Lazy Poor People

Last night in class we walked through Moses’s story, start to finish. We talked about the basket and the river and the princess, the nursemaid and the murder, the desert and the burning bush. It is a familiar story even to those who don’t go to church. Every Easter, flip through the channels and you’ll find Charlton Heston holding a staff aloft in front of parting water.

This time through, however, there was a new story inside the old familiar one. I knew the story. I’ve heard it. I’ve colored in the Sunday School coloring sheets about it in my youth. But it didn’t stick out like it did this time.

When most people retell the story, Moses grabs his belongings, ties it to his staff, grabs Aaron and heads off to Egypt to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh says “Tough tookies, cookies!” to Moses and God sends the plagues one after another, nasty vile diseased attacks until Pharaoh could take no more and sends the Israelites out of Egypt.

We skip right over Exodus 5.

Moses doesn’t first request freedom for God’s people….he requests a festival. He and Aaron go to Pharaoh and ask for the Hebrews to be allowed 3 days to go have a festival to God in the wilderness. Pharaoh replies he doesn’t know the Hebrews God and he isn’t going to give them 3 days vacation from slavery to go have a party. They have work to be done.

Moses and Aaron press the point and Pharaoh becomes irritated. He sends word to the slave drivers and overseers that they are not to give the people straw to make the bricks, they are now to require the Hebrews to gather the straw and make the bricks, but they get no more time allotted to carry out double the work. They can’t meet this goal and so the slave drivers beat them. The Israelite overseers go to Pharaoh and asks why he’s done this and how is this fair. Pharaoh calls them lazy and sends him off with the same demands, now covered in insults in the ears of the people Moses came to try and liberate. This sets Israel against Moses and they tell him off for making trouble for them.

Moses then speaks to God and says, in essence, “What are you doing? Did you really send me here to be an annoyance to Pharaoh and for you NOT to rescue your people?” God says, “Look out. I’m about to blow the lid off this joint.” You know, He essentially said that….just in more holy language.

I know we rush through this part of the story if not skip it all together so we can get faster to the blood and locust and boils and death which is far flashier than not making bricks. But last night I couldn’t rush through it. I read it and then reread it and then read it again. I wondered why Moses didn’t ask for freedom from the first go. I wondered why God doesn’t have a voice before the request is made. I wondered what the purpose was in allowing Israel to become put out with the liberating leader. But none of that is what drew my eyes back over the page again and again. It was this starting at verse 6….

“That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies,”

…and then skipping to verse 15…

“Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.” Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’  Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”

Ouch, y’all.

Not ouch because Pharaoh was mean to this faceless mass of slaves, but ouch because I recognize what Pharaoh said from our world today. We have people who have less straw, people we’ve taken straw away from and are holding it back from them, and yet we demand they make the same number of bricks as people who got straw delivered to their door. We are a society built on inequity still using inequity as an operating tool.

This is where I need your grace. Because I don’t have a solution. I’ve read article after article from everyone’s vantage point (except those that promote violence, because I can’t stomach the words that encourage violence as a solution from an ideology). I’ve listened to news anchors and commentators and watched as the stories we tell on Netflixz and Hulu have changed in tone guided by Hollywood’s values (positive or negative).

I read these things, watch these things, and no matter the viewpoint I walk away every time with the same response…”Yeah, but….” “Yeah, but she asks the other to see her point of view but makes no effort to see his.” “Yeah, but poverty extends beyond color lines, and I’ve served kids of every shade and seen kids of all colors overcome and kids of all colors fail.” “Yeah, but ignorance and frustration don’t make those behaviors acceptable.” Yeah, but…yeah, but…

I don’t have the liberty of a “yeah, but” here. I can choose to allow the words of the media, social or otherwise to form my opinions for me, or I can choose to allow the word of God to guide me. This is the word of God.

I feel sort of like Moses, who went to solve a problem and suggested something to Pharaoh and it blew up in his face, so he turned back to God and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” And God replies, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” He took over and took care of it.

If you want an answer on how to fix America, it isn’t here. But let me speak to the church for a minute….

Church,

Don’t be Pharaoh. If all you can be in America is Moses, turning around and saying to God, I tried, but I don’t get what you’re doing?!?!, then be Moses, and be ready to step aside so God can do his thing. But stop being Pharaoh. We need to figure out where we stand, on race relations, on poverty, on refugees, on immigrants, on oppression, social rights and we need to do that not starting with media, but with the word of God. If you have an abundance of straw, hand it over to someone who doesn’t, don’t complain that there is a perfectly good field out there full of straw and those lazy poor people just need to stop thinking about partying and go get straw.  We don’t need to warp scripture to fit changing worldviews, but we can’t ignore scripture to allow us to stay comfortable.

Me

I read the passage three full times last night and reread it today. I wrote this blog in three drafts. I don’t know how this entry ends. I don’t know how to wrap this up with some neat little, this fixes everything little Kumbaya bow. I still see room to grow and room to see other’s viewpoints in every perspective I’ve read out in the world. But of all the things I’ve read in the past year about the social issues faces our country, this has been the only one that’s left me with no buts.

