Dare to Dream God’s Dreams for You!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGenesis 37

Peter Marshall… chaplain to the US Senate in the 40’s once preached about the faithfulness of God and made the following statement:

 No one yet has ever set out to test God’s promises fairly, thoroughly, and humbly, and had to report that God’s promises don’t work. On the contrary, given a fair opportunity, God always surprises and overwhelms those who truly seek, with His bounty and His power.

Marshall’s words cannot be illustrated with a clearer example than the biography in which we are about recount.   The story of Joseph is a story for the ages. Whether remembered as a child on a flannel graph board in Sunday School… or as an adult while enjoying the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat. His story touches and fascinates us. He is a man that was tested to the absolute max… and exercising faithfulness he caught a glimpse of the absolute faithfulness of God.

Now Joseph’s story is often described as a “rags to riches” story… it is actually a “riches to rags to riches” story. Although things go south for him rather quickly in this chapter… his story begins with him in a relatively good place. He was a son of a prosperous man… and also had the good fortune of the father’s favorite.  In fact father Jacob gives Joseph a special coat. The NIV calls it a “richly ornamented robe…” The NASB calls it “a varicolored tunic.” We remember its as being called the “coat of many colors.”  What we might not know is that this coat meant that Joseph was in a privileged class. The fact that it had long sleeves would make him exempt from participating in menial farming tasks.  This did not sit well with his brothers.

Beyond that, he appears to have the favor of his heavenly Father. God spoke to him in dreams. And in those dreams images of grain sheaves and dazzling stars bowing in honor to him, made it clear to Joseph that his life would matter. Even his father and brothers would one day honor him.

As we look at Joseph’s life over these next few weeks I challenge you to look at what God has caused you to dream about. What is in your heart and head that is to wonderful to tell? What has God called you to?

Let me give you a warning, however.  There are forces at work that would prefer you stop your dreaming and take your place in the throngs of faithless humanity. Joseph’s brothers jeered: “Bow down to you, you little pipsqueak? Not in this lifetime!” “Let’s get rid of this dreamer and see what becomes of his dreams!”  By the end of this chapter they at first desire to kill him… and then seek to prophet from his demise by selling him instead.

If YOU dare to dream you will not often be met with enthusiasm. More often you will face condescension, laughter, a dose of cold water or even animosity.

And yet, God calls you to dream His dreams…in full technicolor. And He wants to paint with your life a portrait of His love and His faithfulness.   But how does a disciple cooperate with the dream giver? How does one learn to dream God-sized dreams?

Joseph in the next few weeks will learn some important lessons that will move him towards his dreams:

He will learn the lessons that only comes through hardship.

He will learn to trust when all evidence of hope is gone.

He will learn to forgive when he would rather forget.

He will learn to lead men and yet stay humble to his roots.

But these lessons will take time. And it is his attitude along the way that make all the difference and help him reach his goal.  Perseverance will not be something optional for his path to his dream.

James S. Hewett shared the following story in his book Illustrations Unlimited:  “Years ago a young black child was growing up in Cleveland, in a home which he later described as “materially poor but spiritually rich.”

One day a famous athlete, Charlie Paddock, came to his school to speak to the students. At the time Paddock was considered “the fastest human being alive.” He told the children, “Listen! What do you want to be? You name it and then believe that God will help you be it.” That little boy decided that he too wanted to be the fastest human being on earth. The boy went to his track coach and told him of his new dream. His coach told him, “It’s great to have a dream, but to attain your dream you must build a ladder to it. Here is the ladder to our dreams. The first rung is determination! And the second rung is dedication. The third rung is discipline! And the fourth rung is attitude!

The result of all that motivation is that he went on to win four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic and World records for the 200 meter. His broad jump record lasted for twenty-four years. His name? Jesse Owens.  (Illustrations Unlimited, pp. 26-27.)

Dream the dreams that God has for you!  Others may try to silence them… but He who has called you will not disappoint.

Blessings!

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!

 

Get On With It!

nowGenesis 35

Okay.  You have said you want to purpose God’s purpose for your life.  You are weary of where you are and the thing you are doing.  You want to seek His will and move forward.  If only you could get just a little nudge.  Here’s your nudge:  “Get on with it, already!”

We have been following the life of Jacob for months now and we have seen that he is a fighter.   Our cat Oscar we were told got his name because of his fascination with the garbage can.  But we fancied the name because he was like the boxer “Oscar DeLehoya”.   He too was a scrapper who never backed down or gave up. But then Oscar could also be called Jacob. He was heel grabber as well!

Jacob never got anywhere in life by fighting.  It was only when he fully surrendered to God (in Genesis 35) that he gets on with it!

What did Jacob surrender?

