Going Back to Move Forward

Go Back Home3Genesis 31

How does one find a way forward when they feel stuck in the mud?  Robert J. Morgan tells the story of Jim Conway who was feeling a bit “stuck” in his situation.  Morgan explains:  “At midlife, a man begins to realize his body is not as strong as it is used to be, nor his wife as young. He often feels like a failure at work because of his accomplishments fall short of previous expectations. He’s caught between generations, having to care for aged parents just as his children are lurching through the teen years. When the kids graduate and fly the coop, it sometimes hits the father harder than the mother. Then come the college bills. All of this hit Conway like a sucker punch.”

Conway remarks:  “I had literally come to the end of my rope. I was ready to leave everything and run away. I crawled into bed that November night and hardly slept as I made my plans. I was awake through most of the night, detailing specific steps that I would take as I left my present life and ran away to start another life…”  (Robert J. Morgan, From This Verse, February 27th.)

As tempting as running away might seem… there is a better way:  Going back to go forward.  Jacob is a prime example of this from chapter 31 of Genesis.

Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth.” Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

Later while recounting what happened, Jacob tells his two wives:

You know that I have served your father with all my strength. Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me.

He continues:

11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He said, ‘Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you.

Basically God tells Jacob:  “You didn’t out smart Laban with your antics. I turned the tide in your favor.”  Then God says:

13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.’”

Eventually Jacob begins to hate his dream job.   So he leaves to pursue the calling God had for him to in the first place.   God reveals himself to Jacob here as… the “God of Bethel.”

Bethel was that place where Jacob saw the ladder stretching to heaven with angels walking on it. It was there that God revealed the calling he had for Jacob as the bearer of the blessing.

Who is the God of Bethel to you?  For me He is the “The God of the Auditorium of Two Rivers Church in Nashville TN during a Baptist State Youth Conference.”  I got down on my knees at the altar there and offered myself to full time Christian service. Where and when you surrendered to God’s call on your life is your Bethel.

In life we reach a point where we get weary. We threaten to not finish the race assigned us. Even Godly men and women become tempted to fall into an affair or to abandon promising career for something that doesn’t pan out.  They have lost the fire.

Where can one find it again?  Go back to the God of Bethel!   It is at Bethel that you begin to understand why you are raising a family and why you have a job in the first place.

Jim Conway had fallen into a vicious depression. He said:  “Repeatedly, I had fantasies of getting on a sailboat and sailing off to some unknown destination.”  He was a pastor, a husband, a father and an author. But he wanted to run away like a prodigal and start a new life.  He later wrote: “The midlife crisis is a time of high risk for marriages. It’s a time of possible career disruption and extra marital affairs. There is depression, anger, frustration and rebellion.”

So Conway went to bed thinking that the next morning he would plan his escape.  Morgan writes:  “But the next morning, as he starting reading His Bible where he had left off the day before, in Psalms 18, he found these words (or they found him); “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple…..He drew me out of many waters….You will light my lamp; the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.”  He closed his Bible.  The healing had begun.

Have you ever had to step back to catch a glimpse of your calling before moving forward with the Lord?  Who is “God of Bethel” to you?

Blessings!

Pastor Wayne

Stuck in a Dead End Job (or Planted There?)

 

dead end jobGenesis 30

Michael Leamons in Reader’s Digest wrote the following for their “All in a Day’s Work” column:  “Although desperate to find work, I passed on a job I found on an employment website. It was for a waste water plant operator. Among the job requirements: “Must be able to swim.”(February 2000, p. 48.)

Some jobs are certainly more appealing than others.  Some may lead to future rewarding careers but others seem to keep us up to our necks in… waste water.

Last week we looked at two major decisions that Jacob made without the benefit of prayer:  marriage and career.  The first decision led him into matrimony with two jealous wives who used children in a game of one-up-man-ship for their husband’s affection.   The decision we look at this week is the decision regarding career which led Jacob into a dead end job with his scrupulous boss and father-in-law, Laban.  Lack of prayer landed him in a mess!  What can he do now?

