Can this be?

A friend gave me a book to read. Over the years, I’ve grown to be leery of these “Hey, you gotta read this!” books. In my opinion, never known to be particularly humble, there are many people who grab hold of a part of the truth and then run with it, reaching some outrageous conclusion or another. To do that, they need to ignore the other parts of the same truth which, if you pay attention to those parts, would lead you to a much less outrageous destination. As Florence Littauer once famously said, “Why let the facts ruin a good story?”

And so, when Ken pressed this book into my hand, I resolved to hang on to it for a month or two, and then return it with the lame, but ever-safe, shoulder shrug and, “Sorry, man, I just didn’t have time to get to it.” But something happened. I glanced at the portion he wanted me to read, and the glance led to a turn of the page. And another. And another. Soon, I couldn’t put it down.

The book? The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn, who apparently leads a religious ministry of mainly Jewish origins in New Jersey.

What got me so hooked? The fact that Mr. Cahn pieced together obscure pieces of factually documented history in a way I’ve never seen it done, to stunning effect. He did it by writing a fictional account of someone who had dreams and encountered a prophet of some sort, who kept stringing him along to find these obscure facts. The whole thing has a strong air of mysticism about it. That usually doesn’t bode well for me and a book, because my brain is too easily enticed to tear the shrouds away from mysteries and mystics. It’s too easy to come up with something that sounds plausible, and then build an entire fantasy on that wispy foundation. How many people have proclaimed they know the date of the Lord’s return, only to have that date pass and life continue as before?

But this guy is different. The presentation may be mystical, but his facts aren’t.

Which facts?

For starters, both the 2001 and 2008 stock market crashes happened on Elul the 29th on the Jewish calendar. That happened to be the Hebrew date of Shemitah —  seven years apart. It’s the Lord’s command to have a sabbath year every 7th year. Those happened to fall on 2001 and 2008. A stock market crash doesn’t happen on a single day, but in both instances, the events of those days were pivotal:

  • In 2001, the stock market opened after 6 days, having been closed in the aftermath of 9/11. When it opened, the market instantly collapsed.
  • In 2008, the biggest drop of the Dow (777 points for the mystics out there) happened on 29 Elul.

The author’s premise is the Lord says His nation must wipe away all debts on 29 Elul every 7th year. The nation of Israel, as we know, didn’t keep the sabbath year (Shemitah) command for 490 years, so the Lord took it from them with the 70 year exile in Babylon. The author construes the meltdowns of 2001 and 2008 as a similar involuntary wiping out of debt. In my opinion, that’s a bit of a reach, because by no means was all debt wiped away. Some people we would call innocent got hammered hard, and others whom we could call infidels got off lightly. But the fact that a lot of wealth did get wiped away on the two 29 Elul dates is inescapable.

There’s another problem: the crash before 2001 didn’t happen 7 years prior — it was closer to 10 years. Therefore, the premise that stock market crashes happen only on 29 Elul of Shemitah years (every 7th) doesn’t hold up if you go beyond the two specific cases of 2001 and 2008. For instance, 1929’s market crash didn’t happen in a shemitah year.

So… the facts don’t totally support an unqualified acceptance that the two wipe-outs were as absolute as Israel’s exile to Babylon, but it was close enough to keep me engaged.

Especially when he married a specific (though obscure) scripture and more facts.

The Pivot

The pivot around which the entire story is built is an obscure passage: Isaiah 9:10 and 11. Here’s the passage in broader context (NKJV, underline added):

8 The Lord sent a word against Jacob, And it has fallen on Israel.
9 All the people will know— Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria—
Who say in pride and arrogance of heart:
10 “The bricks have fallen down, But we will rebuild with hewn stones;
The sycamores are cut down, But we will replace them with cedars.”
11 Therefore the Lord shall set up The adversaries of Rezin against him, And spur his enemies on,
12 The Syrians before and the Philistines behind; And they shall devour Israel with an open mouth.
For all this His anger is not turned away, But His hand is stretched out still.
13 For the people do not turn to Him who strikes them, Nor do they seek the Lord of hosts.
14 Therefore the Lord will cut off head and tail from Israel, Palm branch and bulrush in one day.

The attitude behind the declaration in verse 10 is defiance. The Lord (as we know) often brings calamity to bring His nation to repentance. In this instance, the accusation of the Lord to the leaders of Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, is that the rulers reacted not with repentance, but defiance, in effect saying to the Lord: “no matter what You bring against us, we can take care of ourselves, and we will.” Dangerous words.

