Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vanity or Worship? Ex 38-40


I know it's a small thing, but look at Ex 38:8:
They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

Mirrors...a symbol of our vanity...for women, it is proof that our identity is still tied to our beauty...

So what does it mean when the women who serve at the entrance to the temple gladly give up their mirrors to create a huge wash-basin? 

It means they are clean and their identity is wrapped up in their God, not their own glory.  It means that generations of children will learn to identify a beautiful woman by the character of her service and worship rather than the color of her eyes or hair.  It means that the hearts of the moms and grandmothers are personally invested in following this God, wherever He goes. 

To God, it means everything.  At the end of Chapter 40, we see God fill the tabernacle with His Glory to the extent that even Moses cannot enter.  We see that the Angel that God is sending to lead them is none other than Himself. 

God dwells with us when we choose real worship over self-worship.  The exchange is worth it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Discipline and Obedience: Ex 35-37

Have you ever noticed that as soon as you discipline your kids they are really snuggly? 

Yesterday's reading was a nightmare--like watching a train wreck.  They messed up.  The punishment was severe and deserved.  It's time to create the tabernacle using the designs Moses recieved from God, so what's going to happen when Moses comes to the people and asks for materials?  The design God gave Moses to implement is the most elaborate worship tent ever conceived--a tent that is intended to mirror the very atmosphere of Heaven itself.  Will the people want to give to God after such a messy confrontation?

You betcha--and in a big way.  They even had to tell people to stop bringing stuff. 

A few years ago, Bruce Wilkerson came to speak at our church about intimacy with the Almighty. There were several God appointments ordained for that weekend, including the obvious failure of the body of Christ to address the needs of our community, but in essence the strongest point from his sermon was one that Jesus made in Matthew 6:

"21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

That weekend, our church pledged $5.6 Million to help combat homelessness in Orlando.  Both here in Orlando and in Israel, the gifts didn't just include things--they included time, talent, expertise and energy.  When God does something, He uses crisis and correction to move us where we need to be to be a part of a miracle.  In both cases, God provided people with expertise long in advance of the visible action, but when it is time, it all comes together and becomes something amazing. 

What have you given God lately?  Do you need a crisis to get you to that point?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Doing something or Being Something: Ex 32-34

Uncertainty tests us like nothing else.  It's at that moment we find out who we really are and what we care about. 

When Aaron is faced with a group of people that are pushing him for leadership, he does something--something stupid.  He, along with all of the people have just committed to God to do all He commands and the first command is that they will have no other gods.  They haven't heard anything from God.  They don't want to hear from Him.  Moses has disappeared.  They want to worship something so they can move on and a statue is a lot easier to control than a big, scary real God.  Things go south from there.  If you make your own god, you get to make up the rules for worshipping it, which means you do whatever you feel like doing--in this case it became a drunken orgy.  The real God and Moses are not amused. 

Moses doesn't do something first, he reminds God of who they are and who God is.  His first concern is with God and the relationship that defines this people.  After God agrees not to destroy them, Moses goes down to see for himself.  His anger is at a people who chose activity over identity.  They had been chosen as God's own, but rather than wait for God to act, they chose to act instead, picking a new god for themselves. 
At that point, he asks the people to choose for themselves who they are going to be.  The Levites are God's chosen tribe--the priesthood--and they choose God for themselves.  The slaughter that follows seems cruel, but in the context of having a second chance to keep their own commitments and follow God, their betrayal of God is even more obvious. 

Eventually, the people quit wearing their jewelery and put on old clothes to mourn their sin, but it appears more like the regret of getting caught than real repentence.  They still don't understand who God has called them to be.  In contrast, Moses begs God to shown him his Glory because who God is defines who Moses is.  God walks past Moses declaring his name--a name that includes both forgiveness and justice.  After seeing God, Moses ultimately appeals to God on the basis of their identity.  The only thing that sets the Israelites apart is that God travels with them.  His presence is their identity.  This is truth, and God agrees, but He also reminds the people through Moses of the way that people with that identity will act.  When Moses returns, he has been changed by his contact with God and carries something of God's own glory back to the people. 

For years, God would stop me in the middle of my busy-ness and remind me that I had become a human doing again rather than a human being.  Over-doing is often a sign we are trying to become something we really aren't.  We will act out of our highest identity when we really understand that it doesn't come from what we do, but who has called us out to Himself.  He doesn't need us to DO anything other than be His children.  When we really get who we are, we will begin to act like it.  We will do what we are called to do, but not to prove to God who we are.  We will do it because we finally believe Him when He calls us His own.   

What about you?  Are you defined by what you do or who you are?

Set apart: Ex 29-31

In our day, we have very little that shows us the difference between the sacred and everything else.  Part of that is good, because for those who are set apart in Christ, all things are sacred and each of us is their own priest before the Father and is called to minister.  Before we can minister effectively to each other, God has work to do in and through us.  We often forget the components of a set-apart, Holy unto God, lifestyle--the lifestyle He desires for all of His children. 

The ordination of the priests shows much of what God does for us and with us when He calls and prepares us to serve Himself and His people:
  • Garments and sacrifices are prepared for the priest.  These are not his things.  They are gifts to him and for him to set him apart for God's purposes.  
  • Aaron and his sons are washed and dressed in priestly robes.  Each action is passive.  Repentence (the washing--remember John's baptism for repentence?) is something God works in our hearts.  Even dressing is done for them--again, a preparation God gives us.  Check out how closely the pieces of the priestly robes match the armor of God:
    • The helmet of salvation:  The turban with it's crown declaring "Holy to the Lord"
    • The breastplate of righteousness: the ephod and robe
    • The belt of truth:  A sash around their waist
    • Shoes: These are not mentioned, but clean feet and hard work imply them
    • The shield of faith:  The chestpiece with the twelve stones and the urim and thummim
    • The Sword of the Spirit:  A priest was not in the physical battles (for the most part) so he is covered with the sacred anointing oil, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit and the spiritual nature of the battles he will fight.
  • The first sacrifice made for the priest is the sin offering.  Aaron lays his hands on the head of the bull--symbolizing his willingness for the sacrifice--and a young bull is slaughtered and burned outside of camp.  When we come to Christ, we start with the repentence provided by God (the washing) but before we can be of service to God, we must also willingly offer that "bull-headed" sin up to God so that He can kill it, take it out of our lives and burn it to ash. 
  • The first ram is a gift offering.  The priest laid hands on it (like the bull) and then it was slaughtered, washed and burned on the altar.  Again, the ram is a gift provided to Aaron as he is being set apart, but the priest must be willing to have his gift killed, washed and destroyed.  God provides each of us with spiritual gifts, but before they are useful to God we must first be willing to see them lose their usefulness, be purified, and destroyed as an offering for God.  For those of us who have been prepared for ministry, this process seems shocking.  God gives us a great gift and the first thing He does is kill it, clean it, and then burn it to ash--as if it could never reappear.  Until we are willing to submit our gifts and talents to God's will--even to death, if necessary--those gifts are unusable to God. 
  • The second ram seems to be going the same direction as the first.  It also must be willingly slaughtered, but this time the blood, the life of the gift, goes on the priest's dominant earlobe, dominant thumb and dominant toe.  As we again give up what has been given to us, God uses it to give life to our hearing, our doing and our going.  The fat and the bread of God's presence again willingly goes on the altar--the first and best always goes back to Him.  The breast and thigh are also willingly lifted up to the Lord, but (surprise!) these come back to him as his portion.  It is boiled and must be eaten in God's presence.  The blessings God provides for us to keep still require work and can only be enjoyed in continual communion with God.  From then on, this portion of the people's peace offering is given to the priest.  Those who minister are blessed by those they nurture as those people walk into the peace God has for them.
  • For the first seven days of his ministry, the same sin sacrifice is offered each day and the altar, the altar must be cleaned out and anointed with oil each day.  This provides training and sets good habits in place within the one who ministers.  Each day, those who serve God must bring their sin before God, repent and receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  This is especially important in the beginning, but it will continue throughout his ministry.
  • Through the rest of his ministry, he will wash himself and offer morning and evening sacrifices that include meat, bread, oil and wine--the stuff of their lives.  During these times of sacrifice, God will meet with them and speak with them.  We also repent each day, setting time and resources aside, each morning and evening, so that we can hear from God. 
  • The priest will also offer incense each morning and evening.  Incense is symbolic of the prayers offered on behalf of the people. 
  • All of the stuff used within the temple are divinely prepared through God's inspiration to gifted craftsmen, who are divinely set apart to prepare those things, just as our Bible was provided through the use of gifted men, divinely set apart and inspired to prepare for us the tools we use to worship God. 
The final instructions regarding the sabbath applied to all of Israel, except to the priesthood, for their ministry continued every day, and actually increased on the Sabbath.  Worship is not considered work, and for those of us called to it, it is a blessing not a chore.  Priests did have rotations and did rest, but remained in a continual state of worship.  In Hebrews, we are taught that Jesus is our sabbath rest.  He works in and through us every day, just like the priests worked every day before God. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Glorious and Beautiful: Ex 26-28


