Genesis 38 (50 Days – Day Thirty Eight)

There are times when it seems that the setup for Jesus is almost too perfect. When you consider the prophecies that were fulfilled about him, it seems that he just fits the mold so well. How could anyone ever miss who he is? He MUST be the Messiah! It’s all setup so perfect.

Indeed, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. From his birthplace, to his escape to Egypt as a child, to his ministry highlights to the details of his death – it’s all there for anyone who wishes to check it out.

Know this though, if we only look at the prophetical trail of Christ, we might miss the historical trail, and that’s where some of the best stuff is. That’s where you find that Jesus genealogy might be perfect in God’s eyes, but it is far from ideal. For example, Hebrews speaks about how Jesus was a priest, but not by the law. What that means is that he wasn’t from the tribe of Levi. See that? He’s not even from the right tribe! Think of who Jesus’ ancestors were…David was an adulterer. Ruth wasn’t even Jewish to begin with. And then there’s Judah – one of the 12 sons of Jacob from whose seed the Messiah would eventually be delivered.

There’s not much good to say about the sons of Judah is there? After Joseph, it’s hard to like people who sell others into slavery. None of them are really shown to be the best of men in the Bible. However, Judah is perhaps given the best treatment. We can at least relate to him on some level. He seems to try to reach for that which is right most of the time. When his brothers decide to kill Joseph, it’s Judah who comes up with the alternate plan. When Joseph later asks for Benjamin to come, Judah offers his own life to Jacob if anything happens to Benjamin. When Joseph demands that Benjamin be punished for something he didn’t do, it’s Judah who pleads his younger brother’s case.

Judah certainly has his good moments, and by the time we find him again in chapter 38, he seems to be mostly concerned with what’s best for his family. A true patriarch, he realizes that even his daughters-in-law need to be taken care of, and when one of his sons dies, he does his best to make sure that his son’s widow won’t be alone. Though he tries to pass her off to one of his other sons, two of them die for dishonorable behavior with her. He tells her to go home to her father’s house and live as a widow. Later, Judah’s own wife dies, and in the midst of his grief, he is deceived by his daughter-in-law into sleeping with here and she conceives.

I have a lot of compassion for Judah. You have to understand what a huge deal this is in that time, and how easily the sin came upon him. He is lonely. He misses his wife. He misses his dead sons. The touch of a woman is so therapeutic to him, and he convinces himself he needs this. After all, he probably thought “I’m not really cheating on anyone anymore”. He makes one mistake in the midst of a flood of emotions and ends up paying dearly. He has impregnated his own daughter-in-law and everyone knows about it. His shame is on full display for all to see.

Now again, I have a lot of compassion on Judah, but what I like about the story is simply this: Jesus was perfect, but his ancestors were not. Jesus knew no sin, but was acquainted with every sorrow, every temptation and every pain that we know. I’ve always known that, but haven’t been able to let it’s truth soak into me as much as it should. Instead, whenever I give in to temptation, I think about how Jesus would’ve have never done that and then I end up feeling horrible.

In reality, I should take two things from this: 1) The purpose of Jesus not sinning was not to show us how to do it, but rather so that he could be offered as a perfect sacrifice for those of us who can’t do it, and 2) Anytime I need further proof, I need to look no further than Judah, who in spite of his sin was chosen as the line to deliver the Messiah to the world. Before realizing it was his daughter-in-law, Judah simply thought he was going to bed with a prostitute. That’s not really the best argument to use if he tries to explain his actions is it?

Judah is a reminder that we are all broken and susceptible to temptation. We all have the ability to throw it all away in an instant, and yet God can still use us in spite of all of that. He’s in the business of healing hurts and closing wounds.

Judah must have felt like his influence was no longer valid – that he had no right to speak up anymore. This is the kind of sin that can crush your family for generations, and cause you to cower away in embarrassment. However, by the time Christ arrived on the scene, he would show that Judah’s offspring was ready to roar again. He would be the Lion of Judah and would triumph over the sins of his ancestors. John puts it this way in the Book of Revelation…

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. -Revelation 5:1-5

I look to the story of Judah for inspiration today, and ask that Christ would help me rewrite my own history into a story of renewal.

Genesis 37 (50 Days – Day Thirty Seven)

One of my favorite books in the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis is “The Horse and His Boy”. Truth be told, I read it as an adult for the first time, while I read most of the other books as a child. I doubt I would have liked it much as a child as it doesn’t seem to be among the more exciting books in the series, but I loved it as an adult for one paragraph in the book.