The author then goes back and draws out quotes from American presidents. After 9/11, Pres. Bush says, “We will rebuild!” Those exact three words. And Pres. Obama, upon taking office (and referring to the economic devastation of the Great recession) says, “We will rebuild.” Those three words are buried in the middle of his address, but, when they had to pick a headline to report the address, all the media, from the New York Times to Al Jazeera, as if by some unseen hand, picked the three words from Isaiah 9:10.

Like I said, I’m no mystic, but even I had to raise my eyebrows at that “coincidence.”

History

nyse gwThen the author gets into deep history. George Washington was invested as the first President of the USA on April 20, 1789. There’s a statue of Mr. Washington on the exact spot where he gave his inauguration address, and this photograph shows just how close that is to the present New York Stock Exchange. Are you getting goose bumps yet?

It gets better. See his right hand? Palm down — that was his hand as he put it on the Bible. You can read his inauguration speech here. (God bless the internet.) In it, he states that the guiding light of the new country must be God: “there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness… the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained…”

And then he closes by declaring God to be “the benign parent of the human race, in humble supplication that since he has been pleased to favour the American people… so his divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the … measures on which the success of this Government must depend.”

The author takes that stand and those words to be almost the same as what Solomon uttered at the dedication of the temple — in other words, a dedication of the new nation to God.

The very first act of Congress under the new President was to walk a few steps to St. Paul’s chapel… to dedicate the new nation to God in prayer.

That’s right: the first official act of the first constituted Congress of America was “Let’s pray.” Regardless of your religious persuasion, that is a fact, well documented. St. Paul’s chapel still is there, right across Church Street from the World Trade Center.

st pauls chapel ny2

Back then, that real estate apparently was part of the St. Paul’s chapel grounds. Therefore, Ground Zero is where the new nation of America was dedicated.

Drawing a mystical connection (or not) between the 9/11 act of terrorism and the prayer of dedication on pretty much the same spot is of course up to you. The author does this with great abandon. He offers up the evidence that the chapel itself was protected from the extensive damage it could have suffered when the towers collapsed, given its incredibly close proximity to the mayhem and destruction. The St. Paul’s Wikipedia site says, “The church survived without even a broken window. Church history declares it was spared by a miracle sycamore on the northwest corner of the property that was hit by debris.”

The sycamore was destroyed in the intense blast from the towers’ collapse, sparing the chapel. They planted a new tree in its place, a spruce. Read the second part of Isaiah 9:10 again. Not exactly a cedar, but a conifer like it. Mystics will see a connection, left brain geeks will say close, but no cigar. Either way, you have to concede: it’s interesting at the very least.

The author (obviously) doesn’t cover my interest, which is: when’s the next Shemitah? The year runs from Sept. 25, 2014 through Sept. 13, 2015. So the last day of the next Sabbath year will be September 13, 2015.

But wait, there’s more. This website provides the reasoning why the year from Sept 2015 to Sept 2016 would be a jubilee year. There appears some disagreement over whether the jubilee cycle these days is 50 years or 49 years (the latter maintaining that jubilee only applies when the entire old land of Israel is occupied by Israel).

What do you think we should do about all of this?

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Characters In The Shadows: A Nameless Boy

They don’t see me. They don’t even know my name. They don’t remember me. They’ll surely never miss me. How often have thoughts like those drifted through your mind?

Today’s story is about someone the gospel writers didn’t know. But being unknown and insignificant didn’t stop the Lord Jesus from using that person to be part of one of his most famous miracles.

I’m talking about the boy whose bread and fish Jesus Christ used to feed the crowd.

The Only One?

Jesus  multiplied bread twice, once feeding 5,000 and the other time 4,000. It’s interesting to note in passing that the only miracle all four gospels mention is the first one, where our Lord fed 5,000 people. For the mystics among us who look at numbers, the Bible tells us seven times how Jesus multiplied bread to feed a crowd. But only the seventh description (John 6) includes the detail of where the original food came from: that nameless lad.

We don’t know his name, but his willingness to part with his much needed lunch is recorded forever.

When we read about it, we hardly even pay the lad any attention. What better time, then, to do it than now?

