Friday, December 12, 2008
Jesus was on the way to attend to the daughter of Jairus. She was sick and Jairus had pleaded with Jesus to come see her. On his way, Jesus got stopped by someone in the crowd and was delayed. Here is what happens in verse 35:
While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher any more?"
Do you see how they shrunk Jesus? In that moment, men that had presumably been watching over Jairus’ daughter while he was out recruiting the help of Jesus, came with a message. It was too late. Your daughter is dead. Why keep bothering this teacher.
They shrunk Jesus. They believed the situation had passed His abilities. They believed that the situation had grown larger than He could handle. It was over. How did Christ respond? Here's verse 36:
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe."
Then He went to Jairus house and healed his daughter.
He refused to stay small. He refused to be limited by other people's expectations of what He was capable of and everyday, He asks us to do the same thing.
I don’t know what you’re going through right now, but Jesus is big enough for it. It is not too late. It is never passed His power.
So when someone tries to shrink Jesus, remember to just believe.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Some men came, bringing to him (Jesus) a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.
I have to confess I’ve always missed the tenderness and strength of the friendship these four men showed the paralytic on the mat. First of all, they carried their friend to Jesus, with the hope that he would get healed. When they found the way blocked, they didn’t give up. They got on the roof, made an opening, spent an undetermined amount of time digging through it and then lowered him gently into Christ’s presence.
Is there a better picture of friendship than that? Going wildly out of your way to bring someone into Christ’s presence? Doing anything and everything you can, to connect someone hurting with the love of Christ?
Who is carrying your mat? Do you have four friends like that?
And perhaps more importantly, who’s mat are you carrying?
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And it makes complete sense, because it's a great verse. I've said that one over and over again through the years as I've wrestled with my own worries.
But I've never heard anyone mention the four words that come before it. I've never heard anyone talk about the incredibly short, but in my mind, incredibly powerful sentence that precedes, "Do not be anxious about anything."
Have you? If you're familiar with that verse and have memorized it before, do you know the way the verse before it concludes? I honestly didn’t until a few weeks ago.
The four words before Philippians 4:6 are "The Lord is near." The verses say, "The Lord is near. Do not be anxious ..." I love that. When we pray that verse out loud when we're under the burden of worry, when the skies are dark and we are so anxious we can barely stand and we cry out to God, I think we should start with "The Lord is near."
We're not praying to a far off God. We're not presenting our requests to a long distance lord. The Lord is near. The Lord is near. That's such a great reminder. Instead of starting with us, "Don't be anxious about anything," what if we started with the Lord? What if we started our pray with, "the lord is near" and ended it in verse 7 with “in Christ Jesus?” What if we had God bookends on that prayer about worry?
Would that change the way we thought about worry? It has for me.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
We tell ourselves we're not good enough. Or that we're fantastic. We inflate and deflate our own egos all day long with ideas and words and thoughts that bounce around our hearts and heads. Friends and family, coworkers and television, the internet and radio add to the conversation.
And life feels loud.
That's why I love Zephaniah 3:17:
The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
The whole verse is great, but my favorite part might be the promise that God will "quiet you with his love."
I am in awe that the verse is not written:
God will quiet you by speaking louder than everything else.
God will quiet you with his knowledge
God will quiet you with his disappointment in you for allowing life to get so loud
God will quiet you with his anger.
It's love. God is going to quiet us with his love. And when he does, we'll be able to hear him singing over us.
Life is loud right now, and there are ways I can be deliberate and intentional about making it quieter. But the truth is, what I pray for the most, when things feel loud and out of control, is that God will quiet me with his love.
Friday, October 31, 2008
In chapter 1:7-8, God is calling Jeremiah and says this to him:
But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD.
The word that stuck out to me was "rescue."
I've always read that verse like this:
"Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will help you."
I've always thought that a sign that you are doing God's work, that you have listened to His voice and made the right the decision is that things are peaceful and easy. God is there after all, shouldn’t that verse say, "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will comfort you?"
But it doesn't that, it says "rescue." It reads like God is saying, "Look, you need to go do what I am asking you and it won’t be easy. I'm not calling you to safety and comfort, I'm asking you to go into a situation that's going to be dangerous and difficult. Where I am calling you will be so horrible that it will require rescue, but I will provide it. That's what I am going to give you, rescue. But in order to give you the gift of rescue, I need you to go somewhere that requires it and I'm going to be upfront, that won’t be fun. Because if it was, rescue wouldn’t be necessary and that's the gift I want to give you. So …."
I don't know where you are or what God's doing in your life right now but I do know this, if you want to receive the gift of rescue, which I think is one of God's favorite gifts to give us, you have to go somewhere and do something that requires it.
(If you read this post and think, "but I don't know what my call is!" read something I wrote called "Trying to find a cause." I promise you already have one and it's the most important one you can have.)
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I don't know the frequency of what I'll write or what it will look like. I think it's going to be random and messy. But I want to share with you and want you to know I appreciate how many of you have expressed your appreciation for this site.
Below is what I wrote in my journal yesterday after reading Matthew 11: 28-30 and how I imagine God speaking that truth into my heart:
28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
I am not asking you to complete yourself and then come to me. I am asking you to come to me. Broken and burdened, infested with the most hideous lies about me and my nature. Covered in perpetual sin that you just can’t seem to shake. Because I don’t see that. I see Christ. I see the blood of my son all over you.
I know you think you need to work through your doubt before you come to me. But that’s not true. I can’t wait that long for you to come. And how ridiculous is that lie? That you have to figure me out, know me and trust in me without fail before you can come to me and get to know me. I do have gifts for you. Big crazy gifts, but the biggest of all is my presence.
That’s what I am inviting you into. My presence. That’s a gift I am inviting you into. My presence. That’s a gift I am going to give you every second for every hour of every day for the rest of eternity. Come to me. Come be in my presence. It’s so crazy to think you have to perfectly accept that gift before you can stand in that gift. I’m just saying, “Come stand in it. Bask in it.”
Come stand in it filthy and let me cleanse you.
Come stand in it broken and let me heal you.
Come stand in it drunk on doubt and fear and let me renew a spirit of confidence and trust in you.
Just come stand in it.
Come stand in it covered with lies and misconceptions about who I am and who you are and let me reveal the truth.
Come stand in it worried and stressed and trembling and let me cover you with a peace that transcends all understanding.
Come, just come.
Come stand in it with a past you can’t fix and a future you can’t look at without grimacing and I will comfort you in this very moment.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Thanks for reading and sharing in this site and the other sites I write. I hope to return when the time is right.
Friday, September 5, 2008
It's a frustrating experience. It makes you feel small and stuck, as if your story is already finished. As if someone else has already read to the end of your book and they are ready to tell you how it all turns out.
That's what Pharaoh tried to do to the Israelites in Exodus. He tried to tell them they were slaves. He tried to tell them who they were and give them a label that felt impossible to shake.
It had to be frustrating to be the Israelites in that moment. To be under the thumb of a ruler that refused to release them. To be suffering at the hand of a man that kept telling them, "you are slaves, you are slaves."
And maybe that's where you are right now. Some Pharaoh is making your life miserable. A boss, a parent, a friend, a family member, a stranger. Someone is trying to tell you who you are. To make you smaller and stuck. And in that moment it's tempting to cry out to God, "Why is this person in my life? God do you not see them? Do you not see what they are doing to me? Why?"
And in Exodus 9:16, I think God answers those questions:
"But I have raised you (Pharaoh) up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
Maybe your Pharaoh is just a megaphone for God too. Maybe your Pharaoh is just a neon sign that ultimately, surprisingly, impossibly is going to point to God. Maybe that person that keeps trying to make you feel small is there so that God can show you how big He really is.