I couldn’t possibly do it justice here, as describing the book’s plot in any detail would take some time. In short, the book is about Shasta, an orphan boy who is found floating in a boat as a young sick child, sold into slavery and through a series of seemingly random circumstances ends up saving the kingdom of Narnia. The events that lead to this seem so unnecessary at best and possibly cruel at worst. The paragraph that means the most to me though, happens when Shasta is lost in the fog at night, and senses that someone is with him. He can’t see him, but manages to speak to him as he can sense his presence. Shasta relays his true feelings about the troubles he has gone through, including being pursued by lions twice. He makes the comment, “If nothing else, it was bad luck to meet so many lions.” His companion, Aslan then reveals himself as the single lion whom Shasta has encountered during his journey…

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

So many things are at play here, but most of all was Aslan’s providence. Aslan of course, representing God, has orchestrated every event to prepare young Shasta for the purpose that would be fulfilled in him. The parallels to Joseph’s life abound, as the circumstances surrounding his sale to Potiphar seem every bit as random – mere coincidences that lead to one heck of a story in the end.

Was it really a coincidence, though? No, it was a divine plan executed by a divine God. God brought to Jacob’s mind to look in on his sons. Perhaps someone in Shechem would have seen what was done to Joseph, so God ordained that brothers would not be there. Someone was in the fields at Shechem though and knew exactly where Joseph’s brothers had gone. When he arrived, it was God’s will that Reuben was among his brothers when the decision was made to kill him, so that he could talk them into sparing his life. Likewise, God willed that he would not be there when Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites, as he probably wouldn’t have allowed it. The fact that the brothers simply sat by the well and had a snack gave just enough time for the caravan to come by and buy Joseph from them. I’m sure that some bizarre circumstance occurred to facilitate the meetup of the caravan with Potiphar, who bought Joseph and just happened to work for Pharaoh.

In every instance, God was not controlling, but orchestrating. It was in Reuben’s nature to stand up against killing his brother. Judah was always the pragmatist, and the Ishmaelites, being laden with spices and perfumes from far away lands, were always in the market for making a deal. The natural instincts of everyone involved were orchestrated by God to accomplish his purposes. Perhaps even Joseph himself is unscathed here, as he may have been until that point a bit of a loudmouth. Who in their right mind would speak out loud of dreams in which everyone is subject to you and expect to be perceived of as a good guy? He may have sealed his own fate, but that fate would in turn affect the fate of everyone in the land.

If you’re going through some stuff right now, it is appropriate in one sense to ask “why” but not in the sense of “what have a I done to deserve this”. Have confidence that God works out everything for the good of those who love him and ask him what you should do. Do that, and while you wait, simply be still, and know that he is God.

Genesis 36 (50 Days – Day Thirty Six)

While this chapter concludes with another line of descendants, there is a bit of story here of which we can ask some significant questions. Jacob and Esau are at this point both very wealthy. Having reconciled, they are now living in the same area. However their wealth continues to increase, to the point that it becomes very apparent that the land will not support both of them. Their cattle need grazing areas, and their farmers need fields to work. It’s simply a problem of space – there really isn’t room for both of them.  So Esau moved his family away from Canaan to settle far away in the hill country of Seir.

This was a smart thing to do. A good businessman will rightly tell you that competition brings out the best in companies. However, this is only true when there is a sufficient market for both companies to exist. If there are only enough resources for one to thrive, then the only way to succeed is to move from a competitive mode to an annihilation one. Your company’s success now depends on the other company’s failure. When this happens, there is a clear winner and a clear loser.

Perhaps this is easier to explain using businesses simply because they aren’t actual people. We can be somewhat nonchalant about our characterizations and absolute in our thinking when we are talking about things that shouldn’t hold emotional sway with us. However, when family is involved, it takes on a whole new meaning. Imagine if you and a close family member were finally together after years of enmity between you. You are looking forward to the future together and then realize that you can’t stay together because if you do, one of you will end up broke. There’s not enough land or money for you both to prosper. What would you do?

Most likely, you would respond with something like “we’ll figure it out…” or “there must be a way”. Perhaps you’ll try to consider some sort of mutual partnership. You’ll try to do anything except the smart thing because this is about family, right? It’s difficult to make a decision that would actually be best for the family when the peripheral consequence of separation is so obvious.

I’ve thought about this a lot before concerning churches. I grew up in a very different area from where I currently serve, but both places have something unique in common. All of the churches are grouped in the same area. They are literally in competition with each other. The problem is not just that it causes many of them to struggle, but rather that it distracts them from Kingdom building. Each church is so focused on growth within the body that very few resources are set aside for taking the gospel out to people who don’t have it.

A philosophy of divide and conquer would be more appropriate in the church today. If we were somewhat more strategic, I believe our method of growth would naturally be to introduce new people to Jesus, not introduce a new church to believers.

