Ishmaels or Isaacs

Ishmael and Isaac were sons of Abraham. Ishmael’s mother was Hagar. Isaac’s mother was Sarah. Ishmael was approximately 13 years older than Isaac. He was a son conceived when matters were taken into human hands. Isaac was a son promised by God.

It all started when God spoke to Abram in Genesis 12:1-2. “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.

Abram and Sarai were obedient. They left. But, it looked like God was not doing His part. There were no heirs for this great nation.

For the next 10 years, they waited for a son to be born. Finally Sarai had an idea. She suggested that Abram take her maidservant Hagar to conceive a son. (see Genesis 16:1-4) Abram followed Sarai’s advice. The result was the birth of Ishmael.

Abram had a son, but everything was not right.

This plan had not worked. Now what?

About a dozen years after Ishmael was born, God and Abram had another conversation.

God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah.

In Genesis 17:6, the Lord assures Abraham, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful.

Although Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 90 or a little older, they finally had the son God had promised so many years ago. Abraham named him Isaac. (see Genesis 21:1-3)

Ishmael was born when Abram and Sarai took matters into their own hands. Isaac was born when Abraham and Sarah left things in God’s hands.

Did God move as quickly as Abraham and Sarah expected? No, but God had a time set in history for when He would fulfill His promise. II Peter 3:9 says,The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.” (There was a lesson for them to learn – and we, too, need to learn it.)

Did everything go the way Abraham and Sarah expected? No, but God had thought through His plan. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (They needed to know this – and we do too.)

Was God’s timing the same as Abraham and Sarah’s? No, but God had His own timetable. II Peter 3:8 reminds us, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.(They had another lesson to learn – and we, too, should learn it.)

Over the 25 years of waiting, Abraham and Sarah gained many insights. However, I believe the most important thing Abraham and Sarah discovered was the faithfulness of God.

Hebrews 11:11-12 states,By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

Deuteronomy 7:9 declares, God is faithful to fulfill His promises. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

This, too, is for us. We have the potential to create either an Ishmael or an Isaac. Do we only have confidence in ourselves or do we have faith in God?

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us,Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Abraham and Sarah lived life and learned lessons. Ishmael and Isaac were conceived. The lives of these men were influenced by Abraham and Sarah’s choices and actions,

Genesis 25:12-18 tells of Ishmael’s 12 sons.

However, it is through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that the 12 tribes of Israel emerge. This is the heritage of the great nation promised by God. (see Genesis 35:23-28)

The descendants of Ishmael and Isaac have historically been enemies. The animosity remains to this day.

This will also be true of the Ishmaels and Isaacs we create. Our Ishmaels originate from our fleshly desires. Our Isaacs are born through the help of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:16-17 says, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another.

Let us create Isaacs rather than Ishmaels!

Quiet Quilting

My grandmother made quilts. Time and effort were invested in these works of art. Larger fabric swatches were cut into individual pieces. These pieces were hand sewn together to make larger blocks. Stitch by stitch, pieces became blocks and blocks became quilt tops. A layer of batting was sandwiched between the quilt top and backing. The three layers were attached to a quilting frame. Then the layers were hand tied with a special quilting thread producing the finished creation.

I still have a couple of Grandma’s quilts. I decided to retrieve them from storage. I looked closely at each fabric piece that became a part of these artistic masterpieces. Many of the pieces looked familiar.

So many memories tied together creating one quilt. However, I discover more than memories. I also find spiritual symbolism. God’s handiwork creates human quilts.

I perceive a sacred quilt pictured in I Corinthians 12:12-31. I highlight a few of the verses. (v12) For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. (v14) For the body is not one member, but many. (v18) But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. (v20)But now there are many members, but one body. (v25) so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (v27)  Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

Paul describes the various parts of the human body knit together to form one body. Then he compares this concept to multiple members making up the body of Christ. I am looking at numerous fabric pieces combined into one quilt.

As a child, my favorite cover was a crazy quilt. This patchwork of fabric displayed multiple colors, shapes and sizes. All were sewn together. There was no evident design in the finished product. However, I recognized many of the quilt pieces as fabric from dresses worn by my grandmother and mother. I even noticed some swatches of material from dresses I wore.

