Friday, February 27, 2009

A providential parting of ways.

split arrows sign

Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob.
Genesis 36:6

With Esau out of the land of Canaan, he is effectively out of the picture of the line of generations that God is drawing to himself to build the nation Israel. This is a providential parting. Esau is not angry, and it appears that the reconciliation of the brothers was indeed cordial, for Esau simply chose to move on. It was probably easy for him to do, since he had married Canaanite wives and chosen the life of the people of the land.

From here on out in Genesis we focus on Jacob (Israel) and the work that God was going to do to protect this seedling of a nation. But God also promised to make of Esau what He had promised to his grandfather Abraham, and indeed, Esau's departure lands him right where a nation can thrive: Edom. So there is the faithfulness of God even in this providential turn of events. Esau made a real choice to move on, but it was because God had materially blessed his family as well, and it was easiest for him to go where Canaanite leanings took him.

So God is proven faithful in His providence, in His provisions, and in His promises.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Bethel

13    Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him.
14    And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it.

Genesis 35:13-14


In heaven You live; earth is my home.

But speaking to me, You step down

and touch the rocky ground

and where You stand is holy


Earth is the place You meet me

and Your Word is clear as I see

what You want me to do and be

nothing less than as You are: holy


And the rocks where we have met

are set up again to commemorate

the fact that You are pure and great

and I am just not holy


So come to me, O Ancient One

and make me like Your Perfect Son

as with You I walk, You save me from

that which stains me. You make me holy

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The worst in us might go to them.

The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah.

Genesis 34:13

Here is a case in which all of Jacob’s oldest sons acted just as he would act. They were deceivers. Jacob may have been given a new name, but his old nature lives in his sons. They felt justified in their actions because of the horrible sin perpetuated against their sister. She is raped by a noble in the land, and then that noble has the gall to ask for her in marriage.

Their plan was simple: weaken Shechem and his tribe through deceit and then murder the entire clan. That is exactly what they did. They insisted that in order for the marriage to take place, all adult men in the clan of Shechem would need to be circumcised. Then, after the operations had occurred, and then men were in no condition to defend themselves, Jacob’s sons brutally slaughtered every last one of them in retaliation.

Jacob’s pattern of deception knew no bounds. He would lie to and deceive the ones he was to love the most: his own family. The second generation of that sin found his sons acting more like a gang of thugs than a godly generation of good sons! This is the price we pay as parents when the worst of us may find its way into our kids.

I am seriously thinking this episode over in the light of having one teenager (really two…Zach turns twelve today, but I think in our culture teen issues start about age ten now) and knowing the struggles that are there. May God give me the grace, humility, and insight to keep them from becoming what is worst in me!

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Anxious Meetings

waiting room

3    He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
4    But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

Genesis 33:3-4

I have had my share of anxious meetings. Life dishes them out with some regularity. It might be sitting down with a doctor after some medical tests. It could be the boss saying, “Would you step into my office for a minute?” It might be a friend or relative calling with that uncertain question and rising inflection, “Can we talk?” There are so many ways in which a sudden turn can find life changing in a conversation or meeting with somebody.

God is there in those anxious times, as evidenced by His providential workings through what had been a notoriously broken relationship between the brother Jacob and Esau. When they parted ways, Esau had threatened to kill Jacob at the first convenient opportunity over Jacob’s robbing him of his father’s blessing. Now, at this meeting, Jacob presents his wronged brother a magnificent material gift of restitution, and when he does so, he has to talk Esau into accepting it, not because Esau is in a rage, but because Esau has mellowed so much that he is glad to see his brother again. Esau certainly had his spiritual immaturity issues (so did Jacob in big ways), but forgiveness did come quickly to him, and that was something God used graciously to restore Jacob/Israel to the Promised Land.’

God left the actions that Jacob chose to restore his relationship with Esau stand. He honored Jacob’s changing heart. He honored Esau’s changing heart. And the anxious meeting became a time of blessing. I should remember that when my uncertain conversations appear.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

A New Name | A True Name


Then he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."

Genesis 32:2

This chapter marks a key turning point in the story of Jacob. His has been a most disappointing spiritual journey to date. He has been the most materialistically consumed of all the patriarchs. And now, with his return to the Promised Land, we see him encountering God in life changing ways.

