Sunday, February 28, 2016

40 Day Journey - (meant it for good)

Days 1-16 are behind me on this 40 Day Journey through Lent.  Almost each day I have given an hour of my "own" time to spend with the Lord in His Word. Genesis is checked off my list and I wanted to give a short synopsis of what God revealed.

I have read Genesis several times, so many of the people and the places were familiar.  Abraham was one of my favorites and continues to hold that spot.  

A few things bothered me and some still perplex me (Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt and Jacob wresting with an angel?).  I was thinking through from Chapter 1 verse 1 to chapter 50 verse 26.  What did God teach me in this time?

In Chapter 1, we read of the creation of the world.  It is remarkable.  A miracle.  Awesome really, like seriously, can you imagine watching those days unfold?  I recently had a great conversation with a friend.  We were talking about some serious things.  I asked her why we were created.  (Spoiler alert: I don't know...)  As I read through chapter one I noticed that almost every day after God created something these words are written: And God saw that is was good.

In fact Genesis 1:31 says that after God was done, He saw all that He had made, "...and behold, it was very good." (I want to start using that word again - behold - such anticipation!)

So can we deduce that God made us, because it was good?  We know He is good, it's who He is (as my pal Chris Tomlin says).  This is what He does, He does good.  Now if you've read through Genesis before, you know some pretty bad things happen.  People prove to be, well...not good.  There are liars, deceivers, murderers, adulterers, thieves.  In fact at one point, God wipes out the whole earth save a remnant in Noah and his family.

Despite our "badness", it doesn't change God's goodness.  Yes, He deals with sin, but it is because He is good. Genesis opened with God's goodness and we see it again at the close of Genesis.  Joseph is one of 12 brothers and the least liked.  There may be a few reasons why, but they don't justify his brothers selling him as a slave and telling their father he is dead.  Most of you know this story, this true story.  God was with Joseph for the 20 years that he was away from his family. He was a slave, he was put in prison, he was raised in a foreign land away from his family.  And yet when he is divinely reunited with his brothers, he says:

"And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." Genesis 50:20

Though Joseph was betrayed by his bothers and lived in some difficult circumstances, he was able to declare that God had meant all of this for good.  Do you see that word, "meant"?  The verse doesn't say God took the mess Joseph's brothers made and turned it into good.  It says God "meant it for good". That word "meant" literally means "to weave" in the original language.  God has been weaving His story together for thousands of years, and it is a good story.

If you are struggling, or if you need a morsel of truth today, God is good.  Cling to this truth.  What is happening in your life is part of a grander plan, a beautiful story that God is weaving together.  Even if you can't see goodness right now, it is there, because God is here.  He is our good, good Father. And He is perfect in all of His ways to us.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

40 Day Journey Days 7 & 8

I am definitely slowing down in my reading.  I was so excited to get going that I blazed through the first part of Genesis.  Maybe because it wasn't as complicated...but boy, now, these chapters.  We are a hot mess. It is a wonder God continues to put up with us. 

Day 7 I read Genesis 27-28. Isaac is now old and his eyes too "dim" to see.  Isaac knows his days are numbered and this may be the only chance to take care of some family business. He calls in Esau and makes a private plan to bless him.  

Back two chapters we read that the Lord told Rebekah she would have twins and that the older would serve the younger.  In the same chapter we see Esau sell his birthright to Jacob. We also see that Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game. And now here we are, Isaac isn't sure the time of his death and he wants to override Gods plan with a savory meal to boot. 

You know what happens next, Rebekah overhears this plan and comes up with her own act of deception. She tells Jacob to pretend to be Esau and receive the blessing that even God Himself said was his. Jacob doesn't think this is a good idea and is fearful of receiving a curse instead of the blessing. In Genesis 27:13 she says, "....Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice..."  

What I noticed in this chapter were all the opportunities for Isaac to figure out this was Jacob not Esau. Jacob comes into his dad's room and says, "My father" his dad answers, "Who is it?" Jacob of course lies and says he is Esau and he is here with the food and ready for the blessing.  

