Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Muslim Boy's Offense

The cost of his misunderstanding.

Last week news from Pakistan reported what happened when a fifteen-year-old Muslim boy misunderstood the trick question of his cleric. He’d lifted his hand and mistakenly confirmed that he did not believe the teachings of the holy prophet. The cleric immediately accused the boy of blasphemy, and the congregation joined in. The boy fled home in disgrace, where he cut off his hand, placed it on a platter, and carried it back to the mosque to make amends.

The cleric was briefly detained for his part in driving the boy to commit such an act, but religious leaders protested. Even the boy’s parents praised their son’s dedication, saying he would be rewarded in eternity. The cleric was released with no blame. Disturbing news about the dangers of radical Islam? Yes. But what about the teachings of Christianity?

 “And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell. And if your right hand offend you, cut it off, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell.”
Matthew 5:29.30

Jesus spoke these words, and those listening were probably not as appalled as we in the modern, Western world might be. After all, the law required an eye for an eye, and it required blood. An odd instruction from Deuteronomy 25:11-12 describes was to be done in a battle situation if a woman used a particular tactic in the defense of her husband. The law required the woman lose her hand, and no pity was to be offered.  

Under grace, the ways of the Old Testament sometimes seem foreign to us. We don’t want to come down too hard on anyone. We hold to a “love the sinner but hate the sin” mentality, even though the Bible makes it clear God hates sinners. (Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11: 5, Leviticus 20:23, Proverbs 6: 16-19, Hosea 9: 15.) Judgement doesn’t fall merely on the sin, but on the sinner. Left on our own, we are doomed to remain enemies of God. Yet we don’t give much consideration to the seriousness of what sin does to a human being. Or to a nation. Or to a church. Jesus took it seriously. So did He mean what He said? Of course. He meant everything He said, or He wouldn’t have said it.

The reference point of the passage in Matthew is adultery. But the sin of adultery is not the act of a hand or an eye. Jesus was not telling us to gouge out the eye that looked on with lust, or cut off the hand that partook in the sinful act. He was teaching us a great penalty is required for sin. Lust does not begin with the eye or the hand, but in the mind and the heart. The offender is not a body part. Don’t miss the if—and if your hand or eye offends you…

On the other hand, if it’s yourself—your mind and your heart—committing the offense, then self-mutilation will not suffice. You need much more. Death is required. This is the hope of our redemption. The message of the Gospel to all who will hear. The penalty of death was paid on the cross.

Which leads to another revelation from the words of Christ:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Did Jesus have a change in attitude? There’s nothing easy about cutting off your own hand, and yet here He says we can take it easy. But once again, He’s making a point. It’s impossible for us to absolve our own sin. It was no leisurely feat for Him, but He did it. It was His yoke and His burden that rescued us. Not easy for Him, but easy for us. Now sin no longer owns us. We don’t have to pay for it. We can rest.

A boy in Pakistan sacrificed his hand for a misunderstanding. He believed it was the right thing to do. But no act will ever make right what lies in the depths of his heart. Off all our hearts. If you want to take care of your own sin, even chopping off your hand won’t do it. But if Christ takes care of it, then you can rest in His finished work.  

If God hates sinners, should I hate this sinful boy who chopped off his hand? Of course not. Hate is not what brought Christ to sacrifice Himself. Love did. A paradoxical mystery: God hates sinners. And He sent His Son to die because He loves them. I can live with that. The yoke is easy and the burden is light. The penalty is paid. And I am free to love.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Eternal life is life that continues without end. The idea of eternal life is nothing new. It has always been God’s plan that we, His chosen, will live with Him forever (see 1 John 1:2). He chose us through His foreknowledge that we will respond to the gospel, and believe in His Son, Jesus (see 1 Peter 1:2). The Psalmist, believing in eternal life stated, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6 NIV). Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, He comforted the disciples concerning all that was about to happen to Him, including His return to heaven. He promised He would prepare a place for them in heaven, and then He would come back and take them to be with Him (see John 14:2-3).