I do know that was a bit of a rant, so let me move on to explain what I think is necessary for this to happen. It’s so easy to point out a problem without offering a solution. To solve this problem, someone needs to display great humility. Esau displayed a certain kind of virtue by moving his family away. Reminiscent of his ancestor, Abraham, who deferred to Lot when choosing where each would settle, Esau, whose original birthright was stolen by Jacob, makes himself subject to his brother, and leaves the promised land for him to prosper in. This was an incredibly selfless act and an act of true love. Esau models for us that no matter what hurt someone else has caused you, your response is what is important, and your response can allow both of you to prosper. Here’s the catch though: that same humble heart has to be without malice as well, as you need to have the desire for the other person to prosper.

How do we develop an attitude like Esau’s? How does he get to this place in his life where he runs out to meet the one who betrayed him, kisses his neck and then leaves the land they settle in so that one can enjoy it? My only answer is that this only happens when we fix our eyes on Jesus, a man of sorrows who died for those who wronged and betrayed him.

Genesis 35 (50 Days – Day Thirty Five)

If you fall off of a horse, the idea is to get right back on, right? Sounds almost easy, but I’ve actually fallen off of a horse at top-speed, and let me tell you the only reason I got back on was pride. There were people watching me, and I wanted to look tough. It’s much harder to get back on the horse when God’s the only one watching. We know he is forgiving and that he must understand. However, we must also know that he wants to see us ride again.

Jacob has certainly had some tough times and just when you think you’re seeing a glimpse of change in his life, he falls even harder than before. In fact, there is only one thing that is consistent in Jacob’s life with God…God himself. God continues to literally reveal himself to him. No matter what Jacob’s done, God’s not done. He has a purpose for Jacob’s life and it will be realized.

Jacob comes once again to this place called Bethel. Guess what? That’s not it’s real name. The real name of the city is Luz, but Jacob calls it Bethel. Why? Well, for starters, this is where God has repeatedly revealed himself to Jacob. It started during a time of shame, when Jacob had to leave his family for fear of his brother’s wrath…

Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house… – Genesis 28:18-22

The word “Bethel” means “House of God”. Notice that he starts his journey by laying a stone, which he calls a pillar. A pillar is but the start of a mighty building, and ever since then God has been building Jacob’s faith one stone at a time. Every time he fell, God was there to help him up again and each time he was adding another stone to structure he was building in Jacob. God is a careful, particular builder. He doesn’t rush, as he’s more concerned with the finished product than he is with the time it takes to get there.

Think I’m being too metaphorical? Was he really just marking a place he’d come back to later? I don’t think so. If he did, he’d come back and simply find that stone again. Instead, he lays another stone, or at least many stones to form an altar. This is what Jacob does when he meets God. He builds an altar every time to signify the very name that he gives this particular place – the House of God. What is the house of God? I would suggest this. It’s not a physical place. I say this because if Jacob had indeed found the place where God was, why would he ever leave? He did leave. He didn’t stay in “Bethel”…or did he? It is my belief that Jacob had stumbled on a truth that the Psalmist David would soon put to music in the 23rd Psalm – “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me, and I will dwell in house of God forever”.

If something follows you then you are moving. If you’re moving, you’re not dwelling anywhere, at least not in the physical sense. The House of God not a specific place, but any place where Jacob encounters God. In fact, it’s this truth that carries Jacob throughout his life and it can do the same for you. Imagine, being outside the safe walls of your church and yet having the confidence that God is ever-present wherever you are. You don’t need a building or place of worship to meet with him. The place where you stand is holy ground!

The house of God is where God is, and it’s where God does his best work in our lives. Jacob is laying stones every time he meets with God, both physically (as he builds each altar) and more importantly, spiritually. God is in effect building in Jacob his own temple or dwelling place, and he won’t stop until he’s done.

I remember a song that I used to sing when I was a child…I won’t quote it directly as I don’t want to diminish the weight of the message with children’s rhymes, but the essence of the song is this: God took just a week to make the entire universe, and yet he’s not even finished with me yet. He’s still working on me. He’s still chiseling off the rough edges, smoothing out the bumps. He’s taking his time…why? Because I’m his masterpiece. A work of art that he wants to enjoy forever.

Oh, how he loves us.

Genesis 34 (50 Days – Day Thirty Four)

Sin will always play on our basic human tendencies. We already have the desire somewhere deep in our hearts to go there. The enemy just needs to tempt us. This why, by the way, that Jesus could be “tempted” and yet not sin. There was simply no hint of sin anywhere in his soul. There was no foothold for the enemy, nothing he could sink his teeth into.

