Saturday, April 30, 2016
A Sad Anniversary and a Reminder--The Holocaust
Recently we remembered a sad page in the history of humanity, we recalled the liberation of prison camps and the people in them from the nightmare of Nazi oppression and tyranny. Annually I try to remind myself of the depth of depravity to which humanity can slip, especially humanity that justifies its inhumanity and brutality by science. The Nazis showed the dark beastial side of humanity, the side we all possess to some degree (although most of us will never admit it). The Nazis were more than thugs or brutes or even barbarians, they were humans that (in C. S. Lewis' words from The Abolition of Man
) were humans without magnanimity, they were "men without chests." Here are Lewis' own words about such people:
"They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed, it would be strange if they were: a perservering devotion to truth, a nice of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of sentiment . . . It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so." (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
, New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, p. 25).
These oppressors were not less human than the rest of us, they just acted as people without that emotion that makes our "better angels" show up instead of the "brutes" in each of us. They became the "elites" who judged other races in humanity as mere brutish nature to be studied. They were Social Darwinists who wanted to keep their race pure, and who ultimately participated in that which Lewis deems "the abolition of man." They were people like us. In many ways we hate to admit, they were us. As one survivor records the event of his liberation:
"The full record of the pseudo-medical experimentations came to light. Prisoners had been used as laboratory animals, without the humane restrictions placed on vivisection. Hannah Arendt suggested that `the camp was itself a vast laboratory in which the Nazis proved that there is no limit to human depravity.' For it was remembered that these experiments were not planned or conducted by identifiable psychopaths. They were performed or supervised by professional scientists, trained in what had been once considered peerless universities and medical schools. Reverend Franklin Littell called them `technically competent barbarians.' Indeed the procedures had the full approval and cooperation of Berlin's Institute of Hygiene." (Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted
. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1983, pp. 8-10)
Let us remember with sadness the number of innocents lost and the reality of our own potentially brutish nature. Let us never forget that without grace, we are all irredeemably lost. Could Dachau or Auschwitz (or the others) happen again? Only if humans let it, only if we deny once again our own humanity and treat our fellow humans as mere animals. Yes, it can happen again. Let's pray that it doesn't. Let's make sure it doesn't.
This topic is heavy and sad. I don't apologize for that, but I do want to put the weight down now. Thanks for reading.
Labels: abolition of man, auschwitz, dachau, holocaust, holocaust remembrance, sad anniversary
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Sounds of Silence--A Repeat
Nine years ago I was in the middle of trying to write and to establish a new program of study at Liberty University, and I found myself a bit overwhelmed. You might even say that I was drowning in busy-ness and work. Today I often find myself right back in that same ocean . . . swamped by a sense of "things to do" and "work, work work".
I think we all have been there. The waves of life crash around us, and we sense we are sinking in the foam of life and finding ourselves stuck in the mire of everyday expectations. The thunder and bluster of life's storms cause fear, and we lose focus on what really matters. We succumb to the slumber brought about by drowning in activities--e-mail to answer, calls to be made, classes to prepare, friends to meet, people to impress, notes/articles to write, family expectations or obligations, to do lists full of things that just HAVE to be done today, etc. The raging waves lull us to sleep as we are rocked steadily into a coma of concern. The cacophony of our activities becomes the lullaby to our souls, and we yield to the siren's call, surrendering to what we think is really important. We forget that we sometimes need a pause, a moment of Selah, a time to come apart before we fall apart.
In the middle of such a situation nine years ago, I wrote the following words. They spoke to me then, and they convict me now. How often I forget to sit silently in the presence of the Father who genuinely cares! I come into his presence with my own agenda, dropping my "to do" lists in his lap as though they were a heavenly call that cannot be avoided. Anyway, today I want to remind myself to sit with God, to just be silent in his awesome and awful presence with no agenda except to be with him. I need some "quiet time", how about you?
Silence, cold eerie silence.
In this post-modern day and age, we
rarely find ourselves in a place that is so utterly silent as to be
practically without sound. We are surrounded by noise—the chattering of
talk radio, the booming of the latest music craze, even in the shopping
centers and elevators of life we encounter the ever-present reminder of
Muzak to keep us company. At work we are assaulted with myriads of
sounds, from the boss handing out assignments to the response of the assistant or the ringing of the phone. Even the internet is now wired
for sound so that you can search for the latest piece of news or
information with surround sound convenience. We return home from work
only to turn on our cable TV to act as a kind of “white noise” in the
background of our family lives. Some of us even go to sleep with the
latest tunes playing on the radio to soothe our tired souls and “give us
rest.” Today a human can actually go from womb to grave completely
surrounded by the music of their own chosen personal soundtrack. Surely we are
rarely without noise in our lives!
In this post-modern life we
seem to have grown afraid of silence. We avoid it. We try to fill it
with something that will give “meaning” to the emptiness. Why do we do
that? Why do we fill our lives with sound?
Could it be that we are afraid of what we may actually hear if we are silent?
Could we be afraid that we may hear nothing? That we may be drowning in silence?
believe we have grown accustomed to sound as a substitute for genuine
communication with the transcendent. We have blocked out the very voice
of the cosmos with our sound track so that we do not have to give our
souls pause and just listen.