Like the rich young man mentioned in Matthew 19:16-30, there are people who think there are good deeds they could do to earn eternal life. However, the Bible does not teach good deeds as the way to obtain eternal life. The Bible teaches faith in Jesus who paid the penalty of our sins. Salvation is by grace alone! The gospel of John says, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3 NIV). Also, Paul emphasizes in Ephesians, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV). Had salvation been through good works such as donating large sums of money to charity, where would the poor be? Instead, the playing field is level, and anyone who is willing may come, on the basis of faith, because good works do not buy salvation.

So now that we’ve addressed eternal life and how to obtain it, let us look at what happens when one does not obtain it. Anything that goes on forever is eternal, but in that eternal state, one could be with or without God. Eternal life is life that continues forever with God in heaven. The opposite of that situation is life that goes on forever, but in hell. The Bible’s description of hell is scary, to say the least. It is an eternal lake of fire, originally prepared for the devil and his angels (see Matthew 25:41). It is also known as the second death (see Revelation 20:14). Eternal fire is fire that never stops burning and never goes out (see Mark 9:43). Can you imagine falling into a campfire forever? This is not a scare tactic to get anyone to do what they prefer not to do; it is the truth. The book of Revelation says, “If any anyone’s name was not found in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15 NIV). Hell can be avoided, and it should be avoided at all costs!

Jesus told a story about a rich man and a sore-covered beggar who lay at his gate. The beggar’s name was Lazarus; he was so needy that he was willing to eat crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. When these two men eventually died, Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man went to hell. In his torment in hell, he petitioned Abraham to allow Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and come to hell long enough to cool the rich man’s tongue. The reason he gave was, “Because I am in agony in this fire” (Luke 16:24 NIV). How sad and scary! It doesn’t have to be that way. This scenario can be avoided by placing one’s faith in Jesus. In the conclusion of the story, Abraham declined the rich man’s request on two grounds: first, the rich man received good things in life, and Lazarus received nothing, and second, there is a great chasm between heaven and hell that makes it impossible to cross from one to the other. Wherever you choose to spend eternity, that’s where you stay; there’ll be no switching around.

There are people who say God is kind and cannot send anyone to hell, but they forget that He has other defining attributes like holy, just and faithful. We can be sure He will make good on His promise of hell by looking at history. He destroyed the ancient world with a flood, sparing only Noah and his family (see 2 Peter 2:5). Again, He burned Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes for their ungodliness, sparing only Lot and his family (s

ee 2 Peter 2:6).

After this life comes eternity, which will be in one of two places: either in God’s presence or in hell. The choice is yours. Which one appeals to you? Please choose wisely.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

From the Steps of the Capitol with Franklin Graham

“America is at a crossroads, and I believe we should take every opportunity to stand up for the things of God and His Word.” –Franklin Graham

Last week I attended a rally in front of the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, where Franklin Graham addressed a crowd of approximately 3,500. We weren’t Baptists or Methodists or Pentecostals that day. Just believers. Some came out of curiosity. Some to hear what the popular evangelist, son of the most well-known preacher in the world, had to say. Some were there to pray. I went to gather with my kind. Young and old, black and white, pre-trib and post-trib, dunkers and sprinklers. Such a gathering exudes grace.

On the sidewalk in front of the staging area, I found a pillar no one had yet leaned against or rested their arms on, and I threw my jacket over it and planted my elbows there. Of course, I shared the prime spot with others. My husband, for one. An elderly veteran who had a lot to say. A man in a wheelchair.

From ten-thirty to noon, I talked with others in the crowd. Some older proper southern ladies complained about the president. A lot. The crowd began singing patriotic songs. I listened. After a while, someone started up "Amazing Grace" and it waved its way to my part of the assembly. I joined in.

