Genesis 28 (50 Days – Day Twenty Eight)

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There is a very interesting bit of business mentioned here about how God wants his people to live with their eyes fixed upon his promise. Isaac, after following his wife’s advice, decides to bless Jacob and send him on his way. Again, I do not believe it was God honoring for Jacob to deceive his father, but as we’ve said all along God uses our failures to bring about his purposes in our lives. Here is Isaac’s blessing to Jacob…

“May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.”
– Genesis 28:3-4

Did you catch that? His hope for Jacob’s future is that he would come to take possession of the land as a foreigner. You see, Abraham didn’t grow up in the land. He moved their and took possession, as a gift from God. God, through providence and provision, gave the land to him. Isaac again settled in the land as a foreigner. However, Jacob grew up there. In that sense, he would be the heir to it. He would receive it through his birthright.

The problem is that the promised land would become the symbol for the ultimate riches that God will deliver to all his sons and daughters. The promised land, was indeed received through “promise” and not property rights. Jacob would become one of the 3 partriarchs most often mentioned when referring to the God who would make good on his promise. The “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” had promised and delivered the land to both Abraham and Isaac, but if Jacob was to be the standard-bearer for the God who fulfills his promises, he too needed to have his own experience of this.

God uses this time in Jacob’s life in a mighty way, and we can learn a lot about how we ought to live from it. True, we can learn that God delivers on his promises and in fact wants us to live a life where we actually experience what it means to live by faith. For Jacob, God has him abandon the land that would be rightfully his so that he will recognize God’s provision when he reclaims the land. This experience will grow Jacob’s faith immeasurably.

However, there’s a second component to Jacob’s exile that is more fully understand in its New Testament application: that of living in the land as a foreigner. Hebrews summarizes the entire generational story in a few short sentences…

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
– Hebrews 11:8-10

God promised the land to Abraham and his seed. However, they recognized that for a time, many generations in fact, they would prosper but not truly possess the land. They were in a period of waiting and relying on God, constantly looking forward and having faith that he would deliver them. During that time they lived in tents or tabernacles which is really to say that they lived in temporary shelters, awaiting a time when their permanent residency would be fulfilled.

This is how we are to live today. We are to be constantly recognizing that our current place in this world is temporary. In fact our bodies, like tents, are temporary. Paul actually refers to our bodies as “tents” and expresses the same sentiment of temporary living…

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
– 2 Corinthians 5:1

We look forward to a day when God will deliver us and clothe us in perfection. We will inherit the true spiritual home that was promised to the descendants of Abraham. Until that day, we are strangers living in a foreign land, and we must live as though we don’t belong to it. Our challenge is to not conform to the pattern of this world, but live lives worthy of the calling. Peter expressed it this way…

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
– 1 Peter 2:11-12

Living “called out” lives, different from the world around us, glorifies God. It signals to both the world and to each other (in the church) that another kingdom exists, the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the proof of that is found in the foreigners, the sojourners who live in this world, but are not of this world.

Genesis 27 (50 Days – Day Twenty Seven)

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It gets easier to sin the more you do it.

Let me clarify in case you wonder what I mean by ‘easier’. I mean that there is less conviction or guilt with each occurrence and therefore we find it it ‘easier’ to continue in our behavior.

Perhaps the most tangible example I can give is that of lying. Actually, we tend to not think of the sort of lying that I’m talking about as ‘lying’ per se. Perhaps we would prefer the term ‘fibbing’. A moment where perhaps we don’t tell the whole truth. I call them snowball lies myself. Snowball lies start out with something small. I say ‘small’ because they usually feel either inconsequential or even more appropriate than telling the full truth.

For example, perhaps your wife has had a rough day when she comes home. The last thing you want to do is is show her the unexpected bill that came in the mail that day. After all, the bill will be there tomorrow and will have different meaning for her after a good night’s sleep. Seems harmless right? Okay, so what happens if she asks if you and the family can go out for dinner that night instead of cooking, and you know your budget is tight enough that the bill changes the answer to that question? What do you do then?