When we consider the lives, mistakes, faithfulness and failures of the patriarchs, it can sometimes be very difficult to see who is in the right and who is in the wrong. In fact, as I’m sure you’ve realized by now, it’s almost always that way. No one is untainted by the experience. No one has been born any different – at least not in the sense of a propensity to sin. Everyone has it in them. Everyone is capable of a certain level of poor judgment and disobedience.

When we read the horrible story of the rape of Dinah, we can all probably relate on some level to both Jacob and his sons. You may find that you relate to one more than the other and that’s fine. That is most likely a product of your personality and experiences. But here’s the question: who was right? Or, in the discussions that follow, who made the better argument?

Let’s review the facts: Dinah is raped and then her attacker’s father comes to Jacob with a request that she be released to his son as his wife. A generous offer is made to Jacob, after which his sons devise a plan – actually, it’s more of a scheme – and using their deception they manage to kill every man in the city and take the women and children with them.

Afterward, a confrontation ensues between Jacob and his sons. Jacob is furious, as his son’s actions have put him and his family at risk. The sons argue that they should not tolerate their women being treated like that. Both are right, and both are terribly wrong.

Jacob is older and knows something his sons don’t. Our actions always affect other people. If we so quickly take revenge when someone wrongs us, the consequences could be even further pain suffered by the people we love. This is Jacob’s point, not that his own life might be in jeopardy but “I and my household…”. Having said that, Jacob is most likely just too quick to get along. He will always have that self-preservative tendency  to look out for number one. In his past, he has done this at the expense of his character, and perhaps this would have been much of the same had his sons not intervened.

Levi and Simeon on the other hand, were indeed too reckless in their behavior. Theirs was an overreaction to say the least. It was simply not a proportional response. Their sister was defiled, so every mother, daughter, sister and wife in town would pay by losing their son, father, brother and husband. Every man they had ever known would be wiped out in a single day. Would that really right the wrong that had been done to Dinah? But…would it have been better to give her over to attacker to be his wife? After all, when a man is bold enough after this act to say “just name your price”, what he’s really saying is “I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer”.

I believe the problem is that the more we experience the ways of the world without a healthy dose of God’s Word to counteract its effect, the more worldly we become. The loftier idea of morality (knowing right from wrong) soon becomes something else called moral conviction (what feels right or wrong), which is another term for personal morals (I decide what is wrong), which is another way of saying I make up my own rules (my way is right). In this alternate reality, we tend to justify everything that we do for one reason or another. What some might point out as a misstep in our lives can easily be explained if they truly knew our side of the story.

What we must remember is that sin will always play on our basic human tendencies. If it feels right, don’t do anything. This isn’t about feelings. There are moral absolutes, and though I have certainly failed and not lived up to the principles that I claim to have, I know this after coming out the other side: it is never wrong to do right. It is never right to do wrong. My best advice? Listen to your conscience. If you find yourself in one of those situations where your morals are questioned, bail out immediately on the side of doing what you know is right. Pick up the pieces of whatever happens next afterward. Honest mistakes can be corrected. You can grow and learn from them. However, when we err on the side of diplomacy – and in doing so compromise our morals even the slightest – we do something to our soul that is more permanent than we’d like to believe. Don’t corrupt your soul, feed it. Make an appointment to feed on God’s Word today and ask him to help you fight the good fight.

Genesis 33 (50 Days – Day Thirty Three)

Have you ever had a relationship fall apart in a big way only to be restored again? I’m talking about the kind of “falling-out” that results in years of separation from and perhaps hostility toward each other? What was it like when you were able to amend the relationship? Was there a huge wait lifted off your shoulders or did it feel more like you were getting “past” something. Did you feel like something was finally behind you or did you look forward to future? Perhaps you wondered “why didn’t I do that sooner.”

Whatever the case might be, few of us have experienced this kind of thing on the level that Jacob and Esau had. If you’ve had difficult relationships in the past, perhaps you’ve learned some of the same things I have – for example, that the problem is magnified when it’s family, and that was certainly the case with these two brothers. All the typical sibling rivalries are certainly compounded by the jealousy that inevitably comes when the parents so obviously favor one child over the other.

Of course there’s the fact that dispute was also about money. How many families and friends have been driven apart by a dispute over finances? We tend to just each other’s character by how we spend our money and lending money to family or friends is always a recipe for disaster. Is it any wonder that such a sharp wedge was driven between Jacob and Esau when Jacob basically stole Esau’s entire inheritance?

How about the fact that in spite of the shortcomings of his character, Jacob went on to prosper? We hate to see the people that wronged us end up so happy don’t we? Wouldn’t we rather they live out their days in sorrow for what they have done to us?