When was the last time you listened,
really listened, to nature around you? I heard a mockingbird this morning,
the bark of my dog, the jingling of my cat’s tags as he walked up the
walk. It was so quiet I swear I could hear the sun groaning as it rose
from its sleep!
I sat there, in silence. I listened. After a few
seconds I grew jittery, even panicky. I really should be doing
something, listening to something, “accomplishing” something worthwhile
with my time.
I heard a voice, quiet and still—“Hush, be quiet.
Be still and know . . . .” I listened, and in that silence I found a
reverence for life that I hope only grows throughout the day. The quiet
voice didn’t offer any startling revelations, but my basking in silence
lent a kind of sacred feel to my morning. God was there. We had coffee.
We sat quietly like two old friends for whom words would be a waste of
effort. We silently toasted the beginning of a new day, and I felt as
though the Almighty smiled at me. That stillness of that moment had
created an almost “holy” space for the two of us to share. I know he was
there. I long for a few more quiet moments with my Father and Friend.
Shhh . . .
Listen. . .
Was that the whisper of his voice?
Thanks for reading!
Labels: a time to pause, be still and know, busy-ness, quiet, selah, sounds of silence, storms of life
Monday, February 29, 2016
Borrowing Grace . . . Do You Hear Him?
Some recent reading prompted me to pen the following thoughts. I am indebted to people like C. S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the thoughts below. They not only compelled my thinking, their writings provide the source of some of the "grace" I tend to "borrow" the most. So, "borrowing grace" refers to receiving something of worth unexpectedly. Here is today's "borrowed grace".
C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity
real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually
look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All
your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And
the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in
listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting
that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on,
all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings;
coming in out of the wind.
there is a voice calling to us. Do we hear it? Oh there may well be a
cacophany of voices in your mind/heart! I know there often is a raucous
and rowdy group of them in mine!
"Don't forget your
work! Don't forget that review you promised! Don't forget to play with
your children! Don't forget to read your Bible!"
voices vie for my attention even as my mind tries to shake the cobwebs
of sleep and regain some semblance of focus. I hear them every morning.
As Lewis notes, they rush at me.
What voices call us away from the Voice?
Do you hear him?
God is calling--"come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest."
"Take my burden upon you."
"All you like sheep have gone astray."
"Come to me, all who are burdened."
imagery of coming out of the wind is a good one. Lewis reminds us to
leave the wind of the voices calling us to busy-ness so that we can stop
to listen to the one voice that matters.
God's call matters.
is something about the call of God that transforms us when we hear it
and respond. It isn't what we do, it is the very fact that God in his
grace and kindness "called" us, spoke to us, singled us out, so to
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in The Cost of Discipleship
call of Jesus makes the disciple community not only the salt but also
the light of the world: their activity is visible, as well as
imperceptible. "You are the light." Once again it is not: "you
are to be the light," they are already the light because Christ has
called them. They are a light which is seen of men, they cannot be
otherwise, and if they were it would be a sign that they had not been
called. How impossible, how utterly absurd it would be for the
disciples--these disciples, such men as these!--to try and become
the light of the world! No. They are already the light and the call
has made them so. Nor does Jesus say: "You have the light." The light
is not an instrument which has been put into their hands, such as their
preaching. It is the disciples themselves. By an amazing act of
mercy, they are the light.
When God speaks, something changes. The very call to discipleship changes us.
in the beginning when God simply spoke things into existence, his Word
continues to breathe creative life into the heart of humanity (see John
1). His Word enlightens us, illuminates our dark lives, transforms us
into the light of the world.
God speaks, something happens. Light comes into being. Darkness is confused, overcome, ruined.
God speaks, light breaks forth.
calls, and we become salt and light. Every part of us becomes a
testimony to the kindness of God. Every aspect of our life bleeds his
kindness, his love, his grace, his mercy, his call.
God speaks, stuff happens.
Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
Thank you for reading!
Labels: C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bohoeffer, God's call, Hearing God
Sunday, January 31, 2016
Paul's Parting Word: Fulfill Your Ministry
This is a sermon I preached to seminary students in the Spring of 2015 in a seminary chapel. Here is the outline of the sermon. I am indebted to many sources for the material below, and I wanted to make sure my students understand that these notes represent my reading of other sermons, some commentaries, and lexicons/dictionaries. I hope it is a blessing to you.
Paul’s Parting Word: Fulfill your Ministry!
2 Timothy 4:1-5
1. Fulfill your
ministry because Jesus is coming, and when he does, he will judge.
“His Appearing”: The word epiphaneia could be used in two special ways.
It was used for the obvious intervention of some god, but it was specially
used in connection with the Roman Caesar. His ascension to the throne was his epiphaneia; but it was also used to describe his visit
to any city or province. When the Emperor was due to visit any place,
everything was put in proper order. Streets were swept and decorated and
all work was brought up-to-date so that the town might be fit for Caesar's visit. So Paul says to Timothy:
“You know what happens when any town is expecting the visit of the king; you are expecting the coming of Jesus Christ. Do your work
in such a way that all things will be ready whenever he appears.” So we should
so order our life that at any moment we are ready for the Christ's appearing.
understands that God is omnipresent and we cannot escape him or his gaze, but soon we may well be in God's presence in a more literal way. It is as if Paul cautions us to remember that God is watching us. Jesus will
one day return and then there will be judgment. Some will rise to be blessed and will receive the reward due them. Perhaps most urgent, when
He returns it’s too late to do his work. What a sobering charge! One day we
will all face the Lord Jesus Christ as a righteous judge. We will stand before
Jesus one on one, and give an account for our lives. Romans 14:12 says,
"So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." What
will we have to show for our time spent on earth as believers? What will we
say? Will we be able to say anything, or simply bow our heads in shame? Every
generation of Christian leaders faces that same prospect!
