July 2012


The Discussion So Far

So far we had discussed the following

1. Introduction

2. The Sons Of Keturah

Now we will look at Ishmael the son of Abraham

Ishmael

If we were to take out Zimran to Shuah, we are left with the two sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac.

Ishmael was born at the command of Sarah, let us look more into the circumstances of his birth.

Initially God had promised Abraham that he will have a son in Gen 15, God made a covenant with him, promising that he will have a son. 10 years have passed and Sarah had not given birth to a child. Therefore, Sarah wanted to fulfill Gods will using her method, so he told Abraham to marry her Egyptian maidservant Hagar. Then Abraham listened to her and did not consult God. So when Abraham is 86, Ishmael was born.

God remained silent for the period when Abraham was 86-99 a good 13 years. and when he finally spoke to Abraham, his first sentence was a rebuke

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.” – YHWH (Gen 17:1)

So God was very displeased with Abraham for what he did, but this time God decided to give him a promise, he even went to the extent to give the name of the child Isaac. However, the fact goes is that Ishmael was the firstborn son.

When Isaac was born, Abraham was 100 years old and Ishmael was 14. He was well aware that he is the firstborn son, and he was suppose to get the inheritance of Abraham.

So he started to scoff at Isaac, this was seen by Sarah the wife of Abraham

“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing.” –Moses Gen 21:8

So this time she asked Abraham to chase Hagar and Ishmael away. This event troubled the heart of Abraham. Obviously he do love the child Ishmael,so this time Abraham seek the counsel of God. and once again told Abraham that he had chosen Isaac to receive the in heritance. Therefore Abraham is to listen to Sarah and sent them away.

“So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.” –Moses (Gen 21:14)

The Modern Ishmael

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic.” – Paul (Gal 4:22-24)

Therefore the modern Ishmael can be liken to Christians who choose follow their fleshly desires and they allow their flesh to rule over them. They may have a heart to serve God, but their hearts are often far away from God

Jesus once said

“ These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And[honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” –Jesus (Matt 15:8-9)

They rather hold on to their traditions and made void the commandments of God. Sometimes in their zealousness to keep their traditions, they unknowingly started to scoff at people who believe in the commands of God, Just like how Ishmael scoffed at Isaac.

Let us not mistaken that people who are like Ishmael is without the power of God For Jesus illustrated this scene about the last days

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Jesus (Matt 7:21-23)

It is noted that these people do preach in the name of JEsus, they can even cast out demons and do wonders in the name of God. The only thing different is that they do not practice the will of God.

Therefore, let us learn to keep the commands of God and not take liberty to decide what we should follow and what we need not.

As we are reading this, it is worthwhile to note that the flesh often is at war against the spirit, it is just like Ishmael scoffing at Isaac. It is constantly at war against the spirit.

Let us constantly remind ourselves of what Paul says

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” – Paul (Rom 8:13-14)

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I have a friend who made an extremely brazen declaration in his sermon. He was sharing about things that one ought to teach their children. Among his points he shared the following.

In order for one to be vigilant  in faith,  one need to know the sign of the end times.  according to him, one may not be able tell the DAY and TIME of the second coming but they can calculate the year. (Matt 24:36). Personally I feel that that point of view is  somewhat shallow and childish.

Personally I believe that if one were to read and try to understand Revelations , one would be blessed (Rev 1:3). But from my experience teaching students, the topic of Revelations usually stirs out a lot of interest in knowledge but never generates true faith in the listeners.

Which matters more, Faith in God or Knowledge of end times?  

One could have all the knowledge of revelation, but is without the fear of God. He would still continue to live his life without God. If one had no interest in God, no amount of warning and signs will revive the faith of the person.

The bible only tells us to build our faith on the teaching of the apostles, and the prophet (Eph 2:20). With Christ as the center and chief cornerstone. If Christ is not in the center of a Christian life,  no amount of knowledge of revelation can help one to put Christ as the center of his life. 

Those who studies the book of revelations is concern over questions such as  , “Which seal are we at now?”, “who is 666?” , “Who is the beast from the sea and the beast from the land? “ , “Who is the little horn?”, “Who is Babylon the great?”, “Who is the great prostitute?”. Do we know that these questions are irrelevant to people who cannot even decide if he wants to follow God or not? 

