Thursday, March 31, 2011

Genesis 17:1-14

HAPPY “LABOR DAY!” As I write this, Emmy, Nathan, Beau, and Aunt Molly are on their way to the airport to fly to Salt Lake City. The plan was that they would meet the birth mom at dinner tonight, then tomorrow the doctor would induce the birth of our new granddaughter, Penelope. I guess Penelope did not want to be an April Fool, because Emmy called me at 11:15 p.m. last night to tell me that the birth mom’s water had broken! So, we’re reminded, once again, that our plans are not always God’s - and His are never thwarted! Please pray for the birth mom as she labors, then releases this baby. Pray that God will use this in her life to draw her closer to Him, and bless her for choosing life for this little girl. May she, like Hagar, see the One who sees her! Which brings me back to our study...

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (vs 1-8)

Here God basically affirms the promises made in Genesis 12 and 15. Note that the one principle that surrounds this covenant is grace. This is all about what God will do for Abram and his descendants. In fact, God says, “....this is my covenant...”

This covenant, is an everlasting covenant. Even though the Jews were scattered from the area in 70 AD, God promised this land would still be theirs. In Ezekial 11:17 He promised, “I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.” Certainly, this regathering beginning in 1948, when the state of Israel was declared in modern times. However, they still do not fully possess the whole land of Canaan, the entire 300,000 square miles God promised them here in verse 8. One day they will, because God has declared it.

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. (vs. 9-12)

Okay, this is painful to read. I’m sure men cringe when they read it! Why did God choose circumcision as the symbol of this covenant? Wasn’t there an easier way to demonstrate this covenant? Why not a pierced nose or the cutting off of an earlobe? Why not a tattoo??? Why the foreskin? And why at eight days instead of 13 years, which is when many cultures recognize the coming into manhood? I love Beth Moore’s take on this. God is not squeamish about the subject of circumcision, but He is, in fact, deliberate. This symbol of the covenant was NOT about coming into manhood or self-sufficiency. It was about complete reliance on our covenant-keeping God, and pointed to the blessing of the promise: offspring and lineage. This mark was not a publicly seen mark - it was, as Beth says, a private “reminder to the man himself that he belonged to God and that his strength, virility, and abliity to bear much fruit rested in the blessing of God Almighty.”

Indeed, when we receive Christ as our LORD and Savior, there is no visible stamping of a cross on our foreheads - it is our HEARTS that are circumcised (Rom 4:9-12, and Gal 2:15-21). The only outward sign to the world that we belong to God is our changed lives. And the ability to change our lives and bear much fruit rests completely in God. It is by grace from first to last!

Tomorrow we’ll look at the changes that begin from this point for Abram and Sarai. Good things are coming!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Genesis 17: 1

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Why am I just looking at the first verse of this chapter today? Well, truthfully, I’m running late and the cleaning lady is coming today, so, naturally, I need to clean up first! But, mainly, because there is so much here in just this verse, we could spend two days here! :)

Yesterday we saw Hagar head back to submit to Sarai - and she had her baby, Ishmael. Well, in this next chapter, Ishmael is already 13 yrs. old!! It had been more than 13 years since Abram had encountered God. What was God doing all that time? Had He taken a break? Had He forgotten Abram? Abram must have wondered if he had forfeited the blessing by taking matters into his own hands with Hagar. Jon Courson points out in his commentary that Abram is called the friend of God, so you have to wonder why the silence. Well, Courson says, it’s because he’s also called the father of faith, and faith grows best when we have to exercise it. It is in the silences, the hard times when we don’t FEEL the presence of God - when we have to just BELIEVE that He is with us and that He is still working on our behalf - that our faith is both challenged and strengthened.

Finally, God comes to Abram again and reminds him, “I am God Almighty.” This is the first use of God’s name, El Shaddai. The word El speaks of God’s might, His right arm of strength, while Shaddai apparently comes from the word for breast, signifying the nurturing love of God. He is both all-powerful and tender - He is not only ABLE, but He is also WILLING to be everything we need: our rock, our shield, our defense, our provision, and our Abba Father! We’re going to note that hist encounter between God and Abram is ALL about God and what HE will do. Twenty-four times we read “I will...” as God makes it very clear that this covenant He’s about to make is all HIS doing, even though Abram participates in it.

Tomorrow we’ll get into the actual covenant, but we need to first remember that it is only a valid covenant because the One who makes it is El Shaddai, our Almighty God! If you feel like you have been in a period of silence from God, and you are not sure WHAT, or even IF He is doing anything in your life, hold on! You may just be in for an encounter of your own. And the best place to meet Him? In His glorious Word!!

Meet you here tomorrow!


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Genesis 16: 8-16

And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” (vs.8-9)

Whoa! Go back and submit to someone who is mistreating her??? I would not want to draw generalizations about staying in an abusive relationship here, but why on earth is God asking Hagar to do such a thing? Talk about a hard choice to obey! She would have to completely swallow her pride and go back to face the one who was tormenting her - with an attitude of submission - and not just to God through obedience, but to Sarai herself. God tells Hagar specifically to submit “to her.”

Have you ever worked with or for someone who was truly a difficult person in your life? Are you related to a difficult person and you feel justified in NOT going back? OUCH! Been there! I don’t know what difficult thing God might be asking you to do, but I do know that He never asks us to do something without also providing us with the ability and means to do it. Look at what He promises Hagar:

The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” (vs.10)

Okay, that should soften the blow of having to face humiliation and possible harassment. That’s a pretty exciting promise! Then God gets very personal and specific:

The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael or the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (vs. 11-12)

Now, as an expectant mom, wouldn’t you want to hear that your son is going to be loved by all and wildly successful? Would you want to hear that he is going to be a rebellious, stubborn, angry kid, always ready for a fight?? Well, hidden in there, as a word of great comfort, is the name of her son, Ishmael, which means God hears or, as Beth Moore puts it, Yahweh has been attentive to your humiliation. Beth points to the prophecy of Ishmael’s destiny not as a curse, but as a matter of fact. And, surely, the legacy of the Ishmaelites is one of continual fighting and upheaval. Boy! Are we seeing it in today’s headlines!

Beth Moore also points out that after God has given Hagar a name, Hagar turns around and gives God a name, El Roi, the God who sees me, for she responds to his promise, saying, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (vs. 13)

God sees this pathetic servant girl who had despised her mistress and then run away to the desert. He sees her anger, her desperation, her humiliation, and her fear. He knows all about the ugly attitudes within her heart. Yet He very intentionally and compassionately seeks her out to let her know that He sees and still loves her deeply. Hagar finally had what she needed to go back and submit to Sarai, for she knew for certain that God would be with her and that He had a plan for her and for her son.