Despite the less than ideal working conditions… chapter 30 reveals that Jacob still managed to prosper.

So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys.  (30:43)

The short of it is this: there is still grace to be found… even marking time in a dead end job.

Many years ago I worked in Cincinnati, OH at a small food distributor that has since gone out of business.   I paid the bills for this company on an antiquated computer system in an office of crazies.   One women oozed bitterness to everyone.  Another swore like a sailor.  Another made train noises while she worked because it helped her think.  (I am not making this up.)  I was making a meager living but not very happy and not at that time pursuing my calling in ministry.  I was miserable.

Sometimes you are in a bad position by others or your own missteps, but just as Jacob learned to prosper even while getting the short end of the stick… you too can discover that God hasn’t lost track of His long term plan for your life.  My stint at the food distributor was part of God’s larger plan for me.  Little by little I learned to make the most of it.  I wrote songs on my lunch hour and on the way to the mailbox… which I later recorded onto an album.  This job also gave me enough there to get my family back on track financially.  And I made a few lifelong friends through the whole process.

Stop looking at your current job situation as a life sentence in a dingy cell.  Trace the source of sunlight through the bars.  Hope exists even where you are.  Ask:  “What blessings might God be trying to get me to notice here?”   Know that God can redeem your work and that your job site could become an altar upon which to better worship Him.

Greg Laurie remarks:  “Maybe you are at such a place in your life right now. You are laboring in obscurity. You feel as if no one notices what you do. Follow the example of Joseph: Work hard. Flip every burger for the glory of God. Create every PowerPoint presentation as though Jesus Christ Himself were going to inspect it. Hammer every nail as though you were building that house for God. Type every letter as if Jesus Himself were going to read it. Play every chord with skill and precision as if Jesus were listening. Because he is. Whatever it is you are doing, do it well. Be faithful—even if there are consequences.”  (Losers and Winners, Saints and Sinners, pp. 165-166.)

Author A. W. Tozer notes:  “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.”   Maybe that’s what God wants to speak into your life regarding your job:  THIS is where I can bless you now.  There may be other opportunities sometime later… but for now… THIS is where you are planted.   Examine where I have put the blooms onto your branches!

You who are caught in decisions of love and vocation. In the name of God stop and look at what you have.  It may be more than you think.

What blessings are you finding around the job site these days?  Are you sharing these things with a spouse or close friend?

Blessings!

 

Major Decision Ahead?

Tough Decisions AheadCarolyn Kempf wrote in Christian Reader magazine about her time in Bible college dating a certain fellow. During their first month of dating, they decided they should study the Bible together.  She writes:  “With my plot well set, one night I opened my Bible to (Proverbs 18:22) and read, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” I looked up, winked, and said, “Couldn’t you use a little favor from the Lord?”

My boyfriend, a Bible scholar, was quick with his reply from (Proverbs 10:10)–“He who winks the eye causes trouble.” (Carolyn Kempf, Jackson, Mo. Christian Reader, “Lite Fare.”)

These two decisions: Family and Career (outside of your decision to come to faith in Jesus) are the most important in terms of happiness, success and witness in this life.  You don’t want to mess them up.

My advice to you?   Bathe These (and all) Key Decisions in Prayer!

Jacob must have wished he did:  “Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the sons of the east. He looked, and saw a well in the field,…  10 When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept. 12 Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father. (29:1-2, 10-12)

Jacob has now met the love of his life. He shows off his strength for her by moving the large stone holding back the well’s water. (Much like young men flexing their muscles for potential mates today.). He kisses her on their first meeting… rushing things a bit, perhaps, for his time and culture.  But then look what happens next…  16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. 18 Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.  (29:16-20)

After Jacob had been there a bit (he was in no hurry to return back home to Esau who wanted to kill him)… Laban in a polite way says: “If you are going to live here you need to work.”  So Laban asks: “What should I pay you?” Jacob looks over at Laban’s two daughters. (To obtain a wife is why I’m here after all… he thinks.) Jacobs says (pointing to Rachel) “I’ll take her.”