Worship can take many forms.  It's easy to think of worship in terms of music or poetry, but it is so much more.  Worship is anything that shows God how important He is to us.  These three chapters seem pretty ordinary on the surface, but they show two things:  God is worthy of things that are our highest and best craftsmanship and God does care about the gifts He receives.  Everything that is specified is described as "Glorious and Beautiful,"  and it was.

The creation of the tabernacle, the equipment and the clothing for the priests according to the plan God made for them was a unique act of worship.  The materials were all given by the people.  They were treated with great care and forthought.  Later we will see the names of the craftsmen that God supernaturally gifted to create these beautiful pieces.  God didn't mind letting us know who crafted these beautiful pieces, but we see that the ability to create them was a gift from God, returned to God. 

Many of the pieces were symbolic.  Cherubim were featured everywhere, just as they are in Heaven. The high priest wears a gold plaque on his turban that declares he is "Holy to the Lord."  The breastplate is over his heart along with the urim and thummim--a sacred way that God used something like dice to show His will.  He carried onyx stones on each shoulder engraved with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel to remind him that he is their representative. 

There are times for me when I create something and I put everything I have into it just to praise God.  Imagine having God's direction about what He wants and then going after satisfying that with every resource you have.  What a delight!  This too is worship. 

What can you do to worship Him today?

Dinner with God: Ex. 23-25

"9 Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. 10 There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11 And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!"  Ex 24:9-11

Did you miss that little snippet?  We know Moses spent a lot of time with God, in His presence, but can you imagine what it was like to be there for this dinner?  Later we see God's glory envelope the mountain, appearing as a consuming fire, with Moses disappearing into it, but in this section, it's almost as if God turns down the lights for a romantic dinner with His people's leaders, celebrating their new relationship. 

Remember this moment.  Don't rush by it.  The leaders of the people get an unprecedented audience with the King of the Universe.  They see Him, for themselves.  He does not break out against them but welcomes them.  He has promised a messenger to lead them.  He has promised to care for all their needs in abundance and they have agreed to follow His way.  It's a great honeymoon moment. 

God has been completely patient with all their requests and understands all their needs.  He loves them and chooses to allow them to be close to Him, with the blood of the covenant still staining their robes.  There will be much work to do to prepare a tabernacle for His presence to remain with them, but for this moment, He furnishes the plates and dishes and feast. 

Worship Him.  He is worthy!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Rules for Life: Ex 20-23:13

Parts of this are probably pretty familiar to most of you.  This is the first time Israel gets a look at the terms of the relationship they are entering into with God.  There are three major themes.

God if first, highest, best, and jealous.  God prioritizes His relationship with them as above all others.  He is not like other gods.  He doesn't share.  He cares what you care about.  He can't be imaged and worship of Him is to be pure and singleminded.  If you want something supernatural, get it from Him and only Him.  He gets part of everything returned to Him, including your time, because it all comes from Him in the first place.

Authority exists, with God as the highest, best and kindest authority.  He will be the final arbiter of all disputes, but there are other authorities that can be used to address injustice.  God is honest so his people need to be honest too.

Treat each other right.  Don't take each other's stuff.  Don't even want each other's stuff.  If a man has nothing else to pay his debts with he can offer his own labor or the labor of his family for a period of time, but there are limits to that relationship.  There are consequences when you hurt someone else. 

The king was to write out all of the rules so that he would have his own personal copy to read each day.  Joshua was told to be careful to keep all of the words of the law and read them continually.  These kinds of rules were the laws they were talking about.  They show how profoundly God understands the nature of the relationships we walk in each day.  (I've used Ex 21:15 and 17 as threats). 

I'm convinced that the saddest verse in the entire Bible is Exodus 20:19:

"19 And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” 

I understand their fear, but not their reaction.  Yes, God is big and powerful and can be scary.  That's no reason to run away.  This is the God that just rescued you from slavery and feeds you every day.  You need to know who He is. 

One of the things I've asked this year is to have the courage to stand boldly in His Glory because of the sacrifice He made for me.  I know He is overwhelming, but He is good.  I know I have no right outside of His grace, but I want to fully accept that grace.  Job once said, "Though He slay me, still I'll trust in Him."  I want His presence, even if it means tremendous sacrifice because He is worthy.  Better to be slain in His presence than spend even a moment without Him.  He is worth it.

Would you want to run or want to stay?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fragile People, Powerful God--Ex 17-19

In these chapters, I see the fragile nature of our lives and how God continually provides all that we need. 

We have physical needs.  At Rephidim, the Israelites needed water.  Again, God does not scold them for their complaints or their needs.  He directs Moses to show them He can provide.

We are under attack.  The Amekalites attack the edges of the camp, at its weakest locations.  Moses sends Joshua out to fight them, but God is the one who wins the battle.  As long as Moses cries out to God with outstreched arms of need and worship, Joshua prevails.  The minute they depend on their own strength, they lose.  Do they need to help Joshua in the fight?  No--they need to hold up Moses' arms in worship because that's the real fight.  When we run out of energy to seek God, are we going to depend on our own strength?  Aaron and Hur come to support Moses as he worships God.  There are always people in our lives that remind us that our strength is only in the Lord.  They are a gift from God and the key to real power. 

We want to lead with power and independence.  Moses' father-in-law, Jethro (Reuel) comes to visit, bringing Moses' wife and now two sons back to him.  Can you imagine having to fight Pharoah while your wife is pregnant?  Eliazer is obviously born in the middle of the conflict since his name is a direct reference to it.  Jethro watches Moses as a leader and points out where his next frailty could come.  If he doesn't delegate, life will get increasingly difficult.  Moses needs his family and a supporting team to lead these people.  Wise counsel is equally a gift from God.  Look how Jethro encourages Moses to consult with God about the matter.  He provides his advice humbly, in a way it can be received.  What a blessing!