Have you ever gone to a picnic and thought, “Hmmm… the weather could get chilly, let me throw a jacket in the car, just in case?” And, sure enough, some clouds and a breeze indeed decided to crash the party. You felt vindicated by your foresight.

But… someone else didn’t have your foresight and forgot to bring a jacket. The upshot? You give them your jacket… and now your suffering just doubled: it’s one thing to get caught unprepared, but that just shifts to another level when you were careful to prepare, but you end up suffering anyway. I can’t count how many times I brought chairs to a picnic because I don’t like sitting on the ground. You guessed it: I usually end up having to sit on the ground anyway, even if I bring four extra chairs… because there’s always someone with puppy dog eyes who didn’t bring a chair and wants to sit in our circle (if only for the chairs).

Back to the lad. Having a good Jewish mama, he was prepared. Those around him may have just hurried along the lakeshore to hear the fast-becoming-famous young preacher, not giving a thought to lunch or dinner.

But not our lad. He had lunch. He was prepared.

Prepared for what?

There’s no way his mother woke up that morning saying, “I’ve got to fix my boy a good lunch, because that’ll get him a nice mention in that new book they’ll be writing in a decade or two.” Perhaps the lad was sent to help his dad or a neighbor work a field. We know kids, they never come prepared for anything; they have to be told. And even then, there’s usually some reluctance to follow instructions. But mothers are mothers, always taking care of business, even when those who benefit fuss and moan about it. So she packed him a lunch and made sure he took it.

We’ve all experienced it: you walk along the sidewalk when suddenly you see three people gathered together, looking intently at something across the street. What do you do? You stop, of course, join the group, and look in the same direction to see what they’re looking at. It’s just what we humans do.

So, here was the lad, on his way somewhere, when suddenly there was this mad rush along the shore of Lake Galilee. What does he do? Join the rush, of course. Would his mother have approved? Probably not.

We know the diversion was worth it, because this young preacher had wisdom nobody had heard before. Everyone was so captivated by the teachings of the carpenter’s son from a few villages up the road nobody noticed time flying.

Until the good Master said, “That’s all, folks.” Then, to his close followers: “Okay, let’s eat. Hey, guys, go feed ’em!”

We know the story. The disciples were aghast. (Interesting aside: you would think if the Master multiplied bread once to feed 5,000 people they’d know He can do it again without breaking a sweat. So, why then were they aghast again the second time this happened? That’s something I’ve not heard anybody preach on, but I’ve always wondered: what does that say about the disciples?)

Anyway, the disciples looked to the crowd to answer the Lord’s question:

What do you have?

Have you ever thought about it: are we to believe that in a crowd of 5,000 people only one single person brought food? Impossible. Too many Jewish mamas in the neighborhood for that to happen. I think the more likely explanation would be nobody else wanted to part with their lunch. “Sorry, buddy, I’m not giving my lunch to someone who can’t think farther than their nose!” The Jews of the time all wore robes of some sort, so it would have been easy to hide their lunch.

Jesus no doubt knew that.

He easily could have used the situation as a good opportunity for a fast and perhaps a good, home hitting message related to fasting or loving thy neighbor, but He knew when to stop preaching, and opted to bless instead.

Using the humble lunch of an anonymous boy.

It’s not your name or fame that’s important. It’s the courage of your obedience that really matters in God’s kingdom.

He knows your name.

He remembers you and He uses each one of us in ways we cannot foresee.

If you will offer up what little preparation you made, there’s no telling how many people He can feed with it.

Lunch

Characters in the Shadows: Leah

God has a heart for the overlooked. Jesse’s young shepherd son David was disrespectfully overlooked. Tamar was wrongfully overlooked by Judah. Mordecai was forgetfully overlooked after saving the Persian king from an assassination plot. God, though, accomplished His purposes in each case. God’s plans are not hindered by mortal man overlooking one of his appointed vessels.

Jacob probably didn’t even notice Leah. He was young, with a rich dad, and he arrived in Padan-Aram with a track record as a go-getter. Rachel was the golden girl he wanted, the one with personality and beauty, and he set about to get her. God, though, had other plans.

For some reason, God had more of a heart for Leah than for Rachel. The Bible’s description of her physical appearance is not flattering. She wasn’t dynamic. In a word, Leah was imperfect. The more we read the Bible, the more God seems to seek out the imperfect among us for His work. The royal line of King David and Jesus Christ went through Leah and not the golden girl, Rachel.

