Sacrifice

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Sacrifice

Genesis 22:1-14

The Command to Sacrifice Isaac1

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Romans 6:12-23

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Slaves of Righteousness

What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You may have heard the phrase, “Freedom is not free.” It is true. Everything, even the ability to choose comes at a cost. In our time of rampant distrust of authorities, we each often seek our own counsel before obeying our authorities. That distrust ripples through us and all our relationships like waves on a river. Indeed, we should not be surprised when our children rebel against us after they watch us rebel against the authorities in our own lives. They are only doing exactly what we have shown them.

The price of freedom is freedom. For me to be free, someone else gave up their freedom. We honor those who fought in the military for freedom. We honor those who stood against authorities and gave their lives in civil protests. Even those who go to the extremes of terrorism are willing to give their lives for a kind of freedom in their own perspective (wrong as it may be), and often these people take the lives of others around them as a cost of that freedom as well. Giving up your own life has indeed become a hallmark of faith in anything.

There is another, perhaps even greater cost for freedom though. Freedom to give up those you love the most. Our military spouses are asked to give up their marriages during depoyments. Parents are asked to give up their children and children asked to give up their parents in the fight for freedom. Sometimes these sacrifices are the hardest to bear.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac in a “make it or break it” episode of the origins of our faith. Someone once told me that if it had been Sarah instead of Abraham, she never would have done it. There were two unique aspects of this sacrifice though. First of all, God did not make Abraham kill Isaac, but held him back at the last minute. Secondly, God ended up getting Isaac anyway. You see, unlike the other gods of the time, YHWH did not want his people killed. He wanted them to live for Him. As Paul writes in Romans, God desires living sacrifices, not dead ones.

Yet He still desires those sacrifices. Why? Sacrifice is just a fancy word for very costly payment, and payment to someone is one of the biggest ways we show value for who they are or what they do. We give them (ideally) something of equal value to what we have received. God had miraculously given Isaac to Abraham. The only thing that Abraham could possibly give back of similar value, was Isaac. It may seem unusual to return the very gift you have been given to the Giver of that gift, but that was largely what this sacrifice Abraham made was about.

We are called to do the same. Whatever God gives us, we give it back to Him. When he gives us love, we give it back to Him. When He gives us material blessings, we give it back to Him. When He gives us new life, we give it back to Him. When we do this, God transforms our sacrifice into something that not only blesses us, but blesses everyone else as well. Will you keep your blessings to yourself, allowing them over time to become idols in between you and God, or will you give them to God, allowing Him to bless the world through them?

What has God given you?

What is God calling you to give back to Him?


  1. (Heb 11:17–19)

Home

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Home

Genesis 26:23-25

From there he went up to Beer-sheba. And that very night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So he built an altar there, called on the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

Luke 17:1-4

Some Sayings of Jesus1

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

For the most part, homes are made, not found. It is the result of every one of us having unique wants and needs, and the very small chance that we will be able to find those things. Typically one of two things occurs. Either 1) We change our needs and wants to match our surroundings better, i.e. adapt to our surroundings, or 2) we change our surroundings to fit our wants and needs. The experience of “home” does not occur without sacrifice and work.

Home is part of God’s plan for us, a very big part in fact. God created a garden home for Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-2. In Genesis 3, their punishment for disobeying God was getting kicked out of that home. In Genesis 4, Cain’s punishment for killing his brother Abel was that he would be a wanderer and never have a home. Home is an essential part of who we are.

Isaac found home after a long journey in the place where God met him and blessed him. Those four powerful words “Do not be afraid.” would shape his own life and generations after him. The place we are not afraid is the place we make our home.

We seek home and we are willing to fight for our home if necessary. It is a sacred thing to us. But there are rules to living in it and keeping it. These rules, for Christians in particular, have to do with maintaining a relationship with God and with each other. First, Jesus reminds us that we live with others and it is our responsibility to teach them the truth. Anyone who lies to others, especially those younger in the faith, or no Christians at all, is not acting in accordance to God’s will. Setting others up to fail is not to be tolerated. Failing ourselves is one thing, but trying to entice others to fall is unacceptable. We are to be stepping blocks, not stumbling blocks.

What do we do when we or others mess up around us? Jesus tells us that we have to forgive. The only two requirements Jesus gives for staying in Christian community is to repent of wrongdoing and to forgive others when they repent as well. This Christian community is to create a tension within our lives that actively pulls us away from the rest of the world, the same way home always draws us back. For that to happen though, we have to follow both of those foundational rules. If we do not repent of wrongdoing, but tolerate it within ourselves and others, home loses safety and sanctity and soon ceases to be home at all. If we fail to forgive, home quickly loses its attraction, and while we may have fond memories and sentiments of it, we are no longer allowed there once we mess up. And we all mess up. Again, without forgiveness, it really ceases to be home.