This episode puzzles me, and I am not real sure if I can answer all the questions I have in this passage. I accept it as a real historical account though. God comes to Jacob when he is alone. He has sent his family behind him. He has divided his home like a military encampment, sending a gift to appease Esau ahead of him, his family in clearly favorited groupings behind him, and himself, alone in the middle. It is during that alone time that God comes to him in a sleepless night and in the form of a wrestling man, God jousts with Jacob until the break of day. A lifetime of outdoor shepherding must have made a strong man of the former mama’s favorite tentboy chef, because Jacob is in a draw match with God until finally God just touches him in the hip. With that touch God wins the bout and renames Jacob.

From this moment on, Jacob the deceiver becomes Israel the wrestler because he has prevailed against the Lord. His reward for the battle is a permanent limp. But the new name gives him a chance to forge a new spiritual identity with a personal relationship with God, which is exactly what was needed at this juncture. It adds spiritual drama to the personal drama already enfolding in the text, and shows us what God is accomplishing in this story.

Like Jacob, there are times when I need to be wrestled to my senses. I need the clean break, the new name, and the fresh start. And just like Jacob, I find such refreshing in the touch of God, even if God makes me wrestle to get it, and a limp is left to remind me of God’s touch. That is the way God works. And the crutch I need in order to move along again becomes a precious thing.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sometimes God wants you to move on.


2    And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before.
3    Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you."

Genesis 31:2-3

This was a difficult point in the life of Jacob. He had founded his home in the land of his mother’s kin. And a large family had come to him in these shepherd days with Laban. He had amassed agricultural wealth in large herds. But that very blessing was becoming a source of friction between Jacob and his father-in-law. And Laban was not treating his son-in-law well as a result.

Yet, despite the difficulty, God had a bigger plan in mind for Jacob that involved getting him back to the land that God had promised Jacob’s father and grandfather. So the move must happen. And it is God’s will. It has been God’s will for generations already. Jacob is just caught in the urgent every day part of the experience of it.

There are times where God wants us to move on. There are promises to claim beyond our current experience. Sometimes personal pain or misery are indicators that we might want to listen to where God wants us. Jacob was not a strong example of faith, but in this instance, he was ready and willing to hear and obey the voice of the God on the matter. He may not have moved on in the best way (he snuck out rather than confront his father-in-law) but even in that God intervened (Laban was warned by God not to strike out against Jacob). Jacob obeyed. God blessed him. God received the glory and is clearly in charge of the situation. That is as it should be, even when we are faced with the tough decisions in moving on.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An episode that argues best for monogamy.

engagement ring

22    Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.
23    She conceived and bore a son and said, "God has taken away my reproach."
24    And she called his name Joseph, saying, "May the LORD add to me another son!"
Genesis 30:22-24

This chapter is one of the more unpleasant episodes to read in all of scripture. Leah and Rachel reach heights of sibling rivalry regarding sexual fertility in their bizarre marriage to Jacob that simply stagger all common sense thinking. I find this chapter to be the best argument ever for monogamy! What man in his right mind would want to fight among four women? By the time we get to Issachar's birth, Jacob has become nothing more than breeding stock for argument... literally!

But we get to see God work even in the most sinful of family situations. Jacob's home is hardly honoring to God, yet God in His mercy and in keeping of the covenant with Abraham, keeps blessing. And Joseph becomes in the whole string of patriarchal accounts the most faithful of all. He could not help the circumstances of his birth, nor the bitter fighting that would mark his family and write a tragic story for him. But God was slowly making something of him that would be remarkable.

So even in the worst of situations, God's grace prevails. God's plan does not fail. And Jacob's family is living proof of that sovereign truth.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dysfunction Junction: the next generation


Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife.

Genesis 29:28

I find it remarkable that God worked beyond the sinful machinations within the families of the patriarchs in order to create a promised nation, give them a promised land, and covenant with them in a promised relationship. None of them was perfect as a family. Abraham basically pimped his wife out to pagan kings. He also committed polygamy at the suggestion of his wife. Isaac showed overt favoritism to one son over another, fighting with his wife in the process. Jacob was polygamous, eventually fathering the twelve tribes of Israel through four different women. And Jacob’s family was a factious mess, headed up by a neurotic, greedy, deceiving father.

Yet somehow God redeemed this mess in such a way that He clearly is shown to be the powerful provider of grace. God made the covenant with Abram. God kept it with him and his descendents. And somehow there was enough faith to satisfy His faithful love.

