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When Answers Don’t Come Easy

January 23rd, 2019

 

“Teach me and I will be silent.

  Help me understand what I did wrong.”

Job 6:24

I love Job’s honesty.

I guess because I’ve felt the very same way.

Had the same requests.

Longing to understand where I slipped up.

Beating myself up for every shortcoming.

Convinced my pain was deserved.

____________________________

Grief has a way of playing games with your mind.

Sending you backward  to every little decision before the day of your most painful loss.

Surely a good God wouldn’t have led me here?

And if He did, there had to be a reason.

So it’s easy to go to the exact same place as Job.

Owning it all.

As a result of our own actions or lack of actions.

Because the only other option seems to make God look bad.

And who wants that?

It took me a long time to come to the place where I removed the blame from myself…..

and finally from God.

The giver of good gifts surely doesn’t choose to take them all away.

I’m slowly making peace with my pain.

Trying to see the big picture.

And even though the loss of my daughter…

and then my son….

still takes my breath away,

I’m trying to look beyond my heartache.

To the enemy.

The one is alive and well

and against me,

just as he was against Job.

He’s the one who steals, kills, and destroys.

“Whatever it takes.”

This must be his motto.

I’m so glad Job, a man who served God with every inch of his heart and soul,

forgot about him for a while too.

It’s easy to forget about the enemy when he’s not knocking on your own front door.

I’m also thankful God wasn’t afraid to keep this emotional struggle in the pages of Bible history.

He didn’t need to “clean up the story” so we would always feel good.

Christianity isn’t about feeling “safe” or “off the enemy’s radar.”

Christianity is about choosing God –

no matter what.

Job has a lot more wrestling to do in his grief journey before his story comes to an end.

And honestly, I do too.

But that’s what I love about God.

He’s okay with that.

He’s not afraid of our fists waving in the air.

Or our feelings of separation from His love.

He’s big enough to handle our darkest thoughts.

And He’s brave enough to stay close –

even on the days we do everything within our power to push Him away.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Ps. 34:18

Today, if you’re feeling crushed by the pain of loss,

He understands.

And He’s right there.

Ready to lift the burden.

But not before you’re ready.

So don’t rush grief.

But don’t run from it either.

quiet angel

Choosing To Sit Not Speak

January 22nd, 2019

 

And just like that,

Jacob,

and eventually Joseph,

have slipped off the earth.

Men of great influence and power.

Gone.

Men who walked with God when many were running the other way.

Now with Him.

On the other side.

___________________________________

And maybe to give readers a chance to catch their breath,

my chronological Bible pushes pause on the history of the Israelites,

and places Job center stage.

A righteous man whose wealth exceeded most men of his day

suddenly steps into the light.

It’s not really clear when he lived on the planet,

but there’s plenty of evidence to prove he was a real man –

not the main character in a fictitious story.

James and Paul even refer to him as example of both patience and faith.

An extremely wealthy man –

“the greatest man among all the people of the east –

Job had every reason to lean on his own strength.

Become self-reliant.

Take pride in his personal accomplishments.

Walk confidently through every day,

fearing nothing.

__________________________

But Job was different.

He was very aware of his humanity,

fearing the One who had given him so many blessings.

Even afraid his own children would fall short.,

and somehow disappoint God by their actions or words.

So Job spent his days fearing God

and his nights covering the tracks of his children.

Turning from evil in his personal life

and taking things into his own hands when he thought his children may have done the opposite.

Pleasing God was Job’s first priority.

Worrying about not pleasing God was his second.

His righteousness stood out so much

he caught the eye of the one who roamed the earth looking for trouble.

And he used Job’s wealth as a way of questioning his motives for being so faithful.

God knew there was more to Job’s faith than possessions, though,

and handed the enemy some power.

“Test him.”

“You’ll see.”

___________________________

So the story of Job begins,

and I’m pretty sure even people who have no desire to relate their lives to Scripture

have heard of him and the trials he faced.

____________________________

It only takes a few verses for everything Job owns –

and all the children he loves –

to be taken away,

leaving Job bewildered and sad.

And this morning I’m stopping there.

I’m sitting in the ashes with him.

Realizing how one day can change a lifetime.

