primary reason Lot's wife looked back was material.  While she stood safely outside the city of Zoar, having escaped total destruction and judgment, her mind and heart were not thinking on the mercy and deliverance of God.  The English word "look" used to describe the actions of Lot's wife in Genesis 19:26 comes from the Hebrew word "nabat" which means "to look intently at in a favorable manner."  We, as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, etc. may want to come to her defense, because, after all, she most likely left behind children, grandchildren, and other family members.  However, we can never forget that anything we hold in regard over the will of God is sin.  Jesus says in Luke 14:26 "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."  (Hate in this verse does not mean disdain, but that they must be second in priority to God.)  If we could pause the scene and look into her heart before she was turned to a pillar of salt, our spiritual search would not only reveal a mother's heart, but a mother's heart that was hardened by the sin of disregard to God and what He demanded of her.  We, too, must beware letting our love for ourselves, parents, siblings, spouse, children, etc. misplace our priorities and responsibilities as children of God.  Stood against friends, services, and responsibilities, family comes first, but nothing comes before Jesus.  He bought the right to the very best of me with His own blood.
     I mentioned hearing this story in Sunday School, but lest we categorize this as a legend or fairy tale...or in case you have trouble using the Bible as a credible source, consider other written records of Lot's wife having been turned into a pillar of salt.  In the first century AD, Josephus records that Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt and adds, "for I have seen it, and it remains at this day."  Another, Clement of Rome, writing at the same time, mentions that this pillar was still standing in his day.  Irenaeus, writing in second century AD, stated that the pillar still stood.  (Jewish Antiquities, Book 1, Chapter 11.4:  The Complete Works of Josephus)  Obviously, we cannot know for sure, and it seems improbable it would still be standing after thousands of years, but there is a salt formation near the Dead Sea said to be Lot's wife, preserved as a memorial to sin. It is pictured at the bottom of this post.  (For fun, you can read more about it here: or / )  Many believe it is now bigger than an average human because of salt deposits through the centuries.  Whether the physical monument remains or not, what must remain is the truth that it is never enough to leave a place of sin, physically.  Our hearts must leave, also.
     While preparing to share this lesson on Lot's wife with our ladies' Sunday School class, I came across an article by Jen Wilkin where she remembers Lot's wife and her fate.  (  The image that comes to mind of Lot's wife frozen in place can cause us to question God's extreme measures in her case.  What if God had shown mercy to Lot's wife and she had been allowed to flee Sodom harboring in her heart a love for her past and its sin?  Doubtless, the memory of Sodom would be cherished rather than serve as the warning of God's sure judgment of sin, and "the virus of Sodom's wickedness would have gone with her to her new home, preserved deep within her, waiting its chance to emerge and infect other lives."  It begs us ask the question of ourselves:  "If your spiritual gaze were frozen at this instant, on what would it be fixed?" 
     Finally, we'll look back to Luke 17 where Jesus advises us to remember Lot's wife.  Again considering the context, let's look at the following verse (17:33).  "Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it."  What has God allowed to be destroyed in your life that still has your heart?  Like Lot's wife, you're turning to see something that is already gone...something you cannot save.  What has God delivered you from that still sparks something in your heart and turns your head?  Surrender it to Christ.  Lose every part of your life to the only One who can save it.  Live as a testimony to His mercy, and leave a monument to His grace.           