1.   Jacob surrendered his dreams. (Genesis 33:18)

Genesis 33:18

Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city.

Jacob came into the land of Canaan. All of his talking life into his own hands had worked to drive him away from his destiny. Yielding to God his dreams led him where God had always wanted him to be.    What do you want to do with your remaining days? Buy a home? Go on a trip to Europe?  Write a book? Become Independently Wealthy?

For some of us, our dreams and how we might attain them are something we are not ready to surrender.  But God would have all of you…even your dreams.   There are a lot a directions you can go in this life, but have you surrendered to the one God wants us for you?

2.  Jacob surrendered himself to the Dream Maker. (33:20)

Genesis 33:20

Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. (God, the God of Israel)

The name of the altar: The God of Israel. This is a far cry from “God of my Fathers.” Or “God that I will bargain with.” That was how Jacob had viewed God until this moment.  This is now the “God of ME.”  He has now personalized His God. How about you? Is God just something your grandparents were into? Is He just something left on the flannel graph board in the mind of your childhood?

I was a youth minister for a number of years and I will tell the greatest joy in that position is seeing the light bulb go off in their mind when they realize that God wants THEM. When they finally attend church and youth group not because they HAVE to, but because they WANT to. He goes from “God of My Parents” to the “God of me.”

3.  Jacob surrendered his idols. (35:2-3)

Genesis 35:1-4

   Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; [3] and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God

Jacob had finally came to the place where he staked his claim with God. He got rid of any rival and formed an allegiance with his Maker.

What do you have to surrender to God in the way of idols? Your work? Your hobby? Your paycheck? You know, we die a little each time we bow down to them.

4.  Jacob surrendered his skepticism. (35:9-13)

Jacob had received a promise at birth from God, himself. God has never broken a single promise he has ever made. He cannot! And yet Jacob still lived just about his whole life keeping God’s promise at arm’s length. So on this great moment in Jacob’s life, God restates his promise to him:

35:9-13:

   Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. [10] God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob,        But Israel shall be your name.”  Thus He called him Israel. [11] God also said to him,        “I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you.  [12] “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”  [13] Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him.

Jacob hears it this time and this time believes it (shown by his worship that followed.  v.14-15).

Charles Colson, in his book The Good Life shared about the time right after he got out of prison for his role in the Watergate scandal:  “I had some very tempting offers in business and in law. I wanted to do something that was far less public. I wanted to be with my kids and spend some time getting my life together. Yet I kept feeling a persistent urge that I should be doing something for prisoners. That was not what I wanted to do. It’s not a very glamorous way to spend your life. A Washington acquaintance who befriended me during this period and organized a small prayer group for my support wanted me to work with political leaders through Bible studies. That certainly would have been logical. 

         Still, I couldn’t shake off the conviction that I was being called into prisons. Like Jacob of the Old Testament, I wrestled with God until the break of day. Jacob ended up with a bad hip; I ended up with a conviction that I should be in the prisons.”

Still wrestling with God?  Remember that God still has a wonderful plan for you.  And it is time to “get on with it!”  What’s holding you back?  Your view of God?  Your skepticism?  Your idols?  Surrender them all… and get a move on!  Your adventure awaits!

Blessings!

 

Responding to Sexual Assault

sexual assalt2Genesis 34

Sexual abuse is a scourge in our land.  I wanted to look up statistics but quite frankly they couldn’t sicken me any more than what I already know.  I’ve talked to real people… not statistics. I’ve listened to Janine and witness her grief over the abuse she suffered as a child.  I’ve had a foster child in my home that dealt with such issues… the outcome was not good.  I’m tired of the excuses. I’m tired of the rationalization.  It has to stop. And it will not stop until it ceases to be tolerated.

When this evil, that seems to bring more shame upon its victim than its perpetrator, finds its way into your life… into the life of your family… into the life of a friend… What do you do? How do you handle it?

What does the Bible have to say about sexual assault?

A lot… actually.

Though it isn’t talked about in church or preached about from the pulpit much… and passages like Genesis 34 are often skipped over… we need to make a declaration as believers in Jesus… that sexual assault has to stop! We need to take a stand… and that stand is beside the victims of sexual assault.

Today’s passage gives us some clues as to how sexual assault is frequently handled… then and now.

In our text today… nobody handles it well.

Jacob’s Response: Apathy

Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in.

Where is his outrage? Where is Jacob’s pain in hearing of his daughter’s rape? Many think that the assailant kept Dinah in his tent until the matter was settled. But we don’t know that. For all we know, she wept in Jacob’s tent… while Jacob remained silent.

There are many like Jacob today. They don’t seek justice… they seek maintaining status quo. If they aren’t careful they actually make the victims feel responsible. Here Jacob has a sobbing, broken daughter… and HE DOESN’T SAY A WORD.