I would suggest that the minute your wife comes home and you think to tell her about the bill and don’t for the reason already given, you have sold out. You’ve sold out to putting one value over another. You’ve convinced yourself that because you love your wife and want to make her happy, there are times when it is appropriate to hide things from her. Make no mistake, if you know about it and she doesn’t, you’re hiding it from her. You have decided that sometimes happiness is more important than honesty in a marriage.

Okay so I know that last bit sounds harsh. Of course you’re not trying to intentionally deceive your wife. On the contrary, you feel you are caring for her the best way that you know how and I guess that’s the point that I’m trying to make: Snowball lies will never appear like real lies and will even resonate as being the most ‘moral’ option at times. This is why they have the potential to become like a snowball rolling down the hill, picking up size and speed over time.

Rebekah had this problem. She believed Jacob to be the chosen one. Let’s go ahead and give her that one for a moment. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Jacob was the one whom God wanted to receive Isaac’s blessing. She knew this and also knew that Isaac couldn’t help but love Esau more. Isaac was, in her mind, blinded from seeing what God wanted because of his partiality toward Esau. So what does she do? She ‘helps’ him make the right decision.

In her mind, this is justified. Not only is Isaac not able to see his error, but as his wife, it is actually her responsibility to correct him. So there she is – convinced that action must be taken. It’s important enough that it needs to be done by any means necessary, so she convinces Jacob to trick Isaac into giving him the blessing instead. Jacob has some objections at first, but Rebekah is convicted and ready to take responsibility if it goes wrong…

But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice… – Genesis 27:11-13

Of course, this is pure nonsense. How can she take responsibility? Everyone involved is old enough to know that we’re all responsible for our own actions. When Esau finds out, it causes such a family uproar that it is Jacob, not Rebekah, who has to flee at once and live somewhere else. Meanwhile, the snowball is still growing, and Rebekah has to explain why Isaac has left. She blames it on the selection of women among whom they live. She points out the wisdom of Isaac living somewhere else. She probably isn’t even thinking of this as a cover-up at this point. She is actually probably convinced now that it truly is the best thing for Jacob. “Perhaps” she thinks to herself, “Perhaps this whole thing went wrong because God wanted Jacob to leave and this was the way he chose to orchestrate its happening.”

You see, in the end snowball lies don’t just get us off track, they can convince us that the track we’re on is still the right one. The Bible tells us that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). However, we should understand that to mean that God works in spite of our mistakes, not that God wants us to make them so he can work through them. In other words, God can be glorified in spite of our sin, but we never glorify him when we sin.

In our lives, we will have many opportunities to make clear choices about right and wrong. However, we will daily have many more choices that seem to be slightly more nuanced because of their circumstances. It’s not just lying, it’s the everyday things that we all struggle with. Paul explains a few of these things to the churches…

For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. – 2 Corinthians 12:20

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. – Ephesians 5:4

Let’s not sacrifice our moral integrity on the altar of pragmatism and ‘being real’. Let’s not condition ourselves to be immune to conviction by a pattern of behavior that weakens its effect. Let’s be children of light who walk convinced of a higher calling.

Genesis 26 (50 Days – Day Twenty Six)

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The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That’s a bit of a joke we tell whenever someone’s kids do something that reminds us of our parents. Typically this is more along the lines of some idiosyncratic behavior if mentioned out loud, but it is a phrase also used under one’s breath when a particular vice seems to have been passed down from the parents.

However, if we consider the fullness of this horticultural (yes, I just used that word) metaphor, we can find ourselves tremendously challenged by it. Every piece of fruit is an extension of it’s parent. It may blossom into it’s own one day, but all of it’s life-giving genetic code was provided by its parent. This goes beyond genes though, doesn’t it? If we are to draw any human conclusions from this analogy, we need to recognize that the circumstances surrounding the apple’s upbringing greatly affect it as well. What kind of weather was common at the time? Did it get enough water? Did it’s parent struggle through hard times (like drought)? Was it barren for one or more seasons as a result? In the end, was the apple tree able to provide the kind of nourishment that an apple needs to flourish on it’s own?