I didn’t see any protesters, but I heard later there were a few atheists with signs. I hope somebody took time to offer them water bottles, or something. If they stuck around long enough they heard the Gospel. Rev. Graham included it in his address, as he should have.

He began with a word of thanks to all who chose to attend. His father, he said, was joining us in prayer from his home in North Carolina. This squelched whispers rippling through the crowd that the white-haired gentleman in the wheelchair at the top of the steps was Billy Graham himself.

Then the younger Graham told us why he was spending 2016 traveling to every state capital. He said our country is in trouble. Politically, financially, and racially. There is no hope in political parties. Our only hope is in the Lord. And we must pray. He referenced the book of Nehemiah—the prayers that went up. The rebuilding of the wall to protect the city. He told us our moral walls have been torn down, and our leaders now care more about political correctness than the ways of God.

This was when the praying began. We were asked to pray for our country, out loud, all at once. Not a recited prayer, but an individually voiced cry to God. I listened to those around me. The crux of the prayers from those nearest my pillar: “We have messed up.” A sentiment quite appropriate, maybe inspired, because Rev. Graham then led us to pray silently and confess our sins. And then we were told to confess the sins of our fathers, as Nehemiah did.

When the mess we all knew we’d allowed in the great U.S.A. was out there before God, the call to salvation was presented. Some may have wondered why, in the midst of a huge crowd of believers, the Gospel needed to be spelled out. But I’m sure the good reverend knew we Christians need frequent reminding of our great redemption. Our hope in the government, in the Constitution, may fail. Our nation may falter. But this—our truth everlasting—does not fail, or end, or come up short of what we’d once hoped. Like America has done. Besides, maybe God had His eye on one of those atheists.

After the matter of prayer and the message of salvation, Rev. Graham told us what to do. He told us to vote, to stand for Biblical truth in a nation now stripped of its Biblical heritage. He talked about the shift to secularism. About godlessness in our world. He said he wondered what his own father would do if he were a younger man. And this—the call to prayer—was it. He shared some of Billy Graham’s words on the matter: The elder reverend believes Christians should run for political office. That pastors should take time to explain to church members what each candidate supports. That God honors those in high places who honor Him.

Franklin Graham stressed local offices and schoolboards as important positions where Christians can make a difference in their communities. And he encouraged us to gather with other believers to pray for our country.

After that, the focus turned from what we can do to what we now face. Rev. Graham believes the goal of some in leadership is to change the Constitution. To disallow our freedoms. He said the enemy is not at the gate, but through the gate. He asked us all to sign a pledge to pray and to do what we can to make a difference. For most of us listening, this was done by texting a code. The pledge can be read at

I don’t always agree with Christians becoming involved too deeply in politics. I border on the “let evil rule evil” philosophy knowing God appoints rulers, even if they are evil. But the comment from Rev. Graham that struck me more than any other on that cool, sunny day in Tallahassee was this: “We have one election left. Then it’s over.” I believe it. I’m convinced that at the national level, it’s already over. But if God raised up a Nehemiah in my community to patch the crumbling wall for a little bit longer, I’d vote for that person. And in doing so, I’d follow Franklin Graham instruction: “Go back to your communities and advocate for God’s truth.”

The rally ended and new acquaintances I won’t see again this side of Heaven scattered. Some will honor the pledge they made. Some won’t think of it again until Election Day. But gathering under the blue sky with so many believers was a good thing. An act of hope I will remember.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Much Learning Has Made You Mad!

            Education is the process by which knowledge is acquired, and people have been seeking it for years. We’ll never stop learning as long as we live; there will always be something new to learn or relearn. Acquired knowledge changes the way we think, act, respond to circumstances and even relate to others. Knowledge is paramount to all we do.