Jacob, self-absorbed at this time, didn’t ask God what His plans were; he just chased the golden girl. God wasn’t fazed, though; He just used Laban to out-Jacob Jacob and Jacob literally woke up to find Leah in his bed. Imperfection, or being overlooked, never stopped God from accomplishing His purposes.

A very good friend and I were talking about this the other day. The first thing we talked about was God’s heart. He had compassion on Leah, the overlooked one, and therefore gave her sons. There is a therefore there. But my friend pointed out something I had never noticed before: With her first three sons, Leah strove for validation, approval and love from her husband. There was a difference with the fourth, Judah. It seems she surrendered her desires for Jacob’s love to the Lord, and her response to the birth of Judah was simply to praise the Lord. No ifs, ands or buts. And that son happens to be the son God chose for His royal tribe. Judah represented Leah’s surrender to God, and she did it without knowing what His plans for her or for her sons were. She just surrendered. Unconditionally. And in doing that, she set God’s purposes in motion. The surrender of the imperfect, that seems to be what God thrives on.

Leah lived her entire life as the overlooked one. But in the patriarch’s burial plot, Jacob has only wife lying beside him. That wife is Leah. Man may overlook, but God never does.

Being imperfect, even overlooked, looks more and more like the best qualification for use by the Lord in the accomplishment of His plans. In that, I’m more qualified than most. To get from qualification to use, all we have to do is add surrender, complete surrender.

God accomplishes His plans through the surrender of the imperfect.

How imperfect are we? How surrendered are we?

The road ahead, imperfectly seen

What about David?

It didn’t happen on purpose. When I started the blog, I had no intention of writing a post every day (except Sundays) but it just worked out that way. Neither did I intend to write as much about our imperfection as I did. Maybe it’s the time of year. Isn’t January always the month of New Years Resolutions? And is there anything that drives home our imperfection as much as New Years Resolutions? It’s simple, really: if we weren’t imperfect, we’d never have New Years Resolutions, would we? Whatever the reason may be, here we are, conscious of our imperfection, but reminded that God is totally unfazed by any of our imperfections.

And we need that reminder, don’t we? We somehow believe God is waiting for us to achieve a state of beautiful perfection before he opens his filing cabinet to retrieve his plans for our lives. Isn’t our imperfection the reason why we’ve been so use-less so far? The answer is no, that’s not the reason. God’s plans for our lives have already been taken out of the cabinet. They’re spread out on the table, and God is waving us over to come and take a look and a listen.

Why have I taken so long to punch in and get to work in God’s kingdom? Yep, it’s that perfection thing. I’m not perfect, and therefore God has to take a deep sigh, sit down heavily, roll his eyes, pour Himself a cup of coffee and drum his fingers on the table, wondering when.ever.is.this.doofus.going.to.get.his.stinking.act.together??? At least that’s what I think. Is that what you perhaps think?

Think again. Who in the Bible are the giants, the ones through whom God accomplished the most? David is close to the top of that list, isn’t he? I just finished the history of David in my through the Bible journey, and I am struck by his, well, imperfection. We all know about Bathsheba-gate, and that’s not what I’m talking about, bad as it is. There’s a whole lot more where that came from. David’s oldest son raped his half-sister, and David did nothing about it. He didn’t protect Tamar (incidentally, named after a forebear who was also maltreated) and he didn’t punish Amnon. Not good. This opened the door for Absalom to exact justice, and David didn’t punish him for that either. Not good. When Absalom was allowed back in the palace, David was passive-aggressive and wouldn’t talk to him for two years. Not good.

Lest someone be tempted to pin these events to the punishment God promised David, let’s look at David’s earlier days. When he fled from Saul the first time, he stopped at Nob and lied to the priest to get food. Not good. He then continued his journey to the land of the enemy. There, he pretended to be crazy when they investigated him further. Not good. While his actions toward Saul certainly were noble, his reaction after the second time he saved Saul’s life wasn’t. First, he accused God of not being true to His promise (“Saul will certainly kill me”). Then he went (again) to the land of the Philistines. Not good. There, he murdered entire villages, women and children included, and lied to his ruler about it. Seriously not good. When he eventually was made king, he betrayed his cousin, Joab, who served David faithfully and competently, by giving his job to Abner while he was away, serving David. No integrity there. Integrity would have dictated that he talk to Joab first, but David simply was a wuss in personal relationships. He did the same thing again a few years later. After Joab rescued David from Absalom (who only dishonored him and wanted to kill him) David gave his job to another cousin, Amasa. Again, no integrity, and certainly no gratitude. Those were but a few examples to prove the point: David is down there in imperfection with you and I.

