Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Hunter & The Schemer

I grew up with 4 younger brothers. If you have siblings, there is a good chance you had at least one fight with them. These are the people you grow up next to, the people who share the same life experiences as you and the people you sometimes can’t stand.  Could be you have a younger sibling that just annoys you; or an older sibling that doesn’t want to include you. Sometimes we think our parents like our siblings more than they like us.  Perhaps you are like me and your siblings are all just jealous of you because of your good looks.

The problems with your siblings can be small petty things that you laugh about later or they can be huge issues that define your entire familial relationships.  A sibling rivalry can push both brothers to success to try to out-do one another or it can push them apart. The Bible is choke full of sibling rivalries; Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ismael, David and his brothers, and of course Jacob and Esau.

Jacob and Esau were twin sons born to Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was the oldest but the bible says Jacob came out holding his heel… so not too far apart. Jacob is the more noted “hero” in the Bible; There’s the whole name change to Israel and all the whole Jewish nation being named after him and all, but both offer a lot to learn from.

The brothers were a bit different. Picture Esau as a big red haired guy; with big hairy arms. He liked to hunt and fish and probably wore a baseball cap with a hook on the bill, owned a John Deere tractor and drove a pick up.  Jacob was described as the kind of guy who like to stay at home in the tent. I picture him as more of the guy with a book in his hand; maybe he’s trying the new recipe on Tasty, or maybe he’s binge watching Netflix; not really a care about going hunting.

We see the first sign of a rift between them when the Bible points out that Dad (Isaac) referred Esau but mom (Rebekah) preferred Jacob.  Never good when parents are picking favorites. As a matter of tradition the oldest son in their culture was the one who was supposed to receive the father’s blessing and the most inheritance. This is the case even if the brothers are only a few seconds apart.  Jacob, however, was a bit of a schemer and a bit ambitious.  He did not want the fact he was a few seconds younger stop him.

Image result for bowl of soupEsau came home from a long hard hunting trip, tired and starving and there was little bro in the kitchen making some delish stew.  Jacob saw an opportunity; he could take advantage of big brother’s hunger. Apparently the stew smelled good; perhaps it was a Jacob specialty, in any case Esau really wanted some.  Jacob took this opportunity to persuade Esau to give up his birthright in exchange for a bowl of stew.

Let’s get some perspective here. Isaac was pretty rich; he had inherited everything from Abraham and had added onto the wealth.  Esau was in line to get quite the bounty and he traded it all for a bowl of stew. I will make no judgments about Esau’s intelligence; I will say Jacob really outwitted him here.

The boys grew older and we know Esau got married; we also know his parents didn’t approve of his wives. I am sure this made Sunday dinners that much more pleasant. Here’s Esau he has sold his birthright for a bowl of soup and has married 2 women that his parents hated.

This sibling rivalry took an even more serious turn when Isaac got old.  He felt like he was at the end of his life and still wanted to give Esau a first son type of blessing.  He wanted Esau to go into the woods kill something wild and yummy and bring it back to him and then he would give him his blessing. Getting Isaac’s blessing was a very big deal. It was a status symbol as well as a confirmation of who the leader of the family would be.  Ambitious as ever with the help of his mom Jacob swooped in and stole Esau’s blessing.  Jacob and mom went all in on this scheme, they prepared a wild game dinner and even put material on Jacob’s arms to trick a blinded Isaac.  Jacob even went so far as to credit God ‘s provision for how quickly he had been able to prepare the dish so quickly.

“Isaac said to his son, "How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?" And he said, "Because the LORD your God caused it to happen to me." 21Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not." 22 So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau. 23He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands; so he blessed him. 24And he said, "Are you really my son Esau?" And he said, "I am."” Genesis 27:20-24

Seems like dad may have suspected he was being scammed but still fell for it.  Scheming Jacob had struck again! In one stroke he had lied to his father, and stolen what rightfully belonged to his brother, again!   Esau was obviously irate and was pretty much out to destroy Jacob.  So Jacob went into hiding. He moved back to his mom’s homeland with his uncle and tried to lay low.