Hamor the father of Shechem: Appeasement

But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Intermarry with us; give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 Thus you shall live with us, and the land shall be open before you; live and trade in it and acquire property in it.” 

Hamor is saying:  “This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Can’t you see my son loves her? This could open up something good for the both of us. We could inter-marry and create better commerce. Let’s make the most of this “situation.” (In verse 23… we see that there is even some deception going on. Hamor says there: “will not their livestock and their property be ours?”)

There are those that take the appeasement approach today.

In a small town in NJ no one said much about an incident of sexual abuse of new football recruits until the administration cancelled the football season… and then folks got vocal. A campaign in school was underway to “scope out the snitches.” What’s the big deal? Let them file their report and then let us get on with the business of football.  Or they attempt to open up a checkbook. And make the problem going away.  And when we make these “little deals” to expunge the guilt… the victim feels deeper pain.

3.    Simeon and Levi’s Response: Vengeance

13 But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. 14 They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15 Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, 16 then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go.”

Dad wouldn’t take the lead. He wouldn’t take the high ground. He would barely speak about it. And then sought to bargain a solution. So Dinah’s brothers begin to smolder with anger.

Interestingly enough they are referred to, not as “Dinah’s brothers” in the passage but “Jacob’s sons.” Perhaps because they were about to pull off a deception worthy of their dad.

It is easy to be caught up in that kind of rage! To want to seek revenge! But revenge is not the way. For at least two reasons.

Revenge hurts lots of innocents.

25 Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth. 27 Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; 29 and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses.

Rage affects more than the person your rage against.  It affects their family, your family… your co-workers. Once you cross that line… it poisons your soul.  They want to kill Hamor and his son.  But they ended up killing every male in the town.  And then pillaging the poor helpless widows that were left.  And then they take the wives and children.  So much pain and suffering… and a lot of pain to innocent people.

Revenge begets revenge.

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?”

The revenge you enact doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Your act of hatred… begets a response… and on and on it goes.

Well, What from Scripture is a Godly response to sexual assault?

  1. Seek Justice.

Proverbs 21:15

15 The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.

Psalm 103:6
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.

Our God is a God of justice. His children seek that justice is served when men and women and children suffer at the hands of abusers.

  1. Don’t Seek Personal Vengeance.

Romans 12:14-21

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. but if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I will not pretend that this is easy or automatic… but it is our calling.

3.  Seek to Forgive.

Mark 11:25

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

We know that the way to healing is to forgive.  Have that as your goal… but let it be a genuine forgiveness after you have mourned the loss… and have begun to heal.

4.  Seek to be Comforted and to Comfort others.

2 Corinthians 2:3-4

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

5.  Trust the Avenger.

“One sin isn’t greater than another.” Have you heard that before?  The Scripture does not teach that. The Scriptures teaches that one sin is enough to keep you out of God’s presence.  And that you need Jesus’ sacrifice to be forgiven on ANY sin.   But one sin doesn’t affect a victim the same way it does another.  And sexual sin angers a Holy God in a different way than others sins do.

1 Thessalonians 4

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; [that refers to sexual purity] and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter [that refers to sexual abuse] because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.

Allow the authorities to punish your offender, but if they don’t… know that they do not just “get away with it”… the Lord is the avenger in such matters.  He will ultimately get you the justice you deserve.

There are so many responses to sexual abuse today that fall short.  My prayer is that we can stand beside Dinahs among us and help them begin to find healing.

Blessings!

P.S.  >Listen to a sermon on this topic here

Reconciliation Day

peaceGenesis 33

Last week we left Jacob walking in the morning light after his life changing encounter with God. He has a confidence in him that he never knew he could have. And there will be more surprises ahead for him… for… This. Is. His. Reconciliation Day!

Years ago he left town with just the staff in his hand and the clothes on his back. And though He has made a good life since then, something has been holding him back. That something was the need to go back home and make things right with his brother Esau.

But as we have learned… and is repeated in this chapter’s text… Esau has rounded up a welcome wagon consisting of 400 men. 400 armed men. Hell’s angels on horseback.

The hairs on the back of Jacob’s neck had to have been standing straight up as he enters into this meeting with his brother. He pushes his family out in front. (Least favorite wives and their kids in the front… thanks a lot dad!) And then he himself steps toward his brother…

He is now staring… in the face… the challenge of reconciliation.  And amazingly… that face is smiling!

Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. …  10 Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably.

Esau’s face was the face of God to Jacob. He could see that it was ultimately God that was gracing him through the miracle of reconciliation with his brother, Esau.

He could see the hand of providence in the situation. Reconciliation is not a common thing in our world. In our own strength we get mad and stay mad. To me “reconciliation” is a mark of a true Christian. And it proves to me that the Gospel works. BLESSED are the peacemakers, Jesus said.

