Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 10 August 2017

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.  Hebrews 11, verse 20.

Perhaps the story of Jacob and Esau is a good example of ‘mixed blessings.’  If you don’t know much about Jacob and Esau, they were twins born to Isaac and his wife, Rebekah.  Esau was born first, only minutes before his brother, but was the blood-born heir as firstborn.   Yet God wasn’t with Esau as He was with Jacob, and Jacob shrewdly talked his brother out of Esau’s birthright, then deceitfully gained his father’s first-born blessing by posing as Esau.  Shady story?   Perhaps, yet I’d ask you whether or not such things happen in our world today.   You know they do:  from families to nation-states, each of us acts in our own best interests.

Sometimes those interests are in line with how God is blessing us.  That was the case with Jacob.

When Isaac was old and nearly blind, he wanted to give his formal, ecclesiastical blessing to his first-born son.   In cahoots with their mother, Jacob and Rebekah schemed to deceive Isaac so that Jacob, and not Esau, would receive that blessing.   You’d be mad enough to kill if your younger brother had taken away everything that was supposed to be yours.   Esau was, and he swore to kill Jacob, then prepared to make good on that vow.  That’s what happened yet in being both fascinated and repulsed by this story, don’t overlook the miracle of it.

Isaac blessed his sons because he had faith his God would bless them accordingly.   What’s more, God blesses Jacob and Esau both after the deception.

Isaac lived his life knowing God, having seen God bless both his father, Abraham, and himself.  Isaac gave his blessing when he was old and while Abraham was still alive.   In doing this, Isaac is a witness to his belief that God was good and would bless and prosper the world as He said He would.   Such faith in adherence with worldly customs like birthright blessing shows trust in God and thankfulness for all that God has given us.  Isaac seems like a bit-player in Biblical history yet his faith is most important.   God made the covenant with Abraham to bless the world through him.  It is Isaac who puts that covenant into motion by passing on his faith-based blessing to his son.   God kept that covenant promise despite Abraham’s shortcomings (like lying about the identity of his wife) or Isaac’s (who did the same thing about his own).

And when the world (via Jacob) intervenes with the sin of deceit, God still uses that to make good on what He promised.  Hearing about Esau’s vow, Jacob, again with the help of his mother, flees to her homeland and is, himself, deceived by his uncle.   Jacob falls in love with his cousin, Rachel, yet is deceived by Rachel’s father into marrying her sister, Leah, in exchange for seven years of work.    Eventually, Jacob marries both Leah and Rachel and fathers twelve sons who will become the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

In the meantime, God blesses Esau by giving him wealth and a large family through his cousin Ishmael’s line.  Esau never forgot his vow to kill his brother, yet God blesses him with the spiritual gift of mercy.   Many years later, a wealthy Jacob returns home to submit to his brother’s will (itself an act of faith).   Instead of murder, Esau forgives his brother, and the families are reconciled.   When God sees Jacob’s willingness to submit to his brother’s punishment for the deceit of years before, His heart is moved and He renames Jacob “Israel.”   The rest, as they say, is history.

Read the story of Isaac, Jacob and Esau in Genesis; start in Genesis 27.   I’m hoping you see how yesterday’s themes of foreshadowing, devotion, reason and resurrection play out in all their lives because, in some ways, they are both the picture of the life of Jesus to come as well as a picture of the kind of lives even we live today.  Each of our lives is a bag of mixed blessings.   It’s my prayer you come to see how, mixed or otherwise, they’re all still blessings from above.

For further reading:  Genesis 27.

Lord, thank You for mixed blessings.   And thanks for the story of Isaac and his dysfunctional family.   May it be a blessing to my own.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 9 August 2017

 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.  He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.  Hebrews 11, verses 17-19.

So much to unpack here.

Devotion.  Are you amazed by Abraham’s devotion to God?  And even his devotion to Isaac?   Our modern interpretation of the Bible can pain Abraham in an unkind picture.   “He was willing to murder his own son.”  Admit it:   you’ve thought that; so have I.   How could Abraham MURDER his child?  Our society (rightfully) looks at that as heinous.  Here comes the part you won’t like (because it’s uncomfortably true):   Abraham wasn’t told to murder, nor did he try to murder Isaac, nor did he have the heart for murder.   God commanded Abraham to SACRIFICE Isaac to Him.  God was saying to Abraham “commit to Me everything about what you love most.   Be willing to give even your son’s life to Me because you trust Me.”  A murderer thinks otherwise (if he thinks at all).   Abraham was willing to kill his son, his most precious family member, if it meant dedicating that person’s life and his own to his Father.   Devotion like that is rare even in the Bible.   Would you or I be that devoted?