The best Christian communities are not made of perfect people. They are made of sinners who know they cannot fully repent on their own, so they seek the help of others who will encourage them, rather than cause them to stumble further. These Christian communities are building heavenly homes here in our broken world.

Where do you consider home to be?

What makes that place truly home for you?

How are you helping to share that home with others?


  1. (Mt 18:6–9; Mk 9:42–48)

Eyes

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Eyes

2 Chronicles 20:5-12

Jehoshaphat’s Prayer and Victory

Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, “O Lord, God of our ancestors, are you not God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In your hand are power and might, so that no one is able to withstand you. Did you not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham? They have lived in it, and in it have built you a sanctuary for your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before you, for your name is in this house, and cry to you in our distress, and you will hear and save.’ See now, the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession that you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Galatians 5:7-12

You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul… but they are much more than that. Our eyes direct us. They direct our hearts. We look to the desires of our hearts. They direct our wills. We set our eyes upon on our goals. They direct our feet as most of the time we have to watch where we are going. Because they do all of these things, they direct our souls as well. Even the blind often direct unseeing eyes towards these things.

In our 3 dimensional world, we have many ways of leaving a path. One step just one degree to the right or left is not much and might pass unnoticed. That same shift kept up for 50 steps though can move us entirely off the path. Perhaps after 100 steps we are lost and can no longer see the path at all. We measure these turns and navigate the paths we take with our eyes.

Israel, in their near-sighted hindsight believed that it was God who commanded them not to destroy the nations that surrounded them in their 40 years in the wilderness, and therefore, in the days of King Jehoshaphat, those nations had amassed armies great enough to wipe them out. That is a bit of a twisted perspective of what had happened there, and perhaps a little bit of a political maneuver by the leadership – throwing the blame and responsibility upon God rather than taking any responsibility themselves.

The book of Numbers tells of 40 years that Israel wandered the wilderness among these nations, not because God would not let Israel conquer them, but because Israel had refused to conquer the Canaanites in the Promised Land and did not trust God that He would help them do it. It was not God, but their own fear that held them back. In the wilderness, they were to re-learn to trust God again… every day, for forty years. Each day, God fed them bread from heaven and quail to eat. He gave them water in the desert. He did everything to take care of them, until the children of the wilderness grew up and trusted God enough to conquer the Promised Land. They had their eyes on God.

Generations later, those nations were still there and rising up against Israel, just like they had in the wilderness. If Israel had learned their lesson and passed it on to the future generations, they would have realized that nothing had changed about their situation. But until the enemy started knocking on their doors, Israel did not realize how far off the path they had gotten themselves. It was then, Chronicles tells us, that they turned their eyes back on God, where they should have been all along.

Paul struggled immensely with this same problem in the Early Church. He started these Christian communities on the foundation of God’s grace as a free gift offered to all. But not long after he left these communities, others would come and convince them that they were not good enough… that more needed to be done to earn God’s favor. They took their eyes off God and put them on themselves and their own selfish desires. In doing so, they began to leave the path, step by step, until they could not find it again. It broke Paul’s heart to hear of these things, and much of his writing in the New Testament is there to remind those first Christians, just like the prophets reminded Israel, to turn their eyes back to God.

Where are your eyes today?

What do the places you are looking say about the state of your heart, mind, soul, and places you are going?

Forgiveness

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Forgiveness

Micah 7:18–20

God’s Compassion and Steadfast Love

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity

and passing over the transgression

of the remnant of your possession?

He does not retain his anger forever,

because he delights in showing clemency.

He will again have compassion upon us;

he will tread our iniquities under foot.

You will cast all our sins

into the depths of the sea.

You will show faithfulness to Jacob

and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,

as you have sworn to our ancestors

from the days of old.

Galatians 5:2-6

The Nature of Christian Freedom

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

There has been a lot to say regarding suffering, but what about blessing? How does blessing look in the big picture?

Most blessing we receive, like suffering, touches us in unique ways on an individual level. Some receive wealth. Some are blessed with loving families. Others are blessed with honor and meaningful work. However one blessing we all receive is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a pretty common word, and although there may be a few variances in defining it, I think the basic idea communicates across our cultures fairly well. We tend to understand what it is, particularly when we see it or experience it ourselves. Our struggle tends to be knowing how often it is to be applied. Bear with me for a moment though. For the sake of seeing a bigger picture of forgiveness, let us define it as “faithful mercy”.