That rather long-winded introduction was simply to setup the following: Isaac was a product of his father’s upbringing. He apparently learned a lot from dear old dad. He learned how to cultivate the ground. He learned how to dig for water in an otherwise desert land. He learned commerce. He learned how to coexist with others in the same land. He learned how to put down roots and make a place a home. He learned how to love a woman. He learned how to fear God.

Of course, we don’t just pass on good things to our children. One only needs to listen to “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin to be reminded of the negative impact we can have on our kids when our priorities are in the wrong place. In Abraham’s life, he made a few mistakes of his own and Isaac didn’t exactly learn from them. Rather, he fell into the same kinds of traps.

In today’s modern world, a person who grew up in an abusive home is far more likely to abuse their spouse. Alcoholism is almost assuredly generational, and we tend to go the same churches and vote for the same political parties as our parents did. For guys especially (though much of the same is true for women), we will find that our children will speak to our wives the way that we do. They will speak to their children the way that we speak to them. Our conduct in the home has lasting, generational results.

Isaac found himself in the same land, under the same king, with the same circumstances as his father. As he settled in Gehar where King Abimelech still reigned, he felt he could be in jeopardy because of the beauty of his wife. Never mind that it was God who told him to stay put; Isaac, like so many of us, after hearing from God and following his direction then grabs the reigns at the first sign of trouble. He, like his father before him, had an achilles heel when it came to trusting God with his safety in a foreign land.

“When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister,’ for he feared to say, ‘My wife,’ thinking, ‘lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,’ because she was attractive in appearance.” – Genesis 26:7

Where do you think he learned this trick anyway? Of course from his father. What we are not told is whether or not Abraham introduced the concept to him as a viable tactic. Abraham should have learned from his mistake after making it the last time, but in the midst of chaos, we all tend to run back toward what we feel is most comfortable and not what is right.

No, we can’t say what Abraham taught his son about this issue, and certainly Isaac made up his own mind in absence of his father. What we can rejoice in however is that in spite of it all, Isaac’s life was not defined by this incident. This would not be a referendum on Abraham’s parenthood. On the contrary, Isaac shows much integrity after being asked to leave by the king. He digs a well that belonged to his father, but the people say he does not own the rights to it. Wanting to be above reproach, he digs again and gets the same response. He moves on again and this time, there are no objections. He showed incredible patience in waiting on the Lord through this ordeal and as a result, his riches flourished. The king eventually comes to make a pact with Isaac. The same pact he made with his father, Abraham.

Apparently the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so let’s determine that if this saying is ever used of us, it will be for our children’s victories and not their defeats. Let’s take that as a challenge and not cower away and stop trying just because we’ve made some mistakes. Our kids lives are bigger than a couple of bad decisions. Let’s grow, tall and mighty in spite of our circumstances. Don’t use them as an excuse. Let’s be branches that are attached to the true vine so that we can provide the kind of nourishment that our kids need to develop strong character, moral values and a love for God.

Genesis 25 (50 Days – Day Twenty Five)

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A theme that has been creeping up as we continue through the book of Genesis is that of God’s providence. In today’s doctrinal circles, this can be somewhat of a point of contention. If God is sovereign, then how much free choice can we really have? Wouldn’t any of us having any free will limit the total sovereignty of God on some level? However inconsequential our lives may be, absolute sovereignty means just that: every single thing in total submission. Rather than continue to avoid the issue, we are afforded the opportunity to look at it here in a different light – that of the rights of inheritance.

