Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Face of Forgiveness

Read Genesis 33.

After all the years, after all of Jacob's fears, the two brothers are about to meet face to face.  Jacob has done all he could do to try head off any confrontation.  God met with Jacob and reassured him.  Yet, the dread was still there as he kept walking and wondering how Esau would respond.

Everyone, sooner or later, has had to face a nearly unbearable situation.  When the threat overwhelms us enough, this world's goods and possessions lose their value.  In in that moment, we would trade all we have for the protection and/or provision of God.  That is where Jacob was.

Jacob humbled himself before his brother.  He was willing to surrender everything to spare his life.  Esau was always physically stronger and came with an army of men.  But when the two met, it was Esau who ran to meet his brother, embraced him, and kissed him.  What a relief that must have been to Jacob!

Jacob's words in verse 10 are not to be missed.  To Esau he said, "For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me."  Jacob looked at Esau but he saw God at work in direct answer to prayer. 

The foundation of rreconciliation is acceptance.  The basis of acceptance is forgiveness.  An unforgiving spirit only destroys the one who refuses to forgive and demonstrates a lack in accepting God's forgiveness of them.  Indeed, the only basis of true forgiveness in the universe is found in the payment Jesus made on the cross.  By our faith in Him, we are accepted, forgiven, and reconciled to the living God.  This frees us to forgive others their trespasses against us.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wrestling with God

Read Genesis 32.

The journey home continued and the drama increased.  Indeed, verse 1 states that " the angels of God met him."  There is no further explanation, but it is a reminder that Jacob was never alone.  His attempts to gain an assessment of a peaceful meeting with his brother only turned to greater fear of attack.

Most of the great prayers of the Bible come as a result of life-threatening stress.  Humbling oneself before the Lord and casting total dependence upon Him is exactly where God wants us.  James states, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  God helps those who cannot help themselves.

Jacob quoted God's promises back to Him.  This is not because God forgot, but it formed the basis of his plea.  He also took action.  Jacob set in motion a very, well-thought out three step plan, complete with the wording, to do everything he could to appease his brother.  Now, he would wait...alone.  But he wasn't alone.

That night he literally wrestled with God all night long (verse 30).  This a strange passage describing a physical striving with the LORD.  How does a man hold on to God and not let go?  In verse 25, Jacob prevailed.  How does a man say to God, "I will not let go unless you bless me"?  In the struggle God moved Jacob's hip out of joint and changed Jacob's walk for the rest of his life.  Further, as a result, God changed Jacob's name to Israel, which probably means "God fights".  Here is a man who fought with God for a blessing.  But every time his name was given from then on it would be a reminder that God would fight for him and his descendants called by his name.

Jacob knew the LORD and in this incident his faith and calling grew to a new level.  In the book Acts, believers in Jesus were called by a new name for the first time.  It was Christ-ian.  This originally was meant to be a derogatory labeling.  Then, along the way, there are those times of great stress and challenge when our faith is stretched to the limit.  We do not go looking for them.  God knows when to allow them or bring them along for our growth.  As a result, some even live with a bit of limp from then on-physically, emotionally, or relationally.  This becomes part of their life story.  Such an encounter with God changes the way we live from then on.  If we respond correctly, our relationship with God will grow deeper and our usefulness to God in the lives of others will grow to a new level.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

4 Lessons When Being Mistreated

Read Genesis 31.

Jacob's prosperity became a jealous threat to Laban and his sons.  Before any violence or loss could take place, God gave Jacob his marching orders to return to the land of Abraham.  This was more than just a family split, it was also an oppressive work environment.  Laban continued to take advantage of Jacob, even changing his wages ten times.

For Rachel and Leah, it meant leaving their homeland and extended family.  But when Jacob explained his feelings and what God had told him, the wives gave Jacob their support, "whatever God has said to you, do."

It is not clear why Rachel stole her father's so-called household gods.
-Was this something she worshipped also?
-Did she want to take a memento of her childhood with her?
-Was stealing this an indication of a character flaw?
-Did she take them out of revenge to hurt her father?

It is clear that God personally saw Jacob's afflictions, saw his hard work, saw his commitments and the intents of his heart.  The stress had reached the end and God intervened to fulfill His plan for Jacob's life and keep the promises He had made to Abraham.