And yet, as we all know, God called David a man after his own heart. And God certainly gave David a lot of success, militarily and as a ruler.  Why is that? David’s heart was after God when he was a shepherd in the field. His heart was after God when he fled from Saul. His heart was after God when he became king. And his heart was after God when he messed up. His heart was always after God. Anyone doubting this need only read a few Psalms. That was the key. That is what God wants more than anything else: a heart after Him.

God, to achieve the purposes of His kingdom, needs hearts after Him. That’s all. He does the rest. No perfection required, only pursuit after Him. In fact, the purpose of our imperfection is to drive us closer to Him. It’s the enemy who wants to use our imperfection to put distance between us and our Father. Who do we listen to?

When we pursue God, our hearts are after Him, after His own heart. And isn’t that what God called David: a man after His own heart?

It only took me 60 years to get this. How long is it going to take you?

Sunrise over Mt. Baker, Victoria, BC

It Could Happen To You, But Do You want It To?

Last Sunday we had lunch with a friend, as we are wont to do on occasion. Hardly remarkable, you might say. What was remarkable, though, was the topic and its effect. The sparking point was Frank Bartleman’s book on the Azusa Street revival. It’s hard to eat Japanese food while bouncing up and down with excitement, which is exactly what all of us were doing, as we read and shared what Bartleman had written.

He describes the meetings in Pasadena as totally run by the Lord. Totally, as in completely surrendered. Today, we’re so afraid that someone in a group will dominate by force of personality, or derail a meeting with a tangential need or agenda. We’re afraid that the quiet ones will feel overrun and that the loud ones will feel suppressed. We try to set goals for meetings and then focus on achieving those goals. In order to do all of these things, we impose structure. We call it being orderly.

In short, we try to accomplish the spiritual under the control of the flesh. It’s as if we go to the home of the Holy Spirit in response to His invitation, and then tell Him to please stand aside, we’ll take over, because, really, He just isn’t able to take care of His own meetings in His own house. And what Bartleman described was exactly the opposite. At these early Azusa Street meetings, nobody was in charge, nobody kicked off a meeting or closed it. Nobody was the designated speaker… except the Holy Spirit of course.

Predictably, everyone who valued the flesh and operated in it, was appalled, as they always will be. While critics pontificated, the world changed, and that change is still with us. History recorded many revivals which came and went. Very few, though, left a world which was changed even after that revival died out. The Reformation in 1517 left a landscape that was permanently different after the spiritual fervor subsided. The same is true of Azusa Street, where these “uncontrolled” meetings changed the way church looked forever (well at least in some places). There apparently were several “attempted coups,” when someone attempted to hijack the meetings. All those attempts just ended up with the perps on the floor, confessing their sins and surrendering to the Holy Spirit. What a thought: the Holy Spirit is actually able to control meetings submitted to Him for control.

Why are we so afraid to surrender control of our meetings to the Lord? Just over two years ago four of us discussed that question at great length. We had just started a small group in our church and one weekend the two men were away on a men’s retreat and the Holy Spirit showed up and took over the meeting. All present were blessed in great measure, and we (the two men) asked ourselves if it could possibly be that our attempts to “lead” the meetings might have been inhibiting the Holy Spirit. That was indeed a possibility, we humbly concluded. What stopped us from letting go? As it turned out, the biggest reason was our fear that “nothing would happen.” I mean, what would happen if ten or twenty people showed up expectantly, and then just sat around, all eyes on the leaders, and… nothing happened? Wouldn’t that just be the most embarrassing thing?

So, our loving Father, kind and awesome gentleman that He is, waited till we were gone and therefore couldn’t lead the meeting. Our wives, having no fear of being embarrassed, tossed the meeting wide open to the Lord, and He responded as if by saying, “Well, kids, what took you so long?” That evening they had one of the best meetings ever to that point, so we were told. Since then, we’ve surrendered control to the Lord, and He has honored us with His presence every time we met. We’ve never had the exact same group show up twice, and things haven’t happened the same twice, but every time it was evident that whomever the Lord wanted to minister to would be there for that particular night.

