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!

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The #1 Thing to Look for in a Spouse

Cake-Toppers-For-Wedding-103Genesis 24

Genesis 24 is a rather lengthy chapter about a servant of Abraham searching for a bride for his master’s son, Isaac.  What could we possibly get by reading about such an antiquated system of securing a bride?  What treasure can we glean from a seemingly unimportant chapter of the Bible?

First of all, it is important to understand that finding a wife for Isaac was crucial to passing on the blessing of God to (eventually) the whole world.  Abraham needed to get this right.  He (and his trusty servant) invite God throughout this chapter to be in every step of the process.  As Abraham sends him out on the task he tells the servant:  “The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, “To your descendants I will give this land.’  He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son…” (24:7)

Second of all, it is important to acknowledge how difficult this task was going to be… even with God’s help!  Even if he found someone and she was willing to return… would she be the right one?  Remember they had to get this right.

Newspaper columnist, Ann Landers, once received a letter from a reader that went like this:

Dear Ann Landers:

Why would any husband adore a lazy, messy, addlebrained wife?  Her house looks as if they’d moved in yesterday.  She never cooks a meal.  Everything is in cans or frozen.  Her kids eat sent-in food.  Yet this slob’s husband treats her like a Dresden doll.  He calls her “Poopsie” and “Pet,” and covers the telephone with a blanket when he goes to work so she can get her rest.  On weekends he does the laundry and the marketing.

I get up at 6 a.m. and fix my husband’s breakfast.  I make his shirts because the ones in the stores “don’t fit right.”  If my husband ever emptied a wastebasket, I’d faint.  Once when I phoned him at work and asked him to pick up a loaf of bread on his way home, he swore at me for five minutes.  The more you do for a man, the less he appreciates you.  I feel like an unpaid housekeeper, not a wife. What goes on anyway?

—The Moose (That’s what he calls me.)

Ann’s response:  A marriage license is not a guarantee that the marriage is going to work, any more than a fishing license assures that you’ll catch fish.  It merely gives you the legal right to try.

How could this servant do more than find a willing girl?  He lays out a fleece before the Lord.  Verse 14 says:  “now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels, also’–may she be the one whom You have appointed for your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to master.”

      Is he testing God here with his fleece?  Actually he is testing the quality of the potential bride.  To give a drink to this man at the well would display kindness… to water his camels as well… would be going the extra mile.  It would take a lot of water to satisfy a camel’s thirst.  This was an investment of time that Rebekah was offering when she indeed makes this offer to Abraham’s servant.  It displayed a depth of kindness that reassured the servant that he had found the one for Isaac.

When I was dating my wife, Janine, she will tell you that I showed up for our first date with the most awful looking pair of pants she had ever seen.  But she will also tell you that I showed up with a pink rose and a pair of devotional books for us to go through together.  She thought at the time… I can get rid of those pants… but I won’t find that level of devotion just anywhere.

How do you find the love of your life?  Make sure you get close enough (before the vows) to see their character come through in different life situations.  If you find someone with a depth of character… don’t let them get away!

How do you stay in love?  Continue to find those moments in which your spouse displays that rich depth of character that blew you away.  Then express to them (not just on your anniversary or their birthday) your appreciation of those characteristics which drew you to them to begin with.  And as time goes by… seek to discover even more kindnesses they exhibit.  You will if you endeavor to look.  Did you know that the love and care of the one you love is actually lovingkindness from the God of heaven and the God of earth?  Rejoice in that!

Blessings!

 

 

Love is the Whole Ball Game

love is the whole ballgameGenesis 4:1-12

John Ortberg in his book, When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box, has an interesting paraphrase of the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter):  “If I make a fortune, get the cover of Time magazine, and become attractive, comfortable, and secure, but have no love, I have rolled snake eyes. No matter how much I win, if I win alone, I lose. Love is the ball game.” (p. 203.)

In Genesis 4 we encounter the first sibling rivalry.  Cain murders his brother Abel in a fit of jealous rage.  When quizzed about his brother’s whereabouts, Cain responds: “How should I know?  Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The source of Cain’s beef with his brother was that God accepted Abel’s animal sacrifice and snubbed his own fruit and vegetable offering.  In other words:  Abel’s work was #1 and Cain’s work was an “also ran.”  So Cain played hard ball and took care of his competition.  Cain’s rival for God’s affection was removed.  So Cain won the struggle with his brother, right?  Of course not!

God says to Cain:  “What have you done?  The voice of you brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”

How we respond to others when they block our goals matters to God.   When we treat with contempt a person that He has created… one precious to Him…  it does NOT escape the hearing of the Almighty! “His blood cried from the ground!” God told Cain.