Now why did Jacob center in on the younger of Laban’s daughters?  There is a clue in their names.  Rachel’s name meant Ewe or Lamb.  Leah’s name meant “Weary” or “Cow.”  There are also clues in the text of Scripture.  Rachel was beautiful of form and face we are told.  Leah had “tender” or “weak” eyes. Some commentators try to say that this was said to mean a redeeming feature. But it seems in the text that her “weak” eyes were in contrast to Rachel’s beauty.  Perhaps she was cross-eyed or had bulging eyes. Whatever the case… this is not a flattering description.

So Jacob says: “I’ll take Rachel.” And then he rolls up his sleeves and gets to work… and the years seem to fly by. Soon the 7 years are up.

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.” 22 Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. 23 Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. 24 Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. 25 So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 But Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn.

Jacob the deceiver finally gets a taste of his own medicine. That had to sting. Why did God allow this to happen?  We could mistakenly look at this as being God’s fault instead of Jacob’s.  But actually Jacob entered into the 2 most important decisions of his life without a lick of prayer.  (Marriage to Leah and working for Laban were decisions not bathed in prayer!)

Let’s talk marriage first.  Before you Spin the Wheel in the game of life and put that little peg spouse in the seat beside you… you better do some serious praying!  We can be so sloppy in the pursuit of a mate… out of desperation or whatever.

Before you “wink the eye” and lay a trap for Mr or Mrs Right… invite God into your search.   This chapter parallels another story in the book of Genesis. In Chapter 24 Abraham is concerned about finding a wife for his son Isaac. That story follows the same pattern as this one. Only in the earlier story, Abraham sends a servant to find Isaac’s bride.

That servant went to the city’s well. There he found the future Mrs. Isaac. He heads to the girl’s home where he is met with approval from the papa. Ultimately he brings Isaac his Rebekah. There are subsequently wedding bells chiming.   There is a major difference in these two stories. In the story of the servant… the whole process was bathed in prayer. In chapter 24 Abraham invokes God when he charges his servant with the task of matchmaking. The servant prays to God to help him find the right girl as the girls of the city come out to draw water.

When he finds Rebekah he utters a prayer of thanksgiving. And when she finally agrees to go with him (for her daddy seemed reluctant) the Scripture says: “he bowed himself to the ground before the Lord.”  Move back to chapter 29. There is no indication that Jacob prayed for or thanked God for anything in his entire wife seeking experience.

What would have happened if Jacob had prayed first?

Have a major decision in your life regarding  a relationship or a job change?  Have you spent the time you need on your knees before God?  He sees down the road far better than we can.

Blessings!

Leaving Home

leaving home2Genesis 28

I left home in 1988.  I had already graduated from college… but had been a commuter student.  I still remember the day that I flew out of the TriCities airport in East Tennessee heading toward seminary in California and freedom.

It was a huge moment for me.  I was finally on my own.  On the plus side: all decisions were now my own; plans didn’t need to be checked with anyone; and I could set my own bedtime.  On the minus side: all decisions were now my own; plans didn’t need to be checked with anyone; and I could set my own bedtime.

I was older than some of you were when you left home. Perhaps it was when you went to college or when you got your first apartment or when you got married.  But still there was this mixture of loneliness and joy and wonder and terror. The only way was forward… but forward was so unknown.

Jacob here is a biblical character in a time of transition. He has had to leave everything he knows and set out to find his future. There is no indication in the story thus far that Jacob believes in the God of his father… at least at this point in his life.

Maybe some of you relate.  In church you know all the right answers to keep others believing that you still believe.  But you are really just relying on mom and dad’s faith.  You haven’t personally flexed any spiritual muscles yourself.  Let me warn you: the path ahead of you is going to test it.

