Why Do GOOD Things Happen to BAD People?

unfairGenesis 36

I know you’ve heard the question:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  It is a question that books have been devoted to.  And if you ever come close to a satisfactory answer to that question (as if that were possible)… there remains one more question that will STILL drive you nuts:  “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

If good people have to have hardship… that may be hard to swallow… but… so be it.  It helps them grow.  It produces compassion in them.  They endure in hope.  But why do evil people sometimes receive no such resistance?  Why is it smooth sailing for them?  Don’t they need even more so:  to grow, to learn compassion and to experience hope?  We reach the point of sympathizing with the Psalmist:  “…I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  …always at ease, they have increased in wealth.  ” (73:3-4, 12)

Case in point:  Genesis 36.  All one finds when they read this often skipped over chapter of the Bible is a long list of Jacob’s brother Esau’s property, sons and animals.  It is pretty dry reading unless you really examine closely this spreadsheet.  It is then you realize that Esau was loaded!  Money in those days was measured in how many children you fathered, the amount of deeds you possessed and how many flocks and herds were grazing on your property.  Esau, in the eyes of the ancient world, was a very successful man.  And yet God would say of him:  “Esau I hated.”  (Malachi 1:3 and Romans 9:13)  God must be very gracious indeed to spoil a man He hated with such degree of prosperity.

But it really shouldn’t surprise us… Jesus taught us that His Father “…causes His sun to rise  on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”  God is remarkable good to even those who don’t think to thank Him (or refuse to thank Him) for the rich blessings He sends their way.  (Romans 1:21)

Here is a warning here for us as believers.  We might be tempted to envy the “Esau”s of this world, but we must not be quick to equate material success with spiritual success.  The disciples in Jesus’ time stumbled on this issue as well.  When Jesus said that it was more difficult for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, the disciples gasped and asked Him:  “Then who can be saved?”  Would we gasp if we saw who was in and who was out of favor with God?  Would many of the elite of this world be left off the “truly blessed” list?

Lael F. Arrington wrote about a time in her mid-twenties when she was trying to choose a life partner.  She wrote:  “On the same weekend in November one fellow I was dating told me he loved me, and the other fellow I was dating asked me to marry him.  Both were intelligent, tall, handsome, witty and charming. The first fellow was quite successful already. Our times together were spent at country clubs, elegant parties, and lovely dinners. The second fellow was scrimping by in seminary, and our time together was spent over a bucket of chicken on a study date—he was writing papers and I preparing lecture notes for the high school classes I taught.

          The first fellow and I did not share the same spiritual heritage or level of commitment, but the second one and I did. In fact, his level of commitment was greater than mine at the time and required a great deal of sacrifice. He wanted to teach and train Christians on the mission field. The lap of luxury looked much more appealing than a vow of poverty. But… when it came down to making a decision, I could not walk into the future and not share my past. After trusting Christ, it was the biggest decision of my life.

She continued:  We still get the bucket of chicken, and many nights are study nights… But the blessings flowing from that decision are a source of profound and continuing joy.  (A Bright Tomorrow, p. 12.)

In whatever financial circumstance you find yourself, rejoice in the fact that God does not hate you… but loves you with the most intense love.  That in and of itself is a blessing that all the land, sheep and children in the world can’t come close to rivaling.

Blessings!

 

Who Is It You are Really Fighting?

Jacob wrestles with angel3Genesis 32:24-32

Have you ever experienced a “water shed” moment in your life? An invisible line in your walk with the Lord, that after crossing, you were never the same again.   It usually comes out of a stirring from the Lord… sometimes at the heels of a time of questioning.

For some of us, it came at the moment of conversion. We had thought that there was no way we could ever believe in Christ, but the questions nagged us so long, that we came to faith in Him.  For others of us believing seemed to be as natural as breathing… we were baptized at age 9, and have always taken part in church life. But then a crisis hits our life and we were rocked to the foundations of our beliefs. And we arrive at the watershed.

In today’s story, Jacob has come to this decisive moment. God wants him to return to the land… but he will not come back there as the same person he was when he left. His moment of decision is at hand.

Genesis 32

22 Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had.

24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

Now Jacob has finally put everything in his life on a slow trail to his brother as a “gift” and is now alone in the camp. But then he realizes suddenly that he is not alone. Startled by this stranger, Jacob springs into action… he struggles for his life until daybreak.

There is a triple word play going on here in the Hebrew. The Hebrew for wrestled (ye’abeq) is similar in sound to Jacob (ya’aquob) and Jabbock (yabboq) – the place this wrestling match takes place.  The triple word play is there to mark the importance of this pivotal moment in Jacob’s life.

Have you ever been lost? Jacob is. He might fancy himself as being “Off the Trail.” But he is really lost.  When will we ever come to admit that… we’re lost… lost and feeling all alone? But then, why is it, right at the moment when we realize this… we face a struggle that we “don’t really need right now?”

