Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Angels along the way

Jacob flees Laban - Artist unknown
Jacob flees Laban - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 31:43-32:12

TO CHEW ON: "So Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him." Genesis 32:1


Jacob was between a proverbial rock and hard place. If we read the part of the story between yesterday's reading and today's, we see that Jacob was restless and wanted to leave Laban's compound. But when he had tried to leave some years earlier, Laban hadn't let him go. Now he sensed a fall from favour with Laban and his sons (Genesis 31:1,2). And he heard from God: "Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you" (Genesis 31:3).

In typical Jacob fashion he sneaked away—if a cavalcade of camels, sheep and goats can be said to sneak. Of course Laban soon found out and went after him.

God intervened on Jacob's behalf with Laban, warning him to treat his son-in-law neutrally. And so when they met there was an attempt at explaining on Jacob's part, some scolding on Laban's, an accusation of idol-stealing and an unfruitful search, a formal good-bye meal, a pile of memorial stones/border marker set up, hugs and kisses all around, and then Laban said goodbye and left. The strings were cut. Jacob was on his own.

But not really. For at this point we read the short statement: "So Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him."

He would recognize them for he had seen them twenty years earlier on a heavenly ladder. How reassuring it must have been for him to know that though his father-in-law was displeased with him and he now had his estranged brother Esau's territory to cross, God hadn't forsaken him.

I believe we will experience the same sense of God's presence, know the comfort of His companionship when we obey. It may mean cutting ties to family (in a variety of ways), leaving the comforts of the familiar, setting out on what seems like a lonely journey. But God will also send His messengers, His angels (perhaps in the guise of other people, in words heard or read, in the lyrics of songs, or any number of ways) to meet us on the road of obedience.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You that when we're obedient, walking under Your direction, You accompany us and send encouragement and strengthening along the way. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Prospering against all odds

Jacob laying the peeled rods before Laban's flock - Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - 1617-1682
Jacob laying the peeled rods before Laban's flock - Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - 1617-1682

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 30:22-43

TO CHEW ON: "Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys." Genesis 30:43

The trickery between Laban and Jacob continued. When Jacob wanted to leave, Laban pressured him to stay, not for Jacob's benefit but for his own. He recognized that God's blessing on Jacob was seeping into his life as well.

Yet he seemed forever suspicious that what Jacob was actually doing was stealing from him. So Jacob suggested a foolproof way to determine his wages. His pay would be the less desirable sheep and goats of the flock—the speckled and spotted sheep and goats, and the brown lambs.

Laban agreed to this, after which he immediately removed all such animals from his current flocks, giving them to his sons. Then he separated his flocks (tended by Jacob) and the flocks of his sons by a three-day-journey distance.

Our reading describes Jacob's way of provoking "flawed" animals. My Bible's commentary says about Jacob's system of peeled rods:
"Jacob was not practicing superstition, he was exercising faith which he somehow associated with the rods. God, having designed the laws of genetics, intervened and honored Jacob's faith" R. Russell Bixler, commentary on Genesis, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 46.

Whether Jacob was at heart superstitious or faith-filled, only he and God know. But it worked—not, I would submit, because of anything Jacob did but because God wanted it so and had planned it so. Jacob's survival and prospering was one of the pieces needed to complete the picture of our redemption through Jesus. Mr.Bixler again:
"God's blessings are always able to exceed man's defrauding" - Ibid.

How encouraging this story can be to us. Even when events, circumstances, and people are arrayed against us, nothing can or will stop God's purposes as He determines (with our cooperation of course) to enact them through us.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to look to You and not circumstances, people or my own wits for success in the assignments You give me. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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Monday, July 28, 2014

A legacy of dysfunction

Mandrake roots
Mandrake roots (Source: Wikipedia)
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 30:1-21

TO CHEW ON:
"Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, 'Give me children or else I die.'" Genesis 30:1

Jacob's harem was not a happy place. Rachel envied Leah's fruitfulness and blamed Jacob for her lack of conceiving. This provoked Jacob's anger. The rivalry between the sisters soon drew their maids into the competitive struggle and enlarged the circle of bigamy. In these women's eyes, even God chose sides, favoring one and then the other with sons. This all sunk to a new low when Rachel and Leah showed their superstitious side as they haggled over some supposedly aphrodisiac mandrake plants for a night with the man.

Some thoughts on this depressing installment of the story:

1. We see the wisdom of God's design of one man + one woman (Genesis 2:24) by the mess in homes where men had several wives (like this one and see also the story of Elkanah, Peninnah and Hannah - 1 Samuel 1:1-7).

2. Individual sinful tendencies and family strife are readily passed from one generation to the next. The tensions of Isaac & Rebekah's relationship are only magnified in Jacob's family.

