Friday, April 30, 2010

Oh, Rebekah

Rebekah is one such person that we have learned about many times. Of course, she is only a sideline to the story of Isaac, and then the mother to Jacob and Esau. In her early time, she is taught as the obedient and faithful servant of God who willingly goes to an unknown land to marry a perfect stranger--her cousin, Isaac. Interestingly enough, Rebekah gets the billing of a sneaky, conniving woman who helped to cheat her first-born son out of his blessing just a few short chapters later. 
In fact, teachers have often proudly proclaimed that, “even in these things, such as a conniving woman, God is able to make wonderful things happen.” Ah, here is where I begin to smell the smells of the old church basement... the wooden tables and matching miniature chairs... the heat from the overhead projector bulbs that sends the fumes of the hot plastic and marker into my nostrils... while the flannel graph sits quietly in the corner, waiting to tell the story of Jacob, complete with paper herds of spotted and speckled sheep and goats, and white paper men in striped robes and turbans.

But back to today’s topic. While I do believe that God is able to make wonderful things happen in any situation... I am wondering just how close or far from the mark this explanation falls in Rebekah’s case. When Rebekah was pregnant with the twins, God spoke directly to her regarding their relationship. He told her, “The sons in your womb will become two rival nations. One nation will be stronger than the other; the descendants of your older son will serve the descendants of your younger son.” (Gen. 25:23)
Rebekah and Jacob were very close. The day he swindled Esau’s birthright was probably the same day he told his mother about it. She knew. I bet she knew. With this birthright, Jacob was now entitled to all the rights and privileges of the first-born... a double-portion inheritance, even the blessing. So it does not surprise me that when Rebekah found out that Isaac was preparing to bless Esau, she jumped into action. Now I am not saying that I am a supporter of taking matters into our own hands all the time. All I am saying is that Jacob was highly favored by his mother; Esau by his father. There was certainly a rivalry there that extended even into the paternity of the twins.
I can’t say for sure, nor will I pretend to be a scholar in this area, but I think Rebekah was acting with a certain knowledge deep inside of her heart. And while the method may not have been smiled upon, the outcome was exactly what God had intended. Rebekah. Bound. Servant of God, yet still imperfect. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Father Abraham, part 2

"I will cause you to become the father of a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and I will make you a blessing to others." Genesis 12:2 (NLT)

Abraham had to wait many, many years for his promise to even begin to materialize, in the form of an heir. Abram was 75 when God called him, and 100 when Isaac was born. He moved from Haran to Canaan, from Canaan to Egypt, then to the Negev. He went to war, saved his nephew and many others from captivity, and became feared by many kings.

Abram and Sarai were not perfect in their faith. They did not believe that Sarai would be the one to birth this son, and in their weakness brought forth a nation who would always be at odds with God’s chosen nation. God knew this would happen, but it didn’t HAVE to happen. When people are presented with a promise, we get excited. And impatient. Something happens within us that causes us to rise up in our impatience and try to take control of the situation and make that promise happen, without regard to God’s timing. God knew that certain things needed to be set in place before Isaac could be born... and the perfect example is the consecration of Abraham, his family and household.

In Gen. 17:1-21, God visits with Abram, changes his name to Abraham, and restates His promises to Abraham. He also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, and promises that it will be through HER womb that the child He promised to Abraham would be born. In this conversation, something very significant was put into place: the rule of circumcision (vv. 9-14). This was to be Abraham’s end of the deal. Every male in his charge (family and workers/household) was to be circumcised, or they would be cut off from God’s promises. This was a huge ordeal at first, as every man and boy had to go through this process all at once. After this, though, on the 8th day of their little lives, baby boys would undergo this important ritual.

In verse 23, when Abraham was 99 years old, every male in the household was circumcised and therefore, consecrated for the Lord. It was only then that the Lord allowed Sarah’s womb to be opened, to bring forth the son He spoke of. This is an important thing to acknowledge. The Lord will give us a promise, and we must live in faith, without receiving that promise, for as long as the Lord wills.