Isn’t this just the most exciting chapter? God sees us and He has a plan. Whatever difficult thing He calls us to, He will also walk us through. He has our futures laid out on His drawing board and He will deliver us through it all. What are you facing today? A scary medical procedure? A future without a loved one? A financial disaster? The loss of your job or home? Are you being asked to submit to a difficult boss - or even a difficult husband? Trust that situation or person with God. He is the God who sees us!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Too much to take in all at once...

This has been a couple of weeks of roller coaster emotions! We returned yesterday from San Jose, where my nephew’s funeral was on Friday. We drove up with heavy hearts, but anxious to be reunited with my entire family, who were coming in from all over the country. It was so wonderful to be with them all and to be comforted by everyone’s love and presence. I’ve truly seen this week how important little things like a facebook post or a card or flowers or e-mails or hugs can be at a time of grieving. Grief shared is certainly lessened by the joy of fellowship!

On our drive up, we stopped for lunch in San Luis Obispo, where both of my girls went to college ten years ago. As we were returning to our cars to continue the journey, Emmy and Nathan received a phone call from the adoption agency telling them that they have been matched with a baby girl who is being born this coming Friday, so they need to be in Salt Lake City this coming Thursday! The joy I felt watching Emmy and Nathan and Beau rejoicing and praying together was beyond anything you can imagine! They have waited a long time!

So the family that was in mourning found a reason to be glad! The service was beautiful, and, yet, it was so hard to watch Justin’s three siblings and two of his sisters-in-law getting up to speak, knowing how deeply they feel his loss. Even with that, they managed to be funny and celebrate his life. Later, our entire family spent a day just being together and watching old videos (laughing hysterically), telling stories, and renewing our love for each other. It was so wonderful to see all of the grown-up cousins all together and to see the next generation all running around and taking care of each other. My nephew, Jared, the doctor, explained my sister Jodi’s condition of multiple myeloma and gave us great hope that the procedure she faces this week will be successful and provide her with a good prognosis. We are holding onto that hope! It was hard to say good-bye and head for home! We know that we left Stephanie and her three precious boys and the yet-to-be-born baby to begin a new life without their husband and father, and that breaks my heart. Please keep your prayers coming for both Justin’s family and for Jodi!

Now, in the week ahead, we will prepare for the arrival of baby Penelope! Because I am leaving next Monday to take students and some parents to Washington, DC over our spring break, I will not be able to be there to greet her in person. However, Aunt Molly is going with them! I’m now heading into parent confernce week, with report cards miraculously completed! Thank you, LORD! As life goes on, so does our study in Genesis, and I promise to get on with that tomorrow...
Love you all!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Genesis 16:7-8

Today we are at one of the most precious scenes in the Old Testament:

The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Let’s deal with the first issue: who is the “angel of the LORD?” Well, both Jon Courson and Beth Moore give reasons why we can assume this is God Himself, but I love that they aren’t dogmatic - and Beth, in her study, asks the reader to look for evidence from scripture that could confirm or deny that. So, I just looked down to verse 10 where the angel makes a promise to Hagar:

“I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

In my mind the pronoun, “I,” is a pretty clear indication that the angel is, indeed, the LORD. At any rate, this visitation is incredibly meaningful. Note, that Hagar was NOT seeking God - in fact, she was in the middle of running away from the “family of faith.” No, she was not looking for God, but He was looking for her! Here she is, in her lowest moment, pregnant and without any idea of what she should do, and how like our precious LORD to come to this defeated woman, whom He calls by name. Just like the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), and the woman caught in adultery (John 8), the LORD shows His special love for the “least of these,” those who are weak and hurting. As Courson says, “After all, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who left the ninety-nine to find the single sheep who had gone astray...He goes after the one. He goes after Hagar. He goes after you.

And how like Him to ask her a question when He already knows the answer. He did not need to know where she had come from and where she was going, but He wanted her to think about it. Beth Moore addresses her reader here, “Dear One, very often God initiates intimacy with us by raising fresh questions. Hard questions. Even questions that have no earthly answers. But the search leads us to heaven’s door. God often causes us to search ourselves, asking us to articulate what we’re feeling and why we’re making some of our present choices.”

So, I’m wondering, what question is He asking you? What is it He wants you to ask of yourself? Are there some attitudes that He seeks to change in your heart? Boy! I know I can use an attitude adjustment! There are so many times in a day when I’d just love to run away and have a good cry or just be free of the constant pulling in a thousand different directions. Life is messy and it is tough. There are many times throughout our lives when we find ourselves isolated in a desert like Hagar, wondering what in the world we will do next. Or maybe not even caring... Then He comes alongside - often through the word of encouragement of another, or just with a quiet whisper of His love, or in a fresh reminder from His Word - and we realize that He still seeks us. This relationship is entirely His doing!

He came to a pagan, runaway slave girl - He will come to you!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Genesis 16:3-6

Back to Sarai and Abram! Oh, and now we get to add the third party: Hagar!

So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”
“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. 

Oh boy! We talked about Sarai’s problem with manipulation last week, but I just wanted to quote Beth Moore on this passage, from her study, The Patriarchs. First, she reminds us that women by “nature tend to be nurturers, straighteners, fixers,” and that God wired us to be “suitable helper[s]” for our husbands . (Gen 2) However, Beth says, “Satan prides himself on tangling our wiring until the outcome is a knotted counterfeit of God’s wiring. Help tangles into manipulation with the slightest rerouting.” What Sarai did was in keeping with the cultural custom of the day, but it was not within God’s standard for marriage.

We don’t know if Hagar was beautiful, but we are certain she was younger than Sarai. And when she became pregnant, she began to disrespect Sarai, for, after all, SHE was providing Abram with a child. It was finally dawning on Sarai just exactly how badly this had turned out. Adding a pregnant, younger woman to this household was NOT a good thing! In fact, Beth Moore point to Proverbs 30:21-23 to prove that this would have been a disaster for all:

“Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant who becomes king, a godless fool who gets plenty to eat, a contemptible woman who gets married, and a servant who displaces her mistress.”

There must have been fireworks in this tent! And then came the blame game! Sarai says, “May the LORD judge between you and me,” obviously thinking Abram bore the responsibility. And she was correct that, as the spiritual leader of the household, and as the one who so eagerly accepted Sarai’s plan over God’s, he was ultimately responsible. However, there was certainly enough blame to go around here, eh?