When one reads the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and sees what we would consider peculiar behavior for a human being, we must understand that the people in the Bible are living at a different time and in a different culture. It can be difficult for us to relate to these people, when reading about how they treat their children and how some are blessed and others seem to be lo0ked over. Are they really playing favorites? Is love for our children not a universal value that spans culture and history? I would say it is and would also say that this is not contradicted in the Bible.

We have to imagine a culture where your inheritance was typically given to the firstborn. When that child was born, they became the target of your influence, education and affection. This was not because you necessarily like them more than your other children, however. This was because as firstborn and heir to your inheritance, you want to make sure that you teach them how to run it wisely.

In a sense, Abraham’s focus on Isaac at the expense of his other children is really in the regions best interest. Do you remember how Abraham treated the people that he worked for earlier? He understood that his wealth was the source from which everyone around him was sustained. He had a responsibility to them as well. Abraham comes off of the pages of Genesis as an incredibly generous benefactor, full of a sense of responsibility that surely came with the wealth that he possessed.

As Abraham grew older and looked around at the people who depended on him. He needed to provide a way for everyone. He did this by choosing to invest in Isaac. He circumcised him to symbolize a covenant between himself and God. He was willing to sacrifice him to show his faithfulness to God in all things. When his mother died, Abraham took great care to choose just the right woman for Isaac so that he would have a life companion, just as his father did. I’m sure he poured into Isaac and reminded him of where they had come from. He would have shared of his successes and his failures. He made Isaac his chosen one, not to play favorites, but for the good of all the people.

What gets lost in the discussion of God’s right to sovereignty is his purpose. It is fact that only God is God. He alone made the universe and everything in it. He gets to make all the rules. He has the God-given right to do so. God can choose to favor one group of people over another. In fact, he does. He sets apart the Jewish nation and displays his mercy toward them and showers his blessing upon them. If you look at the course of human history, the Jewish nation was as sinful as any other nation that existed at any given time. Yet he deliberately chooses to bless them, deliver them from their enemies, increase their territory and refer to them as his chosen people.

At this point, some would ask, “why?” and in response, some reform-doctrine christians might suggest “it doesn’t matter…” or even that it is inappropriate to question God as his purposes are higher than ours. I love my reform friends but it is important to ask why, especially when considering God’s sovereign choice because it is the heart of the Bible.

Much like Abraham chose Isaac for a greater purpose than just playing favorites, God had a special purpose in choosing the nation of Israel. While at first it may seem that he simply favors one nation over the rest of the world, out of this nation he would deliver a Messiah who would come to save the whole world.

A study of God’s sovereign will is important to understanding the lengths to which God will go to redeem the one he loves. It speaks of his foreknowledge, wisdom and compassion in a way that would leave any understanding of them incomplete without it. Today, bask in the glow that God’s plan for your salvation has been an eternity in the making. By choosing Israel, he was choosing you.

Genesis 24 (50 Days – Day Twenty Four)

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I have meditated on the story of Isaac and Rebekah for a while and find myself no closer to picking a theme to write about. I’m simply torn between two ideas. A part of me wants to remain in the themes that I’ve written about elsewhere in this book and the other part is thinking just as a father.

On the one hand, you have here another amazing story of faith in God’s providence and absolute abandon to the idea that he will provide a way. Abraham’s servant heads back to Abraham’s home country to find a wife for his son…but how do you do that? How do you convince a father, let alone a mother to let one of their daughters go with some stranger to be married in a foreign land to someone they don’t know? Of course Abraham’s servant isn’t worried about that. Do you know why? Because those are just details. He has his priorities in order and knows that the most important decision is choosing the right girl.

I can certainly learn something from that as I typically know what the priority is at first, but it is quickly lost as my head starts swimming with questions of “but how is it going to happen?” So I try to make it happen. For example, I could be faced with a call from God to go somewhere and be a missionary. Perhaps God might even appear to me in a burning bush and say “I want you to take my gospel to another country.” However, what happens once the flame goes out and the bush is no longer talking to me while I’m left with my thoughts? What am I thinking? How am I going to live? How are my kids going to get education? How do I keep my family safe? I ask dozens of questions about my future but fail to ask the most important one: where does God want me to go?