Forgiveness is mercy in that it is typically used to describe someone not getting what they deserve, but getting something better instead. It is injustice done for the benefit of the one who is guilty. Often, mercy is seen as something good. However, when certain people are convicted of especially distasteful crimes, we often see mercy as enabling evil people to do more evil and thwarting the cause of Justice. Mercy works against the victims of crimes, and there are times when we cannot abide that.

Forgiveness is also faithful in that, once something or someone is forgiven, it cannot be unforgiven. To go back into a state of unforgiveness after being forgiven means you were never really forgiven in the first place. It is why, in the United States, you cannot be punished for the same crime twice, nor can you be tried in the same court twice for the same accusation if you were deemed innocent. In other words, for true forgiveness to occur, there is no reconsidering. You can be found guilty of new crimes, to be sure, but you cannot be unforgiven. This concept, applied to all sins over all time, is where some bible scholars have concluded that you are either saved for eternity or not saved at all, because they do not believe God judges us on individual actions, but only our life as a whole. I’m not totally convinced of that myself. However, I do believe that if God forgives you for something, He will not unforgive that sin later on down the road.

There is probably no greater blessing that we receive that compares with God’s forgiveness, His faithful mercy, extended to us.1 However, there is something that might be even greater. Our taste of God’s forgiveness comes with an expectation. I’m being careful to avoid the concept of “price tag” because the concept of price implies that it would be possible to pay it. It is not. The issue is not that we cannot work to earn it. It is that the resource is not money or service, it is righteousness. Righteousness is a sinless obedience that our propensity to selfishness and rebellion against God disqualifies us from. Our broken past is like a bad credit record that makes it impossible to pay for God’s favor. Forgiveness wipes out past record clean and allows us, for the first time, to actually live righteously. We don’t pay for God’s favor. He is paying for ours. The expectation God has for us is that we will extend forgiveness to others, just as He has done for us.

The result of this is a world that is transformed by faithful mercy, which transforms all who are touched by it. I believe it is one way that we fulfill Jesus’s prediction that we perform even greater things than He did while He was here on earth.

If God has payed for you favor with the life of His Son Jesus, how are you extending that favor to Him?


  1. Forgiveness is comparable to the blessing of life and creation itself, because it allows for our life to extend forever instead of being ended by death.

Choices

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Choices

Jeremiah 42:18-22

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Just as my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You shall become an object of execration and horror, of cursing and ridicule. You shall see this place no more. The Lord has said to you, O remnant of Judah, Do not go to Egypt. Be well aware that I have warned you today that you have made a fatal mistake. For you yourselves sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says, tell us and we will do it.’ So I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. Be well aware, then, that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go and settle.”

Mathew 10:5-23

The Mission of the Twelve1

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Coming Persecutions2

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

Sometimes it feels like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place and I’m going to lose no matter what happens.Have you ever felt that way? These are some of my points of lowest motivation for following God instead of my own selfish desires. I mean, if the result is going to be the same anyway, why does it matter?

That is a hard place to be in and an even harder place to speak to, when you are not in it yourself. The Chalmers Center has a book called When Helping Hurts that describes ways that our attempts to speak into and intervene in the lives of those caught in tough places often ends up doing more harm than good. If you are not in one of those places but know someone who is, be sure to get your facts straight before barging in with a cure-all for their woes… because, the truth is, it really does matter.

It matters whether we are suffering as a consequence of our own disobedience or if we are suffering for obeying God. It matters in the moment because suffering out of obedience is suffering that takes on meaning. It shows the world its own corruption and brokenness. Prophets face persecution for their faithfulness because a world that wanted to hear what they had to say would not need them to say it. Their role is to stand in between unfaithful people and a God demanding justice, the unstoppable force and the immovable object, and to mediate between them. Most prophets do not survive the task, but their work is honored and their suffering brings healing to those around them. On the other hand, God uses our disobedience as well. If we will not be lifted up as a good example, He will use us as the bad example. He has His ways of getting the point across whether we want to go along or not.

The choices we have before us each day are really not as much about suffering or comfort, which we have less control of than we think. They are about honor and shame. That may not mean as much to you today, but if you look at the big picture, it may mean a lot tomorrow. Honor opens doors. Shame closes them. Doors you may not even see yet. It is why we tell our students to study and get good grades, knowing it will take years of their life away from friends, family, making money, and many other pursuits they may have. There is nothing inherently valuable about a good grade. In fact, most of our grades will never be looked at by people other than our parents and teachers. But they will open doors to places of honor that would otherwise be unattainable when we get to those paths down the road. That is the difference between a rock and a hard place.

What difficult choices do you have to make today?

What guidance is God giving you?