Sometimes our Jabbock comes at mid-life. Sometimes it comes on that centennial celebrations of 40, -gulp- 50, 60, etc. And we think we are fighting family, age, depression, our boss, our wrinkles, and our lot in life…. But if we will but stop and realize that you could be on that you could be on the brink of a life altering moment with God.

What would that do for our lives? Redefine the battle and discover the wealth of wisdom, courage and mission that can come out of that battle.

Now I believe that Jacob is fighting an angel here. The Bible says in several places that no man has seen God and lived to tell about it.  But there are several places where “the angel of the Lord” showed up and it was later said of the encounter “I have seen God.” It seems that to interact with God’s messenger is to wrestle with God himself.  But Jacob’s wrestling partner goes unnamed here, I believe to emphasize that whatever angel was representing him… this battle was between Jacob and the Almighty.

Here is one of the most interesting things in the passage for me… when the angel says: you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.

To me it is clear from the text that Jacob didn’t “prevail” in the wrestling match in the sense that he defeated God. They wrestled all through the night and it appeared that it was going to be a draw until God dislocates Jacob’s hip with a simple touch. So just how close was the match… actually.

It was as if God allowed Jacob to take his best shot and then showed who was still in control all along with a single touch. That night Jacob found out that he couldn’t push God around and do things the way he’d always done them before.

Here is a tip we can take from Jacob during our watershed moments. When he realized it was an angel he is wrestling with, he says he will not let go until the angel blesses him. The principle we have to learn is this… if you get into a wrestling match with God: Don’t let go until He blesses you.

Have you ever heard of the term: Persistent Prayer? It doesn’t mean you have to nag God for him to answer… He IS willing to freely give us all things. It is taking the time to wrestle with God for the blessing we need rather than the one we might want.

We are changed when we prevail in prayer. When we come to the place where we say: “I’m not giving up… until these circumstances are turned into blessing.”

What battle are you currently fighting?  Could it be God you are locked in combat with?  How long do you intend to hang on?

Blessings!

 

 

Developing a Healthy Appetite for Life

appetiteGenesis 25:29-34

There are a lot of new diets beginning about now.  Thanksgiving and Christmas feasting is giving way to New Year’s fasting.  But I want to talk to you here at the beginning of the year about your appetite.  Do you have a good one?  Not for chocolate or roast beef… but for things that really matter.

Continuing in our devotions through Genesis, we come to the story of Jacob and Esau “when the boys grew up.”  Like most teenagers… both of these boys have a strong appetite.

29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

We see in this brief passage, two approaches to life.

  1. Jacob’s Method: Scheming to get ahead of the Other Guy

Jacob’s name meant “heel grabber” or if you prefer:  “crook.”  And you can tell from this tale, he was already proficient in subterfuge .   Do you know who it was that Jacob took up after?  Grandpa Abraham and Daddy Isaac!  Not once but twice Abraham got in trouble for saying his wife was his sister.  Isaac followed suit and did the same once.  The thing about Jacob, however, was that he (unlike either of them) he was very good at it.  There are those that discover young in life that they are gifted at deception. Now verse 27 calls Jacob a “peaceful man, living among the tents.”  “Peaceful” can mean “refined.”  This tells us that Jacob wasn’t a common crook… but more like an embezzler… smart and cunning in his approach.

Are you good at deceit?  Then it can be very tempting for you not to wait on God but to take what ever you want… when you want it.

  1. Esau’s Method: Consuming without thought to future.

What was at stake in this story?  The Birthright – the oldest son’s share of the material estate of the family.  Usually a double share.

Is Esau giving up all of his share or is he flipping things and giving Jacob the double portion?  We don’t know from the text.  What is most important to the text and the context is his statement: “of what use then is the birthright. “  This would have cause the readers of Genesis to gasp! To say such a thing, even with the threat of death over one’s head would have been unthinkable.

I recently read a poem by Jeanne Steig called: “Twins”

Esau said, “I’m feeling faint.”

“Aw,” said Jacob, “no you ain’t.”

“Papa’s blessing,” Esau cried

“Is mine by rights. But I’ll have died

Of hunger first. For pity’s sake—

My birthright for your lentils, Jake.”

“Your birthright?” Jacob murmured. “Sold!”

Dig in, before the stuff gets cold.

Esau ate and drank and went about his business, indifferent to the fact that he had just given up something very precious.  But Esau’s failure was not just that he was hungry or impetuous.  It was that he was godless.  That doesn’t mean he didn’t believe in God, but that God didn’t matter all that much to him.  Verse 34 says he “despised” or showed contempt for his birthright.  The writer of Hebrews (12:16) warns us that in the church there is to be… “no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.”

To live and breathe and go about your life without thought to the purpose given you by Almighty God is a godless way to live.   Is your goal of living to collect the most do-dads. Or to visit the most perfect restaurant.   Or to take the perfect vacation.

Consume them if you will. But the do-dads will collect dust, the meal will reach its conclusion as well as the vacation.

Just like Esau’s meal… you will have no return for your investment.

