God Can Even Use “That!”

RegretsGenesis 38

Wow!  What a story!  How did this make it into the Bible?  What do we make of this story of sexual sin, deceit and hypocrisy?  It is a story we often avoid.  Liz Curtis Higgs writes in her book, Really Bad Girls of the Bible:  “Anyway you tell this story you eventually come to a scene that, even in our anything-goes society, doesn’t sit well on the psyche:  A young woman poses as a prostitute so she can sleep with her father-in-law.  On purpose.  …You won’t find much enthusiasm for sermon skits about Tamar and Judah at church.  Not many weekly women’s meetings are called: ‘The Tamar Circle.'”

And yet Tamar is called by Judah at the end of the story “more righteous” than he.  What is going on here?

Well this story is a mess from the beginning.  Judah begins by marrying a Canaanite woman named Shua.  This was not God’s will.  He began a little family and chose a bride for his oldest son named Er.  He chooses a Canaanite woman named Tamar.

Er then angers God and is killed as a result.  Onan is expected to father a child by  Tamar.  This child will not be his, however, but his dead brother’s.  This does not sit well with Onan and so he spills his semen on the ground and refuses to impregnate Tamar.  God kills Onan.  (Picking up on a pattern here?)

Judah has just one son left, Shelah.  Thinking that Tamar is somehow responsible for the death of his other two sons… he tells Tamar that she needs to come back when his last boy is older.  He sends her back to her father’s house… effectively sentencing her to live as a childless widow until the day she dies.

Thus the desperate plot by Tamar to have a child by Judah.  It is a risky, immoral, deceitful… yet effective plan.  Soon Tamar is found to be with a child by Judah who doesn’t even know who it was he who had slept with.

It is only when Tamar produces proof of paternity that Judah remarks that she is “more righteous” than hIm.  The story ends with birth of Tamar’s twin sons being born.  The baby’s room is done up in blue.  Everybody’s smiling.  But wait…

What is the take away from this bizarre story?  I can think of four:

1)  You might have a twisted testimony and you might not have done things that you are proud of… but God is into redeeming lives… forgiving sin… and setting people free of their past.  People “with a past” can be “born again” into His family.

2)  Children are NOT mistakes.  A person’s birth story does not mark them for dishonor.  God had great plans for Tamar’s son, Perez.

3)  God can use anyone as an example of his grace.  Tamar is the first woman mention in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 1.  Some of have pointed out that her inclusion was to foreshadow the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God.

4)  God’s plans are higher than ours.  He transcends even the bad decisions we make in desperation.  He is carving out a plan that will ultimately bring glory to himself.

Blessings!

Pastor Wayne

Stick with the Plan

Genesis 20

game planThe very quotable Yogi Berra once remarked: “It was like deja vu all over again!”  That quote comes to mind as we tackle this week’s passage.  Didn’t the events of chapter 20 just happen in chapter 12?  The fact that Abraham was traveling is similar (though this does take place within the land, chapter 12 did not); the fact that Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife is familiar; and the ultimate result of the encounter (Abraham being blessed anyway) is equally remarkable.

But chapter 20 is a shocker to me.  I can’t understand why Abraham continues his pattern of lying about Sarah…  particularly with such disastrous results experienced before.  Isn’t the patriarch further along in his journey with the Lord by now?  Since chapter 12 Abraham has repeatedly heard God speak to him.  (Gen. 15 & 17)  He has experienced the thrill of victory with the Lord in battle. (Gen. 14 see verse 20)).  He has wrestled with God in prayer (Gen. 18) and witnessed the power of God come down in judgment (Gen. 19).  So with such powerful moments in his life… why don’t they keep Abraham from repeating this past mistake?  Does it stop you?

And there is a major difference in this story compared to the former one:  there is so much more at stake now!  In chapter 12, Sarah wasn’t fertile.  But now the angels have declared to Abraham that Sarah in a year’s time she will deliver the child of the promise.  So, think about it a minute, if she spends even one night wrapped in the embrace of Abimelech… the paternity of Isaac would be forever be in question.

God ultimately delivers Abraham through a dream to Abimelech… but there are some important lessons for all of us here.

#1 – A long walk with God in obedience doesn’t mean we are safe from revisiting past sins committed in disobedience.  We must be on guard for this!

#2 – We might get a green light from God after so many years of waiting… and then mess things up right on the thresh hold of receiving the blessing.  At a graduation ceremonies for my son, Justin, he and the rest of the soldiers were allowed to go to lunch with their families before the final ceremony later that day.  Some of those that were on the thresh hold of completing boot camp, got drunk during the brief time with their family and ended up “washing out” before the evening.  They would have to repeat boat camp all over again.  When success is on the way… one needs to be even more diligent about staying on the path of obedience.

#3 – Stick to the plan.  God knows what he is doing.  If at all possible, unless you hear a clear calling from God (as Abraham did at the beginning of Genesis 12) stay put and let God unfold his plan for your life.  It may have been a famine that caused Abraham’s migration in chapter 12… it is Abraham’s restlessness that gets him in chapter 20.