One phone call.

One medical report.

One wrong turn.

It doesn’t take a lot to turn life upside down.

And I hurt with Job.

Because my life was forever changed in just a few verses too.

So this morning I’m not going to venture into Eliphaz’s explanation for these life-altering experiences.

I don’t want to hear empty words any more than Job did.

I don’t want someone trying to make me feel better by finding reasons for this or for that.

I just want someone to sit with me.

Cry with me even.

I want a friend who isn’t afraid to feel my pain and ask God the same question that often rings in my head,

“WHY?????”

So this morning,

I’m sitting with Job.

Smack dab in the middle of the ashes.

And I’m not afraid to stay there.

Where it’s very sad and extremely difficult to see the light of another day.

Because I believe there are many who still need me right there.

And they need you there too.

Not trying to make them feel better.

Or helping them understand their life.

Just being brave enough to say through our actions –

not our words –

“This makes no sense but I’m right here with you.

And I’m not leaving.”

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 
who comforts us in all our troubles,
so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ,
so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 
II. Cor. 1:3-5
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Because Every Move Matters

January 21st, 2019

 

Joseph’s brothers finally return home to tell their father the big news.

Joseph is alive!

The brother they’d once wanted to kill will now be the very one to keep all of them alive.

The entire family is soon escorted to Egypt.

A celebratory parade

of men,

women,

children,

herds of livestock,

and some of Pharoah’s finest resources for the journey.

The trip couldn’t have been an easy one though.

No amount of spices and grain can make a trek across miles of barren land enjoyable.

Crossing a desert in a group this size

would be stressful under the best of circumstances,

but add a famine to the story

and it quickly becomes

a road trip from anywhere but Heaven.

I’m trying to imagine the exhaustion Jacob felt

after years of grieving a son he thought was dead,

now forced to travel many miles from home

in order to save his family.

Did he remember God’s promise as he moved further and further from what he thought was the promised land?

 “Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth,

and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south;

\and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

“And behold, I am with you,

and will keep you wherever you go,

and will bring you back to this land;

for I will not leave you

until I have done what I have promised you.”

Genesis 28:10-15

I can’t imagine hearing these words.

And ever forgetting them.

They surely played over and over in his mind as he trudged across the hot, dry land.

The dust under his feet had to be a constant reminder……..

of the many descendants God had promised him.

And the blessings these children and grandchildren would bring to ALL the earth.

But with each tired and weary step,

did the promise seem to fade?

Get a little less clear.

Become a little more like a dream.

I think it would’ve for me.

It’s so easy to forget that a stressful and exhausting day for me

may be the very thing that helps someone else tomorrow?

As Jacob’s caravan pulled into town and he climbed from the wagon to hug Pharoah

(assuming he greets people like I do),

I’m pretty sure he wasn’t expecting the first words from Pharoah’s mouth to be,

“How many years have you lived?”

This question in the text surprised me.

Made me pause.

Was this really the first thing on Pharoah’s mind?

And did Pharoah ever bother to speak to him again?

Here stood the father of Joseph.

A son he had not seen in thirteen years.

A son who had moved from a slave to the second in command in Egypt.

And Pharoah is wondering about his age.

So many heartfelt words were available in that moment.

Yet Pharoah made small talk.

Accepted a blessing.

Then returned to doing whatever Pharoah’s do.

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I’ve read many interpretations of this passage and of Jacob’s reply.

Pharoah may have never seen a person quite this old.

Or he may have been worried about the future of his own country

if Jacob were to die.

I’m not sure what his motive was,

but the fact that this conversation is included

tells me it matters.

_______________________

And maybe if I’m quiet,

it can speak to me today.

And to you.

There are days when I am Pharoah.

Speaking with selfish motives.

Asking questions that will benefit me most.

Then moving on.

A blessing in hand.

With little thought for who I’ve left behind.

I do not like these kind of days.

There are also days when I am Jacob.

Tired and weary.

Asked for more than I am able to give.

But giving anyway.

I love these kind of days.

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That’s the thing I love most about the Bible.

The good guys and the bad.

They’re all me.

And the things they do are no different than the things I do.

Every selfish move and every selfless one.