Note the nasty attitude, though, that both Sarai and Abraham adopted. They didn’t even call her by name, but referred to Hagar as Sarai’s “slave.” In fact, the callousness with which Abram dismissed Hagar is pretty shocking: “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Abram very passisvely gave Sarai license to oppress Hagar, and that’s just what she did! YIKES! How did our two spiritual parents get to this point? By NOT trusting God to do the job! Oh, that we would learn to give Him the reins and relax as His plan unfolds, instead of stepping in to help Him along! And the ramifications? They are still being felt to this day with the tension between the Jews from Isaac’s lineage and the Arabs from Ishmael’s. More about that later...

Off to work!


Monday, March 21, 2011

There's nothing anyone could have DONE...

“There’s nothing anyone could have DONE...”

This phrase keeps going through my mind this morning. We received the information back from the autopsy on my nephew, Justin, this weekend. He died of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Basically it’s a ventricular fibrillation that causes an electrical problem, and the heart stops, killing the brain within 30 seconds. No one and nothing could have changed the outcome. There is some comfort in that, don’t you think? No one can feel like “if I’d only just...” At 35 he was just taken. And he felt no pain. As his brother, Jared, put it, “He kissed Stephanie goodnight and that was his last memory.”

There’s nothing anyone could have DONE...

The reason that is resonating with me this morning, is that it is exactly what our pastor said yesterday at church. We are going through the wonderful book of Romans - the book that absolutely changes lives - and he has been speaking out of the first three chapters for the past few weeks. As he puts it, in referring to these chapters, “Paul is telling us the bad news, before giving us the good news, because you can’t appreciate the good news, unless you know the bad news.” In a very organized way, Paul points out that NO ONE is righteous in God’s eyes, NOT ONE. ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of righteousness. That’s the bad news.

Our pastor gave the example of the challenge to swim from Southern California to Hawaii. He said that we have some amazing swimmers in our area - many of Olympic caliber. So, if we were told we all must swim to Hawaii, there are some who would only make it a few yards before they would drown. Certainly the Olympic types would swim much farther - even miles, but, they, too, would drown before making it to Hawaii. ALL would come short of the goal. Well, if our goal is to get to God, no matter how good we are, no matter how self-sacrificing or attentive to religious activity, no matter what we DO, we will never meet God’s standard of righteousness. Again, that’s the bad news.

The good news? Jesus has DONE it for us. By His obedience to His Father, by His death on the cross and His resurrection, He has DONE it. And, as our pastor says, that is the difference between ALL other religions and Christianity. All other faiths are built on the idea that we must DO something to get to God: meditate until we reach our inner god, do humanitarian works, perform certain sacraments or say certain prayers, assume a particular posture when we pray, say the right words, address God in a certain manner, etc., etc., etc... But as Paul clearly teaches in Romans, there’s nothing anyone could DO. Thank you LORD, for our wonderful savior who pronounced it as DONE, when He said from the cross, “It is finished.”

Have you been feeling under the burden of what you must DO? Are you craving assurance that you are right with God? Just accept what Jesus has DONE for you and receive the gift of salvation, which is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Read through the book of Romans - read the bad news, then rejoice in the good news!

We are making our plans to head up to San Jose for Justin’s funeral, which is on Friday. Everyone is coming from all over the country - and Jodi and Ed arrived yesterday in Chicago, to get further tests done on Jodi, before flying out here on Wednesday with their son Jared and his family. Please pray for travel safety for all of us. Apparently, we will be driving up in the rain on Thursday. Pray for sweet Stephanie and her boys and the unborn baby, that God would just surround them with comfort, strength, and peace. We are all anxious to finally be together - and although the circumstances are horrible, this is what family is for - to mourn together even as we rejoice together.

Love to you all, and many thanks for your prayers!


Friday, March 18, 2011

Genesis 16:1-4

How gracious our God is! I just want to thank you all for your words of sympathy and for all of the prayers that have gone up on behalf of our family and for sweet Stephanie and my sister, Jodi. Bless you all!!! Keep ‘em coming, please!!

In the midst of this surreal time, you shake your head at how life just moves on - just like the images of that unrelenting tsunami that swept everything in its path away. While you feel your life stand still, everything and everyone rushes on - and you have to as well, because the meals need to be prepared, the lessons need to be planned, the papers still need to be graded. So, how grateful I am for the “need” to be back in His Word this morning!  And, goodness, we are at one of the most amazing stories in the Bible! Poor Sarai! She goes down here as one of the worst “helpers” of God! Her decision to further God’s plan still has ramifications to this very day! !

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” (vs 1-2)

We know that Abram had received God’s promise of an heir - and that he had believed God that it would happen. It would seem that Sarai had not had the same personal encounters with God, so she apparently did not know His character as well. She has heard about these promises, but not seeing any way that she could be involved, since she was clearly barren and way too old, she assumes she can help God along with this one. What jumped out at me this morning was the phrase perhaps I can build a family through her [Hagar]. Sarai would build the family, not God. How subtle that one pronoun is, and yet it is the heart of the problem, isn’t it?

This is such a hard passage to read - I cringe when I read these verses, because I know how often I, too, have tried to “help” God. Just one of MANY examples was how I thought I knew best what my daughter, Emmy, needed best in a mate - and I tried to pray away Nathan when they were dating! I had my friends praying for a more “godly” match, because I didn’t think Nathan was quite the spiritual leader I wanted for Emmy!!! I always tell people that Nathan is the best “NO!” I ever received from God!! He is the most adoring, fun, and GODLY husband and father to Emmy and Beau - and I could not love him more if I had given birth to him myself. The LORD graciously ignored my attempts to manipulate that circumstance, and now I always tell younger mothers, let God be God in the lives of your children. He can do such a better job. We think they have to have certain experiences (go to prom, be in student government, go to a certain college, marry a particular type) because of our own experiences, yet God’s plan is so much better. He is building His faith walk with each of our children individually, and we need to let it go!! What would I ever do without my wonderful Nathan???

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. (vs 2b-4)

When I read Abram agreed to what Sarai said I thought of the pattern of faith we’ve seen: Abram believed God. I’m thinking that he certainly is agreeable! Agreeing with Sarai about taking another woman? Well, of course he did! DUH! Oh my goodness, what a disaster awaits him! He will be so sorry he ever agreed to this one!! Sarai will be so very sorry that she did not wait on God, but took matters into her own hands.

When Emmy was in college, she was visiting the home of her dear friend, Megan. Megan’s mom, Chris, was counseling the girls about dating and men. She very wisely told them, “Wait for your Isaac - don’t settle for Ishmael!” What perfect advice! I have repeated it over and over to others! And we will see here that Sarai will so wish she had waited on God instead of rushing in with a solution.

More about that next week! Have a blessed weekend. I’ll be working on report cards - Oh, help me dear LORD!!! :)


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Prayer would be good right now...

Good morning, dear friends!