It worries me more to see the children leaving the church hall in the middle of the sermon,  not paying attention to the words of God. Who choose to giggle away and to play with their gadgets over listening to the words of God. It concerns me when students choose pumping iron in the gym and hanging out friends over spending time in the presence of God.

The choice to put God in the center of our lives is one that we needs to choose for ourselves, no one could choose it for us. All Christians, regardless of age must consider these words spoken by Joshua.

“And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Instead of wasting my time pondering over the many mysteries spoken by John,  I rather spend the time teaching the children how to use the words of God in their life, how to keep their hearts with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.(Prov 4:23). 

Remember that the knowledge of revelations does not help one commit to God. The warning and the signs of the end times will never have a impact to people who did not place God in the center of their lives.

I sincerely hope my friend will reconsider his priorities.

Is Closed Door The Best Policy? 

Besides point about revelations my friend encouraged the congregation saying that they ought to teach the children with these values.  Before I share them, I will say I DO NOT AGREE with any of the points listed below.

1. Everyone outside the church is evil. There are no good people outside the church
2. Being people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nation, (Num 23:9) 
        a. We should cut people from outside of church away from our lives

Sometimes I really wonder if he were to hold such point of view how can he preach to others and fulfill the great commandment of the Lord?

Indeed, it is fair to say Christians are a nation that does not reckon himself as one of the nations. But is that a reason to believe that beyond the church there are no good to be found?

This is a biggest form of bigotry and it is not an unfair statement to be made.

The idea of cutting oneself away from the rest of the world exists throughout history. The Essenes were a sect in Judaism were made up of people who decide to isolate themselves from the rest of the Jews. these people dwell in caves, and they are the people responsible for creating the Qumran scrolls (Or Dead Sea Scrolls). One of the oldest and most famous manuscripts to ever survive the washing of time.

These people felt that the city of Jerusalem and her temple is no longer pure and it no longer God pleasing. They felt the corrupted practice of the priest is desecrating the temple.

Instead of choosing to make a difference or to speak up, they decided to hide themselves in the caves, leading lives away from the rest of the world. They spend their days in communal living, but however, their lives came to the halt when the Romans attacked Judea.

It was around AD 70, and a group of Zealots rebelled against Roman rule (known as the Great Revolt or Jewish Revolt)  , in response, the Romans sent Vespasian , Titus Flavius , and his son General Titus to suppress the revolt, who besieged Jerusalem. The rebels fled to the last fortress , which is Masada, with the Romans pursuing them. As they move down the towns pillaging and destroying everything in their path,  they destroyed Essenes alongside with the Zealots, Scribes and Pharisees that they condemned.

Instead of going to the brethren’s and correcting them, they choose to remain quiet, and stay away, in the end, their ends is somewhat similar.

Does God expect his children to isolate from the world?

Jesus when he was in Gethsemane once prayed for his believers

“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” – Jesus (John 17:14-16)

Jesus did not expect his children to be kept away from the world. Instead he  gave them a great commission

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  – Jesus (Matt 28:19-20)

While my friend loves quoting  Num 23:9. Indeed it is true that God describes his people as  “ A people dwelling alone,Not reckoning itself among the nations.” But I think very often we just take that one verse and base all our teachings from it.

The fact is, God settled his people onto Canaan, it is the cross roads of the 2 greatest ancient trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia. In fact God wanted his people to dwell in this place and live a life that follows the command of God.

God wanted them to be an example, and to make his ways known to people. Putting the Israelites in the center of the trade routes, allows them to gain access to people from various lands and various countries.

Although there are little victorious here and there where we see converts like Rahab, Ruth &  Doeg the Edomite and even Uriah the Hittite. But actually a lot of times we learn that the Israelites failed in that mission. They took part of Baal Worship and other idolatry. As the result, they did not successfully have a great impact in the world.

In fact just like the old testament and the new, God expects his children to dwell in the world, God expects his children to live among the people on earth, to influence them.

That is why Jesus called us “the light of the earth, and the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13-16) He specially talks about this

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”- Jesus (Matt 5:16)

As now we understand, dwelling alone, not reckoning among the nations is not about isolating ourselves from the rest of the world, but rather we have to live a life consecrated to God , different from the ways of the world.