If you can relate to that, and want to know how to get out of that kind of habitual response to the call of God, then perhaps I can help by delivering some truth: You will never be able to focus on where God is calling you until you learn to trust Him with the details. We should simply be asking “Where, Lord” and trusting that wherever that is, he will also be and will provide for us. We should head into every directional call from God knowing only that where there seems to be no way, he will make one.

Yes this message of faith is certainly in the text of Genesis 24, but another part of me is just a father of a little girl, and when I think of Rebekah, I can’t help but think of my son and daughter.

I love how Abraham has high standards for his son. So much of our focus tends to be on finding the right kind of man for our daughters, but how often do we speak of finding the right kind of woman for our sons?

As a parent, you want your little girl to grow up like Rebekah. Beautiful, respectful, kind, compassionate and pure. You hope that your parenting will lead her spiritually this way. All along, though, you know that you’re not doing this so that she can thrive on her own later on. Rather, you have this sense that you are preparing her for someone else.

My heart goes out to Rebekah’s father. I imagine the news hit him like a ton of bricks if not that night, then certainly the next morning when Abraham’s servant thinks it’s time to go already. What I must assume is that Rebekah’s father feared the Lord, and out of reverence to him raised Rebekah up for such a time as this, knowing full well he would one day have to let her go for his service.

I pray that God can make me into that kind of father, for my daughter’s sake. I want to be able to say with sincerity that while she is my little girl, my pride, my joy, she is not mine at all. I want to be able to give her to the Lord and because of that I pray that he is already writing another story in a godly young man’s heart so that one day their stories can be combined and they can start a new chapter together.

Genesis 23 (50 Days – Day Twenty Three)

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Our lives our filled with journeys. Some are short and some are long, but all of them eventually come to an end. The memories I have about the journeys I’ve traveled are not so much about the places that I went, but rather the people that went with me.

I have considered myself fortunate to have had so many great companions for my life’s biggest adventures. I have loved the people that I have served with in ministry and cherish the memories that I have made with them. I am acquainted with the heartache that comes from inevitable partings after meaningful seasons with each other. The reality is, people move on, people get sick, and of course, people don’t live forever.

What I’ve found most difficult to adjust to is life after my companions are gone. I grow to be dependant on the people that God has placed in my life. This brings me to my sorrow for Abraham and anyone who has ever lost a spouse: I can’t imagine a life without my life’s partner, my wife.

Sarah has died, and she leaves behind her husband and her only son. Abraham is left to mourn and to try to figure out what he is to do next. Perhaps fitting, is the place where this happens.

If you recall, when Abraham and Lot parted ways, Abraham settled in Hebron…

So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord. – Genesis 13:18

This was to be the place that he would live. The place that God would promise him as far as his eye could see in every direction. As he sat there that day, in the shadow of Hebron’s hills, in the shade of his wife’s tent, in the presence of her body, he must have remembered what it was like the day he received that promise from God. He remembered what it was like to tell his wife, to celebrate with her, and to plan for their future together in the land.

All journeys must come to an end, but most difficult for him was the fact that Sarah’s journey was now over and his journey was to continue. Every journey of significance to this point had been made with her by his side and each one was made more special because he had shared it with her.

So how does God convince us to move on when we are dealing with grief or tragedy? I believe one way is by taking us back to where we started. It was God who made Sarah, then Sarai. It was God who ordained the circumstances of their meeting, of her becoming his wife and of them settling in Canaan. It was God who changed Sarah’s name, who promised them a son and delivered on that promise, and who ultimately provided a substitute sacrifice that would save his life.