It takes a special grace to stay the course before the blessings commence.  May you receive His grace in abundance as you persevere in Christ today!

Blessings!

 

Noah: Another Review

NoahGenesis 6:16

No.  I didn’t see Noah (2014 Paramount Pictures).  There was no one reason why.  I’m not a special effects junkie.  I tend to be discouraged by Hollywood’s attempts at bringing the Bible to life.  I was busy.  I just decided to sit this one out.

I didn’t, however, escape from a flood of reviews about Noah.  They were everywhere and were a mixed bag even from within the Christian community.

Christian movie blogger Brian Godawa wrote about what troubled him:  “Flat characters that you just don’t care about. A sick twisted hero that you just don’t care about. Look, I know your hero has to have a character flaw, but this is so extreme that you can’t stand Noah, and you just want to leave the theater.”

Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) wrote:  “Friends, last night I watched the Hollywood (Paramount) movie Noah. It is much, much worse than I thought it would be—much worse. The director of the movie, Darren Aronofsky, has been quoted in the media as saying that Noah is “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” and I agree wholeheartedly with him.”

I was intrigued by a review by Greg Thornbury of The King’s College in New York.  While he had some major theological objections to the film he saw in it some redeeming qualities: “The grim, gritty, and supernatural antediluvian biblical world takes us back into ancient history, of origins. Who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? Where is justice? Is God there? What does he have to say? That ancient world sets us back on our heels and forces us to take stock in this strange new world inside the Bible.”

This leads me back to another reason I didn’t go see Noah.  I confess I might not give the Bible story that good of a review!  If you look beyond the cute Noah’s Ark set in the church in the nursery, and actually read the story in Genesis… you feel the horror of it all.  It is hard not to see the scene through the eyes of anything but a children’s picture book.  Maybe the film might “set one back on their heels” for the first time.  In the Genesis account, God meant business.  Most of the evil and foolish men He had created were wiped out in this Million year flood.  This is as frightening a plot as any thriller Hollywood has ever dreamed up!

Stories about judgment are never an easy read.  Whether it is in Genesis 6 & 7 (at the Bible’s beginning) or in the Book of Revelation (at the Bible’s end)… these are not stories for the squeamish heart!

But as one stands there contemplating the destruction and the surge of the water don’t forget… the ark!  Yes, the judgment of God was severe and He destroyed just about all flesh on the earth.  There was a completely different perspective just on the other side of the ark’s door.  They were singing Hallelujah!

Four  facts of life we all need to see and embrace from Noah’s tale:

1.  There is a coming judgment for sin.  “…for the earth is filled with violence… I am about to destroy them…” (Genesis 6:13)

2.  A way of escape has been made.  “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood…” (6:14)

3.  We need to enter the escape hatch before it is sealed.   “And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded them…” (7:16a)

4.  God is the one who makes the protective seal.  “…and the Lord closed it behind him.” (7:16b)

We can’t hold the waters back with our own efforts of goodness.  There is no human who can provide their own protection.  Only God can do save us.  And He did that in Christ.

Peter writes in the New Testament how: “…God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.  And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (3:20b-21 NLT)

The review from within the ark is a much different one than one from outside its protective walls.  One day the final judgment will take its toll on this earth.  But those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb will find themselves rescued from the wrath of the Lamb.  I don’t deserve such mercy… but I am thankful He saved me.  Like a child protected in their home during a thunderstorm I can sometimes take my salvation for granted.  Help me never to be ungrateful.

How about you?  Have you responded to God?  If not, come to Jesus.  He will not turn you back.

Have you been baptized in order to picture this great saving act of God?  If not, then surrender to His will and be baptized to symbolize what He has done for you.

Hurry, He might be about to seal the door.

 

Standing Out From the Crowd

Genesis 6:7-10standing out in a crowd

An old song I remember from childhood went:  “Noah found grace in the eye of the Lord and He left him high and dry!”

Never being much a fan of water… the lyrics “high and dry” drew me into His grace.  I knew I didn’t want to get wet!

“Pick me, Lord.  Pick me!” was my heart’s cry.  I wanted to stand out from the crowd like Noah and be rescued from the world flood.

As I grew up I discovered that standing out from the crowd came at a price.  I didn’t like standing out from the crowd that much anymore.  My prayers became more like:  “Lord, could you just make me like everybody else?”  “Could you do something about this puny bicep, Lord?”  “Could you shrink my nose a bit?”  Of course that didn’t happen.

The good news is that there came a day when I wanted to stand out again.   A day when I longed to stand out from the crowd… standing in the fields of His grace!  But at 16 the questions became:  “What will make me stand out as worthy of God’s grace or attention?  What will make the Lord “pick” me?”

Genesis 6:8 says:  “…Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (6:8)  How did he do it?  The next few verses give us some ideas.  As does several verses in Hebrews chapter 11.

One thing is clear… it wasn’t something Noah earned by being good.  The word for “favor” here is also translated:  “acceptance” or “grace.”  Note that Noah didn’t “earn” favor in the eyes of the Lord.  Noah was just as sinful as his contemporaries.  Yet God graced this one who “stood out.”