There is also something very significant to get ahold of in this story. Abraham was called by God to walk in the promise He spoke over him, and also to become His chosen father of many nations (Gen. 17:4). This is a significant calling, obviously. ANY calling by God is significant. And in order to be exactly who God has called us to be in His promise, there is a certain amount of maturity that needs to be attained. Now I WILL say that God can mature anyone in a moment’s time. But for the larger part of life, He chooses to grow us in the most natural way possible... He fashioned us, afterall, and knows the healthiest way to grow us.

I looked over at my seedling pepper plants today and realized something: If that little seedling sprouted a nice healthy pepper now, it would collapse the stem and kill the plant. It has neither the strength to support that fruit nor the pathways to nourish it. Yet. Just like that pepper plant, Abram needed time to walk in God’s ways and promises, to go through trails and experiences that would shape him into the man God intended for him to be--Abraham--“father of many”.

So after the time it took to “grow” Abram into Abraham, and after certain tangible things were taken care of, like the covenant God made physically, and the circumcisions of Abraham’s household, THEN and only then was Sarah’s womb opened to receive the amazing miracle of Isaac’s conception. This is something every person can hold onto and remember that when we live out our lives with God’s promises on the horizon, and patiently wait for His perfect timing, in full faith that our God is the ultimate and faithful provider, we begin to do something beautiful. We begin to walk in faith and grow into the person God has in store to receive those promises.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Father Abraham, part 1

Abraham was a man who held probably the greatest promise in the history of civilization--the promise of “millions of descendants who will represent many nations. Kings will be among them!” (Gen. 17:6, NLT) But before I can look forward into that promise, I feel it is good to take a look at where he came from.

In Genesis 11, the lineage of Noah’s son, Shem, is written. As it comes close to Abram, his father, Terah, is expounded upon just a bit. As I read it through this time, I saw something that could be of significance in this promise that we remember Abraham for. The first time God spoke to Abram, that we read, was to call Abram to leave his country, relatives, his father’s house, and to go to a land that He would show him. Then God goes on to promise the great nation and many blessings.

The first place Abram landed (in ch. 12) on his journey was Canaan. Something struck me as I read that this time, and I turned the page back to chapter 11. There it was, in verse 31: “Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai, and his grandson Lot (his son Haran’s child) and left Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan.” I knew I had just read Canaan! But the verse didn’t stop there... as Terah did. It finishes, “But they stopped instead at the village of Haran and settled there.”

This got me to thinking about who God had spoken to throughout the history of the people in His chosen lineage. Had God spoken to Terah about moving forward? Had He called Abram’s father to this greatness? It is possible that Terah could have been the name we all sang as children, instead of “Father Abraham had many sons...”? I seriously wonder.

The Bible for sure is not the all-inclusive Word of God, meaning, not everything that God has ever said or done is recorded here. It IS the infallible Word of God, living and active, and perfect in its entirety. But I do wonder... how many people has God called, who have gone so far, and then, “settled”? It is interesting to think about settling. We like to settle. We like to put down some roots and call a place home. How many, though, have settled themselves right out of the promises of God Most High?

We are to be a people, who are moving forward, expanding, in the things of God, as God provides. We are not to settle... to stop our progress and decide for ourselves that where we are at is good enough. I am not saying that Terah was supposed to be the Abraham we read about and admire today. I do not know, but I DO know that for every person that has responded faithfully and obediently to God’s call, there are probably a thousand who have turned Him down. It is human nature to be #1 selfish, and #2 fearful of anything we ourselves can not control. Terah may have “settled” for less than Canaan, but Abraham didn’t. In fact, he went beyond Canaan. He went all the way.

There were many hardships, battles, and even shortcomings he lived through, but he was as faithful to God’s leading as a person could have been in his situation. This is why we DO read about him. This is why we DO remember him as the great father of nations and kings, with more descendants than the stars in the sky, or grains of sand on the shore.