As I closely examined the fabric squares, rectangles and triangles of Grandma’s quilt, I suspect the shape of some fabric pieces may have been determined by a tear or rip in the original material. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are quilted into God’s comforter irregardless of our past. He accepts us as we are. He forgives our sins and works us into His pattern of humanity. We become a block of His sacred quilt.

I remember a childhood song that proclaims “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in His sight.” God created people with different skin colors. All are part of His carnal coverlet. No two people have exactly the same physical build. However, all are loved by God. People vary in ages, but all are very welcome in God’s heirloom quilt.

Another comforter in Grandma’s quilt collection was composed of uniform blocks. It was a hexagon flower garden quilt. Each block was composed of various shades and patterns of one primary color. The same quilted design was evident in each square. Some exhibited brighter and bolder colors while others were more subdued. Some swatches were solid colors while others had busier patterns. However, the same octagon floral design was evident in the final outcome of all the blocks. Although there was diversity among the quilt blocks, there was also unity.

Spiritually, each person’s life becomes a unique block of God’s creation. The Holy Spirit works quietly in each of us preparing us to be a part of God’s quilt. Swatches of the Spirit’s fruit and gifts are evident. A different personality is prominent in each living square.

After looking at the tops of my grandmother’s quilts, I turned them over. The back was the same on all the coverlets. Each one was one solid color. Not very interesting but practical. The middle layer of batting added weight and warmth to the complete comforter. The warmth of the final quilt was primarily determined by the type of batting used.

Just as a fabric quilt has three layers, there are three layers in God’s quilting creation. We have spent considerable time describing the quilt top and finding ourselves as individual blocks.

Now, what is the backing? There is a song entitled He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands. It refers to little tiny babies, brothers and sisters. It sounds like a lot of quilt blocks held in God’s hands. Our Heavenly Father may be our quilt backing. Maybe His love represents the middle batting. I envision the Holy Spirit as the yarn or thread that binds all together.

My grandma was a quilter who made fabric quilts. God is the Master Quilter creating His sacred quilt of humanity. He is quietly quilting the events of my life and your life into personal blocks. His human quilt is continually being worked upon. However, we have the promise that one day it will be beautiful and complete. According to Ecclesiastes 3:11, God makes everything beautiful in its time.

It is cold outside today. I think I will cuddle under a quilt to keep warm. How about you? Would you like to snuggle under a quilt and allow the Holy Spirit to do some quiet quilting in your life?

Dark Outside – Light Inside

It is wintertime. This means short days and long nights. It is part of the rotation of the seasons. The winter solstice is past, so the daylight is beginning to increase very gradually. There is hope for sunshine. However, during this darker season, many people encounter depression. There are both physical and spiritual causes of discouragement. What season are you experiencing spiritually? Are you in the light more than the dark regarding what God is doing in your life?

Although it is physically dark outside, we can still see in the light spiritually. I want to share some scriptures that will help us focus on the light of God. His light is not seasonal – it is available every day.

And God said, “Let there be light,”
and there was light.
Genesis 1:3

You, LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
Psalm 18:28

The LORD is my light and my salvation–
whom shall I fear?
Psalm 27:1

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
who walk in the light of your presence, LORD.
Psalm 89:15

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
Psalm 119:105

The human spirit is the lamp of the LORD
that sheds light on one’s inmost being.
Proverbs 20:27

Light is sweet, and it pleases
the eyes to see the sun.
Ecclesiastes 11:7

let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Isaiah 2:5

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
Isaiah 60:1

In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4-5

I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.
John 8:12

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
made His light shine in our hearts to give us
the light of the knowledge of God’s glory
displayed in the face of Christ.
II Corinthians 4:6

for you were formerly darkness,
but now you are Light in the Lord;
walk as children of Light.
Ephesians 5:8

You are all children of the light and children of the day.
We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
I Thessalonians 5:5

Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, God’s special possession,
that you may declare the praises of Him who called you
out of darkness into His wonderful light.
I Peter 2:9

God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. . . .
if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light,
we have fellowship with one another.
I John 1:5&7

I prefer more light both physically and spiritually. However, just as we survive the dark days and nights of winter, we will also live through the dark days and nights of the spirit. We have the promise of eternal light and life. Revelation 21:23 says, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”

Exodus 20:20 for 2020

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you,
so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
Exodus 20:20

As I thought about what I wanted to share today, I kept thinking about 2020. Since this is the beginning of the 2020 calendar year, I wanted to find a spiritual connection. I decided to look for a scripture that was the 20th verse of a 20th chapter. The Holy Spirit led me to Exodus 20:20.