Abel’s treatment broke the heart of God… for God loved him as His very own.  And God feels the same way about your rivals and your enemies.  And that can be a difficult thing to remember in the heat of competition.   Empathy is an emotion tossed aside when we are denied victory.  So we vent and we back stab and we claw our way to the top…  and in the end we MAY win.  But our win is entered in the loss column.   Life was never about winning or striving for perfection.  It was always about love!

I am called to be my brother’s keeper.  But who is my Abel?  An Abel today could be anyone who has been hurt, abused and discarded by others… anyone oppressed or forgotten.  God still asks of you and I:  “Will we continue to pursue selfish agendas or will we become look out for our brothers and sisters?  The call to love them is rooted here in Genesis… and blossoms in the words of Jesus:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  In the Kingdom of God there is one one game we participate in:  Love.  And it will be that way for eternity!

Author N. T. Wright wrote:  “Love is the language they speak in God’s world, and we are summoned to learn it against the day when God’s world and ours will be brought together forever. It is the music they make in God’s courts, and we are invited to learn it and practice it in advance. Love is not a “duty,” or even our highest duty. It is our destiny.”  (After You Believe, p. 188.)

Go live your destiny!

 

 

Leaving and Cleaving

marriageGenesis 2:22-25

Jesus’ favorite passage on marriage was in Genesis chapter 2.  He quotes it in Matthew 19:5:  ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  A healthy marriage was one in which a man did some “leaving and cleaving.”

Leaving means forsaking all others for the sake of our spouse.   Mike Mason in The Mystery of Marriage says:  “Your primary responsibility is now with your family unit. Next to the love of God, the ‘one thing’ that is by far the most important in the life of all married people is their marriage, their loving devotion to their partner. Nothing on earth must take precedence over that, not children, jobs, other friendships, nor even ‘Christian work’.”  Leaving is shutting out anything that might separate the two of you.

Then there is cleaving (KJV) or “being united” with your spouse.  The Hebrew word here is dabāq: meaning a strong bonding together of object, used to represent gluing or cementing.  A man and wife become “one flesh” or as C.S. Lewis put it “a single organism.  Like a lock and its key are one mechanism, or a violin and a bow are one musical instrument.”

God invented sex. We display the unity He wants a man and a woman to possess, when sexual intercourse takes place.  The intimacy felt  in the sexual act is more than just a physical reaction to pleasure. It is a bond that cuts to heart of our soul. “One Flesh!”, Jesus said.  That is what marriage was created to be.

Now this One Flesh concepts relates to more than just sex. We are to have an intimacy that transcends the physical.  H. Norman Wright told of an incident told him by a counselee:

“Phil, a man in his thirties, had been under intense pressure and stress for several weeks. His new job was a disaster because delays and unreasonable demands from his supervisor were wearing him down. Added to this, Phil and his wife had moved 2,000 miles away from home to take this job, and both sets of parents continued to express their displeasure over the move.

On one particular day everything was going wrong at work. On top of work problems, Phil’s parents called him at work to dump on him about abandoning them. And as he was walking out at quitting time, his supervisor informed him that he would have to work on Saturday.  When Phil arrived home he was totally dejected. His nonverbal signals screamed discouragement. He told me later, “I felt shattered, discouraged, and unable to please anyone.” He immediately headed for his chair and slumped into it in silence.

When Phil’s wife came into the room she could read his signals and knew it had not been a good day. Phil explained, “Eileen just came over to me and stood behind me, gently stroking my hair and massaging my stooped shoulders. All she said was, “Would you like dinner now or later:” and “Would you like to talk about it or not?” Her sensitivity, her touch, her willingness to give me freedom to talk or not talk encouraged me so much. I didn’t feel all alone anymore. I knew I had someone who would stand by me even in my discouragement. I felt blessed. In fact, I know I am blessed in having such a wife.”

Wow! That’s being one…  feeling what the other is going through and then knowing what to do to encourage them… sharing each others burdens as well as joys.

Married?  Going through a rough patch?  Get back to basics.  Leave and cleave.  That’s the prescription Dr. Jesus recommends and the road to health again.

Seeing People through Fresh Lenses

Genesis 1:26-27glasses

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sea and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.  God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”

Are you a people person?  40 – 60% of the population report that they are shy… so chances are great that you aren’t.    Shy people are often introverts (though there are shy extroverts, of which I am probably one.)  (http://psychcentral.com/lib/facts-about-shyness/000138)   Not being a people person it can be our tendency to look inward first and then outward.  We will never see people… really see people… with this type of vision.

Now I’m not asking you to fight against personality, but I am hoping today to give you a fresh set of glasses.  Did you know that the people you will meet today have been created in the image of God?

C. S. Lewis once remarked:  “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. … Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Wow!  The people you come in contact with today:  “the holiest objects presented to your senses.”  Your spouse.  Your kids.  Your co-workers.  Your service station attendant.  Your barista.

We may never overcome cronic shyness.  That’s okay.  But can we sharpen our vision of our neighbor and love them as ourselves?