Do we find such generational weaknesses in our homes too? Probably, to some extent at least. But do they have to carry on? How can we put a stop to such a  legacy of dysfunction? Here are some ideas. Can you think of more?
  • Ask God to show us where we are duplicating the sins of our fathers. We may be blind to these and need to grow sensitive again. One way is to read and apply what God's word says about attitudes to avoid (Exodus 20:1-17; Galatians 5:17-21) and those to cultivate (1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Galatians 5:22-26). Another way to gain insight is to ask close friends and family members what they see in our relationships and homes.
  • We need to beware that kids interpret  "normal" from what they see at home, and by God's grace set a different example than, perhaps, we saw in our own homes growing up. Emulate the good; reject the bad.
  • Remember that with God there are new beginnings.
" … put off … the old man … and be renewed in the spirit of your mind and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" - Ephesians 4:22-24.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" - 2 Corinthians 5:17


PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to make excuses for sinful attitudes and tendencies which have been part of my family. With Your enabling, I'm never too old to change. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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Sunday, July 27, 2014

God brings us out

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 105:23-45

TO CHEW ON: "So he brought his people out with joy
his chosen ones with singing." Psalm 105:43

With vivid description the psalmist details the things God did to bring the Israelites out of Egypt:

"Their land (Egypt, where the Israelites were slaves) swarmed with frogs / even in the chambers of their kings" (Psalm 105:30).
"He gave them hail for rain / and fiery lightning bolts through their land...He shattered the trees of their country" (Psalm 105:32-33).
"He opened the rock and water gushed out; / it flowed through the desert like rain" (Psalm 105:41).
 His story comes to a climax in their joyful freedom song:
"So he brought his people out with joy,/ his chosen ones with singing" (Psalm 105:43).
 There is in many of our histories the story of going from oppression to freedom, dotted similarly with signposts of God at work. I come from Mennonite stock. For this ethnic mix of original German, Swiss and Dutch peoples there is the story of an exodus from Europe to Russia and then to North and South America in a quest for religious freedom.

My husband's Russian great-grandfather converted from the Orthodox faith to simple faith in Christ as taught by the Russian Baptists. As punishment for converting he was imprisoned  in Siberia for eight years (when Russia was still under Czarist rule) before he could bring his family to Canada.

Of course for each of us there is a personal story of being in bondage to our old life and finding new life in Jesus. It might be an interesting exercise to write a Psalm 105 of our own. It could be the story of our people. Or it could be our personal story where we recall the details of God taking us out of a life of slavery to sin.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the way you have worked in the history of my forefathers and for my own personal story of coming to freedom as your child. Amen.


MORE: The Secret Holocaust Diaries

The Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister is the fascinating true story of a young Russian girl who, from ages nine to about 20, kept detailed journals of her life. She describes her happy experiences as part of a large wealthy Russian family. She relates how the Bolsheviks expropriated her family's property. She tells of the dreadful winter of the German occupation of Russia when she was a teenager. She does eventually get to America. Hers is a story full of the evidences of God bringing someone out with joy and singing (though she shed many tears along the way).

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tests

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 105:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him." Psalm 105:19

The "his" and "he" referred to in the verses above is Joseph. What is the psalm-writer talking about when he says "...until what he had said came to pass"? I believe it was those outrageous dreams of Joseph's which we read about in Genesis 37:

"Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold we were binding sheaves in the field and behold my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf....Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me..." Genesis 37:6-9.

During his days as a slave in Potiphar's house and later as a prisoner, I wonder if Joseph ever thought back to those dreams and wondered — What was that about? His situation couldn't have been farther from what his dream predicted.

However, there was action toward the fulfillment of those dreams all through that time. The psalm-writer alludes to what was happening behind the scenes. God was testing Joseph.

It's interesting that the psalmist doesn't say that circumstances tested Joseph, or Potiphar and the jailer tested Joseph but "the word of the Lord tested him," telling us that these circumstances had God's knowledge and permission. They issued as "the word of the Lord," that same creative force that brought the worlds into being (John 1:1-3).

Joseph's response to this testing was positive. With faithful dependability he passed every test. Then on one day that began like every other, the test was over (Psalm 105:20-22). And of course, when his brothers came from Canaan seeking food, the fulfillment of his dreams came true in living color before his eyes.

Your current situation may also be far from what you feel God has promised you for your future. Viewing the unpleasant, difficult, and unfair things in your life as God's tests may help you gain courage, inspiration and the hope to keep going.

Joseph's story shows too, how completely and radically God can turn things around in a short while once the test is over. So don't be fooled or disheartened by appearances.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this glimpse behind the scenes of the way You work in human lives. Please help me to pass the tests You bring my way today. Amen.


MORE: The test of waiting

You may find my article "In the Waiting Room" helpful if your test is waiting...and waiting... and waiting some more

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.