So I share it here, and maybe you can find something out of this passage that hits home. Or maybe you can share some other scripture that speaks to you with the rest of us. I want to be involved in a conversation that starts in the Word of God and addresses the concerns of our society. I’ve been involved in a conversation for far to long that starts in the concerns of our society and address the Word of God.

Any passages to share?

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Do Not Fear?

     Our generation is marked by fear and anxiety, taking pills to manage something we think is a new epidemic. Right now, maybe more than ever, anyone with anything to sell knows the currency value of fear. Write the name of a concern on a price tag, slap it on and people will flock to pay dearly for that product.

Before I go any further, let me pause. This is not a post down on pills. There have been times that I have needed medicine to help breath deeply enough to function, and while long term those have not worked for me, and while long term I FEAR what impact they might have on a person (yes, I just said I’m fearful of that, I get it) I do not begrudge people looking for medicine to receive help for the very real causes and effects of anxiety. Unpause.

Over and over God tells us “Do not be afraid” more than probably anything else in the Bible. Fear has plagued humanity since the beginning of time and from the first moment fear reared up, hiding in the Garden of Eden crouched half naked behind a bush, God was concerned for our fear and looked to relieve us of it.

When I was 17, I was a scared broken girl trying to make sense of my world.In those days the panic would sneak around the corner and stick it’s leg out, causing me to crash to the floor, knocking the wind out of me. It was in one of those moments, post-fall, that I first experienced peace that passes all understanding, and knew, God is real, and if this peace was what He could give me, I wanted all of it.

When I was 18, I was still scared, still broken, and still trying to make sense of my world. Fear had walked around the corner by then, no longer needing to hide and jump out at me, but rather setting up as a roommate. One night through conversation with a friend and a mentor, I realized that God wasn’t doing this to me, that He saw my pain and He longed to pick me up, rock me and comfort me. Oh the sweet realization of God as Abba.

And for 16 years, I evicted fear. Sure there’d be moments of worry, moments of concern, moments of cares, but all in all it was manageable. God had seen me drowning in this internal struggle and had pulled me up.

In the fall of 2015 I was in an incredibly difficult situation, a truly unhealthy work environment. I walked around the corner and bam, tripped right over Panic’s outstretched leg. I found myself back in the clutches of fear and those attacks this time felt double shameful. Did I no longer trust God? Was I failing at my faith?

This time the water washing over me was not an internal ocean, but an external one. I often look back at that time now and think of an animal who licks it’s fur off because off stress. I needed medicine to help me for a time, but it was plain to me reading the doctor’s face that the best rx for me would be a change in circumstances. God got me out of that situation, and I can’t tell that story in one sentence, one paragraph or even one blog post, but it was absolutely the hand of God rescuing me. The next time I went to my doctor, having quit the medicine, to tell her I had absolutely no need of it, her jaw dropped in amazement.

It has been well over a year now since that overwhelming fear has been a part of my life. Certainly there has been worry and concern and care, but never outright panic. Friends, whether it is internal or external, God wants you to hear this, “Do not be afraid.” He has the peace and the power to overcome the terror that is out there and He is so ready to hand them both to you.

I had the blessing of a conversation with a dear friend this week that reminded me of all that God has done for me in the area of fear over the past 20 years. It had been a bit of time since I’d revisited the story in the context in which it was discussed and it served me so well to remember that first time I experienced His peace, peace that passes all understanding.

That is my prayer this morning for my friends, for my church and for my country.  Peace that passes all understanding and power to overcome.

Do not fear.

Why Bother Praying?

Last Sunday in a class someone asked this, “If the prayers of a righteous man avail much, does that mean that God doesn’t listen to the prayers of an unrighteous man?” I think it’s a fair question. We should be able to ask these things and we should be willing to look to find the answers.

It is a concerning idea, that one person’s prayers might get higher priority because they behave better than someone else. It is just one of the confusing points on prayer, for me anyway.

Another confusing point that I think you will see goes along with this question is we find in Mark 11, where Jesus tells us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours,” and the assurance from Matthew 7 “Ask and it shall be given to you, Seek and you shall find.” But how does that line up next to James 4 where we read, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

So which is it, when I ask, will I receive or not? If I was more righteous would I receive the same things that someone who is less righteous wouldn’t? Who judges how righteous I have to be before I receive the things I want?

It is tempting to write this off as one of the contradictions that someone determined to disprove Christianity would use to shake about and declare that we can’t get our story straight. If we just discount the James passage and go with the easier to swallow “Ask and you shall receive” bit then we can tell people who want a promotion or a new car or for people to get along at work or even less selfishly the health of a loved one, that they just need to ask.

But who among us has been on the receiving end of pouring out your heart to someone and having them look you in the eye and ask “Have you prayed about it?” and thought “Really? Of course I prayed about it, but I’m struggling to hear an answer and so I’m asking you.” How do you not walk away from those times with this worry that you’re not being righteous enough to rank or that God just might not be listening?