Despite the Lord honoring our surrender, so consistently and over such a long period, we’ve always kind of felt that this modus operandi was unorthodox. Some people who attended had no idea who was even leading the meeting because, well, nobody visible was. In that time, and despite having some strong personalities and urgent needs, we’ve not had a single incident of anyone trying to hijack the meeting or do anything out of order. And we’ve not had a single meeting where nobody was touched by the Lord in one way or another. Remarkable, sure, but still a little odd, because it goes against everything written in books about leading small groups. It works when, according the experts, it shouldn’t.

So, when we read on Sunday about how the Azusa Street revival meetings went the same way, we were excited. (The friend we lunched with is in our small group.) There is a precedent of the Lord honoring total surrender, even in the setting of leading a meeting of His. How cool is that!!

Are we on the brink of revival? I believe we are. Before that happens, though, I believe there are many more prayer hours the Lord is waiting for. How serious are we? How desperate are we?

Desperate enough to surrender control?

Hanging on to the Wind (pneumos)

Who is responsible?

I was reviewing the Biblical history of Israel, and, frankly, it’s not that pretty.

  • 450 years in Egypt: no leader, no record of good leadership or worship
  • 40 years in the desert: unnecessary because of unbelief
  • 350 years era of the Judges: everyone followed their own way (except for a few interventions)
  • 40 years of King Saul: not the highlight of their history
  • 40 years with King David: in many ways the highlight of their history
  • 40 years with Solomon: in other ways their highlight
  • 350 years of divided kingdom, 10 tribes permanently apostate, 2 tribes with ups and downs
  • 70 years of exile
  • 430 silent years
  • 100 years New Testament times

And then Titus invaded Jerusalem, sacked it and dispersed the Jews (again). (All the dates are approximate and rounded, just to give a rough idea of the time scale.)

The nation followed the Lord in unity for only the reigns of David and Solomon — 80 years out of 1,900 (give or take). In all, hardly a stellar record.

But that isn’t what interested me. What really started it for me was the temple. The temple Solomon built, the grand one detailed in several chapters of the Bible, didn’t even last one generation. The Egyptians came in the reign of Solomon’s son (Rehoboam) and ransacked the temple. It was almost as if the paint hadn’t even dried properly yet. When I read this recently, my heart was just so sad. All this money, planning and resources spent on something to glorify the Lord, and He didn’t even protect it for a single full generation. Wow.

I thought about this for quite a few days. Without verbalizing it, I was questioning the Lord, and in particular His not supporting or protecting His beautiful house. I mean, if He didn’t protect Solomon’s temple, what makes me think He will protect His church in our day? And if He’s not even going to protect His house, how can I expect Him to protect my house? The first question is interesting; the last one is personal.

After a few days, I felt the Lord ask me a question back. What about the ark of the covenant? Did the ark last any longer? Did He ever protect it? As I looked into it, the differences were startling:

God commissioned and designed the ark. He never commissioned the temple; that was David’s idea. In fact, the Lord gave the idea a lukewarm reception. David had the best of intentions, to be sure, but God never ordered the temple. He definitely ordered the ark, though, with detailed specifications.

God protected the ark, and fiercely so. We all recall when the Philistines captured the ark and how the Lord made them return it in short order. The Lord dealt well with those who treated it respectfully (Obed-Edom) and harshly with those who didn’t, even among the Levites.

The ark survived intact from the time it was commissioned until God finally gave Judah over to the Babylonian exile. The temple in Jerusalem also survived, but not in the same glory as that which was dedicated to the Lord in that impactful ceremony.

And, finally, consider the usefulness for the average Israelite. People could enter the temple every now and then, but NOBODY ever saw the ark, except the High Priest and that only once a year. So, from a human standpoint, the temple appears to have had a greater utility for worship than the ark. But… the ark was God’s idea and the temple was man’s idea. One lasted a lot longer than the other, and that had nothing to do with how useful it appeared to be for man.

What’s the point of this comparison? God will protect, even prosper, what He ordains, commissions, promises, designs or implements. As for what we build, there is (as noted in the Ishmael post) nothing wrong with that, but it will last only as long as we can protect it.

What’s more, God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, knowing full well how imperfect Israel was going to be. The imperfection of the national history of Israel is staggering, but God, knowing the future was not looking for perfection in selecting His covenant partner. He was looking for the miracle birth, and that’s all. That tells me that I don’t need to be perfect to be a covenant partner with the Lord. I only need to be of miracle birth, as in born again. Perfection is not required at all, not of myself and neither of my brothers and sisters. Not now, and not in the future. That is just an amazing thought, and so encouraging!