I make them all.

Yet God doesn’t remove them from my story.

He uses them to push me along.

And when my eyes are wide open and my heart is too,

I can see the bad moves and learn from them,

while seeing the good ones and being thankful for them at the very same time.

Every move I make matters.

There’s no part of my story that will be deleted or erased.

So the Bible keeps reminding me.

Every single day.

That I’m Jacob and I’m Pharoah.

I’m good and I’m bad.

But most of all,

I’m loved.

And just as Jacob believed he would return to the promised land,

I believe I will too.

So I trudge on.

Trusting Him every step of the way.

Knowing He is up ahead,

smoothing rough roads.

Making a way.

I will go before you and will level the mountains;

I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.

Isaiah. 45:2

gilette razor

The Best A Man Can Be

January 19th, 2019

/ / / / / / / / /

 

This isn’t anything new.

Men longing to be their best.

But not making “the cut.”

Literally.

Joseph’s brothers felt the daily pain of falling short in the eyes of their father.

And decided to take matters into their own hands.

Remove the son who made them feel “less than.”

Surely our father’s favorite son can’t overshadow us if he’s no longer standing nearby…..

under the same rays of sun.

________________________

Years pass.

Joseph’s brothers, though more than likely not clean-shaven, live the very life they had hoped to be spared.

Grief has overshadowed every sunrise since the day they handed their father Joseph’s blood-stained coat.

And now a famine has hit the land.

Their grief-stricken and surely guilt-ridden family is starving.

I’ve always wondered how news traveled in those days,

but whatever the means,

the brothers hear of food in Egypt.

Saving their family means heading in the very direction they had sent their brother years before.

Did this ever cross their minds as they traveled across the desert?

How can this many brothers suppress the same memory?

When they finally reach their destination,

they fall in line.

With every other family in need of food.

Unaware of his identity, the brothers approach Joseph.

And he recognizes them.

His very own flesh and blood.

But for whatever reason,

they do not realize who he is.

Maybe Joseph had been waiting for this day.

Fully aware that eventually his family would need help.

But his brothers never dreamed a boy sold into slavery would ever be standing in a place of authority.

Don’t we all tend to see what we’re looking for?

Joseph takes his time revealing the truth.

I’m not sure if it’s a case of revenge or a chance to test his brother’s hearts,

but whatever the motive,

Joseph drags out his anonymity for several years.

Holds Simeon as ransom.

Frames his brothers with stolen goods.

Threatens to keep Benjamin as a slave.

He’s been pulled from a pit……..

And finally has the upper hand.

And uses it to the best of his ability for as long as he possibly can.

He finally reaches a breaking point though.

His emotions get the best of him,

and he commands everyone to leave the room.

You can almost hear the music swelling as he begins to weep.

“I am Joseph! Is my father still living?”

Terrified, his brothers step back, unable to answer.

 I’m sure Joseph’s next words were as shocking as they were relieving,

“I am Joseph, your brother, the one you sold into Egypt. And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life…….therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

Scripture goes on to say that Joseph throws his arms around his brother Benjamin and weeps.

He then kisses all of his brothers as he cries.

And afterward talks with them.

I’d love to hear those words.

Did they all share about their families?

They didn’t have pictures to share,

but did they describe their children’s faces and personalities?

This was a family reunion made for the movies.

I love that as his brothers as leave Egypt to bring back their wives, children, and father to Goshen (the land of plenty),

Joseph’s last words are,

“Don’t argue on the way.”

He knew what could easily happen.

Finger pointing.

Blaming.

These are easy alternatives when we feel caught.

And maybe that’s what’s going on today.

Men want to be the best they can be.

Bearded or not.

And a product has pointed a finger.

Cast blame.

And like it or not,

caused a stir.

And the most toxic thing out there today is the words being hurled back and forth.

What do we do with this controversial commercial?

Some are screaming, “Finally!”

While others shout, “Foul play.”

I have my own opinion of the message chosen in hopes of selling more razors.

But this morning,

I’m not worried about product sales or the voices of those on either side of the issue.

I’m just trusting in the One who truly longs for men (and women) to be the best they can be.