In order to understand these verse, we have to begin right in the hardest spot. Righteousness. Does God listen to a righteous person more than an unrighteous one? Well, sure, but not righteousness like we try to define it by human striving. Because think about this. Who is righteous when they approach the Lord and confess their need that first time, when they see that they are a sinner and accept Jesus’s sacrifice to atone for their sins? Nobody! Nobody walks into that situation with anything to offer in return for the best gift they can receive. No one can say “Lord, I have volunteered and I don’t punch my sister and I usually swear only when it’s really necessary and my mom is really proud of how I’m turning out. I will trade you this stuff for eternity.” No, all they can say is “Lord, I am without. I am a broken mess who needs what you have to offer.”

No one would EVER suggest that God would not hear that prayer even though it is offered by an unrighteous person for what could be seen as a pretty selfish gain  that cannot be repaid. If there is anything that we can all agree on, it is that that prayer will be answered, and thank God for that! If so assuredly a prayer by an unrighteous person is answered, every time, then what?

The answer to all of this we see in what the Bible has to say about righteousness. Philippians 3: 8-9 says “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

Righteousness is not based on our works, on how well we practice our faith, but rather it is the Spirit which allows us the strength to have faith and respond to Him. We know that the Spirit goes ahead to the lost and draws them into Him, into repentance, and so in that moment, when a person is trusting solely on His sacrifice being moved and emboldened by His Spirit there is, perhaps, never such a righteous word uttered, because in that moment they are the farthest from depending on their own works and the closest to leaning on and accepting the righteousness the comes from God.

It is no confusing thing then, once we understand that a righteous man is no well behaved man, but rather a reliant one, one trusting in the righteousness of God, that someone tucked so sweetly in the arm of His Father would be close enough to turn their head and whisper into the ear of our Lord.

Can you look at your prayers and believe that you can be broad or specific in your request, you can be humble and bold, that you can ask for something as real as new shoes or as wild as a mountain to pick up and move, and trust that God will come through just as sweetly as you did when you first asked God to rescue you? Because what could be more crazy than someone giving up their own child to be crushed by your wrongs so that you can go free….and if God will do that for us, then how can you not believe He will do things beyond our wildest dreams for the rest of our lives?

God has even provided a way for us to pray when we can’t come up with the words, in Romans 8: 26-27 we read, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” And those prayers I think must avail the most, delivered through righteousness to righteousness without our interference.  Can you get out of the Spirit’s way enough, less of you and more of Him and allow Him to speak for you?

If you haven’t come to that point where you’ve turned to God, admitting your brokenness and trusting in His righteousness, that’s the right place to start. If you already have, take a minute and remember that time that you had no doubt that you were unrighteous, and allowed yourself to take in His righteousness to cover you, and were in return granted an immediate and complete and perfect response to your prayer. Return to that sweet submission and relying on His righteousness, tuck yourself into His embrace and whisper your requests into His listening ear and long for His answer which will give Him the most glory and that will be for your good.

 

Watch Your Mouth!

There are lists in the Bible, lists of things that make ladies with very styled hair clutch their pearls and thank the sweet Lord that they don’t do those things on those lists. What an imagination the New Testament writers must have had, because such depravity would never cross their minds. Maybe it would cross their lips, while they lean in to speak in those dropped voices referencing those people who would find themselves in those sort of deviant situations. It all wraps up nicely with a promise to pray for that person, but as the week slips by, so does the promise to pray, and by the time Sunday rolls around there is only this lingering sense that there had been a promise to say something to God about someone truly wicked, but what was that? And the prayers go up for health and happiness for themselves and their family, the hurt that drove the subject to the brokenness that landed them in that list gone from anyone’s mind, except that poor soul’s own mind.

Now going into this, I want to be transparent. While some people pound the pulpits and cry out against the very obvious ills of the world, it is not often that I hear a sermon telling me to watch my mouth, and truly, truly, I need to hear that more than I need to be told not to drink or fight or cheat or steal. The moment I take my focus of God, I know it because I can hear it in my speech. I am harsh and hateful, and I am 9 times out of 10 pointing out the flaws in others as my language gets nastier and nastier.

There is this sense that words are just words and that vulgarity is just sort of something that humanity assigns in an attempt to separate us from them. In high school, I learned from my theatre teacher in a lesson on language and story telling that many of the words we consider to be vulgar came about because they were simply words used by other rougher cultures and so those guttural sounding words, associated with those barbarians, were labeled as vile. Not because the words themselves were evil, but because they were associated with the enemy.

Yes, that is a part of the development of language, but it isn’t the whole picture. We live in this space between words are just words and the very real truth that words have value and weight. If words are just words, then why would we dive deeply into a fictional word able to see the tiniest detail in that land of one book, but in another we read a few paragraphs and nap it shut. Why do people put words and not simply images on protest signs? Why do we repeat seemingly sacred groupings of words at important life events, like weddings or graduations? Why would it matter if your parent called you their sweet baby, light of their life or if they called you that brat who won’t shut up?

