Going Back to Move Forward

Go Back Home3Genesis 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings!

Pastor Wayne

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

 

dead end jobGenesis 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings!

 

Major Decision Ahead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would have happened if Jacob had prayed first?

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

Blessings!

Leaving Home

leaving home2Genesis 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note what happens in Jacob’s story:

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

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

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

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

2.  Cultivate an awareness of God.prayer2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings!

 

You are Blessed to be a Blessing. Live Like You’re Blessed!

blessedGenesis 27

We are a blessed nation.  We are a blessed people in the Lord.  But even his blessing can be misused… mishandled.  We can be blessed, but not live like we’re blessed.  Take Isaac and Jacob in chapter 27 of Genesis.

Isaac is stingy with the blessing.

Now Isaac was a blessed man, but his problem is that he believes he can control the flow of the blessing.  In Chapter 27 of Genesis, Isaac calls his son Esau to his side to read his will to him before he dies.  Isaac’s favorite son, Esau, has already sold his “birthright.”  So this is Isaac’s last chance to try to rectify things by handing off the “blessing” to this son whom he favors.

1.  This is in direct violation of what God wants Isaac to do. It has already been made plain to Isaac and to Rebekah by God that they were to go against the customs of the day. The blessing would be upon the younger not the older son.  Regardless of the prophecy Isaac tries to give everything to Esau anyway.  If Isaac wasn’t trying to violate God’s plan, he probably would have had a witness at this meeting (required for it to be valid)… and a witness would have seen through Jacob’s deceit in 2 seconds.  Isaac ends up bound by his own deceit.

Now all this came about because Isaac thinks that the blessing is his to hand off.  Remember, your blessings are from the Lord and are to be at His disposal to do with what He so desires.

2.  This is a misjudgment by Isaac regarding the importance of blessing his children.

John Trent once wrote: “Dads, I wish there were some way that I could communicate to you the incredible blessing which affirming words impart to children. I wish, too, that you could sit in my office, when I counsel, and hear the terrible damage that individuals received from not hearing affirming words — particularly affirming words from a father. …words from a father can powerfully set the course of a life.”

Why did Jacob steal the blessing? Partly for the money… he was a crook after all. (His dad calls as much in verse 36.) But I also think it was because it was his last best chance to obtain his father’s approval. Even if it was by stealth… even if he had to pretend to be somebody else to get it.

Isaac had starved his own son of affection. That is a terrible legacy to leave.  Isaac was a miser with his love… and Jacob paid the price for it.

Now, while Isaac was stingy with the blessing…

Jacob thinks blessing is something you can steal.

Irving Kristol once said: “Being frustrated is disagreeable, but the real disasters of life begin when you get what you want.”  Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes (6:2) wrote: God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things.

Jacob’s deceit appears to give him all he ever wanted. But success through deceit has its dark side.  Want to actually enjoy the blessings God has sent your way?

1) Don’t forget who you are in the pursuit of the blessing.

Six times in verses 18-27, Isaac seems suspicious. Each time he Jacob has to lie just a little more. In verse 18, Isaac asks, “Who are you, my son?” I wonder if that was a question that kept Jacob up at night for years.  When you start playing the role of the deceiver you begin to lose who you are. You might begin to lie to get something you want… eventually you lie because it is part of who you are.

2) Know that Blessing built upon deceit ultimately is not satisfying.

“The joke is told of a pastor whose property adjoined that of a golf course. One Sunday he called his church and told them he was sick… hopped the fence onto the third fairway and began to play.  In heaven, an angel went before the Lord and asked him if He could see what was going on.  The Lord said he could see it. The angel asked the Lord what he was going to do about it.  About that moment on a particularly difficult no. 5 hole… the preacher hit his first ever hole-in-one.  The angel was beside himself. “Why have you rewarded this terrible conduct with such remarkable success?”

God replied: “It looks like success now but who is he going to tell?”

This ends up being Jacob’s problem. He heads out of town with no one to boast to about his success.

And how successful is Jacob really? He will get a beautiful wife. (after 14 years of hard labor). He will gain many flocks of animals (after more years of back breaking work). He will have 12 sons (but most of them will succeed in breaking his heart.). In the end Jacob describes his years as “few and difficult.”

And what about the main thing he wanted… the love of his father?  He obtains the blessing, but not his father’s love.  Isaac’s final words to Esau (“…it shall come about when you become restless, that you will break his yoke from your neck”) are ominous and brimming with bitterness toward Jacob.

When you grab and steal to get what you want… you may succeed… but not for long. And the judgment of God might not fall right away. But soon the deceiver Jacob will be deceived by someone even better at the game than himself… his uncle Laban.