Because as a therapist who sees child after child struggling with depression, anxiety, or anger….

often stemming from the break down of their home due to divorce, drugs, or neglect,

I believe we need a wake-up call.

And maybe this wake-up call was actually part of an agenda,

as some are saying,

attempting to group all men in an unfair light.

And maybe it felt harsh and one-sided,

taking any responsibility off the choices women make,

but I believe it’s a message God can still use.

And I’m hoping it’s the beginning of a bigger conversation.

For both men and women.

To look in the mirror and ask themselves,

“Am I the best I can be?”

I’m sure Joseph’s brothers lived with that question most of their lives as they lived a lie in the presence of their brokenhearted father.

I’m so thankful God had mercy on them.

And Joseph too.

I’m so glad they were given a second chance to make things right.

God offers the same to each of us today.

 Another chance.

To get things right.

And in the end,

don’t we all want the chance to be the very best we can be?

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Thirteen years have passed since Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers.

From becoming the personal attendant to Potiphar to being thrown into prison by this very same man,

Joseph has learned that his confidence should never be placed in the hands of men.

So when Pharoah calls for Joseph to interpret a dream,

two years after the baker is spared from death and supposed to save him too,

Joseph surely wonders who in the world really cares about his existence.

I wonder what is going through his mind as he shaves and changes clothes,

preparing to stand before the man who rules all of Egypt.

Is he frightened?

Hopeful?

Bewildered?

Bitter?

I often wonder why the Bible leaves out these emotional details.

It’so tempting for me to read between the lines.

But maybe that’s what God wants us to do.

Fill in the blanks with whatever we might feel.

And quickly discover that all emotions

ultimately lead to Him……

If He’s the One we trust.

And Joseph clearly trusts God.

As he stands before Pharaoh and hears the words,

“I have had a dream, and no one can interpret it. 

But I have heard it said about you that you can hear a dream and interpret it.”

Joseph doesn’t hesitate to answer with words I would have been terrified to speak,

“I am not able to.”

That’s right.

Joseph’s first words are the very last words Pharaoh wants to hear after a fitful night of sleep,

but Joseph says them anyway.

Because they’re true.

And maybe Jacob, the deceiver, has finally learned his lesson.

Somehow after being thrown in a pit, sold by his brothers, and imprisoned for false charges,

Joseph finally believes in the power of God more than he believes in his own abilities.

And risks being whisked away to death by speaking the truth.

He cannot interpret dreams.

Only God can.

 I love that immediately after hearing these words,

Pharaoh begins to tell Joseph the details of his dream.

Pharaoh knows what Joseph has maybe struggled to believe.

God is with him.

And has been.

All along the way.

Slowly but surely,

God has been leading to Joseph to this moment.

As he stands before Pharaoh and learns that he is going to be elevated to the second highest position in the land,

does he have flashbacks?

Is there a montage playing through his mind?

Jealous brothers.

A pit.

Shackles.

His brothers slowly fading into the distance as he is carried away.

Does he remember the cupbearer and the baker’s dreams and wonder if even his time in the dungeon was part of God’s plan?

Today’s reading moves quickly from seven years of plenty to seven years of famine.

During this time, Joseph is given a wife and has two sons of his own.

Are there ever nights when he looks off into the distance and wonders if his family is out there?

Missing him? Worried about him?

Does his first dream haunt him?

Will the day arrive when his eleven brothers and father actually bow down to him just like the sun, moon, and eleven stars did in his dream?

Faith isn’t mentioned in the pages of the Bible yet,

but Hebrews 11 says Jacob walked by it.

I have to believe he spent many nights praying for the chance to embrace his family again.

And believed it would happen.

As today’s reading ends,

his brothers have arrived.

Joseph is fully aware of who they are.

But isn’t quite ready for them to know the same.

I’m not sure why he drags out the revelation of who he is,

Does he need time to process his emotions?

And be sure of their changed hearts.

It’s one thing to love people.

It’s a whole other thing to believe they love you.

So the pause button is pushed with Joseph having washed away his tears in a private room.

And returned to the table where he has had his brothers seated in order of their age.

The table is set for all things to be made right.

Tomorrow.

And maybe that’s true for us today.

The table has been set.