Some lessons from this passage when being mistreated:
1. In verse 12, God said, "I have seen all that Laban is doing to you."  Nothing escapes God's sight and attention.  Our response is to remember that He will never leave us, nor forsake us.
2. In verse 13, God said, "I am the God of Bethel" (reminding Jacob of what happened in chapter 28).  He is the one who changes lives, calls us to live for Him, leads us through His plan for our lives, protects us in the process, and provides what is needed along the way.  Our response is to worship and obey Him.
3. In verse 16, Rachel and Leah, those closest to Jacob, encouraged Jacob's obedience to God.  It is important to remember that when we suffer those closest to us and those who love us are affected also.  Our response should be to communicate with them and welcome their support to do what is right.
4. In verses 23-24, Laban assembled his men and pursued Jacob.  This was a huge threat.  "But God came to Laban" and warned him.  God knows when and how to protect those who are faithful to His word and living in His will.  Our response must be to know what God has said and align our lives accordingly.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A First Look at Employer-Employee Relations

Read Genesis 30.

The competitiveness between the two wives continued as they used their children to gain Jacob's attention and love.

Meanwhile, Jacob has faithfully served the deceitful Laban all these years.  Verse 27 provides a wonderful statement every faithful employee wants to hear from his employer: "...the LORD has blessed me because of you."  Jacob's response in verse 30 showed his desire to provide for his own family, not just Laban.

So, the two made a business decision enabling Jacob to launch out on his own.  Laban surely thought he would get the better of the deal.  But Jacob had been running the business for over 14 years and knew what he was doing.  As a result, the LORD prospered him greatly with large flocks of all kinds.

Jacob's behavior thus far toward Laban exemplifies the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 6:5-9.  Though the opening word is "slave", it is rightfully referring to any employed worker and the attitude of a Christ follower toward the employer.  "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eyeservice, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free."

Then in the next verse, to employers, Paul wrote: "Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven and that there is no partiality with him."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Praising God through Difficult Times

Read Genesis 29.

Here is a story that even a Hollywood movie could not do it justice.  They would probably want to twist it into a comedy of sorts.  There is such love between Jacob and Rachel that Jacob offered seven years of his labor just for her.  Then, there is such deceit by Laban that one feels Jacob would have been justified in some retaliation.  But no, Jacob responded with an even greater commitment for Rachel.

How did this make Leah feel?  She was married but she was not her husband's choice.  She was an object of her father's swindle.  And, where was God in all this?

God saw exactly what had happened.  In fact, God blessed Leah in ways that had eternal value.  She bore four sons with Jacob.  Of the twelve sons of Jacob, later the twelve tribes of Israel, the four from Leah included:
Reuben, the oldest.  This was a very important position in that patriarchal culture.
Simeon, the second born.  Some have suggested from Genesis 34 that he had a violent nature.
Levi, whose descendants would become the priests of Israel.  Those would include Moses and Aaron.
Judah, the family line of King David and the Messiah!

Leah could not have dreamed the impact her sons would have on history and eternity.  It appears that she hoped these sons would earn her the respect and love of her husband and would somehow vindicate her predicament.  She named her fourth son Judah.  In Hebrew the name sounds like the word for praise.  Leah even declared, "This time I will praise the LORD."

Everyone experiences mistreatment in life at the hands of others.  The pain and hurt of rejection and not being loved for who you are cause some to believe that God does not see, does not care, or does not exist.  Yet, always God is at work, working His plan for each life, even using the wrath of men to praise Him (Psalm 76:10).  Even though Leah could not see the future, she praised the LORD by faith.

I remember Dr. Ken Poure teaching that our spiritual maturity is demonstrated in how long it takes us in difficult circumstances to come to a place of praising the LORD.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Benchmarks of an Encounter with God

Read Genesis 28.

Jacob traveled away from home and family.  In a strange place, after dark, he slept.  Here God revealed Himself personally to Jacob.  It is the first account where faith in God became personal to Jacob.  The Abrahamic Covenant was passed on directly to him and his descendants.

When Jacob awoke, it was more than rising out of physical sleep.  He woke up spiritually!  "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it."  This recognition is one of the benchmarks of a true relationship with God.  God is omnipresent.  Jacob was away from home, but not away from God.  When one fails to acknowledge and respect God's presence sin will soon follow.