So what’s the take away for us?  What does a 21st century Christian learn from this ancient story?

Well… Ephesians 1:3 informs us of this truth:  “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.”

We ARE a blessed people.  The question is:  What are we doing about it?  Are we still striving to get what Christ has already secured for us?  Are we manipulating people or are we blessing people?

Parents, are you blessing your children?  Siblings, are you blessing your brothers of sisters?  Church members are you blessing your brothers and sisters?

Live like you’re blessed. Life has a way of turning things around and supplying needed perspective.

Blessings!

Dig Another Well

a well2Genesis 26:12-33

When we see the success of others we can at times be tempted to think:  “I would be successful too if I had the lucky breaks they’ve experienced.”  When will we learn that “breaks,” lucky or otherwise, are not the true source of life’s blessings?  In our story today from Genesis, Isaac is said to have become quite a wealthy man.  But the text is clear: he is no “self-made” man… it is the Lord that has blessed him.  (v. 12).

It doesn’t take long for the people of the land to begin to envy him and Abimelech, king of the Philistines asks Isaac to leave the region.  “Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us.” (v. 16)  He attributes all the blessings to Isaac, the man… who is using up all the resources of “their” land to become successful.  If the Philistines can just get him to leave… they can seize the secret of Isaac’s success.

So Isaac moves along and digs up the old wells of his Father Abraham. (v. 18)  It isn’t long before his workers hit “a well of flowing water.” (v. 19)  Discovering water in such a barren region is like striking oil in West Texas. This is Jed Clampett finding his “black gold” and “Texas tea.”

But then the Philistine herdsmen begin to quarrel over the ownership of this gusher.  So it gets named “Esek” meaning “Contention” and Isaac and company moved on to dig another well.  Well, the new well is quarreled over, too! (v. 21)  So they name it “Sitnah” meaning “strife” and again move on.

For all of Isaac’s hard work, there is nothing at this point to show for all his efforts!  Every time he finds the life giving liquid… the Philistines seized it for themselves!  Kind of reminds me of when I was a kid growing up in a military housing area in Germany.  The kids in my building had built a tree fort in the backyard.  One day a group of kids decided they liked our idea so much that they wanted to build their own tree fort… with the lumber from ours!

How do you handle when you are wronged?  I am amazed at the peaceful demeanor of Isaac here.  After being moved along 3 times he still doesn’t “contend” or “strive” over the wells.  He moves on and digs another.  This time the well is named “Rehoboth” meaning “wide places” because they are now far enough out that there are no neighbors who can lay claim to it.

And then, as before, Isaac begins to prosper.  No matter how much the Philistines took from him or how much ugliness that threw at him… he persevered.  In fact in verse 28, King Abimelech has to admit:  “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you.”

Has someone claimed your well?  Taken over your tree fort?  Envy can make others do some despicable things.  And sometimes, like Isaac in a country not his own, there is little you can do about it.  It is out of your hands.  In such moments, just remember… it is NOT out of the hands of God to bless you anyway!   Sometimes the only thing one can do is to just move forward and dig another well.  And when your enemies see that you are blessed despite all the setbacks… they too can receive a fresh vision of God.

Jim Petersen tells the story of a friend of his who found himself in the middle of a very difficult business deal. He was innocent of any wrongdoing but the circumstances were such that he could have very well been implicated. Before traveling to meet with the other parties in the deal to attempt to resolve misunderstandings, this young man met with Jim.  They turned to Philippians 4:6-7 and read it together, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer… present your request to God. And the peace of God… will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  They both then agreed to pray according to this promise, and see what God would do.

On the plane the man was seated next to a business associate. This colleague was commiserating with his friend and said, “You must be nervous about all of this.” My friend said, “No, I’m really not.” To this associate’s astonishment, my friend pulled his Bible out of his briefcase and showed him the verse we were praying over.  The companion couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t touched a Bible in years and did not know about the man’s new faith. But it was what he saw in the man himself that captured him.  Now the two men study the Bible together. That is what it means to glorify God!” (Lifestyle Discipleship, pp. 142-143.)

Life isn’t always going to treat you kind… but it is how you respond to the unkindness that just might be your greatest witness to this envious world.

Blessings!

 

Developing a Healthy Appetite for Life

appetiteGenesis 25:29-34

There are a lot of new diets beginning about now.  Thanksgiving and Christmas feasting is giving way to New Year’s fasting.  But I want to talk to you here at the beginning of the year about your appetite.  Do you have a good one?  Not for chocolate or roast beef… but for things that really matter.

Continuing in our devotions through Genesis, we come to the story of Jacob and Esau “when the boys grew up.”  Like most teenagers… both of these boys have a strong appetite.