2. Fulfill your
ministry by preaching/teaching: Proclaim
the message, preach the Word—Paul refers back to chapter 3:12-17 here. Paul is
telling Timothy to proclaim the inspired Scripture, but it is also to proclaim
the message. What message? The one Paul has diligently passed on to
Timothy. There is a reminder of
discipleship here. Paul is writing a
letter to his disciple, his son in the faith, and it is a last word or a dying
wish if you will. He is telling Timothy,
“I entrusted these things to you, now you pass them on to others.” 2 Timothy 2:2 “And what you have heard from
me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able
to teach others also.”
A W Tozer: "I heard of one graduate of a
theological school who determined to follow his old professor’s advice and
preach the Word only. His crowds were average. Then one day a cyclone hit the
little town and he yielded to the temptation to preach on the topic 'Why God
Sent the Cyclone to Centerville.' The church was packed. This shook the young
preacher and he went back to ask his professor for further advice in the light
of what had happened. Should he continue to preach the Word to smaller crowds
or try to fill his church by preaching sermons a bit more sensational? The old
man did not change his mind. 'If you preach the Word,' he told the inquirer, 'you will always have a text. But if you wait for cyclones you will not have
enough to go around.'”
the word." The word "preach" means to herald, or proclaim
publicly. Paul encourages Timothy to boldly and vigorously proclaim the Word of
God. The Word of God, the Bible, Sound Doctrine, the kind of things you should
be learning in seminary. These are the
things you need to entrust to others.
Let the text determine your message.
Stick to the context. No need to try to help the text out with your own flourishes, simply let God’s Truth speak and let the Spirit convict.
Persist in preaching
the word: “in season and out of season” Verse 2 continues, "..be instant (ready and
prepared) in season, out of season." It didn't matter if the time seemed
favorable or not. It didn't matter if Timothy felt well or not. It didn't
matter if there was a ready audience or a rebellious audience. It didn't matter
if there was a big crowd or just a few. Timothy must always see himself on
call, on duty, ready and prepared to serve, ready and prepared to share, the
Word of God.
Barclay says: The Christian teacher is to be urgent.
The message he brings is literally a matter of life and death. The teachers who
really get their message across are those who have the note of earnestness in
their voice....Any man with the note of urgency in his voice demands, and will
receive, a hearing from other men. The Christian teacher is to be persistent.
He is to urge the claims of Christ "in season and out of season." As
someone has put it: "Take or make your opportunity."
The Greek here for “Be ready” means something like "Stand right up to it" (according to Spurgeon), be prepared, take a
stand, carry on, stick to it. “In season and out” carries the idea of urgency. We must do this urgently and at all
times. We must preach when it is convenient or inconvenient, whether we feel like it or not! We should always be on duty and take advantage of every opportunity
Teach with patience: Timothy
must preach the Word impartially. We must preach to all equally. Verse 2 concludes, "..reprove, rebuke, encourage with all patience and doctrine." Timothy was to administer the
Word of God as it was needed. The Word of God is described in the Bible as a
fire, hammer, and a sword, and as such it has many applications! To some, it meant reproof.
The word "reprove" means to correct, which involved pointing out
their faults and errors. As pastor, Timothy must tell people where they have gone wrong, and what they need to do
to correct it. To some it meant "rebuke." The word "rebuke"
means to confront using sharp words with authority. It involves warning someone
in order to prevent an action. As pastor, Timothy must not mince words when it
came to turning people from sin and destructive behavior! This alone is enough
to get most pastors of churches in America, fired (according to Leonard Ravenhill). If a pastor starts reproving
and rebuking today, he may not last long. To some it means "exhortation"
or encouragement. The word "exhort," means to comfort or encourage.
Once someone is rebuked, the pastor must come along side of him or her in love,
with encouraging words.
is to do all this with patience and sound teaching/doctrine. Timothy's words must be
rooted and saturated with the truth of God's Word. “Patience” here means “longsuffering” or
“endurance” or some such. The idea is
that we are to fulfill our ministry of proclaiming God’s Word/Jesus with an eye
toward the long haul. This is not a sprint,
it is a marathon. Isaiah 6:11-13—"How
long, Lord?" And He replied: “Until cities lie in ruins without
inhabitants, houses are without people, the land is ruined and desolate, 12 and
the LORD drives the people far away, leaving great emptiness in the land. 13
Though a tenth will remain in the land, it will be burned again. Like the
terebinth or the oak, which leaves a stump when felled, the holy seed is the
stump.” Keep proclaiming God’s message until God tells us to stop or until God
finishes his work. We do not determine the “fullness of time,” that is God’s job. We should simply obey. The key to success as a disciple of Christ is simple—obey. Fulfill
your ministry even if the crowds leave.
