Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Genesis 16:13-14

Genesis 16:13-14: Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “Thou art a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

Hagar recognizes the angel as being from God. In the earlier passage the angel indicated he was not to be confused with the Lord as he said, “Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.” Yet, here, Hagar, speaks directly to God who sent the messenger and says, “You are a God who sees.” He sees individuals; He sees needs; He sees our sins and weaknesses; He sees the future. Like Hagar, we can call out to Him and acknowledge, “He is a God who sees.” Not to do so, we miss out on His omnipotence that can be applied to our lives and in our times of distress.

Now Hagar asks herself the following question, “Is it possible that who I just saw was not an angel, but God Himself? And if so, is it possible that I did that and am still alive?” Two things are of interest here. We see no reference in the passage (from vs. 7 forward) that the angel actually “appeared” to Hagar. It is possible therefore, that the angel was always behind her or, because she indicated seeing something, that she only saw the angel’s back. If so, she may have seen God to that extent. Secondly, it is interesting that Hagar becomes the first one as far as scripture is concerned to recognize somehow that seeing the face of God could mean death. Nothing in Genesis so far implies that idea.

Hagar there and then decides to somehow eternalize the fact that God sees us, and her in particular, as she names the well where she was visited by an angel. She calls it Beer-lahai-roi, which in Hebrew means “well of the Living One seeing me.” What historical element do we have in our own experience – some great event, perhaps some treasured artifact that brings back a memory of a time in our lives when we knew without a doubt that the all-seeing God was and is, and that He sees us?

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Eight Days of (Christless) Christmas!

My Eight Days of (Christless) Christmas!

By Ken Godevenos

I know it’s been around for years for the majority of the world. I just kept refusing to accept it as part of “my world” and this year I gave up. Here are just some of things that led up to this stark revelation and decision in my own life in 2007:

December 17 – My younger daughter and I, both followers of Christ, had occasion to wish a government employee we had just done some business with best wishes at this special time of the year. I started with the usual “Merry Christmas!” The man did not look either Jewish or Muslim, so why wouldn’t I? My daughter, who often readily shares her faith with friends, echoed “Happy Holidays”. I was a little taken aback, but if I remember correctly the man responded to both of us with a “you, too; see you in the New Year”. Needless to say that incident became a topic of great discussion on the drive home. My daughter taking the position that saying “Merry Christmas” to someone who didn’t necessarily believe in Christmas or celebrate it wasn’t doing Christianity any real good. I, taking the position that wishing someone Merry Christmas (unless you knew that they weren’t Christian) wasn’t about converting anyone, but rather my right to maintain the privilege of freely expressing my joy of this special holiday which is mine – and it’s Christmas – and nothing short of Christmas. My daughter and I agreed to disagree on this one and she simply wrote it off as just another evidence of the generation gap between us.

December 18 – Over and over I kept asking myself where I had gone wrong with how I brought my children up and wondering what I could have done differently. Or better still, was there something I could do as a grandparent to at least save my grandchildren from similar ‘neo-think’ attitudes I was hearing.

December 19 – I attended my six-year old granddaughter’s concert. In a one hour show, mention of the real meaning of Christmas got one line as follows: “Christian families celebrate the birth of Jesus.” Hanukkah got several more references through which the actual story about the origin of the holiday was fully described. Of course, other world religions got considerable mention as well. I should have known better as the evening’s theme for the children was “December around the world.” How silly of me to think this might have actually been a Christmas concert. But what blew my (Christmas) socks off was the following utterance from one of the child narrators: “And in Canada, we celebrate Kwanzaa.”

“Really?” I asked myself. “I didn’t know that.” I decided to listen more intently and learn. It turns out that Kwanzaa is an African American harvest festival holiday observed by African communities throughout the world that celebrates family, community, and culture. It is a seven-day holiday that begins December 26 (thank God, at least they had the courtesy to start on Boxing Day and no earlier) and continues through January 1.

In particular seven principles are celebrated during Kwanzaa and the kids knew them all: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. I was really interested in the last one. My research yielded the fact that when the observers of Kwanzaa celebrate faith, they celebrate “Imani” which is defined as the need “To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.” Interesting philosophy. As I listened to the news of a 35 year father get sentenced for the crime of sexually abusing his four-year old daughter live on the internet for the sake of another man (which thankfully turned out to be an undercover agent), I can see that everybody can have ultimate faith in their parents. As I watch teachers be convicted of drug peddling, sexual activities with minors in their class, and other covert activities, I can see that everybody can have ultimate faith in their teachers. As I watch one elected official after another fail to keep the promises they made, I can see that everybody can have ultimate faith in their leaders. As I watch Palestinians and Israelis fight, or Afghanis and rebel forces kill each other, with or without the help of Americans and Canadians, I can see that everybody can have ultimate faith in the ‘righteousness and victory of (their) struggle’. Well, we still can have ultimate faith in our ‘people’. Hello, these teachers, these leaders, these fighting warriors are our people!