It’s easy to recognize that words are not just words. They are representations of what we think and what we feel, what we hold as truth and what we hold as valuable. They make change and they mark change. You see, if words were just words, they would start in your mouth. But words aren’t just words, they begin in your heart. We turn them over in our minds, arrange them in an order, put them out in the world and hope for the best, because there is no taking them back, not really.

One of the hardest lessons of my life I’ve had to learn is that I can’t weigh out other people’s words on my own scale. The level of anger and hatred it would take for me to say some of the nastiest things I can think of is not the same level it would take for someone else.

When a child is mad at their parent and screams “I hate you!” a parent doesn’t scream that back at their child, because they understand that the child doesn’t mean it and that the weight of the parent saying that to a child would be devastating blow, but the weight of a child saying it to the parent is a tiny flick, something that can be ignored.

I had a friend who saved “I love you” in its romantic use for when she got engaged. Did she not feel love before that? Of course not. But she held those words to a higher weight than most, because she recognized the impact on her heart if she used them lightly.

The Bible has spoken few words so true to my life as the message “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” I have been brought back time and time again to this concept over the past 2 decades, and while I believe that God perfects us and gives us the power of the Spirit to overcome our struggles, I have the sense that I will be reminded of this for many years to come.

I have been made keenly aware in the past few weeks just how many verses there are in the Bible warning against using words carelessly. In fact, in many of those lists of actions the Bible warns against that make those ladies faint end with a warning about gossiping or slander, about lying or stirring up trouble. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. And watch your mouth.

I was back and forth for years speaking and apologizing, or talking and justifying before it finally became clear to me. I can’t get my tongue in line. It’s just not possible. If I am a sailboat, I will never be able to control that sail and that can be a terrible thing because it directs my route. The only thing I can do is to tether the line to the Word and let Him hold it.

God gives us His Spirit and along with that His power, but over and over, more times than I can count, when The Spirit is mentioned in the Bible, the very first evidence of His presence is a change in speech. The spirit comes and the people praise. They speak about God. They rejoice. They spread His message. And if they are doing that, they aren’t gossiping, fighting, lying, or any of the rest of it. It are almost always the first result of being filled by His Spirit.

Because I see that so clearly, it has shown in my life that when I lose control of my speech, the first thing I need to do is re-tether that line. If this is something that you see as a struggle for you, if you have an interest in seeing if there is something to this, if there is even the slightest needling in your mind that maybe you need to evaluate the weight of your words, then let me challenge you to take these steps and put them into practice over the next week.

1. Open your Bible. Put your mind on Him. If you think you don’t have the time, think about your commute. That’s plenty of time to listen in. You can use the internet to play sermons or read books or to just read straight scripture.
2. When someone asks for prayer, stop everything. Don’t say “PRAYERS!” and stick a little hand emoji and move on with life. That is not praying. Stop and pray for that person right then and there. Better yet, ask someone how you can pray for them. It will occupy your mind and it will use your words for something positive.
3. Just be quiet. If your words aren’t ripe, don’t pick them. If you need time to respond to someone, just say that. . A wise saying is “Better to stay quiet and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” It’s better to wait and say the right thing than say something you have to do damage control over later.
4. Ask God to prepare you conversations in advance and to help you listen for His voice throughout your day.

In fact, as I close this, I want to share a prayer that I pray which helps me refocus. Feel free to take it and form it to your language and give it as your own.

God,  give me the conversations You want  me to have today. Help me hear what You have to say to me. Use our words to encourage each other and to glorify you. It’s in Your name I pray. Amen.

Invisible: Part 4

Does God even care about me? I mean, really? I get that He is big beyond what I can imagine. He is all-knowing, every where, He designed the world with a plan and a purpose and that He is unfathomably glorious. I understand that submitting to Him means wrapping my mind around the concept that I am  submitting to the idea that even if it means my own ruin, I want God’s glory.

I want God’s glory. I absolutely want to be where that is, because every time I’ve experienced those moments where life plays out to bring Him the most glory, I am never disappointed and never caught by the costs it took to get there. But approaching those moments, there is a lot of this question. “Where are you?!?! Do You see me? Can You hear me? I want You, Your glory, and I’m willing to go through whatever that takes, but seriously right now….where are you?”

From that first moment in the garden where man falls and God speaks that question into our world “Where are you?” asking Adam and Eve to be aware that now there is separation between man and God, and asking man to be self aware to examine what we’ve done and what has happened to cause that separation, we’ve been screaming it back at Him. Whether we are hiding from God like Adam or whether we are standing surrounded by death like Mary and Martha outside of Lazarus’s tomb, this is where our hearts go.

Where are you, God? Do you even care about what I’m facing? Have I done something to make you ignore me? Do you even care?

And this is where we find Hagar, once again finding herself at the most desperate place. Let’s read from Genesis 21: 9-21.