God expects us to stay on the earth to be his witness, Perhaps my friend should reconsider his understanding of Num 23:9.

Where do we go from here?

In the next entry, I would like to share some teachings I found from the bible, to tell us what the bible expects Christians to do while living in this world.

This would help us to learn how do we be “A people dwelling alone,Not reckoning itself among the nations”

In the previous post, we know the fact that Abraham had more than one sons. According to 1 Chron 1:28,32. The sons born to Abraham are born as in the following order.

1. Ishmael
2. Isaac
3. Zimran
4. Jokshan
5. Medan
6. Median
7. Ishbak
8. Shuah

Ishmael is born by Hagar, Isaac is born by Sarah, while the remaining children are born to Keturah, a woman whom Abraham married after the death of Sarah. (Gen 25:1-4 )

Effectively, Abraham had 3 different types of sons and they are from different mothers. Similarly God had 3 types of children in this world too.

So if we were to study the characteristics of Abrahams children, we could then draw some lessons for us today. 

The Sons Of Keturah

“We are not illegitimate children”- Jews in Jn 8:41 (NIV1984)  

If we were to look into how the bible describes the sons of Abraham, from Zimran to Shuah, you will notice this term “These are the children of Keturah”

In ancient times, the children are always identified with their fathers.  whenever they introduce someone, they will always say something like “Abraham the son of Terah” Yet over here they called the 6 children, the children of Keturah.

Keturah is counted as a concubine, a definition for a concubine by wikipedia is like this “a Woman in an ongoing, marriage-like relationship with a man whom she cannot be married to for a specific reason”

In ancient times, a concubine is of a lower social rank, and therefore the children are often called “illegitimate” children. These children will not be treated on equal status as the legitimate children.

The bible told us what Abraham did this to the children of Keturah children while he is still alive.

“And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east.” – Moses (Gen 25:5-6)

These children were separated from Isaac, Abraham choose to give all that he had to Isaac and he sent these children away with gifts he had prepared for them.

Sometimes we wonder why Abraham was that cruel, the main reason was because God had already chosen Isaac to inherit his blessing for God had spoken

“for in Isaac your seed shall be called.” –YHWH (Gen 21:12)

In fact God set Isaac aside from the other children of Abraham , God was the one who named him as well

“No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.” – YHWH (Gen 17:19)

Therefore Abraham specially set Isaac apart from his brothers, which is why he choose to send them away from Isaac. But Abraham is sad because biologically he is indeed their father, so he can only give them gives and send them away.

The Modern Sons Of Keturah

The 6 children of Abraham are counted as “the sons of Keturah” and not the sons of Abraham. Effectively, they belong to Keturah and not Abraham.

The modern sons of Keturah also received gifts from Abraham their father.

“for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Jesus (Matt 6:45)

Sometimes when the people of the world is at their wits end, and they call upon God for help, God do answer them and show them mercy, it is just like Abraham giving gifts to his children but yet they do not belong to him, and since they do not belong to God, they can only belong to the devil.

For Elder John once said
“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” – Elder John (1 Jn 5:19)

Jesus once said this too

“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” –Jesus (Jn 8:44)

Fortunately, the status of the sons of the world is not permanent. Once could still reconcile with God, and be the sons of Abraham.  This would be discussed later.

Recently in a discussion, I shared with my friends regarding the fact that a Christian ought to rely on God, I was sharing at the fact that the word of God is the guide we need in our walk with life.

Just as Psalmist once wrote this

“Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.” – Psalmist (Ps 119:105)

I do agree that sometimes in very critical moments in life, God may through the spirit tells us exactly what we should do, but I personally believe that is when the decision we make will affect the faith of many.

For example,  God moved Phillip The Evangelist to go to the desert to meet the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) , which results to Ethiopia being a Christian nation even now).

Another example,  God gave Moses direct instructions on what to say to Pharaoh and the Hebrews in Egypt (Ex 3:12-22) , that is because Moses action will affect the faith of Israel.

But many a times in life, for the small decisions in life, you will find that God doesn’t direct us telling us exactly what to do step by step. So I shared that God guides by giving us the directions to take in life. The bible principles are taught in the sermons, hymns and even our daily pondering in the word of God.