But in Canada and North America in general, I’m told we now celebrate Kwanzaa. By the way I wondered whether there is any connection between the word “Imani” and the Muslim faith. A little snooping around and ‘by coincidence of course’ I came up with the fact that IMAN is the acronym for the Iranian Muslim Association of North America. Interesting, but perhaps just a coincidence.

December 20 – I was still smarting from what I had experienced the night before at our public school event. My mind was most uncomfortable with it all.

December 21 – That was the day my wife received an email containing a poem. It was from a woman who was a friend of our daughters in our previous neighborhood when the kids were growing up. The woman always appreciated my wife and now that she has children of her own, has kept up a good correspondence with her. In this particular email, the woman shared, with all her friends, a poem that her own son brought home from school the other day thinking they would find it most interesting. Here’s the poem:
I Believe

Anna E Lawson

I believe in Santa Claus.
I believe that Santa Claus is a Spirit
A lovely, joyous, Christmas spirit
That roams the earth Every December,
And knocks at our hearts, And wants to come in.

Santa Claus Is a Spirit of Love.
Love for the home folks, Great love for the children,
Greater love for the lonely one, And greatest love for those who grieve.

I believe in Santa Claus.
I believe in the Spirit of Christmas.
I will open my heart To Santa Claus, The Spirit of Christmas Love.
And this Christmas I will make people happy Because – it is Christmas.

My wife’s response to her young friend speaks my own sentiment most eloquently. Here it is: “You know J, I read this poem and I appreciate the effort the author is making to bring some higher value to what has become a very consumer driven, materialistic season but as I read I felt very sad because it is Jesus Christ who is the answer to all that is wrong with the world today not Santa Claus. Jesus is the one who is Love, He doesn't just give love, He loved us so much He died for each one of us regardless of who we are or who we have become and it is Jesus Christ who stands - not just at Christmas but all year long - at the door of our hearts longing for us to let Him in to heal our hurts and give us hope and comfort. So instead of 'letting Santa Claus in' it would be so much more real and effective to see Jesus for who He really is - the Son of God who was born to live a perfect life and then die in our place to rise again so we might have everlasting life with Him through letting Him into our hearts. This is what Christmas is really all about and we have completely lost sight of this as a society and every year we pay a greater and greater price for having substituted Santa Claus for Jesus Christ. It must break the heart of God to see us so clearly reject His great love for us. Thank you for sharing this with me. It made me realize once more just how very far away from the truth our world has drifted. God bless you and may you have a meaningful Christmas.”

In fact, if you can stand to read the poem again, try substituting Jesus Christ for Santa Claus and see how well it works, except that as my wife underscored, Christ is not around just in the Decembers of our lives. If one were really cynical, one could argue that the author simply took a Christian idea and turned into a more widely acceptable universal thought. In addition, she may well have been angry at her parents, the Church, Christianity in general, or God Himself.

Here’s what my wife wrote to our children, two of them now with children of their own, as she forwarded the poem to them: “Hi, I just wanted to share this with you as an illustration of why I didn't teach you that Santa is real. I was appalled at the way this author took the spiritual language that we use in talking about salvation through Jesus Christ and applied it to a fictitious 'jolly old elf'. I did write a very nice note back to J that I will forward to you. Love you, Mommy.”

After the concert and then learning that this poem came home from school, I knew that our grandchildren didn’t have a hope in hell [a real English idiom and saying meaning ‘if something doesn’t have a hope in hell, it stands absolutely no chance of succeeding’]. Our grandchildren had no chance at succeeding in living a Christian life as they got older unless we made a point of telling them they will be different, they will be ignored, they will even be criticized, and ultimately may have to pay a penalty for what they believe.

December 22 continued – That was the day I went to do some year-end banking. The staff at my credit union is wonderful and very diverse. One or our regular tellers (of East Indian origin) was off and another delightful young lady with the same ethnicity served me. Discussion turned to the holidays and she shared with me how both she and our regular teller celebrate the Christmas holiday as well as their own faith’s festivals. She mentioned it had to do with the fact that the kids hear about and have to deal with it at school, etc., so rather than fight it, it’s easier to just join in. I indicated that religious holidays should have much more meaning than simply great times and that it is difficult for me to celebrate the holidays of other faiths, although I can perfectly understand adherents of those faiths celebrating on those occasions. The friendly Assistant Manager whom my wife and I adore piped in with “and why not; who wouldn’t want to celebrate Hanukkah for example with eight days of gift-getting?” I see – Christmas and any other year-end holiday, religious or otherwise, is now all about getting gifts.

I was getting very close to hearing the ice crack on the lake of hopes for holding out and believing if we all Christians worked hard, we could still save Christmas.