3. Fulfill your
ministry even if everyone runs from it: Paul does not minimize our
difficulties. He comes right out and warns us that we may well encounter some very frustrating conditions as we fulfill our ministry. We will attempt to make God’s Word known with all
our might, and like Isaiah we will find that people aren’t really interested in
that. They may find somebody who suits them better. They may complain about sound doctrine. Eventually they may also believe anything
but the truth. Remember that this
section of 2 Timothy comes directly after Paul's reminder that all Scripture being inspired. In other words, people may well reject the truth. It is not always enjoyable to hear.
phrase "itching ears" in verse 3b, speaks of people who are more
interested in being titillated, excited with pleasure, than being set straight.
They will seek entertainment instead of enlightenment. People will often want
to hear something that is positive instead of a message that convicts or speaks
truth. “Itching ears” here has the idea of “hearing” that focuses on pleasure.
Like my dog loves her ears rubbed, sometimes people will not tolerate truth.
They will want to have their ears rubbed. Paul tells us that Biblical teaching
and preaching often involves telling people what they do not want to hear, and
making demands that they do not want to follow.
4. Fulfill your
ministry with a clear head, endurance, and evangelism: If we’re going to attempt this,
we must be personally fit for it: Be clear headed or sober minded. Know what we may face. Be aware of the potential problems and make up our minds to endure. We should know
by now that suffering may be part of the call. Regardless, do your job in spite of these things. Yes, it really is that simple.
calm, collected, and focused in all situations. Verse 5 begins, "But watch
thou in all things." The word "watch" means to remain calm and
collected. It has the sense of being in control or temperate. There was once a
Dry Idea deodorant commercial that said, "Never let them see you
sweat." Unfortunately a pastor is never afforded the luxury of losing it.
He must always stay in touch with his call and the expectations of his office.
Always be ready to share the good
news of Jesus Christ. Verse 5 continues, "....do the work of an
evangelist." The word "evangelist" speaks of the bearer of good
news! The "good news" of course is the gospel of Jesus Christ! Timothy
was to share the message of the gospel at all times with all people. Timothy's
preaching must always point people to Jesus Christ! Peter Wagner gives three
parts to evangelism: Presence,
Proclamation, and Persuasion. We are to be living, breathing representatives of
Jesus. Serve others in word and in deed,
that is true evangelism.
we are called to fulfill our calling and ministry. Verse 5 concludes,
". . . make full proof (make the most) of your ministry." The apostle
Paul was telling Timothy to fulfill his ministry, to do all that God had called
him to do. Timothy was no Paul. There was only one Paul. Timothy was gifted
differently and given a different assignment. He was to fulfill his own
ministry. The same is true for us. As my mentor Dr. Bill Lane used to say, "Never covet another person's gift, and never despise your own." Whether we are teaching a Sunday school
class, working in a small group, greeting visitors with a warm smile and
welcome hand shake, or preaching to thousands, we are to fulfill our ministry in our own way and with God's guidance. We are not to endeavor to be "like" another minister, we should strive to be like Jesus in our service to others. We must each fulfill our own calling. What has God called you to do? Do it with all your might! Complete it as a humble servant looking for his king's approval.
solemn charge given by Paul needs to burn within each of us as believers in
Jesus Christ. We are living in the "last days." These are
"perilous times." We never know just when we will be called home, or when Jesus Christ will return to catch us out. Are you committed? If Jesus returned today,
would He find you faithfully and effectively serving Him? How are we
doing? What are we building for
Jesus? What is our call, and how are we doing in fulfilling it for Christ's sake?
It may be as simple as completing the degree to which God has called you, or writing that paper, or taking that test, or loving your neighbor or spouse or child . . . it may be something like sharing the love of God with someone who has been overlooked and denigrated . . . it may simply mean doing the right thing when nobody is looking. Whatever it is, let us hear the great apostle to the Gentiles reminding us. . . Fulfill your ministry. Finish what he has called you to do. Be faithful, and get it done!
Thanks for reading!
Labels: 2 timothy 4:1-5, fulfill your ministry, Paul's parting word
Saturday, January 09, 2016
Beautiful Mess: Appearances can be Misleading (Genesis 29:1-30)
Several months ago I was privileged to preach at Gospel Community Church in Lynchburg, VA. We are going through a series on the book of Genesis, and our pastor (Andrew Moroz) asked me to speak on Genesis 29:1-30. They recorded the sermon, so if you'd like to see and hear me preach this message, follow this link: GCC Appearances can be Misleading
. I will also post the notes I used for the sermon below. Please feel free to comment if you'd like. I hope this sermon is a blessing to you.
Mess: Appearances Can Be Misleading Gen 29:1-30
Story so far: Pursuit of the Seed (Gen
3:15) to destroy the Serpent and Sin. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Jacob vs. Esau.
Esau is angry, so Jacob has to leave. His mom encourages him to go to her
hometown and find a wife there. On the way, he “meets God” in Bethel (i.e.,
Jacob’s Ladder—referenced in John 1 as being Jesus himself). Now, he makes his
way to Haran.
The Fairy Tale: Once
upon a time a strong prince came to a magical well where sheep were watered.
