Like Father Like Son Like Grandson

Realistic vector magnifying glassAbraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the Patriarchs of the Jewish faith. Jacob would have the twelve sons, Abraham’s great-grandsons, from which the twelve tribes of Israel get their names. Of these patriarchs Jacob is the one known for lies and deception. But did you notice what happened right after God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis 12?

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:10-13)

What just happened? Well . . . Abram lied. Sort of. The bizarre thing is that Pharaoh and his household faced consequences for thinking Sarai was an available woman and pursuing her as such.

Then in Genesis 20 the scenario repeats itself in Gerar with a King named Abimelek. This time the Lord came to Abimelek in a dream telling him the truth and warning him against taking Sarah, a married woman, and sparing him the consequences. He approaches Abraham.

11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” (Genesis 20:11-13)

Guess what happens in Genesis 26? Isaac goes through the same situation almost verbatim! He has the same fear in the land of Gerar his dad had, he lies about his wife Rebekah, and Abimelek king of the Philistines is once again the victim of deceit.

So the deceiving ways of Jacob are not totally foreign to his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham.

I bring this up today to say one thing about Bible study. There are two ways to read the events of The Great Story. We have to ask, is this prescriptive or descriptive?

Prescriptive means we should read something with value attached, with positive enforcement, as if the writer is saying, “This is the way it should be,” prescribing a way of life or character. Example: The Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount.

Descriptive refers to those events described or classified without expressing feelings or judgment. The writer is simply describing what happened, not saying, “This is the way it should be.”

When we see Abraham deceiving kings and God still having his back we can mistakenly think God approves of these events. Really its just further evidence that the Patriarchs are human and that God is redemptive.

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Midweek thoughts on Genesis 16-18

The story of Abram starts out beautiful and hopeful, the promise of the impossible, life brought forth from a dead end. That’s Genesis 12 and 15. But the first line of Genesis 16 is a sobering punch of reality: “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.” Clearly the people of God walking in the promise of God are experiencing the human condition. Questions arise. And what is Sarai’s explanation? fct_c23db0995d0509f“The Lord has kept me from having children.” This seems to make no sense to a contemporary reader. Wasn’t it the Lord who promised a child even from your barrenness? But in the worldview of these characters we have to understand that everything was understood to be controlled and orchestrated by God. Indeed Job was rebuked for declaring of God, “You give and take away.” God’s rebuke is a message to us that there are other elements at play. We aren’t to give Him credit (sometimes in the form of blame) for things He doesn’t do or cause.

God has a plan, and it’s good. God is capable of making Plan B even better than Plan A. For example, when He gets His humans back into the Garden (Rev 22:1-5) there will only be one tree in the center, the Tree of Life. There will be no more curse, no more slithering lying snake in the grass, no presence of evil. The story of Sarai and Hagar is not one of those examples. This is a story about how Plan B can be full of pain and negative consequences even when redeemed. Why? Because it’s not God’s Plan B. Even Abram and Sarai deviated from the Plan. Yet redemption never ceases to be in God’s vocabulary. my-roseWhen you question the will of God or the way of faith, even after it has been made known to you, when you feel the urge to “help God along” taking His plan into your own hands out of fear, frustration, or some other emotion that is not from Him, you are not alone. Even Abraham, perhaps the character in The Great Story most known for His faith, faltered in sticking to God’s script.

el-roi-the-God-who-sees-meYet we continue to see the heart of God. In the very next scenes God shows compassion toward Hagar: “I have heard your misery.” She named the place of her pain and brokenness “The One who sees me.” God renews His covenant with Abram, giving him the new name of Abraham and the new sign of the covenant – circumcision. Three visitors, messengers of God Himself visit Abraham revealing that intimate relationship that he and God would continue to have.

Even Abraham had moments of inconsistency. Still, he believed in the One who is always consistent, never changing, and it was credited to Him as righteousness. Therefore, there is hope for us too.

How Good Is It?