This morning my heart is so heavy, so I’m just writing to ask for prayer. Yesterday morning we received the shocking news that my wonderful 35-year old nephew, Justin, had died in bed of a heart attack. Justin has a darling wife, Stephanie, and three precious sons, five-year old twins Grant and Kellen, and three-year old Lennox, and a fourth on the way, due this summer.

Justin was the son of my eldest sister, Jodi, and her husband of nearly fifty years, Ed. They have been living in Rome for several months, and are now making plans to return. Unfortunately, the night before Justin died, Jodi had received other shocking news: she has multiple myeloma. So, within 24 hours, their lives have been turned upside down and all of our family is in mourning. Jodi is extremely weak right now, so please pray that God will carry her here, protecting and strengthening her in her body and as well as in her spirit.

We are awaiting news on when the services will be. We will all be heading to Northern California for this sad reunion. We are trusting God, who was NOT surprised by any of this - and we are thanking Him for going on ahead of us all. Please pray that God will surround Stephanie and her boys and protect her baby. May He bring good out of it all!  And may He be glorified in our response...


Genesis 15:7-21 PART 2

I keep returning to the first verse in this chapter, when God said to Abram, I am your shield and your very great reward. Really, that should have been enough for Abram - and it should be enough for us! Yet, Abram questions God’s plan, by reminding God that He had not given Abram an heir. God gets that we need lots of reassurance and tangible evidence of His love (which is why He came in the flesh), so He very lovingly and patiently reaffirms the promise He had made in chapter 12, when He says here, “ ... a son from your own body will be your heir.” Again, Abram appears to need something more solid as proof, when he asks, “ can I know...?”

I mentioned yesterday that Courson points out in his commentary that there was a custom when men made a bargain, that they formally sealed it by both men meeting in the middle of the carcasses and joining hands. Did you notice here that, because Abram was asleep, the only one to pass through the animals was God (the flaming torch symbolizing His presence)? When God makes a promises He swears by Himself. He is the covenant maker. I covered this yesterday, so why am I going back to it? Because I’m astounded at the patience of God! His Word should be and is enough for us. We need to take Him at His Word - He said it and that settles it!

Yet we struggle throughout our lives with questions - even when He continues to prove Himself faithful over and over. I am so thankful that God has given us so many examples of those who wrestled with Him. Even Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane to the point of sweating blood! He agonized in prayer to His Father - until He came to that place of complete obedience and surrender, when He said, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:39) And that is the key. It’s okay to have questions - so long as we take them to Him, and then rest in His answers!

Did you wonder why in the world God bothered to tell Abram about something that would happen long after he was dead in verses 13-16, or who all of the “-ites” were that were mentioned - and what did God mean when he said, the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure... ? And why should we care??? God told Abram about the future captivity and brutal treatment of his descendants, the Israelites in Egypt, then gave the promise of their eventual release after 400 years:

Know for a certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. But... they will come out with great possessions. (vs 13)

And God gave a final promise here:
To your descendants I give this land from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates - the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites. (vs. 18-21)

In other words, “Your descendants, not you, will get all of this land - although, for now, it is inhabited by the enemy. And this enemy is truly evil - but I’m restraining myself from judging them until they have gone beyond the pale. I will give them 400 years to repent, because I am a gracious God, slow to anger, full of compassion. But, eventually, they will refuse to repent, and they WILL be judged and driven from the land. You will be given victory over all of them and finally take the promised land.” So often we hear people describe the “Old Testament” God as being vengeful and harsh - as if there were two different Gods - an Old Testament and a New Testament God! He’s the same throughout - and His love and patience, even for the truly pagan nations is astounding! God is not willing that ANY should perish! He wants ALL to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)  And, in His patience, He offers a lot of opportunity to repent. However, there comes a day of reckoning - and all of these “-ites” eventually met it!

Think about God as your very great reward today. Treasure Him and thank Him that He is all you need. There is NOTHING on this earth that lasts, and we need to cling to HIM!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Genesis 15:7-21

This morning I’m gong to try to get us through this very important passage, so I’m trusting the Holy Spirit to do the work! Let’s remember that after God had promised to be Abram’s very great reward, Abram does a little complaining: You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir. (vs.3) Then God takes him outside and shows him all of the starts and promises that Abram’s heirs will be as numerous as the stars! Now, we saw yesterday that Abram believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. But, like the man in Mark 9:24 who said to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief,” Abram struggles with belief:

But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” (vs.8)

Instead of thumping him on the head, the LORD is longsuffering with Abram, as He is with you and me. So he makes a formal covenant with Abram. According to Jon Courson’s commentary, it was customary for men to seal a deal be cutting an animal in half, then meeting between the halves of the carcass and clasping each other’s hands, “showing they were deadly serious about keeping up their end of the bargain.”

Abrams brings the required animals and birds, and arranges the carcasses . We’re told, Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. (vs.11) Birds of prey generally symbolize evil  - is there any bird more evil than a big, fat, black crow feeding on dead animals??  So, Courson says, while Abram is preparing to make this covenant with God, he is having to fight off the “birds of doubt and unbelief.” He’s busy flapping his arms to shoo them away. Eventually, exhausted by his own efforts, Abram falls asleep waiting for the blessing. Have you wearied of waiting for your blessing? Have you been praying for many years for the salvation of your family? Have you been waiting forever to become a bride or a mother? Does it seem like the job you want and need will never come? Have you fallen asleep waiting? GOOD! Because now it’s time for GOD to do the work.

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 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. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and 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.” (vs 12-21)

It was GOD who was making this covenant that could not be broken. God knows our weaknesses - that no matter how sincerely we would like to, we just can’t keep our promises. And so the promises of God are “yes” in Him alone! (2 Cor 1:20)

Here’s what Jon Courson says about this passage: There is only one Promise Keeper, only One in Whom all the promises are yea and amen. Jesus came on the scene and did what we were unable to do. He kept the covenant, the promises, the commandments. All of the promises of God are in Him and kept by Him.

Tomorrow we’ll take one last look at this great chapter. Have a great morning!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Genesis 15:1-6

This morning we are looking at the pivotal point in Abram’s life - where he decides whether or not to believe God. In the first verse we saw that Abram had been full of fear, so God dealt with that immediately: Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield and your very great reward. Does it amaze you, like it does me, that God knows our names? Not only that, He knows what troubles us - and CARES! Abram’s response seems tenuous, if not actually whiny:

But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (vs. 2-3)

Since Abram had no children, he had no one to carry on his name. Even Lot could not do that, because Lot had to carry on his own father’s name. So, the only option in Abram’s mind was to adopt his servant, Eliezar, and pass everything on to him. So, even though God has promised Abram to be his “very great reward,” Abram admits that there really is nothing he wants except a son, and God has not given him one of those...

