Friday, August 29, 2008

Hagar's Hope

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Hagar’s Hope

It was a big mess that’s what it was. But God does some of his most saving work through lives in chaos. Here’s the background of the story: Sarai and Abram, although the ages of a great-grandma and great-grandpa, had no children. Most people long for an heir, and this old couple were no different. According to their customs, a barren wife could “allow” her husband to sleep with a designated servant in hopes of bringing an heir into the family.

The custom may as well have sent an engraved invitation for Jealousy and Envy to strut right on into a household. Sarai gave her Egyptian servant, Hagar, to her husband Abram in hopes she would bear a child, and Hagar did become pregnant, and along with the blossoming she grew a haughty spirit, too. Sarai blamed Abram for the whole situation saying, “You are responsible for the wrong I’m suffering.”

She went on to say, “I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she’s pregnant, she despises me.” Fingers began pointing in every direction. God doesn’t plaster prettiness over the mistakes and sins of Bible characters’ lives, so in Genesis chapter 16, there’s even more about the wrongs done in this household.

Abram, apparently not wanting to get involved in the outcome of this dispute between two women, told Sarai, “Your servant is in your hands, do whatever you think best.” Sarai didn’t exactly follow Abram’s advice about doing what was best because “Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her” (vs.6).

This riff between the two women widened and could not be leaped by etiquette or fairness. God knew Hagar planned to tuck up her robe and run away from this ugly situation, one over which, as a servant, she had no control. After she left, the angel of the Lord found her resting near a desert oasis. The message sent from God is intriguing, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis16:8).

Hagar replied, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel told Hagar to go back to her mistress and submit to her, but he gave her a pocket of promises to think on as she walked back toward the feudal minefield. God’s sonogram allowed Hagar to know she’d bear a son, to be named Ishmael (God hears), and while he would be a warrior, his descendents would be innumerable.

At that desert place, that pivotal time in Hagar’s life, “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me’” (vs.13).

Genesis chapter 16 has given me several “aha” moments, those insights that reveal a bit more about God, about life. One is this question that keeps arising throughout different Bible stories: Where have you come from? Where are you going? I’m amazed at how often that theme arises in Bible text – questions to be answered by everyone.

A comfort also revealed: God is intimately involved in lives. Hagar is addressed by her given name, her situation fully known, from her status in life to the gender of her unborn child. Another message is that sometimes the lessons God wants us to learn are in the middle of the muddle. Go back, Hagar. Did she really want to hear that?

Difficult times furnish teachings where softer moments may lack muscle. It started out as a big mess. That’s what it was, and to this day, there’s still messiness between the descendents of Isaac and Ishmael.

Even though situations may seem hopeless, when God sums up scenes, they do not look so barren, so much like a fruitless place. He often seats us by an oasis and gives us hope. Or as psalmist David later restated about God--He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Parents, Life Educators

A special thank you to all who wrote or commented about last week’s column. Your name was entered into the August drawing to be held on Sunday, the 31st.

It’s August, enter your name for a drawing of The Stained Glass Pickup by sending me an email at Or leave a comment at the end of this post.

Check out the new Christmas blog inspired by the co-authors of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday by Cathy Messecar, co-author here.

Upcoming contests next month at this new site. Enter to win free books and a gift basket.

Granddaughter Natalie begins Kindergarten on Monday. While thinking about this new path for her, I recalled my son and daughter’s first trek into public school.

My son walked into his classroom, settled in, and charmed his way into his teacher’s heart. Three year’s later I ripped my dress hem from my daughter’s grasp as she held on tight, tears streaming down her face which caused a torrent of sad tears on mine.

If your tear ducts need exercise, peer into a Kindergarten hallway on opening day. Empathy will kick in when you see little ones, clinging to knees, reluctant to venture into new worlds.

By the time children start to school, they have received instruction for five years in their homes. Some homes get high marks and others get failing grades. A home-trained child who respects his neighbor is a delight in the public system. A psalmist encouraged a familial education based on love. “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD” (Psalm 78:4).

These intentional stories about God are handed down so the “next generations would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children” (verse 6).

I overheard a rancher dad tell about driving his high school age daughter to school each day and praying aloud for her. My mind conceived a picture of a stained glass pickup puttering down the road and the gift that dad gave his daughter on school mornings.

I scurried kids off to school for over 25 years, counting the college years, and I recollect both frazzled and smooth mornings. Spilled milk, sticky pancake syrup, dawdling children, misplaced books, sick stomachs, a rattled mom or dad, and lots more can edge into morning routines.

Mishaps are reality, but a purposeful parent can be reality, too. On ill fated mornings, steering family around the chaos presents a loving precedent.

I recall a Kindergarten program, complete with foot lights, brightening only the stage. As children settled onto risers, many shaded their eyes and looked beyond the staged affair for their anchors in life.

Good teachers are better than best blessings, but parents are the ones honored with the task of equipping children with answers that will outlive school tests and diplomas.

The next time you stop behind an afternoon school bus and little kids get off, look at those eager faces. They are looking for their parents—the educators of their lives.

Friday, August 08, 2008

What's on Your Face?

July winner: Lynne L., New Mexico

It’s August, enter your name for a drawing of The Stained Glass Pickup by sending me an email at or leave a comment here

What’s on Your Face?

President Thomas Jefferson, along with a group of men, contemplated crossing a swollen stream on horseback. After several successful crossings, a man waiting on foot near the banks waved at the President, thumbing a ride across. Jefferson happily gave him a lift.

Upon reaching dry ground on the other side of the roiling waters, one of the men asked the hitchhiker, "Tell me, why did you select the President of the United States to carry you across the river?"

Incredulous he said, "I didn’t know he was the President! All I know is that on some faces is written the answer ‘NO’ and on some the answer ‘YES’.”

Faces. When faces were given out, no one got to pick their own. Face-scapes are totally God’s choice, but the human wearer gets to do the cultivating, and smiles and grimaces make laugh and scowl tracks. With 98 muscles, faces reflect emotions, what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling -- anger, sadness, worry, fun, pain, disappointment, eagerness, fright, boredom or surprise.

Some folk have face blindness called prosopagnosia, from the Greek words “face” and “non-knowledge.” After a severe brain injury, a patient may not recognize family members. The medical profession has identified similar congenital disorders. Folk with face blindness recognize others through voice or characteristics, but their disability makes them unable to differentiate humans by facial features.

Most of us learn to “read” faces. In the Bible book of 1 Samuel, Abigail is described as having a pleasant face even though married to wicked Nabal, “[T]he woman was of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings” (1 Samuel 25:3 NAS).

God’s countenance (presence) is frequently mentioned the Bible. In Psalm 89, God’s righteousness, justice, ever present love and faithfulness are praised. The psalmist then says people who know the joy of the Lord get to walk “in the light” of his “countenance” (vs. 15).

This welcoming presence is seen when Jesus walked through Samaria. He stopped at a well to rest, and a Samaritan woman arrived to draw out water. In that era, men didn’t speak to women in public, especially Samaritans, but Jesus spoke to her and asked her for a drink. His receptive manner caused the woman to sing his praises and introduce Jesus to fellow villagers.

Countenance and demeanor “say” a lot. As Thomas Jefferson’s contemporary said, some faces say “No” and some say “Yes.” Wouldn’t it be nice, if disciples of Jesus could truly reflect the countenance of God?

A Christian’s face is like a doormat — in some way it ought to say, “Welcome.” What’s on your face?