Moses begins by telling the Israelites not to be afraid. Then in the next sentence he mentions the need for the fear of God. Are these contradictory statements? Not at all! The first statement about fear alludes to being scared. Secondly, the fear of the Lord refers to a sacred fear. Two entirely different kinds of fear.

Emotional fear is a feeling everyone encounters. Fear can be manifested as anxiety or worry. Although we want to avoid these feelings, God knows we will experience them. That is why He gives us so many verses telling us not to be fearful. He desires for us to overcome this kind of fear. He longs for us to have a reverential fear for Him. He yearns for our devotion.

First, let’s look at few verses that refer to the apprehensive type of fear.

The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27:1

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 41:13

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
Isaiah 43:1 NKJV

For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
II Timothy 1:7 NKJV

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
I John 4:18

In contrast, let’s look at a few verses that exemplify reverential fear.

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him;
Psalm 103:13

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.
Proverbs 1:7

To fear the LORD is to hate evil;
Proverbs 8:13

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:7

conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;
I Peter 1:17 NASB

What can we learn from these verses for 2020?

We know we will encounter fearful and anxious moments during the coming year. We can overcome our fears by facing them. However, this does not mean we will always feel fearless. We need to face our fear and replace it with faith in God. Faith will not eliminate fear, but it will help us confront it. Rev. Robert Reeves has said that we will likely experience fear when we have the opportunity to be faithful.

Being faithful exemplifies Godly fear. To fear God really means to be devoted to God alone and not to fear anyone or anything else. Godly fear creates a reverential awe within us. Instead of being physically afraid, let us spiritually fear the Lord. Let us worship and adore Him. In Jesus Always, Sarah Young has suggested that instead of physically fearing we put our energy into spiritually praying.

As we begin 2020, it seems appropriate to meditate upon Exodus 20:20. It may become a verse to reflect upon numerous times throughout this year.

I close with the promise of Psalm 112:1, “Praise the LORD. Blessed are those who fear the LORD.”

May you have a blessed 2020 New Year!

A Donkey in the Stable

Advent has begun. It is time for me to get out Christmas decorations. The first thing I set up is our nativity scene. I lovingly hold each figure as I place it in the stable. Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, take center stage. Rightfully so. However, my attention is drawn to the animals.

No scripture mentions the animals being in the barn. However, we know Jesus was born in a stable. A stable was the home of animals. They had to have been there! It was the animals who were willing to share their abode with Jesus because there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn.

Luke 2:7 NKJV says, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

During the coming weeks of Advent, we will carefully look at the various animals who surrounded Jesus at His birth. We will think about the nature of each animal and meditate upon their symbolism.

Our first focus is upon the donkey. After all, it was a donkey that brought the star character to the scene. While Jesus was still being cradled in his mother’s womb, he traveled upon a donkey to where he would be born. Without the donkey, there would not have been a baby born in Bethlehem’s manger. There would not have been a reason for a star to shine above the stable. It all depended upon the donkey. This animal was the mode of transportation for the fulfillment of the prophecy recorded in Micah 5:2. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

A donkey is a cross between horse and mule. It is a lowly animal. Mary and Joseph were also of lowly status. In the Magnificat, Mary described herself as being in the humble state of a servant. (Luke 1:48) Joseph was a carpenter. He was not wealthy nor a man of political status. When people learned that Mary was pregnant and unwed, she was looked down upon.

Lowliness is humility. On two occasions, Jesus and a donkey shared humility. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He traveled to Bethlehem upon a donkey while still in Mary’s womb. Jesus died in Jerusalem. He arrived in Jerusalem riding upon a donkey where He was tried and crucified.

Philippians 2:5-11 describes the mind of Christ exhibited by Jesus while He lived on earth. Verses 7-8 say, “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.

I believe the lowly donkey sets an example for us.
Proverbs 16:19 declares, “It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Philippians 2:3-4 encourages us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (my emphasis)

I place the donkey near Mary, Joseph and Jesus in our nativity scene. As a lowly animal, the donkey symbolically reminds me of humility. Colossians 3:12 is a good scripture for us to strive to fulfill during this season of preparation for Christmas. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.