We need a real God.  God has been carefully wooing this people.  He tells them that He will take care of them and they will be His own treasured posession if they will follow His commandments.  However, he does not clothe himself as a lover, but shows them clearly who He is in all His power and glory.  The fear (respect) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  They need God to be God.  There will be time for Him to continue to prove His care and love for them.  His power will become their security.  This too is a gift--the gift of knowing your place in the universe as treasured children of an omnipotent God. 

What do you need today?  How has God already provided for that need?  How can you depend on Him more so that you can receive from Him all He has provided?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

God's Patience--Ex 14-16

The Red Sea...This is big time salvation, but I want you to notice the people's reactions to their circumstances.  They complain sarcastically to Moses about graves in Egypt.  They praise God for their rescue, but within three days, they're back at the complaining--this time about water.  A few more weeks and they're complaining about food. 

Drying Coriander Seed--Looks like Manna

This becomes a theme for about the next 40 years, but what I hadn't seen before is that God doesn't react to any of this yet.  He get's Moses moving on a solution at the bank of the Red Sea, but he doesn't chide the people.  He provides water purification and promises freedom from sickness and disease at Mara, but he doesn't scold.  He sends quail and Manna, and sends His glory with the announcement.  He is pretty disappointed that they don't obey his instructions about the manna, but His biggest issue is that He's giving them something good when he provides them a day to rest, but they don't trust Him.  They can't even trust Him for good things. 

It's normal for a baby to cry when it has needs.  It's not normal for adults in a loving, trusting relationship.  It's normal to build trust over time, but for goodness sakes, He rescued them as He planned through 10 plagues and parting the Red Sea--Can't they just ask nicely for what they need and trust that He can and will provide it?

Can't I trust Him and ask nicely?  (ouch.)  I'm not so sure, especially when I'm scared and I've never seen Him do that (whatever it is) before.  I don't see why I can't trust Him to provide my latest need when I've watched Him provide for all the other ones, but I frequently don't. 

Then, one day I learned how to trust Him just a little.  For me, it took walking in obedience and watching all of my own efforts toward His goal fall apart.  As I cried out to Him, confessing my inadequacy and the hopelessness of my plight, He responded with an unshakable peace.  Even our trust (faith) is a gift from Him.  He did rescue us--and achieve His goal, but not within the abilities of mankind.  He did it as only He can.  He had a plan and my discomfort was a vital part of the plan.  I've seen some of what He did through that period in our lives, and I am amazed, even years later. 

Trust builds slowly.  God does eventually get irritated at their complaining, but He takes the time to teach them to trust Him.  That's what the wilderness is all about. 

What is He teaching you to trust Him about right now?

Father, Thank You for gently taking me to the end of my own resources so that You can show me Your resources and generosity.  Thank You for your patience with my unbelief.  Forgive Me.  I am working on it...

(As I was looking for pictures of manna, I found a recipe for Banana Manna that looks spectacular...Let me know if any of you try it)

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Children--Ex 11-13

This, to me, is one of the most horrifying and touching passages.  The thought of every family in the entire nation awaking to find their firstborn dead is pathos beyond my imagination. 

Everything in these three chapters is about the children. 
  • God tells Pharoah that Israel is his firstborn--let them go...
  • The Israelites ask for treasure from their neighbors, boldly as a child would ask and it is given to them as if a child had asked.
  • The passover feast is specifically intended to pass the memory of the exodus down to the children of every generation
    • At the beginning of the week, the whole family cleans out all the yeast from the house
    • The passover lamb is to live with the family for three days before the sacrifice--becoming a beloved family pet--so they can understand the sacrifice God made for them
    • Dinner is a family play, including a script and costumes
    • After the Messiah, Christ, came, the tradition of the Afikomen was added (lit. "He had come" in Greek).  During dinner the father breaks the second of the three matzo and hides half in a bag--the Afikomen--for the children to find at the end of dinner and the finder recieves a gift.  The Afikomen is always hidden in the Father's chair and symbolizes the broken body of Christ that is hidden in the tomb and the one who finds it has indeed recieved a great gift. 
  • Since God "passed over" the firstborn of the Israelites, these all belong to Him and must be sacrified or redeemed. 
  • It is not wise to take children into battle.  They must first grow up before they can face this difficulty.  God sends the children of Israel around the violent Philistines because they aren't ready to face war.  They leave Egypt "like" an army, but they are an army of slaves that have been treated like children.  They are not warriors.
  • Children must be led and accompanied.  God Himself goes before them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
This is a historic event that had been foretold over 400 years before this.  As Joseph had requested, they take his bones with them as they go.  It is an event that should be remembered for all time and the only way to assure that it is remembered is to make the children focus of the feast. 

What do you believe is important to pass down to your children?  How can you become intentional about passing it on?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bargaining with God--Exodus 8-10

Yesterday we saw how God had started systematically demolishing the Egyptian pantheon of gods.  Each plague was an attack on a specific god (here is a good description).  Abraham humbly bargained with God for the lives of those in Sodom and Gomorrah and God seemed willing to enter the debate. 

Pharoah's bargains are not humble in any way and each plague leaves the Egyptian people with more devastation.
  1. Blood made the river stink and the fish die.
  2. Frogs piled up stank
  3. The lice itch
  4. The flies cause chaos
  5. Livestock dies
  6. Boils hurt
  7. Fiery hail destroys animals and two secondary crops
  8. Locusts consume all their food sources
  9. Darkness stops everything in its tracks--and was a psychological assault on Egypt's national identity
  10. The death of the firstborn personally touches every family's legacy
After each plague, Pharoah gives a little, not realizing who he was bargaining with.  His arrogance will cost him dearly.  Proverbs 29:1 tells us "Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy." 

Don't fight God.  Don't try to weasel out of God's will for you.  Do what He says.  Cry "Uncle!" 

What do you need to surrender to God?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Unbelief--Exodus 5-7


We all have a choice to believe what God says or trust only what we can see and understand on our own.  So what has God told them?
  • He told Moses that Pharoah would't let them go right away.
  • He told the Israelites that God had heard their cries and would deliver them.
  • He told Pharoah (through Moses) to let the people go.  He even provided miracles to prove that it was God Himself that was ordering their release. 

How did that line up with what they could see and understand?
  • Moses saw his failing speech and blamed himself for his failed mission.
  • The Israelites saw an even heavier workload and blamed Moses.
  • Pharoah saw a lazy workforce and "miracles" his own experts could easily copy.  (Nevermind that the "experts" only added to the misery of the land each time they copy God's miracles.  Moses's rod becomes a snake and they bring more snakes?  Aaron turns the nile to blood and they turn more water to blood?  How does this help?)
What did God do?
  • He reminded Moses to use Aaron as his spokesperson along with reminding him that this was far from over and Pharoah wasn't going to come around any time soon.
  • He sent Moses to speak to the people again, even if it was small consolation for their pain.
  • He sent Pharoah more messages and began systematically attacking the gods that Pharoah relied on for power and protection (starting with Hapi, the Egyptian god of the Nile).  Ironically, the previous Pharoah had ordered all the Hebrew boy children to be thrown in the Nile.  This first plague dramatically demonstrates to Pharoah the blood on his family's hands. 
It's all a matter of perspective.  Don't get me wrong...hindsight is 20/20 and we weren't there in their shoes.  Moses had been told what would happen, but not everything that would happen.  We forget that when you have to get free from an oppressor, the first few tugs will only bring a tighter grip.  Things are going to get worse before they get better.  When nothing short of an intervention from God is needed, then it's time to rejoice.  He has set things up so that He can get the glory and His rescue is at hand.  It's not time to wail; it's time to worship.