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (vs 4-5)

Oh my goodness! “I’m not just going to give you the son, Abram, I’m going to give you so many offspring, you will never be able to count them all!!” What an amazing promise to give an old man! Here’s another Ephesians 3:20 moment!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...

Jon Courson points out that scientists think there are as many stars as grains of sand - and in Gen 22:17, God reaffirms to Abraham that his family will be as numerous as the grains of sand. He finds it interesting that computer chips, made up of silicon (sand) can perform one trillion calculations per second, and that “clear back in antiquity, God measured his thoughts toward us [as well as Abram’s offspring] with the subtsance that would come to epitomize our computer age.”

This statement by God must have boggled Abram’s mind. But what does the next verse tell us?

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (vs, 6)

Now, we know, looking backward, how God fulfilled this promise, and we now recognize that Abram is the father of the faithful. But let’s remember that when this promise was made, Abram had no Bible in his hand. He could not flip to all of the promises and the biblical events to read for himself how God was faithful and would keep His promises. He could not turn to a passage to hold onto a verse. So, when we are told that Abram believed God we have reason to be amazed. WOW! No wonder it was credited it to him as righteousness!!! And yet, even with all we have in the way of evidence, God still credits us as righteous when we, too, believe! Abram’s heart is the heart God is after. He is looking for those who will just believe what He says!

What promise do you need this morning? A couple of weeks ago our speaker at Bible Study Fellowship recommended we go an a “shopping spree” in God’s Word for verses of encouragement and promise. Doesn’t that sound better than a day at the mall looking for things that will wear out, or go out of style, and. ultimately, not satisfy? I'm game! What are some promises from God’s Word that He has made to you personally? Will you share them with us, please??
Off to work! Have a great morning!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Genesis 15:1

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Gen 15:1)

Oh my goodness! There is so much here! This is the first time the phrase, “the word of the LORD,” is used. What does that mean? Well, the verse indicates that Abram had a vision - whether or not this was while he was sleeping or he was wide awake, we don’t know. But he definitely both SAW and HEARD from God in some way. And the LORD knew his heart and his need at that moment, for He tells Abram, “Do not be afraid...”

Abram must have been dealing with an inner struggle with fear. Note that the chapter opens with “After these things...” After what things? Well, he had just had an amazing military victory when he rescued Lot; he had just experienced a spiritual victory when he resisted the temptations of the king of Sodom; and he had also had a spiritual high in his encounter with Melchizedek. After all of that spiritual adrenaline, Abram hit an emotional low - and this is so typical!

We need to be on guard after we’ve had a mountaintop experience, because Satan waits to rob our joy. Whenever I have spent time away at a women’s retreat, where I’ve been fed and blessed, I most often found discouragement waiting for me back in the valley. I have also found that being forearmed with prayer has truly helped me recognize and deal with the enemy!

Anyway, this is the first time in the Bible where God says, “Do not be afraid!” Knowing our predilection to fear, God repeats this phrase over and over. I’ve often heard that this phrase, or a form of it, appears 365 times - one for each day - of course, I googled the question! The answers were split on the exact numbers, but all agree that it’s used MANY times!

Fear is immobilizing. It paralyzes us, making us completely ineffective for God. It is the exact opposite of fear. And, yet, God knows our weakness so He reminds us that HE is our strength! Here, He specifically tells Abram, I am your shield. “Whatever you are facing, Abram, I will be there to protect you and defend you. I’m in front of you - whatever comes your way, has to come through me first!” And beyond that, God tells Abram that He is also his “very great reward.” Can we hold onto that??! Friends, there is NOTHING more that we can want or gain that is equal to God - He IS the prize - He IS the reward. He is our goal - the Alpha and the Omega, the A-Z, the beginning and the end, everything we could ever want or need is met in Him alone!

What is it that is causing you fear today? Is it financial disaster? Marital stress? The test results you received from the doctor? Is it the future of your wayward teen? Are you fearful that you will never marry or have a child? Whatever your fear is, God commands us to “Fear not!” He goes before us, He walks with us and He goes behind us! He has us covered!  Don’t let anything shake that trust! He IS your shield and He IS your great reward! Tomorrow we will look at how specifically He meets Abram’s deepest fears and longings!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Genesis 14:18-20

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, 
Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

I promised I would return to the subject of Melchizedek - and then we move on to a pivotal chapter. As I said before, Melchizedek is a very mysterious person in the Bible. We are given almost no information about him in Genesis. He’s only mentioned in these three verses, and then he’s gone! So what’s the big deal about him? Well, we probably wouldn’t spend much time pondering this. We know that there are many things NOT said in the Bible - things that we are left to speculate about. Like what exactly Sarai say to Abram after he let her go off into Pharaoh’s palace... or what Leah and Rachel said to each other during their daily chores. Things that do not affect our salvation, but would be interesting to know. So, we probably wouldn’t be worrying too much about this priest-king Melchizedek, except that the writer of Hebrews spends an entire chapter comparing him to Christ. In fact, the only other information we get about him is really the non-information in the third verse of Hebrews 7:

Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

Now, the fact that he had no genealogy could mean that nothing is known about him (which makes sense, since we are told nothing about his ancestry in Genesis), or it could mean that he was an eternal being. Does he live forever literally or is that figurative language that just means he lives forever by virtue of being mentioned in Scripture?? Does is matter? Well, it just makes for a lot of speculation that leads us to no definitive answer. But the theories are that he could have been an Old Testament appearance of Christ - or he could have just been a type of Christ.

What is the point that the Hebrews writer is making that he even alludes to this mystery man? He is pointing out the fact that the work of Christ, both on the cross, and continually as our advocate before the Father, is superior to any earthly priesthood that is held by men who die. Christ’s priesthood surpasses that of the Levitical priest (remember this is a letter to Hebrew Christians, who were always being tempted to return to the law and ritual to cleanse themselves and their congregations). It precedes and surpasses the Old Testament priesthood even as the new covenant in Christ’s blood surpasses the Old Testament sacrifices. And here’s the heart of the message from the writer of Hebrews:

Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (vs. 20-27)

What’s the glorious news? We have a High Priest who finished the work of salvation. It’s done! We have been completely saved by him. It is guaranteed! We do not need another priest. Jesus is our intercessor who lives forever!! Hallelujah!!