Jacob had at least three responses to this encounter with the LORD.
1. He worshipped.  He even marked the spot and created a memory where God changed his life.
2. He declared his faith.
3. He committed to give a tenth of all his increase.  Remember, this statement had nothing to do with keeping the law.  The law does not come for a few hundred years after this.

I often think back of the dark bedroom at 820 Hartview Avenue where recognized His presence and I knelt to give myself to Jesus.  I remember openly declaring my faith in a baptism service at Calvary Baptist Church.  And, I am grateful to Mr. Snider who challenged me at 14 years of age to honor the LORD by tithing my little income.  Those benchmarks are still with me and guide my daily life.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Family in Dysfunction

Read Genesis 27.

Every relationship has its ups and downs.  Occasionally, there comes one incident that reveals the dysfunction of all parties involved.

Isaac.  He was elderly and blind.  When the time comes to officially pass on the patriarchal blessing, he ignored the message the LORD gave to Rebekah, "...the older shall serve the younger."  It also appears that no bothered to tell dad that the birthright had been sold.

Esau. He was older son and normally would have received this blessing.  However, he acted deceitfully in not telling his father the truth and acting as if he deserved it.

Rebekah.  She knew what God  had said concerning the two sons.  She probably knew about the sale of the birthright.  However, she and Isaac never had the hard conversation concerning the issues with their children.  This led her to concoct a plan of further deceit.

Jacob.  His name means "supplanter" and this is a key illustration used to prove he was worthy of that name.  Esau asked, "Is he not rightly named Jacob?"  The character flaw of lying when fearful seems to have passed down from Abraham to Isaac and now Jacob.

One may argue that God's will was done, in spite of the means to accomplish it.  Or, as one national christian leader said to me about the mistreatment of some people in his organization, "The decision would not have changed.  They are just upset with the way it was done."  What both of those statements are saying is: The end justifies the means.  So, is God only interested in the results or is He also concerned with how the results were attained?

Character does not show in the results.  Character is always displayed in the means.
1. Personally, always tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts.  This is a reference to speaking about others.  It is a statement about coming clear about one's own behavior.
2. Do not be afraid to talk about the real issues with the others involved.  This is Ephesians 4:15 "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ."  Withholding information never solved a problem.
3. Trust God to protect and to bless obedience.  That is some faith in action.    

Friday, January 20, 2012

4 Lessons from the Next Generation

Read Genesis 26.

God's covenant to Abraham is repeated here and passed on to next generation.  Isaac hears firsthand the same three components: land, offspring, and God's personal blessing.  Though chosen and blessed by God,  like his father Abraham, Isaac manifested the exact same character weaknesses of fear and lying.

After the embarrassing scene of being found out, God blessed Isaac with such abundance and the power of prosperity that Abimelech had to ask him to leave.  This is surely not the same "Abimelech" of chapter 20, seeing that about 90 years have passed.  In spite of Isaac's character flaws, he built an altar and worshipped God.  Even Abimelech stated, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you."

After observing this second generation, here are four lessons :
1. God blesses us in spite of us of our behavior, not because we are perfect.  He loves us because we are His children.  We belong to Him.
2. All godly people are human and possess character flaws.  This reminder should keep us humble and dependent moment by moment on the Holy Spirit to think, speak and behave in a way that pleases Him.
3. Our behavior does not change the promises of God.  His word is eternally reliable.
4. Being a godly person is no guarantee that our children will be, nor that they will always make godly decisions.  The sin nature is passed on to them, too.  A parent who loves God tries their best to train their children to live according to God's Word and set a consistent, genuine example for them, praying daily for their heart's response to Him.  As they go out on their own, the joy comes when their personal faith is evidenced in public worship and others are able to declare, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you."  It does not get any better for a godly parent than this.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Looking at a Legacy

Read Genesis 25.

After the death of Sarah, Abraham remarried and fathered six more children.  Then, "in a good old age" of 175 he died.  Now, the story of Genesis shifts to the next generation with Isaac as the patriarch.

