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

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!

 

Who Is It You are Really Fighting?

Jacob wrestles with angel3Genesis 32:24-32

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

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

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

Genesis 32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings!

 

 

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!