Tomorrow we will begin some precious time in Genesis 15. Can’t wait!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Okay, dear friends! I’m posting an extra note today, because I want to let you know about a terrific opportunity. Last spring, my daughters, Molly and Emmy, and I went to the women’s retreat for our church. The conference speaker was Lysa TerKeurst, who is a phenomenal speaker with Proverbs 31 Ministries. If you haven’t heard of her yet, check out her blog at You will be blessed! Anyway, Proverbs 31 sponsors an annual conference in North Carolina for women who have a passion for and feel called to a speaking and/or writing ministry or who want to work in women’s ministries in their churches. The She Speaks Conference is designed to give women the tools to answer this calling. I absolutely love that the women involved in putting on this conference want to see God’s gifts confirmed and multiplied.

The conference is an opportunity to hear from and network with speakers and writers and to meet with Christian publishers. All in glorious North Carolina! This summer the conference is on the weekend of July 22 - July 24. To see more details check out the She Speaks site:

Lysa is currently having a contest on her blog site to give away two scholarships to the conference. I’m trusting God, as I enter, that if this is where He wants me, He will make a way, whether through the contest or some other way. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that my heart’s desire is to share my passion for God and His Word. I want others to get hip-hopping excited about our amazing God! And, if you’ve known me even for a short while, you know that I love to speak. How blessed am I that every day God allows me to speak to my darling, captive audience of 32 fourth and fifth graders! And occasionally, He even allows me to speak to grown-ups! :)

I’m hoping to be in North Carolina - anyone want to join me? Check out Lysa’s blog, dated March 7, for more info! And while you’re there, stick around and read her delightful blog!

Back to Genesis!

Genesis 14:17-24, Part 2

Now, I figure, since I’m not a pastor or a televangelist raising funds for my latest project, that I can speak straight to you about money without offending anyone too much! :) I wanted to revisit these verses today, because it’s in this section that we first read about tithing, so it seems to be the institution of the tithe, a tenth of everything. (vs 26) People get really nervous when pastors bring up this subject. In fact, some get downright angry and storm out, never to return! However, a pastor who refused to preach on tithing is not only doing a huge disservice to his congregation but, in fact, would be guilty of not teaching the whole counsel of God. Jesus spoke more about money than he did about heaven. Why? Because our attitude about money speaks volumes about our heart towards God. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matt 6:21).

I love what Jon Courson says about this subject in his commentary: God is not broke, gang... God doesn’t need our money. Therefore, tithing is not His way of raising cash, but His way of raising kids. Tithing is not God’s way of getting money, but His way of developing maturity.

Courson quotes Dwight L. Moody, who said, “I can tell more about the spirituality of a man by looking at his checkbook than I can by looking at his prayerbook.” Where we spend our money is a good indication of what we value. It is tied directly to our priorities. If our priorities are material wealth, and we view our money as what we’ve earned by the sweat of our brows, then we tend to hold on tight to it or use it to build our surroundings. And the ironic thing is that the tighter we try to hold onto it or grab more of it, the less it fills us up. It reminds me of those money booths that used to be on game shows, in which a man would try to grab onto as much money as possible that was being blown all around him in the booth. As he reached for more bills, he’d lose the ones he already had grabbed. In Haggai 1:5-6, God describes the condition of those who have this desire to grab onto more money:

Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

God challenges us to test him in the area of giving. In Malachi 3: 8-12, he accused the Israelites of robbing Him and bringing a curse on themselves because of it:

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

When we lack the trust to tithe, we bring a curse on ourselves! There never seems to be enough money. We run out of money before the end of the month! But when we acknowledge that all we have is from God, and we trust Him with our money, step out in faith and give Him the first tenth of what we make, we will find that we run out of month first. There will be enough for all we need and more!

How does this work practically? Well, I can only tell you from our personal experience. When we failed to give first, we ended up spending more on trinkets that vanished - it truly was like there was a hole in our pocket. We ended up fearful, because there was not enough. But when we decided to obey God in this, we were amazed at how He provided! When you begin tithing, it requires some determined budgeting, and this just leads to better stewardship overall of the money He’s given you. We find there is more for the extra offerings, too, and that we have developed a much better spirit of generosity, because we clearly see that it is not OUR money, but HIS.  Let me know about YOUR experiences in this area!

If you have not yet tried tithing - do it! Trust that our God, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), doesn’t want your money, but He does want your heart! He is so faithful! He will keep his promise to pour out so much blessing that there will bot be room enough to store it. Go ahead - test Him on this!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Genesis 14: 17-24

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (vs 17-20)

In this portion of chapter 14, Abram is met by two kings after his victory over the four kings we studied yesterday. These two, Bera, the king of Sodom, and Melchizedek, the priest/king of Salem, couldn’t be more different. Melchizedek is a mysterious person in the Bible. We only know what we read here and what the writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 5::6 and Hebrews 7, when he compares Jesus’ priesthood to that of Melchizedek. Some believe he was a Christophany, an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. He is, at the very least, a type of Christ.

While Bera is the king of wickedness (a type of Satan), Melchizedek is the king of righteousness (the meaning of his name), and peace, the meaning of Salem. Melchizedek asks for nothing from Abram, but gives him bread and wine and blesses him. Abram’s response to Melchizedek is to give him a tenth of everything, the first case of tithing in the Bible, and note that it precedes the giving of the law, so it is separate from it. The king of Sodom, on the other hand, demands, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” (vs 21) Abram’s response to him is vehement:

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.” (vs. 22-24)

It is interesting to me that right after his great military victory, Abram is met with two choices: worship Satan and gain material wealth, or worship God with his entire being, including his giving. And isn’t this the typical choice we’re given? Satan loves to come right after we’ve had a victory and either rob us of the joy of it, somehow, or rob God of the credit and glory due Him alone. Satan doesn’t necessarily ask that we blatantly give him credit - he just wants to steal it from God. In fact, he will usually tempt us to take credit ourselves. While in this instance, he is bold in his demand for people (notice it is souls that he is after), he is sometimes very subtle, and may whisper something like, “Wow! You just did an awesome thing by sharing the gospel with that girl. She came to Christ because of you!” Oh, how we puff up! And just like that, we rob God of the glory! Abram, here, is passionate about NOT giving the king of Sodom ANY credit for the blessings in his life, including this victory.

This has just been a cursory glance at this passage. There is so much more here! So, tomorrow we’ll revisit these verses, focusing on Melchizedek, his comparison to Christ in Hebrews, and the subject of tithing: do we have to? how much? why? Meet you back here! :)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Genesis 14: 1-16

In this chapter, we come to the first war mentioned in the Bible. This story involves four kings from Mesopotamia who went to war against five kings of the plains, including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. We’re going to park here for today, because there are some really interesting things to note. Remember that God does not waste one word of scripture! First, it is thought that the first king mentioned, Amraphel of Shinar, is actually Hammurabi of Babylon, the author of the Code of Hammurabi. Are you remembering him from your world history classes??