Isaac also wonders how the food was prepared so quickly.  He asks to touch his son's skin to make sure it is hairy - since Esau was so hairy and Jacob was not.  Isaac even says, the voice is not Esau. He asks him again directly, "Are you really my son Esau?".  And finally he asks for a kiss so he will lean in and Isaac can smell him.  He had all of these doubts, all of these signs that this was trickery. Yet I think Isaac was so caught up in trying to get the blessing secretly to Esau that he continued down his slippery slope.

The irony?  Isaac and Rebekah, even Esau and Jacob were secretive, deceitful, selfishly trying to get their own way. Yet God's plan was not thwarted.  

I am trying to figure out why they just didn't do it God's way.  Why did they allow in the sin crouching at their door?  Their joy was stolen and a web of lies was woven.  But then if I take a look at my own life, my own circumstances, maybe I am not so different.  

Is there a situation that I feel the need to control? Do I trust God with my future? Is fear directing my steps into deceit?  How easy it is to move our eyes away from God's beautiful, faithful promises and onto our less than desirable circumstances.  

God gave Isaac several chances to change his mind and repent.  Not only were his eyes dim, but his view of God was dim also.  And this is part of the legacy he was leaving to Jacob. We all sin, we all fall short, we all need a redeemer.  Thankfully One is on the way.


Day 8 I read and reread Chapter 28-29.  I think I was still reeling a little from all the grief from chapter 27. And now we see more bad choices. Jacob is sent away, Esau takes a 3rd wife.  Jacob falls in love with Rachel and is deceived (here we go again) and is given Leah as a wife instead.  See, I told you we are a hot mess! This is a beautiful and heartbreaking story.  My favorite verse is from Genesis 29:31

Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved and He opened her womb...

Can you imagine being Leah? The older sister, looked over for her younger sister.  Her dad had to deceive a man into marrying her and she was still unloved though married.  But the LORD saw...and then He did something beautiful.  He brought new life.  She conceived and would have a son.  

God brings new life to where there was once despair.  Hope in the midst of hurt.  He saw.  And then He did something.  Not only do we have a God who sees, but One who acts on our behalf.  Praise Him.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 6 (repeat)

I'm a day behind on my blogging, but current on my reading...hope to catch up this week.  Yesterday I read Genesis 23-26.  Reading about Isaac's life and the choices he makes is like reading about Abraham all over again.  God could have put "ditto" in these chapters.  Here is a list of a few of the similarities I noticed:
  • They lived in Canaan
  • Both were rich
  • They built an altar and called on the name of the Lord
  • Told Abimelech (a title) that their wife was their sister to protect their own lives
  • Wives were both beautiful
  • God promised them that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars
  • There was a famine in the land
  • Abraham prayed for God to heal the women that were barren, Isaac prayed for his wife Rebekah because she was barren
  • God healed these women after they prayed
  • Abraham and Isaac's two firstborn children were sons that did not get along

Now some of this you could chalk up to the regular similarities in families: social class, location, marriage and kids.  But they both lied to the king of Gerar and said their wives were their sisters. They both did this for fear of losing their own lives, thinking the king would want their beautiful wives for himself.  Both times this is after God told them they would have as many descendants as the number of stars!

I am trying to wrap my head around this.  We just read a few sentences in context of the whole Bible and we think, why do these people struggle so much?  Why don't they get it?  God's got this.  But as we try to put ourselves in their circumstances we might realize how similar we are.

Isaac, while one of the Patriarchs, didn't have an easy life.  His dad bound him on an altar and lifted a sword to sacrifice him.  He had a difficult, at best, relationship with his older 1/2 brother.  Both of his parents had died. It took 20 years for his wife to get pregnant.  His twin boys did not get along.  And now there is a famine in the land.  Not an ideal life.

Instead of going to Egypt for food, God tells Isaac to stay in Gerar.  And he obeys. He is now living among the Philistines, who must be pretty horrible if Isaac fears for his life. I wonder if Isaac's eyes had drifted from looking up at the stars, remembering God and His promises.  And now they are on his difficult circumstances.  Had his dad warned him about Gerar,or the people there?  Did Isaac have fear already instilled in him?  I can't get over this generational sin...

No matter how they arrived there, we know that fear is not from God.  Are you fearful of someone or some circumstance?  Maybe you can look up into the night sky (or imagine it if it is cloudy where you are too) and see those same stars shown to Abraham and Isaac.  And remember Genesis 18:14 when Isaac is promised to Sarah and God says, "Is anything too difficult for the LORD?"