December 22 continued – The last straw arrived on my computer screen with today’s electronic news courtesy of our metropolitan paper. There was an article entitled “The naughty truth about Christmas” by Sandro Contenta (Toronto Star). It was written just for me as it began, “For those of you who think Christmas celebrations have ‘lost’ their spiritual meaning, think again. Some historians say they never really had any. When the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus, they brought luxury goods: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Loaded with symbolism, perhaps, but certainly superfluous when a blanket would have done just fine.” Ugh, get a life. At least the writer and the historian quoted accept that Jesus was born and that the three wise men did visit him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Interestingly, that’s what the Bible says. But of course, we only accept portions of Scripture that suit our goal for the day (and today it was to write a story about how Christmas never had any “piety and Christian values” in the first place. From there, the article goes on to describe just how consumer-oriented December 25th has become.

In December 2006, Canadians spent, excluding the automotive sector, $874 per capita (versus $630 each for every other month). With an improved economy, 2007 predictions are we’ll spend even more. The pollster Angus Reid (Dec. 07) found that 85 per cent of Canadians believe Christmas has lost its ‘spiritual meaning’. I wonder why? No here’s the line that gets me: “There's still plenty of love, charity and family bonding at this time of year. But the gift, and the purchase, rule. Without the iPod, the necktie, the flat screen TV or the jewelry, we're forgotten. We don't exist.” And, Contenta goes on quoting a marketing professor, “Christmas is the quintessential celebration of our entitlement to abundance. So how are you going to fight that?”
Let Contenta and his experts enlighten us further: “It certainly isn't the Christian component of the celebration that has propelled it into unlikely corners of the planet, making it what one anthropologist has called "the first global consumer holiday." And more… “Merchants have jumped on the Christmas bandwagon in Japan, Hong Kong, and northern India, and are increasingly catering to the holiday in Beijing, says Russell Belk, a marketing professor at York University. The results are sometimes curious, like the Tokyo department store that decorated its Christmas tree with red women's panties or the one that displayed a crucified Santa Claus. . . . the holiday's Christian context is lost on most people . . . interviewed there. They see it as a piece of modernity, as a part of the West."
Contenta continues: “A new documentary, What Would Jesus Buy?, chronicles a mock evangelical leader in the U.S. trying to exorcise the "shopocalypse" from the holiday spirit. Planetary doom aside, there's no evidence that rapacity and increased wealth has made us happier, according to polling data of the past 50 years complied by Richard Layard, a leading British economist. He quotes Karl Marx to make his point: "A house may be large or small; as long as the surrounding houses are equally small, it satisfies all social demands for a dwelling. But if a palace rises beside the little house, the little house shrinks into a hut." And yet, despite the righteous doom and gloom, the excessive behavior feels right.”
Now, listen to this next part – it’s critical and it’s for all intents and purposes, written about Christians and our holiday, by non-Christians. Here it is almost verbatim:
"I don't think Christmas has ever been primarily celebrated as a Christian holiday," says historian Stephen Nissenbaum, author of the acclaimed book, The Battle for Christmas.
"Christmas has never been controlled by Christians. It has never been Christianized. They didn't control it when it was carnival and misrule, and they don't control it now that it's corporate capitalism," he says. To a certain extent, some Christian churches have only themselves to blame for complaints of how Christmas is celebrated.

“The trouble began early in the 4th century, when the Roman church picked Dec. 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, although nothing in the Bible suggests that date. The church was piggybacking on a well-established festive period. The pagan midwinter festival in ancient Roman times, Saturnalia, celebrated a time of abundance. The harvest was in, the new wine and beer was ready to drink, and the air was cold enough for animals to be slaughtered and meat preserved.

"What you've got is a combination of an unusual amount of leisure time, because the men had finished their work, and plenty of food and drink. That's a very combustible mix – and it combusted," says Nissenbaum, a professor at the University of Massachusetts. The result was several days of wild outdoor partying in late December, what Nissenbaum says might today strike us as a sexually charged blend of Mardi Gras, Halloween and New Year's Eve. Fuelling the revelry was a tradition of freeing some slaves during the festivities and allowing others to make demands on their masters – a ritual social inversion acting as a safety valve that reinforced the master-slave relationship the rest of the year, Nissenbaum says. The festivities struck even some contemporary observers as a bit excessive, according to The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, by University of Manitoba historian Gerry Bowler. It quotes the 4th-century Greek pagan Sophist, Libanius: "The impulse to spend seizes everyone. He who the whole year through has taken pleasure in saving and piling up his money becomes suddenly extravagant."

“Bowler notes King John of England's grocery list in 1213 for his Christmas festivities: 3,000 capons; 1,000 salted eels; 400 hogs; 100 pounds of almonds; and 24 casks of wine. Bowler adds that in 1861, the 50 inhabitants of a fort in northern Canada consumed 105 gallons of rum and brandy in one week. Piggybacking on existing cultural festivals was one way Christian churches spread their religion across Europe. But it meant grappling with the festivals' customs.

