THE ISHMAEL CHURCH

The phrase “Ishmael Church” is somewhat strange in today’s vocabulary. We think of Ishmael in the Islamic religion, however, God has dealt with me to view this in an entirely different way. He took me back to Abraham, so I could see exactly what the ‘Ishmael Church’ is about.

In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham is given a vision from God, a vision not unlike the vision received by many pastors today. Abraham began to implement the vision by following the direction of God. He immediately departed ‘as the Lord had spoken to him,…’ however, the real meat of the vision did not come to pass during the 10 years that Abraham journeyed in the land. It was this 10 year period that God was using to test and try Abraham in his faithfulness to God and his belief in the vision. God uses this in our lives as well. Just because we have a vision from God, a direction in our calling, and the anointing to complete the task, does not mean that God is ready for us immediately to implement the vision. Some, if not all, visions require a growth and maturing on the part of the receiver of the vision. We must prove our faithfulness to God and the ability to handle the awesome responsibility of the vision. Paul reminds Timothy that one who is to be a bishop must meet certain qualifications of maturity. He says in I Timothy 3:6 ‘Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. ‘

Clearly Paul was setting forth God’s position that one must be seasoned in order to effectively see the vision to its completion. God let Abraham season those 10 years even though he was already 75 years old. God is letting us know that maturity is not by years alone. Age is never the equivalent to maturity. Age takes place in the flesh, maturity takes place in the spirit. Our spirit life is not necessarily enhanced by age, but is enhanced by the openness of our spirit to the things of God.

God is looking for balanced maturity. He wants us to mature in all ways, not just in specific areas. Let us look at our example Abraham. After his vision, he went to Egypt and deceived Pharaoh. He then returned to Canaan and settled a land dispute with Lot in what we would consider a ‘Christian manner’. He made a major spiritual revelation by giving tithes to Melchizedek and completed this show of maturity by refusing to accept a reward for his military service. He chose to receive his blessing from God rather than man. He showed his complete obedience and allegiance to God.

But Abraham was not yet fully mature. God again assured him of an heir (Genesis 15:4), yet Abraham chose to listen to his wife and lay with Hagar instead of waiting for God to fulfill his promise. The resulting child of Hagar was a child of flesh, not the child of promise.

By the time Ishmael was born, Abraham was 86 years old. Eleven years had passed since the vision. That was too much time for Abraham, so he decided it was time to implement the vision himself. He brought forth out of his own flesh and his own doing, the heir he was promised. We find ourselves many times in the same situation. Patience has not had its perfect work and our flesh can wait no more. We seek to implement the ministry we have been promised in our time frame, not in God’s. If it wasn’t in God’s time frame, why didn’t God just not allow the sperm and egg to get together? No joining of sperm and egg, no Ishmael. But remember, God is using this time to test and try Abraham. God’s universal law of sowing and reaping is initiated by the sower. If Abraham does not sow, he does not reap. Why should God be responsible to bring to naught seed that we carelessly sow. He did give us a free will to do what we felt best and also gave us the strength to walk through the accountability that comes with the reaping. God had already given his word to Abraham. It was not up to Abraham to believe or not. Abraham thought God was not moving fast enough to get his ministry off the ground so he took matters into his own hands. Result — a ministry of flesh incapable of being what God wanted. It did, however, give the appearance of success and blessing. This happens many times with today’s pastors. They choose to implement the ministry God has given them as their own creation. They convince themselves and others that they are only doing what God called them to do. They are partly right, the vision was probably given by God and they are implementing it, but not by the leadership of the Spirit of God. They are implementing it through their flesh. An “Ishmael Church” is hard to detect without the spirit of God.

One way to detect the “Ishmael Church” is to see how this church related to others. The Lord spoke to Hagar and told her about Ishmael, ‘And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” Genesis 16:12. The translation of ‘shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren’ in the Hebrew actually means’ in defiance/disregard of’. Therefore, one of the characteristics of the ‘Ishmael Church’ is its total disregard for the other churches and ministries around it. Unlike the tribes on the east of Jordan who helped their brothers secure their rest, the ‘Ishmael Church’ chooses to help only itself and foster its own beliefs. This church sees only its own best interest and not the interest of the Kingdom of God. This should not be surprising as the flesh has always sought its own and not the way of the spirit.  The concept of ‘kingdom’ is lost on the ‘Ishmael Church’ for, as with Ishmael, it chooses to operate in complete disregarded for its brethren. The concept of “my ministry” becomes prevalent. All efforts are spent to keep Ishmael growing, not necessarily maturing, but just growing. For all concerned it appears that the ‘Ishmael Church’ is in fact the church of promise, but the Lord said do not judge a matter before its time.

It is interesting to note that from the birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16:15) to the Lord’s next conversation with Abraham (Genesis 17:1) a period of thirteen (13) years pass. Thirteen years and no conversation from God.

Why? Was this to test the faithfulness of Abraham or was God displeased with the ministry of flesh and therefore willing to let Abraham continue without God’s involvement?