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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.

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This is legitimately one of the hardest passages in the whole Bible for me. Right here in this story that fascinates me so I find God allowing Hagar to once again be mistreated and cast out, and the advice He gives Abraham to encourage him to do this to her, to do this deed which would have been illegal, to ruin her, is more or less “It’s alright, because I get my glory through Isaac. I’ll take care of Ishmael, too.” It’s that middle sentence that catches me up so much that I can hardly hear that He sandwiches the message between comfort and a promise.

Hagar is cast out and with her, Ishmael. They travel again out into the desert, one foot after the other walking towards death. When they can’t take another step, when they are at utter ruin, Hagar hides the boy, from the sun and from her sight and she sobs. Her only thought is to make his death slightly less painful and to make it invisible, to disappear into what she came from. She rose from the unknown and she is prepared to die in the same way, a life unnoticed, a death unnoticed. She doesn’t speak to the God who saw her. She doesn’t cry out to the God who named her son as a reminder that He hears. She can’t even bring herself to address God at all.

That silent moment is a rare despair. It goes so far beyond “Where are you?” and “Do you care?” It is the deep fear taken root that you already believe there is no point even bringing it up to god, because He isn’t listening, no matter what you’ve believed about Him for years. It is a despair that walks around the edges of the room when death enters or alongside the path that extreme victimization travels.

What happens next should answer our questioning. What happens should remain as scripture that we can return to again and again when we don’t know if God cares.

For years I have wondered, and it’s not a pretty question, I know it, but if God is all knowing, if He knew that from Hagar, from Ishmael would come people who would persecute His people for generation upon generation, and from this mother and son would come a religion which would stand against His people, why does He save them? If what brings God glory is Isaac, if Ishmael was born out of Abraham’s doubt and Sarah’s control issues and the victimization of an unknown slave girl, why preserve them? It is an ugly question. There’s no two ways around it, but it comes to my mind when I read this passage, every time.

Their past is dirty. Their future is messy. They are willing to become invisible again. But God saves them and allows their story to play out. Why?

Because, first, He promised He would. He gave His word in the first place that Hagar would be free and that Ishmael would be the father of nations. He gave that promise knowing the big picture of human history and the intimate details of Hagar and Ishmael’s lives. He gave that promise knowing that there would be a moment that Hagar would be so grieved she would not cry out to Him, only sob wordlessly. He gives His word already knowing He will not take it back, because He is already in those moments when we question His promises. We say, “Do you still mean it now?” He says “I did, because I already knew.”

Secondly, and certainly equally importantly to our ability to take God at His word, is because, not only does God sees at Beer Lahai Roi, not only does He remind her God hears through Ishmael, but God sees HER. God hears HIM.

It is amazing and mind blowing to know that God sees and hears everything, but what makes a difference in our putting one foot in front of the other as we walk towards what is certain ruin, what calls us back to our feet when when we have given up is that God sees you. God hears you. There is no one so damaged that God will be able to turn His eye.

Time and time again, God steps in and pulls people from the edge and gives them hope and a future. Don’t miss this, not everyone is spared. Not every life is preserved. But when we trust in Jesus, we lay claim to a hope and a future greater than another 100 years on Earth. That’s very hard to comprehend when we sit begging for the life of a loved one or for our own life, but I trust it’s true, because He’s promised it, just like He promised to see Hagar, just like He promised to hear Ishmael.

But there are times we are given more days. There are moments we walk away from hospital beds where our hearts are torn out while we watch those we love fill with deadly fluid connected to life by wires and beeps, only to wake up the next day to find they are still with us and are improving against all odds. There is reason to hope, my friend, even when you can’t stand to look death in the eye anymore, He can.

No matter what you’ve come from and no matter what lies ahead of you.
No matter who has wronged you or cast you aside.
No matter if you are certain you aren’t apart of God’s big picture.
No matter if you’d rather just be invisible.

                                 He sees you. He will rescue you. He will come. 

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Reflect

  1. When have you been so broken that you haven’t been able to form the words to tell Him about it?
  2. How did He rescue you?

Grief, Suffering and Christmastime

Last week a child I never knew, but have prayed for since he was a toddler, slipped away from this life into the next. In those final weeks, people covered that child and that family in prayer, pleading for miracles, for hope, for immediate and entire healing, and knowing what we knew of the family, the God would continued to be glorified through them in this.

There is thought to the idea that during the season while we think of God sending His son to us, it is difficult not to think of those we’ve sent to Him. When we try to conceptualize a God who understands our hearts and our hurts, there must be some lesson in this. God sent His son to us, knowing that He would be delivered back to Him in such a cruel manner. But not just that He gave the person, who would adore Him more than any other, the same perspective. Mary was told she’d bear a son, but she was also told she’d lose a son, and lived mothering a child who she knew that she’d outlive. It is a journey many of us know.

If you are sitting in the penetrating blackness of loss, you know this. If you are walking in the fading light of day with someone, you know this.