And we haven’t quite realized it yet.

That’s where faith comes in.

And changes everything about today.

“With faith all things are possible.”

This was true for Joseph.

And it’s true for us too.

Even in our deepest moments of grief,

faith makes a way for us to live with overflowing hope.

We just have to remember,

Faith has set the table.

And we are seated there.

jesus always

 

I love slipping into my robe every morning.

And enjoying the space between sleeping and getting ready for the day.

The spacious place where decisions are totally mine.

Drink coffee?

Drink hot tea?

The choice is mine.

Start laundry or wait til evening?

The choice is mine.

Have a bowl of cereal or a banana…

or both?

The choice is mine.

Wearing my robe, I move through the early morning hours fully aware of the blessing of living in freedom.

So when I read of Tamar,

dressed in widow’s clothes,

waiting for yet the second brother of her deceased husband to come to her

to produce offspring to carry on his name,

then realizing she has been forgotten,

and taking matters into her own hand –

Tricking her father-in-law in order to keep the family name alive.

It’s difficult to relate.

When I read of Joseph,

treated well by Potiphar time and time again

but then framed by his very wife

as she held his robe and screamed for help,

rejected and angry,

willing to see him punished for a crime he refused to commit.

I don’t feel a connection.

I read on.

The chief cupbearer and chief baker join Joseph behind bars.

They dream dreams.

And Joseph offers to interpret them.

The cupbearer’s dream has promise.

“In three days you will be restored.”

Hearing the good news,

the baker asks for his to be interpreted too.

The news is anything but great.

“In three days you will hang on a tree.”

The Bible jumps to the third day,

and sure enough.

Both dreams come true.

But the baker, in all his joy, forgets the one request of Joseph.

“Please show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharoah, and get me out of this prison.”

And with this disappointing news, today’s Bible reading ends.

Just like that.

A waiting widow.

A deceptive wife.

A blessed cupbearer.

A doomed baker.

And a forgotten Joseph.

What is God saying to me this morning?

His Word is alive.

Active.

Sharper than a two-edged sword.

Why am I not feeling the prick of the blade?

I lean back,

take a sip of my hot drink.

And ask God what I’m missing.

Am I trying too hard to hear Him?

Make something out of nothing.

Have a reason to write.

I never want it to become like this.

That’s when my eye catches another book on my desk,

a book by Sarah Young.

 

What does she have to say this morning?

Better yet, “What does Jesus have to say through her?”

I turn to January 17th.

And begin to read.

“I brought you into a spacious place.  I rescued you because I delighted in you.  You are in a spacious place – saved from being a slave to sin…..Since your best efforts could never be enough be sufficient to save you, I clothed you in my own perfect righteousness.  Wear this clothing of salvation gratefully – with overflowing joy.”

Here I sit.

Wrapped in my earthly robe,

while being reminded of the only robe the matters.

The robe of righteousness.

Tamar wore widow’s clothes but took them off long enough to become one of the only women listed in the lineage of Jesus.

Joseph was dressed in clothes that set him apart as Pharoah’s right-hand man.

But Pharoah’s wife took them off long enough for Joseph to land in prison………

and discover his gift for interpreting dreams.

A gift that will eventually elevate him to the highest place in Egypt.

Maybe that’s it that simple this morning.

“Think about your robe, Tammy.

Don’t ever put it on again without thinking about Me.

I’ve clothed you in so much more than fabric.

And your freedom comes from so much more than what you will eat or drink.

I lean back again.

And this time I notice my robe touching the back of my chair,

and I wonder how many times in my 53 years of life I’ve leaned back in a chair.

Not even noticed the feeling of what I’m wearing making contact with the back of the seat.

I don’t want to ever miss it again.

The feeling of God’s love wrapped around me.

Touching everything I touch.

There’s nowhere I can go that He’s not there,

because I am clothed in Him.

And even Joseph, stripped of his robe and thrown prison,

seemingly forgotten by the baker,

still wore more than he ever imagined……

and one day he would realize just how protected he had been all along.

Wrapped tightly in a robe no man (or woman) could rip from him.

You’re wrapped tightly too.

No matter how cold it is outside this morning,

Feel the warmth of His presence.

