Friday, March 31, 2017

3 principles in overcoming 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 came 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 one bothered to tell Isaac that the birthright had been sold.

Esau. He was older son and normally would have received this blessing.  However, he acted foolishly in selling his birthright.  Then, 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 nationally known 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.  
Lying, deceit and withholding information will only compound the problems.

1. Concerning ourselves.
Always tell the truth, no matter how much it hurts.  We must be clear and come clean about our own behavior.

2. Concerning others.
Do not be afraid to talk about the real issues with the others involved.  Ephesians 4:15: "...speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ."  

3. Concerning the outcome.
Trust God to protect and to bless obedience.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

4 insights concerning the Next Generation

Read Genesis 26.

God's covenant to Abraham is repeated here and passed on to next generation.  Isaac heard firsthand the same three components of the promise: 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 of herds and the need for water that Abimelech had to ask him to leave the area.  Like his father, when Isaac moved to a new place he built an altar and worshipped God.  God even received the credit for Isaac's success from the Philistine king.  Abimelech stated, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you." (v.28)

Observing this second generation, here are four insights.
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."  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Leaving 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?" (v.22)  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.  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.

Every day, the decisions we make and how we handle relationships affect our legacy and those who will come behind us.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

8 considerations needed before the Marriage

Read Genesis 24.

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.

God instituted marriage.  From Genesis 2, it was His design that one man and one woman become partners for life.  The cultural differences and variations in many of our own relationships are different than this chapter describes, perhaps, but consider these insights when seeking a life partner.
1. Parental Counsel. (vv.3,49)
Grown children are no longer under the command to obey their parents, but one is never too old to honor them.  One effective way to honor parents is to seek their counsel when making life-changing decisions.
2. Spiritual Unity. (v.3)
2 Corinthians 6:14-"Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?"
Standing before God and witnesses to vow "until death" is the most sacred human contract of all.  Both parties should be fully committed to following Jesus and desiring to grow in their faith.
 3. Prayerful Consideration. (v.12)
It is normal to be anxious about the questions: "Will I ever get married?" or "How will I know if this is the right one?"
Psalm 34:10-"The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Proverbs 18:22-"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD."
4. Character Confirmation. (v.14)
Notice the test of Rebekah's spirit.  She possessed a servant’s heart.  Will she do more than expected, without being asked, even for a stranger with 10 large, tired, thirsty camels?  This was the type of woman described in Proverbs 31.
The qualities in a husband are found in Ephesians 5:25-32.  He is to demonstrate self-sacrifice to meet her needs.  Most often true character will not get better after the marriage.
5. Physical Attractiveness. (v.16a)
Rebekah was an attractive young woman.  Personal desirability is certainly important.
6. Sexual Purity. (v.16b)
2 Corinthians 7:1-"Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God."
God can cleanse the impurities of our past and make us holy.  If one has been promiscuous in the past, there needs to be some time of proven faithfulness to the LORD and practice of purity before the marriage.  If immorality is not dealt with before the marriage, it will not change on its own after the marriage ceremony.
7. Family Acceptance. (v.23)
Marriage is a union of two families, not just two individuals.  Everyone is affected by the marriage.  Without the families involved extending their blessings, there will always be tension in the relationship and, in many cases, could possibly destroy the marriage.
8. Mutual Completion. (v.67)
Genesis 2:18-"Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'"
A man and a woman are opposites in nearly every way.  This is especially true physically and emotionally.  It is wonderful to have mutual interests but that is not the same as completion.  The marriage partnership is to become together what one could never be by themselves alone. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dealing with the death of a Spouse

Read Genesis 23.

One of the most stressful events in life is losing one's spouse.  It involves processing the emotional pain of loss.  Next comes the overwhelming sense of loneliness.  Then, one must deal with the agony of transitioning to a new phase of life.  Sarah died at age 127.  Now, this 137 year old widower must bury his wife and carry on without her. 

 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 deemed a leader among them.
2. He was a respected in the neighborhood (a prince of a guy).
3. He was recognized as having a relationship with God.

Abraham could have taken advantage of the situation and acquired the burial site as a gift.  But his integrity and ability superseded giving in to any pity the community had for him.  He paid a fair price in this public transaction with a humble spirit.