Families probably all have some level of dysfunction. It is inevitably the result of sin. The bigger challenge might be to find a definition of truly functional family and see it in real life! So God moves beyond human failures and relationship in ruin. He brings glory to Himself even in the most difficult of family environments. And His Word provides the resources to move beyond our sins and faults to create a home worthy of His glory.

Friday, February 13, 2009

God Does It.

View from hill outside Bethel

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.
Genesis 28:15

When God makes a promise
He keeps it first and well
and my best efforts
would land me in Hell

Grace is where God works
and heaven his home
so when He promises to be with me
I will never be alone

And the times when I fail
Him He will pull, tug and call
until I return in repentance
and He saves me from my fall

Other times in obedience
I follow straight and true
and He blesses with His mercy
and joys are given too

So I will know His presence
here now in Bethel, God's own home
and I will look for His hand now
for my life is His to own

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bible Study Magazine New Giveaway.

Bible Study Magazine and Mars Hill are giving away 20 copies of Mark Driscoll’s new book, Vintage Church. Not only that, but they are also giving away five subscriptions to Bible Study Magazine and a copy of their Bible Study Library software! Enter to win on the Bible Study Magazine Mark Driscoll page, then take a look at all the cool tools they have to take your Bible study to the next level!

When families fail.

torn family

Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob."
Genesis 27:41

This is the fruit of a sin-filled dysfunctional family. It started with the horrible practice of parents playing favorites with their sons. It moved on to power politics within a family in which a mother and her son (Jacob) plot against the culture and leadership of a father and the oldest son (Esau). The result was deception, broken spirits, disappointment, and bitter hate.

Esau articulates the worst that can happen when the closest relationships that we should have on earth turn sour. He is plotting to kill his brother over the deception, trickery, and robbery of his blessing. He does not remember selling his birthright, but he is bitter over the loss of the blessing of his father, because he was closest to dad and felt he deserved it most of all.

This dynamic gets repeated even today. It may not end in murderous revenge thinking, but it might, given the right circumstances. I know as a counselor that the family dynamic can foster a lot of bitterness. Sinners sin against sinners and sinners that get sinned against respond sinfully. That is exactly what happened in the family tents of Isaac and Rebekah. And it occurs in the manicured lawns and Parade of Homes domiciles of my culture!

The most valuable commitment in relationships is in these close family settings. It is worth committing to biblical standards. It must be guarded, protected, watched, nurtured, and taught. And nothing else I do is nearly as important as helping my family work through conflicts and sins with grace and forgiveness. It starts with guarding my own heart, moves into guarding my unique oneness with my wife, and extends to the character and commitments of my children.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blessing a new generation.


28    They said, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, 'Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you,
29    that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.'"

Genesis 26:28-29

Just a simple observation for today: The covenant that God made with Abraham promised him that nations would bless him. This is the first reward of the promise in Abraham’s son Isaac. Abimelech and the Philistines had a tumultuous relationship with both Abraham and Isaac. Both patriarchs had deceived them similarly. Both had managed to become quite wealthy in Canaan’s territory. But it is Abimelech who comes to Isaac now making a treaty of peace. And the basis of him doing so is that the pagan king clearly sees that Isaac has a unique situation with God.

God keeps His promises. He made a vast, national, global, and epic covenant with Abraham. He is keeping it to this day. And the rest of Genesis will show how this blessing keeps coming to each succeeding generation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Parents playing favorites.


27    When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents.
28    Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Genesis 25:27-28

There are very real dangers to parenting, and Isaac and Rebekah demonstrate one of the worst of them: playing favorites. Their twin sons were literally answers to prayer for them. I am sure they loved them, but over time, as each boy developed a unique personality, each parent gravitated toward a favorite son. And the results would mark their lives and affect generations.

Isaac loved the rugged outdoor hunter Esau. There was something especially appealing to him about a boy who became such a skilled hunter and provider. I have to confess that the man in me would find myself attracted to that as well. Quieter boys are harder to get to know. The rugged outdoorsman was most appealing to Isaac.

Rebekah on the other hand loved her quiet and reflective boy Jacob. He stayed around the tents. He was more of a manager, and as we will see, a shrewd deal-maker. And from the text, we also see that he was a skilled chef who could cook up a mean pot of lentil stew. So he had his own personality that his mother found attractive. But as the parents drew toward the sons, they found themselves unwittingly pitting themselves and their sons against each other.