When Rebekah was pregnant, she became aware that something unusual was taking place inside her body.  She asked, "Why is this happening to me?"  God answered her prayer by telling her that she not only was giving birth to twins but these boys would be very different and become two nations.  Further, to continue His covenant with Abraham, God chose the one who would carry on the legacy.  Esau and Jacob could not have been more different. 

Esau was the older and in that culture had full birthright privileges of the inheritance.  But in the last line of the chapter his heart is revealed.  "Thus Esau despised his birthright."  Yes, this did fulfill what God had promised, but he was responsible for his own foolish actions.  Some of the saddest words in the Bible are recorded in Hebrews 12:17 concerning Esau: "For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears."  He, like everyone else, leaves a legacy.  My friend, Dr. Crawford Loritts, has said, "A heritage is what we receive.  A legacy is what we leave."

Esau's legacy was that he sold his future in exchange for a temporal desire of immediate gratification.  His descendants were the Edomites, who continued hostility toward Jacob's family for hundreds of years.  Even in the Exodus, the Edomites rejected the Israelites from passing through their land.  The book of Obadiah is a prophecy of God's commitment to wiping out the Edomites as a nation.  It makes one wonder what God's plan for Esau could have been if he had submitted himself to God instead.

Everyday, the decisions we make and how we handle relationships effect our legacy and those who will come behind us.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Story of True Worship

Read Genesis 24.

Here is a great example of the mystery of prayer.  While God is sovereign and omniscient, He still desires that we submit to His leadership by praying and asking.  Note in verse 15 that Rebekah was already on the way, but this unnamed servant did not know that, nor see it, until this exact time.

The servant waited in silence-observing, discerning.  Finally, he was able to declare in verse 27, "...the LORD has led me in the way..."

This wonderful story demonstrates prayer at work in lives of real people, along with God's guidance, faithfulness, love, and comfort.

It amazes me how without a church, without a Bible, without other resources, each person prayed, worshipped, followed God's leading, and experienced His blessings.  The spiritual disciplines of a godly person are evident.

Here we are in the 21st century with so much in resources and opportunities, yet these "things", as helpful as they are, do not make one live a life pleasing to God.  What was true in Genesis is true today.  Jesus said, "But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."  (John 4:23-24)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What will the neighbors say?

Read Genesis 23.

Is there anything harder and more stressful in life than losing one's spouse?  Sarah died at 127.  Now, this 137 year old widower must bury his wife and move on with his life, facing the pain of loss, the agony of transition, and an inexperienced level loneliness. 

Times of suffering are God's opportunities to demonstrate His grace and comfort to those who love Him.  And, those around get to witness firsthand the difference faith in Jesus truly makes.  The unspoken question unbelievers are asking is, "Does such faith make any difference?"

In planning the funeral, Abraham turned to his neighbors for an appropriate burial site.  Do not miss their response to him in verse 6.  "You are a prince of God among us."

His neighbors recognized at least three things about Abraham in that one statement:
1. He was not the king, but he was part of a royal family.
2. He was a respected leader in the neighborhood (a prince of a guy).
3. He was part of the family of God.

I wonder what my neighbors think of me.  When facing difficult times of life, what would their response be to me?  Would they see God's grace and comfort?  Would they witness the difference Christ is making in my life?  Would they want the faith that I have?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

4 Proofs when Faith is Tested

Read Genesis 22.

Reading this chapter, as a Dad, I am always grateful that this was not my test.  In Hebrew the word "test" means "prove".  It is one thing to say we believe in God, to say that we trust Him, to say that we are followers of Him.  It is quite another to actually put it into practice.  It is faith in action.  It is walking the talk.

Dr. Crawford Loritts, in his excellent book Leadership as an Identity, devotes the last three chapters to what he calls "radical, immediate obedience."  No matter how strange or unthinkable it seemed to Abraham, he arose early in the morning and set out to do what God had commanded. 

What was Abraham thinking?  He did not know how it would turn out.  He did not if and when God would intervene.  He only knew one thing and that is all that he needed to obey.  See verse 8: "God will provide..."  It is from this statement that learn one of the names of God-"Jehovah-Jireh", the LORD will provide.  Hebrews 11 helps us to further understand how much Abraham trusted God here. "He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead..."   All of God's promises to Abraham and future generations were on the line.  Yet, this was not a test of God faithfulness.