No, nothing is too difficult, even changing your legacy.  If you have some sin that keeps repeating in your family, ask God to intervene, acknowledge that you need His help. As we depend on Him, He can rewrite our story instead of us repeating past mistakes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 5 (We are invited)

Today I read Genesis 20-22.  Chapter 21 is the birth of Isaac, the long awaited promised son. Chapter 22 is when God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  This story is so rich, it is one of my favorites. God is revealed as Jehovah-Jireh, our Provider.

I can't get past Chapter 20 though, there is so much that makes me wonder in this chapter. We read about Abraham telling King Abimelech that Sarah is his sister, just like he did with Pharaoh 25 years earlier. Abraham once again asked Sarah to agree to this so that he would live.  He thought he would be killed so that Pharaoh could have Sarah, because she was so beautiful.  It didn't go so well, but Abraham was spared and so was Sarah. Here he is doing the same thing again. So King Abimelech of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

God comes to Abimelech in a dream and tells him what is going on. Abimelech is completely surprised, he had no idea Sarah was married.  He even confesses to God that he is a man of integrity and innocent.  He appeals to God to hold back His wrath. God says He knows the integrity of his heart and therefore kept him from sinning against God, "lest he touch her".

This isn't even to the part that wows me, but I have to stop here and make some notes. First, God knows our hearts.  He knew that Abimelech's heart was pure. Second, God was able to stop anything from happening between Abimelech and Sarah. There would be no question who the father of Isaac would be in the next chapter.  God's plans cannot be thwarted.  And the last thing, that breaks my heart, when we sin - it is against God. Genesis 20:6 says, "...I kept you from sinning against Me...".  When we sin, we hurt others and ourselves, but ultimately it is God we are offending.  Oh boy.

Back on track.  God tells Abimelech to restore Sarah to Abraham. And then he says Abraham will pray for the king and he will live (there is that "life" theme again).  This is the first mention of prayer that I have noticed. Some have "called on the name of the Lord", but we haven't seen anyone pray yet.

When the king follows through, Abraham did indeed pray for the king.  This is verse 17:
And Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children.

Did you notice the progression?  God said that Abraham would pray.  He prayed.  Then God healed. Why did God do this?  What would have happened if Abraham didn't pray? God doesn't need our prayers to heal others. (And another side note: the first mention of prayer, is for healing, this also interests me...)

1 Peter 3:12 says, "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer..."  Remember back in Genesis 15:6 when Abraham believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness?  And here we are, the eyes of the Lord are on Abraham and He heard his prayer.  And God responded.

Abraham had just made the same mistake he has already made. He was trying to protect himself by saying Sarah was his sister and jeopardizes the lives of many people again. Then he makes excuses as to why he did this.

We are no different than Abraham, making excuses for our bad behavior.  We also are going to stumble along.  And yet God wants us to be a part of His story.  He invites us in.   He wants to hear from us and then He wants us to see Him at work.  Opening up the wombs of those women is only something God could do.  And as Abraham has a front row seat to see this miracle, He is on the verge of his very own.

Monday, February 15, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 4 (Hagar)

I'm speaking at a retreat in a couple of months, the theme is Draw Near.  As I read the Bible I am a little more aware of the idea of drawing near. What I am finding is there is not a simple equation, or 3 step process in order to Draw Near.  God's ways are mysterious.  And Genesis perplexes me.

I read through chapter 19 when Lot's wife turns into a pillar of salt.  A Pillar of Salt?  What in the world? All I can think about when I see this scene in my head, is a deer or a camel coming by and licking her toes.

The other mystery is Hagar. The woman seems caught between a rock and a hard place for sure.  She is an Egyptian maid to Sarai.  There may be a little pressure (self-imposed?), God has promised Abram to be made into a great nation.  His descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Yet, they have no children and they are past their child bearing years.  Sarai had to do something! (so she figured)

Her plan? Give her maid to Abram and through her, maybe they could start a family. Abram in all his wisdom agrees.  Of course Hagar becomes pregnant and Sarai gets mad.  It sounds like this may be a honeymoon baby...not much time passed,  Can you imagine how hurtful that would be to Sarai?  All these years of trying and yearning for a baby and Hagar becomes pregnant her first try?