I'm not good at this, I don't have this idea down yet, but my hope is that the next a Pharaoh tries to tell me how small I am, my response will be "Whoa, this is going to be big."
Monday, August 25, 2008
That was Pharaoh's response when Moses told him:
"I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile."
Tomorrow, Pharaoh said. Sure, I see that my house and my land are flooded with frogs. I see that every flat surface is dripping with the sticky grossness of frogs. I know how miserable it is making me and my people, but I'll go ahead and take another night of that. Why don't you pray tomorrow Moses?
That is ridiculous, but not that unique. How often have I been presented with the end to a problem, with a clear exit to some sin I have entangled myself in but instead of saying, "yes, right now would be the perfect time to get rid of my frogs," I say, "one more night, one more weekend is all I need. After that, I'll be ready."
I don't know why we do that. Maybe tomorrow is easy and tonight feels impossible. Maybe tomorrow is seductive and far away and tonight is close and difficult. Maybe we think one last night will be enough of whatever it is that we don’t want to let go of. But it never is. Tomorrow is such a slippery time frame and it always shape shifts and stretches into next week, next month or next year if we take our eyes off it.
Maybe like so many other words, we need to retire "tomorrow" and give God today. Maybe it's time to kiss frogs goodbye.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Moses and Aaron don't speak at all in this chapter.
Did you notice that? They are never quoted. We never actually have their words laid out on the page or have a snippet of the conversation they have with Pharaoh framed for us to see. There was no need to include what Moses and Aaron said, because God was in control.
He lays out His plan. He gives them the exact words to say and the exact things He wants them to do. And then they do it.
I love the simplicity of this chapter, especially on the heels of chapter 6. They form such a perfect tag team of ideas that point to the same thing. We can be quiet. God's got this. Regardless of whatever particular type of "this" you're going for. He is in control.
Monday, August 18, 2008
In the first eight verses, God uses the word "I" 18 times. He eliminates any possible questions about who is in control and just goes wild with establishing who this whole thing is about:
In verses 6 through 8 He says,
"I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.
And if that weren't enough, he uses the word "my" five times in the first eight verses. That means that God repeats the same message 23 different times.
It's about Him.
It's not about me.
I might try to wrestle control of my life from Him at times, but it's going to be Him that does it. Whether "it" is an exodus out of Egypt, a book deal, a move across the country or anything else that is on the horizon for anyone of us.
It's about Him.
Friday, August 15, 2008
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'
Isn't it interesting that the first thing God wanted His people to do was go into the desert to hold a festival for Him? I mean the desert isn't typically known as the best place to hold a festival. It's hot. It's desperately barren. It's the kind of place where people die if they get lost. So why did God want to hold a festival there?
I think it's because there aren't any distractions in the desert. It's quiet. It's empty. It's the kind of place where you can be still enough to actually hear God.
Sometimes, in our own lives, we find ourselves in the same place. We're alone and empty feeling and desperate. We're in the desert. And it's tempting to run. To see the desert as a bad place. As a place to flee from as fast as we can.
But maybe God wants us there for a reason. Maybe we're exactly where we need to be. Maybe God brought us there for a festival.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
God turns his staff into a snake and then back to a staff. It is not enough for Moses.
God turns Moses' hand as white as snow with disease and then heals it. It is not enough for Moses.
God tells Moses He will turn the Nile water to blood as a sign. It is not enough for Moses.
Finally, in verse 10, Moses says to the Lord,
"O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue."
It's a good argument. After refusing to see God's power three times, Moses tries a different approach. Instead of doubting God's strength, he calls out his own weaknesses.
I love God's response:
The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."
I didn't understand this passage until last night. I was driving to my men's group and talking with God about my inability to do some of the things I feel like He is calling me to do. I said, "I feel like I've lost my confidence." In the space between seconds, I felt like God responded, "Good. Because it's not going to be your confidence that accomplishes anything. It's going to be me. Who needs your confidence? I am the God that created the universe!"
Moses continues to doubt in the chapter and God lovingly brings Aaron into the picture. Maybe that is what will happen with me. Maybe there will be some Aaron in my life, which could be great. Or maybe I will trust in God and not my own false sense of confidence. Either way God's got this whole thing and that's a really beautiful thing.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Did you ever notice that God doesn't speak to Moses until he takes a few steps toward the burning bush? In verse 3, after Moses sees the bush on fire it says:
"So Moses thought, 'I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.'"
And verse 4 continues,
"When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses! Moses!"
He had to take a step toward the bush before God spoke his name. He had to engage with the mystery in front of him before God would cry out to him.
I am often too afraid to take the first step. I often think the burning bush must take a step toward me, that mystery must be fully explained before I step forward. But this passage calls me out.
Mystery is waiting. The burning bushes are out there. The fire is only a few feet away.
Monday, August 11, 2008
The story of David and Goliath is often used to show how God prepares us for big challenges. In the story, it’s noted that David fought bears and lions before he faced Goliath. He won small battles before he faced the big ones. He was tested and tried long before he picked up the stone that would kill his tallest giant.
In Exodus chapter 2 we find a new example of this idea, one that I have always missed. (I feel like I should change the title of this site to “things I have missed” because that is inevitably what I end up writing about.)
In this chapter we get the origin of Moses, one of the most important people in Biblical history. We learn about how he escaped death as a baby by hiding in a basket that floated down the Nile. We hear about his amazing acceptance into the house of Pharaoh. We also see him make a critical mistake as he kills an Egyptian during a confrontation between an Israelite and an Egyptian. But every time I read this chapter I always skipped right over the verses that come after he’s been accused of murder. Here are verses 15-17:
When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father's flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.
Here’s Moses, a member of Pharaoh’s house, now on the run. He’s a murderer. Pharaoh wants to kill him. He is tired and afraid, resting himself by a well in Midian, his entire life in shambles. He sees a group of shepherds come along and drive the daughters of a priest away from the well.
I’d like to think I would have stepped in. That I would have jumped to my feet and fought off the shepherds, defending the honor of the daughters, but I’m not sure that’s true. I probably would have thought, “the last time I stepped into someone else’s problem, I ended up murdering them and becoming an outlaw. I’m staying out of this.” Not Moses, I love that the verse says, “but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.”
He got up off the ground. He picked himself up and came to their rescue. Not only did he chase the shepherds away, but he proceeded to water the daughters’ flock.
It seems like a small thing compared to the amazing things Moses will one day accomplish with God. But maybe it’s not. Maybe that small thing was preparation for the big thing. Maybe that tiny rescue was just a prelude to the massive rescue God was going to pull off using Moses.
Ultimately it serves as a really beautiful reminder of the need to do the small before the big. It’s especially interesting since the chapter ends with God hearing the groans of the enslaved Israelites. God doesn’t speak in this chapter, but if He did, you get the sense that He would say, “I hear you my dear Israelites. I hear your every groan. There is a storm coming. I will sweep you up and rescue you. You don’t know it yet, but even now I am watching the small rescues of my servant Moses. Soon. Soon.”
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
There is a deceptive rhythm to life that lulls me into complacency. A tiny voice inside that says, "You have all the time in the world. Things don't change quickly. Life is a drop of water crawling slowly down the beach, not a rogue wave that comes out of nowhere."
But in Exodus chapter 1 we see what a lie that thought is. In a matter of sentences, Joseph's family passes away. Joseph's generation passes away. The memory of Joseph passes away and suddenly in verse 8, "a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt."