What are you doing with your life that will yield eternal dividends?

Josh McDowell tells about the time he was visiting with a “head-hunter” — an executive recruiter who seeks new corporate executives for other firms.  The man told him, “When I get an executive that I’m trying to hire for someone else, I like to disarm him. I offer him a drink, take my coat off, then my vest, undo my tie, throw up my feet and talk about baseball, football, family, whatever, until he’s all relaxed.  Then, when I think I’ve got him relaxed, I lean over, look him square in the eye and say, ‘What’s your purpose in life?’  It’s amazing how top executives fall apart at that question.

“Well, I was interviewing this fellow the other day, had him all disarmed, with my feet up on his desk, talking about football.  Then I leaned up and said, ‘What’s your purpose in life, Bob?’  And he said, without blinking an eye, ‘To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can.’  For the first time in my career I was speechless.”  (eSermons, 6-29-04)

Better Approach to Living: Letting God bless you.

We can accomplish more than our name says we can.  We can receive more from God than we can even imagine he wants to give us.

22 times in the Bible, God is referred to as the God of Jacob.  You see the phrase the God of Israel… but more often that refers to the nation, not this individual.  Why is this designation still used even after Jacob’s name is changed?  Why is the designation “crook” not dropped?

I think it is a reminder to us Jacobs… that there is a God that loves us and wants a relationship with us.  A God that desires to give us his blessing.

Galatians 3:29 reminds us that if we “…belong to Christ, then we are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”  Stop scheming to get ahead… stop thoughtlessly consuming life’s blessing… surrender to what God has for your life.  How is your appetite?  Is it for more of Him?

Blessings!

Welcome to the Family

baby feetGenesis 25

As we roll along in Genesis… we come to a third major figure in this rich history.  There was Noah, then Abraham… and now:  Jacob.  We get to begin his journey at Square 1, his birth, as we are offered a backstory of how he came to be.  Do you know your “back story?”  Sometimes these stories are shared with us by our parents.  “We were long sought after.”  “We were an “oops” baby.”  “We didn’t want to come out of the womb.”  “We were premature.”  Whatever our story, how we were received is part of who we are and what we become.  Now Jacob was a wanted child.  A child vital to the promise of God.

Now Isaac his father knew his own backstory probably from the time he was a small child.  He would one day be the father of a great nation.  But then God interposes a period of waiting for that promised child, much like he did to his father, Abraham.  Isaac and Rebekah struggle with infertility.  It can seem that God is so silent when you deal with waiting for something.

Here are some tips to receiving the blessing of God in your life… even if the wait has been excruciating.

1.  Discover the Role of Prayer in the Sovereignty of God

19 Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived.

We don’t know how long God was silent but we do know what finally broke the silence: the voice of Isaac praying.   Just because God had promised a child to Isaac didn’t mean that Isaac’s prayer was inconsequential.  It seems as though God took into consideration Isaac’s petition in His foresight, before any promise was even made to Abraham.

Could it be that when we don’t pray, God already takes our lack of prayer into consideration as well?  Knowing that becomes for us a powerful motivator for us to bring our petitions before God.  Some in this world say: “Answered prayer is nothing more than coincidence.”  But I’ve also heard it said: “It is amazing the amount of coincidences that occur when you pray.”   As a friend and fellow pastor, Dave Workman, once remarked: “… a coincidence is when God does a miracle but chooses to remain anonymous.”  Isaac and Rebeccah experience breakthrough… through the power of prayer.

2.  Come to Grips with the Choices of God

22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.”

Rebecca has these strange feelings inside her as the child they had prayed for begins to grow. The Hebrew could be translated this way: “But the children almost crushed one another inside her.”   God reveals to her that it isn’t one child but two. The fact that two nations would rise from this delivery is the reason that they seem to be warring within her. But the younger will be server by the older.

Things just became complicated!  There are now two bundles of joy – so where does the blessing go?  God Sovereignly chooses.  And he chooses Jacob.

Paul deals with what could be perceived as unfair in the book of Romans when he writes:

Romans 9

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

God determines the outcome before the prenatal brawl even comes to an end.  God sees the future and knows the character of Esau before he is even old enough for it to be manifested.  And God makes his choice.  Sometimes we bump up against this thing called God’s choice.  “I’m not smart enough.”  “I’m not pretty enough.  “I’m not filled with enough social grace or self motivation.”  “Why did God chose someone else instead of me?”  It doesn’t seem fair.

What joy comes over the life that realizes that we have never lost out on one thing that we really needed.  God didn’t make a mistake with Esau.  And he didn’t make one with you.  And by the way, find hope in the fact that Jacob wasn’t the obvious choice.  He wasn’t as masculine, strong, or athletic as Esau… and yet God had chose him to carry forth the blessing.

God indeed has a purpose for each of us.  Some are like Esau… others like Jacob.  But we each have our role to play.  And in the end, the important thing will not be what part we played, but in whose family we were born.  In Christ we receive all the blessing we will ever need.

Blessings!