The stone covering the well was so enormous it could only be moved by all the
shepherds working together. The prince saw a beautiful princess at the well…
she was so beautiful he fell in love at first sight, and kissed her, weeping
for joy. His love was so strong it enabled him to move the enormous stone, to
uncover the well, and to water her flock. They went to see the king, who was
overjoyed at the love match. The end.
can be misleading. There was once a man who loved cars. He saw an ad for a car a Cadillac for $100, so he went to see the car. As he looked at the car, he realized that it was worth more than $100, and said to the woman selling the car: "Ma'am, this car is worth more than $100." She replied, "Yes, I know that. But what you don't know is that my husband recently left me to be with his secretary, and he called me and requested that I sell his car and send him the money. So I am." Appearances can be misleading.
The Real Story . .
. Jacob is not quite as noble as he pretends, the beautiful princess is not
God’s intended goal, and the king is not as honest and caring as he
appears. Three points—Jacob Takes a
Trip, Jacob Takes a Job, Jacob Takes a Wife
Takes a Trip (vv. 1-12)
“lifting up his
feet”—he has a new spring in his step since Bethel, but has he really changed?
He travels 400 miles from Bethel to Haran.
Haran is his mother’s home town, so he hopes to find family there.
(Remember Rebekah’s story here). Tries to get rid of the shepherd’s kind of
like a boy getting rid of his kid brother so he can have time alone. The
shepherd’s don’t buy it.
Jacob is unlike
his father’s servant in that he is acting on behalf of God instead of letting
God act on his behalf. Jacob is still
trying to make things happen on his own terms.
He sees Rachel, and he decides to pursue her. He doesn’t ask for God’s direction, he simply
bulls his way in.
shows off—he moves the stone by himself (to impress Rachel? Here Jacob acts more like Esau), he waters
her sheep, and he kissed her (the first kiss recorded between cousins “kissing
cousins” and the first kiss in which a man kisses a woman that is not his
mother or wife). Jacob is being a bit
presumptuous, it seems, and running ahead of God. He pursues Rachel, he does not wait on
appears here that Jacob may be casting off conventions in an effort to make a
good impression. He is actually the despised son of his father, a man who
cheated to get what he wanted from his brother, and a man who is even now
trying to “help God out” in fulfilling the promise. Jacob is not yet broken, he still thinks he
can “fix” things. Fresh off of his
radical experience at Bethel and after hearing God’s promise, Jacob doesn’t
humble himself and seek God’s guidance.
As usual, Jacob wades into the situation with his self-confidence in tow
and tries to help God complete the promise.
Proud Jacob sees Rachel and decides to claim his territory without even
asking if that is what God intended!
are we like Jacob? Where have we heard the
promise of God about our situation or lives and yet keep trying to “help” God
can be misleading—The manipulator tries to be a hero, but he is still
Takes a Job (vv. 13-20)
introduces himself to Rachel, she runs to get her father. Laban in turn runs to meet this young
man. Do you think Jacob made an
impression on Rachel? The fact that his
mother’s family are running to meet him would indicate that the old Jacob charm
was still working. Of course, giving
what we learn about Laban later, it may just mean that Laban thought he had a
“sucker” on the line.
tell—Jacob receives a customary greeting and shares his story. Does he tell all? Including the details of
his trickery to his brother and father? Laban’s response “You are my own flesh
and blood” could warn of issues to come.
We could hear these words as Laban’s ringing endorsement of his nephew.
Or… maybe there the tiniest hint of warning. If Laban is perfectly suited to
his nephew, might that mean that the deceiver has at last met his match? Time
will tell—Appearances can be misleading.
Lonely Jacob finds
a welcome place, a place to call home. For one month he enjoys hospitality and
rest. He got to know Rachel better, and Laban got to see what kind of
suitor/employee Jacob may be. This month brought both Laban and Jacob to the
conclusion that a continuing relationship between them could be of mutual
advantage. But, appearances can be
misleading, and the month-long vacation may be about to end as we move to the
Laban makes a
proposition, and Jacob offers a counter.
Lackluster Leah vs Ravishing
Rachel-- Please note the irony here: Laban
has two daughters—an older one named Leah and a younger one named Rachel. Jacob has an older brother too, remember
their relationship? Esau lost everything
a first born could hope for, and he lost most of it by means of Jacob’s
manipulation. Rachel and Esau were desirable, but Leah and Jacob not so much. “Cow”
and “delicate” eyes versus “Ewe” and shapely beauty. Jacob chooses beauty over
character. 7 years of labor=over $200,000 today.
convention yet again, Jacob responds to Laban’s proposition with a
counter-offer, and both men think that they will win. Appearances can be misleading, and this seven
year engagement will not end exactly as Jacob plans!
can be misleading—What looks like help, may really be deception
Takes a Wife (and gets Taken) (vv. 21-30): The
big day arrives. After seven years of
labor, 364 weeks, 2,555 days, Jacob goes to Laban and demands his pay! “Give me my wife!” Jacob may well have had this day marked on
his calendar, the day the woman he loved enough to work for her for 7 years
would finally become his wife . . . the beautiful romance will finally be
fulfilled. Most couples today wouldn’t
wait 7 days to have sex, but Jacob has waited 7 years (and worked hard during that time) just so he can marry the
woman he desires. He wants to be paid. Laban calls a feast—but this won’t end
well for Jacob. His emotion is boundless, his excitement is off the charts. He
is finally getting the beautiful woman he desires! Jacob is focused, and after
the proper amount of feasting, he heads to the marriage tent. But remember,
appearances can be misleading. Things
are not as they seem.