If you can’t relate on some level to the disagreement between Jacob and Esau then you should count yourself fortunate. I don’t believe, however, that many of us could claim to have escaped this particular tragedy. In fact, it’s all too prevalent in families and in churches. After all, a church is a family and familiarity breeds contempt whether last names are shared or not. We are surrounded by broken relationships and past regrets. They haunt our memories and rob our joy. We are reminded of them by Satan on a daily basis. They cause us stress and can literally make it difficult to breathe.

I can’t imagine the relief, joy and peace that Jacob must have felt as his brother Esau came running toward him and wrapped his arms around his neck. For the believer, this moment can be extra sweet as we believe that while God has been working on us through a torn relationship, he has also had his hand on the other person and has been leading them toward reconciliation as well.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus, the lamb, says “Behold I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Actually what is really conveyed there is that he is making all things new again. In other words, he is fixing what is broken. It is an acknowledgment that he has the power to restore things to the way they should be because he’s the one who made them in the first place.

Only God has this power. That is why after this amazing turn of events, Jacob builds and altar and calls it El Elohe Israel, which means “The Mighty God of Israel”. Wouldn’t you like to do the same? Wouldn’t you like to celebrate God’s power in putting right what was wrong? If so, start with this – forgive those who have wronged you, ask forgiveness from those you have wronged and let God do the rest.

God designed you to be unique. He also designed you to live in community with others who are unique in their own right. The goal is not for us to be, act or think the same; the goal is that we can simply bow down and worship the same God.

Genesis 32 (50 Days – Day Thirty Two)

Among the adjectives we have used to describe Jacob, we can now add two more to the list.

First, he finally achieved ultimate humility. It is no small thing that the same man who hatched various schemes to achieve wealth only to lose it all and have to fight for it now attaches that success to God and not his own planning. As Jacob says,

I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps.

– Genesis 32:10

For what it’s worth, Jacob finally matured and is now practically an example of what it means to follow God. However, his humility does not define him completely. God makes us all unique. We each have differing skills, strengths and personality. God designed us and we must assume that his purpose in doing so was to use our individuality for his glory.

So it is amidst this truth that we find another adjective to describe Jacob…scrappy. Jacob is a fighter. He doesn’t even know how to spell the word ‘quit’ let alone have any personal acquaintance with its nature. He served 7 years in the house of his father in law so he could marry Rachel, and when Laban cheated on it, he served another 7. He will not quit if he feels passionately about something and he was certainly passionate about Rachel. When I say that Jacob won’t quit, I’m not saying that he merely gets up after each hit. He actually gets up and has a plan in place that he immediately executes each time.

It’s true that Jacob sometimes receives direct word from God about what he should do. It’s also true that many (if not most) times we should wait on God to reveal a plan to us. However there are some times, as was the case with Peter, where God’s call to faith requires us to simply get out of the boat and start walking on the water. Do you understand the metaphor of walking on water? Have you ever tried to actually do it? It’s somewhat unstable isn’t it? At best, we would be completely unsure of our footing if we were ever asked by Jesus to walk on water. In those moments the only thing that we know is where Jesus is. Our eyes have to be fixed on him, because if we were to look at the path that we were on, we’d freak out. The sight of him is the only way that any of it could possibly make sense.

Jacob only knows that God has made a covenant with him. He prays and asks God to honor that covenant. In a sense, Jacob is not asking, but rather confirming with God that because of that covenant he will continue walking forward even though the path in front of him (concerning Esau) seems sure to end in death. You see, he could have gone somewhere else and settled down. He could have avoided his brother forever. But Jacob knew that he must inhabit the land of his forefathers, because that’s what God told him to do.

I like to think that the wrestling match at the end of the chapter is more about God reminding Jacob of his strength rather than testing his resolve. I don’t think that God actually needed that fight to understand Jacob’s capacity. Rather, perhaps during a night when Jacob was unsure of himself, God reminded Jacob that he still had a lot of fight left in him. It worked too, as Jacob, who only a day earlier was humbly asking God to simply honor a covenant he already made, was now asking boldly asking God to bless him. The humility was still there, as Jacob acknowledges that his life was spared and not that he won the fight (v. 30). But there is strength as well. Jacob has been restored and reminded of who he truly is. The guy who never gives up. It’s part of Jacob’s design that God will continue to use for his purposes.

We can take a lot from this story and it will reach each of us on different levels because we’re all made different. We need not be afraid of our personality as God has a plan for that. God is also made strong in areas that we are weak. We shouldn’t focus on what we lack, but rather focus on this truth…whatever God’s purpose is for our lives, God designed us specifically for it.