Here are two tips for you (or for you to share with a certain someone) regarding leaving home:

1.  Know Which Ladder Leads to True Blessing.  (v. 10-12)climbing a ladder

You are going to be trying to climb the ladder of success in whatever field you pursue. Better wages, better advantages, more vacation time and a slew of other things will tempt you to jettison your morals and values to attempt to pull yourself up just one more rung up in the corporate climb. And it isn’t just the perks. “Money is…” Dennis Kozlowski (ex-CEO of Tyco convicted of stealing some $600 million from the company) stated “…just a means of keeping score.”

But remember the words of Jack Higgins, the renowned author of The Eagle Has Landed, who once said that the one thing he knows now at this high point in his career that he wished he had known as a small boy is this: ‘When you get to the top, there’s nothing there.’

Note what happens in Jacob’s story:

10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Jacob sees a different ladder here. It wasn’t one leading to riches and wealth and fame. After his attempt at being Esau, he is run out of town.. sent out to seek his fortune with just his staff in his hand.  He didn’t even have time to bring his camping pillow… a rock had to do.

But there in the wilderness Jacob saw a vision of the ladder which leads to true blessing.  Before him stands the famous “Jacob’s ladder.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it or grown up singing about “climbing Jacob’s ladder.”  But if you notice here… Jacob isn’t anywhere on this ladder.

Here is Jacob… so used to grabbing for what he wants… receiving the blessings of God… with his feet still on the ground.   When we gather in worship on Sunday morning it is a time when we step off the ladders of success we are faced with in school or on the job every day… and we approach the ladder to heaven by which God blesses our lives.  And we learn it is all received by grace.

2.  Cultivate an awareness of God.prayer2

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Leaving Home for many means leaving childhood behind… church and God as well. Because those things aren’t… well… relevant .  God is something from childhood… best forgotten.   But the best thing about Jesus is that he comes to us where we are at EVERY STAGE of our lives. What lay ahead for Jacob? He had yet to find a wife… a job… colleagues… friends… wealth… purpose. And it was there that he met God on his journey.

Now is the day for you to have that epiphany! God is right there with you at the study desk… When you are choosing electives…. When you are deciding what you want to do with your weekend. But we miss him because we fail to use proper disciplines in our lives… attending worship services… reading the Bible… Prayer… hanging out with Christian friends.

Philip Yancey:  “I have learned to see prayer not as my way of establishing God’s presence, rather as my way of responding to God’s presence that is a fact whether or not I can detect it. .. prayer means keeping company with God who is already present.”

As I think about it… we all need these two tips.   These temptations might be crucial to deal with when leaving home… but they continue throughout our lives.

Are you climbing the right ladder to the blessing?  Are you aware of God’s presence along the way?  I’ll say it again:  “Today is the day for that epiphany!”

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!

Good Grief

Genesis 23OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Good Grief.”  It was a favorite saying of the Charles Schultz character, Charlie Brown.  And it is a curious expression.  What kind of grief is “good”?

Let me ask you: What image comes to your mind when you think of the term “grief”?

  • Perhaps a bouquet of flowers being laid on a freshly dug grave.
  • Maybe a night of holding a loved one’s pillow, trying in vain to get some sleep.
  • Maybe it’s the tears that seem to flow endlessly, or a pain in the gut that is too deep to describe in words.

A good friend of mine from California, Louise Johnson once shared with me a poem her daughter had written about a grief experience in her own life.

Dead Man's Float

This is an apt picture of how grief can feel.   So, how can an emotion that feels that bad… ever be called “good”?

Genesis 23 records the death of Abraham’s wife, Sarah.

Sarah died.  Stop and think that over for a moment.  It is so easy to read a passage from the Bible, like this one, and not even attempt to feel what the Biblical personalities are emoting.  If you want your Bible reading and study to come alive… you need to do more than just parse verbs or examine sentence structure, you need to use your senses and emotions as you read.

Picture what Abraham is going through.  He is wailing in pain over the loss of the great love of his life.  Abraham was a man that proved his faith in God over and over again throughout his long life.  Will he remain faithful to God after he lays the one he loves to rest?  A good question for us would be this: What can we learn from how a godly person deals with grief?