There are four proofs as a result of this one test that I believe apply to the tests of our faith today.
1. This is a proof of Abraham's willingness.  God did not want Abraham to kill his son.  He wanted Abraham to be absolutely willing to do whatever God asked him to do.  Radical, immediate obedience.

2. This is a proof of God's trustworthiness.  The commands of God in His Word and the Biblical principles of life are most often counter cultural.  Sometimes what God wants us to do does not make sense to us.  Human nature wants to see the outcome in advance.  But the believer has been called to walk by faith.  If what God wants is clear we will discover 100% of the time that God is worthy of our complete trust.     

3. This is a proof of God's faithfulness.  He did provide at exactly the right moment.  I wish God would provide in advance so we could avoid the crisis.  But faith does not grow in a comfort zone and we do not get to see the faithful hand of God at work when there is no need. 

4. This is a proof of God's truthfulness.  God made a promise to Abraham and his descendants.  Next, He made it an everlasting covenant.  Then, He miraculously provides Isaac to continue to the promise.  To slay Isaac seemed to contradict all that God had said.  However, God did not change His mind, nor His Word.  The angel repeated the promise again.  God's promises is true and completely reliable.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Responding to a Miracle

Read Genesis 21.

Finally, the promise God made one year before became a reality.  Isaac was born.  Abraham was 100.  Sarah was 90.  It was a miracle and time for a great celebration.

This chapter contains three responses to this celebration.

1. Abraham responded with delightful obedience.  God told him to name his son Isaac.  He did so.  God told him to circumcise his son on the eighth day.  That is exactly what he did.  It was an absolute joy for him to have this son of God's promise.  How many times has someone prayed, "Oh, God, if you will get me out of this mess I will __________" (you fill in the blank).  And how many times those promises are forgotten and never fulfilled.  In this case, God made a promise and gave clear instructions.  In celebration, Abraham obeyed.

2. Sarah responded with rejoicing.  I challenge anyone to read verses 6-7 and not, at least, smile.  One can almost hear her giggle.  The name Isaac means laughter.  Sarah previously laughed in unbelief, but now she celebrated and laughed with joy.  She is one of the women listed in faith's Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11.  She rejoiced, not because of what she and Abraham had done, but, rather, because of what God had done.

3. Abraham responded with disciplined obedience.  In a public celebration, there almost always seems to be someone in the wings who wants to rain on the parade.  Hagar openly mocked the birth of Isaac.  This was the final straw in a nagging problem that Sarah had endured for fourteen years.  Sarah's words were firm, "Cast out this slave woman."  The joyful celebration for Abraham stopped.  It pained him to face this unresolved issue in his home.  But God reassured this husband by saying, "Do as she tells you."  (This would be a great proof-text verse for all wives to keep handy.)  There was unfinished business that he had rationalized and gotten used to.  Ishmael was also his son.  God had plans to care for Hagar and Ishmael but they were not to be a part of this home any longer.

When one begins their own personal relationship with Christ, there are some immediate changes that take place.  But there are also some left-overs.  Things that do not immediately change; items and issues that require our attention, discipline, and sacrifice if we are to grow in holy living.  They may be painful to face, but face them we must in order to continue the celebration of our faith.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How to Make Wise Decisions

Read Genesis 20.

Abraham, friend of God, with an everlasting covenant from God, a tither, wealthy, used of God, became fearful and made a bad decision...again.  He lied to save his own skin.  He placed his wife in great physical and moral jeopardy.

The godly man did not listen to God.  The ungodly man heard God loud and clear.

God protected Sarah and Abimelech.  Abimelech was innocent.  He did not know.  But once he found out, he was fully responsible.

Abraham confessed his fear of Abimelech, instead of God.  He violated the first principle in make good decisions.  Proverbs 9:10-"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight."

The fear of God means:
1. I recognize His presence. (Genesis 28:16)
2. I revere His presence. (Isaiah 6)
3. I respect His presence. (Exodus 3:5)
4. I have regard for His presence. (1Thessalonians 4:8)
5. I respond to His presence. (1Thessalonians 4:3-7)

Once a person forgets or jettisons the awareness of God's presence and power they will immediately make foolish and sinful choices.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

There is an End to God's Mercy

Read Genesis 19.