I can’t tell anyone what to do with this. I do not feel qualified at all to say, this will make it better or that will put you in the holiday mood. But I would feel honored to share what God’s been sharing with me in this season.

God gave us a gift at Christmas, Jesus, and let Earth receive her king, God with us.

And in turn, we see rich gifts being handed to Him. The wise men come bearing gifts for the baby. We are familiar with the song.

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.

Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrow, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

    The magi brings gold, to honor this baby as an earthly king, director of our daily lives, our physical bodies, our rules, to give over sovereignty from ourselves to Him.

They bring frankincense to worship this baby as High Priest, as heavenly, as director of our spiritual destiny and our immortal souls, to give over adoration from ourselves to Him.

They bring myrrh. The third offering is so beautiful to me this season. In our imaginings, in our portrayal of Christianity, sometimes we can depict faith as this happy, everything is going to be fine, and if you give over control of your earthly lives and your eternal lives to God, it will be all joy. If that is the case however, it’s more likely the wise men would have shown up with gold, frankincense and birthday cake. 

When God sent Jesus to us, from the very beginning, from the first Christmas, Man responded by handing over his ownership, his adoration, and his grief, identifying that Jesus would know all these things intimately and that Jesus longs to receive these gifts from us still.

Still, I do not want to present the idea that Jesus looked at his gifts, leaned out of the manager, patted their heads and bestowed joy immediately upon the givers. Absolutely, joy does come. Absolutely, He has the ability to give joy. But after the magi give these gifts, Matthew tells us that God warns them not to return to Herod, and so they return to their country without passing through the shadow of death. God sends Joseph and Mary to Egypt, to protect Jesus because Herod wanted to kill him, and there they stayed until Herod died.

The gifts are given and then God delivers those involved from death. God gives a gift, that is Jesus. Humanity gives back ownership, adoration and grief, and then God turns around and gives security, protection, salvation. I can only imagine that the loss of a child, the pains that feel magnified and distorted under the Christmas lights, would feel like death chasing you down. What else can that magnitude of grief be?

I think I can safely say, joy will come. Joy, that expectation we hold for Christmas will find us. But maybe for a time God just helps us narrowly escape the shadow of death and hides us far from everything we know to be home, to slip away in the night of our circumstances and hide us until we can safely walk back into our own country, our own home, our own lives, without the darkness of death hounding your steps.

I think, maybe, in the story of the magi and what followed is this. Christmas is not just about the light of the star, brilliant and bright, guiding and light, showy and impressive. It is also about admitting that grief is attached to our experience, particularly our Christmas experience, gathering up tiny God With Us, and allowing Him to hide us from the shadow of death by covering us in the shadow of His wing. I think maybe that Christmas isn’t just about the light of the world, but that Jesus dimmed his glory, glory so much brighter than that star, came to us, and traveled into darkest dark to receive the gift of ownership, adoration, and grief.

If all you can offer this Christmas is admittance, be it joyful or sorrowful, confession that He is in control, a voice that can’t sing with the carols, but a body that allows the music to pass through you, and grief, so deep that the Spirit must speak for you in groans to Him, then offer it, and find yourself next to the Christ child, tiny, fragile, God With You.

Christmas and Women’s Liberation

It is one of the most perplexing, laughable suggestions to when someone tries to throw into a conversation, “Christianity and the Bible are so oppressive to women!” Surely, they are reading some other book? And while I can admit that there are churches and people who claim to be teaching the a Christian message while demeaning women, that problem is not rooted in truth of the Bible.

This has been so sweetly brought back to mind this past week. We lit the first advent candle on Sunday, a nice moment for our family and a nice moment for me personally, as I have felt our church here became the kind of home here in Virginia that our church in Ohio was. I wondered as I read and reread the passage I was to read if I’d make it through without my voice cracking. This Christmas has felt newer than many in recent years, fresher, brighter, greener. The magic that the movies tell us should be a part of the season and so many years we feel like we’re failing at Christmas because that is missing…well it’s there. But that’s not the reason I thought my voice might break and betray the emotion I felt about the passage.

It’s a story we know. Mary is pregnant. Joseph is supposed to marry her, but, oh no, pregnant fiancee, not the thing you wanted in those days. Joseph had figured out how to handle it. Quietly divorce her. Don’t let her be too disgraced, but certainly, he wasn’t going to hang around and deal with that. Then the angel comes to him in a dream and tells him this, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

And my voice cracks.

We do acknowledge that Mary was in a tough situation, but do we read the story slow enough to recognize these things?

First, God could have formed Jesus from clay. God could have just poofed Jesus down from heaven. But no. Jesus chose that the first interaction he would have, would be with a woman, being intimately connected and totally dependent on a woman. In order for Jesus to come to us in the way he did, He has to value women. He has to value women enough that he is willing to make his life depend on her. If God had to be at that point to come to us, certainly He doesn’t find women less than.