1)  We can accept that grief is a healthy and normal part of life.  The Bible displays this over and over.

  • When the Patriarch Jacob died, they mourned for him 7 days.
  • The OT book of Lamentations, depicts the mourning of the prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • By the graveside of Lazarus it is recorded in the book of John that “Jesus wept.”
  • In the book of Revelation, though God will in the end wipe them all away, there will be, until that moment, tears in the eyes of his saints.

As the old Gordon Jenson song said: “Tears are a language, God understands.”

2)  The second lesson we learn from this text is that we are to remember to move from personal grief to public memorial.

The text here doesn’t say how long Abraham grieved for Sarah. It may have been weeks or months. It does, however, have this to say in Genesis 23:3: “Then Abraham rose from before his dead…”

There came a time to emerge from private grief.  He reached a moment when he summoned the courage to step up from mourning in solitude and say something to the world.  Ray Stedman writes that verse 3 “signified a squaring of the shoulder, a lifting up of the eye, a firming of the step, a facing of life again…” And as he emerged from that private grief… the first thing Abraham decided to do was to create a memorial for Sarah.

Genesis 23:3-6                                                                                                                                                                Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, [4] “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” [5] The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, [6] “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.”

You may ask yourself, reading this text, why all the detail about the burial place?  It is written to tell us to what great lengths Abraham was willing to go to make sure Sarah’s memory would be preserved.  He did a great job picking out the plot by the way.  Sarah’s grave is one of the few in Palestine that has been authenticated today.  This cave, which was the burial place of Abraham, Jacob and Leah as well as Sarah, can still be visited today.  There is a mosque over the location, but it is believed to be the site of the cave.  Abraham succeeded in reminding the world of who Sarah was.

3)  The next thing grief can do is to help us continue to walk the path the Lord has laid out for us.

Did you catch how Abraham went on with God’s purpose for his life in this passage?  It’s subtle.

Genesis 23:17-18                                                                                                                                                             So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over [18] to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

Did you catch it?

God had made two promises to Abraham.  One was that he would give him and Sarah a son.  That son would father a multitude of people.  That promise had been fulfilled 37 years ago.

The second promise God made to Abraham was land. He was going to give him the land of Canaan as a possession for his descendants.  Abraham is now 137 years old. Up to chapter 22, how much of the land of Canaan did Abraham own?   Zero.   By purchasing this land, Abraham is advancing the purposes of God.

When we lose someone it is so easy to not want to go on. It is hard without their support and love. But if God still has us here on planet earth, it is because He still has a purpose for us down here and we had best get at it.

And grief can actually help sharpen our focus in life. We understand now how fragile life is. We know that we have a limited time to fulfill our purpose for being here. Grief can spur us to serve those around us.

“Good” grief?  Absolutely.  It is an emotion created by God with much benefit to our souls.  Don’t struggle.  Don’t run and hide.  Trust God to see you through it.

Blessings!

Passing Faith’s Greatest Test

A+ paperGenesis 22

This is a difficult story for me.

God does something here that is hard for me to even imagine.  He demands that Abraham take the son he loved and offer him up on an altar as a burnt offering.  We learn later that God didn’t REALLY want Isaac to die and that His purpose was to see if Abraham would give up the thing that was dearest to him.

How could God even ask Abraham to commit such an act?  He’s asking Abraham:

  1. First of all: To aid in nullifying the promise He Himself had made to Abraham.
  2. And, secondly to engage in child sacrifice… a horrific act indicative of the pagan worship in the cities all around Abraham.

Why Isaac? The Son Abraham loved so much.  And why test Abraham at all?  If the intent was to see if Abraham had faith, would an all-knowing God be able to see the outcome without having Abraham run out the simulation?

Why Isaac?  Well, it was Isaac because the son of the promise was the only thing that could tempt Abraham’s heart away from God.  If God was going to construct a true test of Abraham’s heart… it was Isaac or nothing. Why test him at all? Well, God knew Abraham’s heart. He knew what Abraham would do.   But, hear this: ABRAHAM didn’t know what Abraham would do.