For 20 years the brothers were apart. They did not see each other the entire time and they weren’t able to follow each other on Facebook.  When things went sideways for Jacob at his uncle’s house he decided to go back home. He was afraid the brother he has scammed would still be angry after all these years.  Jacob had come to realize he was wrong and he was fearful Esau had held on to his anger for the whole time he was gone.  As he got closer to home Jacob didn’t know if Esau would try to kill him.  He approached very humbly and sent teams ahead with gifts for his brother hoping to gain his forgiveness.

Esau had every reason to hate Jacob. He had every reason to want harm to come to him. He had stolen his birthright, he had stolen his blessing and now he had disappeared for 20 years while he had tended to their elderly parents.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Genesis 33:4

Esau had been wronged by his brother, but he still had a deep love for him.  If you have wronged your brother or your brother has wronged you, Esau and Jacob set a great example. Jacob is humble and seeks forgiveness, Esau forgives.

God blesses both Esau and Jacob with many descendants and with many belongings. Neither lost out on God’s grace because of their mistakes. Esau was rash and impulsive when he traded his birthright for stew; Jacob was dishonest and ambitious when he tricked his father and his brother neither was too far gone for God to use.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Beauty in the Weeds

The lot next to my house is vacant and overgrown.  The county maintains it because it has a drainage ditch that runs through it. 

A couple of months ago the county came through and "cleared" a large portion of the lot removing a lot of the trees that had blocked my view of the main road.  What they left behind was an open mess.

As the rains came and now the warmer weather the lot became full of weeds. 

Last week some of the weeds began blooming turning the eyesore into some thing more splendid.

Seems like God does the same for us.  We should not be anything but an ugly weed but somehow He allows us to bloom and bring some beauty into the lives of others.

This post may be a bit hokey, but maybe someone needs to heat it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Like Father Like Son

Almost every dad will know the feeling; you are holding this tiny precious little life in the palm of your hands, you are overwhelmed with pride, joy and a healthy dose of fear. I remember the first time I looked into the sweet brown eyes of my first born. I remember promising myself I would do everything I could to show her the right path. I wanted to teach her all the good things and protect her from all the bad things.
I can only Imagine Abraham having those same thoughts as he held Isaac. As we talked about previously, God had promised him this son for many years and now FINALLY He had kept his promise. (check out the previous post about Abraham (click here) You know Abraham had to be so thankful to God; you know he promised he was going to teach Isaac to always believe, and to never do any of the bad things he had done.   Abraham surely committed, like most of us to do everything he could to help Isaac learn to follow God.
Abraham gets some serious kudos for his efforts.  The Bible recounts that God tested Abraham. He asked him to bring Isaac to a mountain and sacrifice him to show his trust in God. So, here is Abraham, now somewhere around 120 years old with a son that most historians believe is a grown man. This the son that God had promised for decades and now he is asking him to take him to the mountain and sacrifice him. Abraham had laughed at God before; this would have been a good time for him to do it again. Abraham didn’t laugh though, he complied.
I believe what happened next shows how Abraham had worked to instill faith and obedience in Isaac.  After his dad led him up the mountain and the reality began to set in for Isaac that they didn’t bring an animal with them for sacrifice he could have easily resisted. Let’s be real he was a strong young man and his dad was pretty old, it wouldn’t have been that hard for him to give the old guy a swift kick and run away. Not like the old dude could have really taken him right? Isaac showed the faith and trust in God and in his dad by going along with the plan. I am sure he was confused and scared, but his faith was remarkable.
Abraham loved and favored Isaac. He eventually passed along everything he owned to his son. Isaac inherited Abraham's wealth, his flocks, his land, and his servants. The one thing he could't inherit was his dad's faith. The same is true for us today; we can do our best to teach and guide our kids; but we can't have a relationship with Jesus based on our parents' faith.  Abraham began to see his best efforts payoff with  Isaac's display on the mountain.  Isaac eventually formed his own covenant with God.
The example we as parents set goes a long way to how our kids turn out. Our kids learn not just from the words we say, but from our actions.  That’s why I was so very proud when my daughter ran her first 5k race. She was learning healthy habits from me. Unfortunately our kids learn our bad habits as well.  For those who don’t know this I have a tendency to be a bit sarcastic. I have to remind myself of this part of my character when my newly minted teenager pops off with a sarcastic remark.
Isaac was no different. He learned to fear and worship the Lord from his dad’s example, but he also picked up a bad habit or two as well.  Much like his father when Isaac fled his homeland during a famine he took refuge in the kingdom of Abimelech. Also like his father, Isaac told the king that his wife was actually his sister.  This caused a bit of distress when Abimelech saw Isaac fondling her.  Isaac’s dishonesty could have caused a major problem for him and for his wife Rebekah. It was eerily similar to what his father had done years before. Isaac also, like his dad, had a bit of a feud and later a truce with Abimelech. He also had disputes with others regarding wells and land his father had once claimed.
Isaac eventually had his own sons. Like his dad and all of us, he did the best he could, but he made a lot of mistakes too. The bible says he even favored one son over the other. He is still honored as one of the patriarchs of our faith. 
Just being Abraham's son brought a lot of benefit; but it didn't stop him from making mistakes and it didn't guarantee his faith.  Abraham & Isaac were both faced with the same challenges we are today. We want to do our best for our children and we have to reconcile our own faith. We will make mistakes along the way but like Isaac if we trust God, He will guide us. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It Just Really Doesn't Matter.