Laban has replaced
Rachel with Leah. We aren’t sure exactly why the switch is made (except for
Laban’s excuse later). Perhaps Laban realized he could get more free labor out
of Jacob? Greed could be the motive. On the other hand, imagine how the women
here may have felt. Why did they go along with their father? Were they victims
or participants? Was their competition between the two for Jacob (next week’s
Jacob is deceived,
but how did he not figure this out—the wedding veil and the alcohol may have
contributed. The darkness of the tent may have been a factor. Remember,
appearances can be misleading. In the dark, Leah may seem a lot like Rachel.
(Jesus calls us to walk in the light).
Imagine the next
morning. Jacob wakes up, light is streaming into the tent. He rolls over to
kiss Rachel, and “Look! It’s Leah!” I can imagine he jumped five feet into the
air, wrapped a blanket around him, and said, “What are you doing here?” I wish
that conversation had been included. Jacob grabs his robe and heads to confront
his father-in-law about the change in wages! What is this you’ve done? Why have
you deceived me?
What irony that
Jacob should repeat almost the identical words of Pharaoh to Abraham (12:18)
and almost the same expression of Abimelech to Abraham (20:9) and Abimelech to
Isaac (26:10). Interestingly, the Hebrew
verb translated “deceived” is cognate to the noun used in 27:35 to describe
Jacob’s deception of Esau. Jacob is discovering what goes around comes
around. The deceiver is deceived. The
trickster is tricked. The younger brother who supplanted the older brother
finds that the younger sister whom he loves has been supplanted by her older
sister, to his great dismay. And now it is Jacob’s turn to suffer.
Laban had a
response (older marries first), but note the irony. Jacob had dishonored the
principle of the firstborn by cheating his brother out of the birthright and
the blessing. Now God forces him to honor the principle he had violated by
marrying Leah first. And who had Jacob deceived? His father, Isaac. Now the
deceiver is deceived by his father-in-law! Everything that goes around comes
around. Laban is going to change Jacob’s
life forever. Up until this point, Jacob has lived by his wits. He has survived
by relying on his native intelligence and his shrewd ability to take care of
himself in any situation. Now, he finds himself agreeing to another seven years
of labor for his love for Rachel.
Appearances can be misleading—the happy wedding day has turned into a
bit of a disaster.
God trains Jacob
by allowing him to meet his own sins in someone else. Now he knows what Esau
felt when he was tricked out of something that was precious to him. Jacob is
being made to see just how despicable his tricky ways are. It is all a part of
the training in his life. If Jacob hadn’t stolen Esau’s blessing and had
patiently waited for God’s intervention and timing, he would have had the
financial resources to acquire Rachel immediately, rather than having to invest
14 years of his life, laboring for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Lesson: Taking
short cuts and failing to trust God is costly! What a heavy price sin requires!
Galatians 6:7 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows,
that shall he also reap.” Jacob has been sowing for a long, long time. Reaping
day has come. He’s been sowing the seeds of deceit, and the harvest is about to
come. Jacob is deceived, yes, but he is
also receiving God’s discipline (cf. Hebrews 12).
The story of
Genesis is the quest for the “seed” to destroy the work of the serpent and the
sin that came as a result. Abraham
receives a promise that his descendants would bless the nations. Isaac carries the same promise (as does his
son Jacob). While Jacob looked to
ravishing Rachel for the fulfillment of that promise, it will actually be
lackluster Leah through whom God provides the seed. Of the many children Leah produces for Jacob,
two of them are named Judah and Levi.
From Levi the children of Israel will find a model prophet/leader named
Moses. From Judah they will receive a
model king/leader named David. These two
men become the models for the future Messiah who will be known as a prophet,
priest, and King. Oh, and it is through
Judah that Jesus is born according to human lineage.
Appearances can be misleading—What looks like a
problem may actually be a blessing
is actually God’s provision (Things are not always as they seem)
Conclusion— We must remember that appearances can be
misleading. What we think are negative
things may in fact be positive things.
While those things we sometimes cherish may turn out to be not as
precious as we thought. In fact, they
may turn out to be stumbling stones for us.
The invisible or overlooked things in our lives may well be the vessels
through which God provides the teaching and the lessons we need to become the
children of God he intends us to be.
Make sure what you cherish is genuinely precious: Jacob loved
Rachel, and his love for her is evident. Nonetheless, it was through Leah that
the world would be blessed, and Jacob later realized that when he was buried
next to Leah and honored her. What are the beautiful things we try to grasp?
Are they really important to our lives spiritually, or do they just get our
attention because they are flashy and pretty? Do we need to repent about
putting too much faith in things that are not that precious?
What is overlooked may be vessels of grace: Jacob overlooked Leah, and she was
the vessel of grace. Pay attention to the “overlooked” things in our lives. We
may find a blessing there. God sometimes works out godly character in hard
situations (Romans 5:3-4). God also will sometimes use weakness to reveal his
strength. Or he will work through our weakness to show himself great (1 Cor
can be misleading
Evaluate your situation: Are we trying to manipulate your situations? Are we
trying to help God out? Where are we pretending to be a hero when we are not?
Where are we trusting what looks good instead of seeking God’s guidance? How are we like Jacob here?