29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

We see in this brief passage, two approaches to life.

  1. Jacob’s Method: Scheming to get ahead of the Other Guy

Jacob’s name meant “heel grabber” or if you prefer:  “crook.”  And you can tell from this tale, he was already proficient in subterfuge .   Do you know who it was that Jacob took up after?  Grandpa Abraham and Daddy Isaac!  Not once but twice Abraham got in trouble for saying his wife was his sister.  Isaac followed suit and did the same once.  The thing about Jacob, however, was that he (unlike either of them) he was very good at it.  There are those that discover young in life that they are gifted at deception. Now verse 27 calls Jacob a “peaceful man, living among the tents.”  “Peaceful” can mean “refined.”  This tells us that Jacob wasn’t a common crook… but more like an embezzler… smart and cunning in his approach.

Are you good at deceit?  Then it can be very tempting for you not to wait on God but to take what ever you want… when you want it.

  1. Esau’s Method: Consuming without thought to future.

What was at stake in this story?  The Birthright – the oldest son’s share of the material estate of the family.  Usually a double share.

Is Esau giving up all of his share or is he flipping things and giving Jacob the double portion?  We don’t know from the text.  What is most important to the text and the context is his statement: “of what use then is the birthright. “  This would have cause the readers of Genesis to gasp! To say such a thing, even with the threat of death over one’s head would have been unthinkable.

I recently read a poem by Jeanne Steig called: “Twins”

Esau said, “I’m feeling faint.”

“Aw,” said Jacob, “no you ain’t.”

“Papa’s blessing,” Esau cried

“Is mine by rights. But I’ll have died

Of hunger first. For pity’s sake—

My birthright for your lentils, Jake.”

“Your birthright?” Jacob murmured. “Sold!”

Dig in, before the stuff gets cold.

Esau ate and drank and went about his business, indifferent to the fact that he had just given up something very precious.  But Esau’s failure was not just that he was hungry or impetuous.  It was that he was godless.  That doesn’t mean he didn’t believe in God, but that God didn’t matter all that much to him.  Verse 34 says he “despised” or showed contempt for his birthright.  The writer of Hebrews (12:16) warns us that in the church there is to be… “no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.”

To live and breathe and go about your life without thought to the purpose given you by Almighty God is a godless way to live.   Is your goal of living to collect the most do-dads. Or to visit the most perfect restaurant.   Or to take the perfect vacation.

Consume them if you will. But the do-dads will collect dust, the meal will reach its conclusion as well as the vacation.

Just like Esau’s meal… you will have no return for your investment.

What are you doing with your life that will yield eternal dividends?

Josh McDowell tells about the time he was visiting with a “head-hunter” — an executive recruiter who seeks new corporate executives for other firms.  The man told him, “When I get an executive that I’m trying to hire for someone else, I like to disarm him. I offer him a drink, take my coat off, then my vest, undo my tie, throw up my feet and talk about baseball, football, family, whatever, until he’s all relaxed.  Then, when I think I’ve got him relaxed, I lean over, look him square in the eye and say, ‘What’s your purpose in life?’  It’s amazing how top executives fall apart at that question.

“Well, I was interviewing this fellow the other day, had him all disarmed, with my feet up on his desk, talking about football.  Then I leaned up and said, ‘What’s your purpose in life, Bob?’  And he said, without blinking an eye, ‘To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can.’  For the first time in my career I was speechless.”  (eSermons, 6-29-04)

Better Approach to Living: Letting God bless you.

We can accomplish more than our name says we can.  We can receive more from God than we can even imagine he wants to give us.

22 times in the Bible, God is referred to as the God of Jacob.  You see the phrase the God of Israel… but more often that refers to the nation, not this individual.  Why is this designation still used even after Jacob’s name is changed?  Why is the designation “crook” not dropped?

I think it is a reminder to us Jacobs… that there is a God that loves us and wants a relationship with us.  A God that desires to give us his blessing.

Galatians 3:29 reminds us that if we “…belong to Christ, then we are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”  Stop scheming to get ahead… stop thoughtlessly consuming life’s blessing… surrender to what God has for your life.  How is your appetite?  Is it for more of Him?

Blessings!

Beyond the “Merry Christmas” Wars

christmas clerkPsalm 73:28

Every year at this time I read an article or see a post on Facebook about how lost people don’t celebrate Christmas right.  How they use the holiday to drink and shop and host parties, and don’t give the “Christ” in Christmas much thought at all.  And then there is anger regarding the “Happy Holiday” we receive at the department store.  And we are told to just say “Merry Christmas” right back in their face… with a tone not exactly reflecting the joy of the season I imagine!