The two angels have another assignment to directly handle.  They are on a mission according to 18:21 to see firsthand if the evil in the valley has reached its end.  When they arrive, the wickedness is "to the last man" (19:4).  In other words the only man left worth saving was Lot.  The cities were totally committed to the most heinous behavior and God's mercy had reached its end.

Note verse 22.  The angel stated, "I can do nothing till you arrive there."  God's wrath is never intended for His own.  We saw that with Noah.  This is consistent with the rest of scripture, including the judgement in Revelation.

The Word of God could not be more clear on the subject of homosexuality.  To this day such behavior is legally referred to as Sodomy.  God's judgement is so severe against homosexuality because it is the second to the last step of a society before its demise.  The last one being when human life has no value and open elimination of certain humans becomes acceptable.  History is filled the proof.  Where is the Roman Empire?  Where is the Third Reich?  America is much closer to this demise than most want to discuss, let alone admit.

Civil societies not only contain but appreciate diversity and tolerant behavior.  But there is a great distinction between racial, cultural, or personality differences and tolerating evil.  To tolerate evil is sin in itself.  Proverbs 14:34-"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."

It is often difficult to love the sinner while hating the sin.  But that is what God does.  For those of us who know Jesus as Lord and Savior, we have been given an assignment to directly handle.  It is the mission of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:20-"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Praying Over Problems

Read Genesis 18.

This chapter is filled with insights on several key issues.

Angels.  Notice that the two angels appeared as men, not with glowing auras, and not with wings.  This is consistent with all other appearances of angels in the scriptures.  By the way, verse one says "the LORD appeared to him."  This would indicate another preincarnate appearance of Jesus.

Fathers.  Verse 19 is a great statement for dads to live up to.

Intercessory prayer.  Was God allowing Abraham to negotiate the souls of these people?  No.  God already knew what He was going to do.  But Abraham did not.  One result in earnest prayer is surrendering our wills to what God wants done in the area of our requests.

In every Bible I have ever owned, I have underlined verse 14: "Is anything too hard for the LORD?"  The answer is obvious.  The problems I face are not due to God's inability to solve them.  Most often, it is my ability to know His perspective on the issue and attune my heart with His.  Trusting Him at level is called faith.  Putting what I know He wants done is called obedience.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

In Need of a Good Laugh?

Read Genesis 17.

After Abram disbelief and failure of chapter 16, the LORD appeared to Abram again to reaffirm the covenant.  God would fully indeed keep his promise.  The LORD waited until it was humanly impossible for this couple to conceive a child so that He alone would receive the credit.  It would be a miracle!

Several things were about to change.  For all these years his name has been Abram, which mean father.  A man called father at 99 who had no legitimate children.  But from this point on his name shall be Abraham, which means father of a multitude.

Sarai, who name means princess, will now be called Sarah.  This is only a slight change in meaning, but it is enough to give her something to live up to.  At about age 90, God foretells that she will give birth to a son.

Abraham laughed.  How incredible this seemed to him!  In chapter 18, Sarah laughed when she heard the news.  By the reaction she received, her laughter seems to be more of disbelief than wonder.  So, the child's name would be called Isaac, which means laughter.  Only this "laughter" was the hope of the future, the first of generations to come, the founding of a nation of God's chosen people.

I believe, from a human stand point at least, God does have a sense of humor.  Sometimes the laughter comes when we get to see the LORD's hand move in a wonder-filled way.  There is also a warning here to scoff with laughter in disbelief about what God has promised.  Today is a day to rejoice with laughter in the hope He has given us for eternity.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Personal Meeting with God

Read Genesis 16.

At this point in the story, Abram is on the land God promised and he is propering.  But the second part of God's covenant to him has not happened.  He had no descendants.  He was 85 and his wife was 75.  They reasoned that God was not meeting their need.  Times of "little faith" or "loss of faith" in God causes us to be vulnerable to selfish, silly and even satanically influenced decisions.

So, Sarai and Abram decided not to wait on God.  Instead, they took matters into their own hands.  Hagar was an Egyptian servant to Sarai, who was probably given to them by Pharaoh in chapter 12.  It turned out to be one bad decision followed by another, as now this pregnant servant is abused.  Hagar fled.