In the third chapter of his letter the the Philippians the Apostle Paul lays out his resume.  As soon as he lauds his credentials he then says none of them really matter. He basically says his past and all his accomplishments are garbage compared to the grace and reward he found in Jesus.

Truth is,  whether you have an impressive resume or whether you have never accomplished anything; it doesn't matter. You may be an addict or you may be abused.  You may be highly educated or unable to read. You may be a billionaire or you may not know where your next meal is coming from. 

Our past,  our education,  our tax bracket, our gender, our race,  nor our social status; none of it really matters.

The only thing that really matters is Jesus' love and grace.  

Through Him we find real joy. Through Him we find true peace. Through Him we learn to serve others. Through Him we receive life!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

An Uneducated Reluctant Warrior

.Image result for alvin c york

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. "Joshua 1:9

There are days in our life that we will never forget. Alvin York had a day that would change his life forever; and it wasn’t the day he is most notable for.

On October 8, 1918 as a corporal in the United States Army he became one of the most famous and highly decorated soldiers in history.  His story of gallantry is well documented.  During the Battle of Argonne, along with a small group of men, York went on a raid of a German camp. After pretty easily defeating the camp, the men found themselves pinned down by German machine guns.

“And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a 'racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush... As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting. I don't think I missed a shot. It was no time to miss… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had."  Diary of Alvin York.

York felled 17 Germans with 17 shots. After that, a group of Germans charged at his unit and York shot 8 more with only 8 more shots.  It was a remarkable show of marksmanship.  Following that he led his small unit back to the Allied base and captured as many as 132 German Prisoners along the way (although numbers vary). York received The Distinguished Service Cross, the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor from France, the Croce de Guerra from Italy, The War Medal of Montenegro, and the United States Medal of Honor. He received a Heroes welcome home from the war and a ticker tape parade in New York City.  That day in Europe made York famous. A few years later, Gary Cooper won an Oscar portraying him on the big screen.

That heroic day was not however the day that Sergeant York would point to as the most significant day in his life.  That day actually took place a few years earlier.

As the third of 11 kids on a small farm in Tennessee, York grew up dirt poor and a little rowdy. The family farm was too far away from school and chores had to be done, so he wasn’t well educated. When his father died young it hit him hard. He developed quite a reputation for drinking too much moonshine and getting into too many fights. He also was known to be a bit of a gambler. When he was 27 years old most thought Alvin York would “never amount to anything.” 

On January 1, 1915 he attended a church revival meeting. At that meeting York’s poverty, nor his temper, nor his drunkenness, nor his gambling, nor his lack of education, kept him from committing his life to Christ.

York described the events at the revival of feeling like he was hit by lightning.  He gave up all the habits that had been keeping him in trouble. He got involved in a local church became a deacon, Sunday school teacher, and even led worship.

His faith went so deep it almost kept him from ever becoming a hero.  The congregation he was part of was staunchly pacifist; they held firm to the tenant,  "Blessed are the Peacemakers."  When York was drafted he originally replied that he was a conscientious objector, but his case was rejected and he was sent to boot camp.