Genesis 31 (50 Days – Day Thirty One)

I feel like I have narrative whiplash when reading this chapter. In spite of the many reasons to question Jacob’s character, the fact remains that he is God’s chosen one and I certainly expect for the unfolding story to feature God directing him in his efforts to overcome any of his adversaries. Stories make a lot more sense when there’s a clear “good guy” and a clear “bad guy”. We can then get behind the hero, identify with both his virtues and vices and cheer him on in spite of his shortcomings. In the absence of truly good “behavior”, it can be tough to know who we are supposed to cheer for in the last few chapters of Genesis and I suppose the easiest way to identify them is to simply pay attention to which one God is speaking directly to. Which one is being led by God.

Well, “Houston we have a problem”, because there seem to be 2 guys in a pretty important fight and neither seems to be selling me on why I should pull for them. Sure, Jacob seems to have been shafted by Laban lately, but Jacob’s done his share of “shafting” before. Both have family and property in the balance. And most confusing of all, God is speaking directly to both of them!

These are the kinds of stories that frustrate me…that is of course, until I meditate on it and see that this is my story. More appropriately, this is our story. Both men seem to have some valid points. Neither is perfect and their mistakes have caused each other to stop trusting the other. There is no coming to terms as neither will concede to the other. So how do they get past it? Forgiveness. After everything they’ve been through and done to each other,  Jacob and Laban realize that too much is at stake. They make a covenant and deal with it. There is some recognition on both parts, as well as plenty of affirmation to go around. They both recognize that no one is perfect, but they both serve the same God who seems to be leading them toward some kind of reconciliation.

We resemble this story much more than we know. We like to pretend that we live in a world of black and white. Perhaps this is appropriate some of the time. Certainly truth is black and white. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Every single person in the world deserves freedom. These are virtuous things and should be stated as absolutes. However, we have to be able to mature in our relationships with other people to the point where we can recognize that when it comes to conflict with each other (especially in the church) there are very few (if any) absolutes. We are never completely innocent, but are quick to say we are completely right. Anyone who has actually listened to a couple of friends tell both sides of the issue can understand that most of our division is a lot more nuanced than we’d like to let on.

The world is not black and white. Mostly, it is simply filled with people and people tend to not get along. They tend to make much of little when it comes to having something against someone else. This is especially true of the church and we tend to divide over the silliest things. This is troubling and awful, and quite simply breaks the heart of God.

Did you know that we find Jesus wept more than once in the Bible? He wept at a funeral for Lazarus (John 11:35). He wept for the city of Jerusalem when he saw it before his triumphal entry (Luke 19:41). There was another night in which the Savior’s heart was very heavy. It was his last night with his disciples. He had a lot of things on his mind, I’m sure. There was so much he had yet to tell them, but there was so little time. During his last meal with them, he looked toward heaven and prayed. Everything that was troubling him and everything he was feeling was poured out to the Father. He made mention of a few things in that prayer, but among them was a cry for unity…

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

– John 17:20-23

He could have spent the time teaching them how to organize the church, but no, he trusted us to figure that out. He could have explained in exact detail what would happen during the end times, but I’m sure he felt that would all work out in the end. No, he used his time wisely and prayed for the thing that we would need help with the most. He prayed for us to get along. He prayed for us to love each other. He prayed for this, because in his mind, the world’s reception of the gospel hinged upon it.

As I read the story of it now 2,000 years later, I am convicted. I am troubled because I wonder how much we are hindering the mission of the gospel by fighting amongst ourselves. I have to admit I thought that our country’s morality was going down the tubes because of the evilness of our culture. I have to wonder now if we are the ones responsible. I thought our nation was doomed because of unbelief. Now, I see that their unbelief is due at least in part (perhaps a very large part) to the church’s behavior. Not individual clean living, but rather communal behavior. We simply do not do this whole unity thing very well.

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

– Brennan Manning

It’s an often-used quote that I feel is really applicable to this subject. I wonder if the reverse can be true? Can the greatest revival and response to the gospel be caused by a church full of imperfect people who love each other perfectly? If we dedicated ourselves to unity, would we see God’s spirit poured out on the world in such a way that we’d give Pentecost a run for its money? What I wouldn’t give to see that day in my time. It starts with me. It starts with you. God make us one.

Genesis 30 (50 Days – Day Thirty)

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I would suppose the easier thing to write about in this chapter would be that of Rachel and Leah making the same mistake that their grandmother, Sarai (later called Sarah) made. They both at times battled seasons where they were unable to conceive and bear children. I know firsthand from friends and family how troubling this can be for woman. Even in today’s age of smaller families and more work outside the home for women, a woman finds herself incomplete if she is unable to have her own children.