Today at Shalimar UMC we are hearing about “God’s Good Plan.” Christians along with Jews can truly refer to “Father Abraham,” because the father of the Jews is the father of the promise on which Christians base our faith. However, this father of our faith was not perfect, and neither was his wife. This week we reflect on that question they must have had that those of us trying to live by faith wrestle with too: “How good is it?”

1115244_origYes, God has a plan, a rescue mission, a project of restoration and salvation. It’s a good plan. Jeremiah 29 tells us that God’s plan for His people Israel was “to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” But this is written to a people in exile, punished for not living in God’s world God’s way. Once we join God in faith, we encounter stipulations and situations that make us question how good it really is. It certainly isn’t good if good is supposed to be synonymous with easy. God came to Abram and Sarai when they were past the age of believing the promise of a child could be possible. Then, God made them wait some more. He didn’t tell them exactly how the promise would come to be. He didn’t tell them exactly what to do in the meantime, at least not step by step. So there was a lot of room for interpretation and a frustrating lot of room to improvise. So that’s exactly what they did. Is this sounding familiar to any of us reading this today trying to live according to God’s plan and promises, but who want a turn by turn map of instructions?

Two thoughts. A friend once told me: “If you’re ever wondering what God wants you to do, just keep doing the last thing He told you. He’ll tell you the next move when it’s time.” Second is the very reason Abraham is such a revered man in our faith history: he was a friend of God. He wasn’t just a servant. He knew God, like personally the way friends know each other. So, God didn’t have to tell Him everything step by step. Abraham knew God’s heart and was able to act accordingly. We can too.

Holy Smoking Firepot Batman!

Abram: Do you remember what you said, God? You said you would give me a child. I was old then. Now I’m older. And still no child. I don’t know what I’m doing. It makes no sense. But you said, “Go,” so I did. You say, “Do not be afraid. I am your shield and your great reward.” But the very thing you promised me still hasn’t happened. How am I supposed to keep going on like this in blind trust? And even if I could, how am I supposed to convince my wife!

God: I made this covenant with you. Today I remind you of what I said. Every word is true. And I’ll show you how trustworthy I am. Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon. Cut them in two except for the birds, and make a bloody path between the pieces. Now…you’re getting very sleepy…

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” -Genesis 15:12-16

As the day came to a close, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. The symbol of God Himself appeared and passed through the pieces that both parties would each walk through as they “cut a covenant.” Abram watched as God took it upon Himself to fulfill both parts of the covenant. And the sovereign Lord said,

“To your descendants I give this land,from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” -Genesis 15:18-20

This is the God who covered Adam and Eve with animal skins because their own effort of fig leaves was insufficient. This is the God who would send His only Son, Jesus, to accomplish for humankind and indeed the cosmos what we could never do or undo for ourselves. This is the God of The Great Story. He’s no Joker. On a dark night, He showed Abram His true character and revealed that there is no length to which He is unwilling to go in order to rescue, redeem, restore, rebuild, and renew the lost and the broken. This is our defender, our shield and our great reward. Today He is worth our trust, our allegiance, and our worship. His plan is good.

The Way of Abraham in Faith by Oswald Chambers

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

March 9th

He went out, not knowing whither he went. — Hebrews 11:8

In the Old Testament, personal relationship with God showed itself in separation, and this is symbolized in the life of Abraham by his separation from his country and from his kith and kin. To day the separation is more of a mental and moral separation from the way that those who are dearest to us look at things, that is, if they have not a personal relationship with God. Jesus Christ emphasized this (see Luke 14:26).

Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One Who is leading. It is a life of Faith, not of intellect and reason, but a life of knowing Who makes us “go.” The root of faith is the knowledge of a Person, and one of the biggest snares is the idea that God is sure to lead us to success.