In her anger, Sarai decides to treat Hagar harshly.  What does Hagar do?  She runs away.  Here she is a foreigner and a slave.  She is given to her mistress's husband to bear a child.  Not because of love, not because she is wanted, but because they need something from her. She gets pregnant and can hardly rejoice in this baby, who will he really belong to anyway?  On top of all this, Sarai now treats her horribly.  Can you blame her for running away?

But then God shows up.  Genesis 16:7 says, "Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness..."  As far as we know, Hagar just ran away.  We don't hear her calling to the Lord for help or mercy.  She was found as she was running away. God came near.

There is much more to the story, but one of my favorite parts is when Hagar gives God a name.  El Roi.  "Thou art a God who sees."  And that was enough for her to go back and do what God asked her to do.

And this is enough.  Though I don't always understand what God is doing in my life, or why He allows certain circumstances to take place, I know He sees me.  And if He sees me, He cannot be far off.  And when I least expect Him, like maybe when I am running away, He is probably poised ready to draw near to me.

There may not be a simple equation to drawing near to the Lord, but I'm pretty sure it is happening as I spend time in His Word, reading it expectantly, attentively, and humbly.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 3 (he believed)

I only made it through three chapters again today. There is so much packed in these chapters, I am overwhelmed a bit.

Before I read Genesis 13-15 today, I said my 3 words. Expectantly, attentively, humbly.  This is how I approach my time listening to God through His word. There really is a lot in those three chapters. How do I pick one theme/thought for today?

The one that is the most exciting is in Genesis 15:1

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great."

Up until this point the Bible reads, "God said", but this is the first mention of the "word of the Lord". We know from the gospel of John, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. So was this Jesus that came to Abram?

The Lord shows Abram the stars. If Abram were able to count the stars, that would be the number of his descendants.  At this point Abram has no children, and is a little old to be having children. This surely seems impossible. Abram's response?  Verse 6 says, "Then he believed in the Lord..."  Abram didn't believe in the words. He believed in The Word. Jesus. Then the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

We can only be made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ.  Yet this is taking place thousands of years before Jesus is even born!  What does it mean to be made righteous?  We use that word as an insult sometimes in our culture.  "Oh he thinks he's so righteous.", we say of someone that irritates us.

God alone is righteous, We are counted as righteous through faith in Jesus alone. Our righteousness is based on what Christ did on the cross. Yet this was given to Abram before Christ was made flesh. Wow. I know this is overly simplistic, but I think it basically means we are "made right" before the Lord.  We are sinners and have no place before a Holy God.  But because of Jesus, we can be in His presence.

This makes me think of the theme of Day 1 - life and death. The hope of having children is dead for Abram and Sarai. (death) Yet the word of the Lord comes to Abram and says, "one from your own body, he shall be your heir." (life)

In the book of Romans, we read more insight into Abraham's life.  Romans 4:17 says that Abraham believed in the one "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist."  In that dark night as the Lord showed Abram the stars, Abram believed.  God's promise was clear. As clear as those stars.

Maybe that is what God is asking of us now.  In our dark moments, will we choose to believe that He can call into existence the things that do not exist? Our hopes, our dreams, our future are in His hands. May His truth shine clear to you today.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

40 Day Journey - Day 2 (Go West)

I made it through Genesis 10-12 today.  I couldn't stop reading Chapter 11 though.  A few things caught my eye, so I reread it several times.

Genesis 10 lists the genealogies of Noah.  Chapter 11 opens up with these words:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

I am not sure, but from the sounds of it, it seems that all these families traveled together and basically stuck together.  That sounds nice, except back in Chapter 9 verse 1, God clearly gives a command after getting off the ark.

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth."

They got the fruitful and multiple part down, but had not filled the earth.  They just formed their own little club and stayed together.  You can know their hearts a little as you read further.  They say, "Come, let us build bricks..." and then again, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city...".  You know why they wanted to do this? Verse 4 continues, "...let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."  This is like the ultimate show of pride, we can all recognize this quickly can't we?

God had blessed Noah and gave him pretty clear instructions - to fill the earth.  And yet these sons of Noah decided they should stick together and make a name for themselves lest they actually do what God commanded?  This is not going to end well.