I have two children. They are unique in their personalities and I need to be careful that I don’t only feel drawn to one over the other. One is quiet and withdrawn… a deep thinker… a poet… and an emotional processor. The other is happy-go-lucky, a social butterfly with many friends, a constantly busy joker, less emotional unless it is telling a joke, and a wildly gifted musician. Fortunately, I find myself drawn to both of them in unique ways, but I need to be careful not to exalt one over the other. They sense if I am spending more attention on one over the other and they let me know! So Isaac and Rebekah serve as warning posts for careful parenting.

Monday, February 9, 2009

a different kind of love story.

Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son.
Genesis 24:48

This is indeed a love story, but one with a much different focus than we normally tend to think about this time of the year. Abraham is incredibly old, he has lost his wife, and is concerned that his son Isaac marry the right woman. He binds his household manager to a solemn oath to find a wife for Isaac among Abraham's own kinsman. The servant knows this is a daunting and dangerous task, but does so.

When he arrives in the territory of Abraham's family, he realizes that the task must be divinely directed. You have to hand it to Abraham. He had instilled a vivid faith in the members of his household as evidenced in the servant's prayers to God. And God heard and answered them with the events that clearly made it apparent that Rebekah was an outstanding, caring, and hard-working young lady. Again, not at all like how we might think of a love story today, but she is the right woman because of her character.

The result was that God was worshiped in such a human matter as procuring a wife and arranging a marriage. Abraham's servant acknowledges God's direction in the provision of Rebekah. Her family recognizes the hand of God in the matter by letter her go to be the wife of Isaac. Rebekah follows God's clear direction by agreeing without hesitation to leave home and family and marry a man she has never even seen!

In the end two things usually at odds are perfectly harmonized. God is glorified by clearly leading in the matter and perfect obedience to Him yields a wonderful result. Secondly, Abraham got exactly what he desired for his son, showing that his desires and wants were in keeping with God's will. And Isaac and Rebekah seem to truly have found a remarkable love, as evidenced in her response to him and his willingness to take her as wife. All in all, quite the happy ending... at least for chapter twenty-four.

Friday, February 6, 2009

In sorrow, a promise.

cave tomb

After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.
Genesis 23:19-20

I make just a really brief observation from this text. Sarah has lived a long life and has died. Abraham now must find a burial plot in the land of his sojourn, Canaan. With her death comes the first physical purchase of land that Abraham has made: The burial plot near Hebron. There his beloved wife's body is laid to rest. There, he too will be buried. The first bit of the promised land to come to Abraham was a cemetery and cave. But it is a tangible bit of the promise of God.

And so it is that even in sorrows, God can visit us with His promise. I doubt that Abraham was greatly comforted with the knowledge that he now possessed a deed to land in the place God promised to give him. At least not while he was mourning Sarah. But it was true. God moved, even in great loss, to secure His covenant and keep His Word.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

God will provide.

abraham and isaac

7    Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
8    Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

Genesis 22:7-8

This first recorded conversation between Abraham and his son Isaac is poignant and a testament to faith. God had instructed Abraham to offer his only son of the promise as a burnt offering. And Abraham believed that obeying God in this was what he should do. When Isaac asks this question, Abraham is not lying. I believe Abraham saw this for what it was: as test of faith.

In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews comments on this episode and offers insight into Abraham’s faith: he believed God would raise Isaac back. After all, God had already promised that Isaac was the son of the promise. So if God took him in sacrifice, God would have to raise him up because God does not lie. And so an old man and his young son walk on up the mountain to build an altar.

And God did put Abraham’s resolve to the test. Dramatic tension increases as Isaac helps prepare the altar and the wood, and then the old man binds his son and lays him on the altar, ready with knife to kill him like a lamb and burn him in sacrifice. It is then that God stops the action, pronounces satisfaction on the ancient faith of Abraham, and does exactly what Abraham prophesied: a ram is caught in a thicket to be sacrificed in Isaac’s stead.

Of course this is not a passage to be literally applied. The resulting trauma to any child (outside of the call of God) would be abusive. But I can see times in which God has called me to obey, to wait through the seemingly unthinkable until He has provided. And it is always worth the wait because God will provide.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

God’s Schedule.