Although it certainly took years and years, the transformation from freedom to slavery for Joseph's people is covered in less than 25 verses. They went from being guests in Egypt to being slaves in Egypt in what feels like a matter of minutes. Not only that, but Pharaoh orders every Israelite baby boy to be thrown in the Nile.
I guess I always missed how quickly that seems to happen. When I've read Exodus in the past I just took the seismic shift that occurred for the Israelites for granted. But reading it today I was struck by how swiftly these verses treat the transition.
Like much of what I read in the Bible, there are layers and layers of meaning in this chapter, but what I took away was pretty simple.
Circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. What you have today may be gone tomorrow, even if your tomorrow is twenty years away. We always act surprised when our babies are kids and our kids are teens and our teens are adults. It won't feel like two decades have crawled by. Even a whole generation of people loved by Joseph and the Pharaoh that knew him can vanish in the relentless march of time. And if I think that I have all the time in the world to do whatever it is I'm supposed to do, I've bought into the lie that life is slow.
But it isn't. Life is fast.
Friday, August 1, 2008
I don't know who first paired those words, but after reading Genesis 50, I'd like to remix them a little. They've always meant that you forgive someone and you forget what they did to you. The two verbs in that idea are completed by the same individual. But in this chapter we see things in a different way.
Here is what 15-17 says after Joseph has buried his father Israel:
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?" So they sent word to Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died: 'This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
Joseph had already forgiven his brothers. He had already wept with them and held them and given them everything they could ever need for a new life in Egypt. He showered his family with love and protection. But as soon as Israel died, they grew afraid. They threw themselves down at his feet and said "we are your slaves." It was as if the forgiveness had never happened.
What was Joseph's immediate response? He wept.
There are probably a million reasons for those tears but it is interesting to wonder if he cried because he was sad that his brothers had forgotten his forgiveness. Maybe he was sad because their fear revealed that they were still living in captivity to the crime they committed decades ago. Maybe he was sad that they had not truly accepted his gift of forgiveness.
You see, instead of forgive and forget, the brothers were all living under the approach of "forgiven but forgotten." They had been forgiven, but they had forgotten it ever happened.
I wonder if God ever cries over me in the same way. He has forgiven me so many times. He sent His son to die for me. He holds me and whispers and shouts forgiveness to me. But I forget. When a single worry from the past tries to rear its head I don't squash it because I know I am forgiven. I give it room to grow and mutate and choke the happiness out of my life again because I have forgotten.
I am tired of living my life under the bondage of "forgiven but forgotten." I don't want to live like Joseph's brothers.
I just want to trust that I am forgiven.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In chapter 38, Judah's sins and horrible decisions paint a clear contrast to the holy direction Joseph takes with his life. In chapter 43, Judah does the opposite of chapter 38 as he steps up and takes responsibility as his brothers cower in fear at the requests a strange Egyptian ruler, Joseph, is making on their family. It is a beautiful redemption story, but it is not complete.
In this chapter, 49, Israel blesses his sons. Some have brutal futures ahead of them because of their actions, Joseph has goodness awaiting him. And then there is Judah. What to do with Judah? Here is what Israel says:
"Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.
His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.
There is deep beauty in those verses but this is supposed to be 97 seconds so I will tell you one thing I think about the life of Judah:
Judah did not transform into another man, he became the man God always made him to be.
I used to those two things were the same, but they're not. Trying to become someone else is impossible and unfortunately what I used to do all the time. I thought that I was broken beyond repair and a different me was needed. If I could only figure out a way to be just like person B or person C, things would be fine. But that's not the way.
When I start becoming the person God made me to be, I get to be me. I get to find out who that is and what that means and learn to be content with the unique things that have always been true, though long hidden by my sin. I get to enjoy the thumbprint of my maker that has long lain dormant instead of trying to be someone else. There is tremendous freedom in that.
Judah didn't become a lion when he did the right thing in chapter 43. I think Israel calls him a lion's cub because that's what he always was. He might not have acted like that in chapter 38, but I think by this chapter, with God at the helm of Judah's life, Israel can't wait to exclaim, "who dares to rouse him?"
Monday, July 28, 2008
That lesson is powerful and I think lots of people have written lots of great things explaining it. But that wasn't what stopped me in this chapter. What I took away was Israel's response when Joseph tried to fix the situation and make sure the right child got the first blessing. This is what Israel said in verse 19:
"I know, my son, I know."
I think that is so tender. I think that is such a soft thing to say to someone confused at what is happening. And I think it is what God must think when I try to uncross His hands in certain situations.
When I try to rush my book getting published or force a friendship or do a million different things my way and He has something else planned, He doesn't yell at me. He doesn't shake His head in disappointment. Not at all. He knows what I want. He knows what I think is important. He understands my deepest desire. Though like Israel, He refuses to do things my way, He doesn't act surprised at what I think should happen.
He says, "I know, my son, I know."
Sometimes that is all I get to hear. Sometimes those are the only words He unfolds in the midst of his soft X that is unmovable.
My prayer is that I'll learn to let that be enough. That I will trust that His way is better than my way, even when or perhaps especially when, it is different than my own.
Friday, July 25, 2008
I'd like to highlight a handful of words at the very end of the chapter.
The scene is pretty simple. We're told, "When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph." Israel is in the process of dying and calls his most trustworthy son forward to give him his last request. This doesn't necessarily feel like a death bed moment, but you definitely get the sense that Israel's body is making peace with the years that have piled up one after another like cars on the highway.
That reality is clearest with the sentence that ends the chapter, "And Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff."
It's possible that it is meant to serve as simply a descriptive way to end the scene. But to me, there is more there. To me, it serves as a perfect example of when we should worship. Israel may not have been moments from death, but he was tired. For years he had mourned the supposed death of his son which is exhausting. For months he had feared losing Benjamin as the brothers went back and forth seeking grain from Egypt and a ruler they did not recognize. For days if not weeks, he had marched his family to Egypt, uprooting his life at a time when most of us would expect to be retired.
He is old.
He is feeble.
He is worshipping.
That is beautiful. In the midst of his tiredness. In the midst of his slow crawl toward the end of his chapter, he reserves the strength to do what matters most. He worshiped. Even "as he leaned on the top of his staff." Even as he discussed where he wanted to be buried. Even while he planned to die, he worshipped.
I want to live that sentence. I want to take it and make it mine. I want it to read, "And Jon worshipped as he wrote a blog. And Jon worshipped as he filled out his time sheet at work. And Jon worshipped as everything fell apart."
That is my new prayer. That is my new thought and I hope it's one that speaks to you too.
We will all have moments where we need to lean on our staffs. I pray that you'll remember:
"And Walt worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff."
"And Jennifer worshiped as she leaned on the top of her staff."
"And Amy worshiped as she leaned on the top of her staff."
Thursday, July 24, 2008
“So Israel (Jacob) set out with all that was his and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.
And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!” “
Here I am,” he replied.
“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again.”
Note the progression of events here. Jacob sets out with all his goats in verse 1 and then eventually in verse 4 God says "I will go down with Egypt with you.” Not the other way around. If I were Jacob I would have thought “That’s great to hear God because I’ve kind of already left.”
Jacob had to move his entire family, everything he had ever known to set out for a strange land with only his faith in his relationship with God to back him up. No detailed plans, no vision, no promise of success.
Why doesn’t God always give us an instructional sheet for the journey ahead? I think it’s because He’s brilliant and knows that if I had a sheet, that sheet would eventually become my god. When times got tough, I wouldn’t cry out to the one true God in confusion, I would look at my sheet and trust in it for clarity. I’d make an idol out of His instruction and put my faith in the piece of paper instead of Him.