The only name that is to be made famous is the name of the Lord.  In fact Proverbs 18:10 says, The name of the Lord is strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.  But instead of obeying God, the One whose name is "Strong Tower", they try to build a tower of brick to make a name for themselves.

But God is sovereign, in control over all the earth. You know what He says?  "Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language that they may not understand one another's speech."  Verse 8 says, "So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city."

They ended up filling the earth, but not through blessing and God's protection, but through God's discipline.  Another interesting theory to consider...going east in biblical times is often associated with going towards exile or captivity or away from the Lord's blessing.  These families intentionally headed east, they intentionally built a city and tower for their own fame.  They had a choice they could obey God and head straight into His blessing or they could head "east" and receive His discipline instead. They chose east.

What are you choosing?  Are you living inside of God's commands, being cared for and making His name famous?  Or are you making  your own plans and decisions, trying to make a name for yourself? Let me give some advice (learned the hard way). Go west young man (and woman)...straight into your Strong Tower and be safe.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

40 Day Journey 2016 - Day 1 (Life and Death)

Last year for Lent I decided to spend one hour each day listening to God.  No agenda, no Bible Study, or other distraction.  Just listening.  I ended up also blogging about that hour and what God revealed.  It was a rich time and I am forever changed by those sacred moments.  The intimacy with the Lord was what this parched soul needed.

I was nervous to do the same thing this year. What if He didn't show up (like that is an option, of course He would!).  Frankly, it was hard work also.  I had to carve out an hour of my already busy days, and then it took hours into the night to blog about the experience. And I am lazy...I wasn't sure it was in me to do again!  So I decided to pray. What did the Lord have for me this year?

I felt the Lord was asking me to get in His Word. I want to hear Him, and I know He speaks through His Word.  So I am beginning with Genesis, and then will go to John.  If I have time I hope to make it through Hosea also. And I committed to read the Bible expectantly, attentively, and humbly (thank you Richard Foster - this makes such a difference).

So today, Ash Wednesday, I began my 2nd 40 Day Journey leading  up to Easter.

I took notes as I read to see if a theme or thought emerged.  What I noticed was life and death. In the beginning the earth was formless and void, darkness was over the surface of the deep (death); and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface (life).  The Lord God formed man from dust (death) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (life).  We move ahead to Cain killing Abel (death) and then God giving Adam and Eve another son, Seth (life).  This cycle continues for generations. My take away?  God gives life.  God breathes life into us. God IS life!  Am I in despair over a situation?  Am I hopeless in any area of my life?  I can ask God and He will be pleased to breathe new life into the dead parts of my heart.  What good news.  But how can we as believers experience this?

I am still unearthing this truth, but there are some guys that give us a hint.  In Genesis 5:22 we read that, "Enoch walked with God".  And in Genesis 6:9, "...Noah walked with God."  I might be more in tune to this since we just studied this in our Tuesday morning Bible Study.  We discussed the word "walk", why that word is used.  We decided it was an action word, it was steady, when walking "with" God it may have a sense of keeping in step with Him, going where He goes.

Back up in Genesis 4:26, after Adam's grandson Enosh was born the Bible says, "then men began to call upon the name of the Lord."  But we don't see anyone walking with God until Enoch, generations later.  I am taking some liberty here, but I wonder if God was pretty excited about Enoch.  Before him, men called on the name of the Lord, but Enoch walked with God! There is a definite difference.  I imagine shoulder to shoulder (figuratively), a nearness, having conversations both speaking and listening.  This is a relationship.

I love Genesis 5:24.  The NIV says, "Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." The verses leading up to this share how his ancestors "died".  Enoch was "no more", because God took him away.  Wow.

I imagine Enoch walking so closely with the Lord that one day God just leaned over and scooped him right up.  People were like, "Where's Enoch?  He was just right here?" That is not death, that is LIFE!  That is God.  He offers life to all of us, and abundantly as we walk with Him.

Do you just call on the name of the Lord, do you lift a prayer when you have a need or do you walk faithfully with the Lord?  Is it an active relationship, or is it dead?  Ask God to breathe life into your relationship with Him.  Oh I want to live in such a way, that one day, I am no more.