I love it when a plan comes together. 

When was the last time you heard from God and had to choose whether to believe Him or believe your circumstances?  How do you keep your focus on what He says rather than what you see?

Friday, January 18, 2013

HaShem, the Great, I AM--Exodus 1-4

Things have gone from great to bad and only in about 2 generations.  Why are we not surprised?  When Pharoah can't convince the Hebrew midwives to kill the boys, he demands they be thrown in the Nile.  I think it's a tribute to Jewish sarcasm that Jochabed does, in fact, put Moses in the Nile--she was obeying the letter of the law, of course.  Naming the child Moses is a fitting (and possibly insulting) reminder to all of her father's genocide, but it becomes a reminder to Moses as well.  He reaches a time of life when he feels real power and attempts to help his people, with disasterous results.  His people don't need help.  They need out--and Moses can't do that so at least he gets out. 

He falls into a family that is a distant relative of his.  The Priest of Midian is referred to by two names:  Reuel, which means friend of God, and Jethro, which means eminence, excellence, more than enough or overflow.  He does indeed find a wise friend of God and an abundant overflow of grace.  He spends the next 40 years of his life with Jethro's family, taking Jethro's daughter as a wife, raising a son and tending Jethro's sheep--asking for nothing in return. 

Meanwhile, things have only gotten worse for the children of Israel in Egypt and God desides it's time to act and decides to use Moses as his working partner.  Remember, God uses us--He works through human agency because He gave us authority here on earth.  Moses gives a bunch of excuses and finally asks God to pick anyone else.  In response, God provides him help but doesn't withdraw His calling--because God doesn't withdraw his callings.  He warns him of what he will face, though I don't know that he's paying attention.  It's a rough partnership and comes with terms that Moses and his family aren't always thrilled about.  It makes you wonder why Gershom wasn't circumcised on the 8th day as all of Abraham's decendents were to be. 

One of the things that amazes me about his conversation with God is that God willingly tells Moses His eternal name as a proof of who has sent him.  The Sons of Israel treat that name, "Ha Shem--The Name", with extreme respect.  The fact that God gave him his name means one of two things:  either Jacob truly did prevail with God in his wrestling and God told Jacob His name, which was kept as a sacred secret, as it is today, or the leaders of Israel were able to recognize it immediately as a powerful gift they had been long awaiting. 

The meaning of The Name itself astounds Me.  It appears, almost as if it is a proof from high school Geometry:  "God exists, therefore all else exists...QED."  We are all derivative beings--we do not exist on our own.  We depend on God for our very existence.  He is the only being that is truly independent of all others, yet He lives in relationship with Himself and chooses relationship with us.   Wow.  He has no need for us and yet hears our cries and rescues us with His own mighty Hand.  If that doesn't draw you to praise, I don't know what could...  

Because He is, what are you?  What are the attributes of God that He has blessed you with in some measure?  Have you thanked Him lately?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Endings--Gen 49-50

This section covers the last blessings (prophecies) of Jacob over his sons and then shows funerals for both Jacob and Joseph.  I found several interesting discussions about how those prophecies can true from the Hebrew Shabbat readings.  Some are really cool and give some historical insight into the context of all that's going on that we don't usually have.  You'll need to be flexible as you read names (The Y and J sounds are basically interchangable along with the B and V) but I think you can get through it... 

With all changes, there's a look forward and God is the one who makes that possible.  One of the best things about our God is that He knows the end from the beginning and his compassions are everlasting.  Jacob had a blessing of some kind for each of his children, unlike his father that only intended to have a blessing for his firstborn.  Each blessing is given according to the character of the child and both Jacob and God have a say.  For instance, the voilence and impulsive defensiveness of Simeon and Levi were well known by then and they feed off of each other.  As a result they are scattered through the nation.  The Levites became the priests and Simeon's children became the teachers.  God has a role for each of them--no one is left behind.

Speaking of which, Joseph's brothers begin to wonder if he will continue to forgive them for all they have done.  Nothing has changed, because his generosity was not tied to them but to what God has done, but their distrust of him breaks his heart all over again. 

Because Joseph has been so important to the Egyptian people, it probably wouldn't be ok for him to be buried there at the time of his death.  He does prophesy again that there will be a day when they return to the land God promised him and he doesn't want to be left behind. 

Throughout these chapters God shows that He holds our end and guarantees our future.  Both Jacob and Joseph plan for a future beyond them. 

How are you planning for the future?  How are you praying for a legacy?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A new home, for awhile--Gen 46-48

It must have been hard for Jacob to leave the land of the promise.  I'm sure he was excited to see Joseph but after all his father and grandfather had been through, I wonder if he still felt a hesitation to leave.  He's leading an entire clan of 70 away from the land God promised to them.  If he's wrong, it will hurt all those other people too.   At Beersheba, not far from the ladder he saw in his youth, God steps in to directly confirm that this was His plan for now and that He also had a plan to get them back eventually. 

There have been many times in my own life where I thought I knew what the Bible said about what I should do, only to find that God stepped in and showed me where I was interpreting things wrongly.  For instance, I was taught early in my marriage that I should stay home and care for our children and home.  That was true, but only a half truth.  Proverbs 31 also praises a woman who adds value to her home and family through several careers.  It took a direct intervention on God's part to show me that His plan for my life included working and to confirm it through scripture, obedience and fruit. 

As another example, I was taught to submit to my husband with Sarah as the model, calling her husband Lord and obeying him even when it was wrong.  It's taken me many years to realize that I had given John the place in my life that only God should have--to our detriment.  God also said that it isn't good for a man to be alone and becoming a doormat left him alone without any of the guidance and confirmation God wanted to provide through me as his wife.  Standing up for myself has brought us both to a healing process that God has been preparing for us.  He was just waiting for my obedience to Him rather than to my husband.

Just like in my own life, in this passage God confirms his direction with His presence, favor and the opportunity to bless others along the way.  Judah steps up to take a leadership role again, but this time in ways that are genuinely helpful.  Pharoah gives them the land they most desire in all of Egypt.  God grants Joseph wisdom in his leadership role and Jacob finally gets to see and bless his grandchildren.  Even here, God upends the expected with a different plan, again honoring the younger son over the oldest. 

Don't get me wrong.  We must rely on the what the Bible says and not our own impressions, but God is good at making sure that we really understand it in the way He intends.  Just look at Saul/Paul.  With the best of intentions, he persecuted the early church for their heresy.  He looked in the Bible and thought he understood God's plan.  The only problem was that He read it wrong because he hadn't consulted the Author.  It took a blinding light and a word from Jesus to show him where he had missed the big picture.  If we are honestly desiring to follow God and His will, He will lead us, even if it takes a Damascus Road experience to get us moving in the right direction.  He didn't give us scripture so that we can plot our own course.  He still wants to do that for us.  He gave us scripture so we could learn to know and trust Him, personally, intimately, vibrantly on a day to day basis.  There is no other way. 