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Hagar: Seen of God

     At Sinks Grove Baptist Church, we have just begun a new ladies Sunday School series of lessons on women of the Bible.  Today, we looked into the life of Sarai's handmaid, Hagar, a slave from Egypt.  Sarai was the wife of the patriarch, Abram, whom God had promised great material blessing, supernatural protection, and descendants that would be as countless as the stars of heaven.  (At this point in the historical account, God had not yet changed their names to Abraham and Sarah.)  Abram brings to God his concern that he does not have an heir, and God answers with a promise that Sarai would give birth to a son.  Sarai is most remembered by her laughter at the news that she would give birth in her old age.  Genesis 16 begins with Sarai distressed over her barrenness to the point that she devises a plan for Abram to conceive a child by her Egyptian handmaid, Hagar.  Though this was, sadly, customary for the times and the culture in which they lived, it was no less displeasing to God.  There is no record of any objection from Abram, nor is there evidence that he sought God in the matter, but he instead concedes to the wishes of Sarai and takes Hagar to be his wife.
         From what we gather in Genesis 16, once Hagar sees that she has conceived a child, she despises Sarai.  While scripture doesn't tell us why Hagar despises Sarai, I can't help but think she was bitter that Sarai would ultimately receive the blessing she was forced to carry.  Our deepest and strongest bitterness usually results from someone else receiving blessings we were forced to relinquish.  Some believe Hagar began to flaunt her position as the patriarch's new wife, while others believe that, despite this union being a result of her own scheming, Sarai was outraged that God would give this Egyptian slave girl a child and was consumed with jealousy.  She goes to Abram over the discord, and he tells her to handle the situation as she sees fit.  Unfortunately, Sarai was more than happy to set Hagar straight, and verse 6 tells us she "dealt hardly with" her.  The same word used here is used to describe the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt by Pharaoh's hand, so we can assume it was physical abuse common to slaves.  If you're anything like me, you're ready to grab Sarai by the Hebrew head covering and give her a taste of her own medicine, but we must remember that in our present time, we just as often see the actions of leaders, even professed Christians, whom God has promised great blessing reflect their culture rather than their Creator.  Pride has always led to falls, and jealousy hasn't stopped being cruel as the grave.  Though this isn't the last time we'll see Sarai act spitefully, God, in His mercy will eventually forgive and use Sarai.  He can forgive and use us despite our major shames and biased reactions, as well.  We learn from Sarai that when we choose shortcuts to God's will, our own choices become our chastisement.  However, we also learn from Hagar that our mistreatment can be compounded by our own wrong responses to the injuries of others.    
     Hagar's hurt sends her running, and she finds herself in the wilderness of Shur, most likely on her way home to Egypt.  While studying this, it struck me that she was leaving one bondage to run back to another.  We, too, can become slaves to situations, and even worse, we can choose one slavery over another.  Bondage, whether it be to a substance, relationship, position, approval, etc. is a heartbreaking thing to watch, but it so much more heartbreaking to watch someone run from one slavery to another.  Every time I begin to feel powerless, hopeless, or trapped in a certain season or situation, I find myself mentally and spiritually revisiting the old stomping grounds...forgetting that I was on the receiving end of most of the stomping.  If I was to truly survey that time, though, would I really be willing to trade my present situation for the past?  Would I be willing to relinquish the strength gained by the fight?  Would I forego this present trial and return to the ignorance and immaturity of the former yoke of bondage?  Perhaps your situation is far worse than any I have faced, and you would choose anything but your present circumstance, but please understand that while what God may be presently allowing seems unbearable, He never intends us to move from one slavery to another.  Most likely, Hagar had never known life outside of slavery, and maybe you have never known life much different from your present circumstance, but beware familiarity!  It can cause us to fantasize ourselves right back into bondage or keep us there!  We will see several chapters later that God was allowing this series of events in Hagar's life to move her from Abram's household to freedom.  I wonder how many times God has stalled me in the wilderness because He knew I was choosing an old bondage over the present situation that He was working for my good.
     In His mercy, the angel of the Lord appears to Hagar in the wilderness (Gen. 16:8-12), addresses her as "Sarai's maid", and asks her from where had she come and where was she going.  Obviously, He knew the answers, but I believe He was giving Hagar a chance to audibly rationalize her situation.  God always addresses us where we are.  Though it may sound demeaning on the surface, God is opening Hagar's eyes to the fact that He is a God who cares for Egyptian slave girls who find themselves in the wilderness.  Sadly, this was a truth that the lives of Abram and Sarai had never communicated to Hagar.  I, personally, think that is the saddest part of the story, but I am so thankful our mistreatment by man never diminishes our value to God.   
     While we can almost understand why Hagar is running, we cannot overlook the fact that she is doing so aimlessly and inconsiderately to her unborn child.  You can be sure, running will always land you in a wilderness, and you'll realize how many you have failed to consider along the way.  Thankfully, God can visit any wilderness, whether it be a hospital bed, a rehab center, an orphanage, a struggling ministry, a lonely lunch table, or a heart and mind seemingly trapped in the mundane responsibilities of everyday life.  God visits the wilderness.  And He goes even further by preparing us a table there.  Hagar was blessed to see the Lord, but her praise flows from the realization that He had seen her.  Her encounter leads her to name Him Beer-lahai-roi, meaning, "Thou God seest me."  Sometimes, more than seeing Him, there is greater comfort in knowing He sees us.  Wherever we are.  However we feel.  And though we may run into a wilderness as a servant of man, as servants to their applause, their whims, their Hagar, we can return as servants of God.  
     God promises to bless Hagar and her son, Ishmael and tells her to return and submit herself to Sarai.  Now aware that God's eye is ever on the situation, Hagar returns to Abram's house where she will live until Ishmael is around 19 years old.  Unfortunately, old grudges will resurface and she will be sent into the wilderness with her son.  This time, in the wilderness of Beer-sheba (Gen. 21:9-19), she and her son would near death, and again God would come to Hagar's side.  This time, He would not refer to her as the handmaid of Sarai, but simply as Hagar, because now, despite the pain of rejection, she was free.  Don't forget the freedom you felt once you overcame that crushing rejection, and if you're still struggling to breathe through it, let the exhausting pressure of it land you at the feet of Jesus.  Verses 19-20 tell us that "God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.  And God was with the lad..."  Sometimes, only extreme conditions will force our eyes open to God's provision, our ears open to His voice.  With that, comes the stunning reality that God sees.  Hagar, as a slave, was unseen in her culture, but she was very visible to the God of Heaven.  In this culture where Christianity is either unseen or demeaned, we can know with certainty that nothing regarding His children is escaping our Father's notice, and He is working on our behalf.  And lest we despise the wandering and seemingly invisible times, let us remember that our wilderness can result in a freedom we have never known and water that restores life to our parched souls and thirsty children.         