I don’t know if you have a big goat move ahead of you, but if you do, don’t think that God isn’t with you just because He hasn’t delivered clear directions. His silence might be the greatest sign that He wants you take the first step long before He’ll tell you the next one after that.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
But the thing I noticed while reading it was not the excitement so much as the overall patience Joseph showed. In this relatively short chapter he mentions his father four times. It is clear that a dam of emotion has burst and he is overwhelmed with the thought of seeing his father. So my question for you is this:
"Why didn't Joseph go see his father when he was put in charge of Egypt?"
Surely, as important as he was, he could have left for a few days/weeks to go see his father? Surely he had the power and the money and the pull? I mean when Pharaoh finds out about his brothers he goes crazy trying to treat them to the finest things that Egypt has to offer. Surely if Joseph told him about his father, Pharaoh would have made the reunion possible a lot sooner. Why didn't Joseph go to his father years earlier?
I don't think he did because he was committed to God's plan. He was dedicated to seeing it through to the end. He knew the completion of everything was not that his dire need of seeing his father again was met. He knew that God had him in place to save lives and save Egypt.
So even when it became possible to go see his father he knew that was not God's plan and stayed put.
It's an exciting chapter but the patience is what stopped me cold.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
I admit, it adds to the drama. The tension is certainly higher with him making his brothers jump through hoops. We all collectively move to the edge of our seats when he unfolds his plan, but what was the point?
I think he wanted to see that his brothers were different. He didn't want to enable them and continue the cycle of generational sin he had broken only a few chapters earlier. He wanted to make sure his brothers had changed in action not just word.
Think again, about the family Joseph was from. What sort of consequences did Isaac place on Joseph's father Jacob when he stole Esau's birthright? What sort of consequences did Jacob in turn put on Judah when he tried to shirk the responsibility of the pregnant prostitute? What sort of consequences did Judah put on his own two sons for their evils that were so severe God killed them? None. You get the sense reading these chapters that this is a family that does not know the cause and effect of their actions.
But Joseph was different. He didn't scream "no" when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him. He laid out his clear understanding of the entire situation to her, including the consequences. He spent years in jail as a product of false consequences. He interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker, with severely different consequences. And even more visible, he explained Pharoah's dream and did the opposite of what most men would have done. He stored food for seven years in preparation for the seven famine years. In chapter 47 we see that when people ran out of money to buy food, Joseph had them pay with their livestock and eventually their land. He didn't open the storehouses and just give the food to anyone that asked for free. He practiced cause and effect, action and consequence throughout his entire life.
To forgive his brothers instantly would have been the opposite of everything God had taught Joseph in his last twenty years. So when he saw the same brothers that had sold him into slavery, one has to wonder if he feared for Benjamin. Certainly he wanted to see the younger brother he had never met, but is it possible he feared they would do the same thing they did to Joseph to him someday? To sell the brothers grain without investigating would have been giving fuel to slave traders.
So he asked questions. He investigated, he made sure that his forgiveness would not harm the brothers. Which is a weird concept, but I think an important one to think about.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Listen to the speech that Judah, the man that impregnated a prostitute and condemned her initially, says to his father in verses 8-9:
Then Judah said to Israel his father, "Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life."
That makes a nice paragraph but it is beautiful when you dissect it and see the words a man once known for shirking family responsibilities actually uses:
Send the boy along with me
We will go
I myself guarantee his safety
You can hold me personally responsible
If I do not bring him back
I will bear the blame before you all my life.
Judah, is that you? Can that be? Could that paragraph be more jam packed with words indicating a man of serious responsibility is about to step up to a dangerous situation?
I love it. I love that the Bible is full of mess ups that come back. Abject failures of human beings that through God's grace are pulled from the pit and do some tremendous things.
We are created to change. I don’t care if you're a bad dad, a fired employee, a divorced parent that feels like life is an island right now. Within you beats the song of change. It may be quiet right now. You might feel like it will never sing again, but just like Abraham, just like Judah, we are all capable of change in the eyes of the Lord.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
That was what struck me the most about chapter 42 of Genesis. There is a palpable sense of dread in the air. The sin of the brothers travels with them like a phantom, haunting their words and their actions. Even though they tried to escape it, it is so close to the surface in so many ways:
Jacob was living in fear - verse 4
But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph's brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him.
The brothers can't tell their story without Joseph - verse 13
"Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more."
The brothers sense punishment - verse 21
They said to one another, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother.
They remember the agonizing details of their decision - verse 21
"We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us."
The brothers are divided - verse 22
Reuben replied, "Didn't I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn't listen!"
Joseph is not a thing that happened, he is an intimate part of their past - verse 22
"Now we must give an accounting for his blood."
Everything comes back to that moment - verse 28
Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, "What is this that God has done to us?"
Jacob keeps coming back to that moment - verse 36
"You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!"
The whole story revolves around the brothers' decision to sell Joseph into slavery. Although maybe they just needed more time to forget what they had done. Perhaps that was the problem. But it had been more than 20 years. They had emotionally and spiritually run for more than two decades. Do you think Reuben saw the young Joseph in his own sons? Do you think the brother's did not notice how that event ate at their father Jacob? Do you think they had a moment of peace in the last 20 years?
I doubt it. And maybe peace is what you need to. Maybe you need to stop running from that thing or that person. You might not have a younger brother to plead with. You might not have a situation that can be healed fully this side of heaven. But you do have a Father that cares, a God that is invested in your heart and a Lord that doesn't want to see you run for 20 years.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
"How did Joseph break the dysfunction that had hurt his family for generations?"
I honestly had never thought about that. I believed that from Abraham down to Joseph was a long line of pure holiness, but I was wrong.
Abraham lied and prostituted his wife. Not once, but twice. He doubted God's ability to provide a child so severely that he started another family with his maidservant Hagar. Isaac repeated the same mistake by whoring out his wife too. He also created a household where he had a favorite son and his wife had a different favorite son. He was not renamed by God. My friend Tim pointed that out. His father Abraham received a new name. His son Jacob did too, but not Isaac. Jacob and Esau were a mess, with Jacob stealing Esau's birthright and then using his family as a buffer against his brother's vengeance. Jacob then proceeds to repeat his father's mistake by creating a favorite son, Joseph.
One can only wonder what would have happened to Joseph if he had stayed in that environment. Have you ever met someone that is coddled and doted on and protected from every problem in the world? Have you ever met a spoiled child you admired? It is hard to believe that the third generation dysfunction of Isaac could have raised a new generation of holiness in Joseph. So what happened? How did Joseph turn out into an awe-inspiring man of God in charge of Egypt?
He suffered. He was sold into slavery. He spent years in a dungeon. He hit his bottom and found God waiting to lift him up. He was refined by the trials and tribulations of his life.
I do not like suffering. I do not like hard times or wish them upon anyone. I think God works through blessings and that going through suffering is not the answer to all of life's challenges. But in my 32 years, I cannot dismiss the clarity of God's voice when all other distractions are removed from my life in the middle of a crisis.
And though we're jumping ahead, I want to look at periods of pain like Job did in chapter 23: 9-10:
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
"How did Joseph break the dysfunction that had hurt his family for generations?"
He came forth as gold.
Friday, July 18, 2008
But Joseph didn't wait.
Have you ever noticed that? He campaigned for his exit by telling the baker and the cup bearer: But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon."
Joseph made plans. He was proactive with his actions. He knew God would not strike him dead in the dungeon for trying to get out. He was not punished for making his case to baker and the cup bearer. It didn't work out initially, but I don't think that is the point.