Where in your life has it been easier to rely on the "law" than to seek out God's direction face to face?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dreams fulfilled, part II, Gen 40-45

Yesterday we saw that all of Joseph's dreams had come true but one--reconciliation with his brothers.  Even his children were named in light of the pain his heart had faced.  Joseph shows that he forgives his brothers by his actions and attitude.  Later in the story he tells his brothers that he was sent ahead to protect them--the actions might have been their responsibility but it was God who made sure that Joseph was in Egypt so that their lives could be saved.  Forgiveness is a term that is thrown around lightly.  Let me be explicit about what I mean by forgiveness: 

Forgiveness is allowing God to be the judge, jury and executioner for the offense committed.  Forgiveness means letting go of the need to punish someone for what they have done to you because you recognize that it's God's job to make things right, not your own.  Forgiveness does NOT mean that you allow the person to continue to harm you, mentally, physically or emotionally.  It does not mean that the relationship is healed or restored--that requires reconciliation.  Reconciliation is a process in which the offender has the responsibility to make things right.  This includes includes repentence, restitution, and lots of reassurance that it won't happen again, sometimes in the form of boundaries that prevent the offense from happening again. 

In light of his brother's behavior twenty years earlier, Joseph had the right to some real concerns about how his brothers would treat him and Benjamin, particularly since the tables had turned.  It's easy to say you're sorry when the one you've offended has all the power--you really don't have a choice--but that's not true repentence.  Joseph needed to see that his brothers had changed, particularly the ringleaders, Judah and Simeon.  If they were still murderously jealous and impulsively vicious (remember Dinah?) after all that time with no consideration for who they hurt along the way, he would still provide for them but the relationship could not be a close one.  It wouldn't be wise or safe.  Their responses have to show Joseph if he can extend an olive branch or an iron fist, so Joseph has to put them in positions that will test their character.  The key is with Benjamin.  When Joseph left, Benjamin probably wasn't very old.  If given the chance, would they sell out their brother again?  Did they regret any of what happened before? 

First, Joseph accuses them of treachery and throws them all in prison for 3 days.  It's a ruse, but it was important for them to understand the nature of what they done to Joseph and it will reinforce that they need to come back soon to rescue their brother from jail.  When he keeps Simeon and sends the rest home, the brothers have the confirmation that karma is out to get them--everyone remembers who did the selling.  Joseph gets his first painful clue into their hearts as they regretfully link their crime to their current circumstances. 

They eventually return with Benjamin, to Joseph's great delight.  He lavishes Benjamin with special treatment, watching closely to see if any of the old jealousy remains.  The cup in Benjamin's bag is the last test.  Everyone is free to go, but Benjamin must stay for his "crime".  When Judah offers his own life to save his father grief, Joseph can finally be confident that the men who stand before him are not the same as the ones who sent him away twenty years ago.  The reunion is a private one.  Joseph has no idea how his brothers will ultimately react to his revelation.  Joseph is still the leader of Egypt and addressing his personal matters privately shows great discretion.  The happy outcome of the revelation makes it back to Pharoah and he is just as overjoyed at it as Joseph is. 

This family will live happily ever after, though their 4th generation will have some issues in the future.  We will see in a few chapters that the brothers remain skeptical about Joseph's forgiveness but have no need for their fears.  Things really do turn out for the best and Joseph understands the big picture in a way that few can. 

Who do you need to forgive?  Does it make it easier to forgive them knowing that you have a right (even a responsibility) to protect yourself from the offense happening again?  Does it make it easier knowing that God is the ultimate judge and can handle their punishment or grace much better than you can? 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dreams fulfilled--Gen 40-45, Part 1

This section has dreams fulfilled left and right. 

The baker and the cup-bearer both have dreams and they are fulfilled before Joseph's eyes.  Only God can do that.

Pharoah has a pair of dreams foretelling the abundance and famine to come and Joseph is remembered in time for Egypt to prepare for it. 

The leadership dreams God gave Joseph in his youth are fulfilled.  He has ultimate authority in all of Egypt.  As a man, nearly every dream he could want is fulfilled along with it.  He has wealth, a vital purpose, a vibrant relationship with a transcendent God, a beautiful wife and two children.  In the end, Joseph will set up a taxation system that will fund a strong national government that makes Egypt a preiminent world power through dozens of generations.  Spiritually, Pharoah gives Joseph a new name, Zaphenath-paneah, which means "God speaks and lives."  Joseph's life story is ample proof that a real God lives and it is obvious to all.  Pharoah himself worships the God of Joseph and with him all of Egypt has the chance to hear of God's glory as well. 

There is only one dream missing--reconciliation with his brothers and family, a very personal dream that Joseph keeps close to his chest.  Can you imagine Joseph looking through the crowds day after day, waiting for them to appear?  By now, his purpose in all of this has become crystal clear and he knows it's only a matter of time before they will be in grave need as well. Tomorrow, we will deal with the delicate way he handled the reconciliation and testing of his brother's hearts.  It's worth taking the time to dig into it. 

I don't want you to miss something crucial in all of this.  The dreams that were given to all of the players in this account were all given by God and believed by Joseph without reservation.  Ps 105:19 says, "Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him (Joseph)."  Joseph had plenty of chances to wallow in unbelief.  He knew the meaning of his dreams and believed them.  God said, and Joseph acted accordingly, no matter what evidence he was presented to the contrary.  From the day God gave him his dreams, Joseph acted like the kind of ruler he would want for himself.  His integrity was flawless.  His diligence was legendary.  The account shows not even a glimpse of discouragement.  As we will see tomorrow, his path was not without profound pain, but he believed God's word and kept moving forward.  He wasn't just a hearer of the Word, but a doer. 

What has God told you that you haven't acted upon yet because you struggle to believe Him?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Joseph and Tamar--Gen 37-39

Joseph and Tamar provide two of the Bible's best examples of unflinching integrity.  Their honesty wasn't always appreciated, but God honored and rewarded it every time.

In scripture study, there's something called the rule of first mention.  In essence it says that the first thing the Bible says about a person or word provides a key to understanding all the other things that will be said about it.  In Joseph's case, the first thing we see Joseph do as a young man is tattle-tale.  That may be irritating to moms and siblings, but Israel found it genuinely helpful.  Joseph may have been the favorite for reasons he had no control over, but the fact that he had his dad's back didn't hurt.  It is often true that someone who acts in a way that he can be fully trusted, will be trusted and honored and Israel lavishes honor upon his son.  Joseph is often criticised for his blunt, discretionless behavior.  He didn't exactly win many friends with his peers, particularly in the way he told his dreams to his family.  Still, it is consistent with someone who didn't know any better than to tell the truth without regard to what will happen next--no spin doctoring here. 

Tamar is caught in unbearable circumstances.  Judah was an idiot and married one of the Caananite women.  His kids are bad enough that God kills off the first two for their evil and abusive behavior, and Tamar is the one who suffers for it.  When the third son is old enough, Judah isn't in a hurry to see how a third marriage will go, but he's also not in a hurry to let anyone know about his reservations.  Who knows how long Tamar wondered when Judah would keep his promise.  Tamar resorts to extremity but makes sure she has the proof, when the truth comes out.  Judah wants to burn her at the stake for her "prostitution" but in the end has mud on his own face when his double standard comes to light.  Tamar bears twins and is one of the women mentioned in the line of Christ. 

For both Joseph and Tamar's situations, their brutally honest attitude and behavior didn't always "win friends and influence people"--at least not in the short term.  What it did was win honor with those who were over them, and especially with God.  God doesn't need to lie.  The rest of us lie because we're afraid and God has no one to fear.  It seems almost as if God is puzzled by our inclination to sugar-coat or bend the truth.  Lies are a form of idolotry.  We lie because we care more about what another person will think than we care about what God thinks.  (Ouch.)