When we serve the Lord, we serve Him best when He sets it all up.

Setting Out, Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe

What About Ishmael?

When you hear the word Ishmael, is your first reaction positive or negative? I confess mine was the latter… until I actually read the history closer. The facts unfold as follows, beginning in Genesis 16. Hagar gets pregnant and despises Sarai, her boss. Sarai so mistreats her that she flees. The Lord intercepts her, sends her back to Sarai with the admonition to submit. And then God tells Hagar the name she is to give the son in her womb: Ishmael, which means “God will Hear.” God Himself names the child and it is a nice name. The Lord then proceeds to pronounce good things over Ishmael.

Hmm… nothing negative so far. The Lord continues in Genesis 17:20, when Abraham laughed at God’s promise of a son through Sarah. When the name of Ishmael comes up, the Lord clearly and specifically says, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”

What a strong endorsement from the Lord!  God clearly doesn’t hate Ishmael. Several years passed and Isaac arrived as promised. In Chapter 21, Abraham makes a feast for Isaac’s weaning, where Hagar ticks her boss off again, for which Sarah tells Abraham to fire her on the spot. Abraham demurs, but God tells Abraham to listen to his wife. (Yes, the Bible really says that in 21:12.) Then the Lord confirms, yet again, that He is going to make Ishmael into a great nation.

This is now the third time God had only positive things to say over Ishmael. I never realized how many times the Lord spoke positively about Ishmael. Abraham listened to the Lord and Sarah, and sent Hagar and Ishmael off with a good supply of food and water. The food and water ran out while they were still in the desert. “This is it,” Hagar thought and placed the fourteen year old in the shade of some greenery. Because she didn’t want to see or hear him die, she went to sit down about a hundred yards or so from him. There, she simply burst into tears and cried. She didn’t do anything religious like pray or cry out to God; she simply wept at her misfortune.

Suddenly and miraculously, God appeared. The last time they met, He reminded Hagar, He told her  to submit herself to Sarah. She didn’t obey, and so she got herself fired because of her snippy attitude. What did she expect? She had reaped what she sowed, God said, and so she had to pull herself together, get over Ishmael, find another job and get on with her life. And next time, be a doer of the word, not a hearer only, or pay the price again.

No, that’s not what happened at all. God told Hagar not to be afraid; both she and the lad would survive and, indeed, prosper. And then God said it one more time: He will bless Ishmael and make him a great nation.

Four times God had His opinion about Ishmael recorded, and each time it was nothing but positive. Like most Christians, I’ve heard several sermons about Ishmael, but none of them echo God’s four-time endorsement of the man.

Where does all this negativity about Ishmael come from, then? The answer is found in Genesis 17:21, right after the second time God said good things about Ishmael. God follows up His endorsement of Ishmael with “…but My covenant I will establish with Isaac…”

Nothing wrong with Ishmael, but Isaac is the one with whom God chose to covenant. What is so different about Isaac? Simply put, Isaac was a miracle baby, the son God intended to use. Abraham and Sarah added Ishmael by themselves. Ishmael was the result of human effort; Isaac came, supernaturally, from God. We know the end of the story. Like all nations on earth, Ishmael’s descendants moved or became assimilated, and gradually ceased to exist as a specific nation. Nothing evil, just the normal flow of the natural. Isaac’s descendants, on the other hand, are still around as a nation. God called them into being supernaturally, and no normal flow of natural events will erase what God creates.

The distinction between Ishmael and Isaac, therefore, is not that one is bad and one is good. It’s that one is of the flesh and one is of the Spirit. Until we are born again, we are of the flesh. However, when we are born again, we are miracle born, because as John 3 tells us, this is a birth in the Spirit.

We can do things in the kingdom of God either in the natural or in the supernatural. Nothing wrong with the natural, that’s important to note. But God’s covenant blessing won’t rest on those things. If the human effort is good, the results will be good, but once the human leader(s) move on, the work will dissipate.

When God calls forth something as He called forth Isaac, and we wait for Him to do what he promised, in His way and in His time, that work will last forever, because that no longer is our work but His. If we want our work in the kingdom of God to last, it’s important to ask: am I doing this in the supernatural or the natural?

Nothing wrong with the natural, but only the supernatural will last.