I think the point is that if you're drowning, God is not going to criticize you for raising your own head above the water. Just as it is not a matter of my lack of trust in God for me to put up a gate at the top of the stairs to prevent my children from falling down. Could God prevent them from falling without the gate? Certainly. Could He heal them if they did? Without a doubt. Is He angry that I put up the gate. I don't think so.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Chapter 39 of Genesis is the section where Potiphar's wife tries to seduce Joseph. This is the section where Joseph ends up in jail. And when we get to chapter 41, I'll talk a little more about the purpose of jail, but there's something cool in this chapter too.
Here is an excerpt of what Joseph said to Potiphar's wife when she came on to him. He essentially lays out a case based on how much trust Potiphar has put in him:
"everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?"
I never realized that this, this is what Adam should have said to the serpent in the garden of Eden. This is the speech he should have given. These are almost the exact words, except perhaps we should switch out "house" for the word "garden" and "wife" for the word "fruit":
"everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this garden than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except this fruit, because this is his fruit. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?"
But Adam didn't say that. Joseph did. And though they were both kicked out of their homes, Adam the garden and Joseph Potiphar's house, they were headed in very different directions. Because for Joseph, an already crazy life was about to get crazier. And that's where we'll pick up in Chapter 40.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Not even in a contextual way, but on a higher level, "Why was that included in the Bible" kind of way. And chapter 38 of Genesis is a perfect example of that. Let's remember what happened in chapter 37. When we last left Genesis, Joseph was being sold to the Egyptians. In a climatic moment, he was sold into slavery by his brothers and his father Jacob was mourning his reported death. It was intense and powerful and passionate.
But chapter 38 starts off slowly. Suddenly, like a soap opera jumping plot lines, we pick up with Judah and Tamar. Suddenly we leave the action behind and are thrust into the middle of a tale about family obligation and law. Sure, there is deception and intrigue and prostitution and mistaken identities, but it feels like it comes out of left field.
So instead of talking about the specific words in this chapter I want to talk about why it is here? Why did this tale about Judah's failure and unwillingness to follow the law by sleeping with and initially abandoning a pregnant prostitute, make it into the Bible? And why is it right here, sandwiched in the middle of the Joseph story?
My life application Bible says the story is meant to serve as a contrast between Joseph and Judah. For while Joseph is about to prove his mettle as a man of God, Judah is spiraling downward. While Joseph is about to raise high despite his circumstances as a slave, Judah is about to sink deep despite his circumstances as a son of Jacob.
It's a really powerful picture, the two different lives, and I think there is one thing I will take from this. And it's not that complicated although sometimes I wish it were. You see, in my life, if something is too complicated, I use that as an excuse to not do it. For instance, we have a phone service that receives all the messages on our home phone. You have to enter in all these passwords and codes and ID numbers to listen to the message. So in three years of having it, I have never once checked the messages. My wife does it for me because I always say, "that's so complicated. I don't want to bother with that."
The truth is that sometimes I do the same thing with the Bible. I try to make it complicated so I can ignore it like my home voice mails. But the truth is that sometimes it is simple. Sometimes it is obvious and clear and undeniable. I think chapter 38 of Genesis is an example of that. I think a really simple question emerges that we can ask ourselves everyday. It's the only thing I hope you take from this post and it goes like this:
"Today, do I want to be Joseph or Judah?"
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I often like to think that when God gives you a blessing or a mission or in some way jumps down into your life, great things are about to happen. You are about to go on an adventure that will be exciting and fun and filled with happy God moments. But that’s not what happened to Joseph.
I once heard a minister say that one of the most dangerous times in our lives is right after God has spoken in to them. I think that is an interesting point that could be argued using chapter 37 of Genesis. Not to crack open any deep theological discussion, but look what happened to Joseph immediately after he had his dream.
In the first half of the chapter he has a dream in which his brothers bow down to him. After hearing the dream, they decide to either kill him or sell him into slavery. How can that be? I mean God just gave him a huge dream, a vision that was wild and amazing? How can the first step towards having people bow down be landing in slavery?
I want God to make sense, but He doesn’t. All too often, He seems to choose the exact opposite of what I would choose. It’s like He tells me to move to the ocean. So I buy bathing suits and a boat and a dock and I do everything I can to get ready for water. Then He says, “OK, you’re moving to the ocean, so the first thing I want you to do is go spend a few years in the desert. I want you to go a million miles away from the ocean.”
That doesn’t make sense. That is illogical. But I swear that is how God works. When Joseph had a dream of greatness, the first step was slavery. When Christ was called forward to save mankind during the baptism with John, the next thing he did was go spend 40 days alone. When you were called to get a new job, the next thing that happened was you got a promotion at your current one. When you were called into the ministry, instead of going to seminary God asked you to study Italian for a few years.
Sometimes we get the opposite of what we expect, like Joseph getting a shackle instead of a scepter. But when it comes to God, He always gives us what we need.
Monday, July 14, 2008
We know each other well like that and so did Esau and his father Isaac. That is why the very second verse in chapter 36 is such a big deal. It's not complicated, the big things are often simple, but here is what it says:
"Esau took his wives from the women of Canaan: …"
The reason that is a big deal is that Isaac specifically and repeatedly warned about intermarrying. In fact, the very first thing he says to Jacob when he blesses him in chapter 28 is, "Do not marry a Canaanite woman."
And yet, that is the very first thing we learn about Esau in chapter 36. It's like he went out of his way to hurt his father. It's like he went out of his way to pick the sharpest knife to stab him with. The scary thing is, I'm not that different sometimes.
The reason why is that sin aims for the most important issues. It cuts deepest in the places God has gifted us deepest. It seeks out our most critical relationships like father and son, husband and wife, brother and brother, and tries to sever them.
Satan is not all knowing or all powerful or able to be everywhere at the same time. But he is very efficient out of necessity. He knows that he can do the greatest damage with the least possible effort if he strikes at something important. He won't try to spoil your talent for singing if you only do it in the shower. The minute you think about joining a praise team though, prepare for the arrival of doubt. He won't waste his limited energy on your broken relationship with your dad until you try to repair it.
What does that mean for you and me? It means that we have to protect the things that matter in this life. We have to guard our hearts and our relationships. We have to prayerfully deal with them and lean on God. Because ultimately, it's very easy for us all to become Isaac and Esau.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
The chapter opens up with God giving Jacob an instruction to build an altar to Him. That is a gift of a task, a chance to serve the Lord and carry out His direct order. But do you know what Jacob has to do first? He has to empty his house of false idols. Here is what Jacob says in verse 2, "Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes."
I feel like that sometimes. I feel like God has a task He wants me to do. He has a lot He wants me to accomplish for Him, but my house and my heart are too full of foreign gods. There is no room for Him or His work. I have my own mission and do not have the time or spiritual space in my heart for Him.
I wonder though, does God still work that way? Does He call us to do things that we can't really do when we've still got foreign gods in our eyes? Do we ever have to empty our own houses before we get to build an altar to Him?
Hard to say, but a few months ago something happened that makes me think maybe that's still the way God works. On a Monday, I emailed my counselor who I had not seen in over a year. I basically said, "I need to start seeing you again. This silly website I started has grown and I think I will become a jerk if I don't get grounded in the Lord." 24 hours after I sent that email, the first book publisher contacted me out of the blue.
Maybe that was coincidence. Maybe emailing my counselor wasn't an act of me cleaning up my house and my heart. Maybe the publisher's email had nothing to do with anything at all. But maybe, God still believes that we can't build His altar, we can't walk His road, we can't move in His direction, if we are still in love with foreign gods.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
I think that one of the tricky things about sin is that it permeates every aspect of our life naturally. For instance, when I am struggling with lust, I will physically gain weight. My performance at work will change. How I respond to simple issues at home changes. The sin in my heart is not contained to one area of my life. It naturally flows through every inch of my existence.