Foreshadowing:  “He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son” could have been written about the Father Himself.   From the moment of man’s fall, God had promised to redeem mankind from the sin we accepted and made our own.   This included Abraham and Isaac, who were sinful people not unlike you or I.  Abraham had trusted that God would keep His promise to give him a son and God kept that promise.   God then commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, that firstborn son and the heir of all Abraham had or would be.  Can you see how, in all of this, God was foreshadowing to Abraham (and us) what He Himself would do with Jesus?   What’s more, God promised that it was through Isaac that all this would happen, that Abraham’s offspring “would be reckoned.”

Reason.  Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead.  He didn’t just FEEL it:   Abraham REASONED.  He thought it through.   He quickly but logically, cogently deducted that God had kept His prior promises and that God was powerful enough to do anything He wanted.   Abraham reasoned that, if God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God would bring Isaac back from death.   It wasn’t an emotion, and it wasn’t being caught up in the moment, though both of those probably happened.  Instead, Abraham intellectually deduced this honest conclusion about God.

That brings us to our final point:   resurrection.   Abraham deduced that God could resurrect Isaac, so he prepared to end his son’s life.   It was the action of faith that Abraham took in response to the action of faith God had already offered to him.   God foreshadowed yet again that Isaac’s death could be overcome by God.  He promised Abraham that the sacrifice would be worthwhile because it was to God Himself.   That sacrifice could only be completed in resurrection, which was how God ultimately completed the even greater sacrifice of faith that took place on Calvary.  Death could only be reasoned, only be accepted, only be tolerated, only be made right through resurrection, through Divinely restoring life to lifelessness because spiritual death was true lifelessness.   Abraham grasped that thought as he held a knife to his son’s throat.   And that’s when God stayed the knife.

Like you and I, Abraham and Isaac wandered in this world.   Abraham perhaps more than any of us because he lived as a nomad, residing most of his life in tents as he traveled from place to place.   He knew that God would bring him home, and he knew that God would always abide with him no matter where he wandered.   Yet in this greatest test of his life (and perhaps ours), God called him to account and asked him “what do you REALLY believe?”   It was for Abraham’s benefit, not God’s.  Abraham wasn’t a super-human:   he was just a man, albeit one of good character.   But he was simply a man, like you or me.  How amazing is it that God chose to reveal these things about His character and ours through the life of this ancient patriarch.

For further reading:  Genesis 22:1-10, James 2:21, Geneses 21:12, Romans 9:7, Romans 4:21, John 5:21.

Lord, thank You for the willingness of Abraham to commit everything to You.  

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 2 August 2017

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.  And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.  Hebrews 11, verses 11-12.

The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac is a miracle.   If you aren’t familiar with it, the 50000 foot synopsis is that God tells an 80 year old Abraham that he will have a son from his similarly elderly wife, Sarah.  Abraham believes it…and God then waits another generation before making the promise come true.  Sarah initially laughs at God’s messenger when said messenger delivers the news.   Yet nine months later, Isaac is born.   Eventually, Isaac has children, and their children and children’s children become the nation of Israel.   In time, they are as numerous as stars in the sky.   In time, Abraham also blesses all people after him because one of his descendants is Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, in a day of invitro fertilization, advanced medicine, and modern sanitation, American women having children at advanced age seems like no big deal.   Janet Jackson, who is a few months older than me, just had a baby…and she and I are both in our fifties.  That simply wasn’t the case in Abraham’s day.   Thousands of years ago (in fact, only a few decades ago), if a woman was beyond her mid-thirties, it was unlikely she would even conceive let alone have a viable, healthy baby.   The risk to both child and woman was too high.   In the Third World today, that’s still very much the case, though even this is improving.

Can you imagine a woman in her eighties having a baby to a man who is 100 years old?   You might read about it in a tabloid…or in the book of Genesis.   I found a story online about a woman in her seventies in India who recently had a baby.   But she had the baby in a modern hospital and benefitted from modern practices.   Sarah bore Isaac in a tent in the desert when she was in her seventies, maybe eighties or older.

It’s a miracle.  What’s the miracle, though?  That God created life out of lifelessness?   That old people had kids?   That a nation of believers was created from a barren couple?   That the Messiah would eventually be born to this couple’s descendants?

Or was the miracle that they believed?