            Society expects so much more from “learned” people, so when learned people demonstrate ignorance, the world is perturbed. On the other hand, when learned people express strange ideas that are difficult for the average person to fathom, they are quickly labeled as crazy, insane, or out of their mind.
            The apostle Paul, during one of his numerous imprisonments, was permitted to testify before Festus and King Agrippa in Caesarea. He started by outlining his former life: hatred for Jesus, persecution of His followers, and his experience on the way to Damascus to arrest Christians to be jailed. That experience led to his conversion and being commissioned to preach the Word of God to both Jews and Gentiles (see Acts 26:9-23).

            At the conclusion of Paul’s testimony, Festus shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy” (Acts 26:24 NLT). Apparently, Paul’s story sounded unbelievable and crazy, and knowing Paul was an educated man, Festus concluded that Paul was a nut—the result of too much education. I’m sure Paul’s experience on the Damascus road was a fact that Festus could not wrap his mind around.

            Although Festus’ assessment was wrong in Paul’s case, it is true in many other situations in our society today. Evolutionists, for instance, believe our ancestors were monkeys, but the Bible says God created man from the dust of the ground, and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and he became a living person. Then He created woman from a rib from the man (see Genesis 2:7, 21-22). A man spends years and lots of money on education to obtain degrees that makes him the authority on evolution, and this is all he can come up with?
      Again, there are educated people who think an unborn child at any stage is not a person, and can be aborted without concern. However, God said to the prophet Jeremiah, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5 NLT). Sometimes, educated people who are bold in expressing their views come up with e ridiculous and ignorant ideas. Unfortunately, they believe in their ignorance, and lead others to the same way of thinking. Is that really education? This is an instance when Festus’ assessment of Paul would be appropriate—“much learning has made you mad.”

            The Bible says, “…a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” (Genesis 2:24 NLT), making marriage a union between a man and a woman. How did educated people decide differently? In addition, God is truth, and therefore would not create people with homosexual tendencies and in the next breath say homosexuality is sin. According to the Scriptures, homosexual offenders will not inherit the kingdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 6:9). So learned people who insist homosexuality is okay because they were made that way should re-think it. Are murderers and pedophiles created that way? What if they make that claim? Should they be excused for their crimes? Think about it!

            Education is good, but let's get our facts straight. Researchers should be challenged if necessary; don't accept every theory that comes down the pike. Any research theory put out as fact that is contrary to the Word of God should be challenged and squashed, because God is Truth, and His Word is truth. Nothing in all creation can be truer than God’s Word. Educated people who come up with theories that are contradictory to Scripture have wasted time and money, and will be held accountable for their erroneous teaching. Indeed, much learning has made them mad!   

Monday, January 18, 2016

Moses and the Red Sea

You know our significant other/s always test us when they realize we are at a new level of spiritual growth. When we are at a new level of emancipation. Of self-sovereignty. They are always the first to know. And they become frightened. And they try to get us to fall back into the old enmeshed patterns. But their test is really confirmation of our liberation and movement toward wholeness. Their fear is that our growth is a reminder that they too can choose theirs.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Growth always involves fear. Most of my counseling clients realize they need to face their own personal fears in order to heal wounds, critique beliefs, and step out in faith. What catches them by surprise is the response of spouses, family, friends, church, etc. Instead of support and encouragement, clients often receive fear-based condemnation. MLK, Jr. understood this human response to change, using it as positive affirmation rather than personal defeatism.

Sanctification is the process of seeing ourselves and others through God’s eyes. This viewpoint provides freedom from an oppressive, restrictive, fear-based human lifestyle. Stepping out in confidence and faith can scare the pants off those around us. Reminds me of Moses at the Red Sea.

The Bible gives us a little information about Moses’ fears and wounds. Each time God told him to talk to Pharaoh was an individual growth opportunity to press into those fears. His confidence in himself and God grew so when he called the Israelites to follow him out of Egypt, they packed up and hit the road. When they got to the Red Sea, God called Moses to symbolically show his growth to the people by stepping out in faith. Everyone around him was freaking out, begging Moses to go back to Egypt and make peace. As Moses courageously stepped into the Red Sea, God spoke to the heart of every Israelite, calling them to grow in faith as well.