“In the 17th century, Puritans, who had long seen the holiday as a Catholic manifestation, concluded that attempts to tame or "Christianize" Christmas had failed. They managed to get Christmas banned for several years in England and Massachusetts, which was then an English colony. The holiday returned in the 1660s, picking up a tradition of "wassailing," which in New England involved drunken bands of men banging on the doors of the rich, demanding entry and singing songs in return for food and alcohol. "It was a rough version of caroling," Nissenbaum says. "It made for a lot of tense interaction."

“The modern version of Christmas, Nissenbaum argues, began in New York in the early 19th century. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the rich were beginning to segregate themselves in exclusive neighborhoods. More than ever, they wanted to end wassailing, which by then exhibited overtones of class conflict. A group of wealthy, reactionary members of the New York Historical Society launched a campaign to domesticate Christmas, Nissenbaum says. Their most powerful tool was The Night Before Christmas, a poem written in 1822 by one of the group's members, Clement Moore.
The widely reprinted poem – with images of children snug in their beds, stockings hung by the chimney, and a reindeer-riding, chimney-squeezing, gift-bearing St. Nicholas – became the roadmap for taking Christmas from the wilds of the outdoors to the family-centred serenity of the indoors. "That poem was the basic transformation that produced Santa Claus as we know him and Christmas as we know it," Nissenbaum says.

“Santa's gift-giving role paralleled the strengthening of childhood as a distinctive phase of development, particularly with the advent of mass education. Until childhood's "invention," children were largely seen as miniature adults. Merchants were quick to capitalize on the trends, using the Santa Claus image to lure customers and advertise presents for children by the 1830s. A decade later, men dressed as Santa Claus are in the big shops of New York and Philadelphia. He first enters a Canadian store in New Brunswick in the 1870s. "As soon as the Christmas ritual became privatized, domesticated and child-centred, it also became commercial," Nissenbaum says.

“New York began cracking down on street rowdiness, particularly after an 1827 Christmas riot where wassailers invaded houses, tore up fences and broke up religious services. New York's first police force was formed a year later, permits were required to parade the streets, and rowdy Christmas behavior was criminalized. By the 1840s, the United States was in a depression and newspaper editorials began encouraging people to shop at Christmas to improve the economy. Complaints about what to buy people who have everything were already common. Christmas as we know it – domesticated, family-centred and commercialized – was firmly in place by the 1840s.”

December 23 – The first thing that comes to my head after rereading the above article is this: “If that is true, why then do we as Christians, with the encouragement of our churches, continue to celebrate what clearly is not a Christian holiday?”

In response, my mind yields arguments like these: “why can’t we use it to gain access to those that yet have not heard of Christ?” Or, “it’s a great way to introduce Christianity to our own children.” Or, “too great a portion of our own constituency, that is the merchants among us, depend so much on it for their economic survival now.” Or, “we can’t admit we made a mistake now.” And so on.

December 24 – The family starts to arrive for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner at our house. For the third year now, we enjoy several fresh lobsters that the children enjoy boiling themselves. Everyone stays over so we can be together to open our presents Christmas morning. And then the thought hits me: “Am I being a hypocrite?”

How can I justify doing what I’m doing knowing what I know and feeling what I feel? Do I blurt it out loud – so loud in fact that my eldest daughter and family who could not be with us this year hears me down in South Carolina? What will the children really think? Then there’s my church and the mission I help oversee. What will they think? Can I find another way out?

I agonize the rest of the day. Thank God, while Santa Claus is making his rounds, I have the night to think it out clearly. I retire for the night while my darling fills everyone’s stockings placed so wonderfully on the hearth. This year our eldest granddaughter has taken the trouble of putting the appropriate names on each stocking just in case anyone gets mixed up. The two oldest children know that Santa Claus is really either daddy or me. The three younger ones aren’t there yet. I can’t sleep. I roll over and catch a glimpse of the clock – 3:10 a.m. I can’t believe it.

December 25 – There never is a need to set the alarm for Christmas morning anymore. My wife is always up early making sure everything is just right. Sometimes she wins the race of who gets down to the tree first and sometimes the grandchildren get there first.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to work it all out in mind. I’m called downstairs. I dress with trepidation. I know there’s an expectation to join in the festivities with real zeal. Children and grandchildren have a real ability to detect ‘acting’ in their parents, never mind straight disinterest. I give my head a shake and wish everyone a Merry Christmas as I commence collecting my kisses from each one. But my mind is still going like crazy.

The traditional Christmas Story is read from one of the Gospels in the New Testament. And then with the help of the youngest grandchild capable of helping, the Christmas gifts are distributed. My paper company stock rises as we collect two or more green plastic garbage bags full of wrapping paper, tags and bows. The joy is excruciating for several minutes that hour. And slowly, one gift after another gets abandoned as something new steals the attention of most of the receivers.