On his last night at home before undergoing heart surgery, my grandfather was trying to convince my grandmother not to make the long trip to the town where the hospital was located. She told him that she didn’t want him to go along, to which he replied, “I’m not going alone.” She asked, “what do you mean?” My grandfather, whom until that point to my grandmother’s knowledge was not a believer, responded by saying “The same one who brought me this far will take me the rest of the way.”

My grandfather had been accompanied by grandmother for most of his life. Whether or not he knew he wouldn’t come home or even see her again, I am not sure, but I know this: at some point in his life, perhaps only in his final days, he became aware of who his true companion was in life, and this brought him comfort.

If you’ve lost or been parted from someone, take comfort that the one who brought you together will continue to walk with you and promises to reunite those who believe him one day.

Genesis 22 (50 Days – Day Twenty Two)

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It is obvious that there is one theme that runs throughout Abraham’s life. Faith. He is not always found faithful, but God is constantly challenging him and his faith can be seen growing with each victory that exists among the failures. Here though, God presents him with his greatest challenge.

First, note that Abraham might have had feet of clay when it came to faith opportunities earlier in life, but after being delivered and blessed by God many times, his faith has grown and is ready to be proven by fire. He tried to solve his problem of being heirless on his own when he and wife agreed that he would bear a son with Hagar, but after God rebuked him and then delivered Isaac to him through Sarah in their old age, it would appear that Abraham is on a totally different level of faith.

You would think that after waiting so long nothing could be more important to him than his son. However, something was more important – his faith. He believed that Isaac was truly a gift from God. He believed that God had some greater purpose for him than simply being an heir to provision. He would be an heir to a promise.

It would seem that Abraham’s decision to sacrifice Isaac was on such a level of faith that it is seemingly too far out of reach for us to grasp any hope of our faith ever being that deep. However we can’t miss the point Abraham’s faith as displayed here: he knew very little about what was about to happen. In fact, he may have even questioned whether or not he would be able to go through with it. Who knows how long he held that knife, tears streaming down his face, trembling at the weight of the challenge that was set before him.

Abraham didn’t know how he was going to perform, and that is the point. He knew only that he could trust in God, if not himself.

And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. – Genesis 22:7-8

God will provide. What if we don’t have the strength? God will provide. What if we get lost and don’t know what to do? God will provide. What if we can’t provide? God will provide.

I can’t imagine the number of questions that must have raced through Abraham’s mind as he marched his only son up that mountain. What I can imagine, is that only God knew what it would be like. In fact, this moment in the Bible was to set the stage for the day when God would march his own son up Calvary’s hill, not as one to be saved, but as one who would be the sacrificial lamb for all mankind.

Interestingly Abraham places the wood on Isaac’s back. The element of wood symbolizes humanity or man. Isaac bore this symbolic material up the hill to the place of sacrifice. Isaiah 53 paints a similar picture of the Messiah…

“Surely he took up our pain, and bore our suffering…he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” – Isaiah 53:4,12

Christ bore our sin upon his back. Isaac is the picture of Christ marching up the hill, and then the picture of man upon the altar, when a substitute is found, or better yet provided so that neither Isaac, nor anyone else who believes in his name should ever perish, but rather have everlasting life. Thank you father, for providing for my freedom with the blood of your son.

 

Genesis 21 (50 Days – Day Twenty One)

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If there is a theme in Abraham’s life that keeps coming up it is submission. Submitting to others is something that he seemed to have no problem with, and it seems to have brought him favor his whole life.

He was in submission to God. Only a couple of chapters before God made a covenant with Abraham and that covenant on Abraham’s side was signified by circumcision. As an adult, he and all his men were circumcised. He circumcised his son Isaac upon his birth as well. Abraham’s faithfulness was rewarded by the fulfillment of God’s side of the covenant – to bless him and his offspring for generations.