Charles Swindoll once said:  “The wonderful thing about God’s schoolroom … is that we get to grade our own papers.  You see, He doesn’t test us so He can learn how well we’re doing. He tests us so we can discover how well we’re doing.”  (God’s Provision in Time of Need)

There is no substitute for experience in the Christian life. We can learn all we can about the subject of God and score an “A” on every seminary level course, but that is not the same thing as living what you believe on the work table called life.  Will you pass this test?  If you were called to let go of that which you love the most… would you obey?  Or would you say:  “I don’t believe anymore.”

Theologian John Calvin was so bold as to say: “All true knowledge of God is born out of obedience. ”
The late Bob Benson in his book He Speaks Softly told the story of a banker friend of his in Nashville. Mr. Lewis Farrell took care of the Benson family’s business affairs and had the reputation of being a “tough old bird.”

One day he learned that his old friend had been in the hospital for surgery.  By the time he found out he was already back at home recuperating.  He writes: One afternoon I stopped by his house to see how he was getting along. He was sitting out in the back yard enjoying the sunshine as I joined him.         After awhile he said to me, “Bob, I don’t want to bore you or keep you too long, but I do want to tell you something that happened to me during this illness.”  I could sense that he was getting ready to tell me something that had touched him deeply.

“Down across the years,” he began, “I have taught a men’s Bible class at the church. My favorite book to teach has always been the Gospel of John.  One of the things that I always seemed to see so clearly was John’s teaching about eternal life.  [Eternal Life] was not a life that comes to us when this one is over.  It is in us and we are in it now.

When I learned I was going to have surgery I was not really afraid.  I had to wait a week for our family surgeon to return from vacation and I went through the whole process—waiting, preparation, surgery, recovery room, recuperation—and all without ever being even the least bit apprehensive.  I was gripped by a deep sense of serenity and peace.  I found that I really believed what I had been teaching all these years.  I was already living eternal life, and where I lived it was not really all that important.”

Benson continued: “There was peace in his eyes and satisfaction in his voice.  He knew that what he had said he believed was true, really was true.  And his faith belonged to him.”

Is your faith academic?  Or has it passed the Faith’s greatest test?

Blessings!

When Your Ship Comes In

Ship Coming InGenesis 21

Promises, Promises.

You open your email and read:  “You’ve won a trip to Hawaii.”  Don’t get too excited… if you will look at the fine print (and if they are honest) you will read:  “Airfare not included. Food not included. Hotel is free but there will be a pool charge, bed charge and air conditioning is coin operated.  You will also be bombarded with junk email until your eyes pop out of their sockets.  And you have also just launched a deadly virus that will crash your hard drive. Have a nice day.”

Don’t you hate advertisers that don’t deliver on their promises?   Promises made with strings attached are not fun.

A co-worker in Maryland once went on a vacation in the Bahamas.  Sounds like fun, huh.  Well his hotel’s air conditioning unit went out.  The food was terrible.  And there were also some buildings in his brochure that he couldn’t locate on the hotel’s grounds.  He went to ask about them and was told that they had burned to the ground two years earlier.   Promises made and not kept are even worse.

God does not operate like that.  With Him it is:  Promise Made, Promise Kept.

We have been following Abraham in his pursuit of the promise of God that he would have a son.  We come to Promise Fulfilled!  Genesis 21:1-2  reads:  “Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised.  So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.”

Note two things: It was accomplished as God said it would be, and when God said it would occur.

Which are you struggling with?  The how or the when?  How God is going to help you or When God is going to show up?   If you are caught in that place, do what Abraham did, with faith and patience, Anchor yourself in the promises of God.

Now, what do you do once the promise is fulfilled… when your ship finally arrives in the harbor?  Sometimes when boats finally reach their destination there is a great crowd to meet them at the dock.  Sometimes there is a band playing to celebrate the arrival.  (I’ve never been on a cruse or a boat, but I did watch a lot of episodes of The Love Boat when I was a kid so I know this to be true.)  We looked for weeks at how Abraham weathered storms before he could enjoy the promise of God, now let’s look at that moment of “promise arrival.”