Seminary professor and author Robert Pyne shares an intimate story about his oldest son, Steve:

“Steve had open-heart surgery when he was just eight months old. Unfortunately, some countries, doctors, and even some parents would not have allowed him to have that operation, even though it was necessary to save his life. Steve has Down Syndrome, and too many people think that lives like his are not worth saving.My temptation as a proud dad has always been to talk about the things that Steve enjoys doing, how quickly he learned to read, or how sincerely he loves the Lord, to try to convince others that his very happy life was worth saving. On the other hand, my job as a theologian is to say simply this: His life was worth saving because he has inherent dignity as a human being in the image of God. The same is true of little boys who never will learn to read and those whose lives don’t look happy at all.” (Humanity and Sin, pp. 69, 70.)

I have a friend named Kate that started a “Nice” movement.  It is an effort to treat others around us with dignity and respect.  She challenged me to not be negative about anyone for 3 months.  I have failed miserably.  But with each new sun I am challenged not just by Kate, but by the Lord himself.

I live in a world He has created, among people that he has created.  It is my job to see them with “theologically” correct glasses.  Maybe then… and only then… will I see less of me.  And even more of Him!

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Related article from Christianity Today:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2014/may/female-and-made-in-my-fathers-image.html?paging=off

Flag on the Play

penalty-flagEcclesiastes 7:20

20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.

There was a unique call in the NFL game this last Thursday night.  The Philadelphia Eagles were on offense during the 4th quarter.  A flag was thrown for a false start.  This is a call that usually indicates sloppy play on the part of one or two players of the offensive line.  In this case the sole offender was the only one NOT  flagged for the infraction.  The center, Jason Kelce, forgot the snap count… and while everyone else sprung into motion… he never hiked the ball.  Referee Walt Anderson received more than a few laughs for his announcement:  “False start, everybody but the center.”   The culprit was the only one not called for the penalty.

Our verse today from Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is not a single person on this earth that is innocent before a holy God.  Not even righteous people do good all the time… even they sin.  Illegal motion could be called on just about every play that humans beings are a part of.

Romans 5: 6-8 reminds us:   For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Solomon said there in not a righteous man who continually does good and does not sin…. but that was because he never met Jesus.  Our redeemer, in the fullness of time, came to live  the only sinless life that has ever been lived.  Then, at the cross, where He died, He took the penalty for our sin.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)   In the game called life, He has given us the victory!  And has made us penalty free in the process!  Blessed be His holy name!

Did I Forget to Pay?

guest checkRomans 13:8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

In my minds eye I picture a grand luncheon.  Not a modest meal but one that is three courses long and definitely not fast food.  The meal was impeccable, the waitress polite, my company delightful… I leave the restaurant with a spring in my step.  “Thank you God for good times with great friends,” I utter.  I am still paying homage in my mind to the cherry cheesecake and the french amaretto coffee as I head down the interstate to get back to my job site.  And then it hits me… “Did I forget to pay?”  I try to keep one hand on the wheel as I check my wallet.  I groan as I look inside to see the $50 I left the house with still in my billfold.

I imagine for a moment the restaurant manager reading the glowing compliments I paid him and his establishment on the comment card I had filled out.  He is probably not at all interested in my praise.  I may have offered superb lip service… I just didn’t pay my bill!

I wonder how many times in life that I have left a personal encounter with someone and not paid them my debt.  What debt?  The debt of love I owe them through Jesus Christ   Paul wrote:  “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

The context of this verse, strangely enough, is paying taxes.  Paul says in the verse just before it:  “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) Paul means:  “If somebody is due something, pay up!  But remember, that when it comes to love, we are ALL debtors.

There was a concept popular a few years ago, that you still hear now and again, called:   “paying it forward.”  Someone does an act of goodness to you and instead of “paying them back” you offer the same gift of love to the next person you encounter.

This is a Biblical concept.  Ephesians 5:1-2 says:  “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  We are God’s children and enjoy everyday His joy, presence and love.  To go through life at break neck speed, never looking out for our neighbor… never sharing freely the love of God we freely received, is the worst kind of ingratitude.  You are forever indebted to Jesus.  He wants you to pay this debt forward by loving those around you.  Just don’t forget to pay!

Mike Mason once wrote:  “… we are pinched and stingy with our love.  We treat love like money, as if there’s never enough to go around, and so we draw our heartstrings tighter than our purse strings.  How can we grasp that we are dealing with an inexhaustible currency?” (Practicing the Presence of People, p.58.)

Start small.  Smile at the waitress.  Discretely buy a serviceman’s meal.  Strike up a conversation with that frazzled mom or dad in the check out line. And know that life is more than accomplishing goals, accumulating things and enjoying ourselves.  It is also about paying the debt of love we owe to our fellow human beings.  Pay up!  And remember God in Christ has already picked up your tab!