My word for this year is "true."  I found a ring over the holidays as I was cleaning and it fits perfecly between my wedding bands.  It started out as a reminder to be completely truthful within my marriage rather than  sugar-coat or tiptoe around issues that have bothered me.  It's a sure-fire way to kill codependency.  As I think back in my childhood, I realize that I had a "issue" with "excessive" truthfulness as well and have been scarred by the reactions of my peers to my tactless integrity.  I've learned a little bit about speaking the truth in love as I have grown older, but I still admire the wisdom and courage that is reflected in characters like Joseph and Daniel and I remember that God has honored it with His presence.  Those He can trust, He takes into His counsel, as does any leader that can completely trust his employee or follower. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What's in a name? Gen 34-36

A name is so critical to a person's identity.  It encompasses a person's reputation, future and expectations.  This passage shows three examples of how a name impacts lives. 

There were two issues with the rape of Dinah.  The harm she experienced included the trauma of the assault, but in the long term it ruined her reputation--her name.  In that time, a woman with a ruined reputation had little chance of a sane marriage and the fact that her attacker loved her and wanted to provide a good marriage for her was no consolation.  If he was willing to rape her once, he would continue to do so throughout her life and possibly do the same to others, subjecting her to more shame and trauma.  Issac was very critical of Levi and Simeon for their vicious retribution, partly because it made things politically difficult for the family, but the truth is that she was genuinely harmed.  The fact that the rest of the community was willing to turn a blind eye to her attacker in the name of "love," shows a serious cultural character flaw. 

In the face of his political issues, Issac is sent back to Bethel, the place God met him in his despair at the beginning of his journey.  He prepares himself and his family to meet with God.  At Bethel, God appears to Jacob again and reminds him of his new name, Israel and tells him to use his new name.  He also tells Jacob one of His own names, El-Shaddai, God Almighty.  This is an interesting name.  It literally means "The breasted one."  It alludes to nearly absolute power a mother has over her nursing infant because of the child's needs and the mom's provision.  It speaks of the complete dependence Israel truly has in regard to God.  He might successfully wrestle with God and with man, but everything he has and will have comes from God.  His future is dependent on God.  His expectations are for a good and prosperous future, but only from God's hand. 

At the end of chapter 34, Rachael goes into hard labor.  Remember when Jacob told Laban that anyone who had his household gods would die?  Jacob unwittingly cursed Rachael and it isn't long before the curse comes to rest.  As she is dying, she names her son, Ben-oni, son of my sorrows.  This would be a hard name to live with for the rest of his life and would continually remind Jacob of the loss of his wife, but Jacob intervenes.  He is sad to have lost Rachael, but refuses to see his son as a picture of grief, but a celebration of her life.  He renames him, Ben-jamin, which means "son of my right hand."  It's amazing how a Father can have the power to correct the course of a life.  We women can speak in haste out of our overwhelming emotions, but it doesn't have to be the last word. 

One last note on Chapter 36:  these long lists of names often seem overwhelming and useless, but God saw them as important.  In scripture, He doesn't gloss over the bad stuff (you should have seen PJ's shock as he read chapter 34 to me this morning).  He also doesn't hide history.  You need to know where you've been to truly see where you are and figure out where you're going.  Keeping records of the names of the clans helps people figure out what might have impacted their past so they can deal with it appropriately, either in repentence or rejoicing. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Wrestling--Gen 31-33


Have you ever felt like everything you do is just a struggle?  That's where Jacob is today--struggling with Laban to leave, struggling with his past, even struggling with God. 

Next question:  Have you ever watched preteen boys tussle with their dad?  Dad glories in the struggle, son bristling with the intensity of an animal.  Can't you just hear the dad saying, "How much do you want it, Tiger?"--both father and son enjoying newfound strength. 

Intercessors often talk about wrestling in prayer.  It seems counter-intuitive that we need to wrestle with God.  The catch is that we're not wrestlng to get something God doesn't want to give.  We're wrestling with God, showing him the intensity with which we want it the highest and best He will give us.  The things we get easily, we esteem lightly.  We wrestle in the joy of the relationship, respectfully demanding what God seems to be holding back--in faith seeing the smile on His face in the tussle. 

This is not the only struggle with God we see in scripure.  Abraham wrestles tentatively over Sodom.  Elijah struggles with the intensity of a woman in labor for God's blessing of rain to reappear in the land.  David fights a herculean battle against depression and despair.  Peter answers three times, "Of course I love you."  Paul buffets his body to bring it into submission to his deepest desires.  Daniel fasts and prays for 3 weeks for the return of his people to Jerusalem. 

Jacob gets a new name and a new identity from the struggle--one who wrestles with God and man and wins.  Israel is a fitting name for a people that would stereotypically argue with a doorpost.  Life is often filled with struggle.  I want to say that He is safe to struggle with, but of course Jacob comes away from it with a life-long limp that I'm sure he treasured.  All I can say is that the struggle is worth it. 

What do you want from God?  Is it time to wrestle it from Him?  Can you see the grin on His face as he beckons you to come get it? 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

God Centered Life--Gen 28-30

As I poured over this passage, the thing that stands out is the difference between the God centered lives of those in Jacob's family and the ordinary lives of the others. 

Jacob leaves with his father Issac's blessings and clear direction to marry from his original family line rather than from the idolotrous Caananite women that had tormented he and Rachael.  Esau sees, but doesn't see.  He notices that the Caananite women bother his parents, so he marries a woman from Ishmael's line, not realizing that it isn't all that different.  Even though they are decended from Abraham, they are largely Egyptian, likely with Egyptian gods. 

On the way, Jacob meets God face to face.  Do you remember the first time when God became your God, not just your parent's God?  It changes everything.  Jacob is transformed and promises a relationship of continual trust and worship. 

When he arrives and finally meets Laban, he tells him the story of his life.  Laban has a telling response:  "You really are my own flesh and blood!"  This will prove to be all too true as the player gets played over the next 20 years, first in regard to his wife and then in regard to his wealth. 

In the end, God is the one who plays Laban.  Leah may not have been Jacob's first pick, but she shows tremendous spiritual growth as she has children and is mother to half of the tribes of Israel, including the influential tribes of Levi and Judah.  In the end, it is Leah that is buried next to Jacob, not his beloved Rachael who dies in childbirth and is buried along the side of the road as they traveled.  (Sorry about the spoiler.) 

As for the animals, it seemed like Laban would trick Jacob out of anything again.  Even though Jacob asks for the spotted animals right away, Laban goes through the flock and sends them off with his own sons so that all that Jacob can get is the speckled ones born in the future--out of a flock of solid colored sheep.  What we know of genetics and inherited traits bodes poorly for Jacob but Jacob knows his God and his sheep.  The stripped wood was seen by local farmers as an aphrodesiac for sheep and Jacob used it to favor the strong sheep in the flock--a practice that would make for a stronger flock overall.  Then God plays a trick on Laban.  You see, there's a certain amount of chance in Mendelian genetics.  Far from being the enemy of God, chance is His domain.  Proverbs 16:33 says, "We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall."  (Yes, Einstein, God does play dice--it's just that He runs the table).  God makes spotted sheep the predominant outcome to intentionally honor Jacob's faithfulness.  The next chapter confirms that God has been intentionally playing with the gene pool. 