Times of suffering are God's opportunities to demonstrate His grace and comfort to those who love Him.  Family, friends and neighbors get to witness firsthand the difference genuine faith can make in a crisis.  When this is evident, the question unbelievers are asking (whether spoken or unspoken) is, "How are you able to hold up like this?  If it were me, I would be falling apart."  Indeed, when the props are knocked out from under us, we need someone to lean on for strength.

Moses wrote: "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms." (Deuteronomy 33:27)  If our relationship with God and our trust in Him is where and how we live, then we can experience His faithfulness every day, not just when there is a tragedy.  We cast our dependence on Him.  We lean on those everlasting arms.

Though it may have felt like this was the end, God was not done unfolding His plan for Abraham and his family.  There is so much more ahead for him and for us.

Friday, March 17, 2017

4 discoveries from a Faith-test

Read Genesis 22.

God tested Abraham in an area of his life that, perhaps, of which he was holding on too tightly.  No parent would want to face this test.  Isaac was the long awaited heir to the future fulfillment of the promises of God.  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 His.  It is quite another to actually put it into practice.  It is putting our 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 may have 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 know when or if God would intervene.  He only knew one thing and that was all that he needed to obey.  "God will provide..." (v.8).  It is from this statement that we 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 during this test. "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, he believed God would be faithful to His word.

There are four discoveries as a result of this one test that our faith needs 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 intuitive.  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.  We all wish God would provide in advance so we could avoid a 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 an everlasting covenant to Abraham and his descendants.  Then, He miraculously provided Isaac to continue to the promise.  To slay Isaac seemed to contradict all that God had said.  However, God did not change His mind, or His Word.  In verses 17-18, the angel repeated the promise again.  God's promises are true and completely reliable in every test.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Responding to a Miracle

Read Genesis 21.

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

This chapter contains three different responses to what God had done.

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.  
Reading verses 6-7, one can almost hear her giggle.  The name Isaac means he laughs or laughter.  When she first heard the LORD speak of her coming pregnancy, Sarah 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. Ishmael responded with mockery.  
In a public celebration, there almost always seems to be someone who wants to rain on the parade.  Surely, Ishmael considered himself to be the heir and openly mocked the birth of Isaac in derision.  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."  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 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 and what God has done.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Failure is not Final

Read Genesis 20.

Think of who Abraham was.  He was a man specially called by God.  God made an unconditional and everlasting covenant with him and his descendants.  He was called God's friend (James 2:23).  Abraham was wealthy.  Everywhere he went, he build an altar to worship the LORD.  He worshiped God by giving Him ten percent of all he had.  Abraham interceded before the LORD and God answered his prayers.  God referred to him as a prophet (20:7).

In addition, Abraham was human and struggled with sin.  Twice, Genesis recounts the same scenario in his life.  He allowed fear to rule in his decisions, instead of trusting God.  This fear led him to lie about his marriage.  He placed his wife in great physical and moral jeopardy.  Sin leads us to make one bad decision after another.

When Abraham would not listen to God, Abimelech heard God loud and clear.  This king's character proved superior to Abraham's in this instance.  The LORD's response was, "Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning." (v.6)  God protected the king.  He also protected Sarah when her husband would not.

Abraham confessed his fear of Abimelech, instead of God.  "I did it because I thought, 'There is no fear of God at all in this place.'" (v.11).  The environment may not have been godly, but the LORD is omnipresent.  Abraham let the people around him to determine his behavior.  Once a person forgets or jettisons the awareness of God's presence and power they will immediately make foolish and sinful choices.  Doing so violates 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."

Despite this repeated public sin, God still used Abraham.  "He will pray for you, and you shall live." (v.7b).  "Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech..." (v.17)  God had neither changed His plans nor His mind concerning His relationship with Abraham.  There is hope for all us.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

There is an end to God's Mercy

Read Genesis 19.

The two angels who visited Abraham were on a mission to see firsthand if the evil in the valley had reached its end.  When they arrived, their wickedness proved pervasive "to the last man" (19:4).  The area became totally committed to the most heinous behaviors imaginable and God's mercy for these unrepentant rebels had reached its end.