  1. (Mk 6:6b—13; Lk 9:1–6)
  2. (Mk 13:9–13; Lk 21:12–17)

Tests

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Tests

Psalm 86

Supplication for Help against Enemies

A Prayer of David.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,

for I am poor and needy.

Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;

save your servant who trusts in you.

You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,

for to you do I cry all day long.

Gladden the soul of your servant,

for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,

abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;

listen to my cry of supplication.

In the day of my trouble I call on you,

for you will answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,

nor are there any works like yours.

All the nations you have made shall come

and bow down before you, O Lord,

and shall glorify your name.

For you are great and do wondrous things;

you alone are God.

Teach me your way, O Lord,

that I may walk in your truth;

give me an undivided heart to revere your name.

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,

and I will glorify your name forever.

For great is your steadfast love toward me;

you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

O God, the insolent rise up against me;

a band of ruffians seeks my life,

and they do not set you before them.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Turn to me and be gracious to me;

give your strength to your servant;

save the child of your serving girl.

Show me a sign of your favor,

so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,

because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Revelation 2:8-11

The Message to Smyrna

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:

“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.”

Most people like or hate taking tests based on the amount of confidence they have in the subject and, conversely, their anxiety level. As confidence drops, anxiety rises, and the body goes into fight or flight mode. You can’t fight a test, so thoughts of fear and failure arise, often becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. We believe we will fail so we act and think in ways that go along with failure… and then we fail. It is all a downhill slide.

Sometimes the tough times in life come at us as tests of our faith and endurance. That is important to remember because sometimes we get the idea that it is either punishment for something we have done wrong, or a sign that God simply quit caring for us. Both of these are mistakes because they lose sight of the grace of God completely. If we cannot see the grace of God, we are probably not looking at the big picture. God sees our suffering, and does not delight in it. He does, however, redeem it.

Why bother with tests? Isn’t there a better way God can find out what He needs to know? Actually I don’t believe the tests we go through have anything to do with what God needs to know. I think the tests are for our benefit not His. Take Smyrna for example. They were among the poorest and most persecuted of the Christian communities in Asia Minor during the first century. Yet when God looked upon them, He saw riches and conquerors. The tests word for then, so they could see their riches and their conquering faith themselves. We are not aware of who we are or what we have until we have been tested. In the end, I truly believe we will see that, from the big picture, it is all a gift.

How have you been tested this week?

Endurance

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Endurance

Genesis 16:1-6

The Birth of Ishmael

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.

The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her,

“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;

you shall call him Ishmael,

for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.

He shall be a wild ass of a man,

with his hand against everyone,

and everyone’s hand against him;

and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”

So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Revelation 2: I-7

The Message to Ephesus

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”

Today I am preparing for week 2 of Vacation Bible School. This evening will commence the second three-day extravaganza where we open the doors of the church to children in the neighborhood and invite them in to experience the love of Jesus in an age-appropriate fashion. For those of you who have helped lead VBS before, you know both the excitement and the exhaustion of it, because, lets just be honest: it is often easier to love, serve, and teach slower moving adults.

This word today is not for church workers though. It is for the parents of those children we only borrow for a few hours each week. We, the church, do not raise your children and so the depth of that task is left to you. Yes we may be dealing with 100 others just like your child all at once, but you handle the joys and heartaches day in and day out, and that takes a special kind of endurance.

Can you imagine being in Hagar’s position. Having just given birth out of wedlock at her mistresses request and then thrown out to die in the wilderness with her newborn child. God came and comforted her, provided for her, but her trial was not over. It was just beginning. It’s one thing to get a behavioral diagnosis of your child from a relative or teacher, or even a doctor. It is quite another to hear it from God.

He shall be a wild ass of a man,

with his hand against everyone,

and everyone’s hand against him;

and he shall live at odds with all his kin.

That’s not a good diagnosis. It’s not something a parent wants to hear about their child. It puts gray on your head fast. Yet this “wild child” would receive a similar blessing as Isaac… an uncountable multitude of offspring. His name, like Abraham, Isaac , and Jacob, would be known across the ages. In some ways it is even more remarkable because Ishmael and Hagar both quickly fade from the story here, yet their legacy lives on today.

I believe God gave the Ephesians the key to that endurance needed to follow Him and embrace the call He has on our life. He told the church at Ephesus to remember the love you had at first. There will be days when you will want to give your child back to God. It is those days that you most need to remember how tiny and helpless they were when they were first born… And how humbled you were to be given the task of raising them, that task does not get easier over time. It grows with them. God calls us to repent from our wounded pride and remember the gifts God has given us and that it is only by His provision that we make it through each day. We endure by placing our trust in Him.

Where do you struggle with endurance?