You see that truth here in this chapter. Shechem rapes Dinah, Jacob's daughter. That is a grievous, personal sin. He forced himself on her and acted out of lust. But sin is never satisfied with just having one area of our lives. So Shechem agrees to have himself and his entire town circumcised when Jacob's sons tell him that is the condition to marry Dinah.
That is a transactional mistake. That is a dumb decision but Shechem's thinking was corrupted by his lust. If you read the chapter you see that Shechem thought of the circumcision like a business deal. He told his town that they would get all the property of Jacob and circumcising themselves was worth that gain. At that point, the sin essentially entered his business world.
Jacob's sons then came and murdered the entire city, when all the men there were weakened from being recently circumcised.
Sin works that way. It's never just "this area of my life." It pollutes you entirely like a snakebite. Have you ever seen what they do when a poisonous snake bites your foot? They tie a rope tight around your leg. Why? Because venom travels. It might start on your toe, but in seconds it is in your bloodstream and then your leg and then your heart.
Sin is poison. If you know it's in one area of your life, please don't make the mistake of thinking it will stay there. I have in the past and it always cost me more than I expected to pay.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Some people see Jacob sending his family in front of him on the way to meet Esau as a sign of respect. That he was following protocol by sending the most important people in front of the crowd. I feel like that disagrees with the little I know about culture back then as far as how women were treated, but I could be completely wrong.
The second way to interpret this passage, the way I would like to, is that Jacob sent his family ahead to meet Esau because he was afraid. He was scared. It was a deceitful move, pure and simple. Just like so many other tricks he had played, living up to his namesake before God renamed him.
If we believe the idea that Jacob put his family first as a buffer against Esau, I think we reveal an interesting truth about fear and maybe even temptation. Here is my rather simple idea:
When it comes to temptation and fear, we will sacrifice anything to save ourselves.
By that I mean without God, nothing will stop us from acting out in sin. I have friends that will say things like "now that I'm married I won't look at porn" or "now that I am a father I won't work long hours." Or, "I'm afraid to tell my parents what I did, so I'll carry around the suffocating burden of this for years."
But that rarely ever works. The reason, which I have mentioned before, is that sin is like to massive monster waiting for you in a boxing ring. And when you lean on your wife or your kid instead of God, you are asking them to climb into the ring for you. You are saying to your toddler, "Daddy struggles with working too much and being emotionally vacant when he gets home, I need you to go fight that monster for me." Or you ask your wife, "I've developed an addiction I simply can't beat. Why don't you go inside that ring and fight for me."
Jacob gave up his family out of fear. Pastors give up their entire congregations to affairs. I gave up so much time with my kids when I worked long, long days. We will give up anything and none of it is ever enough to save us. None of the sacrifices we make change the end of the story.
God is the only thing that can win in that ring. I promise.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
But my counselor is prone to saying small things that rock my world in a big way.
About a year ago, I confessed some frustration I was having with God. I just felt like I was struggling with Him, like we were pushing each other around and battling over a few issues. My counselor listened and then said,
"God loves that."
This is not the answer I was expecting. I thought he would say, "You need to trust the Lord more." Or "You need to let go and let God." But he didn't say that. He said that God loves when I wrestle with Him. I of course asked why.
"Jon, do you know what is true about wrestling? Have you ever stopped to think about the nature of wrestling? God loves to wrestle with us, because you can't wrestle with someone that is far away. They have to be close to you. It's a very intimate, personal activity."
And I think he was right. I think that God wants me close. I think He wants me near to His side, close enough to feel His breath and know His strength. And when I approach to wrestle over an issue with Him, like Jacob wrestling, I don't think He is angry. I think He is happy, because I am close.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
I wish it were. I wish that it was easy to isolate sin like finding a single leak in a dam. Having patched it, we could walk away confident that everything was under control.
I used to think that. I used to believe that if I got my biggest issue under control, everything else would be fine. But over the years I have realized how wrong that is. If I run with the dam analogy, then sin is a rushing river. When I patch one hole or fix one weak spot, it starts to look for another. It pushes and pulls at our lives until another weakness is revealed.
For me, that meant when I got my lust under control, my work addictions went crazy. Suddenly, I started looking for the same sense of control, false of course, that lust had given me, but in a different way. I didn't fix anything, my sin just continued inside my life to a different place. When I focused on fixing work, it flowed to my relationship with my wife. When we worked on things together it moved on to some childhood stuff I needed to deal with. It just kept going and going and going.
That was what Chapter 31 of Genesis felt like tonight. It's just a train wreck. Jacob is fleeing Laban by lying to him. He is stealing away under false pretenses. Meanwhile, Rachel adds to the sin parade by stealing Laban's idols. She then lies about having them, when Laban chases them down. The lives in this story are so tied together in sin and failure.
The chapter feels like an episode of the show "Cops." Just one sin after another, flowing from life to life to life.
Sin is not a circle. It is a figure eight. When you think you've stopped it, when you think you've dammed it, it flows to another part of the figure eight. And if you're like me, sin is actually a big ball of yarn, with a thousand entries and tangles and pathways, woven together so tightly they choke. And without God they only get more knotted.
Things are going to come unraveled in this story soon. God is about to do some cool stuff that I can't wait to write about from these chapters. But until then, remember something simple. Sin is never an island. It always travels with friends.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
And I think that mess has probably been discussed a million different times by a million different writers. But I am a big fan of the "edge verses," those little lessons that we miss because they are hidden on the edges of neon stories. Like the ones in this chapter. So instead of focusing on all the action, I want to write about six words Rachel says in verse 1. What are they? They are actually very simple:
"Give me children, or I'll die."
This is such a perfect picture of jealousy and envy. In the first half of the sentence she makes a demand. She orders Jacob to give her children. But the reality is that Jacob is not a God. He cannot simply give her children, a fact he points out by saying "Am I in the place of God?" The problem, is that's how jealousy works. It makes our object of desire impossible. It makes what we want and our attempts to get it impossible. Had she asked God, at the bare minimum Rachel
would have been asking someone capable of fulfilling the command. But Jacob can't.
I see this in marriages sometimes and to some degree, this is Hollywood's fault. We've bought into the Jerry McGuire idea of thinking our husbands and wives "complete us." They don't. They can't. They won't. And when you put that kind of pressure on them, you cripple them. Your wife can inspire you, challenge you, encourage you, warm your heart, but only God can complete you. Only God can do the seemingly impossible, whether that's giving you children or giving you self esteem and making you whole.
In the second half of the sentence Rachel lays out an extreme consequence of what will happen if her demand is not met. She will die. She throws the die card. Not that she will be unhappy or sad or unfulfilled, she will die. I know that feeling. There are things in my own life that I struggle with when it comes to envy. Authors or young pastors I am jealous of. There are other blogs I wish I could be like. I wrestle with my own sense of jealousy and desperate demands and ugly envy.
I wish I didn't. I wish that most of these chapters in Genesis did not apply so directly to my own life, but they do. My challenge to you is that the next time you find yourself making a demand of what you need, or a consequence of what will happen if you don't get it, remember Rachel.
Monday, July 7, 2008
The second time I asked him, he also said no.
I was disappointed to say the least, but looking back on it now, I realize he wasn't trying to say no, he was trying to say "wait." He knew his daughter was special and wanted me to take the time to see that too. He knew I was just some fresh mouthed kid with a really small understanding of love and marriage and life. He wanted me to grow up a little, to learn how to love his daughter not leap into loving his daughter.