The theme of course that runs generationally in these women’s lives is that it can be awfully hard to trust God when we want something so badly. We feel we need to try to do everything we can, to have a plan, to not give up, but to keep working at it. The problem with that of course, is that if God has different plans for us then we are almost sure to miss out on them. For example, what if God wanted us to fill our home with other children that have none of their own? What if he wanted us to sacrifice the idea of our own flesh and blood for someone else who has no family at all?

If the stories of the patriarchs have one central theme, it would have to be faith.

That brings me to Jacob, and this very odd, some would even say weird, almost hippy-style breeding of his flock and how he became a man of faith.

By now I’m sure you’ve picked up on the fact that Jacob is a bit of a heel. Of course he is. That’s what his name suggests. He is a bit of a scheister, a con-artist even, and seems to have no moral conscience when it comes to stealing from others. Sure, his father and grandfather had their moments and certainly no one is perfect. However, Jacob seems to have a major character flaw here and doesn’t seem like one who can be trusted.

I personally feel that way about Jacob and when reading about his life, I can’t help but wish that we had a more reputable role-model in him. However, out of submission to God’s Word, I have forced myself to reflect a bit more on the facts of his life, and I know that I can’t overlook this one redeeming quality: he stayed in the home of his father-in-law for an awfully long time and I’m not sure that didn’t have any other choice. He wasn’t there under threat, and he had certainly served past his “contractual” obligation by now. He seems to exhibit a similar quality to his grandfather, Abraham. Remember when Lot and Abraham separated? He gave Lot the first choice of where he would settle and Abraham took whatever was left over. He trusted in God’s providence and provision. Jacob, by the same token does something similar here when Lot insists that he stay longer. He could have said no, so without looking over his faults let’s give credit where credit is due. Jacob respected his father-in-law.

Of course he feels that it’s time to start increasing his own territory so that he can leave an inheritance for his children’s children. What follows is a bit of mystery that we are simply left to speculate about. He tells Laban he will stay if he can have all of the speckled and striped animals in Laban’s flock. He even agrees to watch Laban’s flock and vows to keep only the offspring of the speckly-striped troupe that are his. Laban agrees and gives Jacob the first few animals of his very own flock. Jacob then takes branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and peels strips of bark off of them in a striped pattern. He set these branches near the watering troughs whenever the stronger of his flock were in heat. As a result, they gave birth to offspring that was strong and marked with spots and stripes. His flock multiplied greatly because of this.

Some have suggested that Jacob was a master breeder and there was a scientific reason for what happened. I personally think that has the possibility of robbing us of the true lesson we can take from Jacob’s life. I believe that Jacob’s rather bizarre tactics were spirit-led. I believe that in spite of Jacob’s circumstances, God leads Jacob and gives him special instruction. When Jacob listens, God rewards his obedience by blessing him financially.

I would never want to suggest that we shouldn’t be decent moral people. We are instructed in God’s Word to treat others better than ourselves, and Jacob is a total failure on this front many times. However, I can’t help but ponder this reality: God seems to look more favorably on obedience than simple moral behavior. Now I know what you may be thinking, “isn’t moral behavior obedient as well?” Yes of course. Moral behavior comes from obeying the instruction for living found in God’s Word. We are told how to behave and a heart fully surrendered will exhibit certain fruit in his or her life. There is a different kind of obedience found here though…that of being obedient to something unseen.

Every great hero of faith was given the opportunity to trust God when it didn’t seem like a sensible choice. Noah was challenged to build a gigantic boat to save creation from a world-wide flood. Abraham was challenged to offer his own son as a sacrifice to God. Later, Moses would stand up to an entire nation. Daniel would be challenged to disobey the king’s command not to worship God. David fought the giant. The disciples left their jobs and their families. Paul turned his back on the Pharisees. In all of these stories, following God seemed destined for hardship, and yet these mighty faith warriors were all rewarded for stepping out when the path forward was unclear. Worse, it actually seemed clear that they were stepping off of a cliff only to fall to their end.

Have you ever felt challenged to really step out in faith? Not just to live a life worthy of your calling, but rather to follow a particular calling? How did you respond? If I could be real for just a moment, let me confess that I’ve had this happen to me in the last couple of years and while I started out well, I flamed out and shrunk back to what was comfortable as soon as the going got tough. I must confess, I’d really like a do-over.

Luckily for me, I serve a God of second-chances. My prayer today is that if I am given a chance again to follow Jesus that I will fear being out of his will more than the unknown. I want an adventure – the kind that takes place on the road less traveled walking hand in hand with my Savior.