Your growth can both inspire and terrify those around you. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart so you can continue to step out in faith. Your godly model provides an opportunity for God to speak to onlookers about their own growth.
Judy Lair, LPCC

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Receiving Above and Beyond Our Expectations


Whenever we look to another person for something, what we get could be exactly what we asked for, less than we expected, or more than we ever dreamed. 

The book of Acts tells us about a crippled beggar who used to beg at the temple gate, called the Beautiful Gate. People who passed by usually gave him something. On one occasion, after Pentecost, Peter and John encountered this beggar on their way to the temple. As was his routine, the beggar asked them for some money. In response to their instruction to look at them, he looked up, expecting some money, but was in for a big surprise. Peter said to him, “I don’t have silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk.”  (Acts 3:6 NLT). Peter took him by the hand and helped him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were strengthened! He jumped up and began to walk.

The beggar unexpectedly got something he needed and wanted, but did not dare ask for or expect. After all, he had been crippled from birth and no one had been able to help him. At that age, he probably was not expecting any drastic changes in his physical condition. However, it happened; he was healed! He received far more than he had hoped for, or ever dreamed possible. He was so elated for that unexpected gift of healing, that he accompanied them into the temple: walking, jumping, and praising God.

In the same way, God gives us more than we ask for or dream we’ll ever get from Him. Let’s start with His intentions for us: “I know the plans I have for you. They are plans for good and not for disaster; to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). Knowing that His intentions for us are for our welfare, we can come to Him with confidence, a confidence dependent on the relationship (Father/child) we have with Him. He has redeemed us to Himself through the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus, and subsequently calls us His children. As His children, He gives us good gifts (see Matthew 7:11), and promises, “I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!” (Isaiah 66:24 NLT) This is above and beyond all that we can ever hope for, because God owes us nothing!

Since God provides for us above and beyond what we can hope for, our response should be that of gratitude and love toward Him in all things and at all times. But how do we express love for God? The Bible puts it this way: “Loving God means keeping his commandments” (1 John 5:3 NLT). Let’s make obedience to the Word of God our highest priority at all times!  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

How Oprah Inspired My Transhuman

A cultural phenomenon and a greater gift.

When I began what evolved into my novel called Wake the Dead I had in mind to write a satire about game shows. The reaction of contestants to even the possibility of winning a prize fascinates me. When everyone in the audience gets a prize, the group effect takes winning to a new level. Put boxes of candy under their chairs and they voice a collective whoop. Make it new cellphones and they go wild.

The cultural phenomenon reached its peak not on a game show, but when Oprah shared her favorite things. People love Oprah, and so they love the things she loves. Being gifted in such a personal way brought fans to an even deeper admiration of the giver. Then Oprah upped her game and gave everyone in the audience a new car. No one else would give that kind of prize to that many people.

So when I first allowed the protagonist/game show host, Chase Sterling, to take shape in my imagination, I knew he had to pull an Oprah. But not just once—it had to happen consistently. On his show, Change Your Life, he delivers and the result is total adoration. This is where my story begins. Chase doesn’t just give away 276 cars, but thousands of futuristic self-drives. And this happens only after he outrageously changes the life of one individual. New looks. New income. New mansion. New life. Then he leads his roaring-with-joy audience to believe one of them could be next.

 But attempting to convey the obvious flaw of people praising the power of entertainment for temporal blessings didn’t make a novel. Something big had to happen to my game show host that would change his life. So Chase became a wired-up, augmented, bio-engineered transhuman. Nothing like that had ever happened before. Not in the history of game shows.