But I didn't want to wait.
So we got married on my time frame and in some ways, going fast ended up really slowing us down. By speeding into marriage, we had to figure out some things in the first few years that other people figure out before they get married. We had to work through issues that we could have discussed prior to marriage. We had to, in some ways, pay the consequences of rushing.
I bring this up because in chapter 29, Jacob worked for 14 years to marry Rachel. Wow, I don't think I waited 14 days to propose to my wife after my father-in law said wait. Other than breathe, there are not many things I have done for 14 years straight. That is such a long time.
The marriage rush is over. My current wait or run or what do you want me to do God issue is publishing a book. I want it to happen right this second but maybe God is protecting me from it like my father-in law tried to protect me from the cost of rushing at marriage. Success can be one of the most dangerous poisons of all. Maybe God's hand is staying the cup even as I struggle to bring it to my lips.
My prayer today is that we'd all wait. In the right ways for the right reasons. And that when it is time to run, we will be ready.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Has God lost a step?
Does He still have His A game?
Is He still as sharp and as skilled at being God as He used to be?
I raised those questions on stuff christians like one day and I think they still need to be raised. Why? Because sometimes I act like He's not as powerful as He used to be. And this chapter is a perfect example of what I mean.
In chapter 28, God speaks to Jacob through a dream. While asleep, he dreams about a staircase and God speaks truth to him. Dream messages are actually not that unusual in the Bible. Joseph gets several messages when Jesus was being born and it's easy to go back through the Bible and find several other examples. But what if your friend told you God had done the same thing to them last night? What would you think?
I confess, I'd think that was a little weird. I would have a hard time believing them. And the reason is that sometimes my God is pretty tame. I mean He only really uses the Bible and maybe sometimes people to speak to me. A dream? A sunset? A nightmare? A song? That's iffy at best.
But maybe God hasn't changed. Maybe that's part of what it means for Him to be unchangeable. Maybe deep in sleep is a land He still wants to rule. Maybe last night's dream was actually this day's challenge.
In the last six months, I've had two nightmares that shook me up in a spiritual way. Was it just that I ate something weird before bed? Has God vacated the dreams we have? Hard to say, but if God is unchangeable, then maybe, just like Jacob, we need to admit He gets to choose the way He speaks, even if we're not awake.
Friday, July 4, 2008
How does he pretend to be his brother? Primarily by dressing up as him in skins that mimic Esau's hairy arms. I want to judge Jacob, I do, but I've done the same thing in my own life.
Sometimes when faced with a challenge, I will wear a mask instead of doing the work of actually becoming what I want to be. The best example of this is perhaps the first few years of my marriage. My wife and I never had a disagreement for the first five years we are married. Before you clap at our ability to get along, let me say this was not a product of us doing well. It was a product of us being fake.
Two, strong, alive inside, people are bound to disagree. That is OK. That is healthy and honest and real. But we both thought that being a good Christian couple meant never arguing. So instead of investing in the hard work of being intimate and real with our feelings, we put on the mask of "happiness." We concealed our hopes and dreams in order to steal from each other the concept of a "good marriage."
It didn't work. The real stuff just festered. It just boiled over inside because no matter how many "good husband" masks I wore, I was the same unchanged person. And just like Jacob had to flee when his deception was revealed, we emotionally fled each other and our relationship suffered.
Things are different now. We don't wear masks or animal skins like Jacob. We argue. We disagree. We engage about the things we really care about. Is our marriage perfect? Not by a long shot, but it is real. And that's something I am really happy about.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
And in a few days, when we get to the point in Genesis that he told me about, I hope to drop it on you too. But to do that, I need to set it up a little. I need to reflect a tiny bit on Isaac.
The thing that strikes me about this chapter is that Isaac repeats the same exact sin that his father Abraham did. Abraham lied and said Sarah was his sister. Isaac lies and says that Rebekah is his sister. It is such a clear portrayal of generational sin.
I know I have written about how important it is to understand your family of origin. How critical it is to know what you learned from your mom and dad. But I do agree with the doubters. I don't think looking at your childhood should be a way for you to blame your present mistakes on things in your past. My father didn't make me choose the wrong things as a 32 year old. He might have impacted my decision making process as a child, but the responsibility for what I do is mine.
So what I don't want to miss in this chapter is the exact replica Isaac becomes of Abraham in his lying. I sometimes do that. I read something in the Bible and think it is in there "just because." Not that I need to learn from it but that it's just filler, stuff to move the story along. But I don't really think the Bible is accidental. I think regardless of how big or small, every passage has a purpose. I think the purpose of this one is to teach us something that is true of most humans. We tend to repeat what we do not take the time to understand.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
A few months ago, I was talking to a married friend. He said he was struggling with being flirty with girls at his gym. He really felt like for him, being a member of a health club was impeding his walk the Lord as it regularly stirred up such strong feelings of lust. When I suggested he quit the gym and either buy a treadmill or run outside, he looked at me like I was crazy.
He didn't want to give up his gym membership. He didn't want to make that sacrifice. When faced with his freedom in Christ or a fun place to exercise, he choose the gym.
Sometimes life is black and white like that. We like to think we are not choosing something other than God, but we are. For me, it was the movie "300." I read that it had nudity in it. I have often said that lust is an issue for me. For me to choose to see that movie was to choose against God. He and I had a clear understanding about things like that. I was just like Esau, faced with what should have been an obvious decision. Watch 300 and add fuel to the lust fire, or skip the movie and focus on the things God has called me to.
Our faith doesn't disappear when we choose the wrong thing. We might not lose our birthright, but we do have to make a choice. And sometimes we choose the small, temporary things because we are hungry for a cup of stew when the big, beautiful, long term things are right in front of us too.
Just like Esau.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I think it's a challenge because some times people give us counsel that is more about them and less about us. Although it might be cloaked in words that feel as if they are meant for us, if we step back, we can see it's really all about them.
That's why I like the way Abraham's chief servant handled Laban's request to stay longer than he should. The servant had a mission. He was laser focused on fulfilling God's command so when Laban tried to delay him, he said without hesitation: "Do not detain me, now that the Lord has granted me success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master."
I love that, the directness of it, the clarity of it and I need to learn from that. What I need to learn too is that often, when someone tries to detain you, there are three possible inappropriate reasons they are slowing you down:
1. They are afraid you will leave them behind as you journey outward.
2. They once had the same vision or passion as you and regret that they never fulfilled it and thus want company in their misery.
3. They are currently ignoring their own calling and your obedience is uncomfortably highlighting their disobedience.
I agree, sometimes a delay is exactly what you need to hear. I want to publish a book right this minute and my wife has been beautiful in speaking "slow down" into my life. And I am praying for a mentor. I am hoping that God will helicopter in some author or speaker that has walked this same road. But in the meantime, I am being cautious with the advice I receive because I want to be focused. I don't want to be detained for the wrong reasons. I want to go to my master.
Monday, June 30, 2008
After Sarah died, Abraham needs to bury her. It says that he approached the Hittites and told them "I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead."
The Hittites respond by saying, "Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead." I missed it the first few times I read it, but there's a pretty powerful concept hidden in there.
I'm talking about the sentence "You are a mighty prince among us." That struck me because I don't live my life that way when I find myself surrounded by Hittites. The best example is the one I am living right now.
I want to write a book and start a ministry. I want to speak to churches and college groups around the world. Maybe that will happen, maybe it won't. But regardless of the future, today I am working a full time job in advertising. I have a boss and coworkers and colleagues and responsibilities.