Also interesting are the names of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Beth Moore, and the Google reference I found, Bera (the name of the king of Sodom) comes from the root ra, which means “be evil,” “in evil,” or “son of evil.” The name Birsha (the name of the king of Gomorrah), comes from a root meaning “wrong” or “wickedness.” Do you get the picture here? These cities, known for their wickedness were, not surprisingly ruled by wicked men. Who gives their children names like these????

Anyway, the four kings from Mesopotamia invaded the area of the plains and defeated the five kings, and in the process captured Lot and his family, which leads me to one last point of interest: (I feel like we’ve pulled into one of those “vista points” on the coast and we’ve parked here for the view…) Beth Moore, in her study, The Patriarchs, points out that Lot originally “pitched his tent near Sodom,” (13:12). But in 14:12 we read “he was living in Sodom.” Isn’t this always the way when we initially just “hang out” near some questionable people or practices? At first we’re just “near” the activity (joininig the party people just for a fun time, or just “harmlessly” flirting with the guy at work), but eventually we BECOME one of the party people or become emotionally or physically attached to that guy at work. Now we’ve put our marriage, reputation, and/or job at risk! And the same goes with dabbling with alcohol, drugs, Internet porn, etc. Soon “near” isn’t enough, and we jump completely “in.”

Lot had fully bought into the lifestyle of Sodom and was probably easily identifiable as a Sodomite (and I mean by that a citizen of Sodom). So, when you play with fire, you get burned. And, when Sodom was defeated and its people captured, he was taken into captivity, too! This reminds me of the scene in the movie Pinocchio, when Pinocchio is attracted to the carnival until he becomes one of its attractions, growing the ears and characteristics of a braying donkey.

A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew [this is the first time this word “Hebrew” is used]… When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. (vs 13-16)

Abram immediately set out to rescue his foolish cousin with a mere 318 men, but the power of God on his side.  He defeated the enemy, and recovered everything, including Lot! Abram could easily have let Lot suffer the consequences of his choices and not put himself and his men in jeopardy. But he did not give up on his nephew. Lot was blessed to have an uncle who never gave up on him! May we be an Abram to someone who is floundering in a “Sodom.” Wouldn’t you hope that Lot would have learned his lesson, taken advantage of this opportunity of grace being offered by God, and moved out of Sodom? Nope! In chapters 18 and 19 we will see how his decision to remain in the middle of an evil city will destroy his family.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Genesis 13:5-18

In our passage this morning, we see that the increase in the possessions and people with Abram creates friction and quarreling between Abram’s herdsmen and those of his nephew, Lot. Abram demonstrates great faith, humility, and generosity to Lot with his suggested resolution:

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” (vs. 8-9)

Here Abram gives Lot first choice at the land. Amazing! The need to be first or to get the best part of anything is such a constant struggle within us. I know you experience this every time you serve up the dessert and decide which piece to hand to your spouse, right? At work, the struggle can be greater ( wanting the bigger office, the better class, the most important client, etc.) because the consequences are greater, but the selfish tendencies are exactly the same. Whether you are arguing over who should be first in line as a first grader, or whose work team gets first pass at an important new client, there is such a need within us to have it our own way. Here, Abram proves he is the father of the faithful, when he lets go and trusts God with the outcome!

Lot, of course, jumps at the opportunity to pick the plum spot:

Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. (vs. 10-13)

Lot looks with his eyes and sees a great deal to the east. We already noted in chapter 11 that often when the Bible refers to people moving east, it is an indication of their moving away from God. In this case it is certainly true, for Lot pitches his tent in the middle of the worldly city of Sodom!

The interesting and encouraging principle I find in the outcome here, is that when we trust God with it, and don’t try to manipulate things in our favor, God always blesses us with more than we would have asked for! My “no’s” from God have always led to much better “yes’s!” Now, I’m not talking materially here. The gain may be something material, but the better gain is spiritual: growth, peace, joy, love, etc. By giving up the “better” land to Lot, Abram gained so much more in the promise of God:

The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” (vs. 14-17)

God’s promise is way more than what Lot took! He was giving to Abram’s offspring everything Abram could see in all directions FOREVER! In addition, Abram’s family would be far greater than Abram’s ability to count! Then God tells him to go walk the entire area, because it now belongs to Abram! WOW! Notice what Abram does as he enters into the land: There he built an altar to the LORD. (vs. 18) Of course he did!

Trusting God does not always come easily to us. Oh how we like to help God along with OUR plans! So to completely let it go takes lots of experiences of seeing Him prove His faithfulness. And have you noticed that sometimes it’s easier to trust Him with bigger things than with smaller ones? I find it easier to trust Him with Don’s pending retirement (and the loss of income) than with which fifth grade math group I get next! Oh, LORD, you have proved yourself over and over in my life! Help me to continue to let go of having to always control outcomes and just to relax in your hands!

Enjoy your weekend! Next week we’ll see how Lot’s choice proves disastrous!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Genesis 13:1-4

Yesterday, when we left off with Abram, he and Sarai, the sheep, cattle, male and female donkey, menservants and maidservants, and camels, plus Lot, were all heading away from the humiliating lapse in Egypt. Abram had gotten himself, and worse, his poor wife, Sarai, into a lot of trouble when he lied to save his skin! So, you would think, after being such a poor excuse for a godly witness, that God would set him aside. I’m sure the damage to his marriage needed some repair! So, how does Abram find restoration? Do you suppose he felt like he had so badly blown it that there was no hope? I can’t imagine this was a happy caravan! We can learn from his example in this next chapter how to find our way back!
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD. (verses 1-3)

Abram did what we all need to do on a daily basis: he repented! He made a 180 degree turn and headed back to Bethel, where he had first built an altar to worship God. God is not far away. When we feel like He has left us, He is not the one who moved! Jesus told the church at Ephesus in Rev. 2:5a, Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you are feeling disconnected, if your passion for God has waned, turn around, go back to where you started. Make a conscious decision to return.

Jon Courson, in his commentary, quotes Alexander Whyte who said, “The Christian life is basically a series of new beginnings.” Isn’t that what grace is all about? Each day, every minute we are given “second chances” over and over. I could not lift my head every morning if it weren’t for God’s grace in my life. I would be crushed under the weight of my guilt if He hadn’t remove it once and for all at the Cross!