1.  Noah Sought the Lord.

Hebrews 11:6 says:  “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

Noah had no goodness to bring… but he could throw himself upon the mercy of God.  In a world as ungodly as his was… being a mercy seeker… caused him to stand out.  And Noah believed that God was a rewarder of those who seek after Him.

2.  Noah Sought to Live Righteously

Genesis 6:9 records that he was a “righteous man, blameless in his time.”  These choices also made him stand out from his peers.  He wasn’t perfect.  No man or woman can be.  But his heart was right.  And he most likely was broken over his sin.  His faith and not his works would save him.  Grace would eventually bloom in Jesus Christ.  (The ark would become a picture of saving grace.  But more on that in the next blog.)

3Noah walked with God.

“Noah walked with God.”  Like Enoch in the chapter before, Noah too had intimacy with the Almighty.   This was displayed by his his actions.

Noah:

Waited…. 120 years of listening to lame giraffe jokes.

Preached… 2 Peter calls him “a preacher of righteousness.”  Noah probably had his share of rotten tomatoes hurled at him.

Entered… (Genesis 7:7) Don’t think that this didn’t require faith. A boat built by one that wasn’t a boat builder that has been stuffed with animals from across the planet. I wouldn’t be at ease being enclosed in such a vessel.

And Waited Some More… (v.8) – One week passed before a single drop of rain fell.

Whether  Noah was called to physical activity (ark building) or to passive activity (waiting on the Lord)… Noah remained faithful.

4.  Noah was a good father.

“Noah became the father of three sons:  Shem, Ham and Japheth.” (6:10)  Why do I even mention this?  Because Noah’s fatherhood is mentioned again and again in the book of Genesis. (5:32; 6:10; 6:13; 9:18-19)  Genesis 10 even records the genealogy of each his children.  In the Hebrews 11 the author notes that Noah: “in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household.” (11:7)

Dad’s obedience was crucial for the survival of this family.  Mom or Dad, your obedience to God is just as crucial for the survival of your children.

———————-

So….in a nation of rebels… How did Noah stand out?  By seeking the Lord’s favor, by living righteously (even if everyone else was not), by possessing an active faith, and by being a good parent to his children.

The question is:  Do you stand out in THIS generation?  God’s desire is for all to come to faith in Him (1 Timothy 2:4).  He wants to choose everybody.  He chooses those who exercise faith in Him.  And like Noah… He leaves them “High and Dry!”

Lord, Remember Me For Good

FuneralPsalm 25:7

     It is an old joke, but one worth retelling.  A certain minister was met with an odd proposal.  The brother of a rather notorious sinner came into his office one day and offered the minister a sizable gift to the church’s building program.  It seems his brother had just died, and he was willing to give the money to the church in his memory, but only if… during the funeral… the minister was willing to call him a saint.  After some thought, the minister finally agreed.

The day of the funeral arrived and the minister began his sermon.  “This man that just died, we all know his reputation… he was a womanizer, a drunkard, a con artist and a thief.”

He paused for a moment, then continued:  “But compared to his brother he was a saint!”

We laugh at that joke because we have all been in funerals of those with a dubious reputation… and have listened with embarrassment as family members and friends spoke of their character as though they were little Billy Grahams.

But truth be told, there is a lot of truth that we would like not to be told at our own funerals.  We want to be remembered for our good.

While reading Psalm 25, I got to thinking:  What if God were to speak a eulogy at my funeral… what would HE say about me?

In Psalm 25: 7, David asks of the Lord: “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”

This is a bold request, but one–that in Christ— He has granted.  This is seen in how some OT characters are spoken of in the NT – of Moses: Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant… Hebrews 3:5; of Job – “You have heard of the endurance of Job…” (James 5:11); of Lot (!) – “and if He rescued righteous Lot…” (2 Peter 2:7).  Did you hear that right?  Moses, Job and Lot.  Yes, Moses.  The one who not only didn’t want to be the deliverer, but wanted God to sent Aaron instead.  Yes, that Moses, was called faithful.  Yes, Job.  The one who complained insistently that he was being treated unfairly and wanted to take God to court.  Yes, that Job, was called patient in the NT.  And Lot… LOT!  The one who steadily moved toward sin, until he reached the point of having to flee from falling fire and brimstone.  Yes, that Lot was called righteous in the NT.  How can this be?

And what will be spoken of you in that final day?  You might think that your list of failures and sin will be an albatross to be worn by you throughout eternity.  But the Scriptures teach, that when you are remembered, it will be for good.  Because Jesus died for you… redeemed you… and paid the penalty of your sin for you… Because of Jesus… God will remember you for good!

After listing a litany of sins, Paul writes this in his first letter to Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)   [notice the highlighted verbs are in past tense].

There are days that I am like David… I am reflecting on my past and the things that I have done and I get this sense of dread.  I think:  “What must God (who sees and knows everything – including my thoughts and intentions)– what must He be thinking of me?  Through the blood of Christ… I know that when He thinks of me… He thinks of me for good.  Hallelujah!  Thank you Jesus!