It’s almost seven in the evening. The festivities are over. Some of the family has moved on to the other side of the relations; others have gone home; and some want to stay another night. All are accommodated with love.

So, what then did I decide about Christmas? Glad you asked. Let me present you with my new Christless Christmas Manifesto:

1. I believe Christians joined the festivals of their culture many years ago with every good intention.
2. I know we celebrate the birth of Christ at the wrong time of the year.
3. I know we overdo the gift receiving and giving thing.
4. I know many Christian merchants depend on Christmas for their part of their livelihood.
5. I know Satan has via Santa Claus and other aspects of Christmas, been able to completely deplete it of any Christian religious meaning it may have picked up during its existence; but then again, why shouldn’t he for it wasn’t our holiday from the start.
6. I admit all of the above; but I will still continue to celebrate it because I do believe that Christ can be shared effectively with many during this period.
7. I will continue, because there is yet no law against Christmas and truth, to stand up for what I believe at all costs, including the following:
a. My right to say Merry Christmas whenever I feel like it and to anyone I feel like, save and except those I know are practicing Jews or Muslims or from some other know faith which categorically rejects Christianity.
b. My right to teach my children that Santa Claus is not real and to tell my grandchildren what I believe if and when they ask me. (I am also not responsible what they tell their friends.)
c. My right to remind people that Christmas still has both a religious and Christian meaning for many.
d. My right to object to non-Christians imposing their values on the Christmas holiday; let them use their own for such purposes.
e. My right to try and convince my fellow Christian brothers and sisters of what I believe the Christian church has to accept as being true about Christmas and how and where we may have gone wrong.
8. Finally, I will pray for Christ’s return to earth to bring an end to all this mess we have created because of our own sinfulness.

Going Forward – I think it is time for Christ followers to somehow re-establish their special ownership of Christmas. I believe we were successful when we reclaimed Easter from the Easter Bunny and the commercialism surrounding that holiday. We did it with our own very special greeting to replace what has become the world’s “happy Easter”. We started saying, “Christ is Risen” and fellow Christians would reply, “He is Risen Indeed.” Granted, we are said to have taken our lead in that from the first-century Christians and thus it was a natural for us.

But maybe we can do the same thing with Christmas – 21st century Christians can make a new greeting their very own and those that follow after us can consider it a natural in the years to come if the actualization of our greeting’s response has not yet happened. Here it is. . .

Next time someone says, “Merry Christmas”, try saying “Christ has come!” And when eventually others start saying that to you, respond with “And will come again!” That in a nutshell is the true message of Christmas. In that simple exchange of greetings Christians can somehow reclaim the holiday named after their Lord and Savior. Let us become “good Grinches” for the sake of the Baby.

And by the way, “Christ has come!” To which, I’m sure you can reply, “And is coming again!”

Ken B. Godevenos, Newmarket, Ontario, 2007

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Genesis 16:11-12

Genesis 16:11-12: The angel of the Lord said to her further, “Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. And he will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”

Hagar knew she was pregnant and didn’t need the angel of the Lord to tell her. But isn’t it nice to know that God knows what’s going on in our lives. And then God adds His additional knowledge to the situation; the angel tells her she shall have a son.

Life is like that. We know some things, but not all things. We experience the ‘today’ of our lives and have hope for, or fear of, the ‘tomorrow’. But God knows both today and tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. He does not get surprised. A friend of mine lost his job recently and the best advice that a mutual friend of ours could give him was this: “You know, God did not look upon the world this morning and say, ‘Oh, look, Nelson (not his real name), lost his job. How did that happen?’ No, God knew from the beginning of time that you would lose your job at this time and that was in His plans for you. Find out about those plans and run with them.”

That’s what you need to do when unexpected things happen to you. Realize that they were not unexpected for God but rather they were in His plans for you. Find out more about those plans and run with them. It’s the best thing that can ever happen to you.

The angel also tells her that she will call the son Ishmael. Now, that’s interesting itself. Can you imagine someone telling a young mother today in our culture what to call her baby? I know that parents, in-laws, and sometimes husbands do not get much of a say in that regard. When my wife and I had children, there was a protocol to follow. Usually in my Greek background, boys would be given their paternal (second sons, their maternal) grandfather’s name and their father’s name as their second name. Girls would be given their maternal (or paternal) grandmother’s name and take on their own mother’s name as their second name. It could get quite confusing if there were several siblings having children around the same time and certainly confusing from generation to generation. But that was expected. Today, research indicates that the rich and famous give their children less common names – usually of movie stars. Then that becomes very vogue and the masses start to imitate them, which makes the uniqueness of the name lose its value and it falls out of grace.