God will not get involved with flesh things. God will only be involved where the Spirit of God is. ‘God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and truth.’ Flesh cannot worship God nor can it give true life to any person. The thirteen years of silence has always been taught as a time of extreme faithfulness by Abraham. He continued on with his life but he proceeded under his own direction rather than the direction of God. When God did speak, He once again shared the vision and gave Abraham the assurance of a free born son of Sarah, the true son of promise. God had never changed His vision but Abraham had tried to implement the vision without God. He implemented his fleshly vision as a substitute for the heavenly vision. Abraham may have thought that he was on his way to fulfilling the promise, but God knew better.

This thirteen year void in conversation was occasioned because of the rebellion of Abraham in trying to bring the vision to pass on his own. Understand that Abraham was no less blessed because of Ishmael, it was only that the true vision could not be implemented through Ishmael. It has been well said that without God you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The same is true of vision. You cannot make a Godly vision come to pass by fleshly means. Life produces only after its own kind. A fleshly church will only produce fleshly fruit. God was looking for the spiritual church (Isaac) to produce spiritual fruit. If we are fleshly we will only produce from the flesh, but if we are spiritual we will produce fruit of the spirit.

Even after the Lord shared with Abraham the glorious news of the son of promise, Abraham sought to keep the flesh child, Genesis 17:18′ …, O that Ishmael might live before thee!’ He felt that all that he had placed his hopes and dreams in for thirteen years would be destroyed.

However, God remains faithful only to the one whom he chose to implement the vision, Genesis 17:20. God blessed Ishmael. He did nothing to embarrass Abraham. He did not point out that Abraham had acted on his own. He blessed Ishmael while knowing that the fruit of Ishmael would be fleshly and would be a thorn in the side of Israel even unto today. God made it clear that his covenant would be with Isaac not with Ishmael. These two cannot coexist as equals. Fleshly churches abound and are tolerated because the Lord is still dealing with the pastor to implement the vision by the Holy Spirit.

 We see what happens when finally the true church begins to come forth. (Genesis 21:8-12) Isaac was weaned, and able to step forth on his own without the need of mother’s milk. We find Ishmael mocking and laughing. It was now evident that the two could not coexist, only the true son could remain. Abraham was grieved by this since Ishmael was his son, his ministry. God had to again reassure Abraham that Ishmael would be taken care of and a nation would come forth from him. How hard it is for us to give up “our ministry” even when God is trying to give us His ministry, a better one.

When it’s “ours” it’s more difficult. We want our efforts recognized. We don’t get credit for the increase in God’s ministry as he is the one who brings it forth. Once again the last remaining vestiges of our flesh must be satisfied. Contrast this with the way Abraham acted when he was required to sacrifice Isaac. Not one ‘peep’ was heard from him. Abraham had nothing to lose because the ministry was God’s. If God wanted it to survive, He would have to supply a lamb or raise Isaac from the dead. We know deep down inside that if “our” ministry dies, it will not be resurrected. That is why we have to die with “our” ministry, so we can be resurrected. That is why we have to die with “our” ministry, so we can be resurrected into God’s ministry. Jesus said it best, ‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.’ John 12:24 In order for us to have a ministry that grows in the spirit, we must be willing for it to die so it can bring forth the much fruit. It is difficult for us to grasp the concept that as long as WE ARE the ministry, it will only grow in the flesh, but if we let God be the ministry, it will grow in the spirit to a size that cannot be contained.

Then, we will find ourselves a part of the greatest ministry of all, the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of that ministry is still being produced. As sands on the seashore indeed, it grows everyday and we can be a part of it if only we will die to self and the self ministry, and let God arise in us to bring us forth into His ministry.

God let Abraham know that from His stand point, Abraham had only one son, Isaac. Genesis 22:16-18 God told Abraham that He was pleased because Abraham had not withheld his only son. Clearly God never considered Ishmael to be part of the ministry equation, he blessed him only on Abraham’s behalf and His covenant with him.

God honors His word to us, even when we do things God has not directed. Ishmael, although not in God’s plan, was blessed because of the blessing God has placed upon the father Abraham. The ultimate blessing was reserved however for Abraham’s true son when he came forth. Oh the faithfulness of God. Truly, our God is an awesome God!  The ‘Ishmael Church’ will never be able to accomplish what God has granted to his true church’…. ‘and thy seed (Isaac) shall possess the fate of his enemies’; Genesis 22:17.  The ‘Ishmael Church’ is not built upon the Rock, not was it ever intended to be. Only the church of God’s vision is built on the Rock where the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it, for that is the church Jesus established with the true revelation of the Word rather than fancy flesh-stroking words uttered in the proper King’s English. The flesh church of our own implementation will never be able to prevail against the gates of Hell nor will we ever be in a position to possess the gates of Hell ourselves to stop ‘ole slewfoot’ from his evil ways. Is our dancing and pew jumping for our satisfaction, the satisfaction of the flesh or as a basic training for the real fight against the devil? When the flesh church is ‘stroking fur’ you cannot find a seat, but when the true Word comes forth as a complete fulfillment of the vision of God birthed in our spirit us, the crowds seems to diminish. Is it possible that we want the crowds to grow because of us and our ‘charismatic’ personality and our ‘tickling ears’ ministry rather than to fulfill the vision and teach the people to eat the body and drink the bold of Jesus? Even Jesus experienced the days of large crowds and the falling away in John 6.