The word of God warns us of potential pit falls in life, and especially when its about sin, and our job as a Christian is to learn from it and avoid those pitfalls (Prov 4:10-12)

Then I compared life as walking through a minefield, and the word of God is a mine detector, if we choose to walk through the minefield anyway we like, the consequences is that we may just lose a limb or lose our lives.

But again, as I said that, I cant help but admit, in my own life, I am not sure how many mines I have step on so far. I know God has protected me even though his unsuspecting child keeps stepping on the mines.

Sometimes these pains clause us to suffer much, once I was sharing with a friend when he is driving me back, sometimes its hard for us not to feel sad or even question God why did bad event happens to our lives.

Ironically when God gave me the peace from my trouble, I start to worry that I am not moving the direction God wants me to go. It felt so ironic for I blame God when troubles appear and now when peace is present, I am afraid I am not moving forward. Sometimes when we look at our lives,  it feels like a mess that we can never comprehend.

But in my experience, at the end of the walk and we look back, we can see the beautiful handiwork God had made on our lives.

There was an old ancient Portuguese Proverb that caught my attention which reads

“Deus Escreve Direito Por Linhas Tortas” which is translated “God Writes Straight With Crooked Lines”

According to the article “The Literal Use Of A Proverb” by George Monteiro, he claimed that there were discussion that the origin of this proverb came from St Augustine (354 AD – 430 AD)

This is the same proverb that inspired Corinne May’s song “Crooked Lines” I find her chorus really touching. For I can relate many things in her song to my life.

I remember once I encountered a dark moment in my life, I prayed and God was silent, and I was so sad that I posted my msn status message as “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”  which is translated “My God,  My God, why have Thou forsaken me?”

Then I tried to search for the answers of my misfortune, and I was almost tempted to visit a numerologist and a geomancer, to see if I could change my fortune.

I still remember a few overly concerned brothers dragged me behind for “counseling”

But sometimes its hard for us to see why especially when misfortunes meet us. I told my friends that there are still times in my life when I was questioning God for some of the tough things that happen to my life. There are still times I find it hard to let go of it. 

So although we often say that we need to rely on God but we know how difficult it really is to apply it. That is when I find the song “Crooked Lines” really described how I feel when I need to hold on to Gods hand.

Sometimes I wonder why is my life so messed up, and why did God leads us through so much sufferings. But her song lyrics seems to answer it so perfectly

“ God writes straight with crooked lines
   He takes the mess we make in life
   turns our groaning into perfect rhyme
   hidden by the veil of time
   the wisdom of His love’s design
   God writes straight with crooked lines”

It is true that sometimes only at the end of our lives, when we have finished our walking through our veil of time, then we can see the wisdom of Gods design.

Just like what Jacob said as he blessed the children of Joseph

“ God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
   The God who has fed me all my life long to this day,
   The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil,
   Bless the lads…” – Jacob (Gen 48:15-16)

Let us remember that God is the shepherd who will take care of us, we have to trust and rely on his hands, he will guide us till we safely reach our home land shore. So when life seems like a mess, and we cannot see the hand of God. Let us keep that in our mind.

I guess Corinne Mays song “Crooked Lines” is the perfect summary of what I want to say so lets enjoy it.

Title : Crooked Lines
Compose and Lyrics by : Corrinne May

My daughter tries to draw a butterfly
with her crayons and crooked lines
and she’s crying ‘cause she just can’t get it right

So i wrap her tiny hand in mine
to guide her where her heart’s design
and she smiles as her dreams take flight

Perhaps it’s how it is on this labyrinth road
I just need to let Him guide my soul

(Chorus)

God writes straight with crooked lines
He takes the mess we make in life
turns our groaning into perfect rhyme
hidden by the veil of time
the wisdom of His love’s design
God writes straight with crooked lines

I’ve had days as dark as smoke
when it hurt too much too hope
and it felt like the pain would never end

Oh, searching for answers but finding jokes
limping along the winding road
certain He left me all alone…

when it’s hard to trust that there is a greater plan,
like a child i’ve gotta just hold His hand

‘cause (Repeat Chorus)

it’s hard to see the picture when you’ve got your head to the ground
but the vision is perfect from heaven looking down
there’s a reason for every detour and every scar
His mercy has always been written in the stars

(Repeat Chorus)

God writes straight with crooked lines Ohh!
God writes straight with crooked lines