Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Perplexing Tale of Ishmael

*Disclaimer: The following thoughts are all just that - - thoughts. No in-depth study or commentary cross-checking has been done. This entry will more likely lead to more questions than answers, but hopefully also to more praise.

Background is assumed here – read Genesis 16 for more. (Cliff’s notes: Sarai tries to move God’s promise of a son forward through their servant, Hagar. The resulting son is Ishmael. ) Chapter 21 is where my musings have centered. This is where God’s chosen son for Abraham and Sarah enters the picture – Isaac.

At Isaac’s weaning, Abraham threw a party. At the party, Sarah saw Ishmael laugh (this particular laughter might be in mockery, says the ESV notes). In anger, she has Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness. Ishmael is around 15 years old and is banished from his father’s house only left with his mother and a skin of water between them – in the desert. At this point of the story, it grabs my attention that Ishmael has not been named once. “Son of Hagar.” “Son of this slave woman.” “The boy.” “The child.” Never “Ishmael,” as opposed to Isaac, who is distinctly called by name throughout the passage.

Why is he not named?

I honestly don’t know, but it seems to be an intentional omission in the text.

My wonderings have led me to praise. It seems to me that when we become sons and daughters of God’s promises in Christ (or recipients of His electing love), our identities are cemented. We are God’s…intimately…by name. Ishmael was not the son of the promise. But before we get bent out of shape about ‘fairness’ of God’s love, look at the next interesting nuance in the passage.

Not only is Ishmael banished by his father (for laughing!!) but when the water runs out and life is fading, his mother abandons him. We know she is deeply saddened to watch her son die, but think of the self-absorption to walk away from a dying son—banished, now abandoned. Then look at the narration’s wonderful twist in the text:

Hagar: “'Let me not look on the death of the child.' And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy.” (emphasis added)

The narration clearly calls out her voice, but says God heard the boy’s voice. God’s common grace draws Him near to the brokenhearted in mercy—even though he was not the son of the glorious promise. His mercy extends to the ends of the earth!

For me, personally, I am speechlessly thankful, and not thankful enough, all at the same time, that I am “named” by God. It is with absolute humility that I say this, because it is Jesus’ doing. I am named as a son only because He was named with my curse. I will never be ultimately banished and abandoned to the wilderness because He was abandoned and banished in my place. And just as God ultimately provided an oasis of water in the desert for Ishmael, God has also provided a Living Fountain of water for me in the person of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pug Petitions

I actually laid hands on our pug for prayer two nights ago. Our eight year old pug has a myriad of issues, the most recent apparently being nocturnal insomnia (**disclaimer-not an actual vet approved diagnosis). This issue leads to click-clacking doggie paws on wood floors all through the night, whining at our bedroom door, and consequently – my own resulting sleep deprivation.

Now that we are into about week four of this, I am wearing down. A temporary solution has been for me to sleep on the couch. Proximity to a human seems to calm him down to a degree. But as this removes me from my marriage bed, it is not a good long-term solution.

So at 2:something in the morning, I found myself laying hands on my pug and audibly praying to God about the situation.

It seemed a little ridiculous and strange to me, but I don’t think it should. It has been a nagging, trying issue for weeks and is occupying a decent amount of life real-estate for me. Maybe I should have prayed 3 weeks ago—maybe that should be the normal response. Paul E. Miller, in A Praying Life, talks about the overwhelming volume of things we don’t talk to God about because we have the invisible norms of what God wants to (and doesn’t want to) hear about. Our pug’s sleeping patterns defaults to the ‘don’t bother Him with it’ category. And it shouldn’t. It is an issue that is causing me anger, frustration, fatigue, and some general craziness. Looking at this list, I’m pretty convinced I need the power of God warmly welcomed in the situation.

Thanks, Paul Miller, for your good words.

Thanks, Jesus, even more for your words through Peter: “…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (ESV)

By the way, last night was more of the same with the pug situation.

While I am praying that the situation will go away, maybe the whole design was to get me to pray…

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hello, Again

I was re-introduced to Jesus this holiday season. I’d like to say that it was at a reflective advent service, or in a deep conversation with Christy, but I met Him again in the movie theater. As we milled around the lobby, I kept seeing posters for movies I wanted to see. Little Fockers. True Grit. The Fighter. But the company I was with wanted to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader.


I know, C. S. Lewis is a master, but I’ve not been a huge fan of the Narnia films. But we bought tickets and I settled in to enjoy it as much as I could.

As the movie went along, I found myself pulled into the fairly sophisticated portrayal of sin and temptation, but it was in the closing moments that I was sucker-punched with the person of Jesus. As Aslan (the Christ-figure) and company stand on a shore, he bellows a great roar to push back the sea—a commanding roar that accurately portrayed power, authority, and intensity. I remember chills going down my spine in the theater as the real Jesus leapt into my mind. But the sucker punch came moments later when Lucy timidly but confidently approaches Aslan, reaches her small arms up and embraces as much as she can of Aslan’s mane, pressing herself into him. The screen cut to a close-up of the face of Aslan where CGI magically rendered an expression of absolute tenderness, warmth, care, and love.

Tears welled up in my eyes as at that moment, as for me, the person of Christ, not Aslan, was front and center in my mind. It was as if his image had been superimposed on the screen. I hadn’t personally been with that Jesus for a long time.

God’s character and personality is vast and diverse. I find that I get stuck in certain particular aspects of Him sometimes, zoning in on a few particular attributes to the exclusion of others. For me, the last few years have been tipping the scales on the end of His holiness, power, majesty, wrath, justice, and transcendence. Indeed, these are marvelous aspects of His character. It has been rich at times while through these attributes He has exposed my sin for what it is, become larger in my vision, and has become the majestic King that He ought. But when this scene of His tenderness found its way into the film, my heart became acutely aware that I had not felt personally loved and embraced by my Father for a long time. How my soul needed (and needs) it.

The subsequent weeks have been wonderfully real and intimate with my Father. I talk to Him again like a beloved child, still aware that He is majestic beyond comprehension, but I am reminded that, through Jesus, I have confident assurance that I can be with my Father with no fear. No trepidation. No condemnation. His embrace is real…almost tangible in this sweet time.

Siblings, I hope your Father is to you both majesty and intimacy personified. Embrace the whole of God, not just a part. Find your soul both overwhelmed by Him and warmed by Him.

“Make no mistake. Aslan is on the move.” – Mr. Beaver, The Chronicles of Narnia