Second, God could have put Mary in that situation and just said “Trust in me and it will all be ok.” But He didn’t. He provided for Mary physically, giving her the social protection of a husband, giving her the daily provision of a wage earner.  And to top it off, it presses in the message that we are designed for community. After God split the cells and began incarnation, he created and ensured community for his son and for her. If God shows up for Mary, to met her physical, social and emotional needs, won’t he do that for us, too?

Third, God anticipated Joseph’s doubts and concerns. God anticipated Joseph issue of pride and prepared an answer to questions I don’t even know if he knew he was asking. “How can I do what is right? It makes no sense to do this, so I will do something easier. And…really? This is the story she’s going with? Pregnant by God? And right there, God anticipates this very human response, but I can also see that he anticipates male pride, male ego, the struggle to fulfill a male stereotype and the concerns that are still to this day very male. And in order to value what He does in a woman, he has to assure a man, what is going on here, you can trust it. If God speaks to the pride of one man to assure him that he is working in one woman, can’t we hear his word echo over our stories as well?

This is the first Christmas I’ve experienced since my decision to go into ministry and that sentence is so sweet to me. Over and over I hear, “What is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

Some of the brightest highlights of this year was turning to my husband and telling him I wanted to go into ministry and he said “If that’s what you’re supposed to do, then that’s what you do.” A friend told me when I told her “You let me know. Any church that would have you as a pastor is a church I’d go to!” My cousin told me she’s known basically for decades that this was my path. Over and over people this year have stopped me mid-sentence to say “I just want to affirm this for you.”

I am a woman walking towards ministry. I am a person who I know some churches object to, some churches limit opportunities to. I have attended those churches. But in this passage, just like I have heard all year long in encouragement, I hear God saying “Walk ahead in this. What I’ve started is of the Holy Spirit.” It certainly doesn’t mean that everything that a woman puts her mind to is of God, that’s not my point, but it is my assertion that just like at the beginning of the sweetest and best story ever told, God uses a woman, values her immensely and then goes around breaking down pride and adjusting human perceptions to protect his work in a woman.

Just one of many moments in the Bible where God frees women, values women, honors women, uses women. There are certainly enough to tell about all year long, but right now, at Christmastime, this is the one that is singing with my heart. Do not be afraid. God started this. God will provide for what He’s started. God’s got this, girl.

Invisible: Part 1

Invisible.
 
Invisible boys. Invisible girls. Invisible women. Invisible men. Invisible people.

        They’re all around you whether you know it or not. You may even be one yourself. These are people that don’t want to be seen and go to great lengths to hide themselves away, to go undetected, to blend in and be grey. These are people who do whatever they can do to be noticed for one aspect of their life to distract from another. These are people who no matter how many times they reach out for help, they fall through the cracks until they learn not to reach out anymore.

       No matter if you want to be invisible or if invisibility is thrust upon you, I promise you this. There is one who sees you. He is the one who knows you at your core and who longs to comfort you. He is the one who will follow you wherever you go and will sit and stay with you wherever you hide. He sees you. He will come and find you and offer you healing and help beyond your wildest dreams.

         But there are others who walk alongside the invisible people. They are the unseeing. This is for both those who cannot be seen and those who do not notice. Read and find healing. Or read and find vision.

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   It was Hagar who introduced me to El Roi. I have for many years marveled in her story, her experiences and her bravery. She is a bit of a mystery woman who isn’t given as much text as some other people in the Bible, but what is there is so rich and full, I have gone back over and over to the content and gained from it for years.

    We first meet Hagar in Genesis 16 where the writer introduces her as Sarai’s Egyptian slave, who is the solution in Sarai’s eyes to the no children problem that has been in front of Abram and Sarai for years. If you have a copy of the Bible handy, feel free to open it up and read this powerful chapter in the life of Abraham’s family history and then click “Read With Me” and let’s read together!

Read With Me – CLICK ME!

    The first thing I want you to see about Hagar is that she is unseen by Abraham and Sarai. Certainly she is favorable enough that Sarai figures she can utilize her to get the ball rolling on producing an heir, but when we look at how Sarai and Abram speak about her it is always, my slave, your slave, her or she. She is valuable as an object, but not as an individual.

    What Sarai suggests is socially acceptable and perfectly legal at that time, when a woman could not bear children to her husband, she could give her slave to her husband and then the child would be hers. But this very act depends on one useful item, a producing womb housed in someone who can’t say no. As we meet Hagar, we are introduced to a woman who is without power over her life, her circumstance, and most basically, no power over her own body.

    Sarai most likely obtained Hagar while they were in Egypt and Sarai was given to Pharaoh by Abram who was afraid the Egyptians would kill him in order to have her because of her beauty. This is a woman who had limited control in her own life. And certainly having decades of struggles with infertility, when culturally that was as a woman your greatest area of contribution, Sarai must have struggled with her own sense of lack power over her body.

     Sarai exercises the small amount of power she has over Hagar and brings her to Abram who sleeps with her. When Hagar conceives what a blow that must have been for Sarai as it served as confirmation that the blame lay with her and not Abram. Abram could produce children, it was her who couldn’t.