Delight in it.

You are arrayed in righteousness.

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Is. 61:10

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When God called Abraham to be the father of many nations,

ultimately leading to the birth of Jesus,

He surely knew this family tree was going to include some extremely thorny branches.

Jealousy

Murder

Deception

Lies

They all grew here.

Yet God chose not to chop it down.

He rooted His promise in Abraham and was faithful to His Word.

Abraham’s descendants would eventually include a man named Jesse who would become the father of David.

And David’s line of descendants would one day welcome a tiny baby in Bethlehem who would change the world forever.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;

the nations will rally to him,

and his resting place will be glorious.

Is. 11:10

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 

Is. 11:1

His arrival would not only bring salvation to His own people but also to the rest of the world.

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,

one who will arise to rule over the nations;

in him the Gentiles will hope.”

Romans 15:12

That’s why I can’t get bogged down in today’s reading,

because closing the Bible this morning would be hard if I didn’t know the rest of the story.

Seeing brothers murder a nation in the name of revenge

and then sell one of their own into slavery out of jealousy and hate doesn’t make for an uplifting start to a day.

It’s sad to think these are the kind of men whose bloodline led to Jesus.

Until I remember why Jesus showed up.

He came to save.

Redeem.

Offer Hope.

Be the ultimate sacrifice.

A perfect world wouldn’t have needed Him.

And a perfect family wouldn’t have needed Him either.

That’s why the birth of one little boy continues to be a birth worth celebrating.

For over 2000 years this planet has acknowledged that the arrival of Jesus changed history.

There were plenty of branches on Abraham’s family tree,

But He was the branch that would change every sprout to follow.

and redeem every branch that came before Him.

Simeon and Levi needed redemption after leading the way in the killing of the people in the city where Shechem lived.

Reuben needed redemption after sleeping with his father’s concubine.

All of Jacob’s sons needed redemption after plotting to kill Joseph.

So don’t worry this morning if your family isn’t perfect,

neither was the family that brought us Jesus.

Thankfully one family member spoke up in the desert.

Judah found another way to make his brothers happy.

Sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites.

That will get rid of him.

But it will also save him.

Did Judah realize he would be the one chosen to become the descendant ultimately leading to Jesus?

Joseph will save his people from starvation.

But Judah will be the one listed in the genealogy of our Savior.

Judah saved Joseph.

And ultimately saved us.

It must have taken a lot of nerve to stand up to a group of hate-filled brothers.

But I’m so glad Judah did.

Because my imperfect family needed Him just as much as Judah’s did.

snoopy adn sheep

 

I have to confess.

There was a small chapter of my life

when I watched “Days of Our Lives.”

I knew the plot line was shallow.

And I knew that in real life

dramatic conversations rarely end with someone sipping coffee while music plays them out of the scene.

But for whatever reason,

I felt the need to know what was happening in the lives of people like Marlena and Roman Brady…

and isn’t is sad that nearly 30 years later I can still remember a few of the character’s names?

Today’s Bible reading felt a lot like one of the episodes of this show I watched so many years ago.

Wives battling for their husbands attention by trying to have the most sons.

A father refusing to let his daughters move away.

A son-in-law planning their escape and then having his favorite wife steal one of her father’s false gods…..

and then sit on it and lie in order to save her life.

This was enough to fill a week of prime time,

but it wasn’t the end.

Laban and Jacob decide to build a memorial.

A mound of rocks as a testimony that God would watch over all of them as they went separate ways.

A calm filled the air.

Jacob was finally free from 20 years of working for his father-in-law who changed his wages ten different times,

taking advantage of Jacob’s strength and Jacob’s love for Laban’s daughters.

But not long into Jacob’s journey back to Canaan,

he must have remembered the reason he had fled years before.

Esau wanted him dead.

Jacob was a thief on the run,

and for 20 years he had been spared the anger of the one he had deceived.

In the same way I would probably act today,

Jacob sends messengers ahead of him with gifts.

Rows and rows of servants offering Esau peace offerings.

Softening the blow of their reunion.

Hoping to make peace with his sibling long before their eyes meet.

The night before they meet,

Jacob sends his family ahead of him and spends the night alone.