 For all the prizes he bestows, Chase can only contemplate how to give more. He thinks he’s making a difference. Of all the cars Oprah gave away, perhaps some have been kept in garages and rarely driven because of their value as a great gift from a great person. And therefore those prized cars have made no real change in the recipients’ lives. But most of them have been wrecked or traded. Or at least repaired multiple times because new cars turn into old cars. Oprah knew the generous gift wouldn’t change anyone’s life forever. It takes a while for Chase to figure that out. He really does love helping people. Maybe I put a dash of Oprah’s crowd-thrilling benevolence in him.

But his changed life doesn’t please him at all and he eventually realizes there must be a greater gain. That even his own reward of the praise of the multitude is not lasting. The final answer to the most important question is not about receiving a great gift. Not about getting something for free. Not about the fantastic propulsion into a completely new life.

Well, yes it is. The greatest gift is free to all.
And it changes everything.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Unique Missionary Opportunity

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) is a command, and is the responsibility of every Christian. If you’ve been taking this mandate seriously, you have probably been wishing you could go on a missions trip—short term or longer-- but not very sure about it.  When we think about traditional missions trip opportunities, we need to consider what is involved in the process,  including picking a geographic location, raising support, getting a passport and visa, getting immunized, purchasing a round-trip ticket, and of course, tearfully leaving loved-ones behind. All that sounds like a lot of preparation; however, there is a unique opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission that does not require any of that.

So what will this unique opportunity entail? It will cost you nothing more than the cost of your current living expenses; in other words, no increase in your daily expenditure. It requires no immunization, no airline ticket, no passport or visa, and no tearful goodbyes. All you have to do is leave your home or apartment and perform your usual routines: stroll through the neighborhood as usual, go to work or school, and go to the bank if you need to transact a financial business, or go shopping if you needed to buy something.

What is so unique about this?

This is a unique opportunity because there are people in all these places who have not heard the gospel, or do not quite understand it. All you need to do is prayerfully share your faith with whomever you meet, or invite them to church or whatever small-group you might be a part of.  Missions doesn’t always mean you have to leave home or your country of origin. Mission work is all around us, even in our homes, and on our streets. If God specifically calls you to leave home and go to a foreign country, that will be a different story, but until then, be diligent about sharing your faith right where you are and wherever you find yourself on a day to day basis.

Our sharing should be both by word and deed. Showing love and kindness to people usually opens the door for us to verbally share the love of God. So let’s look out for and grab opportunities God places in our path. Like in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33-37), let’s go out of our way to show kindness to those who need us. Let’s be creative in finding ways we can serve our neighbors and friends, and in so doing be able to share the gospel of Jesus that brings salvation to all mankind. The Great Commission should be taken far and near, home and abroad!

We’ve been saved through the efforts of others who obeyed the Great Commission; let us also obey it so many more will be saved. The gospel spreads through multiplication, and we are all called to share it wherever we go. Let’s not waste time sitting around, waiting for another prompt from God; this is it. We need compassion for the lost, and the zeal to share with them. God has given us all we need to live godly lives (2 Peter 1:3), and that includes the courage and boldness to share with others.

Word of caution: we have not been called to convert anyone; our responsibility is to share the love of God. It is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to convict men of sin and convert. We need to follow our sharing with prayers that the hearts of those we share with would be softened and that they’ll understand their need for salvation. Follow-up contacts by phone, text, or email could help the process, and let’s remember, “A wise person wins souls” (Proverbs 11:30 NLT). Also, conversions don’t happen overnight in every situation, so prayerfully exercise patience.