He was in submission to his wife, Sarah. Here in the beginning of chapter 21, we find that Sarah is distraught by Ishmael, the son of Hagar, who mocked Isaac at a party in his honor. She asks Abraham to remove both of them from the protection of their home. Perhaps there was even more to it. Perhaps Sarah couldn’t stand the sight of Hagar for having a child with her husband and had been fuming years with this event being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Abraham was troubled, as I’m sure he didn’t want to subject Hagar and Ishmael to hardship, but out of respect for his wife and to protect his family, he reluctantly sends them away. Abraham is blessed for this submission though, as God promises to look after Hagar and Ishmael, thus relieving Abraham of his guilt.

Finally, we see another type of submission result in prosperity for Abraham when he meets with King Abimelech. Abraham was always in submission to the authorities of the land. Admittedly sometimes to a fault, but overall, we must assume that his general submission to their rule was God-honoring. We can say this, because of the words of apostle Paul…

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. – Romans 13:1

This is a difficult verse to hear in America. We tend to be proud of the battles that we’ve fought and won for our freedom and with good reason. It would be inappropriate to say which of our wars were just and which ones weren’t. The wars that we are perhaps most proud of, however, are the ones that have resulted in the rights that we all share today, among them, the right to overthrow our own government.

Perhaps there are times when this kind of thing honors God. Perhaps an evil ruler should be removed, and outright oppression should not be tolerated. However, a general disposition of defiance to government and the authorities that lead them is not right. The leaders of this world have been ordained by God for some purpose or another. Jesus never taught about overthrowing the state, but did say something about rendering to Caesar what is due to him. One might suggest that this means pay every dime that you owe in taxes.

Even in the most ungodly segments of our culture – like the American government, for example – God is still working. In the part of our lives that lack most in spiritually – like politics – God can still teach us something.

Submission to authorities teaches us to trust that God is ultimately in control. So let’s get right down to it: what does this mean practically? You might ask, “what exactly do you want us to do, not speak up in politics? Not join political parties? Not run for office?”

Of course not. In fact, what you see in Abraham’s life is that God used his submission to bring about change in the government’s position on things. Abraham had shown over years to be a man who respected Abimelech, so the King meets with Abraham as he is gaining influence to work out some sort of mutual understanding. Abraham uses this platform of influence and brings the King up short on what would appear to be a civil matter about the local water supply. He is able to persuade Abimelech to reverse course on this particular action and the King moves his entire army out of the land as a result.

So how do we know when it’s time to take action? I will leave some of those questions up to you and let you prayerfully consider them. I’d rather start with this: as Christians, we should not speak badly about our president or other elected officials. We should pray for them. I’d even take a one-for-one deal at this point. For every time that you think badly of, or discuss in a negative way about, or post on Facebook your displeasure toward our elected officials, you have to say a prayer for them. AND you have to do it in the same audience. If it’s just you thinking badly about them, say a private prayer. If you’ve talked with someone badly about them, grab that same person or another church member and invite them to pray with you. Or, you may find yourself in the latter camp, in which case your heartfelt prayer needs to be blasted across your social media channels without any ambiguity or sarcasm.

If we all committed to that kind of challenge, one of two things would happen. There would either be an overwhelming outpouring of prayer for our government officials or we’d all find much better things to talk about. Either way, God’s name would be more glorified in our lives and I think that’s kind of the point of all of this isn’t it?

Genesis 20 (50 Days – Day Twenty)

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The great theologian John Gill, in an exposition of this passage wrote…

Good men not only fall into sin, but have their relapses.

It is more than interesting to see how God uses our mistakes and misfortunes to achieve his divine purposes. What his purposes might have been in this story I doubt we can ever say for sure, as they could have far reaching consequences beyond what is even recorded in the Bible.

The question that I’d like to pose an answer to is this: When we are instructed to do something by God and we go our own way, what effect does that have on the purposes of God? The answer is, none.

Let me affirm that God gives us our own minds and we have the ability to make right and wrong decisions based on our moral consciences. However, God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 53:9), and not just in turns of importance, but in terms of supremacy. The little bubble of freedom that we have operates only inside of the larger sphere that is God’s will.