Genesis 29 (50 Days – Day Twenty Nine)

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God has a way of using the meek and mild to accomplish his purposes. This is a theme that exists throughout the scriptures and many of the most important moments in God’s unfolding story of man are accomplished by those who are meek in spirit.

John the Baptist was a sort of messenger who came on the scene to “prepare the way” for Christ. He preached to crowds that they should “Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” He started to gather a following and probably had every reason to be somewhat puffed up. After all, he was the leader of this somewhat organic movement. Before “Occupy Wall Street” there was “Occupy the Holy Land” and John was it’s leader for a time. Whatever following that continued to pick up steam behind Jesus certainly got its start with John. So great was his influence that Herod had him killed. Yet, John wore this banner lightly, and when Jesus fame was brought to him he simply stated that “he must become greater and greater and I must become less and less. In fact, his message to the people was this…

After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. – Mark 1:7

There was no doubt in John’s mind who the real star was, and when that light began to shine, he quietly faded to allow its full brilliance be on display. John was certainly the epitome of humility and God used him mightily.

During a time when the Jews were in great danger, Esther and her cousin Mordecai were given placement in the Persian king’s palace. They had influence and certainly had the king’s ear. When the king’s right-hand man Haman showed a genuine dislike for Mordecai, he devised a plan to get rid of all the Jews and basically tricked the king into signing it into law. You would think they would have immediately gone to the king to put a stop to it. However, we assume that through God’s providence they bit their tongues until just the right time. When they did approach the king, it was with respect and not demanding. As a result, not only was Haman hanged and the Jews saved, but Mordecai was given the highest office in the land next to the king, and at the height of the Persian empire, which was in control of the land where the Jews lived, God had placed two of his most humble people right beside the king so as to ensure the survival of the Jewish nation.

Joseph also, was one who had a quiet manner about him. He was slow to speak and quick to listen. He was betrayed by his brothers, framed by a woman and spent time imprisoned. Yet he never turned his back on God and God raised him up to do a mighty work. Like Mordecai, he rose from that humility to a position as the king’s right-hand man and led the Jewish nation before it was a nation.

Interestingly enough, Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin, of course, was Joseph’s younger brother. He was known for his humility as well, being the youngest of 12 brothers. In fact, both Joseph and Benjamin learned humility from their mother. Their mother, was Rachel, the chosen wife of Jacob.

Rachel was not the eldest daughter. We see her first come on the scene as a shepherdess. Why was a woman tending to Laban’s flock? Laban had sons, but perhaps they were not old enough yet. Leah was the eldest, but she couldn’t do it on account of her vision problems. Rachel took it upon herself as her duty. In many ways she stepped up when Leah could not.

However, when Jacob falls in love with her and asks for her hand, her father tricks Jacob into first marrying Leah. No doubt Rachel would have known about the deception as it’s hard to keep those kinds of marriage celebrations secret in such a small town. Yet, she does not object. She accepts her place as the younger sister, even though she’s been taking on the responsibilities of the firstborn. Rachel’s humility seems almost foolish doesn’t it? We read that story and practically beg her to stand up for herself. However, her humility is used mightily by God as well.

I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan. At it’s heart, the story is about how even the most insignificant person can change the world. Delving deeper, we find that sometimes the people who make the biggest difference have no idea at the time. They are simply living their lives guided by their moral values. In the case of Bilbo Baggins, when ultimately faced with the chance to kill Gollum, the creature who tried to kill him earlier, he looked on Gollum with pity, and that pity stayed his hand. That’s important when considering the providential undertones in the book. If Gollum hadn’t lived, then the final scene in the book would not have happened and the enemy wouldn’t have been defeated. This is why Gandalf is prompted to say…

“The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.” – Gandalf the Grey

The bottom line is this: if things didn’t happen the way that they did, then perhaps Joseph wouldn’t have had 10 older brothers. There would then be no one to be jealous of his favor in Jacob’s eye. There would be no selling of him as a slave and no coming to Egypt. These are necessary events, not just for the life of Joseph but for the entire nation. After all, it is Joseph who makes the wise plans to prepare for the years of famine that were to come. Had it not been for him, the nation would have starved to death, and this includes Jacob himself. It was largely Rachel’s humility that set these things in motion, and once again God’s providence is on display in all its glory. He takes the mistakes of some to bring about the events necessary for his chosen people to accomplish his purposes here on earth.

Solomon was given the opportunity to ask for anything he desired and he chose wisdom. It made sense as he was the leader of the nation. For me, at this time, I choose humility. I pray that I can have the kind of humility that God has used for thousands of years to do his greatest work, so that through me he might be glorified.