The final stage in the life of faith is attainment of character. There are many passing transfigurations of character; when we pray we feel the blessing of God enwrapping us and for the time being we are changed, then we get back to the ordinary days and ways and the glory vanishes. The life of faith is not a life of mounting up with wings, but a life of walking and not fainting. It is not a question of sanctification; but of something infinitely further on than sanctification, of faith that has been tried and proved and has stood the test. Abraham is not a type of sanctification, but a type of the life of faith, a tried faith built on a real God. “Abraham believed God.”

Accessed on January 23, 2015 at http://utmost.org/classic/the-way-of-abraham-in-faith-classic/.

What’s in a Name?

2000px-Hello_my_name_is_sticker.svgDo you realize how many characters in the Bible received a new name? Abram becomes Abraham, his grandson Jacob becomes Israel. God instructs the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute and commands him to name his children “Jezreel” (the name of a town Israel had massacred), “unloved,” and “not my people.” But God redeemed Jezreel and changed the name of “unloved” to “beloved” and of “not my people” to “my people.” Jesus gives Simon the new name of Peter, meaning “rock.” And to Levi, the shame-ridden tax collector, He gives the new name of “Matthew.”

What strikes me in the reading today is inconsistent name-calling. In Genesis 12 God makes a covenant with a man named Abram, a ridiculous covenant with an impossible promise attached. Abram immediately responds in obedience! God says go, and he goes. But it’s not until Genesis 17 that God gives him his new name, Abraham. To Jacob (meaning “usurper/deceiver”) God gives the new name Israel the night he wrestles an angel at Peniel and limps away a different and humble man. jacob-wrestling-with-the-angel-1659But in the very
last chapters of Genesis we read yesterday and today, we continue to see a going back and forth between the two names, God sometimes calling him “Jacob.” Why the inconsistency?

It clicks for me as I’m reading through the Bible in 2015 and turn today to Matthew 17 in the midst of these Old Testament passages. Jesus comes down the Mount of Transfiguration where His true identity has been illuminated (literally) and His disciples have failed to do the very thing He has commissioned them with power and authority to do – cast a demon out of a young boy. They ask Him later why they were unsuccessful, and I’m reminded of the church without the Holy Spirit. There is a reason the Risen Christ told the apostles gathered in the upper room to wait there until they had received the Holy Spirit – because without Him, they wouldn’t be able to engage in the mission of Jesus and succeed. This is who they are meant to be. This is their true identity, the fullness of who they can be in Jesus once He has all of them. Bingo.

God gives us a new name. Sometimes like Saul we are radically and immediately changed (Paul) and we do an instantaneous 180°. Other times we must grow into our new names. Personally, I can think of some names I gave up long ago, and I’m grateful that by the grace of God I have lived into the new name and think little of it today. There are other names, however, which I still struggle to live into. Like Jacob I wrestle. This doesn’t mean they aren’t my identity. It just means I struggle to accept them yet.

So, what’s in a name? Well, it depends on who gives it to you. If God . . . then, everything.

God Doesn’t Do Contracts

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Today I write of afterthoughts of yesterday and foretastes of Sunday. The word covenant is one of the greatest words in all of scripture. It appears when God comes to Noah after the Flood, giving the rainbow as a sign. However, I don’t think Genesis 6 is the first place we see it. In fact, I think we have to look no further than Genesis 1 and 2. We see God with Adam and Eve (two parties), a promise given, conditions established, and the consequences of violating. Then, when the first humans break the covenant God Himself makes the first animal sacrifice clothing them in skin, doing for them what they could not do for themselves.

In the ancient near east, covenants were not like contracts with loopholes and escape clauses. They were established in blood of an animal as two parties would “cut a covenant” and then walk through the blood path essentially saying, “If I break the covenant, may it be done to me as was done to this animal.” Broken covenants usually required at least one life as settlement. What God did was unheard of, the only true Covenant-Keeper paying settlement Himself for the party who would consistently be unable to keep our part.