We get to see another personal appearance of God.  This time as "the angel of the LORD".  This is a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Himself!

Do not miss the character of God displayed toward Hagar.
1. The LORD found her.  It is a picture of God pursuing those who need Him.
2. The LORD questioned her.  Doesn't He already know the answer?  Yes.  But will she listen to His voice and respond?  God wants us to voice, admit, confess the truth back to Him.
3. She responded.  She confessed, "I am running" from my problems.  It is most often a turning point in one's life, when they can admit this.  Running from issues, rather than facing them, only worsens the situation.  In addition, no one can out run God.
4. The LORD's message to her was to turn around.  The word repent means to turn.  It is a turn FROM going the wrong direction and turning TO God's way for life.
5. The LORD made a promise to her and described a future for her descendants.  He did not have to do this.  It is called grace.  When God made the promise to all of us of eternal life through faith in Jesus, it was solely provided to us by His grace.
6. The result was a personal relationship with the God of heaven and earth.  Surely, she had witnessed Abram's worship, but now this relationship has become hers.  She had her own encounter with the living God.  Ishmael means "God hears".  Then, she declared, "You are a God of seeing."  God sees.  More than that, "Truly here I have seen him who looks after me."  God cares.

This same One pursues me today, to show me His grace, as He hears, sees, and cares about the needs in my life...and yours.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

4 Steps to Seeing God Act

Genesis 15 is one of the linchpin chapters in understanding the Bible.  This is the first appearance of God in a vision.  It contains the first mention of "I am" in reference to God

God moved from making a promise to Abram (chapter 12) to sealing it with an everlasting covenant.  In doing so, God also foretells, about 500 years in advance, of the future suffering of the yet-to-be nation.  They will be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. 

Note that the covenant is not a mutual agreement.  It is not dependent upon Abram or his descendants.  It is from God, for God, made by Him alone.  It is from Abram's response to God that we learn a timeless Biblical principle.  Verse 6: "And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness."  Abram stood righteous before God because of simple faith.  The New Testament quotes and upholds this as a basic tenet on establishing a personal relationship with the LORD. 

Abram asked a great question: "How am I to know that I shall possess it?"  God then gave him clear instructions.
1. Abram sacrificed.  He gave to God what God asked. 
2. Abram obeyed.  He did what God said to do.
3. Abram waited.  This may have been the toughest part.
4. God acted. 

Our human nature wants the four steps above in reverse order.  We want God to prove Himself, answer our prayers, bless us in someway first.  Then, we will trust and obey Him.  And, certainly, we do not want to wait. 

Sometimes God calls us to action.  Many times we are called to wait.  If the latter is true, waiting is not inaction, but obedience.  Psalm 27:14-"Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!"  And, watch what He alone can do.  Selah.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Starting Point of Giving

In Genesis 14, we read the third recorded test of Abram's faith.  Because of the capture of his nephew, Lot, Abram quickly assembled a small army and completely overturned the disaster with a great victory.  Abram could have claimed rulership of the entire area for himself.  Instead, it almost appears as if he had made a prior commitment to God that if God gave him success he would take nothing for himself.

Upon Abram's return, he meets the king/priest of Salem (later known as Jerusalem).  Melchizedek did three things in this encounter:
1. Blessed Abram-giving God the credit
2. Acknowledged God's ownership of heaven and earth-giving God the glory
3. Received a tenth of everything-giving God worship
True worship of God and giving is inseparable. 

This the first mention of tithing in the Bible.  Here are some modern questions about tithing:
A. "Should I give a tenth of the gross or the net?"
The verse says "everything."

B. "Should I give a tenth before or after I pay my bills?"
Abram gave in verse 20 and paid his bills in verse 24.  Proverbs 3:9 underscores this priority.  It is a matter of trust in God.  If I honor Him first, then I trust He will bless the rest.

C. "But isn't tithing Old Testament law and we are no longer under the law?"
Note that Abram did not live under the law of Moses.  He at least lived 450 years before Moses received the law at Mount Sinai.  The law did not inititate tithing.

Abram did not give in worship because he felt he owed God 10% of his gain.  Rather, he gave in acknowledgement that God owns it all.  The first lesson of stewardship is that God is the rightful Owner of everything.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

3 Life Lessons and 3 Life Questions

Read Genesis 13.