2    So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.
3    Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.
4    Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.
5    Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Genesis 21:2-5

God’s time is not measured in human expectation. Abraham had faithfully trusted that God would provide a son for him and by the time that son is born, Isaac is clearly a son of God’s provision. He is 100 years old when Isaac brings laughter to the tents of Abraham and Sarah. It is clearly a work of God.

One of the reasons that God’s time is not measured well on a human scale is that God brings glory to Himself in all that He does, including the timing of everything. And when we want things to occur at our most convenient time, it is often to make ourselves feel good, or look good, or be what we want. But God’s schedule is the way in which He makes Himself known as powerful and in control.

What I observe then is that I need to back out of my calendar and agenda from time to time and make sure I am not getting in the way of God’s overall timing. Abraham tried to move the schedule along with Hagar as his concubine. And God told him that was not the right plan. Abraham struggled to trust God when confronted with political powers like Pharaoh and Abimelech, and God let him know that He would not allow Abraham’s impatient lies to stand in the way of God’s faithful promises.

So even today I will be working on the administrivia of ministry: something I personally see as a necessary evil. But I would fail miserably if I thought that simply having a procedure, a plan, or a calendar date would ensure God’s blessing. I need to be sure to see where God is promising to work in my heart, in my home, and in my church. And then I need to faithfully look for His timing and schedule. God may use my planning for His glory, but only when my planning is clearly under His schedule and direction. So I will trust.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Faithlessness in the Faithful

Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, "What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done."  And Abimelech said to Abraham, "What did you see, that you did this thing?"
Genesis 20:9-10

faithless Sometimes God will use the least likely people and circumstances to rebuke us. Abraham has fallen into a sinful pattern. His wife was indeed his half-sister, and was considered very beautiful by the culture (even in her nineties!). Abraham had pulled the stunt of passing her off only as his sister to Pharaoh in Egypt. Now he does the same when they live under Abimelech's rule. And when Abimelech takes Sarah into his harem, Abraham does not stop it.

Personally, I find the whole episode a strange weakness in Abraham. He could trust God to lead his homegrown commandos in battle, but he could not trust God with the sanctity of his own marriage! But our sins usually defy expectation. Abraham gives some explanation for his actions: He acted out of fear to turn a half-truth into a convenient cover. But the reality was that Abraham sinned by so doing.

God uses the pagan king that Abraham feared to point out the patriarch's great sin. And I am sure that at this confrontation, Abraham trembled. He feared confrontation with this king, but now his own deceptions had created it. And the king is very upset. Fortunately, God had supernaturally intervened on the part of Abraham and Abimelech was ready to humbly mend things with Abraham.

There have been a few times in my life where God has done the same with me. I remember being humbled on issues of integrity by a boss at a bank who would not let even $20 go unreconciled on an account that moved tens of thousands of dollars a day. I remember having a factory supervisor be used by God to rebuke me when in a fit of temper I used language unbefitting a Christian. Those were not easy messages to hear, but God used them, and I vividly remember them still. I have a feeling Abraham learned the same way from this episode.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Awesome in Grace & Judgment

dead sea cave

So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.
Genesis 19:29

God was not obligated to do what the text simply summarizes here. But He graciously rescued Lot, who never learned what it meant to live in the world but not live for the world. God's grace has been prominent throughout His covenant with Abraham, and it spills over into the life of Abraham's nephew. The whole episode with the destruction of the cities of the plain was to show that God will ultimately judge sin. The city of Sodom was so wicked that not even Lot's influence made any visible impact. When Lot and his family are rescued, it is because the first real "sin city" was being obliterated. And there are not even ruins left to speak of.

The focus of the story is tragic from a human point of view. Lot gave in to the lust of the eyes by living within view of Sodom, then he moved into the city and should have learned his lesson when his uncle rescued him. But by the time God checks out the wickedness of the city, Lot has become an elder in the city gates. It is at that point that he could have had great influence. But he was more influenced by the city than he was an influence in the city -- the details of the story point this out: he offered his own daughters to the deviant cries outside his door... he later allows himself to be made drunk by his own daughters and unknowingly impregnates them.

But the story is powerfully full of grace from God's perspective. God remembered His covenant with Abraham. He honored the gist of His conversation with the old man on the road to Sodom. He spared the slim sliver of righteousness that was there: Lot, his wife, and his two daughters. This was God being gracious, even in the midst of His wrath and righteous judgment. It is awesome in the truest sense, most reverential sense, of the word.