What does one do when God comes through?

#1 – After fulfillment one needs to continue to obey God.

What is the first thing Abraham does after his son is born?  Genesis 21:3, 4 – “Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.”   This is exactly what God had instructed Abraham to do in Genesis 17.  After you get what you want is not the time to go A.W.O.L. from God.  Continue in obedience.

#2 – After fulfillment one needs to be joyful.

Sarah praises God.  She says:  “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” (21:6)  Isaac, Hebrew for laughter, was an appropriate name for this moment.  Everyone breaks into celebration.  Have you remembered to thank God after your breakthrough?

#3 – After fulfillment one needs to remember and be more trusting in the future.

Don’t let this victory swell you with pride… let it be the catalyst for a lifetime of trust in the Lord.  Remain obedient.  Throw a party.  But then trust God for the next part of the plan.

God had first promised in chapter 12 when Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65.  He then delayed the fulfillment of the promise till Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90.  The wait only produced greater joy for them in the end.

Remember that in your next waiting period.

So where are you?

Freshly Blessed?  Rejoice.  Your ship has come in.  Let the band play.

Found God to be Faithful?   Show your appreciation through continued obedience.  Let God show you new heights to climb.

Still waiting?  Wait with patience.  He will see you through.  A promise is a promise.

Blessings!

Stick with the Plan

Genesis 20

game planThe very quotable Yogi Berra once remarked: “It was like deja vu all over again!”  That quote comes to mind as we tackle this week’s passage.  Didn’t the events of chapter 20 just happen in chapter 12?  The fact that Abraham was traveling is similar (though this does take place within the land, chapter 12 did not); the fact that Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife is familiar; and the ultimate result of the encounter (Abraham being blessed anyway) is equally remarkable.

But chapter 20 is a shocker to me.  I can’t understand why Abraham continues his pattern of lying about Sarah…  particularly with such disastrous results experienced before.  Isn’t the patriarch further along in his journey with the Lord by now?  Since chapter 12 Abraham has repeatedly heard God speak to him.  (Gen. 15 & 17)  He has experienced the thrill of victory with the Lord in battle. (Gen. 14 see verse 20)).  He has wrestled with God in prayer (Gen. 18) and witnessed the power of God come down in judgment (Gen. 19).  So with such powerful moments in his life… why don’t they keep Abraham from repeating this past mistake?  Does it stop you?

And there is a major difference in this story compared to the former one:  there is so much more at stake now!  In chapter 12, Sarah wasn’t fertile.  But now the angels have declared to Abraham that Sarah in a year’s time she will deliver the child of the promise.  So, think about it a minute, if she spends even one night wrapped in the embrace of Abimelech… the paternity of Isaac would be forever be in question.

God ultimately delivers Abraham through a dream to Abimelech… but there are some important lessons for all of us here.

#1 – A long walk with God in obedience doesn’t mean we are safe from revisiting past sins committed in disobedience.  We must be on guard for this!

#2 – We might get a green light from God after so many years of waiting… and then mess things up right on the thresh hold of receiving the blessing.  At a graduation ceremonies for my son, Justin, he and the rest of the soldiers were allowed to go to lunch with their families before the final ceremony later that day.  Some of those that were on the thresh hold of completing boot camp, got drunk during the brief time with their family and ended up “washing out” before the evening.  They would have to repeat boat camp all over again.  When success is on the way… one needs to be even more diligent about staying on the path of obedience.

#3 – Stick to the plan.  God knows what he is doing.  If at all possible, unless you hear a clear calling from God (as Abraham did at the beginning of Genesis 12) stay put and let God unfold his plan for your life.  It may have been a famine that caused Abraham’s migration in chapter 12… it is Abraham’s restlessness that gets him in chapter 20.

It takes a special grace to stay the course before the blessings commence.  May you receive His grace in abundance as you persevere in Christ today!

Blessings!