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!

 

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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

Surely Not I, Lord?

Art: Upper Room by Artist Gail Meyer

Art: Upper Room by Artist Gail Meyer

Mark 14:12-21

It is the first day of the festival of the Unleavened Bread.  The Passover lamb was being sacrificed.  Everybody in Jerusalem is making arrangement to share this special meal together.  And it is at this intimate gathering of Jesus and His followers that the Son of God drops a bombshell:  “One of you will betray me!”

In my mind:  I can almost hear the initial silence that followed; I can almost witness the shocked looks of dismay upon the faces of the 12.  Mark says they were “grieved.”  The word for this in Greek was lypein.  It is used only twice in Mark… here of the disciples and of the rich young ruler who upon choosing not to follow Jesus who went away sad (lypein).  It was a word that Mark chose to describe those who failed Jesus.

But wait!  There was only one betrayer right?  Was there only one?  We know that all of the disciples at least thought that they were capable of such an act… hence their question:  “Surely Not I?”  And in verse 27 Jesus informs them:  “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.'”

Note the word “all.”  Verse 23 says that they “all” shared the cup.  Verse 31 states that they “all” confessed their allegiance to Christ.  Verse 50 says that they “all” fled from Jesus at His arrest in the garden.

There was only one ultimate betrayer (Judas)… but by dawn “all” the disciples will betray him… if not because of greed… then due to weakness, fear or cowardice.

Often I wonder about Peter’s denials.  I think:  “How could he have done such a thing?  He saw the transfiguration, he passed out the multiplied food at the feeding of the 5,000… he walked on the water with Jesus for goodness sake!”

And yet I wonder if “in the moment” I would have fared any better than Peter or the rest.  You see their main problem was overconfidence in their faith.  Peter swept his arm around the room:  “Even if all else fail you, I will not!”  The rest made their assurances as well.  But it was all words.  In the moment of truth they all headed for the hills!

Howard Hendricks remarks:  “Peter’s problem was not insincerity.  I think Peter meant exactly what he said.  In fact, I seriously question if he was ever more sincere than he was on this occasion.  …Peter’s problem was ignorance, and that’s your problem and mine.  Whenever we say, ‘Lord, you can count on me,’ you’re about to step on a spiritual banana peel.  You’re going to sprawl in the faith.'”

No, Christ cannot count on us.  But praise God we can count on Him.  The shepherd will indeed be struck down… the sheep will be scattered… but the Good Shepherd will die in order to unite his flock again. (v.28)   Greater love has no man than this that He lay down his life for His friends.  No greater love indeed!

Easter Blessings!

Let Me Be the Donkey!

Donkey and Palm BranchesMark 11:1-11

All three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) make the point that the donkey Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem was one upon which “no one had ridden” before.  Now I’ve never broken in such an animal before… but I have heard that sitting upon a donkey or horse that has never taken a rider can be “quite the experience.”   One would quickly find themselves launched into the air… praying gravity is kind in its choice of your landing spot. And yet with Jesus, this colt of a donkey upon which He rides is quiet, obedient, and responses easily to His commands.   Very un-donkey-like if you ask me!  It displays the nobility of a majestic white steed without any of the pride. There were a lot of reactions to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that day:

The Crowds:  They spread their cloaks in the road, and shouted “Hosanna!”

The Disciples:  John 12:16 says indicates that they were puzzled by the whole spectacle.

The Curious:   John 12:18 says that many went out to get a look at Jesus.

The Pharisees:   They were tearing their hair out!  They cried:  “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19)

There seems to be (besides Jesus) only one person calm in this entire account.  Serving in a steadfast and gentile manner is the donkey. There have been times in which I have read this passage and pictured myself in the crowd with the palm branches.   My hosanna ringing louder than my neighbors!  But this is the same crowd that would turn on Jesus at the end of the week.  I certainly don’t want to be like them. I don’t want be dumbstruck like the disciples or a curiosity seeker like others that day or be stubborn and angry like the Pharisees… so if I have to put myself in the story.  Let me be the donkey.  He is the model of Christian servant-hood and leadership here. We could learn a lot from this donkey.

As pastors and a Christian leaders it is imperative that we do.  In an essay entitled “Becoming a Leader of No Reputation,” Scott Rodin wrote of his convictions about leadership after serving for several years as a seminary president: If I could put one Bible verse on the desk of every pastor and every Christian leader in the world, it would be this, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8) As Christian leaders we must be engaged in a constant process of self-evaluation and repentance. It is so easy for us to be tempted in a variety of directions, and when we stray, we impact our entire ministry. Good leaders undertake their work with a deep humility and a keen awareness of their own weakness and shortcomings.  (Quoted by Crawford Loritts, Jr. in Leadership as Identity, p. 57.)

As Christian leaders, Pastors, Elders, Deacons, etc. bear a tremendous load.  And they are called to bear it with dignity and grace.  They must also be steadfast and yet not falter… never losing sight of their goal and mission. And added to all these things… humility is paramount!

Corrie ten Boom was once asked how she was able to maintain her humility after becoming such a sought after speaker.  Her reply was, “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road, and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of the donkey that any of that was for him?  If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides… I will give Him all the praise and all the honor.”

Amen to that!

Blessings!

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!