Why was the weaning of Isaac so funny for Ishmael? The struggle we all have to break away from the milk of the word to move on to the meat of the word is a gut wrenching time. Those who are not moving in the spirit will laugh at the ones who are trying to take the hard road to perfection. To them we all seem foolish. Isaac was no different, as he tried for the first time to have a full meal without mother’s milk, to chew meat, he looked as if a strange new world was opening up to him which he did not know whether he would like it or not. The strange expressions on his face probably did cause Ishmael to ‘mock him out.’ He did look funny but he was trying to move as God wanted him to and although it may look strange and bizarre, it is deadly serious. Very deadly to those who do not take it seriously. The ‘Ishmael Church’ will not go down without a fight, flesh always die screaming. But if our ministry is to go forth in power and might, it must change from the ‘Ishmael Church’ to the ‘Church of Promise’ and we will have to die for that to happen. That’s why Paul said ” I die daily”. He knew his ministry had to diminish so the ministry of the Holy Spirit could grow. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Selah.

What does man have to provide to the ‘Ishmael Church’? Man seems to think that as he moves with the flow, he will be able to give life and provision to the church. How far can our conceit go?

We have nothing to offer God but our obedience to His Word, anything else He can do without. Take Abraham for our example, when Ishmael was being forced out of the camp, Abraham decided that he would give provision to Hagar and Ishmael so he gave them bread and a bottle of water. That provision did not last long. Genesis 21:14-15 But when real provision was needed, God provided a well, verse 19. The problem with the ‘Ishmael Church’ is the same problem that faced the church in the time of Jeremiah. We believe that we have the ability to create the church of our dreams (vision) by storing up the word and giving it out to the flock. Jeremiah found the same thing and God had him rebuke it.

“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold not water. Jeremiah 2:13. This says it all about the leadership in the ‘Ishmael Church’, they are working with cisterns, not a fountain. Preachers have a portfolio of packaged sermons to dazzle and amaze. Some are original and some are rehashes of a message by someone else. Its amazing how many find it to their liking to feast upon left overs rather than getting it fresh and anew from the source. It’s sort of like the difference between fresh green beans and canned. Once you have had the real thing, you never want the canned again. The ‘Ishmael Church’ takes the message from the cistern because they do not know better. The cisterns have been hewn out by the pastor and can only store what it received and most of that is from the run off of a rain that fell elsewhere. Whereas the fountain is the well that is tapped into the main flow of the water, straight from the source. Living water as opposed to stale collected water.

God had told Jeremiah in verse 11, “…but My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit.” How fitting as this applies to the ‘Ishmael Church’. The real glory of the church comes from opening ourself to the power of the Holy Spirit so that a fresh word from the fountain may come forth. Churches don’t have to look to outside ministry to bring a fresh word, the ability to have a fresh word on a daily basis is there, if only we would turn to Him. Fill up the cistern, don’t capture someone else’s run off, don’t let it stand and get stale. Dig into the word, find that flow of living water and come back to the one who created the vision in the first place. Jesus made it plain, I only speak that which my father has taught me. John 8:18 If the father had not taught us through His Spirit, what do we have to say? We truly have changed to that which does not profit us or the people.

God made it plain that Ishmael could not be heir with Isaac even if the statement came from Sarah. Paul shares with us in Galatians that the same was an inspired demand. Why could he not share? He was his father’s son, at the least he was a half-brother. True, but the other half of him was corrupted by having come out of the bondwoman, to inherit the kingdom he had set aside for the true son of the husband and wife. Anything outside of that true relationship may be a seed but it will not be a son. The seed (zera) is only posterity, whereas, the son (ben) is the builder of the family name. Ishmael was blessed not because he was a son, but because he was Abraham’s seed. Genesis 21:13 God made it clear that Isaac was Abraham’ only son. Genesis 22:16

We see in Matthew 16:15-18 a similar story to the one of Sarah and Abraham. Here the Lord asks who the disciples think that He is and Peter sets forth the true answer that He is the Christ. Jesus commends Peter’ for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.’ This is the position of the real church, we will know because it will be revealed by God.

It was Sarah (flesh and bold) who revealed to Abraham the way to create and complete the vision he had so long waited for by sleeping with Hagar. The ‘Ishmael Church’ was revealed by flesh and blood, not by God. However, the true church was revealed by God, for it was He who told Abraham that Sarah would give birth to the son of promise which was the true church. As the story of Ishmael and Isaac reveals, the flesh (carnal) church is brought forth easier and sooner than the true spiritual church. Why? Because it is always easier to persuade men to assume the ‘form’ of godliness than to submit to the ‘power’ of godliness.

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