This week we read not about the first covenant in scripture, but perhaps the most significant one – the one that will see its final fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the one through which all nations of the earth would be blessed. God made it with a man named Abram and his wife, Sarai. God has a plan. It’s a good plan. And He chooses to use the very creatures that break trust time and time again. Why? Because He’s not interested in a broken contract. He made the covenant, and no matter what, He will keep it.

What Are You Reaching For?

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What amazes me about the Tower of Babel is that in the Genesis account it is directly after the Flood! God has promised to never “cleanse” the earth to that degree again on account of human wickedness, and the very next thing He must contend with is the Tower of Babel. (For a deeper dive into the meaning of this event, take 8 minutes to check out this video: The Tower of Babel: Seven Minute Seminary) What I’d like to focus on today is one simple thought. The Tower of Babel helps us understand one more aspect of the human condition, the great and tragic downward spiral that began in Genesis 3 . . .

We have started reaching for divinity and stopped reaching for the Divine.

God had made Adam and Eve in His image, He had given them all they needed for life, abundant and perfect. The serpent then suggested that God had forbidden the fruit because He knew that eating it would cause Adam and Eve to “be like God.” Have you noticed a struggle in your own soul to reach for divinity rather than reaching for the Divine, reaching for god-likeness instead of reaching for God Himself? Rather than taking a moment to answer this question right now, I would like you to take this question with you today in the following prayer:

Creator God, loving Father, you made humans for relationship and provided everything we need. You made me to know You and be known by You, to be loved by You and to return that love. I give you this day. Walk with me. Talk with me. Reveal to me how I like my ancestors sometimes stop reaching for You and begin reaching for ways to be what only You are meant to be. Thank you that I don’t have to try to be like You apart from You, but that I was made in your image to begin with. Amen.

Wait, What?…Seven Pairs of Birds on the Ark?!?

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If there is one story we think we know with most of the detail accounted for if we graduated any level of children’s church or Sunday school, it’s Noah and the ark. We probably know it as well as Mary and Joseph being turned away by an innkeeper minutes or hours before three wise men show up with gifts for baby Jesus. The story of Noah is a grand example of how rich, nuanced, and new the smaller stories within The Great Story can be if we will read them humbly, openly, and on their terms. No, we learn, there was not just one pair of every animal on the ark. Of all the clean animals and birds, there were seven pairs. Why? Because Noah needed not just enough to repopulate the earth, but also to offer sacrifice to God (Genesis 8:20-21).

I love this story. It is perhaps the climax of the “downward spiral” we reflect on this week, which is very depressing. It is the only time in history when God all but started over. Why would I say “all but”? Because of one family – Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives, and all those animals. Never again would God wipe out the face of the earth and rid the world of all but a handful of humans. And with this handful He would make a new covenant. The first had been made with Adam and Eve under perfect conditions. This one, less than perfect conditions. We read it in Genesis 9, and it’s beautiful. This concept of covenant is not introduced first with Abraham in Genesis 12. It’s introduced with Adam and Eve and again with Noah. The other concept that is introduced here is “remnant.” The handful spared, the small fraction (which is all God has ever needed) that is sold out to humility, a Godly reverence for creation, obedience, and seemingly irrational trust is what I love about the story of Noah. It is faith that results in redemption.

We see this also in the story of Jacob and Esau that will be read today by those journeying through the whole Bible in 2015. I can’t read this story without at least almost crying. Jacob, the usurping deceiver, goes through some life-changing stuff. He is blessed with wives and children, used by God despite his glaring flaws, and “struggles with God and humans and overcomes.” His brother finally catches up to him, and this time Jacob fears not for his own neck or agenda. He strategizes to protect his now large clan. When Esau approaches he bows low, but Esau runs to embrace him and they both weep tears of forgiveness and reconciliation. This is one of the most dramatic transformations in all of scripture and it’s long before the Damascus road. Both Noah and Jacob reveal what God has always really been after, a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:16-17), humble obedience, and faith that is seemingly irrational. And you know what God can do with just a pinch of faithful trust? Redemption. Bring on the rainbows!

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