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Friday, July 25, 2014

Jesus - model servant

Foot-washing - at my daughter's wedding
 (they both washed each other's feet).
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 20:17-34

TO CHEW ON: " 'And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.' " Matthew 20:27-28

Jesus didn't just point the disciples to the way they should live, He modelled it. He lived and breathed service during His time of ministry on earth. Skim through any of the synoptic gospels and you may come away exhausted yourself by his gruelling schedule of traveling, teaching, healing and then, when he tried to get away to rest, teaching and healing some more when the crowds followed Him to even remote places.

He also spelled out the importance of service. Our passage today is one such place (as is Mark 10:35-45). His washing of the disciples' feet (John 13:3-5; 14,15) was another dramatic object lesson of service where He again said plainly how this was something His followers should emulate: " 'Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.' "

Paul in Philippians describes the extremity of His service. The New Living Translation says it so clearly:

Though he was God,
      he did not think of equality with God
      as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
      he took the humble position of a slave
      and was born as a human being.
   When he appeared in human form..." Philippians 2:6-7 - NLT

The NKJV says He came "taking the form of a bondservant..." A bondservant was a Hebrew slave who had served out his six years of required service but instead of going free, insisted on continuing to serve the household he loved. His master would then pierce his ear as a sign of his state and accept his service for life (see Exodus 21:1-6).

A sidebar article in my Bible talks about the faithful servant:

"The character of a faithful servant reveals devotion to the interests of others; the thoughtfulness of rendering untiring care, the delight in the prosperity, honour and happiness of someone besides himself" -Fuchsia T. Pickett  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible p. 1328.

We can personalize such servanthood by asking — in my role as wife, mother, teacher, clerk, bank teller, waitress, CEO or... what does it look like to:
  • Devote myself to the interests of others?
  • Render untiring care?
  • Delight in the prosperity, honour and happiness of others?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your clear teaching about the importance of having a servant's heart and Your modelling of service. Help me to make a permanent paradigm shift and pursue this quality above the ways to be great that my culture recognizes. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. James the Apostle

It's a pity that James the Apostle is remembered most for this rather crass request (made by his mother, for sure, but it's clear that he and his brother John were in on it, for she "came to Him with her sons..."). I wonder how Jesus' teaching on this occasion, impacted him.

Here is a little more about this close friend of Jesus's:

Not much is known of his ministry after Jesus' resurrection.  It is believed, however, that he lived another 14 years before his martyrdom.  In fact, the apostle James was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom.  By order of Herod Agrippa I, James was beheaded in Jerusalem about the feast of Easter, 44 AD.


It is believed that within this 14 year period, James visited the Jewish colonist and slaves in Spain to preach the Gospel.
from "The Apostle James, son of Zebedee"
from this Bible Path article.
There is a church dedicated to the Apostle James in Spain.

Today is the day the church celebrates James the Apostle. The liturgy for the day begins with this collect:

"O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.





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Thursday, July 24, 2014

What we can learn from an unloved wife

"Leah and Rachel" by Johann Friedrich Overbeck
"Leah and Rachel" by Johann Friedrich Overbeck
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 29:21-35

TO CHEW ON: "And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, 'Now I will praise the Lord.' Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing." Genesis 29:35

Trickery ran in the family it seems. Just as Rebekah had set up Jacob to trick Isaac about his identity, so Laban, Rebekah's older brother, set up Leah to trick Jacob about her identity on his wedding night. I'm sure the irony wasn't lost on the groom.

Leah, who was probably a willing participant, ended up being the third wheel in this marriage—at least affection-wise. But not otherwise. For in the area of having babies, which mattered a lot in that culture, she conceived and birthed son after beautiful son for Jacob.

Her reaction to each is interesting:
- "Now my husband will love me," she said after Reuben, son #1.

- "Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also," she said after Simeon, son #2.

- "Now this time my husband will become attached to me," she said after Levi, #3.

- But after son #4, her focus shifted from her husband to God. "Now I will praise the Lord," she said and named the baby Judah which means 'praised.' Jacob later blessed Judah with the highest blessing of all his sons (Genesis 49:8-12). And indeed, King David and Jesus are descendants of Judah.

Some lessons from life we can take from Leah's story:

1. Our choices have consequences. They can last a lifetime.

2. We can praise God in spite of our circumstances—in our circumstances, as Leah did. After Judah's birth her focus was no longer on what, in the situation, she wanted to change, but on God.

3. God can bring good things out of bad. Unloved Leah was the mother of both Levi—the ancestor of Moses, Aaron and all Israel's priests, and Judah, the ancestor of David and Jesus. My Bible's study notes: "God's love for Leah is displayed in her becoming mother to the priestly and kingly tribes, Levi and Judah" - R. Russell Bixler, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 44.

One aspect of bringing good out of bad is conveyed by the word redemption. One of my favorite redemption passages underlines God's abilities here:

"So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust,
My great army which I sent among you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
And my people shall never be put to shame."
- Joel 2:25,26

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to consider my choices carefully, mindful of the consequences they hold.  Help me to praise You in the middle of right now, whatever my right now holds. Thank You that You can redeem  any situation. Amen.  

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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