      We read, when Hagar conceived she despised her mistress. I have to wonder what the future looked like in Hagar’s eyes, now connected to this old man who couldn’t be bothered to speak her name. I have to wonder just exactly how sullen or prideful or foul tempered Hagar would have had to have been to break Sarai and send her to Abram for permission to respond.

      Sarai approaching Abram speaks in itself to another shift in the balance of power as Sarai had been able to bring Hagar to Abram, had been able to cook up this scheme and set it into play of her own accord, but she has to seek out permission to deal with the slave girl now. Granted permission to deal with Hagar as she deems fit, she “mistreats her.” What that means, physical abuse, withholding supplies and care, we don’t know.

      It is enough to drive Hagar to the desert, to send her away from food, shelter, water, a mat to lay on, the few comforts afforded to her in her station to set out into the wilderness, risking death every step of the journey and return to her homeland a pregnant single woman of uncertain past and uncertain future.

    One might think that invisibility existed since the garden, hiding from God in shame, and in some respects it does, but never before has one person been so utterly alone, without a partner, without a past or a future, without any power or value. Eve had Adam. Noah had his family and all of his pets. From father to son, husband and wife the Bible accounts humanity to the arrival of the slave girl.

 This is Hagar, the first invisible girl in the Bible.

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Reflect

 1. Can you identify with Hagar? Are there areas of your life that you feel utterly powerless to control? Perhaps a boss with unreasonable expectations or a power struggle within your family?

2. Can you identify with Sarai? Are there areas of your life that you feel you exercise power in not the healthiest ways? Perhaps with work teammates or over your children?

3. In 5 words, describe Hagar at this point in her story.

4. In 5 words, describe Sarai at this point in her story.

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                                  Want to read more?  Click to read Invisible: Part 2

The Next Task…

    Driving from Grottoes to Richmond and back again with God riding shotgun, I revisited the accounts of the week. I was given the opportunity to share with some people about the idea of waiting on the Lord in regards to their call on their life. I’d asked directly for someone to speak into what they saw for me, but they didn’t have an answer. When the conversation between me and God lulled, I selected a sermon from my church in Ohio and listened to Pastor Bruce speak in his old familiar tone, but the message was anything but habitual. He spoke about revival and about the new church in Acts. He spoke about his hope for that church to be a church that raises up leaders and sends them to the ends of the Earth to make disciples. I felt pleased to hear it. Surely that is just what my family has been, raised up in that church and sent out.  

     In January, when I first began this time of reflecting on what God is calling me to and ultimately how He will use me to His glory, I ask God to task me. And He did, very specifically, over and over. That season lasted about 8 months of steady intensity where each task was clearly laid out and had defined edges. Stuff Easter eggs. Sit at the front desk. Schedule volunteers. Paint a set.

    As the season came to a close, my heart ached for the approaching change. My mother used to sing “In The Garden” and the final verse reads

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Tho’ the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go, thro’ the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.”

     It was a very recognizable sensation, like I had spent months in sweet fellowship and now I was being bid farewell and called out of the garden, but as both the song and scripture assures me, He will walk with me.

       I stepped into this new position and have been sweetly blessed by going just where I knew He was taking me, but it has left me wondering what happened to my tasks.  While I do this new work He’s brought me to, how do I continue to walk towards where He is leading me? Of course, by remaining in conversation, and by staying in the Word, doing all I can to fall not into step with Him, but to tuck myself into His shadow, placing my foot inside his steps. To strive to take hold of Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” The closer I can wrap myself in that safety, the more certainly I can trust each move.

      Pastor Bruce continued to preach and the message he felt he’d been given to deliver that day was, “There’s more.” My mind drifted to a passage, Isaiah 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” What He has planned for me, for my calling, is so much higher, so much more than I can imagine. Not so much more for me. So much more for Him.

      Then I remembered a task I’d been given a number of months before, one which led me set up my blog. I was standing at the front of our church here in Harrisonburg and Pastor Kerry, then barely knowing me, outside of a handful of awkward conversations where I stumbled through basic social norms, as well as some writings which I’d permitted to be passed to him through someone I trust very much. He walked about 20 feet to the right of me, made eye contact and said “Sarah Kinzer. The writer.” He took a few more steps and then added, “Keep writing.”

     There was my task, which I walked in for a number of months, at the time of that drive to Richmond left untouched for nearly a month. I’d sat down and started a number of posts, but none that have made it to that final button click to share with the world. This was my old task, brought around again, with fresh life to it. This is where the course is and where I will step as He directs, trusting His ways and His thoughts to continue to task me, post to post, letter to letter.

      I hope that you will step with me as I create this bible study, for if a writer places an X on a page and no one reads it, does it make a sound? I would love for people to follow along while I journey through this study, however if this only ever exists between Him and me, then I trust that it is for my edification and His glory, and delight in the opportunity to have spent this time in His word studying and documenting what He has to teach me hidden in His Word.