I’m not sure why.

But for whatever reason,

Jacob stays on the other side of the stream.

And God meets him there.

Not to comfort him,

but to wrestle with him.

Literally.

All through the night,

Jacob struggles with this man to the point of being injured yet refuses to let go.

In severe pain from a dislocated hip,

Jacob holds on tight,

refusing to release his grip on this heavenly visitor until he gets one thing…….

a blessing.

In that moment, the mystery man says,

“Your name will no longer be Jacob.  It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Genesis 32:28

Jacob stands up and begins to walk toward Esau,

limping with every step.

The music swells as these two brothers finally see each other face to face,

and I have to believe Esau felt some pity for his younger brother as he saw him struggling to walk,

tired and frightened.

Esau runs to him.

Throws his arms around him.

And kisses him.

And then they both begin to weep.

There’s no soap opera that could top this morning’s reading.

No movie that could hold my attention the way these chapters did.

But when I try to pull out a lesson,

an over-riding message,

I fall short.

There are so many big moments on these pages.

So many characters facing personal drama.

Leah, the second-favorite wife, who finds her only significance in the sons she bears.

Rachel, a thief and liar, who has just what it takes to keep Jacob’s heart captivated.

Laban, a controlling father who finds it difficult to let his girls go.

Jacob, the son of Isaac who knows he tricked his way into his inheritance…..and his blessing.

No wonder he wrestles for a new one.

The first one came way too easy.

And his limp will forever remind him.

Esau, the brother who didn’t seem to appreciate his birth order…

and was eventually cheated out of it.

But also the brother who was forced to face Rebekah every day

after her favorite son went into hiding to save his life.

Surely Esau’s life was filled with tension just as Jacob’s was.

No one got out of this story easy.

And honestly, none of us do either.

We all have moments when we fill second place in the eyes of someone we love.

We all have moments when we make hasty decisions

and then have the choice of fessing up to our mistakes or sitting on them in hopes of keeping them out of sight.

We all have people or things we hold on too tightly.

Only letting go when we have no other option.

We’ve all had nights where we wrestle with life.

If we’ve lived long enough,

we all have something that has forever caused us to limp.

And I’m sure we all have someone we need to forgive.

This morning I saw myself in every character……

once again.

And maybe that’s what it’s all about as I read the Bible from beginning to end.

Seeing my life played out through the lives of others

and realizing God was right there.

In the midst of it all.

Just like He is today.

“Have I not commanded you?

strong and courageous.

Do not be frightened,

and do not be dismayed,

for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

 

fogtwo

The Thing About Covenants

January 14th, 2019

 

Since the beginning of time,

God has been in the covenant-making business.

Working with imperfect people to complete a perfect plan.

He started in a garden.

With a couple who for all practical purposes “had it made.”

But still went looking.

Wanting more.

Stepping over the one little line God had drawn in the middle of endless beauty.

And forever loosening the perfect bond they had with their Creator.

Time passed.

The bond became looser.

And eventually, the connection between God and man had nearly broken.

No longer were men turning to Him for a relationship, for help, for companionship.

They needed something to hold, to see, to worship.

So false gods became the norm.

Noah was different.

In the middle of an evil world, He still turned to God.

If something didn’t change,

the human race would quickly destroy itself

with greed, envy, lust, and all sorts of other wickedness.

With a broken heart,

God made a plan.

And after the flood,

He made a covenant.

“Never again will I destroy the world by water.”

Time passed and people quickly forgot the One who was able to create and also destroy.

Humanity proved to have short-term memory loss.

And God needed a way to connect with man that involved reminders.

Rituals.

Routines.

He had to reintroduce Himself by calling out a group of people who would continue reintroducing Him generation after generation.

A family line that would be set apart.

Chosen.

Holy.

Willing.

I’m not sure what was included on the list of qualifications for this particular calling,

but Abraham must have had enough of them.

Or at least been the closest candidate available at this time in history.

So God reached out.

It’s almost as if He created the classic relationship starter……..

Will you follow me?

Circle “yes” or “no.”

God never forced the world to love Him.

And that’s one thing that’s never changed.

So the covenant relationship began.