Lot was far from perfect but he was a "righteous" man (2 Peter 2:7) and these angels had come to rescue him and his family.  The preannounced judgment of God was absolutely certain.  However, the responses to God's coming wrath produced differing results.
1. The sons-in-law laughed (v.14).  
When Lot tried to persuade his extended family to immediately leave with him, they considered God's word to be a joke.

2. Lot lingered (v.16).  
The command was to leave immediately, but Lot hesitated to obey.  Perhaps, he realized he would lose some of his family members, his home, and all his belonging which were significant.  He had so many possessions in herds and servants that he had to separate from Abraham in chapter 13.  His heart was tied to temporal things. 

3. Lot's wife longed to go back.  
The command was "Do not look back."  She deliberately disobeyed.  Her "look" was more than a curious glimpse (v.26).  The Hebrew word has to do with intently looking with pleasure.  Though the environment was irredeemable, she already missed living there.  Her heart was not right with God as was her husband's.  She paid for it with her life. 

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.  

The two angels literally had to grab these four and pull them out of Sodom to a new place.  Note verse 22.  The angel stated, "I can do nothing till you arrive there."  God's wrath is never intended for His own.  As 2 Peter 2 underscores, each time God always provides a way to escape His wrath.  This is consistent with the rest of scripture, including the judgments in Revelation.

 The coming earthly and the coming eternal judgments are just as sure.  The responses to God's word concerning these announcements are the same as it was in Genesis.  But God has already provided a singular way of escape.  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36) 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A hard lesson on intercessory Prayer

Read Genesis 18.

This is the sixth recorded time the LORD has directly revealed Himself to Abraham.  Each occurrence provided direction, a promise, or affirmation concerning God's covenant with him.

In the previous chapter, the LORD promised that a son named Isaac would indeed be Abraham's heir.  Here, the LORD appeared again to announce that the child would be born within the next year.  What humanly was impossible for this elderly couple presented no problem for God.
"Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (v.14)

The first half of the chapter appears to be almost incidental to the real mission.  The two angels, appearing as human men were on their way to deal with the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.  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.  

The LORD, then, asked this question: "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" (v.17)  God's patience with the cities in the valley had run out.  Judgment against their wickedness would come swiftly and totally.

When he realized this would affect Lot, Abraham began to intercede on his behalf.  Finally, Abraham's request is reduced to a number equal to that of Lot, his children and their spouses.  Sadly, only three escaped alive.

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 of earnest prayer is surrendering our wills to what God wants done in the area of our requests.  Then, we must trust Him fully for the outcome.  Our belief in prayer is not based upon getting our way but in the One who is worthy of our trust.  

Friday, March 3, 2017

Believing God for the Impossible

Read Genesis 17.

After Abram's disbelief and failure in chapter 16, the LORD appeared to Abram again to reaffirm the everlasting covenant.  This is the third time God promised him innumerable descendants and the land.  Despite the fact that more than thirteen years had passed, God would fully indeed keep his promise.  The LORD waited until Abram and Sarai believed it was humanly impossible for them to conceive a child.  In this way, everyone would know that the LORD 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 with no children named father would be laughable in itself, but at age 99 it was more embarrassing than amusing.  Then, God changed his name to 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.  Here at about age 90, God foretold that she will give birth to a son.

Such declarations caused Abraham to laugh.  How incredible this seemed to him!  God instructed the child to be named Isaac, which means laughter.  

In commenting on this very passage, the Apostle Paul wrote: "...God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist....No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised." (Romans 4:17-20)

Humans only see the past and the present.  God sees the end from the beginning.  In His plan for our lives, the LORD sees not only the way things are but as they can and will be.  It is the essence of faith to believe in life and eternity according to God's word and His will. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

6 insights from a runaway Girl

Read Genesis 16.

Abram had been on the land God promised for ten years and he is prospering.  But the second part of God's covenant to him has not happened.  He had no children, let alone innumerable 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 was abused.  Hagar fled.

The angel of the LORD appears to her.  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 admit or confess the truth of our condition back to Him.
3. She responded.  She confessed that she was running from her 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 us today, to show His grace, as He hears, sees, and cares about the needs in our lives.