There's a certain grace about the way that Jacob trusts God to make it right.   Yes, Jacob does some creative animal husbandry, but he works hard and doesn't ask for any more than he is entitled.  It looks on the surface like Laban has the upper hand, but over and over God gives Jacob what he needs, not what he wants. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Conflicts--Gen 25-27

The theme in this day's reading is conflict...

Abraham has more sons and to avoid any future conflict, he sends those sons away to start a new life elsewhere.  Ishmael's 12 sons occupy the land to the east and live in open hostility toward their brother and have ever since.

Isaac and Rebekah finally give birth to twins that start fighting in the womb.  Esau and Jacob are as different as two people can be.  Esau was a hunter with keen senses who lived for the moment.  Jacob's name means schemer, which understates his ability to think and act strategically.  He stayed close to home focusing on the patient, quiet work of managing an agricultural business.  Conflict was inevitable and God has chosen sides before they're even born.  He has a right...
In the meantime, even though Abraham promised that he and his children would never lie to Abimelech, Isaac lies about Rebekah (like his dad) and gets caught.  Abimelech handles this conflict in an open and frank way, exposing the fear issue and providing the protection needed to prevent any future conflict.While Isaac is in Gerar, he digs wells.  The Philistines take them.  Isaac moves on.  The Philistines take them again.  Finally, Abimelech again handles things forthrightly again and there is peace.  This is a stand-up guy.  It will take nearly 4 generations for Abraham's family to catch up in the character department.

Back on the homefront, Esau marries two local girls and they make his parents miserable.  Jacob stays home and makes his mama happy.  Conflict may have been inevitable, but their parents didn't help. Kids are usually the ones to play divide and conquer, not the parents.  Jacob takes advantage of Esau's hunger and need for immediate gratification and buys the Birthright for a bowl of lentil soup.  Mama later schemes to steal the Blessing for Jacob, for a bowl of deer stew.  In the end, she is the real loser in all of this.  Her lies cost her a favorite son, but it is for his best--she doesn't want a local girl for him anyway.  Jacob will pay dearly as well, but that is still to come.

How do you handle conflict?  Do you let it simmer, slither and explode, like Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau?  Do you wear your hostility as a badge of honor like Ishmael? Or do you confront the issue and find solutions like Abimelech?  Does your inborn nature lean toward short term treats or long term thinking? 

More to the point, what will you do about it?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

God, Our Provider--Gen 22-24

I've been praying that the Lord would point out an overall theme for each day's reading.  There is so much to think about in each of these chapters, but God is faithful to provide when we ask (even when providing happens to be the theme He's providing).

The pattern in all three of these stories is that obedience puts someone out on a limb and God makes up the difference Himself.  Abraham offered Issac as a sacrifice when there was no other.  God provided the ram.  Abraham had left his home to wander in a land God had promised to him at least 400 years into the future and needed to bury his wife.  God provided peace with his neighbors and his first piece of home.  The servant had traveled to a distant place he'd never seen to meet a family he'd never met before to get a wife for his master's son.  His trek ended in worship as God continually met all his needs with more than he could have dreamed.  Rebekah left her home to become the wife of someone she'd never met and found the love of her life.  (As an aside, I once heard a Jewish scholar teach that Rebekah was so smitten with Issac when she laid eyes on him that her quick dismount was more of a tumble--thus the replacement of her veil.  Can you imagine the scene with two breathless people stuttering in their infatuation?)

We often talk about how God provides--and this is true.  It is more true that God provides where He guides.  Where has God sent you lately?  Is your provision there waiting for you? 

Monday, January 7, 2013

He did what??--Gen 19-21

Ok, I'll have to admit, this is one of the most shocking passages in the Bible--particularly when you take them all together.  Shock upon shock:
  • The entire town tries to gang rape the angels (no wonder Lot tried to get them out of sight so quickly)
  • Lot offers his own daughters for gang rape to try to calm the crowd
  • The crowd turns on Lot
  • The angels blind the entire riotous crowd
  • Lot's daughter's fiancee's blow him off when he offers them a way out
  • Lot piddles around rather than leaving the doomed city
  • Lot doesn't feel like going into the hills
  • The angels spare Zoar because of Lot
  • Lot's wife becomes a pillar of salt for looking back
  • Lot doesn't like being in Zoar (duh) after asking the angels to stay there
  • Zoar becomes a frightening place for Lot, even though he saved all of their lives
  • Lot ends up in a cave, moping
  • Lot's daughters drug daddy so they can have incestuous children--Lot sure isn't about to get them new husbands...
Lot picked the better looking land, but found it full of nasty people. He lost everything. Don't judge a book by its cover, I suppose.  It's interesting that the angels tell Lot in Gen. 19:13:

"For we are about to destroy this city completely. The outcry against this place is so great it has reached the Lord, and he has sent us to destroy it.”

Who has been crying out?  Many times we think of homosexuality or other sexual sin as a victimless crime, but someone has been crying out.  When you look at the pornography industry, most of the girls (and guys) involved have been abused by family members from early childhood.  They may not be repentant of their own crimes later, but an abused child is a profoundly injured child and God does see.  Someone (or something) else is also crying out.  The last time God destroyed a culture, He destroyed the entire planet for the violence that had tainted the land.  Is it possible that the cries against the place again came from the land itself?  Remember Jeremiah 23:10?

"For the land is full of adultery, and it lies under a curse. The land itself is in mourning— its wilderness pastures are dried up. For they all do evil and abuse what power they have."

In Leviticus 18, God prohibits a long list of sexual sins and sums it all up with this command:

"28 So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now."

Not a pretty picture. 

Ok, so this whole thing with Sodom and Gomorrah was a bit unnerving, but, the surprises don't stop there!!
  • Abraham gets Sarah to tell a half-lie again that she is only his sister
  • God curses Abimilech for taking Sarah as his wife--and Abimelech has the guts to rightly talk back to God on the matter
  • Abimelech calls Abraham on the couch for the lie (finally!)
  • Abimelech gives Abraham money for defrauding him and invites him to stay around anywhere he likes
  • Sarah has a son at 90
  • Ishmael makes fun of Issac (idiot)
  • Sarah throws a fit (ok, that's not surprising)
  • Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away (but God shows up)
  • Abraham makes a treaty with Abimelech to never lie and always be loyal and then brings up the well (really??--You didn't bother to bring this up before you made the treaty?)
  • Abraham had to pay for his own well
Goodness gracious.  Abraham is super passive through all of this.  Not the best negotiator I've seen.  Even when he bargained with God, he quit at 10 men, although I don't think it would have mattered.  I don't think the angels found even one righteous man in all of the Jordan valley--and Lot certainly doesn't come off looking like such a prize.  Proverbs 16:7 says:

"When a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him." 

That's the biggest difference I can see between Lot and Abraham.  Even though Abraham's fear has the potential to mess up every relationship he needs on this land to live in peace, God intervenes and gives him an honored place.  Lot compromises himself into nasty places and barely escapes with his own hide.  Pick your friends wisely.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Infertility fatigue--Gen 16-18(ish)

I'll get to the end of Gen 18 tomorrow.  I don't want to skip over the drama at the beginning of this passage. 

God had promised Abram a son but it didn't happen right away.  Infertility can really mess with your mind.  Can you imagine Abram dreaming of teaching his boy to pray, make sacrifices or lead the family business?  We watched an episode of Duck Dynasty last night that included a friendly competition between the brothers about fishing (and selling fish).  Each father took great pride in teaching his boy the secrets of his own success--and they were very different.