So as you see, sharing the gospel is not that complicated. The unique opportunity is available to all Christians. And until God gives you specific instructions to go to another country, seize this unique opportunity, and enjoy the Great Commission right here at home! 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Stepping into Biblical Shoes

            I find it super encouraging to read biblical accounts of folks who are as flawed as me. Women, men, siblings, parents, children, religious leaders, bosses—the Bible gives us relational models which speak to our lives. Today I’m focusing on 1 Samuel 1.
            Elikanah the Ephraimite was a devote man with two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Every year he traveled to the tabernacle at Shiloh to offer sacrifices to the Lord and ask God’s blessing upon his family. During the festival, he gave generous portions of meat to Peninnah and her children, but he always gave a double portion to Hannah “because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb.”
            Peninnah knew Hannah was the favorite and intentionally provoked her, bringing Hannah to tears. The insults were especially hard to endure when they went up to the house of the Lord. Hannah wept so hard she couldn’t eat. Worried, Hannah’s husband begged her to focus on his love rather than her despair over being childless.
            One day enough was enough. Hannah’s bitterness consumed her heart and mind. Standing outside the tabernacle, she negotiated with God.

‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.’ (1 Sam 1:11)

            A priest named Eli watched this woman for a while. She stood transfixed, eyes closed, mouth moving but no sound coming out. Apparently this was very peculiar behavior because he concluded she was drunk and told her to sober up! When Hannah explained she was praying to God out of deep anguish and grief, Eli blessed her and asked God to grant her petition. Receiving comfort and hope, Hannah’s spirit was renewed. “In the course of time,” the Lord “remembered” Hannah’s prayer and she gave birth to a son she named Samuel saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
            Once Samuel was weaned, the family once again made a trip to Shiloh to sacrifice. With Elikanah’s blessing, Hannah kept her vow and presented her beloved son to Eli as a dedication to God. 1 Samuel 2 chronicles Hannah’s prayer as she handed her son to the Lord.

My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance…The Lord brings death and makes alive; he bring down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth, he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. 1 Sam 2:1-10

            Sit in the shoes of each of these folks and you will experience their strengths and weaknesses. Despite being a man of faith, Elikanah showed favor to one wife over the other. Hurt and angry with her husband, Peninnah responded by scapegoating Hannah, knowing exactly what buttons to cruelly push. Bitterness grew in Hannah’s heart, eventually pushing her to bargain with God. Eli made inaccurate, incorrect assumptions rather than relationally moving towards Hannah to find out what she needed.
Do you find yourself in these flawed folks? The good news is God offered each person an opportunity to grow and mature. I like to hope Elikanah took ownership of his part in the marital issues and intentionally worked on his relationship with Peninnah. Hopefully her heart and attitude softened toward Hannah, promoting peace and harmony at home. We see how Eli allowed God to speak to his heart about making hasty judgments. Doing so resulted in compassion for Hannah’s sorrow and his words brought comfort and hope back to her soul.
Personally, I’m highly inspired and encouraged by Hannah’s transformation, as evidenced in her prayer in 1 Samuel 2. Like many folks, she lived with constant disappointment and hardship. As a Christian counselor, I don’t have a “why” answer. Why did God close Hannah’s womb? Why did he allow Peninnah to be so hurtful? Why doesn’t God step in and miraculously heal and protect those I love? Enduring these questions everyday can eventually wear folks down, bringing resentment and bitterness.
Many of us try to bargain with God and if that doesn’t seem to get results, we close ourselves off relationally and become cynical or stoic. Using human logic, Hannah had every reason to feel abandoned by God and renig on her “foxhole” vow. Yet her powerful prayer shows a heart of gratitude and thankfulness. Hannah confidently testifies to God’s heart of love for her, her son, and her people. She still lives in a fallen world, but she now knows in her soul how God is always with and for her no matter the circumstances. Looking at life through God’s heart gives us everything we need to persevere in faith and hope.
I was very blessed to visit Shiloh several years ago. The photo above is taken in the cave identified as the home of Eli and Samuel. Standing at the site of the original Tabernacle, I felt God’s manifest presence. I challenge you to adopt a relational view of reading the Bible. Put yourself in the shoes of all the flawed folks. Connect with their weaknesses and immature behaviors. Bring all your “why” questions directly to God. Allow these accounts to be a catalyst for growth in your own life.

Judy Lair, LPCC