Sometimes, when I’m feeling burdened by the demands of teaching, when I gaze at the mile high stack of essays to grade, or try to find something buried under the paperwork spewing all over my desk (there’s a woodgrain under there somewhere!), or feel myself pulled in fifteen directions trying to meet the needs of students, parents, administrators, and co-workers, I have to stop and go back to that altar I built to God more than twenty years ago. I remember the verses that God used to call me to teaching:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

God used these verses to show me that I needed to go where HE wanted me to go - that I needed to be the living sacrifice on that altar and work with children, which is SO NOT what I wanted to do!! God is pleased, however, when we throw up our hands in surrender and say, “Whatever God - whatever YOU want me to do, I’ll do it!” I knew He had gifted me with kids - I just wanted a different gift! :) Now, when I have those really frustrating days when students just can’t seem to “get it,” or when I hear news commentators daily claiming how awful teachers are - and how we are the cause of all the ills in the world (am I whining?) - I go back to where He called me - to these two verses - and I thank Him profusely for the blessing of this job that I love so very much.

If you are feeling that you couldn’t possibly be used by God after all of the mistakes you’ve made, join the club! Abram must surely have felt that way after the fiasco in Egypt. Our gracious God calls us to return to Him, to turn around and come back! Do it today!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Genesis 12:10-20

Have you ever noticed that often those things that are your strengths can be your greatest weaknesses? I know that God has gifted me as a speaker, and I truly enjoy speaking to groups – whether to other teachers, parents, or ten-year olds! However, my “gift of gab” is also my Achilles’ heel! My mouth gets me into more trouble! I thought that I would somehow mature out of this weakness, but I now see that it is the very thing that keeps me dependent upon God alone. Before I get out of bed every morning, before my feet ever hit the ground, the first prayer of my heart that I speak is, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

That’s why I love that God’s word is so honest when looking at the failures of our Bible heroes! I can relate!!! In today’s passage we see that our strong father of faith actually falters in faith. Not long after arriving in the Promised Land, Abram ad Sarai come up against a trial – a famine. Now, you can imagine how much Sarai must have questioned Abram’s leadership at this point. She has left her comfy city of Ur and ends up in a desert land! Have you ever noticed that often after a specific call of God, you find yourself in a spiritual desert where you are tested?

What is Abram’s reaction? Does he wait on God? Nope! He heads on down to Egypt. Jon Courson, in his commentary, observes the following: Throughout Scripture, whenever people go to Egypt, they always go “down to Egypt” because Egypt is a type, or symbol of the world. Abram was doing well, but now he falls again because he didn’t remain in the land God showed him. A famine made him think he had to take matters into his own hands – always a dangerous place to be. Oh my, can’t we identify???

To make matters worse, he lies about Sarai when he gets there. Worried that the Egyptians would kill him to get Sarai, he tells her, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (vs. 11-13)

Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, so she was probably a little over 65 years old here. Imagine that Abram considers her so beautiful! Well, apparently the Egyptians thought so, too. (verse 14). I’m thinking that in those days 65 must have been the “new 30!” ☺ When Abram says she is his sister, he was telling a half-truth (see Gen. 20:12). But a half-truth is a half-lie! Do you suppose Sarai wanted to kill him when she was taken into Pharoah’s harem? Where is our father of faith??? And look at the exchange he gets out of Pharaoh: He [Pharaoh] treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. Ye gads!

As always, others pay the consequences for our sin. Here, not only has Sarai been traded for some livestock and servants, but then Pharoah’s entire household suffers because of Abram’s lie, when the LORD inflicts them all with “serious diseases.” Now, we might want to question the fairness of God in afflicting the “innocent” Pharoah here, but don’t the innocent suffer for our sins? Not only do we affect our children and spouses, but the most innocent of all, Jesus, paid the ultimate price for our sin. However, here God graciously used the disease in Pharoah’s household to actually save Sarai from being sullied by Pharoah.

You might think Abram got off scot free since Pharaoh sent him away without any consequences and let him keep the goods. However, I cannot begin to imagine what went on between Sarai and Abram as they went on their way!! Not to mention the terrible witness Abram left with Pharoah!  And, of course, Abram learned his lesson for good, right?? We know he didn’t, for he repeats the very same mistake in Genesis 20. Before we judge him, let’s remember that strength we each have that is our own weakness. Be careful! Satan is just waiting to trip you up in that “strength.” Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) Our challenge today is to give over our weaknesses to God: For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10). LORD, guard my mouth today!!!

And what have we learned about God? He is longsuffering and gracious and compassionate! Look through Hebrews 11 and you will see that God doesn’t dredge up Abram’s failures – he remembers his victories of faith! Because of Jesus, He does the same for us! Have a great day!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Genesis 12:4-9

Good morning, all!

We have already talked about how Abram left Ur when God called him to leave, but he tarried in Haran until his father, Terah, died. Yesterday we talked about the blessings God promised Abram. Now it’s time for him to actually get up and GO into the land of Canaan.

So Abram left just as God said, and Lot left with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him, along with all the possessions and people they had gotten in Haran, and set out for the land of Canaan and arrived safe and sound. Abram passed through the country as far as Shechem and the Oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites occupied the land. (verses 4-6)

I sometimes forget that Abram and Sarai weren’t the only ones affected when God called him. Notice that he had gathered “possessions and people” during his years in Haran. They were all traveling with him, including his nephew Lot. When God calls us out of our “Urs, ” we bring others with us. It may change many things in our families – the dynamics between husband and wife, or the patterns of parenting our children. It’s a scary thing to step out with God! One of the things that caused me the greatest struggle 34 years ago when I was deciding on whether or not to follow Christ, was the worry about how it would affect my marriage. Then my sister reminded me that God loved Don much more than I did, and I could be certain that God would take care of him. He did!

The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev. (vs 7-9)

Here God makes that great promise to give Abram’s children the land of Canaan. Abram’s response? Worship! He immediately builds an altar to God – a memorial to remind himself and those who would see it that God had blessed him. And then he builds another one after he pitches his tent! This is a great lesson for us. We, too, should build “altars” to God when He has done something amazing in our lives. How would we do that? Certainly by worshiping Him, and then by telling others about it –  maybe by journaling about it to leave a legacy of our faith walk for our children and grandchildren to see.

I love that Abram was a tent-dweller! Abram lived in a very temporary home (the last verse tells us he “set out and continued” as God directed him), because, as Hebrews 11:10 tells us, he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. We know that our life on this earth is SHORT! We, too, are “tent-dwellers.” With Abram, we look forward to our eternal home whose foundation is Jesus Christ.

Abram was dragging around his possessions with him. Imagine what that was like for Sarai! Those of us who have made moves know the horrendous amount of work it is to pack and carry our “things” with us! I would guess that they had it all trimmed down to the essentials, but, nonetheless, our things can certainly get in the way of our following God, can’t they?

I’m already loving this man and I’m anxious to learn more about Sarai, the remarkable woman who followed her man as he followed God! More about that tomorrow…