It took a lot of soul searching before he was able to reconcile his patriotism and his faith. He truly wanted to defend his country but did not want to fight. Through a lot of prayer and Bible study he finally came to accept that by fighting he could help make peace. 

The faith he found that night at the revival sustained him throughout his experiences in World War I and gave him a new perspective on his life.  No longer was he concerned about his own well-being. His heart was now fixed on helping other people. 

Alvin York could have used his hero status to better himself. He could have cashed in. He knew God didn’t choose him because he was a hero. God made him a hero and opened his heart to others.  He could have done anything. He had countless offers. He had the world in the palm of his hand, but his heart led him back to Tennessee.

In the Tennessee hills was the “girl who had waited” as well as generations of youth that he wanted to make sure had a better opportunities than he did.  He also returned to his role at the church.  York worked tirelessly to improve things for his local community. He fought for roads, employment, and mostly education.  His biggest dream was to provide a high quality education to those like himself who were not going to receive it at the far away city school. 

Maintaining a family farm and giving every other penny he had to church or towards the school made life tough financially. Through the sacrifice, York first was able to offer some classes at the York Agricultural Institute in the mid-1920s. During the Great Depression and the subsequent lead up to World War II, York’s dream seemed destined not to ever be fulfilled. That’s why he agreed to allow Hollywood to tell his story.

The money he made from the movie went to finish and better the school that was now known as The York Institute.  Despite his status as a war hero and despite that the funds were used for a school; the nice people at the IRS decided York hadn’t paid enough taxes.   They charged him with tax evasion claiming he underpaid by over $80,000. The IRS being the awesome organization they are also added $80,000 more in penalties.

In the late stages of his life York was partially paralyzed, blind, and practically penniless. Not the life you would imagine for one of America’s greatest warriors.

He saw the horrors of war, he struggled financially, his health failed him, but through all of it, Alvin York clung to the faith he found January 1, 1915.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. - Philippians 3:7-8

Most people who recognize his name remember him for his great exploits that will live on in history books and maybe Red Box, through Gary Cooper’s performance. In rural Tennessee he is better known for his faith and for the school that is still open and educating young people today.

Despite that he was born into poverty, despite that he turned his back on his parent’s religion, despite the fact he had little education and some would say “nothing to offer” God still chose to use Alvin York.  None of those things defined Alvin York. Neither did that one day in The Battle of Argonne.  

God sought Alvin York out where he was and put him where he needed to be.  

Christ isn’t looking for us because we are heroes. He will make us heroes flaws and all. The grace he gives out will far surpass anything we could ever gain without him 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Man Who Laughed at God