Right now, it is easy to be over focused on the book. Right now it is tempting to shrug off my real responsibilities for the fun stuff, writing and interacting with readers. But right now, I am living amongst the Hittites. And if I were ever to leave, what legacy would I have created? Would my boss stand up and say "You are a mighty prince among us?" Would my coworkers feel I had been kind and reflected the light of Christ in the workplace were I ever to leave? Would I be offered the choicest tombs based on my behavior?
All too often it is easy to get hypnotized by the future we think God might give us. Going to seminary, starting a ministry, doing something "big and amazing" for Him. But the reality is, we all live amongst the Hittites. In different ways, we all have the chance to leave an impact in the now. And that is what this chapter said to me.
Simply put, every day we have the chance to be a prince.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
The thoughts of inadequacy. The feelings of doubt or shame or frustration. It's mindsets that I often wage battle with. Internal beliefs that hold me back from experiencing the true freedom of Christ. Quiet lies on the inside that say I'm not good enough or that God's forgiveness has a limit. And sometimes when I lose against these thoughts for the thousandth time, I wonder if I will ever change. Is that even possible?
Genesis chapter 22 says it is.
This is the chapter in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. This was not the first time we have seen God say something crazy to Abraham. In chapter 15 He promised him an incredible future. And when he did, Abraham expressed some doubt.
At one point in that chapter, when told he would possess the land, Abraham asked, "O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?"
He had questions, doubts, internal battles he was losing when God spoke to him. But do you know what Abraham asked in chapter 22 when God told him to kill Isaac? Nothing.
He didn't say a word. He got a knife. He got his son. He got moving.
That is a dramatic change in character worth noting. As recent as chapter 16, Abraham was not trusting in God to provide and was instead going along with his wife's plan and sleeping with Hagar to extend the family line. So how is he so different in this chapter? How when God promises him something good in chapter 15 does he show doubt, but when God asks him to do something horrible in chapter 22 he says "here I am" and "God will provide?" What changed Abraham?
God did. He is the only one that can ultimately sustain life long change. I've changed a million things in my life temporarily, but the things I really struggle with, the big, gross struggles, those are so slippery when I try to do it myself. They just take a different shape. When I try to fix lust by myself, I just start working too much. When I try to not be a workaholic, I start finding other ways for approval or affirmation. When I get my approval issues under control, my feeling of inadequacy shape shifts back into lust and nothing really changes.
But Abraham did, in a big way. And God doesn't change, so it's not crazy to think that the same attitude change, the same heart transformation that Abraham experienced, is possible for me and it is possible for you.
You might think you'll never be a good dad or love your husband the way you should or be comfortable being single for the rest of your life, but people change. Or rather, God changes people and as difficult as that is to believe sometimes, it's true.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
You are not invisible to God.
God sees you. He hears you. He knows what is important to you and what is a struggle right now. You are on His radar. This is a message that comes across in chapter 15, chapter 16, chapter 18 and today, chapter 21.
In this one, Hagar and her son have been thrown into the desert but Abraham. His wife was too jealous to have them live in the same household. Hagar, believing her boy will die, is too devastated to watch his demise and leaves him off by himself. And then in verse 17 we see the five words that change the story:
"God heard the boy crying,"
There are perhaps bigger things that happens in this chapter. Words and promises that shape history in ways that might be more important than this half of a sentence. But, I think there is great hope hidden in this idea.
A boy had become invisible. He was expelled from his father's house. He was left alone in the wilderness to die. He was no one, about to die a no one's death. And yet God heard the boy crying.
You have probably not been in this exact situation, alone in the desert, waiting for inevitable death. But you have lost something. There is something in your life that you feel is invisible to God. Maybe it's a dream, a career that pulls at your heart but you are convinced God doesn't see. Maybe it is a lost relationship that left scars you know won't heal on their own but you think don't matter to God.
It could be anything, but I don't think that is the point. The point is that God still hears boys and girls crying. He still listens. He still acts. Regardless of how big or how small your desert is.
You are not invisible to God.
Friday, June 27, 2008
What's weird about the whole event is that when it comes out, when Abimelech confronts Abraham, we witness one of the greatest tools that liars ever use. I am of course talking about the word "besides."
This is such a dangerous word because it starts to break down our resolve and represents the point when our beliefs weaken. And it's so easy to use:
"Sure, I talk with that guy at work a lot, but that's OK. Besides, my husband doesn't have the same passion for music that I do."
"I know I shouldn't have taken credit for that project at work, but it’s not a big deal. Besides, that's just something that happens in the corporate world."
"Yes, they were expensive, but I really like them. Besides, I deserve something nice, it's been a really tough week."
Besides is so insidious because it comes wrapped in the cloak of truth. Technically speaking Abraham was right. But the technicality of what he did wasn't what was in question. What he did was and it was clear that God was not looking to discuss technicalities.
Besides is like a tiny black drop in a white bucket of paint. It doesn't change the whole bucket into night sky darkness, but it blurs the color. It softens the crispness of the white into a grey. It makes the issue at hand feel fuzzy and up for discussion and debate.
This weekend, watch out for the word besides. It's cheap to use but usually, like the women in Abimelech's household would tell you, costs you much more than you expected.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
After the angels at Lot's house had blinded all the sex hungry men beating down the door, they turn to Lot and say, "Get them (anyone in Lot's family) out of here, because we are going to destroy this place." You get the sense that something powerful is about to happen and there is a tension that settles over the scene as Lot goes to speak to his family.
When he finds his future son-in-laws, he tells them, "Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!" He yells at them. He pleads with them. Their response?
"But his sons-in-law thought he was joking."
They interpreted a warning as a joke. They laughed when they should have left. They dismissed when they should have disappeared. They died of disbelief that day.
I don't face situations that are so clearly dangerous. My potential downfall is not so neon. That I am aware of, sulfur curtains are not about to close on Atlanta where I live. But I need to treat more things as dangerous in my life. I need to see less jokes in my actions and the actions of those around me.
My favorite example is when someone will tell me, "I just have a flirty personality." I get that. Believe me I do. I tend to be gregarious and feel energized by crowds and love meeting new people. But as things kind of progress with the book and speaking engagements, how I interact with people not named "my wife" is an area I have to be hyper careful about. Because if I'm not, I'm Lot's son-in-law, standing on a stone-covered town square laughing at a warning while death and destruction quietly amass at my doorstep.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
But the real cause for my deep affection for this chapter is that for me it marks the death of monologue and the birth of dialogue. The idea that we serve a God that speaks but does not listen, a God that gives words but does not receive them, a God that dictates but does not discuss, is laid to rest.
For when Abraham and God discuss the fate of Sodom, it's not simply a one way street. It's not that God is a four star General barking out commands to Abraham. Not at all. In this passage, He is listening. More than that, He gives Abraham freedom. Did you see what Abraham did? He kind of pulled a Blockbuster on God. (Yesterday on SCL I wrote that Blockbuster changed my service plan from infinite movies a month to 2 movies a month.) Abraham did something similar.
He placed a number in the conversation. God essentially said everyone is going to die. Abraham however changed "everyone" to "no one" if 50 righteous people could be found. That's gigantic. And then he eventually worked down to only 10 people being needed to save the city.
Some times we pray things like "just give me the strength to handle whatever it is that you throw at me Lord." That is a monologue prayer, as we are expecting to receive a monologue from God. I think God likes dialogue. I think this example shows His ridiculous flexibility in some situations. Why else is this passage in the Bible? I mean Sodom still fell. The result was still the same, but I think we're supposed to learn from and trust in the conversation Abraham had with God.
I think we're supposed to dialogue.