But in Hagar’s day, a young woman who was used to hearing about God from her master Abram would have no problem obeying the angel of the Lord when it came to naming her child at birth. Interestingly, the unborn child’s name is based on the mother’s life. Ishmael means “God hears or has heard” with reference of course to Hagar’s woes in life. We should not miss the symbolism of this (i.e. the name of the child being tied to the mother’s experience). Children are a gift from God and if we allow ourselves to see them as such, we will realize that they often come just at the time that we need some new hope, a new start, a closer relationship with the Creator.

Yet, even that blessing sometimes comes with the understanding that there will be challenges ahead and the road will not always be as smooth as we would like it to be. This new son of Hagar’s will be, she was told, a “wild donkey of a man”. He will always be fighting against everyone else and everyone else will be fighting him. Not the greatest news a mother-to-be wants to hear about her son yet to be born. Still scripture says that this son is intended to be God’s response to Hagar’s afflictions. In circumstances like these, we have to trust God and wait for life to unfold as He planned it for us.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Prayer for Dad

Recently my daughter, Esther, sent along this "Prayer for Dad" to my wife. It was originally written (save and except for revisions to include references to her dad) by Stormie Omartian. It is very moving to know that people who love me actually pray this way for me. You, in turn, may find it of value for someone you love:

"Lord, I pray that my father will have a reputation that is untarnished. I know that a man is often valued 'by what others say of him' (Proverbs 27:21), so I pray that he will be respected in our town and people will speak highly of him. You've said in Your Word that "a curse wihtout casue shall not alight" (Proverbs 26:2b). I pray that there would never be any reason for bad things to be said of him. Keep him out of legal entanglements. Protect him from lawsuits and criminal proceedings. Deliver him from his enemies, O God. Defend him from those who rise up to do him harm. (Psalms 59:1) In You, O Lord, we put our trust. Let us never be put to shame. (Psalms 71:1) If You are for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

"Your Word says that "a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire." (Matthew 7:18,19) I pray that my father will bear good fruit out of the goodness that is within him, and that he will be known by the good that his does. May the fruits of honesty, trustworthiness, and humility sweetenall of his dealings so that his reputatin will never be spoiled.

"Preserve his life frm the enemy, hide him from the secret counsel of the wicked. Pull him out of any net which has been laid for him (Psalm 31:4). Keep him safe from the evil of gossiping mouths. Where there has been ill spoken of him, touch the lips of those who speak it with Your refining fire. Let the respnsibility of those involved by revealed. Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion who seek to destroy his life; let them be driven backward and brought to dishonour who wish him evil. (Psalms 40:14) May he trust in YUou and not be afraid of what man can do to him. (Psalms 56:11) For You have said whoever believes in You will not be put to shame. (Romans 10:11) Led him, guide him, and be his might fortress and hiding place. May his light so shine before men that they see his good works and glorify You, Lord. (Matthew 5:16)"

Thank you, daughter. Thank you, Lord. May each of my readers enjoy the blessings that this prayer can bring on their own lives.

Until next time,

Ken B. Godevenos

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Genesis 16:10 -- A Promise to Hagar?

Genesis 16:10: Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendents so that they shall be too many to count.”

Wait a minute. Is not this the kind of promise that God made to Abram in Genesis 15:5? And we know that that promise was to come through Abram and Sarai, not Hagar. Yet, God’s Angel is now telling Hagar that her descendents will be “too many to count”.

Hagar was asked to return to her mistress and submit to her authority and we can only assume that she was willing, knowing it was the right thing to do. Now the Angel encourages her in that most difficult task by sharing the mercy God will show her and her offspring for generations to come.

Was God putting less emphasis on His original plan like politicians who change their minds? No. What about His original promise to Abram? It still stands. Was the plan changing? No. Why did God do that? We don’t know. We can only surmise and many have done just that.

I like to think that how God treated Hagar is just one more indication or foretelling of how He planned to treat the world beyond Abram and his seed. One thing we know for sure and that is that Abram could not go to God and complain about the fact that a similar promise was made to Hagar.

None of us have the right to see others get less of a blessing if God so chooses to bless them. God will keep His promises to us, but He has the right to make similar promises and blessings on others, even with fewer conditions attached. That’s a lesson many of us do not easily accept.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Hagar; Fleeing: Genesis 16:7-9

Genesis 16:7-9: Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.”

Do you ever feel like ‘fleeing’? Hagar did and she fled. When you consider the culture of the day, Hagar had done no wrong in her willingness to be a surrogate mother for her mistress and master. She fled out of fear. She could not flee from God, however. The text says that the “angel of the Lord” found her. Hagar, carrying a child in her womb, fled Abram’s camp and traveled in the hot surrounding desert. Even there, God had arranged for a spring of water to meet her needs and He sent His angel to provide her His guidance.