We need to realize that we aren’t gaining anything by winning the “pin the correct name on the holiday” award.  How about we take a different approach?  Celebrate the season with joy along side them.  Wait for the moment to share the depth and the breadth the holiday means within your own heart.  God will create the moment.  The checkout if probably not the venue.

So many people celebrate the 25th… but do so with an emptiness.  They know there is suppose to be some “holiday magic” during this season… but they are left on the 26th a little disenchanted.  It is because they don’t know the “Christ” of Christmas.  Words spoken by a greeting alone can’t convey his mercy and compassion toward them.  How about you be the conduit for them?

Brennan Manning wrote:  “What will separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the mystics from the romantics this Christmas will be the depth and quality of our passion for Jesus.”  Wow!  That goes beyond singing the right Christmas songs and issuing the correct greetings at the mall.  My passion for Jesus, himself, not mere passion for his birth date.

Psalm 73:28 says:  “But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign Lord my judge; I will tell of all your deeds.”  Has God not changed your life?  Has Jesus not saved your soul?  Passionately display that!

Be His ambassador this Christmas… at every Christmas gathering, at every work holiday party, in every checkout line this season.  God is with us!  Celebrate it with passion!  Take a page from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.  He wrote of Scrooge at the end of hwreathis tale: “… it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”  Let that be said of you as well.

Merry Christmas!

Welcome to the Family

baby feetGenesis 25

As we roll along in Genesis… we come to a third major figure in this rich history.  There was Noah, then Abraham… and now:  Jacob.  We get to begin his journey at Square 1, his birth, as we are offered a backstory of how he came to be.  Do you know your “back story?”  Sometimes these stories are shared with us by our parents.  “We were long sought after.”  “We were an “oops” baby.”  “We didn’t want to come out of the womb.”  “We were premature.”  Whatever our story, how we were received is part of who we are and what we become.  Now Jacob was a wanted child.  A child vital to the promise of God.

Now Isaac his father knew his own backstory probably from the time he was a small child.  He would one day be the father of a great nation.  But then God interposes a period of waiting for that promised child, much like he did to his father, Abraham.  Isaac and Rebekah struggle with infertility.  It can seem that God is so silent when you deal with waiting for something.

Here are some tips to receiving the blessing of God in your life… even if the wait has been excruciating.

1.  Discover the Role of Prayer in the Sovereignty of God

19 Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived.

We don’t know how long God was silent but we do know what finally broke the silence: the voice of Isaac praying.   Just because God had promised a child to Isaac didn’t mean that Isaac’s prayer was inconsequential.  It seems as though God took into consideration Isaac’s petition in His foresight, before any promise was even made to Abraham.

Could it be that when we don’t pray, God already takes our lack of prayer into consideration as well?  Knowing that becomes for us a powerful motivator for us to bring our petitions before God.  Some in this world say: “Answered prayer is nothing more than coincidence.”  But I’ve also heard it said: “It is amazing the amount of coincidences that occur when you pray.”   As a friend and fellow pastor, Dave Workman, once remarked: “… a coincidence is when God does a miracle but chooses to remain anonymous.”  Isaac and Rebeccah experience breakthrough… through the power of prayer.

2.  Come to Grips with the Choices of God

22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.”

Rebecca has these strange feelings inside her as the child they had prayed for begins to grow. The Hebrew could be translated this way: “But the children almost crushed one another inside her.”   God reveals to her that it isn’t one child but two. The fact that two nations would rise from this delivery is the reason that they seem to be warring within her. But the younger will be server by the older.

Things just became complicated!  There are now two bundles of joy – so where does the blessing go?  God Sovereignly chooses.  And he chooses Jacob.

Paul deals with what could be perceived as unfair in the book of Romans when he writes:

Romans 9

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

God determines the outcome before the prenatal brawl even comes to an end.  God sees the future and knows the character of Esau before he is even old enough for it to be manifested.  And God makes his choice.  Sometimes we bump up against this thing called God’s choice.  “I’m not smart enough.”  “I’m not pretty enough.  “I’m not filled with enough social grace or self motivation.”  “Why did God chose someone else instead of me?”  It doesn’t seem fair.

What joy comes over the life that realizes that we have never lost out on one thing that we really needed.  God didn’t make a mistake with Esau.  And he didn’t make one with you.  And by the way, find hope in the fact that Jacob wasn’t the obvious choice.  He wasn’t as masculine, strong, or athletic as Esau… and yet God had chose him to carry forth the blessing.

God indeed has a purpose for each of us.  Some are like Esau… others like Jacob.  But we each have our role to play.  And in the end, the important thing will not be what part we played, but in whose family we were born.  In Christ we receive all the blessing we will ever need.

Blessings!

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!