God has a plan and a purpose for everyone and everything. When we sin, we stand in opposition to his plan and when we do his will, we join him in accomplishing it. The book of Proverbs uses nice alliteration to put it this way…

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21

So now we finally take a look at the story of Abraham attempting to get along in society by telling everyone that Sarah is his sister…again. I believe that while God’s disapproval is not so specifically implied in the text, we can still assume its existence. He obviously does not approve in a very general sense, as he inflicts punishment on the man who takes Sarah for his own, both here and with Pharoah in Genesis 12.

In a specific sense though, I do not believe that God told Abraham to perpetuate this lie, which we find out here he has been telling everywhere he has been. I believe that God could have protected him against any unruly man, the way he protected Lot and his family the night they left their home. I believe that if Abraham would have trusted in God, God’s purposes could still have been accomplished and no harm would necessarily come to him. However, the fact that Abraham fails under pressure does not mean that God will. Rather, he uses the failure of Abraham to bring about his plan, thereby redeeming Abraham’s actions. In fact, he uses the situation to bring about his purposes in King Abimelech’s life as well.

When we decide not to follow God, it is not God’s will that suffers but rather our own happiness. When we sin, we stand in opposition to God and his laws and fall out of sync with our Creator. We find our life is abundant and fulfilling, however, when we align our heart and our way of life to God’s ultimate purpose in redeeming mankind.

Genesis 19 (50 Days – Day Nineteen)

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Genesis 19 recounts one of the more sensational stories in the Bible. It’s about one righteous man’s life and a defining moment for him in the midst of a city full of wickedly evil people. True to the promise that he made with Abraham, God looks but does not find 10 righteous people in the city. However, he does protect Lot and his family from the coming destruction and allows them time to flee. This is, more than likely, what was most important to Abraham when he asked God to spare the city earlier: the life of his nephew, Lot.

I see in this passage the cost of following God. First, we notice that when God speaks and asks us to move, the time to do it is immediately. When we become parents, we quickly realize through our children that delayed obedience really is disobedience. We do see evidence of this in Lot, who even upon seeing the wickedness of the men outside and hearing a direct command from God, remains conflicted…

When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. (v.16)

Second, if needed God will drag us kicking and screaming to where we need to be. I have not found this to be universally true, but it may indeed be. The angels in the story grabbed Job’s hand and forced him to flee. I do not think it is above God to use events in our lives, especially painful ones, to drag us away from what we have built up to be more important than Him. When we put things ahead of God – money, comfort, even our children – we worship them above Him. If God has set us aside for a special purpose and this is the state he finds us in, He is not above removing those things have our heart’s devotion. If we aren’t willing to forsake all, He may indeed take all until we learn to trust Him.

“What hinders me from hearing is that I am taking up with other things. It is not that I will not hear God, but I am not devoted in the right place.” – Oswald Chambers

Third, we can’t look back. When you make the difficult decision to forsake all for the cause of Christ – not salvation, but rather a clear call to mission – the enemy will tempt you with thoughts of how much easier your life was before. He will describe a former life of plenty while you struggle in hardship. Lot’s wife longed for the comforts of home and lingered behind him, resulting in her own destruction. These are moments when our resolve must be strong. I am reminded of the story of Hernán Cortés, a spanish conquistador who set out to conquer the New World with about 500 men. Upon arriving, the hardship of life in a foreign land was apparent, so Cortés did what he thought was necessary: he ordered the men to burn the ships. Return would not be an option.

Sometimes following God means putting everything in perspective. Daniel outwardly defied the king’s decree. The disciples dropped their nets and left their families. The apostles risked their lives spreading the Word through missions work. It would appear at first glance that perhaps their decisions were made somewhat recklessly. Like they had failed to “count the cost”. However I would suggest that one who truly understands the ramifications of following God or not realizes that “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Our resolve today should be to follow God wherever he leads. In spite of the apparent risks, it’s still the safest place to be.