"For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew 
himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him."  
2 Chronicles 16:9  

Disclaimer:  Please never mistake anything in this post to promote staying in an abusive relationship.  God NEVER intends us to make the wilderness our permanent home!     

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What Satan Hates Most

     As a kid in the eighties, while most were dancing to Michael Jackson, Bryan Adams, and Chicago, I was dragged to every church service, youth group, and revival meeting within a hundred mile radius, cruising to The Hinsons, The McKameys, and occasionally things would get a little wild with some Carman.  (Sidebar:  The 80's music is still the "real" rock & roll.  Just sayin'.)  There are a few things I would change about those days, but I cherish those evenings in the car with Mom.  I learned to play the drums in the car, pounding the dashboard song after song.  I literally kept two drumsticks (butter knives) in the glove compartment and whipped those puppies out as soon as we hit the road. I marvel at Mom's patience with me through those times and will never forget looking over on those drives to see her singing and praising, sometimes laughing or crying, even clapping (we survived).  Any ability or tendency to publicly praise the Lord unashamedly I owe to my precious Mom.  (Among many other things!) 
     I remember a popular song by the Paynes called, "The Conversation" that described a hypothetical conversation between Satan and Death surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In part of the song, Death tells Satan that "The greatest kings and rich men have walked through my dark door. This Jesus, He's no different.  He's just a mortal man.  And I make this vow to you, He won't escape my hand."  Of course, we know that Jesus changed everything about mortality when He came on the scene, and His resurrection is still shaking Satan up, today.
     There is nothing Satan hates more than resurrection.  He hates everything about Christians (godly living, Bible study, faith, etc.), but most of those things he can distort into salvation by works or undo by temptation.  Resurrection, however, is untouchable.  He can lie about it, but in reality, it cannot be denied, undone, or manipulated.  This is not to say he will not try to prevent it, label it falsely, or persuade us it happens through our own power, but when Jesus rose from the grave, Satan's fate was sealed.  He cannot reverse the resurrection.  He knows his time is short (because generations are moments to God), and his motivation is revenge against the God who defeated death.  His only way to carry out any sort of attack on God is by attacking His children.  Satan considers no part of our lives off limits, but I firmly believe he will fight nothing more than any sort of resurrection work God intends in us.  Satan, of course, despises any soul that is born again, but he also hates any resurrection work in your life as a result of salvation.  If you desire a personal resurrection - to more devotion to His Word, to a return to being a faithful or more active member of the local church, to overcoming the death that results from addiction - Satan is outraged, and it is game on.  If God is working to resurrect a dying marriage, Satan doesn't pull any punches.  And if a church is experiencing resurrection from death by works unto life in Christ, it is no holds barred.  Resurrection in us means God is glorified, and God's glory is what Satan has despised from the beginning.
     Satan knows that every resurrection requires a death.  Forgiveness requires repentance and the death of sin.  We will never enjoy newness of life until we are "baptized into death" (Romans 6:24).  It has been my experience that we are usually fine with the "life" part of that verse, but the "newness" ruffles feathers every time.  The death of our preferences, our traditions, our opinions, our comforts, our works - everything must be on the table, because when Jesus died, He left nothing of Himself.  His work on the Cross was a complete sacrifice, and every part of Him was placed in the tomb.  Satan knows that "living Christ" requires death on our part, so he is working feverishly to cultivate the old desires, ideas, and methods.  He convinces us that our lives are our own...that our success or happiness is when we get what we want.  He nourishes the ownership mentality in churches, too, because he knows that resurrection will only ever result from complete surrender to God's will, and a resurrected church will resurrect individual lives in the community it is called to reach.
     So, just a quick heads-up, today.  Be mindful that spiritual warfare is real and presently very active.  As in the song I mentioned, there is much conversation surrounding any person or church that is nearing resurrection.  But, don't lose heart, for the glorious thing is that the song ends with "He is risen!" 
"Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?  Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." ~ John 2:18-19

"Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death:  that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." ~ Romans 6:4

Monday, October 23, 2017

Those Things

     Our ladies Bible study group has recently begun The Quest.  I am so thankful for God's timing in our group's choosing this study and for Beth Moore's obedience to God's leading in its writing!  Last week, some of the reading was in Romans 4.  I loved it all, but I was snagged by verse 17, and at some point in each day since, I have found my heart and mind rehearsing "...even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were."  The thought of God calling things into existence...from the very universe to the innermost desires of my heart is just too much!  He not only sees my shortcomings and blesses me despite them, but those things...all of those things of mine!  He digs to the root of my hopes and ideas and recognizes them as an existing substance of things hoped for.  Whether they have been buried in me since childhood or are the most recent seeds taking root, He sees them as present and tangible things.  If they are false, He is not ignoring them nor ignorant of their potential damage, and I trust Him to expose them and help me cast down any imagination that is trying to exalt itself against His knowledge (2 Corinthians 10:5).  But, what if they are not false? 
     What if, like Abraham, there is a plan for me that God already sees, grows, and even addresses (calls)?  What if, while I am laughing in unbelief, He is not simply having a more positive outlook than I or chuckling at His daughter with the wild imagination but is, instead, viewing everything with a mind of infinite wisdom and actually calling those hopes and desires into being while I am still wondering if I'm a fool for entertaining visions so immense and far-fetched?  (Just seeing that in writing makes me feel silly.  As if I could "out-envision" God!)  What if, while I am writing this, He is removing obstacles and laying foundations for works that will leave me speechless?  What if  the world laughs at what I'm implying?  What if I laugh when I read this tomorrow? But, what if God has the last laugh?  What if the desire is the call, and it is already a recorded creation and work of God which He is presently building and blessing?  What if He calls me called?
     I know that personally, I have found myself (like Abraham) questioning God's plan...examining the evidence and stacking up the arguments against the humongous calling of God.  Piling, sorting, and dragging things into place that eventually obscure it. That saves me investing my faith in something so seemingly out of reach.  The thing amount of our denying its chances of coming to fruition annuls that He has called it into being.  The earth is His creation.  No amount of transcendent thought changes that.  A new heart is His creation.  No power in hell can change that.  Perhaps, instead of trying to understand why He would call us and how on earth He will bring it to pass, we should rest in the fact that He has called and calls it as though it already exists.  And then, by faith, we can rejoice that He will have the final say!
     "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work 
in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." ~ Philippians 1:6

Sinking Sand: Why We Need a Return to Christian Education

     In this week's news, my facebook and twitter have blown up with outrage over students walking out of schools to protest gun rights....