And God proved that when He makes a promise,

He keeps it.

Time and time again,

this covenant people fell short.

Strayed off the path.

Tried to take charge.

And time and time again,

God was patient.

Forgiving.

His cast of covenant-bonded people was no different than the Ones He works with today.

Abraham lied.

Sarah doubted.

Isaac proved the saying “Like father, like son.”

Rebekah manipulated.

Jacob deceived.

And Rachel and Leah will soon join this list with their own set of imperfections.

But God never gave up.

He persistently pursued the ones He had chosen.

Making a way even when the chosen got in the way.

Perfect love was trying to break through to an imperfect world.

It would be a while, though, before this broken planet was ready for Perfect Love to show up.

Be seen.

Be held.

And worshiped.

When I was nine, God ask me the same question.

Will you follow me?  Circle “yes” or “no.”

I didn’t hear His voice or see a burning bush.

I just heard a sermon.

And felt the nudge to walk down the aisle.

And say, “yes.”

Make a covenant of my own with the very same God who spoke the world into being…..and has tried to be heard by it ever since.

I’ve fallen short many times along the way.

But I’m so thankful for a God who also wants to be my Father, Savior, Protector, Redeemer, and Friend…..

no matter what.

Just like the men and women in the Old Testament story,

when I circled, “yes,”

I made a covenant with God.

And my life forever changed.

That’s the thing about covenants I love.

Fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you,

I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

 Is. 41;10

family christmas

 

I’ll wonder every time.

Did God’s plan include Rebekah’s decision to trick Isaac?

To have Jacob lie to his own dad?

In Old Testament times, the blessing of a father could not be revoked once spoken.

Rebekah surely knew this.

Isaac surely knew this too.

But they moved forward anyway.

Came up with a scheme to steal Esau’s firstborn rights.

And succeeded.

Years before, God had clearly been involved in the choosing of Rebekah as Isaac’s wife.

Abraham sent his servant on a mission.

And the instructions were very clear.

 “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. ” (Gen. 24:-7-8)

Rebekah was more than willing to go.

And eventually became pregnant with twins.

The pregnancy was not easy, though.

Scripture says they “jostled within her womb.”

Rebekah must have had a personal relationship with God.

She wasn’t afraid to ask Him what was going on.

And He was more than willing to reply,

“Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples will be separated from within you.

One people will be stronger than the other,

and the older will serve the younger.”

Gen. 25:23

Had this prophecy haunted her?

Did she dwell on it until the day of their arrival?

I know I would have.

The mystery of those words had to make her watch closely as her baby boys entered the world…….

One at a time.

Esau came first.

Jacob followed, holding tightly to his heel.

Could this be another sign?

Was this grasping of his brother’s foot a way for Rebekah to see with her own eyes that Jacob was the rightful heir?

And did God let her in on all of this so she could make this happen?

Take things into her own hands “in the name of God” Himself.

Do whatever it took to put Jacob on top.

The younger son with all the rights.

I don’t think so.

I would stumble through the rest of Biblical history if I thought this was His plan.

No.

I believe Rebekah panicked.

I think God had everything under control.

And Rebekah just forgot.

He already knew Esau was unable to lead His people.

Who sells their birthright for a bowl of soup?

Wouldn’t he sell his father’s blessing, too, if he were offered even more?

But Rebekah, just like me,

couldn’t sit back and let things unfold in God’s time.

She stepped in.

Took action.

Spoke words.

And directed the steps of others.

All in the name of “God’s will.”

I needed this message this weekend.

Stepping away from the real world for 48 hours has been good for me.

I’ve come close to being Rebekah this week.

Several times.

Not in a deceptive way.

But in a “this is what God would want for my child” way.

I’m so thankful for the Bible.

And the fact that God wasn’t afraid to share the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of Christian history.

Jacob didn’t have an easy life.

Was this a result of his mother’s desire to “make things right” by stepping in to a plan God had not yet set in motion?

Or a result of his own desire to have what God had promised…..

but long before God had said,

“It’s yours.”

Today, I’m asking God to help me step back.

Wait.

Pray.

And trust Him.

He has a plan.

And more times than I’d like to admit,

it doesn’t involve me.