Have you ever felt a little impatient? Ever make a rash decision for immediate gains instead of being patient and waiting on God’s timetable? Ever make a bad decision because of your impatience and have to deal with the consequences?  You are not alone!  
One of the biggest heroes in the bible, a man noted for his faithfulness and obedience, suffered from the same impatience and bad decision making that you and I do.  Abraham is referred to as the father of the faith and is a seminal figure in three of the world’s great religions; but he wasn’t perfect. In fact, when left to his own devices, he was a lot like me; pretty messed up.
Image result for abraham bible characterWe first meet Abraham in Genesis Chapter 11 while he is still using  his given name Abram. We see his family tree and learn about him marrying a lovely woman named Sarai.  God called him to leave his homeland and promised him the He would make him a great nation. God led him to his future promised land, and repeated his promise to him. Everything was going so well, until the first time adversity showed up. Even though God had set Abram up with some sweet land and made a pretty awesome promise to him twice, when a famine came over the land, Abram freaked out.
Ok, freaked out, may sound like a harsh term to use, but let’s examine what happened. Due to the famine, Abram took Sarai to Egypt to seek refuge. Because Egypt was not the friendliest of places Abram was afraid for their safety and came up with the genius plan of telling Pharaoh that Sarai was actually his sister not his wife. The Bible describes Sarai as a great beauty and Pharaoh was very interested in making her his bride. He was so interested he gave Abram a huge dowry for her. Abram, out of fear and just not knowing what to do was pretty much going to let Pharaoh have his wife. Fortunately, God intervened and Abram and Sarai were kicked out of Egypt, but somehow he got to keep all the cool things Pharaoh had given him.
So, Instead of trusting God through the famine, Abram thought he knew better. He fled, he lied and he almost lost his wife to Pharaoh.
After this, God reiterated his promise to Abram, promising him lots of land and many heirs. We see through the next couple of chapters the faithfulness Abram became famous for. He builds altars to God, he leads a valiant rescue of his nephew and he gives us a great example of tithing.
Many years pass and while Abram had the land God promised and had accumulated great wealth, he still didn’t have the heirs God had promised him. In Chapter 16 we start to see some of the doubt creep in as Abram questions God’s plan
But Abram answered, “Lord All-Powerful, you have given me everything I could ask for, except children. And when I die, Eliezer of Damascus will get all I own.[a] You have not given me any children, and this servant of mine will inherit everything.”
Much like when we question and get impatient, God calmed Abram and reminded him yet again of his promise to him.  God was still the same and his promise had not changed.
The Lord replied, “No, he won’t! You will have a son of your own, and everything you have will be his.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look at the sky and see if you can count the stars. That’s how many descendants you will have.” Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord was pleased with him.
Ever get that amazing feeling that everything is going so great, you are just on top of the world. Ol' Abram felt that way for a bit, until doubt and impatience crept in again.  He and Sarai were starting to get up in age, still had no children and decided they would help God along with his promise.  Instead of waiting on God to fulfill the promise he had now give to Abram 3 times, he and Sarai decided to fix this heirless issue with their own little plan.
Sarai had Abram procreate with one of her servants, Hagar. What could possibly go wrong with this idea? In a not so surprising turn of events after Hagar became pregnant with Abram’s son Sarai became jealous and things were not smooth and happy. Kinda saw that coming, huh?
So, again Abram got impatient, and didn’t wait on God. Again, it didn’t turn out well for him.
Abram was 99 years old, still only had the one child, with Hagar, when God showed up again to remind him of their covenant. This time though, God seemed to want Abram to remember the promise so He threw in a couple of little reminders. God changed his name from Abram to Abraham and instituted the covenant of circumcision.  God gave instructions going forward as to who was to be circumcised and when, but also made Abraham, his son Ishmael, and all of his servants get circumcised immediately.  A tip of the cap to Abraham as the bible records he obeyed God that same day.
On a side note, who had that job? Who had the fun job of removing foreskin from grown men with their pocket knife? I also imagine there were not a lot of people clamoring to be at the front of the line. Also, who had the job of going around and checking to make sure everyone obeyed? But I digress.
15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”
Whoa! Did you catch that, Abraham just laughed at God?
Let’s not be too hard on ol’ Abraham though, God had been making this promise now for decades and he and Sarah still had no kids.  It must have been laughter of not just amusement, but frustration.  “C’mon God, you have been telling me that for 50 years now!”
Like Abraham, I have laughed at God. For a number of years I felt like he was calling me to do something and I never felt worthy. I also never felt like he was fully revealing how he wanted to use me; only that he wanted to use me. "Ha, good one God, you are going to use me, that’s funny!" I still am not sure how He plans to use me, but I am know he will and I can hardly wait.
So, now our father of the faith has had his name changed and foreskin removed and God confirmed and specified his promise yet again. Maybe this time it will sink in?
We do see Abraham’s passion for God and his passion for others as he intercedes and pleads for the lives of those in Sodom.  But then we also see Abraham returning to one of his old mistakes. For whatever reason after Sodom was destroyed Abraham picked up and moved to a new territory. This territory was ruled by a guy named Abimelech. Despite how poorly it almost turned out the last time he tried this stunt, Abraham told Abimelech Sarah was his sister and almost lost her again before God intervened yet again.
God took care of Abraham, despite his lying, despite his lapses of judgment, despite impatience.
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.
We get impatient, we get frustrated, we doubt, we may even laugh at God, but He is faithful to complete what He has promised.  God didn’t choose Abraham because he was worthy. God didn’t give up on Abraham when he failed. God made Abraham worthy and stood by him despite his flaws and He will do the same for us.
On one last side note….  When God changed his name all he added was Ha. So when Abraham laughed at God; God had the last laugh?