2) Value those who are overlooked: Who in our world
needs attention? Maybe we are the
invisible and overlooked Leah, where do we go? Proverbs reminds us that to have
friends we must be friends. Look around, and see who is “hidden” or
“overlooked,” we may find a blessing. Remember, things are not always what they
Accept God’s help/guidance: we must quit trying to be boss and let him
lead. Where do we need God’s guidance? Where do we need his help? Will we be
bold enough today to step out of our invisibility and come to the front of this
building to say we are turning to him? Will we repent of putting our faith in
what looks good on earth, and start looking for our help from God?
Thanks for reading!
Labels: appearances, Appearances can be misleading, Beautiful Mess, Genesis 29:1-30, Jacob, Laban, Leah, overlooked grace, problems and blessings, Rachel, things are not what they seem
Friday, December 25, 2015
The Mystery of Christmas--My Annual Christmas Post
I started this blog years ago, and every year I have posted a piece I wrote
around Christmas 2003. It kind of sums up for me what is the "Mystery of
Christmas" as I meditate on the Incarnation and its implications for
humanity (and perhaps for God as well!). The very idea of God becoming
"one of us among us" (Immanuel) still fascinates and overwhelms me.
God, the creator of all things, humbled himself, became of no reputation, and entered his own creation so as to renew and to
redeem us (and, ultimately, to do these things for all of creation as well). God, the Creator of all
things, became flesh so that he might accomplish the plan to make his grace and glory known in humans and in all of creation.
The God who never knew death would die for us. The God who never knew sin would
become sin for us. He would break the power of sin, condemn sin in his own flesh, and provide for all of us the victory needed to be the people God always intended us to be. What amazing love! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible
gift! As you celebrate the first advent of our King Jesus the Messiah, I hope you
enjoy this rerun. Feel free to make comments if you'd like.
A little over 2000 years ago, a tiny
child was born in some pretty bleak conditions. Oh, he wasn’t the only one born
in a bad state. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the lucky ones. He and his
mother actually survived childbirth and thrived. Still, this story is unique
and amazing on several levels.
First, this child would literally change the way time is reckoned in the world.
His life and abilities would so impress generations of others that a brand new
movement would be created, one that would radically change the very face of the
earth (sometimes for good, sometimes not). His name would become recognized
among the names of the greatest of humans, yet he never forgot his humble
beginnings or lost a sense of who he was.
The second thing about this child is tied to the first in that this baby, this
helpless lad full of spittle and mush, was born as the very Son of God. When
Mary held his little head to her breast, he drank human milk. Yet, he was (and
is) the God of the universe. Can you picture this simply ridiculous yet
somehow poetic scene? God, who calls the stars by name, pressed to the human
breast for sustenance. Humble yet awesome, is how some folks would no doubt
recall this child.
A little over 2000 years ago, God proposed that the only remedy for the human
condition of sin would be if he humbled himself, stepped out of eternity and
into human flesh, and suckled at Mary’s breast in preparation for the greatest,
most impressive conversion of all. God, in Mary’s arms, toddling around
Joseph’s home, learning to talk, learning to walk, tasting and touching things
with human hands! As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too
wonderful for us, we cannot contain it!”
God knew that the only way to redeem us was if he did it himself. Haven’t you
ever had that thought? You know, the one where you say, “If I want something
done right, I’ll just have to do it myself?” Imagine God having that thought
about bringing us to proper relationship with him. Imagine again that the only
way he knew he could do that is if he came to earth as a baby. Think of it—-how
vulnerable the almighty God was at that moment, how paradoxical that the God of
all creation had to learn to walk! And why did he put himself in this
situation? Out of his divine sense of justice and righteousness and mercy, out of his
inexpressible love for each of us he acted in this manner.
God humbled himself. In a sense, he took on our insanity so that we may be sane. He became flesh so that we
might walk in his Spirit. He became sin that we might be righteous. He became
poor so that we might be rich. He who had the reputation of Creator became a
humble servant with no reputation. He became a toddling, dribbling, helpless
babe so that we could become mature humans in the image of the almighty Son of
God. What wondrous love! What humility and service! How then can anything he
asks of us be too difficult?
Lord, in this Christmas season, remind us of your sacrifice and love so
that we might be a light shining in darkness to others. Teach us to live
a life of
humble service like your Son did on our behalf so many years ago. As we
the babe in the manger, may the glory he revealed in his life shine
through us towards others that they may know God. May the grace of God
and the peace of
Christ rule in our families and our lives.
Thanks for reading!
Merry Christmas! May you know the blessings of the God who humbled himself and served!
Labels: annual Christmas post, Christmas, humility of Christ, Immanuel, mystery of Christmas
Monday, December 21, 2015
No Reputation: The "Gift" of Christmas
A few years ago I posted this little meditation on Christmas, and as I read
through it today I realized that I needed to hear it again. It is
easy in our society today to be a bit too full of ourselves, to think a
bit more highly of ourselves than we ought, . . . but I am quickly
coming to the conclusion that that is not the Spirit of Christmas, and
it certainly was NOT the Spirit of Christ. Bear with me, if you will,
while I contemplate what it means to have no reputation as a follower of
"Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death-- even to death on a cross."
passage may not usually be associated with Christmas, but for some reason that
is how it comes to me this year. Look closely at the passage above, then read
the quote from The Jesus Style by Gayle D. Erwin below.
Jesus . . . made himself nothing.
“He made himself nothing, he emptied
himself—-the great kenosis. He made himself no reputation, no image.