There is no doubt in my mind that the angel knew exactly where Hagar had come from and where Hagar was going. Think about it. He was sent on a mission to meet up with “Hagar, Sarai’s maid” for that is what he called her. So, as a minimum, he knew where she was coming from. But still, he asks her the question he did. Sometimes before God can help us the way we need to be helped, we need to fully personally recognize and admit the situation we’re in. We need to realize what we have done or where we are in our life. We need to realize that we are beyond our own ability to resolve the situation and that the only One who could help us is God. Hagar answered the question openly and honestly.

Now here’s the most interesting part of these three verses: the Angel gave her advice that I am confident she likely did not want to hear. He told her to do two things. First, return to her mistress. That was bad enough. How could she do that knowing how her mistress felt about her? That was going to be tough. But wait, there’s more. The Angel told her to not only go back to her mistress, but to “submit herself to her mistress’s authority.” Wow. Can you believe it? No way, she would like that.

Is not that often the way God deals with us when we flee. He tells us to go back and then He tells us to submit. “God, that takes a bigger person than me!” No, if Hagar the maid can do it, you and I can do it. And besides, as Christians, we have recognized where we are in our lives. We know we cannot do it alone. God is willing to help and He is the best at what He does. So, now why do we fight that advice. How foolish can that be? Sure, it’s tough medicine but it’s the only thing that will fix the problem properly. And after all, let’s admit it, we knew all along, before God ‘found’ us in our state, that this advice in our case, as in Hagar’s, was in fact exactly what was both needed and right. Funny how things work when you’re dealing with God and His ways.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Laymen's Commentary: Genesis 16:6

Genesis 16:6: But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.”

Abram had a chance here to shine, but he doesn’t. This reminds us a bit of Adam and his failure to act as the true spiritual head of the household that God had intended him to be. Not only did he join Eve in her sin but later worked with her in the attempted cover-up. Here, Abram, who because he went along with Sarai’s interference of God’s means and timing for the fulfilling of His promise, now succumbs to her complaining and anger, and gives in to her again with respect to how Hagar should be treated. One mistake that results in sin often leads to a second mistake.

Abram tells Sarai that since Hagar is her maid, she could do with her as she would like. What surprises me in this passage is that Abram possibly expected Sarai to “do to her what is good”. But the text doesn’t end there. It goes on to say “in your sight.” There is a big difference between doing “what is right” and “doing what is right in your sight”. Man often does the latter when instead he should be checking to see what is right in more absolute terms – that is, what is right in the sight of God.

I often think of years past when I would say to each of our three children at different times, “the matter is yours to decide, but whatever you do, check with God to see that it would be pleasing to Him.” As I look back, all three, who now have families of their own, have made some pretty solid decisions in their lives. I believe that condition for making decisions that my wife and I would often remind them of, helped in that regard. And it still guides Chrysogon and I as we live our lives as husband and wife, parents, grandparents, friends, employers, and members of a Christian community. Because He is a God of creativity, surprise, and unending resources, we may not always know the exact thing He would do in any given circumstance, but we would be a lot closer to it if we simply checked our options against His principles.

With her husband’s resolve, Sarai did exactly what was good “in her sight”. The Bible says she treated Hagar harshly. So much so, that Hagar left the camp and fled from her mistress’s presence. And in so doing, left Abram as well, the father of the child she was carrying.

Whether this should or should not have been the case, given what had happened, is not for us to decide. One thing is for sure, God allowed it. The issue, however, is whether God allowed it because that is what He wanted or whether He allowed it because that was an outcome of the way someone doing what was right in her own sight, did. In addition, we’re also faced once again with the question of whether the ‘means’ justifies the ‘ends’ when it comes to our behavior. Treating someone harshly by definition (with synonyms like cruelly, unsympathetically, insensitively, callously, and ruthlessly) is never a justifiable means to any ends that a child of God should be involved in.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Laymen's Commentary: Genesis 16:5

Genesis 16:5: And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms; but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

In the previous verse we learn that Hagar, now carrying her master’s child, despises her master’s wife. Sarai, using her strong sense of “something’s up” quickly becomes aware of the situation. We cannot presume what Hagar’s behavior was really like with respect to her carrying Abram’s child, but we do know she somehow publicly exhibited her newly found dislike for Sarai, otherwise how would Sarai know and why would she have been upset? It is also possible that Hagar no longer wants to be simply a handmaiden to Sarai. After all, she was now better than Sarai in her mind as she was able to conceive with Abram, something her mistress could not do.

In that context, Sarai begins to fume and approaches her husband, Abram. In so doing, we have no record of her asking any questions or giving Abram an opportunity to correct any perceptions or misperceptions that Sarai may be having. Nor does she instruct him to go and “straighten that young lady out”. Instead, she attacks her husband as the responsible party for her injury (“may the wrong done me be upon you”) when in fact Abram was simply trying to follow his wife’s instructions in sleeping with Hagar. And if that wasn’t enough, she now appeals to God to judge between herself and Abram with respect to where the fault lies. Clearly, in her mind, he likely preferred Hagar, being younger and being able to conceive, to Sarai, and thus encouraged the handmaiden to despise his wife. She forgot that she plotted to “help God along” by encouraging others (her husband and her handmaiden) to indulge in sin for her purposes.