Friday, April 9, 2010

meekness: weakness or humility?

I am constantly perplexed by my own attitude of judgmentalism. I am also perplexed by my possible making up of words...

Here is the dilemma. I am someone who sees--with much clarity--how things can be done in an efficient manner. I am also thick-headed enough to feel that if I see something being done in a different way, usually less efficiently than my own, I should comment, or lend my "expertise" to the situation, thus making the world a better place.

YIKES! Yes, folks, I said it. I am being painfully honest right now. And to SOME degree, we all have this deep within us. Many people do not possess this nasty nature to such a degree as myself, I am guessing, but it is there. Sometimes it manifests itself in a different way. Sometimes, we find faults in others and then we justify our actions of not wanting to live life with those people by saying things like, "I just can't handle that kind of [fill in the blank] in my life right now." We find ways of talking ourselves right out of being joined to someone God has pretty much placed in our lives for a specific purpose.

Sometimes it manifests itself in not treating those with special needs the way they ought to be treated. Don't get me wrong--some people are horrific in their treatment of people with special needs, even people in general. I am not speaking directly about those types of behaviors. I am speaking of the mother/father/friend/relative or whomever who just doesn't understand a child who has needs that they themselves do not. They love the child, but there is always an element of disdain hanging over their heads because of a particular shortcoming that is clearly more evidenced in this child's life than any shortcomings they have in their own lives.

Life will never be fair. Life will never be perfect. Here on Earth. The curse of sin is much too prevalent in our world to ever accomplish anything else. We absolutely can conquer many faults and problems in our own hearts and lives with the help of our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit, and even help others to change their own hearts and lives, but the world is in a state of decay and death.

In many various conversations with people, prayers with God, and readings from many different sources (including the Word of God), I have been completely inundated with this dilemma more times than I can recount in the last month or so. Here is what I have discovered...

As human beings, we love conditionally. There are certain conditions we subconsciously place on our relationships and standards of love. It is part of our flesh. It comes not only from our culture and peer training, but also from within our sin-tainted hearts. We set standards that no one can live up to, and therefore always will have some conflict or another within our own hearts. It may never come to the surface and out into the open air, but it is there.

The great news is that when we willingly pour our messed up lives out and begin to live in the Spirit and grow with His power and strength, we can actually change those fleshy standards. Truly, this condition is all about selfishness. It is only with the help of THE Helper (The Holy Spirit) that we can leave our selfish ways and work toward loving as God loves. I know in my heart that I have not even begun to scratch the surface of my conditional heart, but I DO know that construction has begun long ago, and will not stop until He completes His work in me. Unless I decide to stop. Which I never plan to do. Ever.

Here's the bottom line: God loves us just the way we are. It doesn't matter whether we are choosing to live in sin or in freedom. It doesn't matter whether we are failing spiritually or at the top of our game. It doesn't matter if we have special needs, mental challenges, or other dilemmas. Financial woes. Relational woes. Weight issues. It doesn't matter. What matters is that Creator God made you, made me. He designed us. Crafted us. Before we knew ourselves, He knew us. (Jeremiah 1:5)

So, if God can love us and send His only Son here to die for us, even with the knowledge that we chose independence from Him (sin) over relationship with Him, does it stand to reason that He can do that same work within my heart? I have chosen to rely on Him not only for my salvation, but also for my strength, wisdom, daily bread, and any other thing that I need.

So my prayer for now is this: let me be meek in my ways, walking upright, humbly, and with You, Lord. Let me never look down on someone for a shortcoming. Let me never puff myself up by thinking that my ways are the only ways, or the best ways, of doing something. And let me not be swayed by any standard the world may throw in my face, for the world is not my Lord; You are.

Matthew 7:3-5

Lastly, this is a quote from a brilliant man... let it not go in one eye and out the other. :-)

"The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. He has accepted God's estimate of his own life: In himself, nothing; In God, everything. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring." --A.W. Tozer