Here is another test of Abram's faith.  There arose a major conflict within his own family.  In the culture of the day, being the patriarch of the family, Abram could have pulled rank and made certain demands.  But to his credit he saw this in a much larger perspective than relational strife.  Lot was not an enemy but family.  Abram's commitment was more than just to appease the strife, but to resolve the conflict and trust God for the outcome.

If you wish to start a fight, demand your rights.  If you want to end a conflict, yield your rights voluntarily and work peaceably toward an equitable resolve.

Three life lessons from Abram's responses:
1. He humbled himself when he could have stood up for his rights.
2. He trusted God to work rather than choosing his own way.
3. He worshipped God when the decision was made.  Building an altar and worshipping at these strategic times had now become a habit of his life.  He passed the test.

Three life questions to ask when faced with some major decisions from Lot's responses:
1. Am I viewing this decision with spiritual insight or only physical eyesight?
2. Am I making spiritual goals my priority rather than material goals?
3. Am I more concerned with developing eternal prosperity or temporal prosperity? 

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Blessing for Today

The end of Genesis 11 and chapter 12 are turning points in world history.  Of all humanity, God chooses Abram and sovereignly makes a covenant with him.  The covenant contains three parts: God will give Abram and his family a land for their own; God will make Abram a great nation of people; God will bless Abram to such an extent that all the world will be blessed through him.

Today, the land is dispute.  In spite of many satanic attempts to annihilate the Abrams descendants and the nation of Israel, by God's grace they have survived.  Matthew 1 provides the genealogy details that the Messiah is humanly a direct descendant of Abram.  Indeed, the blessing to all the world has come and will come again.

Next, we get to see how Abram responded.  It humbled him to realize what God had promised.  His response to major incidents in his life was to build an altar and worship.  

That did not mean that Abram lived a perfect life.  The rest of chapter 12 displays his humanity.  And, like all humans, he sinned when he got out of God's will.  Sin may be characterized by one or more of the following from Abram's bad example: 
In the wrong place (Egypt, instead of the place God provided)
With the wrong thinking (fear, instead of faith)
With the wrong speech (lying, instead of truth)
With wrong actions (instead of being a blessing, he became a curse)
With wrong results (instead of building relationship, he was asked to leave in disgrace)

But there is hope.  God's promises were not dependent upon Abram's behavior.  In further reading of this book we find that God blessed Abram.  God still kept His promises.  Abram was still God's friend.

I am encouraged that through my failures and sin, God's promises of forgiveness are sure, not because of me and my behavior, but because the price for sin was paid on the cross by Jesus.  My relationship, yes my friendship, with Jesus is not based upon my good works, but the grace of God.  As a result of what we read in Genesis 12, we are blessed today.  To Him be the glory!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

God's View of Nations

After the flood, the only humans on earth were Noah and his family.  From his three sons came three strains of peoples of which all today trace their heritage.  In Genesis 10 and 11 we read how nations began.

Famously, Nimrod founded a city called Babel.  In defiance and open rebellion against God, the population decided to build a tower.  Archaeologists have discovered in that part of the world a style of construction called ziggurats, a type of tall temple pyramid, often decorated with symbols of the sun, moon and stars with an altar for false worship on top.

Babel, then, is the birthplace of astrology and all other false religions that worship the host of heaven, instead of the God of heaven.  They look to the creation for signs, instead of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  In response to Babel, God intervened by giving them different languages so they can no longer work together in such united rebellion.  To this day the word Babel refers to confusion.  And, Babylon remains in current news.

Arrogant independence and open defiance against God will only lead to destruction of a nation and a life.
Psalm 9:17-"The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God."
Proverbs 14:34-"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."

How does God respond to those who think like William Ernest Henley-"I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul"?  Psalm 2 should strike such a fear of God that all humble themselves before Him.  Verse 4 states, "He who sits in the heavens laughs."  God does not laugh because sinful rebellion is funny, but because a human being thinking of challenging Almighty God and living without Him is so absurd.  It is insane.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:10 that one day-"at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

May our nation return to its true spiritual roots before its too late.  May this be the year when those we love who continue to defy the Lord surrender themselves to Him.