“I can recall my father shaking his head and
repeating over and over to himself, ‘If only I knew what this meant. There is
something powerful here. If I only understood it.’ Maybe that is why this
Scripture has glued itself to my mind and equally disturbs me. Reputation is so
important to me. I want to be seen with the right people, remembered in the
right light, advertised with my name spelled right, live in the right
neighborhood, drive the right kind of car, wear the right kind of clothing. But
Jesus made himself of no reputation.”
in America means lots of things to lots of different people.
it becomes a political event that pits “the true meaning of Christmas” against
the bias against religion. For others Christmas is just another time to
visit families and to pretend to get along with each other. For others
Christmas is a season that involves incredible profits (or expenses) and lots
of activities. This year some may see Christmas as a bleak season filled with
bad news and the dread of a new year. For still others Christmas is
simply a winter break, a time to regroup for a new year.
I’ve left a large group out! There are those who see Christmas as the
celebration of the birth of the world’s Savior and the Incarnation of God. I want to twist the prism a
bit and look at Christmas from a different angle.
all of the views above look at Christmas from the perspective of what humans
gain from the season. I wonder if we can look at the season as something we can
offer to others, a gift of sorts. I wonder, can we make a gift of Christmas?
Can we this year find a way to give the "spirit" of Christmas to
those around us?
out . . .
passage from Philippians reminds me that Christmas for Jesus wasn’t about what
he would gain. In fact, he lost just about everything! He left the comfort of
his Father’s place, he became a tottering, dribbling little baby, he had to
learn to talk, to walk, to eat, he left his riches behind for the starkness of a feeding trough, and ultimately he would even become sin and die for humanity even though he was innocent. Remember, dead and sin were two things he had
never experienced before in his eternal existence.
As Paul says, he made himself of no reputation.
Christmas would be like this year if those of us who follow Jesus would do as
Paul admonishes here and have this approach to the season. Imagine if we
actually attempted to have the same attitude towards others that Jesus has
towards us! What would Christmas look like if we didn’t care about what we got
out of it but became more concerned about what we could give to others? How
would our world change if we laid down our lives . . . our reputations . . .
our desires in order to bless others this Christmas? What if we even went
further and did it anonymously, with no expectation of reward or recognition?
Reagan is credited with the saying “There is no telling what you can accomplish
if you don’t care who gets the credit.” We don’t like that approach though, do
we? We kick against it! I mean, we deserve to be recognized, don’t we?
up with the idea that made the company money, shouldn’t you be rewarded? Maybe
you found a problem and fixed it, and that fix saved someone’s job. Shouldn’t
you be shown gratitude? Maybe you did some kindness for someone you knew
couldn’t pay you back, shouldn’t you get credit for that? You gave that money
to charity, shouldn't someone say "thank you"? You gave of your time
to that charitable organization, shouldn't there be some "benefit" in
it for you?
all think that we should be center stage, center of the world, the most
important person in the world? How many times have you heard “I quit going to
that church because MY needs weren’t being met”?
no credit, no automatic acceptance, no celebrities, and no place where who you
know or what you know earns you admittance or recognition. That requires true humility!
made himself of no reputation; he humbled himself. The very God of the universe became nobody. He
emptied himself, he became a servant. As Isaiah said, he was not handsome or
attractive in such a way as to draw attention to himself. He lived to give
attention only to God. Jesus was truly humble. He had "no reputation."
our awards, the acceptance of others, the glamor of being “somebody,” or the
wonderful happiness of fame, don’t we? We like to be recognized, remembered,
acknowledged, accepted, and celebrated.
neglect me” of "It's all about me" could be the slogans of many in our society.
motto of Christ followers should be “No reputation.” God chooses such
people to further his agenda. Will we be involved, or do we like our perks too
1, Satan appears in God's court. God acknowledges the good job done by Job, and
asks Satan if he has noticed what a righteous person Job has become. Satan's
response is a tough challenge: "Does Job fear God for nothing?"
about what the evil one is implying here. He is asking, "Will a human
serve God with no expectation of something in return?"
humans serve God for nothing?
hurts, doesn't it? Even the mere thought of it as a possibility smarts a bit.
Surely the mighty God of the universe wouldn't expect me to show him respect
and serve his purposes without expectation of payment for services rendered,
humble ourselves to the point where we realize that God owes us nothing? Quite
literally, we have done nothing to merit a reward from him. Even our service is a response
to his continued mercy.
like Christ, humble ourselves to the point of no reputation? Are we willing to
be "nobodies" in God's service, among his people, even among those
who ought to "recognize" us?
would Christmas look like this year if we (all of us) decided to give with no
expectation of return? What if we humbled ourselves and expected no
acknowledgment? What if we chose to serve anonymously and to bless others
without receiving a blessing in return? What would happen?
you do this Christmas season that will bless others and garnish no
for you? Who can you serve that can't repay you? This year let's commit
ourselves to serving, giving, and loving as Christ did. Let's look for
opportunities to bless others in a way that does not give us
recognition. Instead of asking for things for ourselves, let's give to
the needs of others.
Instead of expecting gifts, let's give our lives away in blessing
would that change Christmas in your neighborhood?
Labels: a new way to view Christmas, Christmas, humility, humility of Christ, no reputation, Philippians 2:5-8