If you think about it, that miracle still happens every day.   In the face of a world that is still hostile to the idea of God (let alone the physical being of Him), that’s miraculous.   People in Abraham’s day rejected God en masse.  After all, Sodom and Gomorrah happened in Abraham’s day.  Of the 7 billion people here on the Third Rock today, most still reject God.   Most people reject this story of Abraham as just a fable.   Most of those 7 billion people reject Jesus as Savior, or even as a fact.

Face it:  if you believe, and if you hold onto that belief despite a world marching in lockstep to vigorously oppose that, then it’s a miracle.  It’s the Spirit of the living God taking hold of your soul.   It’s the Great I AM joining with you to help you live your life for others.   It’s the Savior demonstrating His endless love for you by redeeming you from that world hostile to Him.  Whether or not God will use you to produce a nation of His chosen people remains to be seen.   It did for many years in Abraham’s life, and then it all came true.

For further reading:  Genesis 17:17 – 18:14, Genesis 21:2, 1 Corinthians 1:9, Romans 4:19.

Lord, I praise You for the life of Abraham and the miracles You worked through Him.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 January 2017

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”  And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.  Hebrews 6, verses 13-15.

God takes His own time to keep His promises.   Yet all through history He has kept EVERY promise He’s made.   He’s proven Himself to be reliable.   Do you find it as tough to wait on Him as I do?  It took DECADES for Abraham to see how God was keeping His promise.  It took DECADES for Moses to answer God’s call fully and see how God had delivered the Israelites.  It took CENTURIES, even MILLENIA, for people to see how God had kept His promise to send a Savior to deliver mankind from sin.  Why do I get so pissed off when I feel God hasn’t answered me immediately?   Is the problem with God or me?   You know the answer.

Now, this isn’t to cop out and let God off the hook.   Have you ever considered that God didn’t respond or answer in the way you wanted because He knew you couldn’t handle the response?   That becomes an act of mercy, not of withholding.

Case in point:   job hunting.   It’s thrillingly maddening.   It’s frightening, exhilarating, motivating, depressing, and completely necessary when your full-time position ceases to exist.   Concerning my predicament, my comment must be “all glory to God.   So far so good.”   Things are moving along well, and years of preparation and accumulating skills are paying off.   Yet behind all that, making it go forward (even making it go sideways every now and then) is the prepared, skilled hand of God.   I’ve felt His pull in everything that has happened, and because I know He’s involved, I know things will turn out just fine.

Yet they don’t turn out on my timeline.  I want the new job now.   I want to feel secure again, to not have to get up every day and beat the reeds for some new lead.   I want to know that I’ll be able to provide for my family, and pay our bills, and do the great things we have planned for this year.  To be honest, I’m scared to death every day of being a middle-aged statistic and becoming one of the millions who can’t find work; one of the millions who can’t find ‘something to eat’ in the middle of a field of plenty.

Gut-check time:   It’s not about me.   Get off the “I” train, Dave, and check your six.   God’s there.   He’s the one covering me and what I do in this life is about Him.   It’s about serving Him in whatever capacity He’s placed me.   It’s about serving His kingdom using that preparation and those skills, and that means sometimes doing it in unconventional ways.   And it means trusting God no matter what, even when I don’t understand why He’s moving me the way He is.  Now is the time to be thankful some doors are closed.   Behind them could be things that aren’t meant for me, or that could somehow make things worse.

Abraham waited a generation before seeing how God kept his promise.   He was a very old man, in his 80s, when he answered God’s call to up and leave everything he’d ever known.   Then he waited another 20 years or so before fathering Issac:  the promised child through whom God would eventually redeem mankind.   Issac waited decades before marrying the woman he loved, then waited longer before setting in motion the plan God intended all along.   Jacob did the same.   So did his son Joseph, then Moses, then David and Solomon.   Humanity waited centuries before their descendant, Jesus, arrived to make all things new.   And it has been two thousand years since Jesus promised to come back and then left.   All along, God has been active, planning to do great things through His very good creation, man.   All along, God has been working to reach all people, not just the prepared ones, so that all people might come to know Him and be saved.

Do you seriously think He doesn’t know what He’s doing?   Do you truly think He’ll let us fall without being there to build us back up again?

So I keep looking for the new job.   And I’m interviewing.   And I’m doing what I can, when I should, to do my part in gaining new full-time employment.   Like I said, so far so good.  It’s all a gift from God.  In God’s good time, a wonderful opportunity will present itself.   Until then, it’s not about me, so I get to keep the faith and move forward.

For further reading:   Genesis 22:16-17, Luke 1:73, Genesis 21:5.

Lord, I believe in You.   Thank You for sustaining me, for preparing me, and shepherding me through scary, cold days.   All glory to You.