God has a method He sometimes uses in our lives to show us our errors that isn’t always easy to accept. Sometimes He causes us to suffer by the very people we have ‘used’ in carrying out our sins. Hollywood depicts this quite regularly when a partner in crime turns against the major bad guy. In Greek drama it was a form of ‘poetic justice’.

Most of us observing this behavior that Sarai is exhibiting here would likely consider it bizarre that someone as guilty as she was, would now quarrel with someone else on a matter for which she was the primary driving force and responsible party. In her own words, she admits giving her maid to her husband, but refuses to recognize her foolishness. But why is that? Is it pride, or passion, or anger? When we act out of passion (negative or positive) we often act in the absence of reason.

Christians should remember to check their own contribution (or even sin) in any situation that has gone bad. With that fully understood and admitted, we can attempt to address the circumstances without pride, anger, or passion, but with the help of reason. When asked to act as a mediator or assessor of such circumstances, Christians would be wise to consider that not everyone who boldly appeals to God is in the right. Sarai certainly wasn’t.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Layman's Commentary: Genesis 16:4

Genesis 16:4: And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.

So Abram at a ripe old age and at the encouragement of his wife goes and has sexual intercourse with another woman. Abram, listening to man (or in this case woman) over God, does the wrong thing to facilitate God’s plan. In my own personal life, I have discovered that the ends never justify the means, especially in Christian service. Recently I had to recommend to one of the Boards I am serving that we release certain staff-members. They were top-notch performers with excellent results – but they could not work well under the authority of others, or at least me and the Board they were serving with. Many of their friends were stunned. But we stuck with the decision and I believe God was honored.

Man (in this case Abram and Sarai) understood God’s promise as simply that there be ‘an heir’. But we know differently. God intended His promise to be a 'specific' heir not only through Abram, but also through Sarai, his legitimate wife. To God the means is just as important as the ends. We have evidence of that throughout Scripture. In our own lives, we need to be sure of what God intends and hear Him out fully. Then we need to realize that God’s ‘means’ cannot be improved on. He does not need ‘our better mousetrap’ or any other assistance. He just wants us to be available to Him and walk in His Grace.

Now here’s the interesting thing. What Sarai plotted and Abram complied with worked! The humanly understood goal was achieved. Hagar conceived a son. But the consequences of the human means, as compared to God’s way, were now starting to emerge. Hagar realizing she had conceived starts despising her mistress, Sarai. Here was the original case of a surrogate mother changing her mind. Sarai’s wish was starting to turn into a nightmare all because she interfered with God’s plan for her and Abram’s life.

Many of the circumstances that we as Christians get into are due simply to the kinds of things Sarai was involved in. First, she failed to understand God’s full intent. Second, she wasn’t willing to wait on God’s timing and method. Third, she took matters into her own hands and involved others inappropriately. As we seek God’s will for our own life (and His promises) may we not fall victim to wishes and actions like Sarai’s.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Layman's Commentary: Genesis 16:1-3

Genesis 16:1-3: Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. And after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.

Here is Abram, patiently awaiting God’s promise and Sarai realizing Abram needed offspring in order for the promise to be fulfilled. Since she herself had not been able to produce any children for Abram, she offered her Egyptian maid as a surrogate mother for Abram’s heir. Whether Sarai did this out of her love and care for her husband or out of her eagerness to see and be part of the promise is not directly specified in Scripture. However, a careful examination of her words may imply the latter. There is a hint of indignation in her words, as she seems to be blaming God for her inability to conceive. It is in an effort to take the situation into her own hands, for her own ends (“perhaps I shall obtain children through her”), that she offers Hagar to carry his child.

The next phrase “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” is reminiscent of Adam listening to the voice of Eve as she offered him the fruit that God had forbidden them to eat. Sarai’s act of the flesh is about to influence yet another man of God. The Scripture indicates that this occurred after they had lived in the land of Canaan for ten years and Sarai couldn’t wait any longer. She now takes Hagar and gives her to Abram as his wife. This was not to be an illegitimate extra-marital affair that Abram was to engage in. She gave him Hagar as his “wife”. In those days, polygamy was still practiced and tolerated by God but it was not His way.

How often do we choose a legitimate way, but not His way? How often do we miss the best for us? How often do we take things that are outside our realm of responsibility, into our own hands? God may have placed us into roles where He wants us to act – as parents, employers, teachers, and members of a board -- whatever it may be. In those roles, He expects us to act and make decisions within their scope and in accordance with His guidance and the Scriptures. However, oftentimes we get involved in attempting to deal with matters outside our God-given jurisdiction. Attempting to deal with issues that are not ours to solve, even if we do so seeking His leadership, is something that God does not often bless.

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