Now… this doesn’t always mean you trust everybody and make yourself vulnerable to someone that has hurt you. Verses 12-17 seem to indicate that though there was a pleasant outcome, Jacob still keeps himself and his family a safe distance from his brother.

Reconciliation is complete only when trust is rebuilt between two willing hearts… and that can take time. Take your time and do it right. “Love your neighbor as yourself; but don’t take down the fence.” (Carl Sandburg)

But having said that… you will never reconcile by wishing your neighbor ill.  Reconciliation begins when we wish for the other party the love of Jesus.

Sue Martinuk shared in Christian Reader about a tiff she had with her roommate in college.  They dealt with the anger by not communicating with each other.  She came in one night and found a note from her roommate: “I wish you Jesus.” She cried. Then wrote a note asking her for forgiveness. She placed it on her pillow and went to sleep.

Later, her roommate came home and shouted from the hallway that she had left a note on her desk–“Your sister called and asked me to send her the music for “I Wish You Jesus”!”  Sue remarks:  “We both had a good laugh–and were reconciled.”

What do you wish for others? If it is Jesus… it is bound to be the solution to a lot of conflict.

Is there someone in your life that you need to reconcile with?  Can you begin by “wishing them Jesus?”  Here is hoping that you will see the face of your enemy “as the face of God.”

Blessings!

 

Schemes or Trust?

trustGenesis 32

When was the last time that life left you frightened?  You had made a pact with yourself to place complete trust in the Lord in the past… but then “this thing” happened.  And it stopped your heart like an intruder having just leapt from your closet.  Do you have the strength to face this latest fear?

Jacob resolved in Chapter 31 to return home.  Waiting there is a brother that had threatened to take his life.  Jacob has resolved to face his fear… but is still scared out of his mind.  God sends him a little encouragement.

32 Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim.

God’s Plan

I take this verse to mean that God’s Plan is that He himself would fight for Jacob. This is a small encampment of God’s choice angel warriors.  And I believe that this heavenly army is surrounding us just hidden from our mortal eyes. Here in Genesis 32, God’s invisible world is suddenly made visible to Jacob’s very human eyes.

It reminds me of the story about Elisha in 2 Kings. He and his servant were surrounded by an army of soldiers and the servant was frightened until Elisha prayed and said: “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17

They were surrounded by an unseen army sent to protect and fight for his prophet.

That’s what God lets Jacob see here. He reminds him that he will not be alone in facing his brother. You think this would be a great plan and that it would bring comfort to Jacob in a trying circumstance.

But Jacob has already drawn up some plans of his own.

Jacob’s Plan

  1. He put out feelers. (How bad is it?) v. 3-5

Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”’”

The Result?:  

The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

Okay, it’s bad.

  1. He Strategizes. v. 7-8

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.”

Jacob fears the worst and strategizes to protect his bottom line.

  1. He Prays. v. 9-12

This is not prayer in the best sense.  While all prayer has value, this is a prayer that serves to make sure he “covers all his bases.”  This is a Hail Mary pass in the 4th Quarter kind of prayer.

  1. He Prepares a Bribe. V. 13-21

He offers his brother everything and the kitchen sink.  “Better broke than dead” might be Jacob’s thinking here.

Schemes or Trust?

Jacob might think that he is being prudent here.  But he puts up all these defenses after becoming acquainted with God’s superior fighting force.  What gives?

This startling contrast is displayed in verse 21:  “So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp.”

There is some major Hebrew word play going on here.  Gifts (Jacob’s scheme) and Camp (God’s promise of protection.) are similar in sound.  This is a deliberate way to get us to look at two options: Schemes or Trust.

Which do you rely on to get yourself out of your jams?

Recently I read in a pastor’s wife’s blog: “I was so intrigued when I saw this photo BELOW (and similar ones) going around facebook. I thought, “Wow! How awesome is that!”

Do Not Be AfraidAfter a few months of thinking about this from time to time, I had a great idea to do a printable using all 365 scripture references that deal with “fear not”. I went to my concordance to get the scripture references, and do you know what I found?

  • The phrase in the intended context is only used 80+ times
  • The phrase “fear not” in used in other contexts, but you wouldn’t want them to apply to you
  • Other word pairings that would be equal to “fear not” (“do not be afraid”, “do not fear”, “be not afraid”) is used 30+ times

While it’s a great idea to think that God comforted us with “Fear not” 365 times, it’s simply just not true.

However, hopefully we are at that point in our Christian walk that we don’t need to hear God say something 365 times. Once should be enough.”

Have you learned to stop scheming and to start trusting?  What is one thing you can do today to display your trust in the Lord even in the face of great fear?

Blessings!

 

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!