Can you imagine Sarai wondering what's wrong with herself?  After more than a decade of trying with no success, she was getting desperate so she hatched a fool-proof scheme to get a baby.  It was socially acceptable but somewhat abusive to Hagar.  No one asks Hagar if she wants this.  Only the plan backfires.  What Sarai gets is a cocky, disrespectful servant and she picks a fight with Abram over it.  To be fair, Abram should have been loyal to his wife and really believed God would provide through Sarai, but God hadn't explicitly said as much.  Poor guy can't win for losing, and "When Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." 

Hagar can't stand it and runs away, pregnant and all.  That's when God steps in and He puts it all to rights for the time being.  He re-establishes the chain of authority with His own presence--a gift of unbelievable worth to Hagar.  The unnoticed, disregarded slave is personally noticed by the God of the Universe.  Wow!  Ishmael means "God will listen."  What a name!  Her son will be a wild man, but a great man. 

At 99, nearly 25 years after the original promise, God visits Abram twice confirming that he will have a son, but the child of promise will not be 13 year old Ishmael.  Both Abram and Sarai laugh at God over this.  Their hearts have given way to fatigue.  It is only when both Abram and Sarai fully recognize that it would take a miracle for them to have children, that God shows up and promises it again, this time with a timeline and a name change for both of them.  The sound added at the end of their names is merely a breath, but it is the breath of God himself. 

God doesn't do miracles through human schemes.  He does miracles and keeps His promises in His own way.  We don't have to help God out so that He can keep His promises.  Sounds silly when you put it that way, doesn't it?  God is big enough to do whatever He says He will do all on His own.   Our help can cause more trouble than we can imagine because it is born out of unbelief.  Abraham is diligent to obey whenever God gives him a task to do, no matter how painful that task may be, but he and Sarai didn't need to do any more than what God asked them to do.  God didn't need the help.

What has God promised you?  Have you been obedient?  Have you tried to help God out?  When things look like they've gone from hard to impossible, it's time for God to show up. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Conflict, comfort and covenant, Gen 13-15

At the outset of this reading, Abram's men and Lot's men are in conflict and Abram lets Lot choose which land to go toward.  One land was green and lush, the other not so much but the good land has not so good people.  As a consequence, Lot and his family are captured in war and Abram has to come to their rescue.  The Lord provides Abram the victory and we see a rare glimpse into the righteous religious order of the day--a priest in the order of Melchezidek.  Abram received a blessing but refused any of the tainted plunder for himself.  Chapter 15 opens with a pensive Abram, thinking about the events of the times.  Had he taken the better land, it could have been his own family that was captured...

Isn't it just like God to put his finger right on the spot that's bugging us?  God promised Abram protection, but Abram realized wisely that without someone to give it to, protection of all he had was of little value.  God promises children as numerous as the stars and Abram believes God.  Again, God anticipates Abram's thoughts and promises a land for all those children to inhabit.  Abram seems willing to trust God for his own desires, but struggles to trust for the desires and needs of all his descendents and there's some validity in his hesitation.  Abram has control over whether he believes and obeys God.  He has little control over what his children will ultimately do (just like us).  If they reject God, then what will they do if or when God gives them what they deserve?

God then directs Abram to prepare for the covenant ceremony.  The word covenant comes from the root word "to cut."  The animals were divided in half and those responsible for keeping the covenant would walk through the middle of the animals testifying that if they broke the terms, then their fate should be similar.  Abram's only job is to prepare and protect the symbols until the ceremony can begin.  When Abram receives the vision, God alone walks through the animals in the form of the burning furnace and glowing torch.  It is God alone who is responsible for the covenant.  The furnace symbolizes God's just judgment and purifying power.  The torch symbolizes God's guidance.  Both will be needed.  The land is to belong to his decendants, but not yet.  There will be difficult times ahead, but the end is good. 

It is striking to me that, just like Abram, when I confess my misgivings to God, He responds with promises that are not conditional.  He doesn't sugar-coat the future, but He does speak to my fears and settles the outcome based on His ability, not mine.  That's what real friends do.  They have your back, but they tell you the truth, even when it's scary.  Abram himself would see none of it, but the promise was firm and Abram believed it.

Me too...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Unity and Obedience, Gen 10-12

Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth.  Gen 9:1

Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”  Gen 11:4

Boy, that didn't take long.  Two chapters and we're right back to self-centered rebellion.  Maybe they thought, "If I build a tower, then God can send all the floods He wants and we'll be ok anyway."  That would be funny if it weren't so pathetic--like toddlers covering their eyes so you can't see them. 

I once heard a famous football coach speak on Genesis 11:6:  6 “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!"  This verse literally changed his life.  From that point on, he did everything in his power to learn what it takes to get people united and working together, because even God said that when we are united, nothing is impossible.  Unity is a great thing, unless we are silly enough to think we can be unified against God.  It's the biggest thing Jesus asked His Father to grant to us:

21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. John 17:21-23

The unity Jesus desired was a unity with God, not against Him.  That's what set Abram apart from all his kindred.  Because he believed God was trustworthy, he was not afraid to be in unity with God (obedience), even if it meant leaving home to go a long way away.  That's a unity God can and did bless with a heritage that lasts through eternity.  In the end, the makers of the tower of Babel remain nameless while nearly all the world has heard of Abraham. 

One final note,  Abram would have done well to value unity within his own household as well.  He was more loyal to his own hide than his wife, which left her in danger of molestation from the Egyptian king--and this won't be the last time.  God was loyal to her and embarrassed Abram on her behalf, but it's going to take two generations to get the idea through to them that you protect your family as yourself.  I don't know why Sarai didn't balk at the idea.  Maybe she really believed Abram was in danger--we women will do anything to protect the ones we love, even when it means putting ourselves in harm's way.  This definately becomes an example of the truth of Gen 2:18:

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”

In this case, Sarai's silence left Abram alone to make the decision and that wasn't good--for him or her.  It wouldn't have been right for a God-given helper to be argumentative or quarrelsome, but it is no help at all to say nothing.  Sometimes that also means that if the husband wants the help God said he needs, he needs to encourage insight from the one who is "bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh."  Wives aren't always right, but since she is knit to you as one flesh, it is foolish to miss out on their perspective--she wants the best for both of you too. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New beginnings--Gen 7-9

God went ahead with the plan, Noah got in the ark with his family and all the animals, and things got very wet for over a year and then dried out.  So what changed?

Many people died.  The remaining leadership worshipped God for His rescue and God made several promises:
  • Even though people are pretty bad, I'll never curse all of the earth because of them.  (Wesley notes that the Hebrew text carries the idea of never again adding to the curse on the ground like the flood had done)
  • I'll never again destroy all living creatures
  • Some things will remain consistent:
    • seedtime and harvest
    • cold and heat
    • summer and winter
    • day and night
Some other things changed too.  Man began to eat meat and animals began to fear us.  Rains came and went.  An eye for an eye became the rule of creation, with the first example being a life for a life.  That meant that accountability was to be personal and immediate.  God made the first covenant with all life on the earth, and gave us rainbows as a sign.  It also appears that people (or at least Noah) didn't get drunk before this either, because Noah certainly couldn't handle his wine. 

 The one thing that hadn't changed was God.  He still didn't like sin.  He still was willing and eager to continue a relationship with mankind.  He still is even now.